Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jeff Gural

I caught a presentation today about what Tioga and Vernon are doing to try and bring back some live fans to racing. It was solid, and it was apparent to everyone in the room that they were working their butts off. To be quite honest with you I have never seen more spending - big dollars, not small dollars - put into the sport by a track with 200k handles.

On the harness edge tonight I see a bit of news regarding Vernon/Tioga CEO Jeff Gural's thoughts on marketing in a letter to the Magazine. It is such a shame that they are trying to market a game with a byline of "you can beat a race but can't beat the races" and as you all know from the blog we believe it is its death-knell - the people who don't care if they win are all playing slots. But it has not stopped them. They are trying very, very hard there.

There has been a lot written in your magazine as well as others about how to market the harness racing product. While many efforts have been started in the past and obviously the effort by the USTA to form a marketing committee is a positive sign but the reality is that it is very difficult to market your product if you do not have a good product to market.

Here at Tioga we are doing everything I can think of to market harness racing including some new gimmicks this year as we have the Budweiser Clydesdales coming to both tracks which I think will be a big draw when we race. All of our TV and print ads feature harness racing.

We have given away lawn chairs, fishing poles, hats and I was just able to convince a local car dealer to donate a brand new Toyota, Camry to be given away to one lucky racing customer at the end of the meet. Customers will be able to buy a miniature horse for $1 which will be given to a charity each day and we will drive the car down the stretch after the eighth race each night with the window open and people will have a chance to throw the horse into the window of a car and from the miniature horses that land in the car we will select one each racing day and at the end of the meet we will put all of the winning names in a hat and draw one out to determine who wins the Camry.

I saw this promotion recently at a minor league hockey game where people tried to throw pucks into a car and it was a huge success. All of these promotions are fine and they work to a certain extent but the reality is what really works is having races with horses that the public has heard of.

Our biggest crowds of the year are still the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and Belmont and the reality is that horse racing does everything it can to make sure that our best horses make as few appearances as possible on the racetrack.

There is a lot of hoopla and deservedly so for Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatumnhowe but the reality is these two great horses will probably race ten more times and then be retired to stud. I am attempting to convince my fellow racetrack owners that we should put a provision in the condition of all of our stakes races beginning in 2012 that only horses who are sired by a stallion five years old and older be eligible to compete.

I know the breeders will think this will hurt their business but the reality is in the long run it will help their business. We cannot continue to close our eyes to the fact that our fan base is shrinking and I hate to think where we will be in 10 or 20 years at the rate we are going.

I remember when I first became interested in harness racing back in the 1960's you could count on seeing the best horses in the world every Saturday night at Yonkers or Roosevelt and that is what I looked forward to. In Europe where the sport is far more popular then in America they have essentially the same dynamic with their best horses typically racing to eight or nine years of age.

Maybe we could look into the European model of racing and breeding at the same time but clearly no marketing effort is going to succeed unless we have the product to market. It is no different then it is for golf without Tiger Woods. We all know that interest in golf now that Tiger is on the sidelines has dropped dramatically and I am sure their TV ratings will be down substantially.

I know it will be difficult but I am hopeful of convincing my fellow racetrack owners that we have to accept the fact that we are in business to please our customers and not to please the handful of people who happen to be lucky enough to own great horses. I do not think it is the worst thing in the world if you are lucky enough to own a great horse to be forced to watch him race another year in front of big crowds and possibly if you own a trotter go to Europe to compete as well.

A side benefit of this proposal is that it may help us breed sounder horses as it would seem potential sires would be judged by their performance as an aged horse as opposed to how fast they were at two.

In any case, I wish the USTA Marketing Committee well but it is time to bite the bullet and focus on the quality of our product and giving people the kind of races that will make them fans for life as I and most of your readers are. What scares me the most is the fact that at Tioga and Vernon since racing began in May wagering on our VGM's is up almost 10 per cent while wagering on our live product is down about 15 per cent. We must take real action by addressing the problem of our best horses retiring at three.

Jeff Gural

Interesting Day

Kind of an interesting day today at the Hambletonian round table. Some enjoyable presentations.

For me? Well, I guess it should be something about the conference that was a best moment, but sorry, it wasn't. I actually got to meet John Campbell. People might find that a little bit odd as a highlight in a day filled with so many presenters et al, but oh well.

I thought it was cool for two reasons 1) He has to drive tonight, but there he was dressed nicely as a part of the group listening to people. And 2) Well he is JC, a fine ambassador for the sport.

Also there, taking time out was Yannick Gingras in the young people in racing segment.

For my panel I discussed ad-hocly (not sure that is a word) the web bettor and what he/she is currently shopping for in the web gambling landscape and what we may look like in 2025. Funny, just before going up I glanced at Andrew Cohen's piece in Horseman & Fair World (it is not on the web yet, but I will post a link to it when it does). Hell, he said kind of what I was going to. Sheesh, they should have asked him, he is certainly better at speaking in front of a crowd, and more than likely much better looking :)

Some marketing of interest for the big race - the card for the hotel has the schedule of events for the Hambo, which I thought was neat. Plenty of other activities. It seems to be hopping a little bit for sure, and I would figure we are going to see a good crowd on Saturday. Since I have never been to a Hambo it should be an experience one way or the other. I should be able to get some pictures and post them up on the blog.

Thanks to anonymous (my favorite commentor!) who gave us this link regarding Georgian and Xtreme - US tracks tabbed to simulcast big day. Roberts and the crew at GEO are working OT, so good job!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday Notes

I am at the Meadowlands this week. We popped over tonight and spent a little bit of time walking around. Upstairs was like I remember it from my last time here - pretty dead. But the main floor, and outside had some fans.

Coincidentally, the last time I was here I heard "Dan Dube you are a #($(R %(#)@*. Tonight, I heard it again. New Jersey horseplayers tend to let you know how they feel; and I find, rarely change much :)

The Hambletonian is having a round table tomorrow on "Who Will be Racings Customer in 2025" and I must compliment them on who they have as panelists. I read most of the bios and there are some interesting people assembled.

Huge news today that could possibly raise handles 10% or more. IRS witholding reform was introduced by a Louisiana Congressman. Everyone in racing should be letting theirs know how they feel about this.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whales Should be Playing Xtreme

On August 9th the second annual Xtreme Horsepower is being raced at Georgian Downs, about 60 miles north of Toronto, just south of cottage country. The 5/8's mile track is quite nice, and with the races scheduled, it will be more than interesting.

Last year it was something new. The weather did not cooperate, but fans got to see things that they will not see at a harness track anywhere - different distance races, large field sizes and more.

This year it promises more. A couple of races will be good for whales to play. Yep, you read that right - big bettors should be playing some of these races.

This one is one:

Xtreme Marathon: For gladiators with stamina to spare, we offer the Xtreme Marathon - a three lap, 1-7/8 mile test for $25,000. Eighteen-horse fields on both the trot and pace will duke it out for big money and xtreme prestige. The marathon is for horses that have started for a base claiming price of $20,000 or lower, or are non-winners of $100,000 lifetime.

These two races have 18 horse fields. It will be a superfecta. That means one thing - opportunity.

When the tracks went to lower denominations for super bets, it killed whales. A full coverage type super bet, something like 34-34-a-a and 34-a-34-a costs $224 for a buck minimum in a 10 horse field. Not many can go that deep unless you are playing with a big bankroll. The big bettors had a monster edge. At Xtreme this edge is back. In an 18 horse field the same type super will cost $168 for a 20 cent ticket. Small players will not be going deep.

In addition, any pick 4's, and I hope they card a couple, will have at least one, and possibly two huge fields. Another edge, even with a 20 cent minimum.

Whales should not be playing Del Mar on August 9th, they should be playing Georgian Downs.

We will handicap the Xtreme card here at PTP. I have enlisted (ok, he does not know it yet, but I will ask) Louis the Whip to offer his card analysis. He is quite possibly the best B track handicapper in Ontario, so we'll see if he can pick us some winners.

Someracesomewhere

Well back with some Beach news that certainly has fans in Ontario interested.

