Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wagering Conference - Ideas & Thoughts

Well, the conference has come and gone. Tonight there is a dinner and night of racing at Montreal (which I still call Blue Bonnets); and that is all for the two and a half day event.

I learned a great deal, and came away with more knowledge. The big bettors on the panel spoke about knowledge to bettors being power. Knowledge to customers about the business is also a good thing, on the flip side.

A few things I took away from the experience:

Bettors are certainly not the enemy if they play other games; or if they have switched betting to other lower cost avenues. Their behaviour and candor were welcomed as far as I saw. Most what stood out to me: every bettor that spoke wants to play the game. They want to play right into a Grand River pool on a Tuesday. They want the game to grow. They want it to succeed. They want to own more race horses. If the audience expected bitterness, or yelling, or name-calling from customers, they came to the wrong place. I think for the first time racing saw first hand that bettors want the same thing the tracks want - a growing game.

Ideas were plentiful. Roy Sproxton, gambler, racing fan and horse owner, expressed something interesting to the crowd, related to pool size. He said "I market make on a betting exchange for sports betting. I provide liquidity in the market. I get a nice price break to do that. Why can't I call Georgian, or Grand River and bet right into their pools, and get a decent price break. What if I guaranteed I bet $500 a race? That would encourage more people to bet into the pools and pool size could mushroom. Maybe with some work we could four or five guys doing that, who professionally play and provide incentive for others to join us and raise handles."

That's interesting. That's outside the box.

I have always had a soft spot for harness racing in PEI, NS and NB - the have not harness racing world, where people truck 200 miles to race for $500 purses. They have $20 win pools there. Why can't we get outside the box and have each horse owner, or a central organization charge, or contribute $15 on each entry, paid at the stable gate, or through a license fee or whatever. This $15 is a $5 wps bet on their horse. The pool size would be immediately $90 and each horse would be 6-1 (with rakes). Well each horse clearly does not have a 6-1 chance. The rail horse might be even money fair odds, so that encourages betting. People will keep adding money to the pools until fair odds are reached - that is a mathematical certainty. It guarantees churn. It attracts people looking for a value bet.

It's this type of change that might help our business grow.

Kaplan from Standardbred Canada had a good idea relating to scheduling races to get pool size up. Why not have one track each night of the week featured by all of harness racing across the country. A pick 6 could be that night for each track; some buzz might be created. The more we see a product and know people are betting it, the more we will play. One track featured is a good thing.

Takeout was on the burner, and I was surprised we did not hear more of "they are greedy for bringing that up" or "horse racing is too expensive" from the crowd. It was a testament to the people in this business - down to earth and respectful, even if they might not have agreed. I think perhaps it was because every bettor stressed, fairly eloquently most times, with a real-world underlying theme: "Look, I want to bet more. I can not bet more as the environment and pricing is too punitive. You have to make this game winnable. You have to attack the mindset that harness racing betting is for suckers. We have to let people win and lowering prices is a big way to do that."

We clearly all know that lowering prices will not alone cure the game. Any lowering prices has to be done via rebates and ADW, in a tight churnable betting account, to see the benefits of churn. Also, it will not happen overnight. Pinnacle sports did not grow overnight; they grew by churn. If we give people $4 extra back on a $30 score, they will just rebet it once, maybe twice at live racing. If they still have money left at the end of the night they will sink it in a slot machine on the way out. The live racing experience with slots unfortunately will break peoples bankrolls. Racing hopefully takes the same mindset that places like betfair and Pinnacle have/had - help people win, but do it via a betting account. Professional bettor James Erickson was asked "what can we do to up your bet size?" He replied, nothing. That is up to me, when my bankroll goes up I bet more, when it goes down I bet less. Help people win, they will bet more. It is simple, really."

I hope those points get across.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for contributing to the 7% tax back thread. I relayed several of the posts. Your voices are heard.

The bottom line for me is that this will take strong leadership and much work. I mentioned to a few people from Standardbred Canada at the end something sometimes we forget: To implement change it costs money. I as a SC member am willing to contribute with an increased fee. If they bring a workable plan that needs to be funded to horsepeople and others with an increased fee, I hope they have the same reaction. We have to pay for this, we can not just wave a wand and fix things. it takes work and sacrifice.

With wagering down 40%, the question is not can I afford to contribute something to the plan through an increased fee, the question is how can I afford not to.

Thanks for everyone's participation. Thanks to Standardbred Canada for inviting me. It was a privilege.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Updates

It seems the Harness Edge is up and running with some notes about each session of the conference. For those interested, here are a the links to the sessions so far:

Kickoff/The Ship is Sinking


Betting in Convenience Stores

Takeout Discourages Bettors

Edit: Standardbred Canada is now on board with some of the highlights. Well, reading the synopsis on my session I guess I was a big meanie, but oh well. We'll pop the rest up soon.

Turning the Ship

Betting in Convenience Stores is here. I only caught the last half of this, but it was a good discussion. I liked what Dave Bryans and Bassem had to say, but I did not hear enough from the others as I was doing a bit of work and missed most of what they said.

Last one up, was the Takeout discussion with notes and responses from two pros, Jamie and Roy. I know Jamie from university, it was nice to meet Roy. I choose to not sit at a poker table with either of them, however.

Wagering Conference - Day One

Hi everyone, I am back for a bit of real work (i.e. one that pays me so I can bet:)) and just decided to whip up a quick post.

I had a nice meet and breakfast. Jamie and I sat with Mike Hamilton and Greg Blanchard from Woodbine, whom I had met before. It is always nice to chat with those fellas as they love racing - all forms - and it shows.

The morning session that I was on was well attended and there were (what I thought) some good exchanges about how far we have fallen. I hope Jamie Martin is paid a decent salary from Woodbine, as he took the brunt of the criticism, but handled it quite well. I do not know this for sure, but Jamie to me seems to be a gentleman that recognizes the need for some sort of change. The gentleman from the BC Standardbred Association was first class. I enjoyed speaking with him, and he too shows he has a love of the game. There are certainly some fine people in this sport.

Everyone will no doubt hear more when Roy and Jamie are on the betting panel on takeouts which goes off in about an hour. I am very interested in that session. For the very first time a bettor will be showing the panel how betfair works and why it grows. 99% of the people will be seeing this for the very first time.

The comments after the morning session were good. The crowd is mostly racetrack people. We take it for granted that we as bettors are understood by everyone. Just like you or I do not know how to put a snaffle bit or set of blinkers on a horse, we have to realize that many in the audience are hearing most of this for the first time.

I tried my best to speak to bigger player concerns and laying out a simple and known fact to us - we love this game and we want the environment laid out so we can play more. Many of us are horse owners, too, we need a strong sport. I spoke of ADW's like Premier Turf Club who are slugging away 24/7 to keep and grow their customer base. I tried to relay that ADW's like that can keep us playing, and racing should be more receptive to resellers who help give the customer what they want.

Anyway, so far it seems to be going well, and Daryl and Kathy at Standardbred Canada have things running quite smoothly.

The takeout session will be more than interesting. If I get back later I will let you know how it goes.

Monday, April 28, 2008

NA Cup Note - Roberts Rage Euthanized

Just taking off, but I saw this sad news.

I feel bad for everyone involved. I hope one of the others the barn has goes out and has a good year for them. This has to be tough to go through.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Notes

Well, as most know, I am off to the wagering conference in Montreal. When fans and bettors hear "conference and racing" in the same sentence, more than likely their first reaction is "so what". I understand that. But this time there will be some differences.

I hope that from the bettor end we can get across a few concepts. And there are some big bettors on panels to hopeful convey much of them in a convincing way.

-Offshores are not the problem, we are the problem

-We are asking to turn the ship of wagering. How can we without a captain?

-Prices are too high in racing.

-Racing does not work hard enough to keep and ask for our money

-We have no long term customer and bettor-centric business plan

-Pool sizes are too low for many people to play into. Betfair would be dead if there were twenty people playing, too

I would hope we can get some answers to these questions and more. At least perhaps we can change the mindset a little bit, that something has to be done to compete, and win in the 21st century.

