Wednesday Link-o-rama

Deweycheatumnhowe, one of the three highest priced sires in harness racing, has left Kentucky for Ontario. I remember as a kid, Ontario sired horses were second class citizens. Armbro Omaha, Fundamentalist, Dallas Almahurst (the poor man's Oil Burner) and other pacing sires were non factors on the grand circuit. The trotters were a little better, with the very good Dream of Glory siring good horses. But nowadays, with slots, Ontario is at or near the head of the class.

VFTRG, in a post with regard to whipping violations at Windsor asks Marty Adler, the Windsor announcer, to keep the comments to himself.

What a difference a year makes. Last year as you would remember, there was a knock-down, drag-out fight between the horseman's association and Woodbine. A year before that, a scrap between Georgian and OHHA. Now, everything is signed sealed and delivered, without a fight.

The Meadowlands starts their meet on Friday. Free PP's et al right here. It looks like they have worked hard on their card. Full fields and some good racing. One would expect handle to be very good opening night. The one thing the Meadowlands does well, is respond with field size questions the best they can. They know opening day is a big day for any track. For thoroughbred fans, check the sixth race for a great race of talented old timers. It is something the runners rarely see, but we get to see it in harness racing quite a bit.

Overpricing Horses is Predictably Irrational

You head to Ikea and buy a desk for $100. It comes in boxes, so you have to put it together. Seven (or in my case about 70) hours later, voila, the desk is put together and it is sitting in the home office, looking dang good - a job well done. Now, a friend comes over and says "will you sell it?" and offers you $200. Chances are you say no. The desk is not a desk, it is your desk and it has value to you. You might not take $300 or $400 now for it.

So goes "the Ikea effect" detailed in a chapter of Predictably Irrational, a fascinating book on behavioural economics by Dan Ariely. In it he studies why we do what we do, why we buy, how we form relationships, how we act, and it is a good marriage between psychology and economics.

In exploring how we price items that we own (in fact, his latest blog piece speaks of this), it all depends on the story. To illustrate this in the book he used an anecdote about college kids camping out for days for Duke basketball tickets. He and his cohorts ran an experiment:

After the tickets were awarded (some who camped out got them, and others who did the same thing did not win them) he asked the people who won what price they would sell their tickets for, and conversely asked those who lost what they would pay to go to the game. The ones who won would immediately tell an emotional story about the game, how it would be a part of their college memory and that they are invaluable. When pressed for a price, they reluctantly said they would take (an average) of $2400. For the ones who lost, they immediately thought of money - e.g. if they did not go to the game, how much it would cost to have a good time out watching it, with some good food, good drink and with a little scratch left over. After mulling it over rationally, with cold hard cash decision making, the average they would pay was $170.

This chasm explains a lot to me about how we price horses. If you or I want to buy a horse we will call a trainer, expecting the price will be $60,000. We weigh what we can do with that $60,000 if he says no. We can buy two 20 claimers, take a trip with the family, pay a couple of bills, maybe or invest in a stock; after all 60k is 60k. We rationally equate what price we offer to other things. But often times the owner whom we are trying to purchase the horse from does not think that way. He does not see that the 60k can pay his feed man, give him 3 replacement 20 claimers, and so on. He only sees his horse and the story with the horse; how he bought him as a yearling, fed him carrots, worked with him (in a trainer's case), travelled to a track to watch him race; the memories. He or she equates its value with a story, not with economic reality.

I think this can explain a little bit about "rna's" at breeding sales, as well. "I picked this cross with tons of research, I raised the horse with the finest grains, and he will be a champion. You are only bidding $22,000? I am buying him back."

There is currently a push in Ontario to rejuvenate the claiming game. Some believe that changing the claiming jail time rule might help out. That is a worthwhile debate, but one thing we can not make trainer-owners or owners who have had a horse for a long time do, is price them. People who race their horses in protected classes are often called "bad businessmen" but in fact, as Dan Ariely's research shows, it is not that at all. They have an attachment to their horse, and to pry it from them takes cash; sometimes irrational amounts of cash.

The next time I ask someone to sell a horse, I will look at it from a whole different perspective. Although they are being irrational, at least now I know that it is an irrationality of a predictable variety.