First, it looks like the horse will be entered in an Ontario Sires Stake race on August 3rd and 10th at Mohawk. This is I assume to lock his place into the $300,000 OSS Superfinal in October/November. He'll be like 1-50 odds, or something like that.

Then it appears he is off to the unofficial 2nd jewel in the 'ol Canadian Triple Crown, the Confederation Cup at Flamboro Downs. To some of our friends out there who have not seen and want to watch the Beach, head there if he goes, and if you can. It is a little slice of harness racing on a half mile track near Hamilton, Ontario. You'll get to see him up close, have a nice ale outside in the sunshine, catch the ubiquitous women holding beer banners; and most of all two heats! Beach's trainer has said in the press that perhaps it might be only one heat with a lack of entries, but we'll stick our reputation (ya, I know, what reputation?) on the blog out here and predict three divisions, just like always.

Secondly, what the heck is up with the Jug Future Pool? Somebeach is the favorite? The connections have said that they are not going, but there it is. Chalk status at 3-1.

Some horseplayer math. A 10% chance he enters and an 80% chance he wins if he does enter, minus some time value for him not being sick or something, let's take away a bit for that, maybe a 5% chance. So what we're left with is the Beach with fair odds of about 14-1. I am no math genius, but I think that 3-1 is an underlay.

Coincidentally, Curlin was 14-1 to win the Arc, before he even tried the turf. I don't know what it is with future pools, but they are pretty wacky.

Regardless what happens, fans will see the Beach, more than likely four times in the next four weeks. You can't ask for more than that. You can not watch Mohawk video for free, without some sort of betting account, but Flammy has their signal beaming to all and it is available on the website. So pop in there if you want to watch it.

If he does go to the Cup, trust me, watch. Cup day is a great day; and to our thoroughbred fans, two heaters is harness racing history. It is something you won't see Big Brown do in the Haskell. Harness racing is Wayne Cashman instead of Bobby Orr. For those who might get that reference ;)

Monday, July 28, 2008

ORC to Address Whipping

Today the Ontario Racing Commission wants to look long and hard at whipping. This will be studied with interviews and opinions over the next while.

A couple of early opines on this. Andrew Cohen at harnessracing.com says "It's easy, ban it."

Greg, a regular contributer to the blog says the following at chat site Harnessdriver.com: "Personally, I am all for the whipping rules being tightened, but drivers need to be allowed to carry them and use them in a proper manner...if a horse sticks them in, a driver needs to be able to use the whip to get them out of the way or get them corrected to avoid accidents. What needs to be done away with/tightened are the "playing the violin" between the horses legs, the hock shots and those types of uses of the whip, and drivers who do that need to be fined/suspended accordingly, and not the drops in the bucket that they have now. Also, if they are going to look at whipping, they have to address the boots coming out of the stirrups, because that will be the new way to urge the horse."

I agree pretty much with Greg. It is high time such activities like whipping between the legs, hock shots and the boots stop - but we do not even have to change the rule for this. It is on the books, but not enforced everywhere.

I will certainly commend the judges as of late, however, here in Ontario. There is a direction, and that is apparent, that boots and leg whipping is being watched for. They are nabbing the usual suspects here in Ontario. At the Meadowlands it still goes on in virtually every race. They have to step up too and decide if they want to enforce rules, or they don't.

Regardless I commend the commission for looking at this. This is not the wild west, it is not 1910 society. Times have changed. Fans look at horses like pets. Right or wrong, it does not matter. That is the way they think. If you or I saw a fella sticking a whip in a puppy's genitals in a dog park we'd probably call the cops. We have to be cognizant of this in racing, so I hope they do the right thing.

That's my opinion, what is yours?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Online Gambling, Not Quite Like the Stereotype

Darryl Kaplan of Standardbred Canada has a very good article in this month's Trot Magazine in his monthly section called "The View".

He explains in it, how racing has missed the boat on very much the past generation. He asks if the "Ontario industry report won't work, what will?" Very good questions, of course. And a good article.

In a couple of paragraphs, and I am sure only for effect, the writer speaks of offshore poker and other sites being of "little cost". This resonates well in racing, and in some way certainly true. But it made me think of how often in racing we hear things like "all these places need is a webpage and they are in business." It marginalizes them, and adds fuel to the 'if we could shut them down all will be well' folks. They are not a nuisance they are a business; one that knows their customers and exists because they do everything they can to get more.

Online poker sites for example can pay up to $150 or so for a customer, and that is only the affiliate charge. They advertise, they offer free hand histories, bells and whistles. There is cutthroat pricing. There is technological advancement, virtually on a daily basis. They have customer service programs that would make Sam Walton proud. They pay bloggers, writers and anyone else that they can get their hands on to grow. They generally work their tails off. It is one competitive business.

To illustrate, I can think this might be a meeting at an online sports betting and poker site.

Big Cheese: What is on tap?

CTO: Lots in the pipeline. We have a new API so our players can download histories into excel. We are also planning a score ticker for the desktop, an odds comparison tool and a few other software packages for our players. That in addition to making sure that we get payments out quicker. We ran a study on our players and they said they wanted that. Also our customer team has built a content spider to sweep the web for mentions of us, so any poor mentions will be responded to, and data will be logged so we fix the customer's problem. We also have scraped box score data for football, baseball, hockey and basketball and have built a searchable database, as well as a sport betting line maker with that data. Our players can now get data from these sports back to 1965 at the click of a mouse and make their own betting lines. Our studies show that we can attract new players with this, and our existing players will bet more, and be happier and more satisfied with our offerings.

Big Cheese: What about you Marketing VP?

Sr VP Marketing: Well, our affiliate program is good, we're paying $125 per customer. Our metrics on our web advertising has them coming in at $214 a new customer, down from $244. We have bloggers and some new websites signed. As well we have employed writers for our site for the football season. We are currently spending over 400k to send players to the world series of poker and they will be wearing our hats. We are sponsoring a poker tournament a two casino's. We are running commercials in 12 countries and everything is on schedule for our Super Bowl party where we invited 200 of our top players to come for free. Our comparison data showed that when we offered out a bonus on soccer betting losses, handle went up by 12% so we are going to do that with three other sports. As well we are promoting in running betting to four stock trading magazines because we think that our new software, which mirrors trading software, can encourage stock traders to come play with us. We want a slice of that billion dollar market so we made a product that sells us to it.

Big Cheese: Well I have initiated our new pricing. We now will have nickel lines on baseball. Four others have gone to seven cent lines, but we have to go deeper. We have to price accordingly or we are not going to be in business for long. I also want rebates increased for some of our every day players. A new promotion: If you bet a bet a day you get more back.

This is a competitive landscape, and frankly we are not working hard enough, so let's hope the next meeting we have even better results.

I have not been to a racing meeting. But I can honestly say that I think it would be quite a bit different than that one.

Keep in mind, many of these sites started with angel financing of probably less than a million dollars, a far cry from the billions we have received from slots alone. We have absolutely no excuse for not competing by now.

They are beating us. They are kicking our butts. But it is not because they "put up a web page and are not expensive like racing." They are expensive and it takes a hell of a lot more than a web page to win. They win because they sink money into their businesses, understand their customer, and have an entreprenuerial drive that is second to none.

We need some of that spirit.

If we stole 0.1% of their customer base - 1 in one thousand people is all - we would more than likely triple handles in our sport. The question remains: Is there anyone out there who wants to try?

Does Crazed Give Dewey a Run?

The Hambletonian Eliminations are in the books after last nights racing at the M. Dewey did not disappoint, doing what he usually does, Crazed put back to back huge efforts, and Atomic Hall won the other elim.

The 3YO (and especially 2YO) trot classics are very different than their pacing cousins. In the Meadowlands Pace Final, even with a horse that might be the greatest ever, there are several horses capable of pacing a fast mile. Virtually every horse with a trip in there will pace, or has paced 1:49. In the trot races there are very few each year capable of breaking the beam in 153 or lower. Later in the year, some seem to season themselves and we start to see the net get a little bit bigger. For example we can see Arch Madness beating the precocious Donato Hanover twice late last year in the Breeders Crown.

But Crazed is proving that this years Arch Madness might have arrived a little bit early. Last night in fact, of virtually identical fractions, he trotted a faster final time. Dewey has someone who appears to be able to go with him.