I will make some posts from the conference on how things are going. It should be fun, and I am looking forward to it.

Good luck at the windows today and this week!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday: Road to the North America Cup

Each Friday I have enlisted the help of the Harness Edge's (and Lucouellette.com's) Greg to help us with the Road to the Cup. Greg is a huge fan and follows the sport as close as anyone I know.

Andrew Cohen on his blog recently mentioned he loved seeing updates on Cup horses and who is making noise, who looks like a contender, a pretender and champ. I do too. As I have mentioned before, everyone knows the Florida Derby, the Wood, the Blue Grass. They are watched, analyzed and talked about. We need this in harness racing. The Cup website put out by Woodbine is good, and there are other resources out there. But we simply do not push this concept. On this website, through people like Greg, myself and all other fans I would like to do this for all major stakes. We will have a Road to the Meadowlands Pace, the Hambo, the Jug. I think it's fun.

Anyway, each Friday we will enlist Greg to give us an update on horses, preps and whatever else we can find.

The "big horse" Somebeachsomewhere is still number one. Muhammad Ali in 1975 did not drop as title holder because he took a few months off. This horse is a monster, and will remain number one until he gets knocked off. I have a soft spot for this horse as well. He is owned by a small stable, and they are absolutely electrified in having a shot at greatness. This is in no way a knock of the big stables; they are great for the game and deserve to play and have success - we'll save the class warfare for TV commercials in the US election in the fall. But there is something about a small town in Nova Scotia pulling for a horse that to me is harness racing. I wish them very well.

Here is Greg's Friday report. Thanks for doing it Greg, and great job:

With every passing day, the $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup, which will once again be raced at Mohawk, draws closer. Some North America Cup horses have already hit the track for races while others are qualifying or getting ready to.

Our top rated horse, Somebeachsomewhere, arrived in Ontario to a great deal of fanfare, and then went a big training trip on Friday morning. Nothing’s changed, he’s still the one to beat.

A pair of talented Duane Marfisi trainees, the 2007 Woodrow Wilson winner Dali, and his partner On The Brink, will be back qualifying within the next couple of weeks at Mohawk after spending the winter in New Jersey with Marfisi shuttling back and forth to take care of his pair of stars.

There is nothing new on the Duneside Perch or Moon Beam fronts or the Carl Jamieson/Santanna Blue Chip front. As was already posted, Carl’s horse Roberts Rage is battling for his life after falling ill. I’d like to wish all the best to the connections of that talented horse.

The George Teague barn has been sending a bunch of NA Cup horses to the gate recently. Idle Hour captured the final of the Robert J. Suslow at the Meadowlands despite stalled cover. Badlands Nitro, who is somewhat of an unknown coming into the season, but showed immense talent in Delaware last year, qualified in 1:52.2 with a last quarter in 26.4 on Thursday at The Meadowlands.

Fellow NA Cup eligible Deuce Seelster (trained by Darren McCall) was fifth in that qualifier that Badlands Nitro was the winner of, and our final top ten horse, Sand Shooter, is entered to qualify on Saturday morning at Scioto Downs.

Now, as far as some others you may not know or we don’t have rated, Anderlecht (trainer Therese Vrablic) was an impressive winner at Woodbine on Monday night, scoring in 1:51.4 with a last quarter in 25.3 and a back-half in the 52 second range. A couple of others, Real Tough (trainer Trevor Warwick) and Blue Claw (trainer Mark Ford) battled in a non-winners of two event on Thursday night at The Meadowlands, with Real Tough coming out the winner in 1:51.4 with a last quarter in 25.4.

Finally, a couple more NA Cup horses are in the Diplomat Series opener at Woodbine on Friday night. Lisfinny (trainer Bob McIntosh), who has seen his stock rise and then fall after a poor showing in the Youthful Series, won a non-winners of two event after that and is looking for better things in this series. Shadow Play (trainer Ian Moore) is coming in from the Maritimes off a 13-length victory at the Charlottetown Driving Park and Entertainment Centre.

Eghad

Churchill Downs is suing a horseman's group; the one who is causing them problems at Calder, and the one who is stopping the Lone Star signal from being shown to customers.

Churchill Downs Inc. filed a lawsuit April 24 asking a federal court to dissolve the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group.

In a suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, CDI, CDI-owned Calder Race Course, and Churchill Downs Technology Initiatives Co. also are seeking an injunction to prevent the THG and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association from “agreeing on uniform terms for the sale of signals, boycotting racetracks and ADW operators that do not comply with their demands.”


I've never owned or ran a McDonald's, but I think it goes something like this: Buy meat off farmer, make meat into hamburger, sell hamburger to customer.

In racing we seem to do some sort of strange Xfiles or 12 Monkey's twist on this simple way of doing business. Is it to much to ask a track to put up a purse, a horseowner to enter a horse and race, and a customer to bet on it?

Where did this go all wrong. Why are trainers involved in signals? Why are tracks suing horseman?

Eghad.

More changes in the ADW world. The Youbet CEO resigned today. It seems that there are some strange things happening everywhere.

Well, as you know I downloaded a bunch of data for Calder, so I could play it on my jcapper software. And also, when I found out the next day that Calder was raising their takeouts I deleted those files. I decided what the heck, maybe I will send an email to Calder just to let them know that I would not be playing their signal because they raised prices.

First, I was floored that I got a response. Normally (I hear this over and over) that nine times out of ten, no one does. So thanks for that. Their marketing person clearly asked for my business and apologized for raising their prices. That was good.

Second, here is a further portion of the response.

We understand that a raise in prices is undesirable for customers of any product; however, with the rise of costs in the current economic climate, an increase of our take-out was deemed necessary.

Is there anyone in this business - anyone - that understands gambling? This is the truly unfortunate way tracks still think - like a monopoly where raising a price results in a jump in revenue. As one clever commenter has said (with regards to a tracks contention about rising costs) : "what in the heck does this mean? In twenty years takeouts will be 60%?"

Eghad, we have a long, long way to go in this business before we will be able to compete.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Swift Justice, Dave Palone, 1:50 & a Tough Game

It's big news. In 2006, and then I think while under appeal again in early 2007 trainer Mickey Burke had two lidocaine positives.

From harnessracing.com:

Harnessracing.com has received confirmation from the New Jersey Racing Commission that trainer Mickey Burke will have an administrative hearing before the office of adminstrative law May 5, 6 and 14 regarding two lidocaine positives at the Meadowlands in late 2006.

Burke was voted the 2006 Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Last year Burke's stable set all-time highs with 673 victories and $10.7 million in purse earnings. Burke's barn was also the busiest with 2,774 starters.


If he is loses his case, does that mean he has to give the $10.7 million back?

In other news, NBC is reporting a man landed on the moon, the Charles Manson case starts next week and a school bus driver who got caught for drunk driving was finally fired after two years of appeals. Your kids are safe now.

Dave Palone is a man on a mission. Well maybe nothing that dramatic, but I would like to get his weekly paycheck from the Meadows. Over a two day period he has won 18 races. We discussed way back when that he was clicking something fierce in November and December in this post.

Is this good for the bettors? Nope. But no matter what, it sure is fun to watch. (Although if you did bet Dave in every start Monday and Tuesday you did get back $1.28 for every dollar bet).

As I mentioned earlier, slots money has really turned this game on its ear - in many cases not for the better. Places like Pocono and Chester who race in front of a handful of fans take entries from the Meadowlands, who race in front of many. And places like those and the Meadows take away some of the most recognizable drivers. Palone is a Pittsburgh homer, so perhaps he is a bad example, but guys like Tetrick and Morgan should be at the M, and probably would if these slots-stacked places raced for Rosecroft like purses.

Another dichotomy in a long list for our sport.

Regardless, if Dave Palone can find a way to get a few more drives than usual, he would beat Tetrick's record easily. At this clip he needs only 3512 to beat what Tim did in over 4700 drives. An amazing feat, in our game which seems to have records broken on a yearly basis.

