Friday, May 30, 2008

Handicapping the Burlington; and some notes

Well I might as well kill some time. Been busy today, and not much up for posting, but in reading a couple things tonight got me thinking of the Burlington.

First some notes:

The Molson Pace was contested tonight and was won in stunning fashion by longshot Eagle Luck. Gotta love the way they do it up at Western Fair. Frank really gets up for the event, they had a huge crowd and all looked well. I checked to see if it was on HPITv tonight, but HPIWest did not have the card. What a shame, they all work hard there, so the TV coverage would have been good for handles. Regardless, great race. You can watch it here. It is worth it. Old time harness racing.

On Equidaily.com, which I read daily, he rarely has a link on a standardbred story. But today he links the Toronto Star piece on Somebeach and calls it "Debut of Somebeachsomewhere is highly anticipated". How true that is. This is one of those horses who may be able to transcend breeds.

Below when I mentioned that Woodbine does many good things for the player, I got reminded of that this evening. I went to the mail and got my invitation to the North America Cup or Queen's Plate, with a meal and drink included. This is a nice thing to give to players. I enjoyed my time last year. I think I did not cash a ticket, but might have been the best time I had doing that at the track. I don't think too many players showed up, but I did.

Kevin from The Aspiring Horseplayer posted a nice comment below about the blog. That was nice. I thought of replying in private to it, but I posted it. Not everyone thinks I am a goofball, so I just want y'all to know that :) Kevin's blog is very well read and very well done. It is on thoroughbreds, and it is worth bookmarking. On Wednesday he posted a very good opinion piece on Rick Dutrow and some of his comments about Big Brown versus Curlin. That post had some awesome horseplayer passion. You can access that here.

Now, first up thank Greg R of the Edge who posts the updates on the Cup for us. He did that below, touching most of the bases as usual.

Second, time for me to dust off my handicapping pen (oh lord!) and take a look at the Burlington divisions tomorrow.

The Burlington Stakes are generally a little bit hard to handicap. For $100,000 the purse is not small, but with bigger fish to fry later in the Cup we have to handicap intent. It is also the first week of a three race stretch where your horse will be pushed. Not ideal for trainers and drivers in cooking a horse, so watch for that. Last year, for example, Cup Champion Tell All was 9th by 16 at the quarter in his Burlington divison.

The first division should probably be a cake walk for Dali. There are clearly some good horses in this race, like Art Official and especially Sand Shooter. But with those two having the outside posts, I do not expect much. I would need very fair odds to play either of them from there. I see Luc quarter poling Dali around possibly Tetrick with It's That Time. If they go slow this might be the exactor.

The second division has the superhorse. It is interesting to me. In the program, Ken Sr. goes against Beach. And with his injury it seems people somewhat see him as vulnerable. Good luck. If this horse loses, or even looks threatened I would be shocked. I believe by Sunday morning he is back being everyone's huge favourite for the Cup. Santanna will not be torched from the outside - no way Jody goes crazy I think. But perhaps they might leave and tuck. If so, that would be enough to fill out the exactor (imo).

The third division is very interesting. The three hyped-contenders drew the outside. Legacy and Diamonds might just give this a shot from out there to see how he stacks up (the Cup starting fee is $8000); Luc's horse has speed. Hmmm. Tough, interesting race. I am going to say Luc gets a great up close trip here with Four Starz Moxie, and gets the job done. I might try Lonestar Legend for second, as I think Swick will not instruct Tetrick to go back to last. He was 10th by 20 last time in Canada at the first call, and that did not work out too well. He might try from out there. If he does and works out a trip I will probably be not cashing on Luc as this horse is some serious stock. I'll throw Condren with Legacy in that mix as well. If that came in it would be a fairly good tri.

Remember, these picks are for fun only: I don't think I have cashed a ticket since last week. Or maybe last month. One of the two.

Who do you guys like in the divisions? Any words of wisdom?

Enjoy the Saturday, enjoy the stakes and go make some cash everyone. Let's hope the rain holds off and we see some great racing.

NA Cup Friday

Greg chimes in with a Cup post. We'll handicap the Burlington tomorrow. Looks like rain in the forecast. I hope that holds off.

If you have not checked out the North America Cup website, it just keeps getting better and better. The intro gets the blood pumping and WEG's shiny-domed handicapping guru has some great updates for fans. Check it out. If you are in the area this year, head out to Mohawk for the Cup. It's packed.

Thanks Greg for this update. Top notch as usual.

Road To The NA Cup: It’s Burlington Time

Business will begin to pick up this week as the Burlington Stakes will be held on Saturday at Mohawk. The is always an interesting event because some horses are just prepping for the Cup, others are looking to win because they aren’t eligible to the Cup, and so forth. Today, we’ll take a look at each of the divisions and highlight some of the contenders.

The first division should be a battle between Dali and Sand Shooter.

Dali, who drew post one, is making his season’s debut, but he has qualified three times and should be ready to roll. He was tight off the bench last year his first-time out, so you should probably expect that again.

Sand Shooter won in 1:51.1 at The Meadows last time out, but that was on May 9th at The Meadows, but he’s under the care of trainer Jim Arledge, who is a top horseman and will have him ready. One thing that may hamper him is that he drew the outside post nine in the event.

A couple of other nice looking horses in there are Art Official, who got cooked in a heavy pace-duel in the Berry’s Creek last time out and Its That Time, who will lure Tim Tetrick up to Mohawk off a third place finish in the Max Hempt Memorial at Pocono Downs in his last start.

Many eyes will be on the second division as Somebeachsomewhere and Santanna Blue Chip resume their rivalry from last year.

All reports on Somebeachsomewhere have been positive after he was scratched out of the first Ontario Sires Stakes event. He drew the rail, but has only trained/schooled since his big qualifier earlier this year.

Santanna Blue Chip, who has qualified twice, hasn’t put up the flashy qualifying time like Somebeachsomewhere or Dali, but you have to respect his two-year old campaign, and his top flight connections. Unfortunately, he drew post position ten, which will greatly compromise his chances.

If you are looking to try and beat those two, Trade Editor, who will pick up John Campbell for the first time, could be an option. The Blair Burgess barn always has to be respected, and he is coming in off a victory.

The final division is probably the most wide-open split of the three.

Deuce Seelster, who gets back in the bike for the first time this year, was scratched out of last week’s Ontario Sires Stakes final after a second place finish in the elimination, so it remains to be seen how he will perform off that.

Lonestar Legend, who had a huge 1:50.4 qualifier at the Meadowlands, picked up a handicap by drawing post position ten, so again, we’ll have to see how he can get into the race based on that.

Keystone Horatio, who ran into Lennon Blue Chip in last week’s OSS Final and finished second, is also in there, and gives Randy Waples a shot at having a horse in the Cup.

Also entered in there is Four Starz Moxie, who is coming off a third place finish in the ’s Creek final.

In other action this week, The New Jersey Classic final at The Meadowlands features some top-flight contenders like Daley Deposit Only. Between that race and The Burlington, the Cup picture should come into focus much more clearly following Saturday night.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Paying to Play & Thursday Notes

Some things popping up on the wires this Thursday morning, and a thing or two that rankled my wires:

First up, I went to Woodbine last night to watch some thoroughbred action with a few friends. I went up to Champions (the upstairs betting lounge) and was completely shocked when I could not get in with my HPI VIP card. Shocked is not too strong a word, especially when the attendant at the door said: "what's that? That does nothing for me". Jamie, Andrew, whomever who might read this blog, you guys have to fix this. There is no business in the world who would charge their highest value customers $5 to get in to bet, giving them upwards of 20% of every dollar spent. And your employees should all be schooled on VIP cards (given a list like the program sellers have) and how to act when shown one.

Relaying a story about a Vegas racebook, which shows the marked differences in customer retention and happiness, I went to one a couple of years ago. I decided I might play in the racebook, so I got a tracking card and made some plays. I think the first day I bet around $1500, maybe $2000. The second day I went to grab my racing form (you had to leave a deposit for a racing form which was refunded when you brought it back) and the racebook manager said "no, no deposit, just take it. Anytime you want something, come and see me". I did not even have to ask, and I had no idea he knew who I was - he must have done his homework on my betting volume. He learned about me in one day. Later when we were stuck for a room and we called everywhere for one for the weekend, we asked the racebook manager if he could offer some help. Within 15 seconds he said "ok, you guys are in your rooms for the weekend. Come back at the end of your stay and we will see what else we can do for you in getting you a free stay."

And at Woodbine (where I have had a VIP card for three or four years) I am asked to pay $5 to get into Champions? This makes no sense.

I never 'ask' for things. Some people do, I do not. But sheesh, a cover charge to go spend $150 in food and drink (there were several of us there) and $1000 or so of handle between us, and we can't even get into the place free?

Woodbine does many good things for their good customers, and for that I always give credit. But this is one they have let slip through the cracks. I hope they fix this. There are only 175 or so VIP's in the entire HPI system. In fact, one of the people who came with me is a high volume bettor. When asked why he does not have an HPI account he thought "why, so I can get charged $5 to bet?". Flashing a card should garner immediate trust and some respect, just like the Vegas racebook. How can we grow that VIP number and our game any other way? The little things matter folks. Matter a lot.