Am I predicting a victory for Crazed? No. But, unlike the 3YO colt division (before the Meadowlands Pace), there is someone else to use in a fair odds line lower than 10-1.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rake Me Out to the Poker Game

Thanks to the Horseplayers Association of North America for giving us this tidbit about takeouts. Bill Finley wrote about racing in Italy and how increases of takeouts have killed the fan base by bleeding out the bankroll faster than a trainer excuse.

The Italians like to gamble. With recent changes liberalizing Italian gaming regulation, it is estimated that about $91 billion will be wagered in the country annually by the year 2010. The problem is, too many Italian gamblers are choosing to bet on something other than horse racing.

The takeout in Italy is exorbitant, as much as 40 percent on the trio, which is the Italian version of our trifecta. According to Barsotti, it wasn't always this way, but Italian racing regulators have decided to allow major increases in the takeout rate over the years.

Too many gamblers are going broke, which has created smaller betting pools. With smaller betting pools, it's hard to make a large bet. Anyone wanting to make a big wager on a horse will drive the horse's price down to unacceptable levels. That has caused big bettors to flee the game, which makes the pools smaller yet. It's an unending cycle.

Further, this interesting tid bit. In looking at lottery takeout rates I see that the state of Massachusetts has done the opposite. They have lowered and lowered and lowered the state take on the lottery. They now have approximately a 30% takeout on their lottery. 30%! Or ten percent lower than the Italian trifecta. How did they do? Judge for yourself in this pdf. They have well over $600M in sales, almost double that of the second place state.

By the way, the lottery in Mass and the takeout on the superfecta in Pennsylvania are about equal. Technically you might have a better chance to make money at a lottery than a bet at a racetrack. This from a lottery business where 75% takeouts were once considered the norm. I can't believe I typed that - I never thought we would see the day where a lottery is beating a horse bet. But we have.

This has gotten out of hand.

I will leave you with this, from gambling expert Will Cummings in his report to racing (commissioned by racing), which we quoted before here. We need everyone in this sport to sticky tab this to their cubicle:

Racing has lived with rising rates of takeout for so long that they have become a way of life. They are the line of least resistance whenever the industry needs money. It is all too easy for the industry to see that if we have a constant $100 in handle, and we raise the takeout by one percent, we’ll make a dollar more. It is much less easy to see that handle is not constant and, over the longer term if not the short, we won’t have that $100 any more.

We are seeing this 2004 prognostication play out right before our very eyes, and we can't seem to do a dang thing about it.

Fire All the Judges?

There is an interesting opinion article in Horseplayer Magazine this month. The associate editor puts forth something that I have never heard before. He believes that the stewards should not make any placing in any race, that they should just leave the result up as is, and fine the jock/driver and place the horse at a later time.

If your horse gets mugged, it is what it is.

This does have some merit to me, as strange as it is. We completely take subjectivity out of the equation. No more differences in judges rulings race to race, or track to track. No more whiny grumblings that at Windsor the judges left a horse up and at Mohawk when the same thing appears to happen he is chucked. Over time the public knows that what happens, happens in a race, that's the way it is and they have nothing to grumble about. Not to mention we would not have to sit through 15 minute inquiries and might even (heaven forbid) schedule post times to maximize handles. Gosh, it's growing on me :)

The stumbling block is obviously a winner that ain't a winner getting his picture taken, but heck, what do you think? Any way that it can work?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Betfair Wants More Harness Racing

Yessiree, you read that right. Someone wants to offer more harness racing. I have not lost my marbles. I don't think the moon is made of green cheese. Thanks to Cangamble for pointing this Harnesslink.com piece out.

Almost $175,000CDN was bet on a rather non-descript harness race at Kempton.

Betfair is calling for harness racing to be staged on the four Sundays in 2009 with no televised racing fixtures following the success of the first harness race at Kempton on 16 July.

Tony Calvin from Betfair told H&H: "Our expectations were minimal — but as it turned out more than 1,000 people placed bets on the harness race.

"We were completely taken unawares. There is definitely potential if it is supported by one of the horseracing channels. It could provide a new interest for the racing fraternity and certainly gets our backing."

Another lesson in the growing list of lessons we should have learned long ago: Distribute your product, allow people to see it, give them an interesting low price way to play. And they play.

Personal Note - David Liston

In reading Standardbred Canada this morning I see news that David Liston, executive at the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency, passed away. He was only 45.

As most know the CPMA regulates all wagering on racing in this country and is a vital partner to changing and (hopefully) rebuilding the sport. Back in April Mr. Liston served on the panel at the Standardbred Wagering Conference that was about "New Bets", along with myself and three others. I had never met him before, but immediately I liked him. He was smart, engaging and nice to speak with. I asked people about him and all I seemed to hear was "he's a good man", over and over.

Later that evening we were at dinner and I caught up with him and talked some more "horses". I went home feeling it was so good that racing had such a champion at the CPMA.

I don't like much to offer personal notes on the blog, but please allow me to offer condolences to the friends and family, should they stumble upon this post.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wow. A Betting Exchange, in 1998?

John Swetye is a founding member of the Horseplayers Association of North America. They are a grassroots movement for both harness and thoroughbred (and even quarterhorse) bettors, fans, owners, whatever. I will blog more on them at a later time, but this piece written by Mr. Swetye is absolutely fascinating.

It is about how he in 1998 had the betting exchange idea for US racing and began shopping it around.

The internet was still new in 1998. One of the biggest success stories was Ebay, the auction company that brought buyers and sellers together on-line.

So standing near the paddock at Churchill Downs I had an epiphany. Using the internet and an Ebay model, it would be possible for the little guy to play the role of a bookmaker -- really not much different from shorting wheat on a commodity exchange.

The big difference is that, for as little as a dollar, a horseplayer could become a bookmaker online and anonymously. (One problem with betting with bookmakers is that they get to know you and may not take all your action.)

Even more exciting than the little guy becoming a bookmaker was the thought that it would be possible for two people from anywhere in the world to bet against each other on any event where the outcome could be verified.

I knew this idea was so big that I was trembling in my shoes as my mind was flooded by all the possibilities.

So taken with the idea, he began to write a plan and even had a name - iBetcha. One of the people he sent his idea to was billionaire Richard Branson of Virgin. The scan of his rejection letter is here.

Undaunted, I started to submit my proposal to business people. I showed it to George Hoffmeister, who at the time owned The Vinery breeding farm and Real Quiet. He was a successful entrepreneur and liked the idea, but was not in a position to start a new company after having just bought a large breeding farm.

I submitted the proposal to Richard Branson of the Virgin line of businesses. You can read his reply to me at http://www.hypernormal.com/html/virgin.jpg. It was a rejection.

Of course this idea never got off the ground in the US. And John's work died. He sums up the piece nicely, and so does the comment to the piece: "We missed the original boat, but there is still one sitting in dry dock, waiting for the idea to get off to sea and set sail."

Fast forward 10 years later. Racing in the U.S. and Canada is not growing and is faced with stiff competition from lotteries, on-line poker and a proliferation of casinos.

The one thing that could turn racing around in this country is a betting exchange. Having had 10 years to think about betting exchanges and see a few of them in operation and having placed bets with the major ones, I've got some pretty good ideas on how to make them work in this country and how to improve them. The big question -- is U.S. racing ready to embrace this paradigm shift? Well, they better because they aren't going away and in the meantime U.S. racetracks and horsemen are giving up millions if not billions in revenue. This reminds me of full service brokerages complaining that it wasn't fair that they couldn't compete with discount brokers. Well, they had to learn how if they wanted to stay in business.

If we really want to sweeten the pot then we should embrace the betting exchange paradigm shift. Horseplayers have. I'm sure ADWs are interested in running betting exchanges. Horsemen would welcome the revenue. I know racetracks would welcome the revenue.

Come on, what are we waiting for? Bankruptcy? Slot machines?

I found this an amazingly interesting story. I hope you did as well. My snippets do not do the article justice, so read the whole thing if you found it interesting.

To sign up for HANA and become a member (it is free and open to all people in North America) click here. Their homepage is here. Perhaps you will be part of the next big thing. With people like John invovled, it seems that they are on their way.