I did stumble upon something funny tonight about Dave. When checking Valerie's thoroughbred blog it turns out she played little league with him. We find all those juicy tidbits here at Pull the Pocket :)

I see Arch Madness is returning. Is the 1:50 mark broken this year for a trotter? I think it is, and I think this horse does it. Maybe at the Red Mile.

Last, some horrible news to anyone involved in this sport. North America Cup eligible (#8 on our list) Roberts Rage is fighting for his life. I just watched a story on him last night on the Score and they were all looking forward to him having a great year. He is a nice horse and a fast horse and this is a shame. It shows how in our game you can be on top of the world on a Monday, dreaming of having a great horse, and on Wednesday you can be sleeping beside his stall, trying to save his life. Let's hope this horse beats the odds.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blog Rollin'

Harness racing a grassroots sport. Just like fans have embraced the Little Brown Jug in a small town in Ohio, the Gold Cup and Saucer in Eastern Canada, or the North America Cup in rural Campbellville, it is no surprise that we have seemed to embrace blogging and chatting via the Internet.

We already mentioned that Harnesslink has started a very fine blog over at harnessracingblog.com They do a great job, and have some good participants.

Over at Harnessracing.com, commenter and industry watcher Andrew Cohen has started his own. This is good. Andrew speaks in common sense terms and has many ideas that bettors and fans have been echoing for years. The good thing is: He is well read by the industry and has some pull. We have been saying that the game massively needs direction and a leader with a budget; uniform rules, uniform drug rules, state by state uniformity in Internet betting; stakes race scheduling, slot slush funds..... on and on what a commissioner can do if given the power. I would say he has made this a discussion piece all by himself. It is well worth bookmarking if you are a racing fan.

A couple of blog posts that caught my eye:

An update from Duane Marfisi on Dali and On the Brink, two horses we are watching for our Road to the Cup.

A post on New Dice Please, a horse that blogger Phil has questioned, as have several other fans on chat sites. We have spoken that we'd love to see a Hong Kong type rule in harness racing, where performances are given notes in the program, or on an industry website about different performances from the connections themselves. The "harness racers are cheaters" mantra that fans seem to bellow must be addressed in some systematic way. Andrew might be able to get us some information, in his own way, by phoning people.

Last up, thanks for the link to my motion on takeouts. We think that making racing more affordable can bring us a whole new market of price-sensitive players; the more people link and comment, the better.

Like we have echoed in the post below on Calder raising rakes in the face of a declining handle, it seems that there is no way we can make racing change for the better. But I am an optimist, I think there is. Voices like Harnesslink and Cohen are bricks in building a better home for all of us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wow. It's About All You Can Say

Gamblers were completely puzzled (and more) when Woodbine Entertainment raised their Pick 4 rakes a few years ago, right in the face of a declining customer base.

In 2008, with tracks hearing more and more from players annoyed with high rakes, and being treated poorly this news is just in. Hold on to your hat, Calder Race Course has raised takeouts.

The big news to specialty gamblers Monday was that Calder raised its takeout percentage on a few wagering options. The track will now take 27 percent out of Pick 3, 4 and 5 wagering (up 3 percentage points) and 21 percent from the Daily Double and Exacta bets (up 1 percentage point).

Folks, this is absolutely unbelievable.

Some reaction from gamblers, courtesy of Pace Advantage:

Seriously, are the people who run Calder (Churchill Downs) insane ?

Goodbye Calder! Goodbye Turf Paradise!

Hello Keeneland! Hello Hawthorne!


Boycott Calder
Yesterday's first race pools:
First @ Philly 38K wps pool.
First @ Calder 7K wps pool.
Let the low pools at Calder teach them a lesson.
A takeout increase is not enough...
Whoever is to blame.....I just don't care.
I'm through with Calder.
If only we would stick together and boycott Calder and any other track that pulls stunts like this, how soon things would change.


There is a poll out on Standardbredcanada.com asking this and here are the results so far:

On April 29 and April 30, stakeholders from all segments of the harness racing industry will meet for the Standardbred Wagering Conference in Montreal to address the steepest betting decline in recorded racing history. Do you expect any real change to come from these meetings?

Yes 97 votes 17.6%
No 453 votes 82.4%
Total Votes: 550


Now we know why people are so negative. Even in 2008, some track people have sit around a table, looked at each other and said "ya, our game is fading, wagering is down, we have fierce competition from other forms of gambling........ hey, I have an idea, let's raise prices!"

Something tells me you have never heard these comments throughout world business history:

"I am not selling any cars, I think I should make them more expensive"
Henry Ford

"I only sold ten lawn chairs last week, to get people to buy them I think I will raise their price"
Sam Walton

I do not blame anyone one bit for voting no in the above survey.

For a real quote or two from these two fine businessmen:

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.
Henry Ford

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.
Sam Walton

Monday, April 21, 2008

Quick Notes on a Monday

I hope everyone had a good weekend. The weather (in the east) is absolutely beautiful. This time of year is always one that I like. As a racing fan, the stakes are right around the corner, and soon, summer schoolers for 2yo's.

In this vein I got to reading Woodbine's shiny domed on-air 'capper Mike Hamilton's blog. It is a blog dedicated to an ownership group (two actually), that he mentors. Their first purchase, Justa Minx broke her maiden nicely last week. Mike has some great pictures up, and stories about the win.

This is harness racing. A whole bunch of people can get involved at a low cost, and go watch their horse go. I bet not one of the folks involved is worried about making money. I and many others are the same way. If you can break about even, the value you get from watching your horse go is worth its weight in gold. The stories Mike has up on the blog are testament to that. I love the bit about how a bunch of owners brought her carrots after the first win. This is what the sport is about and I wish them all the success in the world. If you want to see some awesome photographs like the one above (that's from Mike on his blog), pop over to his site.

He has notes up on their 2YO as well, and how he is doing. I feel at a loss this year. We usually have a piece of a few yearlings, but this year we could not make it happen. It was a tough year for the stable. 12 months ago I was getting reports on five - two fillies and three colts. That is always fun, and you can tell in Mike's typing voice he is excited about their Modern Art colt. I would be too!

It is a great time of the year.


"PR" In Action


Calgary Flames player has won the Swedish V75. We have mentioned it often. Helping players win and promoting them is important; letting people repeat the mantra "you are a sucker to play horse racing" is unacceptable without a response. Why WEG et al do not issue a press release a week about winners is beyond me.

More Super Pictures


Some new pics up at the Harness Edge of Somebeachsomewhere. What a beauty!

Wagering Conference and Comments to "Give the Tax Back"

Fantastic comment on "Give the Tax Back" by a poster from Los Angeles. This is so important because we often hear racing speak of offshore sites taking revenue that they would have had. Anyone that plays with rebates and ups their volume knows this is not the case. This is never more apparent than in this comment:

I was using pinnacle offshore until the debacle. Because of the rebate I found a way to make place bets profitable. I wound up with a 3.2% loss, but a rebate of 7%. It actually was a rebate of 6.2% as they did not give a rebate on 2.20 horses.

Now the kicker is, I went from betting about 30 to 50k to 1.3 million that year.It made the churn factor possible. If takeout is lowered it may have the same affect. I now have changed my play where place betting is profitable, but it is so small that I have stopped. I would definitely go back if takeout is lowered significantly.


Everyone I know that has played with lower prices has experienced the same thing. In a news story we often hear a racing insider say "look, he bet $1.3M at an offshore. If you shut it down they will play 1.3M with us". No, in some cases it is $30,000. In most I would say it is zero. Once you win, and can win, and have a high betting threshold, you don't go back to playing $12 a race. It is difficult. Which is even more worrisome to me, as someone who cares about the sport. This man is now sensitized to bet $1.3M a year. Why don't we put in place the environment to let him? Don't we want people playing one point three million a year instead of thirty thousand?