Equidaily reports a few links today of interest. One is yet another opinion piece in a Quebec Newspaper about propping up harness racing. Entitled "It's Time Quebec Gave Up Trying to Save Racing"


Despite all those gambling machines and the new money they brought in, attendance continued to fall and profits failed to materialize. Any day now, we expect to see Attractions hippiques to turn up in Quebec City, cap in hand, looking for a sweeter deal. The answer should be a swift, sharp "No." Enough is enough.

Similarly, but not as ominously, Ontario is getting ready to look at racing and subsidies and slots. An opinion piece from former Ontario Minister John Snobelen (a friend to racing) shares his thoughts on this.

The decade-old deal around slot revenue shares at racetracks has a similar cloudy record. Racetrack ownership has changed at many tracks as the business of slots has become senior to the business of racing. Betting on races has dropped and attendance at races appears to have declined.

What was intended to be a gift to the horse racing industry has turned out to be a curse. With a decline in traditional revenues the industry is as dependant on slot revenue as the government is on gaming revenue. And they say gaming isn't addictive.

More words from some of racings participants about the early retirement of the sports stars. This time from people involved with Affirmed and Alydar, which was one of the great matchups in racing history.

Cauthen remarked that good horses come along so rarely, “It's sad to see them disappear almost as soon as they arrive.”

Velasquez said, “Horses should run at least another year, giving more exciting races to the public.”

Secretariat, who rivals Man o' War as the greatest racehorse ever, was among those to retire at the end of his 3-year-old season. Yet no one doubted he ranked among the greats. He was champion at 2 and 3, won on turf and dirt, won the Triple Crown in 1973 and defeated older horses.

As for Affirmed, Cauthen recalled that his trainer, the late Laz Barrera, said after he won the Triple Crown, “ ‘Let's see what he can do against older horses.'

“It's a different mind-set now,” Cauthen said. “They feel they need to get them into the breeding shed.”


In New York there are rumblings about "raising takeouts to make more money". Ya, I know - we all know - this never works long term, and only helps to continue to destroy our sport. Nick Kling gives his thoughts in a piece in the Troy Record.

Thoroughbred racing and the airline industry have several things in common. Among the
most important is that, with a few exceptions, they treat their customers like cattle.
Apparently they expect their patrons will keep coming back to the trough to be fed, no matter how much it costs them in the end.

Unfortunately for racing fans, we don't get the same representation from politicians as do frequent flyers. Political leaders tend to cozy up to racing management instead
of grilling them in public hearings, like they do airline officials.

Higher takeout has been shown repeatedly to cause a decrease in total wagering. Eventually, since more people lose money than win betting on horses, there will be no money left to bet.

State leaders need to carefully consider the best way to create a level playing field for all of racing’s stakeholders.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cohen Chimes In

Moderator at the Harnessracing.com blog, Andrew Cohen has chimed in on the Bloodhorse story and blog post below.

All of us know how we feel on many of the issues here at this blog, especially those involving having our sport set up a central body, with a commissioner. Cohen has written several articles on this subject before and is a proponent of such a body.

Would any of you who support this mind heading over to his blog linked above and offer your support by commenting? Andrew is well read by the business, and well respected. I think we should all throw our weight behind getting some of this done in harness, before the Fed's come calling. And remember, the Interstate Horse Racing Act is part of the solution and part of the problem - but this act governs harness racing, too so we as harness owners and fans are a part of it. Any changes to it will directly affect harness and thoroughbred racing. We need to be a part of these discussions, in my opinion.

So please, let Andrew and his many readers know where you stand by commenting (if you don't mind). You can read his post and comment, right here.

Thanks everyone.

Government Mandated Commissioner?

Well many have said it, but now it's here.

In the bloodhorse: "Congress May Call June Hearing on Racing"

One of the items:

The subcommittee is seeking, among other things... whether industry officials support formation of a national governing body for horse racing.

The answer better be yes, or they will do it for us. No more, "laughter when someone mentions a commissioner".

And:

Congress may look at the Interstate Horseracing Act, which authorizes simulcasts across state lines, including account wagering.


No more fighting over a shrinking pie, perhaps?

“Given the benefits of the IHA to the racing industry, we believe congressional oversight should play a role in determining whether the special status of the sport under federal law is still warranted,”

No more "special status?" Will we be forced to finally compete?

[looking into] whether racing programs bolstered by gaming revenue use money for research to improve the breed;

No more ten race careers before stud duty?

Over the years many have said this has to happen - we have to address the problems and the fractured state of the game. It has been said working as a monopoly in a perfectly competitive business is not acceptable. It has been echoed that without a captain, the ship can not be turned. It has been said horses should not be allowed to go to stud before 5 years of age. It has been echoed that places like betfair and other low cost games have to be copied, not mocked by hiding behind protectionist, archaic laws. It has been said that medication laws should be the same for racing everywhere.

And it has been said by many: If we don't fix them, someone else will.

It appears that it might be happening.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hector Clouthier on Whips

Last month at the Standardbred Wagering Conference in Montreal I mentioned that I had met several people I was very impressed with. I commented that perhaps I would get to speaking a bit about them in the future. I have not done that yet, but it is a good time to start. I meant to post about this last week.

Hector Clouthier is a long time participant in harness racing. He is currently heading up the OHRIA - the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association. For a look at Mr. Clouthier's schedule, check it out here. There clearly is not too much grass growing under this man's feet.

Well he is one of those people that "I meant to tell you about". He was front and centre at the conference and I was really, really impressed. To boot, he and his wife were enjoyable to speak with on non-racing subjects as well.

Recently he came out with an opine on harness racing and whipping. This is not like you and I speaking of whipping, because we have rarely sat behind a horse. It is from someone with experience.

"The current rules surrounding whipping must change," Clouthier said.

"We want to encourage more people to enjoy harness racing, but in allowing the current whipping rule we are actually discouraging people. The public perception must always be uppermost in our mind, and, generally speaking, the public does not want a driver putting both reins in one hand, reaching back with the other hand and whipping the horse.

"It sends a terrible signal and we must do something about it. At the very least, both hands should always be on the reins when using the whip. This would minimize the egregious display of abusing the horse."

Clouthier referred back to one of the greats, Joe O'Brien himself, to help prove his point.

"Believe me, good drivers need not resort to slashing and whipping a horse," said Clouthier. "The O'Brien Awards are named after Joe O'Brien. Anyone who saw Mr. O'Brien drive knows that he did not whip a horse. They called him 'Jiggling Joe' – he jiggled the lines and gave confidence to the horse.

"To regain public confidence in horse racing, the whipping rule must change. It will be a step in the right direction."


I tend to agree with much of that. It will not send people from offshore betting on poker to their nearest racetrack, of course, but it is something that is worth looking into. Women tend to not like the perceived brutality of the whip on a horse, no matter how much we explain that the drivers are striking the saddle pad (I have seen this too many times to mention - you should have seen the scowl I got, when after explaining that 'they only hit the saddle pad', one of the top drivers moved the whip to the horse's genatalia, shown in slow motion on the big screen at Mohawk). Women bring kids to the track, and are an important part of the live racing demographic. Gamblers are sometimes different, but they are not stupid. John Campbell is on record saying that one or two cracks and the horse gets the message. Everything else is overkill. I am not someone who wants the whip outlawed; that would be counterproductive, but we can tweak it a little bit to make it look less violent.

Anyway, it was a good time to give some props to someone I think is great for the business, and someone I had much respect for, from almost the very second I met him.

Keep up the good work Mr. Clouthier, we need people like you in our game.

USTA's Marketing Committee

There has been much talk in the harness racing blogosphere about the USTA's marketing initiative set up in part by Mr. Axelrod, Chairman of the USTA. Andrew Cohen at harnessracing.com's blog has been chatting about this and offering some insights and opinions.

The definition of the word specious from dictionary.com is: Apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible. I hope that this committee does not fall into the trap of many before them, who hope to do well, but make the wrong assumption for their focus.

Racing has two types of fans, or potential fans. We have seen this for generations, and racing has been told who they are, and what they are for years. But I rarely hear the business speak of them in those terms. Hambletonian Day brings out 30,000 people. The on track bet is under $2M for those 30,000. Offtrack, the bigger bettors, playing online and in simulcast bet upwards of 250% more. At the Little Brown Jug the handles were around $1M on Jug Day, with over 50,000 people in the stands. That number is now much more than that with simulcasting and web betting. Harness racing, and to some extent thoroughbred racing caters to most of these fans like they are the same thing. I sincerely hope that this committee, right from the start, decides who they are speaking to. Are they there to get on track attendance up? Or are they there to speak to the bettor? Lord help us if they try to do both.

Bettors have been speaking loud and clear on what they want: Lower prices, free information, easy to use internet sites, ability to bet all tracks in one account, rewards programs, perks, decent racing and a larger pool size. This has very little - some would say nothing - to do with marketing. Conversely, the casual fan, or perhaps new fan, or even the slots player across the way mindlessly placing money in a negative expectation game are completely different. They want the Kelly Spencer Grand River experiment. Give them contests, give them a free T shirt, give them a free $2 bet, give them a juggler. But go into this with a solid pre-conceived notion and goal: you will not raise your handles with this, you will try to raise attendance and possibly brand the live harness racing experience as 'fun'.