8 Questions for Harness Racing in 2010

At the end of every year I make a list, wondering if racing will get together and embrace some change. You'll be not surprised that nothing much has changed since I started the blog long ago now. Each year brings us important questions, and here are a few I think are important for 2010.

1. Will harness racings flagship track bounce back from a terrible handle period?

- As most know the Meadowlands is a shadow of itself. $4M to $5M handles on a Saturday night, with deep fields, were once the norm. Now with Chester and Yonkers and their bandit cash taking more and more horses away from Jersey, it seems to be in a free fall. Star drivers follow the cash and they have abandoned the Jersey oval for a couple days a week as well, adding to the lost handles. Will they be able to reverse the trend? Will they be able to card deep fields? Will drivers say no to other tracks and support the Meadowlands? We'll see.

1a. Will the slot money cut in Pennsylvania mean a slice in purses?

- Earlier this year Pennsylvania cut slots funding by about 16%. Will this result in a purse slice for PA tracks?


2. Will there be racedate cooridination and purse pooling in Ontario?

- Woodstock races for huge purses, with no handles (oh, excuse me, they get about $10,000 in handle a day), while places like Windsor race for peanuts. Since about 2002 track owners and bettors have been asking for a change to the way purses are funded by purse pooling. Each year it is thwarted by horseman's groups. Is this the year something is finally done?

3. Will Woodbine harness embrace low takeout?

- With harness racing falling further and further down the foodchain, high takeouts still prevail at Canada's largest track. They have spent oodles on the racetrack, on infrastructure, on purses - on virtually everything to do with racing, except the bettor via the takeout rate. Is this the year we see a 14% pick 4, or a 12% superfecta to try and get some patrons back playing harness again?

4. Will other tracks try to stand out by offering new bets at a low takeout, or seeded carryover?

- Slots cash is everywhere and it supplies purses with the majority of their seed. In some places pari-mutuel handle only supplies 5% or 10% of purses - a mere pittance. Will the handle be looked at like a loss-leader by some smaller tracks whereby they lower takeout to try and get people interested again? Will they use the cash for something more than purses?

5. Will the Eaves era at WEG bring in a new direction?

- Since the early 2000's Woodbine is about the least available signal anywhere in North America and the general corporate culture on that point has been about signal protection. For example, on numerous ADW's one can bet Yavapai Downs (it is in Arizona, if you are wondering) or Cal Expo, but there is no Woodbine. Will they open up in 2010 and embrace the changing betting landscape?

6. Will there be a movement in Canadian racing to go after more ancillary revenue sources, or go after more racing revenue?

- Poker of the internet variety is soon to be offered in Quebec and British Columbia. Will racings strategy be to fight for a slice of it, or lobby for new ways to bet racing instead? I am betting the former, but the latter would be pretty cool.

7. Will there be a change in how inquiries are handled in 2010?

- Horse hits another horse, causes no real change in the race dynamic, judges look at video for twenty minutes, take down horse, turn the page, horseplayers shake their collective heads, wondering what just happened. In Australia recently they are reporting judges decisons in real time, with the reasoning behind them. As well, some other locales are putting time limits on inquiries to keep things moving (eg if you can't see a foul in five minutes, there probably isn't one). In the age of twitter, HD TV, and real time information sources, will we use them, or continue to pretend they do not exist?

8. Will HPI finally offer bet tracking?

- It is not a shock that people lose betting racing - 22% takeouts almost assure you do. ADW's in the US, like Youbet, Twinspires and all others offer a system to help you keep track of your losses (or wins) and help you be a better player. HPI has avoided this like the plague and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why. It would be nice to start the year with openness and transparency by having HPI offer a MYROI system like youbet does (youtube video attached).



Happy new year everyone!

The Grunch, and A Few Neat Posts

Over at r2 Dana wrote an absolutely excellent post on race replays. Replays were voted as the #2 innovation this decade by industry panelists. The history of them are pretty cool and she touches all the bases. I remember PTP reader "whip" being a huge replay follower and taping them on his VCR back in the 1990's. He would always have a trip note gem or two from them. Nowadays? Not so much.... we can watch replays in many of the areas Dana touches on.