If you would like to comment, please do. We are trying to get as many as we can. Sometimes it is finnicky to leave a comment, so email under "my profile" if you'd like.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wagering Conference and Sunday Notes

First up, I was scanning the wagering conference schedule and it looks pretty good. The organizers have seemingly set it up so that there are horseplayers on each topic. This is a good thing. The underlying theme of many conferences (I attend them for marketing a couple times a year) is one of dictation. Usually people are there to tell us something as a customer. This time it seems customers will be able to speak up and be heard.

The moderators we all know, or have heard of. People like Mike Hamilton and Greg Blanchard who handle much of the on-air duties at Woodbine. I have met both and they certainly love the game. Good choices.

Two professional bettors, of poker, racing and other forms of gambling are featured in a few of the sessions. Great stuff. I think (as Dan from Florida said below in a comment) that this game, if priced right can attract more and more professionals. This is not a bad thing. The pools grow, and just because you are a professional does not mean you win all the time. Many, many professionals operate on razor-thin margins. They just pump a lot of money into the pools. They have bad days and lose big, just like we all do.

I will put some blog notes up each day during the conference, so if you want to hit the page up, there should be some news and stories.

Now some news around racing.

Ken Rucker won off the claim tonight with Soul Chaser, in the Meadowlands Open dusting horses like Total Truth. I don't blame any one of you for cringing at that news.

In thoroughbred racing the California judges really slapped trainer Art Sherman hard when two of his horses tested positive for milkshakes. Ten days. I bet Art never does it again.

New York bars a thoroughbred trainer. Cangamble has all the tidbits. I could not do a better job explaining what happened. Interesting stuff. It's about half way down the blog post.

From the what's wrong with racing, X File #234020: Churchill Horseman will not OK Signal.

Consider this chilling scenario: Customers of several advance deposit wagering companies – and possibly some large off-shore rebate shops – won’t be able to place wagers on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) through those entities.

That premise of shut-out wagering is a live possibility at the present moment, as negotiations between members affiliated with the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group and TrackNet Media Group are at a stubborn impasse.


If you read the story and can connect the dots, first I'd give you a prize. Second, if you can explain the nonsense, you deserve a medal. I think it goes something like this: "I want more." "No, I want more, you can't have more".

Something like that. I bet.

Texas bettors and horseowners seem to be making their voices heard. For those who do not know, Lone Star Park in Texas is having their signal shut down by a horseman group. One email caught my eye that was posted from a horseowner at Paceadvantage.


Dear Sir/Madam,

Please forward this email to Mr. Tommy Azopardi or whomever else you find might be interested in reading it.

I am a long-time bettor, and several times owner of horses in Texas.
Imagine my surprise when I fire up my on-line betting service Thursday April
10th and find that Lone Star Park is NOT available on their betting platform. To make things even more frustrating, this particular ADW was set up specifically for residents of Texas when WinTicket.com folded up and sent most of their clients over to TwinSpires.com.

Ok. So I can't place a few $2 bets. No big deal. I figure I'll just watch the races on HRTV. Well, imagine my surprise when there is no LSP racing on TV. None live, none taped.....nothing.

So who are you guys really representing? I've been a licensed owner in Texas as recently as June, 2007. Nobody ever contacted me about representation regarding ADW's, simulcasting, television rights, or the like.

The current situation out at Lone Star is EXACTLY the type of thing that makes me never want to renew my owners license again OR go out there and place a bet ( I live approximately 25 minutes away, by the way ). Heck, I'll just take up poker or play the lottery for my desire to "gamble". I can dang sure find a hobby less expensive than thoroughbred horse ownership.

Your horsemen's group (or is it MY horsemen's group?) has a very shortsighted view of what it's going to take to "grow" their revenues. Online wagering, free past performances, live races via internet or television, free taped replays and rebates for wagering ARE the future of horseracing. Trying to get a larger % of a smaller pie is not the answer.

The answer is making the pie larger.

I think your opening night attendance figures at Lone Star should be an eye-opener. I don't have a clue what handle was, but I'm sure it declined significantly too.

In conclusion, making it easier to watch live racing and get a bet down for the "average" individual should be your goal. NOT the opposite. Thank you for reading my vent.

Regards,
**** ****
License #*****
Former Owner, Former Handicapper, Former Bettor


For those of us who have dealt with similar groups here in Ontario, like David Reid in his comment below (about, incredibly not being able to bet in Kingston because there is a dispute with a track that is not even built yet), we all know how you feel sir.

Last but not least, I think this is fantastic news. Christian Cullen, the super-sire from New Zealand has been sent to stand stud at Kentuckiana Farms. For everyone that has ever asked the question "I wonder what he would do with an excellent book of mares like the big farms send to their first crop sires", you will get your answer. I had the same question last year, as many of you had, with Yankee Cruiser. He is now at Hanover. He'll get a shot too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Overwhelming

First off, let me thank everyone who commented, and ask if you have not and want to, please do below.

The response has been much more than I anticipated and several things have struck me:

- The Harnessedge, Standardbred Canada and Harnesslink.com all placed the story up on their websites. There are obviously people there frustrated that the status-quo has taken over our game. I guess if they see a group of people concerned that the game has fallen so far, and not grown as it should, and offering somewhat of a proposal, it gives them reason to promote that. I thank them all for running it. We have had traffic and responses from their links.

- The fans who commented, who might not bet an arm and a leg, but who want to see the game get better. The horsemen who commented, who we all know are busy people.

- The bigger bettors. They commented too. I would be shocked if in aggregate, we had less than $30M in yearly handle represented in the comments so far. Ian Meyers who runs Premier Turf Club also commented. If a takeout reduction happened across the board it would actually hurt his business. His model is built on returning some rake to the player through legal rebating. Still, there he is saying "great idea". We need more people in this business thinking of its growth tomorrow, rather than their own pocketbook of today. Ian's platform is awesome and so is his customer service. He will find a way to win as a businessman in whatever racing throws at him.

The common theme that I find with players is that we are unlike anyone out there in racing. When the horsemen groups and tracks discuss their deals, as we see going on down south with groups wanting to shut wagering off at Lone Star, and yesterday's news about the Kentucky Derby, there is always a fight for a slice. With the players, without fail when speaking of takeout reductions (and this is a common theme of the comments below) it is always about growing the game.

It amazes me like no other business. We don't see customers at Walmart comment on a blog about the price of lawn chairs because they want to see Wal Mart grow. We don't see people comment about wanting the prices of televisions changed so Best Buy can make 11 cents a share instead of 9 cents a share. But in racing, fans and gamblers comment constantly about helping the game get better, and bigger and stronger.

Our fans and bettors are a strange breed, we all know that. But their passion for this game is like none other. They all deserve a seat at the table. When I see the fights down south with groups butting heads for signals and slices and signal fights, that is never more apparent. This game is nothing without our customers - absolutely nothing. They need to be heard.

Once again, I thank everyone who commented and ask that you continue to. It's important.

Good racing today and this weekend everyone.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Player Motion: Give the Tax Back

In 1996, most know that the pari-mutuel tax on wagering was reduced from 7.5% to 0.5% as part of the slots at racetracks program. The industry took this mostly for themselves.

From the ORC directive:

1996

Under an incentive to provide much needed impetus to the industry, the Ontario Government reduces the provincial pari-mutuel tax on wagering from 7.5% to .5% with the balance to be returned to industry to be used as agreed to in the signed Memorandum of Understanding between the government, the ORC and the newly formed Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA).


With the wagering conference coming up this month, I think it is time to have voices heard to right this wrong, and grow Ontario racing.

I propose this:

This tax going back into the industry must be repealed and a mechanism must be put in place where it is returned in an immediate 7% takeout reduction for all tracks in Ontario.

When we listen to Woodbine or other track and horseman execs they often complain that Pinnacle is "stealing" their customers because they offer a 5% rebate. Well, you guys have a 7% rebate that you can give us now that would crush the offshores you complain about.

The argument that they can't afford it simply does not hold water. They got this 7% added in 1996, so they were operating without it for many years. You can't say you can not afford to give something back that you never had in the first place. Not to mention, over $2B has been added to this business through slots, so we can not cry poor.