Mercedes knows that the elasticity of demand for their product is "x", while KIA knows it is "y". Their marketing speaks to this very point and it is the life-blood of their existence. In Japan in the late 1980's Honda was planning to make cars. The Japanese market did not want their cars because to them Honda meant 'motorcycle'. They had to move their marketing to the US, where North American buyers did not have that entrenched notion. The examples from marketing are endless. If they went into a marketing meeting with a goal of "let's market to everyone" it would have never succeeded. It never can succeed frankly.

The bottom line is this: The elasticity of demand for casual players is zero. Price does not matter, the experience they have at an entertainment venue does. The only cost they see is opportunity cost. The elasticity of demand for an every day player is anywhere from -2.5 to 4 or perhaps 5 - meaning that if you drop their price a percent handle will go up by a factor of 2.5 or more. I highly doubt there is another business out there which has this wide a range of customer. Try it with online stock trading. The casual guy trading at home is there because Etrade offers $9 trades. Raise it to $100 a trade he leaves. Same with the larger trader. Charge him more he leaves. You can make similar arguments with virtually every good.

So, I sincerely hope that this committee is not specious. I hope they are tackling one thing and one thing only - growing the sport through new customers and making the on track experience a focus. If they try to speak to both ends of our customer spectrum, in my opinion, it is a waste of time and effort as it is doomed to fail before it starts.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Monday Morning

Some news and notes that I found kind of interesting this past while.

First up, some solid 3YO racing at the Meadowlands. I watched a few races, but perhaps the horse that caught my eye the most was not in the Classic elims. It was Share the Delight, a NA Cup eligible. Coming off a break he was somewhat conservatively handled. He got away third last, did not have a ton of pace to chase, but that did not stop him. He sailed off third over cover and ran down the very good Real Tough with ease, coming home in 26 and change under a hand ride. I think he punched his bus ticket to Mohawk with that effort.

At Mohawk, Keystone Horatio and Lennon Blue Chip did battle in the first OSS Gold of the year. We did not learn much as both got great trips and only had to sprint home.

Somebeachsomewhere went a training trip on Friday to prepare for the Burlington. Touch wood, it looks like all systems go with the World Champ.

A hearty congrats to Luc Ouellette and Peter Klienhans on Enough Talk's solid 2nd in the elim and third in the Final of the Elittlopp. Well done guys.

The aged horse division might heat up soon, but maybe "extinguished" is a good word instead. Mr. Big looks, well like Mr. Big in the division. He won his debut in 50 and looks to be the class of the field.

Really good story in the New York Times about betfair and integrity of betting pools. When Australia lost their court battle we spoke on the blog that old time racing would be lamenting the "bet to lose" characteristic of betfair, and they would use that to their advantage. Right on cue they did. But a funny thing happened. No one believes it any longer. Their security looks about as solid as a George Bush White house bunker. As we've said many times, boy is it nice to see such sharp businessmen with the finger on the pulse of the bettor enter our game. For about 50 years some of our participants have bet their horses to lose for a betting coup. Fortunately not a lot of people have, but it happens in the pari-mutuel pools. Good luck trying it on betfair. You'll get nabbed if you do.

Good luck and good racing folks.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Over the Next 12 months.......

.... I would love it if horse racing decides if it is a sport with a fan base, or a breeding business.

With Big Brown winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown, buzz throughout much of the sports world is not centred on him winning the Belmont, it has been on "when will he retire."

A smattering of buzz (most thanks to headlines on Equidaily.com).

Cangamble a few weeks ago said: "No Surprise if the Preakness is Big Brown's last race"

A Philadelphia sports writer lists his top things he does not understand about sports.

The sport's sole purpose appears to be identifying talented horses who can win enough big races so they can be sold for tens of millions in order to produce more horses whose careers will be ended prematurely by greed and shortsightedness.

Jeff Frank of the Sports Network says: Is this really what the sport needs? The brightest star to come along in thirty years and in one split second.."poof...he's gone?

In the Whittier Daily News, the sports writer there says what every single fan knows, and the sport knows, in a piece entitled "Dream Match-up May Be Just That":

Curlin, the reigning Horse of the Year, enters this colossal matchup against Big Brown with a seven-race winning streak, including his Breeders' Cup Classic score in 2007 and this year's $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29.

Never before have such two high-profile horses squared off in the Breeders' Cup Classic - 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin versus Triple Crown champion Big Brown.

Sounds delicious, huh?

Well, don't count on it happening. There's little chance he'll still be racing in October.

The breeding rights for these horses have just become too astronomical.


We've gone through it before. No business in the world, let alone a gambling one has ever survived by not knowing who it is. Wal Mart is a discount retailer - they know that. Mercedes makes expensive cars - they know that. Slot machines attract bus trips from over 65's - they know that.

Are we a business that was put on the face of the earth so we could breed more horses with the sports stars, or are we a business who wants to attract new fans and grow? Are we a breeding business or a racing business? We can't have both. Decide on one and then put policies in place to achieve that goal. Just someone.... please decide.

But if we do choose that we are a breeding business, please never complain that we can't get new people interested in racing.

Note: Maybe someone else is going to decide for us. Congress is looking into horse racing and just announce it will occur in a couple of weeks.

The congressmen's letter says that "many, if not most, racing experts believe that the thoroughbred breed has become increasingly ... incapable of withstanding ... the rigors of dirt racing on the track."

It cites charges that breeders are "biologically engineering horses to run very fast at a very early stage in their lives at the expense of long-term durability," and the use of race-day medications that allow unsound horses to compete and pass on their genetic infirmities to their offspring.


It sounds strange to say, but maybe congress will succeed in protecting us from ourselves, by stopping this breeding madness.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rules, Regs, Polls. Closing a Hole?

There is some industry buzz this past week about some of the things judges should be calling, and how drivers act on the racetrack. Standardbred Canada has a poll, asking for people's opinions. The harness edge has been getting much mail about the subject.

We have discussed some of the things here before and most certainly the betting public needs to see consistency, but one area that I think voters and bettors are dead wrong on, is the outcry to "close holes". 20% of respondents have said this is their #1 issue. I (unfortunately) think that the handicappers have not thought this one through.

Leaving a hole open for strategic reasons is a staple of our racing. If someone leaves from the ten post, is 8-5 and grabs a four hole in front of Mark MacDonald, that is not an advantage to the other horses - it is an advantage to Mark - because he suddenly gets second over behind the chalk. Taking that away not only disallows drivers to think and get the job done, it also prohibits flow, which is something we don't need.

Think about it, what if there were fines for this and every driver closed a hole. That means if four horses leave at least three won't get a hole and we are stuck with probably two or three horses, dead, on the outside screwing up the entire race. Then what is the result? Less drivers leave and they get away in post position order, because they do not want to get hung the mile and bring a half lame, torched horse back to the owner. This leaves our game more unbettable and the outcry of closing holes is replaced by "they only get away in post position order and no one tries" - obviously not something we need.

There are times when closing a hole is strategically good, and should be done. Not closing a two hole in a slow pace and letting a buddy in it should not be tolerated as good racing, for example. But we can't throw the baby out with the bath water and treat every driver that leaves a hole open the same.

With racing falling so far down the tubes this year (and last) in terms of fan interest, we will see a lot of sentiment involving hard and fast rules. This is not uncommon. If a community has a rash of theft, there is always a push to throw everyone in jail who commits theft. Fortunately the fairness of the legal system allows for us to treat a one time offending, homeless 12 year old who stole a bun in a bakery because he was hungry, much different than a six time thief who stole a $800 ring - eventhough they are both theft under $1000 offences. That is fair and makes the system work. I hope we never do away with this in racing either. Some things are fineable and should be, other things are not. We must look at circumstance, intent and the big picture in racing, just like everywhere else. Hard and fast is not going to make our game better, it will make it worse.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We Need Change - and Fast

Thanks to the Harness Edge, they have linked to an editorial in the Montreal Gazette entitled "Horseracing Rides off Into the Sunset"

It is maddening the government had to lose so much money before seeing the light.

To see Quebec's harness-racing industry become a financial disaster brings both relief and exasperation.

Relief because the industry had hitched its fortunes to building racetracks in conjunction with video-lottery terminals, devices that have already wrecked countless lives. That the industry's VLT revenues are far below projections means the machines are sucking fewer people dry.

But even more irritating is that this was so predictable. Harness-racing here is as out of step with the times as is dancing the Charleston.


It does continue, but you get the drift.

At the Standardbred Wagering Conference several ideas were batted about. Most seemed to think they were worth 'looking into'. I think the 'looking into' phrase should be replaced by 'looking into and getting done with a sense of urgency'.

Never before is it more apparent that this business is on a precipice. Asking for government help in terms of a subsidy has been the industry's rallying cry for a dozen years. Now, the government ain't drinking the kool-aid we've been selling.

Urgent change is needed now to put harness racing on the 21st century gambling map. Urgent is not too strong a word. Essential, urgent, important. Whatever word you want to use. It has to be done.