Darryl Kaplan at Standardbred Canada has a festive poem up, on racing, and its hopeful growth. There are plenty of inside jokes (and obvious ones too) about racing in general. I found it a great read, and got a chuckle or two.

How The Grinch Stole Racing

Every Bettor down in Bet-Ville liked the racetrack a lot; but the Grinch, just North of Bet-ville, oh no, he DID NOT!

He stood there with a grimace and a snarl on his face; he looked at the Bettors and called them 'a disgrace'.

“I must force them all to just leave me to be, so I can finally shut the doors and throw away the key!

“I’ll watch the pretty horses and train them to pace; but those Bettors, oh those Bettors, get away from my race!

“With their figuring and biggering and messy program scrunching, with their deciding and devising and their tickets always punching.

“And the noise, oh the noise, I can’t deal with the noise! They’re the lewdest and the crudest, like loud little boys.

“I'll teach them a lesson and kick them out the door; I'll let them play poker and spend their pennies offshore.”


Continue here.

Holiday Cheer With My Peeps (& Kevin Bacon)

We don’t get to meet up in the blogosphere much, but I am happy report that yesterday we did. A few of us headed to the pub to have a few beers and enjoy the season.

And I thought I would share the story.....

I showed up first as I am always early. I waited patiently at the entrance but it was cold so I went inside. It was a fine pub, filled with holiday cheer, happy faces and a wide selection of brew. I felt immediately at home and grabbed a spot at the bar beside a gaggle of hot women, all trying to chat with a man who looked exactly like Kevin Bacon.

It turns out I was not the first here - Ray Paulick arrived before me.

“Hi Ray”, I said.

In return I received a slight frown. Ray was pretending to be the Footloose dude. For the love of God I hope he does not try to dance.

I decided to walk to the back of the bar to see if anyone else had arrived. Out of the corner of my ear I heard a diatribe, a soliloquy if you will, speaking of the inner workings of New York politics, Aqueduct slots and interesting facts on Ashley Dupre’s new hairstyle. Cool, it was Left at the Gate!

“Hi Left”, I said.

“Hi Pull” he replied.

“Have you seen Ray?” I asked.

“Sure did. I got 3 to 1 in a bet with Dana that he dances soon.”

Ah ha! There was Dana and this year she was dressed in multi-colors. “Dana, why are you so colorful? Last year you were all in purple!” I queried.

“Now that the Breeders Cup finally came to their senses with the saddle pads I am honoring them. Look at my socks… candy canes!” she beamed.

“Good job,” I said. Dana had been working hard on that all year.

Just then I heard a massive amount of laughter; like Ruth Buzzi provoked laughter at an old age home. I should have known, it was Sid Fernando, the most interesting man in the world, and he was telling stories. I could not make it out, but I think it was a story about a mating of a horse in the year 1210 whose offspring hoof-signed the Magna Carta, and whose bloodlines can be traced from the winner of the seventh at an obscure racetrack in Puerto Rico.

At that moment I heard “Switch it to Yonkers. Damn runners.” It was my old hopple pal View From the Racetrack Grandstand.

“Hi Pull. Do you believe these TV stations? Mountaineer and some hole named Penn instead of Yonkers. $&^!(*#!”."

I know whatcha mean View. We can’t get a break.

We were instantly joined by a well dressed fella: “I am the King……. the king! Now he roams in with that Brad kid who dresses like a Chicago Bear and tries to be like me. And it eternally pisses me off that those hot chicks think he is Kevin Bacon.”

Equidaily was upset.

“I think you are the King, Seth,” I tried to console.

"Well one thing is for sure, I can dance better than that"

Ray was dancing, and amazingly “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” was playing. He must have requested it.

“I can think of 360 reasons why that is so wrong,” said Jessica, now beside me, watching Paulick dance.

“Maybe he will do a 360” I said. Jessica smiled, a big round smile, not a 180.

“Hey there is CG. Where have you been?”

”I ordered takeout” said Cangamble “but it was like $18 for a pizza. Takeout is too high. The next time I order, I am going to pick it up. And no more Woodbine pizza. Those 28% margins on their triple pepperoni special are criminal.”