The benefits are compelling:

1. Word of Mouth and Buzz - Everyone in every jurisdiction that bets racing will know that Ontario has the lowest rakes in North America. You can spin and promote this easily and effectively. I think a 6% reduction is fine, and the other 1% going to an industry marketing plan to get the word out that Ontario has the lowest prices in North America is a grand idea.

2. Churn - HPIbets is currently the platform in Canada. We all know that churn happens most when your money is rebated daily via an internet site. We might be able to churn 6 or 7 times in a tight ADW like HPIbets.

3. More Fans Would Signup - Every bank gives away toasters for new accounts, because they know when you are an account holder you look to be a long-term customer. If the takeout reduction is done in HPIbets.com, it can grow like a bank or cable company has for generations.

4. 7% rebates would be done only for Ontario Tracks - No Santa Anita rebates, no sending money to promote another track. We promote our local product.

In the end, we might just reverse handle trends in this province and grow our sport.

Please reply below if you are for this tax being finally placed back into the players pockets to help stop this massive bleeding in Ontario. I will forward all comments (even a "yes" and "no" comment is appreciated) to whomever I can. If you do play at one of the offshores or play other low cost games now, if you could comment on if this would get you back to playing, it would be appreciated as well. If you could add your name it would be great, but I understand if you do not.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Delivery Mechanisms in the 2000's

From the horseplayer “we knew it” file: The Oregon hub that handles wagering for bigger internet players had wagering grow by 17.4% in 2007. None of our readers here, who are customers and gamblers are surprised, yet I bet racing is. Overall handles declined in 2007, but money did shift to places like Premier Turf Club and others.

A record total of $1,573,680,475 was processed through Oregon hubs in 2007, up from $1,340,375,866 recorded in 2006. Oregon launched its hub platform in 2000, when it processed a seemingly-paltry $19,779,763 in handle.

Handle from eight advance deposit wagering entities licensed in the state during the fourth quarter of 2007 totaled $341,144,875, up 12.5% compared with $303,287,343 during the fourth quarter of 2006, when seven ADWs operated in the state.


This IS the growth segment for racing. This is a part of the future. Yet, many of these companies who want to offer and resell racing get roadblocks put up in front of them at seemingly every turn. Why do we do this? Are we greedy, and think we should be squeezing more money out of our distributors? If so, we live in fantasy land. We have said on the blog many times, and no one seems to dispute it in the news, or empirical evidence: Resellers are our friend and increase handles more than racing can do running it themselves. Walmart is pretty much liked if you are selling a widget. Giving them 20% of your margin is expected, and you are happy to do it. In racing, giving a reseller 8% or 12% of betting volume is somehow taboo and something we “have to stop”. We hear the mantra from track execs and horseman groups over and over speak of places like Oregon, and Premier Turf Club, or Day at the Track as places that “don’t pay their fair share” or they “hurt handles.”

Will Cummings in his report on wagering that racing paid him to do, recommended racing to embrace and work with these places as they provide a valuable service to price-sensitive internet players. Believe it or not folks, this is from a story from the report racing paid for in 2004.

On the subject of high-volume betting shops, the report says there is no evidence they have cannibalized handle at racetracks or other wagering outlets.

"The consumer looking for gambling entertainment has many choices available, and over the past 20 years, he or she has largely been choosing something other than racing," the report says. "If we do not seek to maximize benefits to the consumer, we will not be in business for long."

The report notes how handle at six tracks this year fell when they stopped doing business with high-volume shops. (Track officials have argued rebaters steal their customers and don't contribute new money to wagering pools.)

"What the industry needs most, in my opinion, and has been working on for 20-plus years, is a diversified set of delivery mechanisms to bring our product to the customer, as well as attract more customers to our product," Cummings said in the report.


If you ran a business, paid for a report that told you the kool-aid you’ve been drinking for 40 years is completely out to lunch, what would you do? Would you continue to do the same thing, over and over again?

Just glancing around the web I see another interesting thing along these lines. I think this sums up just how far from reality racing is with their customer base. Check this post on paceadvantage.com. It is a message a bettor and Texas horse owner got when clicking in his favorite deposit wagering company, hoping to make a bet where his horses race, Lone Star Park.

LONE STAR PARK WAGERING

Texas Horsemen have not authorized wagers to be taken on Lone Star Park, whose meet begins today.
We will inform you immediately to any changes in this situation.


It has been said by many in racing: We shoot ourselves in the foot constantly in this business. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Note: Along these lines, really glad to see the Harness Horse Association did not disappoint and do something wacky like think of fixing a problem. In Windsor there were three choices offered to combat their revenue difficulties a) Purse pool and maybe get things back on their own two feet to build towards the future b) Decrease race supply by cutting eight dates or c) Do absolutely nothng and cut purses a bit. If you really need to know which one they chose you can read the story here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Canadian Harness Exchange?

Question for Tuesday.

It's Tuesday night. Grand River Raceway is on. It is not a bad place to bet, but pool size is an issue for people wanting to bet more than $20. Lo and behold a Canadian Harness Betting Exchange is available. One track per night is featured. They have set it up like Betfair did, where market makers with real dollars are getting a deal to set markets, and provide liquidity. There is volume and there is action.

The website hosting it links to free video and free programs. There is a chat feature. Handicappers are there, and playing. The rakes are microscopic. The place wants to grow, so prices are fan-friendly. Dummies did not set this up, like some businesses that think if you build it they will come. They have set the table for it to be an active place to be.

Would you join up, pop a few bucks in and play?

Simple question, really. Does it interest you more than playing in small pools at the track? You currently do not play Grand River, would this entice you to watch it? Is it something different that catches your eye as a customer of racing, but not of Grand River?

Cangamble placed up a link to a demo of betfair. It is a tad slow, but if you have never seen what you can do on an exchange, it is a good primer. It is here.

The bottom line is: Harness betting is tanking. Drastic measures call for drastic action. Sitting on your hands is not an option. Is this an option that can energize harness racing? Are you interested? Would you spend a night messing around being a Grand River fan, eventhough you might not even know where it is, nor have ever watched a race there? Would this make you a follower of Grand River racing?

Feedback would be very much appreciated.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monday Notes

Some news, notes and other stuff on a late Monday.

It seems Deweycheatumnhowe, the big horse from the Schnittker stable is on form to return on time. Amazingly, a 154 training tune-up before qualifying met Riggins, the big son of Art Major. He was a bit of an enigma last year. He looked great, poor, great, poor. I really do not know what to make of him. He is a beautiful horse, though. Here's the update from Ray.

Pennsylvania breeders make some good coin from slots. Good for them. But I must say it makes me wonder. Why are horseplayers still paying 30%+ rakes at Penn National with all this money from slots?

Roberthebruce and Anderlecht, two North America Cup hopefuls qualified today. Robert is a speedy son of Real Desire. He seems a little bit high strung, as witnessed in a couple starts last year, but he is very fast. Anderlecht is doing well, touch wood, and qualified nicely. He looks to make his debut next week.

John Pricci comments on Lone Star Park's new low rake Pick 5. The takeout stands at 12%.

“Our players have asked us for a lower takeout wager and we have responded to their requests,” said Lone Star president and general manager Drew Shubeck in a prepared statement. “We think Lone Star Park’s new Pick 5 wager is an exciting new bet that will return more money to our loyal customers.”

Not bad. However for Canadians I assume the rake will be 25% or more when betting through HPI. I will check on that and letcha know. When I called to see if the Ellis Park pick 4 was being offered at 4% at HPI for Canadians I got an answer that can only be described as incredulous.

I am going to the Canadian Gaming Summit in Montreal at the end of the month. Should be fun. If any blog readers or contributers are going to be there, shoot me an email. Maybe we can have an ale and lose some cash betting :)

What I would like sometime in the next week is ask a few questions about some of the topics to see what people think of standardbred racing wagering in Canada. Maybe we can learn something.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Handicapping Sunday: The Tools

I was struck recently on how many tools are out there for us as horseplayers. The thoroughbred game trumps harness big-time, but really we do have a few up our sleeve. As racing opens itself up, and begins to stroll into the 2000's, the tracks themselves have offered out some decent things, and the resellers have trumped them (no suprise there).