21st century gamblers need a reason to play with you. Marketing 101 says if you are competing in like goods you need to stick out from the crowd. A national pick 6 with a centrally funded organization to promote it is needed now. A reduction in takeouts making harness racing the lowest priced pari-mutuel business in the world is needed now. A harness racing betting exchange to attract players with something new is needed now. Scheduling of racedates and post times to ensure mass coverage is needed now.

This is needed now, not tomorrow, not in a month.

When you are standing on a precipice of disaster one can jump, stand there and jump tomorrow, or get their ass moving. I hope we see the latter.

Bettors Speak Out


Ryan Conley of the Bloodhorse surveyed some bettors with respect to the ADW mess in the States and horseman groups fighting with tracks, which has resulted in boycotting signals and all the rest.

When are these folks going to realize that they are on the precipice too?

“They have taken a great game and (expletive) on it,” said a bettor from New Jersey who also owns horses. “And they think the players will take whatever they give us. But if they don’t get it now, with the way things are going, they will find out later.”

A bettor from Canada, who estimates he wagered $3 million on horse racing last year, said about half of his money now goes through offshore outlets, which for now are spared the wrath of the signal war combatants, or bookmakers, which don’t process money through pari-mutuel pools.

“How many American businesses operate like this?” he asked. “It’s unbelievable: They don’t want my money. Getting a higher percentage of nothing is not a good return.”

He said he wants to support the racing industry, but may consider a return to sports book betting if he sees trends continuing to head south. “They’ve never had any respect for the bettors,” he said of racing. “Horse racing is so bad they don’t even know who their own customers are. Some places have lost my business.”

Players either want rebates, or have track takeout lowered closer to levels of casino betting, where the “rake” is often 10% or less.

“When online poker becomes legal, people are going to split,” the New Jersey bettor said. “The amount that the track takes out is already ridiculous. And the horsemen want more?”

The Massachusetts bettor, who feels only a powerful national commissioner’s office can rectify racing’s problems, squarely places fault at the feet of the warring horsemen and racetracks.

“I blame them both,” he said. “I blame the whole game. It’s gone too far and gotten too far out of hand. Handle will go down. And racetracks will go down.”


Give the article a read. I might look at it in depth later.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It's Elitlopp Time!

Forget this North American racing, it's time to head to Sweden for one of the most interesting and watched events in the World of racing - the Elitlopp.

This weekend some of the best trotters assembled will be knocking heads at Solvalla racetrack in Sweden. I believe HPITV will be covering it Sunday morning. I always wished I had a decent trotter - ok, who wouldn't - as I think it would be a huge thrill to make this trip. Two people that are lucky enough are Luc Ouellette and Peter Klienhans. They are teaming up to try and get Enough Talk the trophy.

Peter is blogging from there, exculsively for harnessracing.com.

"No matter what happens in the race, however, I am already certain that I made the right decision in accepting the invitation to compete. What a beautiful country Sweden is: clean, calm, and low stress. The people here have given Enough Talk, his groom Jen Durden, and myself a royal welcome- literally. In addition to paying for the horse's shipping and for our flights and rooms, they have treated us as celebrities, introducing us to reporters, trainers, and officials. Today, Annette, the wonderfully bubbly hospitality manager at Solvalla, took us on a tour of the royal stables, which- for sheer magnificence and polish- puts any other equestrian facility I have seen to shame. As part of the presentation, we got to watch as the King and Queen of Sweden paraded by in elegant horse-drawn carraiges. Not a bad perk for getting an opportunity to race against the best trotters in the world.

Further, driver Luc Ouellette has chimed in at Standardbred Canada.

"You can't imagine how thrilled I am just to be going over to be part of the Elitlopp," said Ouellette. "If you like harness racing even in the slightest degree, you've got to love the Elitlopp. The crowd and excitement is just great, and the big field sets up for one heck of a race."

This is a great race, and if you are near a TV on Sunday, it's worth it.

Stakes season is starting. Let's hope the racing is good.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Handicapping - Can You Be a Pro?

There is a very, very good article up, "Lunch with Mike Maloney" at the Louisville Courier Journal, that explores the mind of a guy who plays the ponies for a living.

It is a very tough game - prices are high, this is not 4% rake poker - and boy do you have to work at it.

A lot of that is pressure and just the grind of being there. And it's very labor-intensive work. I work 80 or 85 hours a week when I'm playing seriously. If I don't work those hours, I'm not successful. It's that tenuous for me: If I don't do it at a certain level of effort, then I can't be successful.

And there ain't many out there doing that, that's for sure.

Mike is the rare person who makes a living by playing the horses. :Rare is a good word for it, " he told us over lunch at Ginza Japanese Steakhouse. "The number I hear floating around is a couple hundred of us in the country."

Mike shares more thoughts, many of which we have gone over before in the handicapping series, or on the blog. Primarily, discipline, bankroll, and the grind.

People are surprised when they sit with me, or we'll have family or friends or some of my wife's tennis buddies and their husbands, and people are always surprised: They expect you to pick a long shot or two on a nine-race card and to have a $40 winner. And they expect all those phenomenal feats, and I'm not capable of that on a regular basis. Now once in a while I will do something like that, but the thing that I am good at is understanding odds, percentages, how to structure bets, how to manage money, how to manage myself, how to manage my emotions. That's what derails most people.


All this work, high prices, tax issues. It is no wonder that there are only a handful of people doing this. We obviously need to lay the foundation to make sure there are more Mike's attracted to trying this professionally. I know several people on my circle who play poker like this. We need to make the environment similar, to encourage more betting. In our post "Becoming a Player" we go through many things that you would need, or would be helpful, and that about sums it up.

At the recently concluded Standardbred Wagering Conference, one of the sessions was about what can be done for the customer. The WEG exec who deals with many of these issues talked about rebating, offering out timely information, their VIP program, where people who bet more than $250,000 a year can get some perks. During my discussion with them, and others, I stressed the importance of pricing, because when someone is a 0.90 ROI player (a good everyday player), it gives him a shot to become a winner. When these people are grasping at the brass ring, and so close to profitability, they are a tremendous resource to the industry, because they are so close to putting through mind-boggling amounts through the pools.

One person who clearly gets the concept is handicapper and ADW owner of Premier Turf Club, Ian Meyers. In a recent discussion on chat board Paceadvantage.com, he posted this, about players who are grinding it through in a semi-pro way:

The pros are between 0.93-0.97 ROI (pre-rebate) on average. Some years they might be at or above 1.00 but it's pretty rare. I understand Peter Wagner hit 1.03 on $150mm wagered about 10 years ago and we have two players above 1.04 on more than $2mm in handle. That's just flat out astonishing.

So there we have that - players who are pros are not geniuses, they are not hitting 3-1 shots every second race and walking away with 1.97ROI's, or doubling their money. They are grinding at very small ROI's, with a very small edge. The players he mentions are professionally playing, and sending massive amounts through the pools are doing it for one reason only - because the rebate moves them into profitability. The price pressure is relieved and they can win. This is the primary reason as well, why pinnacle and other offshore pirates attracted so many players. Not because people wanted to send money a million miles away off pool, because they helped them win.

That is why, when often times we hear racing say "price does not matter much", they are clearly wrong. It not only matters, it is everything to encourage every day players. And since they are a tremendous resource to the industry because they contribute liquidity and large handles, we should encourage more to be like them every day. We might just wake up and find racing is suddenly popular again.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Brown Horses - of Two Breeds

The NA Cup Road

Thanks to Gregger for another good report yesterday. I guess we could have waited until today, though. Last night at the M the NJSS was contested, with many NA Cup eligibles in action. Standouts? Maybe not, but some decent miles, like Genuwine's, and some clunkers that might say that a couple are not ready for prime-time.

At Mohawk, the Somebeachsomewhereless OSS elims were contested. NA Cup winter book favorite (one of them) Keystone Horatio defeated Deuce Seelster in 51 and change. He was somewhat on one line, but he did not look lame to me, more of an equipment thing. Since John Kopas knows what a snaffle bit is and I have not the foggiest, I am sure that he will rectify that. Regardless, 51 over Deuce makes this big brown horse one to be watched.

Big Win for Big Brown

Thoroughbred racing sure knows how to ratchet up the excitement. Big Brown is hyped a pile, and delivers. Was there anyone - and I mean anyone - who watched yesterday that will not tune in for the Belmont?

The big days in thoroughbred racing sure are a boon to everyday bettors. Brown paid more to place than win, from all the prospective souvenir tickets. Afleet Alex paid $3.40 to place in the Belmont, and I am sure BB will pay more to place too, if he should come top two.

T-bred racing is interesting and completely different than harness. We can look at fractions and look at final times, and look the way the horse looks at a wire and tell you in a nano-second if a horse is special. Somebeach wins the Metro last year like that, Snow White wins in Lexington like that. Special horses. In thoroughbreds there is a debate based on speed figures and the like. Is Big Brown special? Ask ten people and you will get ten different answers.

Regardless, watching a turn of foot like on the overhead shot yesterday. Watching a whole pile of fans getting excited about a horse. Watching excellent TV coverage. Having a result that makes fans anticipate the final leg. All good things. And all for a big brown horse.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

NA Cup Update

From Greg, another sharp report.