Wagering. Down, Down, Down

And it is not just harness racing. From the Bloodhorse, "Wagering Plummets":

Wagering has dropped 11% on North American Thoroughbred racing since the end of the Triple Crown series.

“If the handle is going down, that is not a good sign,” he said. “There is less interest. What underlies that, though, is that it may not be as bad as what it looks for a particular racetrack, or that it could be way worse for another racetrack.”

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, in conjunction with Equibase, recently reported a 4.15% decline in North American handle during the second quarter of the year, which ended June 30. NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop, who didn’t return a call seeking comment for this article, termed the current industry scene “challenging.”

"Our industry is in the midst of a challenging period with discretionary entertainment dollars tighter than they have been for several years,” he said in a statement.

One ADW executive, who asked to remain anonymous, said he saw an immediate drop in wagering following the end of the Triple Crown series.

“It was instantaneous and dramatic,” he said, estimating his company’s decline at 15% since July 8. “One day I looked at our numbers and it was like, ‘Where did all of our players go?’ ”

As most know from the blog and other places, there is an impasse in the advance deposit wagering system. Horseman groups and tracks are fighting over the pie. Signals have been cut off, several ADW companies delivering the product have not been able to offer signals, pricing are moving up. All bad news for the player as he does what he has been doing for a decade - playing other gambling games.

“There is less concern over booked money as its going back in the pool,” he said. “If you are just booking, you have limits on what you can handle, because you want to limit what you can lose. And the big bettors find that is not a viable outlet, particularly if they are a very good bettor.”

“I think sports betting and poker through bookmakers has been a bigger problem -- in that we have lost some players now doing that instead of horse racing, or they have cut back on horse racing betting to do that,” he said.

Scherf said data he has seen suggests that handle wagered at night-time venues is suffering the most.

“There seems to be decreases there that are significant,” he said. “You would think it’s alternative gaming. And that can be everything from sports betting to online poker, to people just playing more slots at night when they go to a casino. It’s probably a variety of combination of those factors.”

In high-profile examples of some steep betting declines, betting at the recently-concluded Churchill Downs meet was down 11.5%, and opening-day handle at Del Mar was off 9% -- including a 14% drop in on-track wagering despite a record crowd of more than 43,000 on hand.


Well it appears the player is speaking the best they know how: With their wagering dollars (and they have been for some time).

The business needs fixing. Every horseman group, every track, every executive, every blogger will tell you that. The question I guess becomes, who will finally step up to the plate and fix this mess?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday Morning Quarterbacks

Yessiree, they are out in full force on Paul MacDonnell's drive on Somebeachsomewhere. It is completely wrong headed, and here is why.

It is the 2009 Belmont and I have a crystal ball. Bejarano is on the 1-9 undefeated favourite. Rafael is a good rider, but he has something no one else has, me. I am unimportant of course, other than the fact that I have the crystal ball. I cannot see the result but I can see his final time. At the mile pole I radio him and say "if you make your move now and open up you will beat Secretariat's record by 4/5's of a second". On cue Rafael (who likes me, cuz after all I have a crystal ball) opens up and proceeds to win in World record time, shattering Secretariat's 37 year old mark. Everyone cheers his name in the Belmont grandstand. He is a riding god. He moved at a perfect time.

Well at the Meadowlands on Saturday night, let's say Paul MacDonnell had a crystal ball, exactly the same as I had. He looked into the ball and sees that if he moved right now his horse would pace 1:47 flat, and shatter the world record by 4/5's of a second - just like Rafael. He would be sitting behind the fastest three year old pacer in the 130 year history of our sport. So move he did. No handicapper, or driver, or trainer or fan in the world, if he was told at that time if he moves now he will pace 147, would have told Paul not to. Not one of them. They all would have said "let it fly Paul". On Monday of course, after he lost, it is a different story.

Paul made the right move, and he did not even have a crystal ball. It was a textbook drive, by a good driver. Everyone who is criticizing him are doing it for one reason only - they need someone to blame - because losing fair and square does not seem to be in our makeup.

Wake Up Call #148

The Meadowlands Pace served up a message. No, not only the one that said there is another 3YO World Champion in the mix – a more important one. It said loudly and clearly to the people who run harness racing – this game needs a complete overhaul.

Thanks to Kevin on Harnessdriver.com on Saturday, this piece of news:

The handle [for the Meadowlands Pace card] was the second lowest in 11 years (2007 being the lowest). And, the attendance was the lowest ever.

If we listen to some in harness racing we often hear romantic assertions about the game. We hear things like, “if only we had a superstar, fans would come back to racing.” Well with stories on major networks, print coverage in the New York Times, New York Daily News and others on the super-horse, the people did not come out. They did not bet.

I sincerely hope we remember messages like this, that we have seen innumerable times over the last several years. Maybe this one will resonate that the game is completely broken. Until we attack what is wrong with racing (e.g. poor delivery mechanisms, monopolist laws, ridiculous takeouts/regulation of takeout etc) and avoid red herrings, we will get nowhere.

Word Gets Around

I popped open my inbox Saturday and it was veteran handicapper and racing journalist Nick Kling, whose newspaper pieces we have often quoted here on the blog. He had read the takeout piece we posted some time ago and asked if he could have permission to reference it. Lo and behold I read Equidaily Sunday morning and I see a headline: “A Tale of Two Takeouts, Imaginary Bettors Play at Two Different Levels….. Which is better for the game?”

Since that sounded familiar I clicked and it sent me to Nick’s piece in the Troy Record titled Racing Fans Neglected by the Elected.

The New York City OTB mess has resulted in an increase in takeout. Nick has been front and center on trying to let his pals at the NYRA know that increasing prices will not help business.

It is long past time for our elected leadership to stop fleecing fans every time someone in racing needs money.

I hope the piece helped. Rome was not built in a day, and we won't grow racing back to where it should be by getting pricing back to competitive levels any sooner than that.

Good Stuff In Blogland on the Meadowlands Pace

At the risk of making myself look bad - ok, I know that's not that difficult - check out this piece by Leftatthegate on the big race. He's a thoroughbred fan primarily, but he can have a home in harness racing any day.

Nice work.

A note: Thanks for everyone's comments on the Pace post below. Some great stuff by some good fans. It's pretty damn humbling that you guys follow this crazy blog.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meadowlands Pace - By the Numbers

107 – Seconds that both Somebeachsomewhere and Art Official paced, establishing a world record.

105 – Seconds that I think Somebeachsomewhere will pace a mile this year, at sometracksomewhere.

52.4 – Somebeachsomewhere’s middle half, which usually results in a horse coming home in 29; and often times worse than that.

75 – The percent Art Official has improved since early in the year. He looked to be lost on the lead early, and a horse who was simply learning to be a racehorse. At the Burlington after he came home in 52, he looked to be one that needed to be raced “off the pace”. He has now come full circle and proved that horses can and do improve over time. He’s finally all racehorse.

16 – What I needed in my odds line to make Art Official a play. Not quite there.

64 – The percent chance I had SBSW winning in my odds line. After watching the race, that was obviously too low.

160 – Dollars I spent on a pick 4, using five horses in the Pace final, looking for a good score.

2 – The number I had correct (Art Official and Glass Pack)

36.14 - The speed in MPH Somebeach paced his second quarter.

1 – Percent chance I figured that Art would be on the front end in the Pace final.

6 - Number of people I have read that said Paul should have "taken a hole". Taking a hole in a million dollar race, and getting potentially caught in traffic with an undefeated horse people are comparing to Niatross? I want some of what those people are smoking :)

5 – The percent chance that we need in every odds line in harness racing for noise. Every horse can get beat because of whatever reason in our sport. And that has to be reflected in any odds line. It is why bridgejumping bets are ROI negative.

1 -The number of post race commenters that were gracious and classy, and from a bygone era in racing, where class trumped bravado; Paul MacDonnell: "I've got to give Art Official all the credit in the world. He parked horses past the half in 51 and change and was still around at the wire to live and tell about it. I still had a lot of horse. I figured he'd get me to the wire in a pretty remarkable time and he did and got caught right at the end. I give him and Art Official all the credit."