Betfair bought timeform, the UK speed ratings folks and offer that right out for free on their site. They know we need information to bet. They also offer out a partnership with thorograph for their players. This is especially nice for serious bettors.

Race replays at places like HPI and Twinspires are good, and needed. For harness racing, because many horses take a week off and go to the back, or get in traffic trouble, I use this quite often.

Places like Simubet offer out harness speed ratings. Bob Pandolfo has his own software he markets called the Diamond System.

Trackit is a database service offered by Standardbred Canada. Mike Hamilton of WEG touched on its use in a recent article in Trot. It can provide us with a ton of information, in real time, as we bet.

If we look, we can find more and more information than ever before.

Some places do go the extra mile though. Ian Meyers of Premier Turf Club created his business on the motto "For Players-By Players". To anyone that knows the service, they know this is true. This was no more apparent today at Keeneland. Ian's partner Joe is a bloodstock agent. He was at Keeneland for Blue Grass Stakes day, and they offered to their customers a private clocking report. Then they took it one step further. Joe called Ian with live paddock reports on the horses condition and look. Joe is no dummy, so this is pretty decent information. If that is not going out of your way to try and help your customer base, I don't know what is.

Now for the really interesting part. Ian then went on a chat board and reported these live findings in real time, all day. So, we have rebates, a private clocker report and a real-time report on the horses condition right from the Keeneland paddock. Wow.

Ian's report was fun to read while messing around at Keeneland, but it took a turn. In the Blue Grass, Pyro was favoured heavily. He was taking money from everywhere. Ian's paddock report, here at Paceadvantage.com said this about the race:

Blue Grass Stakes - Real Time
Asmussen barn has done what they can for Pyro spreading his shoes in front and filling in with acrylic to give him a bigger foot, but he's still smaller than average and very small behind where they've done nothing. We'll take a shot against him using both Pletcher horses, Cowboy Cal and Monba and Halo Najib, all of whom looked fit and dappled. Zito's other horse Stevil is an interesting longshot in here.

Cool Coal Man, Big Truck and Visionaire look anti-poly physically. Smallish and/or very flat feet.


Monba was the five horse and Cowboy Cal the three. Here are the results.

5 $19.60 $8.60 $6.60
3 . $8.80 $6.60
2 . . $8.20

The superfecta paid $44,000.

As the old-guard in racing seems to get left in the dust, stuck in the mindset that we will all bet with them forever, and it is their right to have us as customers, the resellers are rolling; trying to help us win. Racereplays, Betfair, PTC, Track It, Simubet, Thorograph and much more are out there. It's not our grandfathers racing anymore.

Notes: I had a gander at Idle Hour tonight at the Meadowlands. I will be dropping him off the NA Cup contender list. I have to go through all the colts making their qualifiers and getting ready for the big dance. Hopefully we'll get that done this week.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Open Your Market and Grow

The Aussie’s seem to get it. At least Tasmania does.

In our post below we mentioned the High Court in Australia voted that shutting out places like Betfair was unconstitutional. They were finally allowed to compete. The reaction was expected and the arguments were promoted with vigor: You can bet a horse to lose, it will crush racing, and more of the same. The one argument I found quite funny was “they are now allowed to advertise racing all over Australia”. Say what? I loved that one. Racing is upset that a reseller can advertise their product. Hmmm, can you say backwards business? If you were making lemonade and a kid on the street selling it bought TV commercials, at no cost to you to advertise your product I bet you would be jumping for joy. Not in racing.

Now I see that here across the pond, Stan Bergstein weighed in with his thoughts. I normally agree with Stan; but this time I certainly do not. Give his column a read if you are interested, he has many of the same arguments we hear from old time racing. For example, the “destroy racing as we know it” line. We all know racing has been destroying itself for 30 years with the status quo, and looking for protection rather than competing.

The argument from us here on the blog, and punters all over the world is that this opens up racing to a whole new market. This is good for the long-term growth of the sport. We have given many examples about how this achieves this, and almost daily we see more and more. How about this. This is exactly what happens when you entice people to bet your product and work with, and not against, a world-class gambling operation who scratches and claws to grow their business. This was announced a couple of days ago, as the High Courts opened up betting markets: Betfair in Australia has forged a partnership with Tote.

Betting firm Betfair has taken another major step in its quest to revolutionise gaming in Australia after becoming an online agency for TOTE Tasmania.

Betfair's presence in the Apple Isle has already been a major boost for Tasmanian racing, with the latest agreement meaning Betfair will distribute the Tasmanian group's betting products to its international client base.

"We'll be distributing TOTE Tasmania products to our customers worldwide," Betfair corporate and business affairs director Andrew Twaits said.


What this means in layman terms is simple. They will be showing racing on their interface just like they always have, but with this partnership they will be offering (right in the same interface) a link so customers can bet right into pools with WPS and exotics. So, if you can’t get a price in betfair, or see an exactor or tri you like, and you want to bet, just click the button and bet away. This is awesome. Can you imagine if we had that here and we actually embrace this? Could you imagine if the title was “Betfair and HPI Link Up”. That would mean Woodbine Harness would have a specific link on betfair allowing 1.1 million customers from all over the world to directly bet into our pools. How is that bad for racing? Someone please tell me.

From another story in Melbourne about the new partnership:

"We will be giving a one-stop shop for punters. This will complement our product. Punters can bet on the exotics or, if they see better value, they can bet win and place," he said.

"For every dollar which is bet via our website, some of it will go to the Tasmanian racing industry and some will find its way back to Tabcorp via their agreement with Tote Tasmania."

Tote Tasmania chief executive Craig Coleman estimated the move could add "10s of millions of dollars" to its turnover.

"What that means is that Betfair customers will be able to bet directly on TOTE Tasmania products directly through their Betfair account."

"There will be a single log-in, a single interface and a single account, so no transferring of funds. The convenience factor that we're announcing today is compelling."

"Betfair already has more than one million registered customers in the UK which it can market Australian racing to immediately."


Ok racing, can you please tell me again that this is bad for us and we should be shutting people like this out at every turn? As new evidence mounts and mounts, I think we all know the answer.

The monopoly is dead. The sooner we come to terms with that, and use these new 21st century delivery mechanisms to grow, the better off we'll all be.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Notes; Getting Caught Up

Well, I finally got some time to do some reading, and getting caught up on things that are happening in racing. The Guest Post Friday will come back next week.

First up, Cangamble has been typing away while I was gone. On Sunday he wrote an interesting post comparing Woodbine’s payouts for hosting Keeneland’s signal, as well as some other thoughts. With common pooling we expect common payouts. This as a horseplayer is NON-negotiable. I don’t care whose finger is in what pie, what horseman group wants what out of what pool: If you advertise common-pooling you common pool. How difficult is this? The first rule of marketing in business is never over-promise and under-deliver. Not paying out common pool payouts while they are being advertised to customers is simply unacceptable. Horseplayers have been nickled and dimed, hoodwinked and taken advantage of like this for far too long. It must stop.

From Cangamble’s post:

Lets just look at the results from Race 1 at Keeneland yesterday and compare what the payoffs were at Keeneland and other American racetracks versus what Woodbine paid out to their "loyal and valued" customers through HPI:

Keeneland Payoffs
Exactor 5-9 paid $188.20 $2 Triactor 5-9-1 paid $1040.20 $2 Superfecta 5-9-1-6 paid $18,016.20 Two more things: #9 paid $14.60 to place and #1 paid $4.40 to show.

What WEG paid their "loyal and valued" customer
Exactor 5-9 paid the same as Keeneland. $2 Triactor paid $963.80 (92.6% of what it paid at Keeneland). $2 Superfecta paid $16,681.70 (again 92.6% of what it really paid at Keeneland). Those who bet the 9 to place or the 1 to show received a dime less for their troubles as well.