It’s been a busy week in the news department for many of the top three-year old colt and gelding pacers as the North America Cup draws ever closer.



Pull The Pocket’s (and everyone else’s) #1 rated three-year old, Somebeachsomewhere, had to be scratched from his scheduled debut on Saturday in the first Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series event of the year due to a foot injury. It doesn’t appear to be a major injury and Somebeachsomewhere will make his debut instead in the Burlington on May 31.



That’s also where Dali will begin his season, as the #2 horse on our board took the week off after qualifying impressively at Mohawk the last two weeks.



#3 rated Santanna Blue Chip was very good in qualifying action on Friday morning at Mohawk as he won by eight lengths in 1:53.2. He is also being pointed to the Burlington in two week’s time.



After our update last week, our #4 rated contender, Sand Shooter, made his pari-mutuel debut at The Meadows in the first Pennsylvania Sire Stakes event of the season for the sophomore pacing class. Sand Shooter was awesome, winning by five and a half lengths in 1:51.1 over an off-track.



Badlands Nitro, who sits at #5 in the ratings, was a 1:52 winner at Pocono Downs last week in an overnight event. He is entered in the Max Hempt eliminations at the Northeast Pennsylvania oval on Saturday afternoon.



Real Tough, who made his debut last week at #6 on our board, finished a charging third in a non-winners of three event last week at The Meadowlands. He will be heading to Canada for the Burlington off that performance.



Deuce Seelster, who was probably the biggest beneficiary of the Somebeachsomewhere scratch, is entered in the Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series eliminations on Saturday at Mohawk. He will have a new driver this year as Jack Moiseyev will drive with last year’s pilot, Paul MacDonell, committed to Somebeachsomewhere.



Mucho Sleazy, who is #8 on the board, finished out of the money in the Berry ’s Creek final after setting a pressure-packed pace. He is entered Saturday at Balmoral Park in the Cardinal Stake eliminations.



Genuwine, who popped onto the big board last week, is entered in the first round of New Jersey Sire Stakes action at the Meadowlands on Saturday night. He had a sharp 1:53 qualifier before dropping into the box.



Finally, #10 rated Share The Delight, who beat Genuwine in that qualifier, is entered in this Sunday’s Empire Breeder’s Stakes eliminations at Tioga Downs.



For some other horses who may be moving up, Lonestar Legend, a Don Swick trainee, went a dazzling 1:50.4 qualifier at The Meadowlands last Friday. He was a decent stakes horse last year and appears to have talent.



Daley Deposit Only also opened some eyes after our update from last week as he ripped off a 1:51.2 qualifier, which was the fastest in the history of Pompano Park .



On The Brink, Dali’s stablemate, is entered in the same event as Share The Delight, but in another one of the eliminations.



Two more Ontario-sired horses to keep an eye on Saturday are Lucky Man, who overcame post ten to win in 1:53.1 last week for trainer Casie Coleman, and a well-bred son of Camluck named Trade Editor, who hails from the barn of last year’s winning trainer, Blair Burgess.



On the flipside, both Duneside Perch and Moon Beam struggled again in qualifying action this week and we’ll see where their connections go since they haven’t been sharp.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sad Stories on HBO & Advertising

It is certainly not something I'd like to promote, nor encourage watching, but unfortunately it is a reality. Cangamble makes note on his blog, and it has been grabbing headlines - it is the HBO expose on the practice of racehorses being slaughtered. He provides an opinion and offers people the chance to view some of the show via youtube bubbles.

I can't watch it. So you'll get no notes on what you may see if you choose to. But we're adults, so do as you wish.

I remember one afternoon a couple of years ago I was working and then flipped onto the Harness Edge to check the news. The news just out was that three horses - all standardbreds, two of whom I remember betting on - were on their way to the meat man. And they wanted to save them. They were asking for help. The story they told would break anyone's heart. These were young horses who slipped through the cracks. A couple, if I remember correctly, were skin and bones. It took about 30 seconds for me to grab the phone.

They were saved by Paula Campbell (wife of harness driver John) and her organization, the Standardbred Retirement Foundation. They do great work.

In Canada, the Ontario Adoption Society is another. I once needed a horse adopted out and they tried their best for me. They care.

There are many others out there, for thoroughbreds and standardbreds and they all need our help.

If you took time to watch that video, or if you didn't, well that's fine. You are like me then. But when one of these organizations come calling for help - to help the horses who live to pleasure us every day, think twice before you say no. Handicappers, owners, trainers, everyone benefits from these horses, and we brought them into this world for us. I think they deserve better after we are done with them.



Continuing on the soapbox, it brings me to advertising. I have been approached several times by offshore wagering companies who want to advertise on my blog. They are quite aggressive. I am not much for that and have said no. In fact I do not want any advertising at all. I never even thought about it frankly. But perhaps it is a good time to make an exception. If anyone - a software maker, or a feed supplement, or whomever wants to advertise I will do my best to place an ad here for you. But it is on a condition - that the fee that is decided upon goes to the Retirement foundation for thoroughbreds or standardbreds in your jurisdiction. You will get a tax break for the advertising dollar from them, and best of all it will make you feel good. Email me under my profile if anyone is interested.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Unfortunate News on Somebeachsomewhere

The Harness Edge is reporting that the colt, scheduled to make his debut this weekend at Mohawk has been scratched due to a bruise he received in the paddock.

Although this is probably (touch wood) not serious, it does show the vagaries of the game. No matter how much you plan, or how good a horseman you are dotting i's and crossing t's we are still dealing with living breathing horses. This can happen to any horse, at any time. It has happened several times to some of ours, and we are a small stable. I would suspect it has happened thousands of times in our game.

On the blog I went through the web log recently. I was amazed at how many hits we got from the search string "somebeachsomewhere". Some of them were: somebeach first start, where can I see somebeach, somebeach north america cup, somebeach great horse, somebeach at mohawk, somebeach qualifier.

People are stoked to see this horse. Let's hope that this is just a minor ailment and he can be back as scheduled for the Burlington. Horses like this can help our sagging sport.

Infighting, the Bizarre...... and Some Nice Stuff.

“The racing industry has a habit of setting fire to its hair and trying to put it out with a hammer,” said Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

“We are dysfunctional,” said Nick Coukos, executive director of the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and secretary/treasurer of the National HBPA. “We have been for a long time and probably will continue to be. For whatever reason, we can’t get our act together.”

“My experience in 20 years is the worst enemy of the pari-mutuel industry is the pari-mutuel industry,” said Florida Sen. Steven Geller, who suggested the legislature could give the industry a $100-million tax break, and its factions would do nothing but fight over how to split the money.


Those are some comments from a recent bloodhorse story about racing. These are not my quotes, they are from industry insiders. Never is this more apparent than right now in the US, with the fight over ADW revenue.

In the real business world, someone mines for a piece of gold, a jewelry manufacturer modifies it, and a reseller sells it in a store. Pretty simple right?

In racing this simple method of business is turned on its ear. Horseman groups, noticing advance deposit wagering growing, is demanding more of a slice of the revenue.

There was a meeting last night about the fight, and it was reported on the bloodhorse. Give it a read. Count how many times you read the word ‘customer’ mentioned.

Yep, we have serious problems.

I hope that they do not succeed. The only reason this form of wagering has grown is because players are treated well, and rebated in many cases. The ADW gets a slice to resell (just like our jeweler above) and of this slice they innovate with excellent platforms, advertise and promote our sport and rebate to lower a price for the player. If we eliminate them, or try to take them over, or ask for higher prices, it kills our edge to help the customer. In case no one has noticed, the last thing this business needs is to be not helping customers.

I don’t like hard and fast rules, generally, but I am beginning to form one for racing. I think the racing commission should make a new fine: If anyone that works for a horseman group, or track does not mention the customer at least once a day, they are fined fifty bucks. If the past several years are any indication, the commissions would be rich.

Cangamble mentions a little bit about the fight on his blog. It’s worth the read, and it is a story worth following. After all, customers of thoroughbred racing can’t right now even bet many tracks.

In what I think is the most bizarre ruling I have ever seen, the Illinois racing board changed their rulings on the 2006 positives of Jereme's Jet and Holborn Hanover.

The Illinois Racing Board (IRB) has vacated the stewards’ rulings regarding positive tests on Jereme’s Jet and Holborn Hanover dating back to 2006, allowing the horses to remain as the winners of the races affected and exonerating their respective trainers. The rulings were made due to an IRB rule adopted May 1 regarding new threshold levels for pyrilamine—which was illegal at the time of the positives—that is now “applied to cases pending before the Board.”

Yes, you read that right. At the time the horses tested over for the drug, and they broke the rules that were on the books. But later they changed the rules, and are retroactively allowing the positives to be struck down.

Could you imagine this in the real world (forgive me for a strange example changing it to making a law more punitive, which clearly would not happen)? A fella gets stopped by the police in 2005, he takes a road side test and blows a 0.02, well below the 0.08 limit. Then a few years later, the laws change and 0.02 is considered drunk driving. The fella comes home one day and gets charged for drunk driving for something he did three years earlier, when it was not even considered a crime.