1000’s – The hopeful number of thoroughbred fans who watched the race.

1000’s – The number of thoroughbred fans who learned that the three path is not the same as in thoroughbred racing, and that fractions and trip matter very much in harness racing.

100,000 – The supplement paid to enter Bullville Powerful. When they did that, most thought that it would have no bearing on the Final outcome, but it was everything. Take Yannick out of the mix and the Meadowlands Pace final is a completely different race.

180 – Degrees difference between Bullville Powerful’s running line versus Somebeachsomewhere’s off similar trips.

Somebeachsomewhere 4o 1oo 1 1-3/4 2-nk 1:47.0

Bullville Powerful 3o 2o 6 9-12 1/4 9-23 1:51.3

0 – The number of superfectas offered on the Pace final. I was confused at that.

1 – The number of world record holders for three year old pacers in our sport – Art Official.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What a Horse Race

When Man O War lost to Upset in 1919, it was, well an upset.

At the Meadowlands tonight it was not an upset. No horse could have been hung three high in 51.4 and been anywhere near a win photo in a World record time. No horse but Beach that is.

I wondered how fast he could go, and there is no doubt now that he can break 146.

As for the winner, well finally Art Official gets some respect. When he flashed a 52.3 back half and 120 and change back three quarters at Mohawk in the Burlington we all knew he was an amazingly fast animal. He proved it tonight, and he deserves it.

It is not often we get to watch a race like that in harness racing. I have never seen one. To have two colts at the wire in 147 is absolutely astounding. What a year for harness racing. And it is really only beginning. Thoroughbred fans stick around, you are sure to see more fireworks.

Now we will see the second guessing. We will see the blame the driver talk like we saw in the Belmont. We will see the Monday morning quarterbacks saying ridiculous things like "told you he'd lose when someone tries to beat him." It sucks, but it is inevitable. For me, I will just enjoy the fact I just saw something special. It was a great horse race and absolutely marvelous entertainment.

More Interesting Somebeach Press

For those of you south of the 49th, there are three Canadian television networks. Like CBS, NBC, and ABC, but with slightly less on the budget end :)

Two out of the three had stories on Somebeach this week, and Standardbred Canada sniffed them out and posted them on their website here.

The one from Global shows the Beach romping around a field, which is pretty cool.

If you take a moment to watch these pieces, think for a moment the differences between the two sports - thoroughbred and harness. I personally find that a story about a good horse - say Big Brown - would come off completely different. That is a difference between harness and thoroughbred racing that has always been there, and always will be there.

Anyhow, just a few snippets and the hype is certainly at a fever pitch. In 6 or 7 hours we'll get to see just what the big colt can deliver.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Somebeachsomewhere, Getting Some Press

I remember my first job out of school. It was for a small start-up. When the company started to achieve some earnings per share we put out press releases and expected the stock to start rolling, but it did not. I went into my boss's office one day and said "what the heck is wrong; we have earnings, a good story and we should have doubled by now, shouldn't we?" His response (he was an old wily veteran of the business world) "no worries son, getting noticed takes time."

He was right of course, and perhaps it is the same for Somebeachsomewhere.

Yesterday, two stories. One, in the New York Times, one of the world's largest newspapers. And the second piece is in the New York Daily News. This one with some quotes from some familiar to all harness fans, including Tim Tetrick "the greatest horse I have ever seen" and Bill O'Donnell, driver of Nihilator "he goes 27 quarters like he is walking."

Bob Heyden added his thoughts as well on the Meadowlands website, comparing the horse to Secretariat.

If the ducks get into a row this weekend, and the stars are aligned, I would not be surprised to see something like a 146 and change mile. In harness racing we never seem to pull together, we are always fighting. Hell, the runners do that too. But for one day, for one race, for the good of racing, we should all hope that happens.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meadowlands Pace: Fair Odds Line

Well the time has come for some fair odds for the Pace Final. I must admit, with a big chalk, these are not very fun to do, but we will.

First, like we did for the North America Cup, we will look at what fans in Canada think by looking at the standardbred Canada poll.

HORSE
CHANCE ODDS
Share the Delight
0.8% / 99-1
SomebeachSW
87.0%/
1-9
Sand Shooter
2.2% / 45-1
Atochia
0.2% / 99-1
Mucho Sleazy
0.5% / 99-1
Art Official
1.8% / 60-1
Bullville Powerful
1.1% / 90-1
Dontloseyrdjob
0.4% / 99-1
Badlands Nitro
2.8% / 35-1
Tiz a Masterpiece
1.1% / 90-1

I think they like Somebeach!! :)

Now our line:

HORSE
CHANCE /ODDS
Share the Delight
6.3% /15-1
SomebeachSW
64.5% /3-5
Sand Shooter
7.7% /12-1
Atochia
1.0% /99-1
Mucho Sleazy
1.0% /99-1
Art Official
5.9% /16-1
Bullville Powerful
6.7% /14-1
Dontloseyourrdayjob
1.1% /90-1
Badlands Nitro
3.2% /30-1
Tiz a Masterpiece
1.3% /80-1

The main difference in the crowd voting in the poll and my line is of course Somebeachsomewhere. I would have him at a 75% chance, or maybe slightly below that, but he did drift in the stretch into the five or six path. The trainer is on record saying the shoeing was the culprit with his bad step and possible drift. But as we know, it is impossible to know everything and drifting is not necessarily a good handicapping sign - especially when we are dealing with a 1-9 shot. So I docked him a bit for that question mark.

It will be interesting to see if this is a boat race or not. Yannick is on record saying that he will be taking a shot with Buillville. If he does that makes things interesting perhaps. If not, and if Paul leaves with Beach like he did last week and the field is intimidated, I think the 2-1 ex would be more than fair value.

I can see them perhaps mix it up a wee bit. I did not feel like that at the Cup.

Enjoy the Pace this weekend. I hope we see something special.

Pocket's 2008 Bankroll Bets

Starting bankroll: $1000
NA Cup Bet: $7 to win on Sand Shooter if over 16-1- Accepted. $60 on Somebeachsomewhere if over 4-5 - No bet.
Result -$7
Current Bankroll: $993
Meadowlands Pace Possible Bets: $8 to win on Share the Delight if over 15-1. $8 to win on Art Official if over 16-1

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

EPO, No Not Racing This Time

The Tour De France has been fighting some major negative publicity. Each year more and more riders seem to be under the microscope. This year was hailed as a year that the message was getting through - no more blood doping, please!

But unfortunately not. Not one, but two riders have been suspended for EPO.

French police detained Spanish cyclist Moises Duenas Nevado on Wednesday after he tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO during the Tour de France.

Police detained Duenas Nevado, who rides for Barloworld and was 19th overall in the Tour, from a hotel in the town of Tarbes, where his team stayed. He remained in custody Wednesday for questioning, notably about where he may have obtained EPO, a police official said.


It was the second positive EPO test this year involving a Tour rider, in a sport whose image has been long tarnished by drug use and other cheating. Spanish veteran Manuel Beltran — a former teammate of seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong — was sent home for testing positive for EPO after the first stage this year.

Pierre Bordry, head of the French anti-doping agency, said Duenas Nevado tested positive after the fourth stage on July 8 at Cholet, the site of the race's first time trial. The doping agency has replaced the International Cycling Union in handling doping controls at the Tour for the first time this year.

International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said he felt "great anger once again."

"I just can't understand when are these guys are going to learn," McQuaid told The Associated Press by telephone. "If the 'B' sample is positive, then all I can say is the guy's a fool. The net is closing in."

It appears they have a long way to go. The lure of riches and the lure of fame seem to be too much for some.

I guess the sad thing with EPO is, in racing the participants are not willing subjects, in cycling they are.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Somebeachsomewhere: In Demand

I remember watching which was perhaps my first Hambletonian. It was, hmmmm. Maybe 1985? I was interested in the Hambo. I was a Prakas fan. I did like a few other trotters in the race. I think Carl Allen had a nice one that year too. It might have been Royal Troubador. I wanted to see the US Pacing Championship too. On the Road Again was one of my favourite horses. I loved him. He was kind of a poor man's Cam Fella.