If you swept the exotics in the Canadian "common pool" you would have gotten over $1500 less. That's $1500. A nice, top of the line 42 inch plasma TV. Who gets your TV? Woodbine, the government, a local horse owner? I don't know, but whomever does it is shameful. It's your money, not theirs. If they want a TV they can go buy one with their own money.

I see Majestic Son’s book is full and closed. This is great. He was not only a superior athlete, their owners were sportsman. They didn’t much like Glidemaster getting all the press in the US when they knocked heads, so they decided to say no to the bigger bucks of breeding and retiring the horse as a 3YO. They wanted to crush the world record, and go throughout the US as a 4YO and try and kick some butt. Unfortunately this plan did not work out that well and Majestic Son had to be stopped with because of an injury. This in no way tarnished this horse. If anything it made me respect and cheer for him even more. I am glad the breeders agreed and made sure his book was packed. I hope he becomes an awesome sire.

A rather self-serving, expected article on gambling contributing to the economy by the Canadian Press is reported on Standardbred Canada. Lotsa jobs, lotsa money, yadda, yadda, yadda. If we sunk money into ping-pong ball manufacturing, we would create many jobs making ping-pong balls. It’s a nothing report.

Here is an absolutely classic response from an owner of a horse, courtesy equidaily. I herewith apologize to everyone who placed a bet on my horse in the Illinois Derby. Horse owning is a frustrating thing, I tell ya.

Last up, I see the Meadowlands is offering a bit higher guarantee on their pick 4’s. This is due, I assume to common pooling. In Canada, through Woodbine and HPI, bettors placed about $7000 a night into the pick 4 pools. Now that is going directly into the Meadowlands pool. I don’t care much for the Meadowlands any longer. I feel they do not protect me as a bettor as witnessed by the Rucker decision, and not fighting harder against Ledford; but I will say, they are business people who try to raise handles with low pick 4 rakes and guarantees like this. That’s a good thing.

We’ll keep reading the voluminous news out this week and see if we can’t find anything else out there. I am sure there is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Time To Catch Up


It seems like there is quite of bit of stuff that is going on out there that I have missed. I’m going to have to catch up soon enough. Oh, I guess I better catch up on work first!

The trip was a fun one. I don’t normally take vacations; unless they involve horse racing. This time I had to get some in. The Keeneland leg which I spoke about below was fun. Lexington is an awesome city. I popped by the Red Mile to have a look. It would be a wonderful venue for our World Harness Championships. Kentucky gets fired up about racing, and the city/state governments support many events. The World Equestrian Games are being advertised and so is the Ryder Cup. They know how to, and seem to embrace events.

As for Keeneland, they know how to run an event, too. Post time was 1:10PM the day I went, and I figured leaving by 12:30 would be fine. That was wrong. The line up of cars was about a mile long to get in. I should have known this was going to be busy. I stopped at a drug store on the way there, and saw about 15 University of Kentucky students buying some booze, dressed to the nines. I assumed it was a wedding, or frat event or something. I was wrong, “we’re going to Keeneland” they told me.

Arriving there I saw many of these students and other young people. The number of them was huge. The girls were all dressed up, walking across fields in high heels, going to the track. Kinda like I was in a Twilight Zone episode.

Walking in is an experience. It was built many years ago, and it shows; yet it has a new feel. The shot above is right inside the gates and it is the walking ring. There is a big screen above it to see the odds and watch the races. The gift shop, beer stand and betting wickets are all surrounding the ring. The gift shop is especially nice. You get a slice of racing, and a slice of life in Kentucky at the same spot.

The ticket sellers were quite nice, the staff friendly. Kentucky is a beautiful place, that is for certain. And the racing was second to none.

After the Masters, the way home led through Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino, in Chester, West Virginia. I was struck here, reading Dave Bryans interview in this months Trot Magazine. In the article he said that government sticks their fingers in running casinos here, in some weird ways. Kind of like the one beer an hour thing, or whatever it is here. At Mountaineer you are treated very, very well. There is a shuttle bus from the casino, across the road to the track which leaves every 10 minutes or so. They have brought the poker room to the track itself. It appears they are doing some heavy renovation at the old time track, and they are doing a good job. It was a good time at Mountaineer.

Anyway, back into the fold here, and hopefully we can chat some racing. Things are heating up, and the season is just getting ready to begin.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Lesson in Respect


Leg two of my April jaunt was for a practice round at the Masters, in Augusta Georgia. It is legendary hallowed ground to any golfer, or any golf fan. The Tournament, which was started in the early 1930’s was spearheaded by Augusta native Bobby Jones. When watching old clips, or reading of Mr. Jones, I was always struck by his respect for the game, his sportsmanship and his love of golf.

Walking into Augusta you receive a map, and on that map is a note from Mr. Jones. The message is clear: The game of golf is bigger than all of us, and we must respect it. When you walk in as a patron you respect the grounds and the players. You cheer good shots, but never cheer bad, regardless of where your allegiances lie. As a player, you call penalties on yourself and never, ever think of breaking the rules of this great game.

This is a lesson that is seemingly followed by every golfer, or fan, without fail. It is barely even news when a golfer disqualifies himself from a tournament for an obsure mistake; although that mistake may cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. The game of golf, and its leaders demand and deserve respect.

Is Mr. Jones’ policy followed at Augusta? Absolutely it is. The grounds are pristine. Garbage is carried by patrons, to be deposited in the nearest container. Cigar butts are butted out, and then carried to the same receptacle. I saw zero – zip, nada, garbage anywhere. The crowds were extremely quiet, and although it was only a practice round they were huge. There were a whole lot of “excuse mes, and thank yous and you firsts” at this place. Everywhere I saw respect.

What does this have to do with harness racing? To me - everything.

Some owners and some participants in this game show it no respect. We all know the people who jump from questionable trainer to questionable trainer and know exactly what they are doing while doing so. In backstretch parlance it’s called “following the gas”. It is so bad that our game had to actually pass an owner responsibility rule in California and Ontario to combat these owners and trainers. No respect. No respect for the game, their fellow sportsman, or the horse.

We do not seem to have a Bobby Jones in our business. We are clearly not the game of golf. Hopefully we’ll get there someday, where respect for this business trumps all. We’ll all be better for it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

It's Pretty Darn Amazing.........



.... what racing can be when done up right. I wrote below my thoughts on Keeneland, as a person who had never been there - just as an observer of racing. Planning a visit this week I expected to be disappointed. However, this was not the case.

This place is amazing. And exactly how racing should be run, and should be everywhere.

I will hopefully jot down some thoughts, and some stories later but a few snippets that you may or may not be interested in.

First up, the tailgate. The lineup was so long to get in, parking was in the boondocks. Cool to see 22 year old college kids drinking in parking lots to go to racing, if you ask me.

Further, the crowds were huge. No getting around it, it was like a football game. line-ups everywhere, you can reach out and touch the horses, and I am not sure if I have been to a nicer setting for the runners. Do not for a moment think that you will hear the announcer on the tarmac - impossible. It is way, way too loud out there when the horses come down the stretch.

There is something to be said about "meets" and NOT having wall to wall racing. Keeneland is a prime example.

Anyhow, hopefully I can get some more shots up and write a better post about racing in Kentucky. Might have to do that when I get back.

I hope everyone is having a nice weekend.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Notes

Just a couple quick things.

First I notice some comments on the harnesslink feature regarding betfair being offered in Western Australia. It's nice to read some comments from people who are playing. Give the comments a full read if you are interested, but one line caught my eye especially.

Betting on harness racing has been in decline for many years… something drastic is needed to revive public interest. I started my betting on the trots many moons ago, now I don’t touch it unless I can do it via Betfair


I think there are a whole lot of people out there doing the same thing. Exchanges are a way to get them back.

Thanks to equidaily for this: University of Kentucky students offer a betting seminar before heading to Keeneland. Gotta love it. I am sure some beer will be drank, some bets will be made, and a good time will be had. That's racing, old time racing.

I should be at Keeneland for Saturday's card. I'll see if I can get some good pictures and post em up.