Ridiculous? Of course. And in my opinion the IRB will be making my next "only in racing" post. I think this story is far from over, and we will be hearing much, much more about this ruling. If I owned one of the horses who has to give purse money back, I would be mad as hell.

Bad news continues for North America Cup hopeful Moon Beam. He qualified poorly last week, and this week did no better. I notice he is on lasix as well, so that might indicate some issues. It looks like he is not going to make it in time for the Cup, but let’s hope he makes it back later for some of the big dances. He is a fast horse.

Something that we all can get behind is this. I found this fantastic. This website, is asking for people to sign a petition to ring the bells at the Derby next year eight times for Eight Belles. I am a softee. I signed it.

Secondly, this website is asking people to buy wristbands inscribed with Eight Belles name. They cost $5. I bought some, maybe you might too? The proceeds will go to the Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue and one or more horses will be saved in the name of Eight Belles.

Thanks to HT on harnessdriver.com for pointing those out. I heard he was a big roughhousing police dude. But apparently he's a softee, too.

This is the greatest game in the world, and the people in it never cease to make your head spin. On one hand we have the ADW fight, or strikes, or shooting ourselves in the foot in some other way. Then we have the love of the horse. No wonder we love the game so much; we can’t figure it out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kenny Mayne, Too Hot for TV?

Well I sure hope the demographics department at ESPN didn't come up with a blunder by scaling back analyst Kenny Mayne's airtime.

Yes we know that racing is watched by over 55's, yes we know we are not a "young person's sport" (well we tend to be with betfair, but that is a whole other story), but sheesh, can we not recognize talent in a broadcast that can help us grow?

How much of your work with ESPN revolves around horse racing?
"It's changed over time. It used to be none, and then it became a lot, and now it's back to very little. Not because I don't want to; it just kind of turned out that way with the new contract I have. I'm only going to be at the Triple Crown races, the Breeders' Cup and maybe one or two prep races. ... It was kind of funny -- for better or worse, they decided that when it came time for the really big ones -- the Belmont, the Breeders' Cup -- that I was a little too wild for the general audience. I can understand it to a certain degree because I definitely do things slightly less conventionally than the next guy, but it was accepted pretty well in horse racing. I mean, if (racing analyst) Randy Moss and (ex-jockey) Jerry Bailey are telling me they love the way it's going, then that's enough for me. ...


Here is a video piece from this brilliant racing fan, that injects fun and humour into our game. Click the watch the video graphic to make it play.

Here is what Kenny does for football. I don't think that is too wild, do you? I think this is one of the highest rated pieces in the pre-game. I know I watch this pre-game show, just to see what he will come up with.

I don't think people who watch racing over 55 years of age find anything different than most in these pieces - they are funny, and in our sport we need more of it. Not to mention it is from someone with a passion for racing.

How did you get hooked on the horses?
"I started going to Longacres when I was 9, usually with my Uncle Gordy. He was an attorney by trade, but he ended up with a little Laundromat in Kent, so me and my friends, we'd work for him, clean the dryers, mop the floors. We'd come in early on Saturday, have a late breakfast, buy the Racing Form and head down the West Valley Highway to the track. Those memories are still some of the fondest in my life. It's just a feeling; it's almost indescribable. It's the same feeling that others describe when they say, oh yeah, my uncle or my dad used to take me to Wrigley, or to Shea Stadium, or whatever it is. I really have that same feeling thinking back to those Longacres years, and I haven't found a track that perfectly replicates it. I think Santa Anita is close; that's the closest one."


I hope we see more of him, not less.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

They Shoot & Score, Eight Belles & a New Look

Some news, notes and opinion for Tuesday.

I see Andrew Cohen at his blog placed a link to the "Only in Racing" piece. It has some good comments, and was fun to read. I think many of us feel the same way. We simply do many things that do not make sense in this business. Andrew has been a big proponent, like many watchers, of a commissioner. Could you imagine what the PGA Tour would look like if golf had different rules for each tournament? Could you imagine what the NFL would look like without Pete Rozelle in the 1970's? This seems like such a basic thing, yet when it is mentioned it is met with laughter. When the powers that be think fans are nuts to even suggest it, as getting it passed in such a fractured industry is impossible, we are in trouble.

Harnessracingblog.com
did an only in racing piece as well, asking for some reader feedback. They said I was "ranting". It is not ranting at all. I just care about the business and want to see many of these issues cleared up.

Did any Canadian viewers watch Race Night on the Score last night? I had heard anecdotally that shows like this have a tough time with the CRTC (the over the airways regulator in Canada) in promoting betting to the viewers. This is too bad, because promoting racing as a game is paramount to our success. Ross Gallo in horseplayer magazine mentioned in the last issue why racing keeps running so many human interest stories instead of focusing on the bettor; "how many stories on Bob Baffert's groom are we gonna see" he lamented. Well, Race Night did do something neat, taking a page perhaps out of the poker website dot net playbook. 123racing.com. They promoted and asked people to play along with them at the website and kept tally during the evening. They gave out a monetary prize to the winner. Mike, Greg, Ken and crew are not stupid; they know what they are doing. I would like it if some of these shackles are taken off and they can do more of this during the 2 hour commercial we run weekly for racing. It's a great, great game. But selling it with 10 minute segments on a feed man from Woodstock is not going to help us much, I think.

Racing does need to get together on the same page. I hope that one day the 7% tax is returned with lower takeout as a way to grow the game. We have a tough audience with the tracks and horseman groups for that (despite a negative 2.3 elasticity of demand for wagering, many still think raising their price brings in more money), so it is a huge struggle. However, we all watch casino commercials that "push gambling", we watch poker on TV all the time that "pushes gambling", why can't we as a group lobby the CRTC to allow us a level playing field with the Score show?

I know, I know, that is the job for a commissioner right?

In thoroughbred racing, the Eight Belles tragedy is dominating the headlines. PETA is out in full force. I like the anchors on Fox because they tend to ask tough questions. Softball's are few and far between. Neil Cavuto had a PETA rep on last week and asked (this is courtesy Equidaily.com): "You value the horse more than the Jockey?" to which the PETA rep replied: "I don't care about the future of the jockey, no."

That is why we in racing should never, ever, be scared of PETA and their rants. I am a huge animal lover like many, but I know, and you know animals are below us on the food chain; they are there for us. They are not equal with a human. PETA does not seem to get that fact, and I think the public realizes they are not in the mainstream.

Further,
Randy Moss at ESPN has perhaps one of the best pieces I have ever read on racing, breeding and medication. It is bang on. Give it a read if you are interested.

The Harness Edge celebrated their 5 year anniversary with a new-look website. Very nice job by one of the best magazine's out there.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Only in Racing

I got to catching up on a bit of reading tonight. We have spoken and discussed many times that racing is one bizarre business. Being fortunate enough to be able to work with many companies in many businesses in a consulting role, I can't help but be amazed at the disconnect in our sport with virtually every business known to man.

So, thinking out loud, here goes some Monday thoughts on the bizarre and crazy in this industry:

We go on strike for more racedates at places where no one watches us race.

In 2007 we made it a felony to bet a race over the Internet from Arizona.

We have home market areas that are 10 hour drives from a racetrack.

We expect customers to open seven different betting accounts to play our sport.

We get a report from a respected University telling us that an ideal takeout rate to maximize our revenue is 7%, but charge 20%.

We charge people for racing data and past performances. Like McDonald's charging $2 to look at their menu.

We can't decide if racetrack is one word or two.

We think rebated players stick their rebates in a sock.

We settle a positive test that happened in 2006, in 2008, and expect no one to notice.

When anyone mentions the thought of the sport hiring a commissioner it is met with unbridled laughter.

We watch some trainers regularly drop 4 seconds off a horse in a week and expect the public to believe it is the shoeing.

We pay for a gambling expert to give us guidance, he writes a 100 page detailed report, and we ignore all his recommendations.

We see that advance deposit wagering is the only growth segment in racing and immediately try and take more of the revenue; which would result in destroying the only growth segment in racing.

We retire our sports stars at the age of 3 so they can have sex, and expect the sport's fan base to grow.

We think that lowering a price will result in less revenue.

We give slap on the wrist penalties to rule breakers, then wonder why good people don't want to invest in racing.

We do little to help retired racehorses, then get mad at the public when they don't want to support horseracing after they see a news report on a former Kentucky Derby winner being slaughtered.

We have rules that say you can't kick a horse or whip him where the sun don't shine, but we never enforce them.

We call our customers "disgruntled gamblers".

And with all of the above, after the business goes downhill, we go cap in hand to government looking for money, blaming it on offshore competition, or lotteries.

Only in racing. It is one bizarre business.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spring at the Hawk

Saturday nights at Mohawk in Campbellville look like the place to be. I took in the races last night and was struck by the number of bodies at the track.

Mohawk is the anti-woodbine.

I usually go about five or six times live in the summer. If the stable is lucky enough to have one to race at the A track it is something that has to be done, because I have a good time there. This first trip of 2008 was nice. We sat at the tables that overlook the finish line. The service was excellent. Sitting beside us was Western Fair race secretary Ian Fleming (he had a horse racing; he raced well, so congrats) and he was pretty amazed at how many people were there, and what WEG has done with the Hawk.