But there was one reason and one reason only I wanted to watch the Meadowlands card. It was a horse called Nihilator.

All week there was talk of a shot at a World Record. All week Billy O and the connections said they would go for it. As we all know, on a hot day in early August, with the sun beating down the track is lightning fast. He had a chance.

He brushed by Shannon Majority and hit the half in a blazing time, something like 53.2. 121 and change to the three quarters and home in 49.3. Stunning! (note - some people forget how good Falcon Seelster was that day too!)

For a kid who was a racing fan, who rarely got to even watch a race (I did not live anywhere near a track), it was a great, great day.

Well this year I read that Somebeach is not racing in the Oliver Wendall Holmes on Hambo Day, he is coming home to race in an Ontario Sires Stakes.

If he wins the Meadowlands Pace in a heart stopping time I would have killed to see the horse on Hambo Day try for the World record. There is no doubt in my mind with a 90 degree day and with a fast track he can go 146 there (a claimer went 47.4 last year on Hambo day, and most trainers called the track "tiring"). It would be televised nationally on NBC. Not to mention, there would be 35,000 fans cheering for him.

Let's face it, this horse is in demand and the connections have been so, so good with the media and for the sport (anyone read Trot magazine last month? They followed Beach with a camera and a reporter for more than 24 hours before race time of the NA Cup. Anyone think a guy like Bill Robinson would have been that accommodating with Cam's Card Shark?). They have to do what they think is best for the horse. But selfishly, I want to watch this horse in the Holmes.

Note: Standardbred Canada is doing something very proactive. That Kaplan fella earns his paycheck. They are looking for soldiers to promote Somebeachsomewhere. Check it out if you think you can help!

Somebeach back in 2009? Derek says "no" in a well written blog piece.

Did you check the picture in that piece? What a beauty. I would leave a comment, but the person that said
Så fint uttrykk, og nydelig blank pels said it all :)

Monday Morning Notes

Here are some quick notes on this Monday morning:

……. Curlin came second in his turf debut on Saturday. At about the half I said to myself “he is not winning this race”. He looked a little uncomfortable, not overly keen. Not the Curlin that I have watched. I am pretty sharp, eh?

……. Now, fast forward to Saturday evening. Somebeachsomewhere was struggling a little bit to clear at the quarter. I said to my friends’: “he is ripe to get beat, I hate when they are not keen and on the bit, that is not Somebeach!!!” Yep, horseplaying is humbling.

……… Speaking of humbling, how about Yannick Gingras? He was talking about Somebeachsomewhere last week before his stunningly easy elimination win.

"[At the Meadowlands] if you put ten good pacers against him [Somebeachsomewhere] he's going to have to earn it. That's one thing about the Meadowlands, there's a flow -- there's not going to be an easy three-eighths or something for him."

If they ran at him, he probably would have only came home in 54, but then again he might have set a track record.

Yannick – no worries pal, we horseplayers misjudge horses many times a day.

…….. There was an interesting post on the Harnessdriver board yesterday, alluding to the fact that Somebeach’s elim win did him some good – no one will challenge him next week because they are scared out of their wits. I thought that was a good point. I wonder if Paul primed the engine a little in the stretch hoping it will serve him well in next weeks final.

……… In other Beach tidbits, he continues to bridge the racing gap a little bit like we spoke of here.

Left at the Gate says in his post here:

Wow! That's all I can say about Somebeachsomewhere, and his dominance in his elimination heat for next Saturday's Meadowlands Pace.

Valerie from Foolish Pleasure said in a comment below:

Wow! Somebeachsomewhere was a monster! 1:48:3! And he makes it look so easy. Thanks for getting me hooked on him :)

Two things I notice about that, they both used “wow” and they both like watching good horses, of any breed. I am sure there are many other comments out there by thoroughbred fans about this horse.

……. Admirals Express won on Saturday night at Mohawk – in 51 and change. It was his 79th win, and it came at the age of 12. Every harness fan knows about the Admiral. He has been racing at or near the Open level since he was three years old. He has banged heads with some of the greats, and he has beaten both those greats and some of their sons. His nickname is the Grey Gladiator. He is not the prettiest gaited horse. He is not a superstar. He is one tough SOB who gives his all every single week, after week, after week. This was his first big track win since coming out of retirement in December of 2006. I was standing near the winners circle when he won. I clapped. The Admiral is everything I enjoy about harness racing. (Note: Chris Connor writes about Admirals return on his blog)

……. Luc Ouellette was injured last week in an accident at Flamboro Downs. It looks like he’ll be out a month. As blog readers know our friend Greg R, who has contributed here on the blog is good pals with Luc. I wish Luc a speedy recovery. He is one of the good guys in the game.

……. There is some monstrous news out of Betfair this week alluded to by the Racing Post regarding a potential deal with California racing, but we will wait until everything is confirmed to speak about it.

…….. Ellis Park had a 4% pick 4 last year and it generated some excitement. This year, Premier Turf Club has taken the ball and ran with it. They are offering a 10% Ellis Park pick 4. I bet the owners of that ADW are making almost zip on that bet. But that is what ADW’s do; they resell and offer deals for players to up handles. It is why we need them in racing. If you can join PTC in your jurisdiction, they come highly recommended by virtually everyone I know who plays there.

……. I was at Mohawk on Saturday. It was a really good crowd. And there was some excitement. They are doing a good job at Mohawk.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Is Horseplaying a Science? Fagedaboudit!

I was heading off to Mohawk for dinner and to watch a few races on Saturday. I was having a poor day at the thoroughbreds; and had a poor day Friday as well. I had a nasty case of seconditis, and I am primarily a win bettor. Before I planned on getting ready to go, I flipped my handy jcapper output to race 8 at Monmouth. Up popped up a horse at a 20-1 morning line. He had the #1 ranked pace figure (which on the turf at Monmouth has been good lately), he had a little program that I wrote for Monmouth turf races as a play, and he was ranked third overall. His name was Fagedaboutit Sal.

7 +FAGEDABOUDIT SAL
Yellow_++_UDM
Mth_turf_UDM

.0622(6)
15.08
156(1)
41(4)











ML
20-1





I decided it was time to take a shot, he was 25-1 on the board and climbing, and worth a play. Well, my pal Sal took the lead early and never looked back:

#HorseJockeyWeightWinPlaceShow
7Fagedaboudit SalFragoso P11780.4023.8010.60
1Kiss the KidElliott S117
3.803.00
9Classic CampaignDesormeaux K J117

2.80

Even Larry's call was a good for the excitement near the wire ........ "Are they gonna catch Sal?......... Fagedaboudit!"

Anyhow, suddenly it was a good day. Things can turn on a dime.

Now the fun part. Today I was playing a few races as well. With about two minutes to race four I flip over to my Monmouth printout.

I see this:

8 +FAGEDABOUDIT GAL
Mth_turf_UDM

.1908(2)
4.24
147(1)
58(2)











61(2)
61(2)
ML15-1




#1 pace figure, she's on turf, the handy Turf UDM program I wrote signalled her - and she is a bomb price. It's pretty much a carbon-copy to Sal, 24 hours earlier.

I immediately called a friend who was playing and he said "I know what you are going to say!". I said "how can I not bet this horse today, it's gotta be some sort of sign (half-jokingly)?"

Well if this was a cool story I would say she jogged....... hold it. She did:

#HorseJockeyWeightWinPlaceShow
8Fagedaboudit GalRivera L Jr11926.409.805.40
3Goodness GreatnessMarquez C H Jr119
3.202.40
4Gaelic JourneyLezcano J122

4.00

She took the lead, just like Sal, and never looked back. Also just like Sal, the two chalks filled out the tri.

I am a hard-number horseplayer. I look at numbers, I study the game. I do not believe in karma, or coincidence, or anything else along those lines.

But today I suspended my belief. For this one day if anyone told me that wins and losses in racing are all pre-determined, and that we are all just pawns in the game, I would not be able to argue.

Note: I rarely speak of my personal betting here in any specifics - that goes for wins or losses. We all know it is generally considered bad manners in the Internet world to speak of horses you bet that won, after the race. Come to think of it, it is just like real life. Anyhow, forgive me just this once, because frankly I can almost guarantee something X-files like this will never happen again.