Good luck at the windows, and good racing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Cup and the Hammer(s)

The hammer came down in Jersey today, for shadow training. Allegedly, a trainer who was suspended, used another trainer to train his horses. Commonly known as shadow training, I sincerely think it is the first time that I have seen it be a chargeable offence.

Bernard Grignola has been suspended by the New Jersey Racing Commission for two and a half years and fined $7,500 for fraudulent acts against racing.

The penalty came after Grignola was found to have been acting as a front for suspended Freehold Raceway trainer Robert Greenwood who had been found in possession of needles, syringes and injectable drugs.


That is sizeable is it not? This is from the same jurisdiction where Eric Ledford was quickly reinstated. I wonder if this one will stick?

Secondly, the hammer is down in California, too. Man oh man, are they getting tough on rule-breakers. Bettors everywhere like this story:

The penalty guidelines call for stewards, hearing officers, or administrative law judges to issue a minimum one-year suspension to any trainer found responsible for a Category A violation, a category that includes drugs with the highest potential to affect performance and that have no generally accepted medical use in the racing horse. Repeated offenses call for even longer suspensions or permanent license revocation, and fines up to $100,000 to the owner and trainer.

"I believe we are making a huge stride forward," said CHRB Chairman Richard B. Shapiro during the course of the discussion. He said the substantial fines and/or penalties called for by the guidelines should make enough of an impact to "make a positive difference and help the game."


I very much like this Shapiro fellow. In many of the stories I read about him, or with quotes from him, he mentions the customer almost without fail.

Bill Finley makes some good points in a recent article about banning lasix. Our pal Cangamble covered that, so pop on over to read his take. He also has the Shane Sellers buzzer story up. What a game we are involved in folks!

Lastly, 78 colts made the last stakes payment to be North America Cup eligible. The $1.5M race goes in June, and is sure to be a good tilt. We have been following the rankings and have been updating them on the right side of the page below. The first horse on the alphabetical list is one some of the blog readers will be familiar with, and I personally will be pulling for him to make it to the race.

That’s it for Thursday. I am taking my first vacation in a couple of years this weekend. Of course, I have to slide in some racing, so I will take some pics and place em up on the blog, perhaps. No doubt I will pop by to see if there is any action in racing though, and have a post or two.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cake, Aussie Reaction, April and Fools

April Fools Day has come and gone. I always forget the date, for some reason, so every year it seems to pass me by. This year I got hoodwinked twice. First, our friends at harnesslink.com sent a note about owner of everythingJoe Muscara. I read the whole thing, thinking, poor fella almost got his scalp shot off. Boy am I gullible.

Then, right on cue Cangamble writes a new blog post telling us about Woodbine dropping takeout to 10%. What a fish I am. I did catch that one quicker though. I mean really, Woodbine dropping rake? C’mon. Give it a read as I found it quite comical. Gosh, our pal Cangamble likes Woodbine about as much as I like eating broken glass.

There is a new racing blog out there entitled “Cake or Death – Thoroughbred Horse Racing & Handicapping Erotica”. What the hell? I shuddered to think I might click on it to find a picture of Andy Beyer in the buff, eating a twinkie. Thank god I didn’t. It is actually a fella who is working a system to make his own power rating, and tweaking it to make it profitable; as well as other ramblings. Check it out if you are up for learning about the world of speed ratings and how handicappers try and make their own. PS: I must admit, my mind was at work hoping that the site was run by by Fair Grounds Handicapper Jessica Pacheco, but it was all just a dream :).

The betfair story we spoke about below is getting some pretty big play in Australia. The comments are pretty much as expected, but the papers are doing a fairly good job of getting some counter-points from gamblers, and gambling businesses who have lived the betfair experience. I think racing is slowly realizing that the world is changing, and that they might want to be a part of it.

The boys over at harnessracingblog have a story up and a couple links to stories about the court ruling. They also have betfair's reaction to some of the information being spread by the old guard. Holy smokes, they even link to our story here. I thought just goofballs like us read this blog. Nice to know someone with some importance does once in awhile.

Last but not least, I had not noticed on the weekend, but Panaramic Art got beat, to stop his winning streak. He sure raced like a bearcat though and did not go down without a fight. He’s a nice horse.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Betfair Wins in the HIgh Court

In a landmark decision today in Australia the doors might have flung open, as racings restrictive monopoly slowly loses its grip with 21st century punters; and the courts.

The High Court ruled that WA Racing's decision to make betting with Betfair illegal was a restriction of trade.

This can mean many things, but to punters it opens up a new avenue for them to bet, and it also allows betfair to be licensed by racing authorities. This is not the first time we have heard this from our friends downunder. A couple of years ago, betfair was licensed by Tasmania to offer racing. So far it has received rave reviews, as they have contributed to the sport, have offered bookmakers alternatives in laying off action, and most of all, have offered the bettor lower prices and a better chance to win.

What you will hear about this from now on is easy to predict. You will hear the same thing that was said during the fight to get it licensed in Tasmania. We all know that racing, or in reality all monopolies, hold on to their slice until you pry it out of their hands. It is the only way they know how to do business, and competing is a something that has never been asked of them. So you will hear demagoguery and fear-mongering that is usually reserved for a terse US presidential campaign.

Here is a primer for what to look for from racing:

1. They are pirates that do not contribute to racing.

2. It will kill racing and purses will be hurt, so much so that tracks will close.

3. You can bet to lose and that shakes the integrity of the game to the core.

Get ready for it.

The response is simple. Don't buy it. It is a complete load of malarkey.

First, let's look at "they are pirates and contribute nothing to racing". Untrue. Betfair contributes 20% of gross profits to purses, sponsors stakes races and promotes our dying product to millions. That is in writing, and that is a part of their license fees.

Second, "racing will close down because revenues will fall". Again, complete bull. In Tasmania and elsewhere bookmakers have stated that betfair has not cannibalized their wagering at all. In fact they have said it opens a whole new market with new punters, and many of them use it as a tool to lay off bets. Wagering in traditional ways (in my last check of the news) actually went up. In fact the chief steward of Victorian racing said this when asked about the betfair experience in Tasmania (from the Hobart Record): “None of the issues of concern before Betfair became licensed over here have come to fruition."

Third, "integrity is breached". Poppycock. There have been riders and owners set down and placed on trial by spotting wagering patterns that the authorities in racing would not even be able to see.

Many of these questions are already answered on betfair's corporate site.

I hope, after the yelling and screaming, racing downunder gets to work. This will open racing to a whole new set of customers; customers that would never even think of playing racing, customers who are price-sensitive, play poker, and are looking for new things to play. Betfair is like a video game with money. It is fun, fresh and it is just what this industry sorely needs.

Click here to look at their setup in Tasmania. Click one of the races on the left and look what pops up. Free statistics, in play markets, the whole shootin-match. Click "form" and a past performances for the horses are there - free programs for all. Click stats, and you can toggle a database right on your desktop, for historical stuff. There is even harness racing being bet on, although I must say that is a funky icon. Does it seem fun and fresh? Is it designed by cutting edge marketers who we need badly in racing? Does it look like the Woodbine site to you guys, or one designed to get people energized about playing racing that is there to help you win?

As we said in the Stagecoach post below, we can not stop change when that change is market-driven. We can slow it down, and we can yell and scream about it, but in the end we will not stop the free market and the will of the customer. The stagecoach builders could not stop cars, we could not enforce prohibition, the pen and paper could not stop the computer.

Racing will not stop betfair. I suggest they get off their duffs and be a part of it; they might just realize that with a strong partnership and cross-promotion, we can grow our fading game by opening up our markets to a whole new betting customer.

PS: I just did a quick scan and guess what? It is already starting. A news story just out called "Betfair could cripple racing" The powers that be are many things; and predictable is certainly one of them.

PPS: I changed the site layout and graphics tonight. Not sure if I like it, or you do. But you have to stay fresh, I think. Can't let things pass you by. I also updated my odds for the North America Cup, and did a power rating update on horses in training. Southwind Tempo vaulted up the list.