There are a few tracks in Ontario which really get the juices flowing for live racing, and Mohawk is one of them. We are huge proponents of internet wagering as noticed by many, many posts, simply because it is the future and it is where our biggest bettors toil with their craft. However, the live experience is important. Mohawk has a population of well over a million people within a half hour drive to their doorstep. In the summer I hope WEG pushes this experience, gives the organizers and harness-marketing team a solid budget and some free-rein to do some of the things that need to be done to attract this population base. Harness racing is not corporate like Woodbine, so it takes a different outlook to attract people - marketing 101. Live racing can grow here, no doubt about it.

There is nothing better than an evening out at the races where fans can enjoy a beer and watch people having fun. We rated Mohawk high on our live track ratings post last year, and I see nothing at all to change that rating, other than perhaps moving it up. Walking around last night I noticed every picnic table was filled. WEG might need to add more picnic tables instead of benches. How many times have we said that in Ontario harness racing the past ten years?

Diplomat Final

My pick for the final, Red Star Catch did poorly. Getting older, I often wake up in need of an equipment change. I think Red Star is in need of one too, since he circled the Mohawk oval like he was wanting to hit the Shell station on Guelph line for some gas and snacks. Get Out of Dodge was the winner. Murray and his crew are one of the good guys in this game, so congratulations are in order on a big effort.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's a Long, Long Road

With the stakes season upon us the hype, excitement and dreams of owners and fans is at a fever pitch. The headlines of 3yo's qualifying seems to point to some good talent out there, so it is not unexpected.

But it is time to step back. These are qualifiers or first starts, nothing more.

When I started university I got placed in a mandatory calculus class. The class was a weeder class to trim enrollment in the business program and the old cliche surfaced. "Look to your left, and look to your right. One of you will not be here in six months." Unfortunately, history has shown that this is the same in harness racing. It is a tough sport now, and extremely tough on horses. The speed they have to go is mind-boggling. They have to dodge sickness, they have to dodge allergies, they have to dodge lameness. When Cam Fella, a horse I grew up on won 28 in a row, all with tough trips, I thought that is what harness racing was about and what it always would be. It clearly is not.

When No Pan Intended started his 3yo campaign, he was in non-winners of 2. He had no shot against those 1:50 pacers who had been demanding all of the hype, so people said. 17 wins later, while all of the early season monsters faltered, he was your 3yo horse of the year. He won that award, and the Jug, and all the rest without having to take a mark faster than 151.3.

Later that year, in a tightly fought Breeders Crown final, Dave Miller with NPI looked over his shoulder and who was coming? Escape the Wind with Roger Mayotte. When the early season 152 qualifiers were going on, Escape the Wind was going 2:20. Roger did not have him qualified for his first start lifetime until June.

Each year it is the same thing. Many of the horses ready early do not last. Sometimes they do not go on and drop time for the rest of their careers. It is harness racing in the 21st century. It is much more like thoroughbred racing now.

As far as I am concerned we have last year to go on,and last year only. There is one horse, and one horse only that appears he can whether this storm, Somebeachsomewhere. He has won on different size tracks, with different trips and he has not been headed. His qualifier only shows one thing, that he wintered well. But if history is any indication, he is no lead pipe cinch to last the year. It is so tough, and it is a long, long road.

There is no need to be jumping the gun like fans in thoroughbred racing did betting Pyro to 5-1 in the first future pool, based on one race. It should be a fun ride, filled with twists and turns. But we have not even begun. Perhaps the 2008 Breeders Crown winner does not even possess a charted line yet.

Welcome to harness racing in the 21st century.

Notes: I watched NA Cup eligible Real Tough race last night. Trevor seems to be pointing this horse perfectly. He was stalled behind dead cover, sneaked up the inside and closed with a flourish, like good horses do. He did it under no stress. A perfect prep. I believe that this horse is being handled magnificently.

The Diplomat Pacing Series Final goes tonight at Mohawk. In a blink moment last week, Red Star Catch caught my eye. I think he has a good shot to upset the apple cart in that final tonight. He looks like he is some stock.

Friday, May 9, 2008

North America Cup Friday

Our weekly look at the NA Cup contenders. As stated earlier some interesting things are happening. I have updated the list on the right with an odds line. Next week it will shape up further I think, as many potential starters show what they can do in race conditions.

Here is Mr. R's update on the top five this week.

The Road To The NA Cup: May 9 Edition

Another busy week on the way to the Pepsi North America Cup, so let’s get right down to business. After yesterday’s poor performances by both Duneside Perch and Moon Beam that were mentioned on the blog, we’ll only do a top five this week.

Somebeachsomewhere: The Mach Three colt got a week off after his big 1:51.1 qualifier. His first start will be next Saturday evening at Mohawk in the first Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series eliminations of 2008.

Dali: Dali made his 2008 debut on Friday at Mohawk with a sparkling 1:52.2 qualifier (with the track rated one second off by the judges). He will probably qualify one more time and then head into the Burlington Stakes on May 31.

Santanna Blue Chip: He also got the week off after winning his qualifier last Friday in 1:55.1. I haven’t heard what the plans are with him as far as a first pari-mutual start.

Sand Shooter: Sand Shooter has been spending his time getting ready at the five-eighths mile track at Scioto Downs in Columbus, Ohio. He won a qualifier in 1:54.2 on April 26 in 1:54.2 and then came back on May 3 to win in 1:56.1 with the track rated two seconds off.

Badlands Nitro: Badlands Nitro was idle this week, but has had three good qualifiers prepping for his three-year old campaign. We have been high on this horse since last year because of his performances at Dover, and think he’s the best horse in the George Teague barn.

A few more horses are rounding into form. Share The Delight (trained by Linda Toscano) qualified in an impressive 1:52.4 on Thursday at the Meadowlands. He is owned by Andrew Cohen, who runs the blog over on harnessracing.com. I believe he is heading to the Empire Breeders Stakes at Tioga. That is also where On The Brink is heading. Dali’s stablemate qualified in 1:55.3 this morning at Mohawk (again with the track rated one second off).

We’ll be back next week, hopefully with better performances from Moon Beam and Duneside Perch and a full top-ten list.

PTP: Here is the updated Top Ten for this week:

#1 Somebeachsomewhere (2-1)
Is he destined to be the greatest pacer ever?

#2 Dali (10-1)
Marfisi student has returned sound

#3 Santanna Blue Chip (18-1)
2YO BC champ not to be overlooked

#4 Sand Shooter (20-1)
Came back sound

#5 Badlands Nitro (25-1)
Maryland invader is quick

#6 Real Tough * (30-1)
This horse has alotta go! Sleeper

#7 Deuce Seelster (40-1)
We'll give him respect

#8 Mucho Sleazy * (40-1)
17 starts as a 2yo seemed to not hurt him

#9 Genuwine * (50-1)
Decent qualifier

#10 Share the Delight * (60-1)
I liked that qualifier, and he had wheels last year

* - new entrants

Thursday, May 8, 2008

North America Cup Website


Kudos to Greg Blanchard and crew with the NA Cup website. It can be accessed here.

Included are notes on contenders, and a really neat feature, video highlights. So far they have On the Brink, Somebeach, Dali, McArdle Park and several others featured in full video reports.

If you are interested in getting prepared for the Cup it's the best place to do it. Well, second best. The best is of course here as we have Reinhart to give us weekly reports at Pull the Pocket :)

His next report is tomorrow. There is quite a bit of action on the Road to the Cup.

Qualifying Action

Some big name Q's today at the M, reported on media sites.

We will have a post up tomorrow, updating the North America Cup eligibles, and we will update the odds lines, but a couple of quick notes, that were, for me, shocking.

Duneside Perch who was bought last year for $700,000 had a poor debut. So did former stablemate Moon Beam, who is also close to tops on our list.

That's about $1.5M worth of horseflesh qualifying poorly. That must be tough for the owners to swallow. Let's hope they bounce back.

A few other goods one qualified well. We might have to add them to the list of ones to follow.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

When Did We Lose Our Way?

Jeremy Plonk has a more than interesting piece up on ESPN.com about racing, drugs and the reporting of news.

Thoroughbred racing may finally have its Triple Crown winner, but it's not what anyone wanted.

The convicted drug offenders have now swept racing's Holy Grail. First, Steve Asmussen's Curlin captured the 2007 Preakness, followed three weeks later by Todd Pletcher's Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes. Had you ran those two races in January of 2007, the classic-winning trainers would have been Scott Blasi and Anthony Sciametta. Why? Asmussen and Pletcher opened the year banned from training as they sat out suspensions for medication violations. And now comes the poster child for questionable-character trainers, Rick Dutrow, with his Kentucky Derby 134-winning Big Brown. Dutrow spent a good chunk of 2006 banned from the racetrack and his own barn, leaving the "official" training duties to assistant Juan Rodriguez.

The inmates officially are running the asylum.


This I believe is extremely important. Racing has lost its way. When a person who has abused the rules of the sport succeeds, and continues to, it makes honest people everywhere not want to be a part of this business. Worse yet, when the worst offenders (e.g. EPO or venom users) succeed, their win percentage goes up and it attracts even more investment to them. It is a vicious circle.

We have serious, serious problems in racing.