Somebeachsomewhere - "Hello USA"

I remember back in the early 1980's. I was a kid and the family stable had a nice little horse. He was a son of Most Happy Fella and he was racing locally here in Toronto. He won a few races, including a 3YO Open against some really good competition. We brought the horse to a stakes race at Roosevelt Raceway. I scanned the papers, and the tip sheets and no one picked him. A few of the comments were "he was good up there, but he will have to prove himself down here".

I read a few things like that on Somebeach's trip to the US. It made me laugh a little bit. I mean, the horse is an absolute monster. He could race on the moon and be a monster.

Anyway, he certainly proved what many folks knew after the Metro Pace elimination way back last August. He was sensational.

Video is here, and a story as well at Standardbred Canada. If you have not seen the race, take a look.

In the second elim I was really happy for Share the Delight. We touted him in the NA Cup elims and have always been a fan of the little guy. He is small, but has a huge engine. He can get a slice next week, no doubt about that. I was also happy for the owners. Read part-owner Andrew's awesome blog post before the race today. It's impossible to not be joyful with them tonight.

In the last elim it was nice to see another horse get some redemption. Sand Shooter has had his share of difficulties, but he is quality, and he deserves to show it. I thought he dug in like a good horse should, off an absolutely torturous first half.

Of course, on paper next week it is completely academic. But it is a horse race. And as we all know, anything can happen in a horse race. It is why we are fans.

And it is hard not to be a fan at this moment in time. We are obviously all part of something special.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Meadowlands Pace Elims

The elims are tomorrow, so we will pop through them and see what we can come up with.

$50,000 Meadowlands Pace Elimination - Race 5

Post, Horse, Driver, Trainer
1, Art Official, Ron Pierce, Joe Seekman
2, Moon Beam, Yannick Gingras, Eric Abbatiello
3, Mucho Sleazy, Ron Pierce, Ken Rucker
4, Grab Your Keys, Cat Manzi, Taylor Gower
5, Somebeachsomewhere, Paul MacDonell, Brent MacGrath
6, Badlands Nitro, Brian Sears, George Teague Jr.
7, Weekend Gambler, Ron Pierce, Mark Silva
8, Meant To Be Me, John Campbell, Linda Toscano

The first elim is pretty academic, off the form. It is also a shame that several good ones - arguably the three top colts in racing - are meeting each other. Conspiracy theorists that think the elims are somehow pre-determined won't like this leg :)

1st - SBSW: Not much to say about that. He is what he is.
2nd - Art Official: I still think this colt is better than Badlands Nitro; and with a post advantage, perhaps he can fill out the ex.
3rd - Badlands Nitro: Should fill out a monster tri

$50,000 Meadowlands Pace Elimination - Race 6

Post, Horse, Driver, Trainer
1, Share The Delight, John Campbell, Linda Toscano
2, Lisfinny, Ron Pierce, Robert McIntosh
3, Tiz A Masterpiece, TBA, Blair Burgess
4, Blueridge Western , Yannick Gingras, Mickey Burke
5, Mystery Chase, David Miller, Jim Campbell
6, Dontloseyourdayjob, Yannick Gingras, Jeff Smith
7, Frankyluvsmeatballs, Luke Plano, Rick Plano
8, Upfront Hannahsboy, Tim Tetrick, Jim Arledge
9, Santanna Blue Chip, Jody Jamieson, Carl Jamieson

1st - Upfront Hannahsboy: Probably will not be a price, but he looks the best
2nd - Share the Delight: I anticipate a nice trip for this little horse. Might up the juice in the ex
3rd - Santanna Blue Chip: Obvious to hit the board

$50,000 Meadowlands Pace Elimination - Race 7

Post, Horse, Driver, Trainer
1, Dragon King, David Miller, Roy Williams
2, Sand Shooter, Tim Tetrick, Jim Arledge
3, Robertthebruce, Andy Miller, Erv Miller
4, Dali, Luc Ouellette, Duane Marfisi
5, Bullville Powerful, Yannick Gingras, Steve Crevani
6, Atochia, Tim Tetrick, Peter Kleinhans
7, Deuce Seelster, Ron Pierce, Ross Croghan
8, Legacy N Diamonds, Jody Jamieson, Carl Jamieson
9, Brother Ray, David Miller, Ken Rucker

1st - Sand Shooter: He had sneaky late pace in the North America Cup, and looked a ton better on the track. He converted nicely at Pocono last time.
2nd - Deuce Seelster: Has to be good this week. Raced ok last time. Addition of lasix and perhaps getting used to the swamp air will help him this week.
3rd - Bullville Powerful: Supplemented for a hundred K. Raced well, has been racing well, and should hit the ticket.

All in all a fairly interesting group of horses. Like most of you I would have liked to see Art Official and Nitro in their own divisions. This might actually be an advantage to the Beach. If he wins the first elim, arguably the next two best colts do not get a chance to pick their posts. Hmm. Not bad perhaps.

I'll try an out-on-a-limb deal and pick the tri in next weeks final:

Somebeachsomewhere
Sand Shooter
Upfront Hannahsboy

There, what the heck.

Enjoy the Pace elims and have a nice weekend.

Tote or Exchange?

Perusing the harnesslink.com site, and I see an ad for Betfair (it is licensed and contributes to pools in Australia).

The ad shows what they have been doing by facilitating a partnership with racing and acting like an off track betting site. It is titled "Exchange or Tote" and says the following:

Get the Best of Both Worlds at the Tote at Betfair

It’s a one-stop shop with Exchange and tote betting all under the one roof.

Choose between backing and laying on the exchange and betting in tote win and place markets.

Or have a quinella, exacta, trifecta, daily double or quaddie – on all races, from all codes. All from the one account.

The decision is all yours.

It’s the complete betting experience.

Absolutely brilliant and shows what we can be over here if we can lobby to get some of these laws (that were built for racing monopolies) changed. The principle is simple. You like a horse at Grand River. He is 3-1 on the exchange, but looks like he will end up at 2-1 on the board. What to do? Bet the exchange price and try and get matched at 3-1. If it is the other way around and you think you can get a better price on track? Well, in the same account, bet the horse right into the pools. Further, you don't like the third race. You hate the chalk who is sitting at even money, but you don't like anyone else. What do we do in North America? Sit the race out. Not there. There you lay the chalk that you hate, trying to get matched at 6-5, and participate.

And the best thing? All that action contributes to racing pools and purses, albeit in a 21st century business model.

Great stuff by a very sharp company.

Note: I am a believer that you do have to be a bettor, and one with passion to understand a bettor. I stumbled upon a blog tonight. It is Andrew Black's blog, who is a founder of betfair. It is not a shill blog for his company, in fact he says that clearly. It is just a a blog about betting the horses. It is interesting, but not surprising perhaps that the founder of the largest betting site in the World that spawned a whole new demographic of bettor, is a horse racing fan and a gambler. Just like us. But I bet we have less money.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Funny Hats, Royalty and ....... a Blog?

Woodbine has always had a corporate image. They are the oldest racing franchise in the country. When I went to the Queen's Plate last year I saw more women wearing floppy hats than I've seen in pictures at a 1939 premiere of Gone with the Wind.

But now they join the blogosphere!

Greg Blanchard, Mike 'golden-domed' Hamilton, Renee Kierans, Elissa Blowe (down boys), Jeff Bratt, Kenny Middleton, Chris Hickey and Chris Connor are writing a few posts about racing. They share some opines and seem to be having a bit of fun. I hope that some new ideas are floated out from them as a trial balloon to see what fans think and want.

Regardless, I hope they get some traffic. The WEG TV crew (and television production as a whole) are very good. If that can translate at all to the web perhaps they can get some traffic, some good responses and it will help them grow the game.

Best luck to them all.

Some Forward Thinking

We have been on a customer and marketing angle lately.

Harnesslink is very proactive in trying to change the game. Fresh thinking and fresh ideas for the 21st century fan. This is no more apparent than their last post on harnessracingblog.com. We have touched and spoke about some of these ideas here, and I could not agree more. We have to completely change our thinking in racing. The younger generation demands it. We will not have a business left if we do not.

I am just going to link the article. It's titled "The New Generation of Harness Racing". Comment there if you wish to. It is a very good piece. (and the picture of the tree on the roadside is priceless).

Notes:

Did you vote on the Standardbred Canada Poll Question?: "What effect do you think legalized, single-match sport wagering offered at racetracks would have on Canadian standardbred racing handles?"

I did. I am shocked at what is winning.

Tomorrow we will go through the Meadowlands Pace Elims. It's a good group and a good group of races. If anyone wants to join in and make some picks, I welcome it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Serendipitous Expletive

Anyone ever seen the cable guy? You know, the cable guy sleeping on a couch?

On vacation I polished off a new business book, Meatball Sundae. In it the author speaks of the power of the customer in the Internet world, and the power of marketing in the new economy.

Well it appears two customers have decided to do something.

Jessica Chapel (of Railbird) and Dana Byerly (Green But Game) have seemingly joined forces to create the Self Appointed Fan Committee. This website offers customers a voice, and a place to have that voice heard. They are collecting rants, praise and anything else about the issues of the day in racing. I have read these two women and some of their writings. I would not put it past them to make a difference. Racing and horseman execs might want to get themselves ready to read some solutions and I think they’d be wise to pay attention. Paying attention to customers in the new economy is paramount to a company’s success. It is a 2008 Internet truism.

Another world wide web truism is that if you are mentioned in an often quoted story, you can get some serious web traffic. People try very hard to get mentioned, and some succeed, but to catch fire you do need more than a mention. You need to be very lucky.

I think Jessica and Dana got lucky today.

Paul Moran – an influential racing journalist – not only mentioned their new website:

The evolution of a nontraditional, essentially digital racing media has spawned the Self-appointed Fan Committee (a link to which is in the blogroll on the left rail), which was launched on Tuesday by two prominent bloggers -- Jessica Chapel, publisher of Railbird Media, and Dana Byerly, publisher of Green But Game.

….. he spoke of the disenfranchised player and blogosphere:

The blog movement in racing was spawned among fans and horseplayers, not products of the mainstream or trade media, whose entry into this particular arena is a relatively new, differently focused development and, in the main, remains so. Grassroots movements tend to either wither in frustration or gain momentum and the development of the Self-appointed Fan Committee is evidence of the latter.

A savvy executive would make this forum a daily read. (Unfortunately, that sentence is grossly optimistic.)

Eventually, the disenfranchised organize.

Make no mistake, the rank-and-file racing fan and horseplayer -- the person who walks through the general admission or clubhouse gate and brings the money that pays every purse and every salary -- is disenfranchised.

.... and then delivered a knockout:

Horseplayers, in fact, rank low on the list of priorities at NYRA. Horseplayers, in fact, are regarded openly by at least one executive with contempt

On the night before the Belmont Stakes, while he was extolling the brilliance that resulted in the construction of a large wooden desk in the Belmont Park clubhouse lobby, it was suggested to a high-ranking NYRA executive that the organization has lost sight of the core audience.

What, he asked, was the core audience?

The horseplayers.

“ ------ the horseplayers,” he said, employing a widely used euphemism for copulation.

That’s where you stand in New York.

I have seen this ‘unnamed’ racing exec quote in several forms today – on blogs, at chat sites, and no doubt it will be filtered out more tomorrow. It'll be a gift that keeps on giving to Jessica and Dana.

It’s interesting to me and I have to laugh. Companies out there kill to have something viral in nature. They hire PR firms to come up with things like this. They pay good money to find interesting ways to get mentioned. Often times, I would argue most times, it is simply serendipitous.

Good luck ladies. I hope your luck continues.

Haven’t heard of the cable guy? Well here he is on Youtube. Check the number of views. Yep, over a million. In the new economy, this stuff is out there, and it is powerful. In the words of Seth Godin, author of Meatball Sundae:"Your customers now control your brand."

Smart companies pay attention, the ones that don't go broke. I sincerely hope racing is the former.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Henderson, We Have a Problem

It was announced that Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky is back on for Wednesday. A last hour compromise was agreed upon by Ellis and the KHBPA. With it, close to 6% of ADW handle will be going to purses. It appears that Ellis is charging ADW’s up to 8% signal fees for the right to broadcast Ellis races.

This is a huge problem and a dangerous precedent to set. I will tell you why handles can be expected to fall at Ellis and elsewhere.

An ADW normally pays about 5% (which is about what the current free market dictates) for the right to broadcast a signal and sell it to their customers. It is like a web-affiliate bookseller selling a book and keeping a commission. Then the ADW pays expenses, keeps a small amount of generated handle for themselves, and returns the rest to the player in a few ways:

1) Player Rewards – Xbox’s, maybe a hat, maybe a free coffee at a track. We all have received these perks.

2) Soft Innovations and Customer-centric Benefits – An improved betting interface, R and D (like Twin Spires TV), free handicapping information (like Ian Meyers’ paddock reports at Premier Turf Club, his deal with Woodsideassociates.com, or partnerships with Thorograph at betfair), free past performances, free video.

3) Cash Rewards Through Rebating – Churn baby churn.

If ADW’s are charged a higher than market fee things like free rewards, hats and shirts; or the interesting innovations we have seen like race replays, and conditional wagering and paddock reports can all be cut. This hurts us in attracting new fans to our Internet platform, as well it alienates our existing customers (ask Vegas how they'd do without comps or adding a concert as an attraction). The most important point however to us as a business: It effectively increases takeouts. If 3% more is charged for a signal, 0.5% might be absorbed by the ADW. Where does the other 2.5% come from? Yes, the customers pocket - the customer that already pays for purses to the tune of 21% blended rakes.

When the signal fee is raised 3%, more than likely 2-2.5% will be taken from the rebate. If you were receiving a rebate of 5% on win wagers at track ‘A’ and they are cut in half you know, we all know what happens, you bet less. With these price sensitive players, where 2.5% can mean a huge difference, it can kill their handle. As Dan, a professional player, said right on this very website:

Even miniscule reductions of 2 points can make a HUGE impact on a large player’s bottom line. The intelligence of the modern player is frankly overlooked by those in positions of decision.

With a conservative elasticity of demand of 4 for rebated high volume players, this takeout increase could result in a 10% drop in handle (many would argue it would be much more). Not to mention any new players (especially the younger demographic we covet) that are attracted to some of the perks like free past performances, or innovations, will find they are not there any longer, and it makes the customer experience deficient in a demanding 21st century business model. Online poker anyone?

It’s like going to McDonald’s and finding out that yes, the price of a Big Mac was raised 30 cents, so you might eat one less a month now, but not only that - Now your more expensive Big Mac is served not complete in a nice wrapper, but in a do it yourself kit. When sales of Big Mac’s go into the tank, it would not surprise any executive at McDonald’s; they would know they cut their own throat.

Increasing takeouts, poor customer service and an absence of soft innovation through reinvestment is something we should have learned has hurt this business by now. Year after year the evidence is there and it will only get worse. In fact, this study written several years ago stressed the takeout point and making sure these players are taken care of. And ironically this study was commissioned in part by the HBPA, the exact same group that wants a bigger slice of handle by raising takeouts on us, by asking for more from ADW’s.

Racing has lived with rising rates of takeout for so long that they have become a way of life. They are the line of least resistance whenever the industry needs money. It is all too easy for the industry to see that if we have a constant $100 in handle, and we raise the takeout by one percent, we’ll make a dollar more. It is much less easy to see that handle is not constant and, over the longer term if not the short, we won’t have that $100 any more.

If we don’t offer a low takeout (via rebate) to customers, we’re going to lose them, or at least a significant portion of their money. Hence the efficacy of rebates: they target reductions in the takeout to the customers who would respond the most to them. (Analysis of the Data and Fundamental Economics Behind Recent Trends in the Thoroughbred Racing Industry, 2004)

Sometimes I wonder. I really do. Do we actually want racing to lose market share? Is it a grand conspiracy to actually lower handles? If it is a conspiracy, we don’t have to look far for a second shooter on the grassy knoll. We have a plethora of potential suspects.