Owners who succeed at times are also a problem. When I filled out my ORC license they asked if I was ever in trouble. I thought, wow, this is worse than an application to work in a bank, or in law enforcement. These guys really care about backgrounds of people who own racehorses. Further from Mr. Plonk:

Big Brown's part-owner IEAH Stable is a syndicate (group partnership) headed by Michael Iavarone. They have had a meteoric run in the past few years in the racing game behind, no doubt, hard work and intelligent decisions. But they also carry a cloud of question since it was their horse, A One Rocket, who was the focus of a federal indictment that included racehorse doping (via "milkshake") and organized crime. Their former trainer, Greg Martin, pled guilty and IEAH moved their horses elsewhere following his racetrack ban. Let me be clear that IEAH was not implicated in the fiasco, but we're often judged in life's court of public opinion by the company and friends we keep.

This rather laissez faire attitude of racing breeds a disrespect for the business. We do not have anyone running this ship. We don’t have anyone to say no. When a trainer gets a positive and has a high-priced lawyer ask and receive stays, there is no one to say “no, you can not race. You are not bigger than the business”. There is no one to put their foot down to let everyone know that racing a horse is a privilege not a right. Some in racing act like they are in kindergarten, when the teacher leaves the room.

The downward spiral only figures to worsen before it gets better. Imagine being a rival trainer, watching those you know who have cut corners garner all the money and limelight, without being caught. What tremendous temptation and incentive it must be to keep up with the Joneses. Let's not be too altruistic and pure here. Few, if any, horsemen these days are running on hay, oats and water. But there's a big difference between feed supplements and legal race-day meds versus painkillers and nerve agents.

It used to be like this on the old Vancouver Stock Exchange, called the Vancouver Scam Exchange by many in the late 1980’s. Finally the good people banded together, the exchange put their foot down, and said that rule breakers would not be tolerated. If you broke the rules of the exchange, you were gone. Go to another exchange to raise money, because you ain't raising money here. A short 15 years later it is now one of the most successful venture exchanges in the world.

We need the same thing to happen in racing. The inmates who run the asylum and continue to make a mockery of our fine game must be sent packing. Not for 30 days, not for 3 months, not with a stay, not with an appeal. The most egregious violators that can kill horses and put drivers and riders in danger, like pain killer and blood builder abusers must be gone forever.

Somebeachsomewhere....... Wow!

Continuing to catch up on some news here, and I finally got around to watching his qualifier.

Wow.

I have been watching and mesmerized by the stars of racing since I was a kid. Getting the Canadian Sportsman, or Trot was a great day at my house. When we finally got ESPN in the house and I could watch Nihilator battle Dragons Lair in the Breeders Crown, or Cam Fella beat Coal Harbor live, it was a good day. I can honestly say that I have never seen a horse this good in my life.

Here are some comments from a couple industry insiders about this horse (courtesy of chat board harnessdriver.com)

Randy Waples, $70M harness driver:

Without a doubt the most impressive horse ( greatest, phenomenal, outstanding) I've seen since Niatross. Monday morning I felt like a kid at Xmas waiting to see that horse on the track as a three year old..a fellow walked up to me Monday morning and asked me if I would Qualify his horse in the 4th race and I refused because I wanted to see Brents colt qualify

Jeff Gillis, trainer and ironically part-owner of Santanna Blue Chip, who on paper is one of Somebeach's main rivals:

In all seriousness, that was absolutely the most impressive, effortless qualifier I have ever seen. Time is somewhat irrelevant. Lots of colts are ready to pace 51. It is how he did it that was most impressive. He was completely unurged and shut down. I don't think it did him any harm.




A few things stick out, and these are my top five reasons why I think we are seeing a horse for the ages:

1) Not only has he not been beaten, he has never been in peril of being beaten.

2) He has never once looked tired

3) He does it like he has human characteristics. It's like he knows what he is out there for.

4) He has never once looked uncomfortable on the track. He is never washed out, never hot.

5) His gait is simply awesome. He covers ground in one stride, what many horses do in two.

If you are a thoroughbred fan and you are thinking of giving harness a look, put this colts races on your calendar and follow him. I did it with Ralph Hanover and Cam Fella. Try it with Somebeachsomewhere. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

EPO in New Jersey - Ernest Adam

Well I was stoked to place up a post on Somebeachsomewhere today. I will get to it. But first, let's get this bad news nonsense out of the way.

As mentioned William Elliott and Evzen Pindur were nabbed with EPO. Evzen was mostly toiling on the smaller tracks, but Elliott had some wicked stock, including Tigerama and Michelle's Power. In this day and age, when everyone knows EPO/DPO is being looked at hard, I can not believe people would be doing it. It is just so damn stupid.

Then this week, boom. Here we go again. Super-trainer Ernest Adam is nabbed. Six of his horses, including a world record holder test positive. One of the horses, Art Maker is as tough as nails and works as hard as the day is long. He is one of my favourite raceway horses of all time. He did not deserve this.

About a year ago, Ernest was rolling. No one I knew had heard of him. He was winning with shippers like a house on fire. Handicappers commented how his horses never seemed to get tired. It appears handicappers are many things, dumb isn't one of them.

When racing wonders why handicappers, when the next 30% super-trainer comes out of the wood-work are skeptical, this is why. And fellow owners reactions? Well they should be vitriolic. If a guy comes into my home and steals my bank card, takes $5000 out, he is a thief and should be in jail. In racing if a trainer loads a horse up illegally and steals $5000 of purse money, it is the same thing. Be upset and ask for harsh punishments and even criminal charges. It is the only way to stop this nonsense.

All of the above trainers have positive tests. In racing a positive is considered guilt, unless proven otherwise. It is a club, not a court of law. If, at the end of the day and after the appeals process is exhausted they are proven guilty, they should never be allowed to participate in this sport again.

I implore the Standardbred press to limit the press on these "out of the woodwork", miracle working trainers when they are winning at obscene clips. Every time I read a story on one of them I find it painful. It does a disservice to bettors everywhere. A rule of thumb? If a trainer with no experience takes a horse off a capable 30 year horseman with a 0.250 average, and drops 5 seconds in two weeks, don't run the story. In a year you will probably be running another story saying it is all a mirage. It is not worth the ink.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Eight Belles Video

Some tasteful video links of Eight Belles is up at theaspiringhorseplayer if you are interested and into tribute type videos.

Fans sure are passionate about racing; and its competitors.

Frailty

There was "absolutely nothing you could do,"

That is a quote from the on-call vet at the Derby yesterday, where filly Eight Belles broke down and had to be euthanized.

I was going to link that picture in the article, but that's too much for me to look at.

We have chatted many times about the capriciousness of racing, and how the highs are high and the lows are low. I think this is no more apparent in this quote:

Jones, who sent out Hard Spun to finish second in last year's Derby, said, "We were high-fiving. We were ecstatic. I thought we had déjà vu with last year. As she galloped around the turn, she was following [winner] Big Brown and her ears were up. I knew she'd be back quick to be unsaddled.

"When I heard a horse had broke down, I thought that maybe it was one of the ones that had run poorly. I saw [jockey Gabriel Saez] on [NBC interviewer] Donna Brothers' horse and I said, 'What's up?' He said, 'Mister Larry, they put her down.' She ran the race of her life."


I am a big believer that the best athletes in the world, or animals in the animal kingdom are hard on themselves. Talented running backs, solid as a rock have ligaments tear like a piece of paper, hamstrings are popped like popcorn. Horses, through genetics are capable of being tough in the wild, as the breed is a breed for endurance and toughness. In racing they are bred for one thing and one thing only - speed. When you change a breed you change their features. Horses are simply not capable going high speed without some sort of malady nowadays, and sometimes it is fatal.

I think we could run on poly-jello and still have this happen. Jess Jackson said he is entering Curlin in all of the distance classics, and wants him to succeed and race one more year before breeding. He hopes that more people breed for endurance and toughness. If they do perhaps we will see fewer and fewer breakdowns. I hope he is right, because watching that filly break down yesterday is simply heartbreaking.

In harness racing we are better, but not immune. The breed is being refined. 25 and change quarters can and do happen. 2yo's like Dali last year step foot on the track, are tuned athletes, are stoked at being there, and pace out of their skin in their first starts. We have done a fairly good job breeding endurance and toughness into our breed, and I hope we never get to the point where our horses are frail. I'll take a world record of 150 in our sport, versus a world record of 145, with horses like Eight Belles to show for it anyday.

This was a weird Derby. Big Brown won, but because of his connections there is not much cheering. Larry Jones, who is a consummate old time horseman, loses a filly he treated like family. Horse racing is an all consuming passion for many - handicappers, grooms, trainers, feed men, blacksmiths, everyone. We want to see everything just right. Perfect. It never seems to happen that way, and yesterday is testament to that.

I won't think of this Derby fondly at all. How can anyone who respects a horse do that? This was the scene at Larry Jones barn yesterday. It is what I will think about when I remember this Derby.

At Jones' barn, people came and went, many with tears in their eyes.

"These things are our family," Jones said of the filly. "We've put everything into them that we have and they've given us everything that they have."


It's never going to happen, but since I speak of a magic wand here time and again, I sure wish I could wave it and wish for this to never happen again.