“Hey who is that dude?” I asked. “I think it might be that Tinhorn guy. “

“Tinhorn, like a greenhorn, like Green But Game…..... that’s me!!!” said Dana.

“No, that dude who spells good – Fugue for Tinhorns” I said.

“He has no business here” said Cangamble. “People who can spell. And what’s a fugue? What’s a tinhorn?”

None of us knew.

"I do," said Claire. Claire was writing for fancy places like ESPN. She was like Bill Finley, only much younger. And she could spell, she could really spell.

"Hi Claire" ....... I was instantly interrupted.

The door flew open and glowing vision walked in. It was none other than Teresa from the Brooklyn Backstretch, and behind her carrying her train was NYRA’s very own Andy Serling.

The party had started, and that was my cue to vamoose. I needed my sleep.

Another party at the pub was done for another year. Me, my peeps, and a guy who looks like Kevin Bacon.

In case it was not obvious, the people at this fictitious party all linked to my silly blog here in Pocketland in 2009. I thank them a ton for that and wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a very nice New Year.

In 2010 Can Badwill Become Goodwill?

The recently released wagering initiative by Darryl Kaplan (we'll have more on this later) got me thinking about working together. Darryl certainly has his work cut out for him in racing. I was reminded about that today reading a post at Paceadvantage.com.

In a thread about working together and growing attendance at the races, Jeff Platt, President of the Horseplayers Association of North America replied the following:

At this point I don't think the concept of takeout and elasticity is lost on track operators. Many of the people I've talked to in the industry would be in favor of giving lower taleout a try. Many still aren't. And some won't even take my calls to talk about it.

"One of the problems, as I see it, is that no one entity in racing has the power to make decisions.

As an example, I own a racing related business, JCapper... and even in a down economy - I've quitely had a pretty good year. I call the shots, but I answer to the customer. The shots that I call tend to be driven by customer needs and wants. The point I'm trying to make is that the business of racing customers is out there to be won... provided you satisfy their needs and wants.

In most if not all cases, the race track operators in favor of takeout reduction can't call their own shots. They can't decide on their own to just reduce takeout. They have to sell the idea to horsemen - and in many jurisdictions politicians. Historically, it has been really tough to get tracks, horsemen, and politicians to agree on just about everything.

Then there's the infighting that goes on between different groups withing the industry. Last year I talked with people on both sides of the TOC/THG vs. Tracknet signal impasse. And recently I've talked with people on both sides of the NYRA vs. Mid Atlantic Coop and the Tracknet vs. Mid Atlantic Coop signal impasses. A couple of days ago I found myself in the middle of a spat between NYRA and Equibase over NYRA's refusal to use Equibase's new Scratches and Changes system... (NYRA being the only organization out there that has so far refused to use the free system that Equibase created for the benefit of players.)

I can tell you that a lot of badwill exists among the parties in these disputes... Enough badwill that it gets in the way of bringing about positive change that would benefit everybody. Many of the conversations I've had literally reminded me of playing the role of an adult who has just separated two 8 year olds from a fight and having to listen to both of them explain through tears what the other other one did first... I'm not kidding about this - and I'm talking about grown men.

Several years ago, Keeneland tried to do a real reduced takeout experiment. The badwill between competing tracks boiled up and the entire Mid Atlantic Coop decided not to allow Keeneland's signal at their outlets. Like I said... 8 year olds.

To really make positive change happen, a majority of the decision makers have to be on the same page."

I sincerely hope Darryl and crew can herd cats, and turn badwill into good. Let's hope we see that with this new venture.

My Top Ten Trotters and Pacers of the Decade

Top ten lists of the decade are so everywhere. But, heck I think they are cool and I like reading them. It was a wonderful decade to watch racing, and we were blessed with some great horses. I will do my best to count down who I think were the top ten. It is only my opinion, and as always, I look at performance ahead of record. A horses talent tells us where he fits in the history of racing, a horses record is simply a snapshot about how he/she fits in a crop.

So, here goes.

#10 - Gallo Blue Chip (133-53-19-9 $4.3M) - It is impossible for me to leave the all time leading money winner off this list. He won everywhere, and raced for years. He was not the fastest, was not the most durable horse of the decade, but he deserves his due for a marvelous stakes career.

#9 - Rock n Roll Hanover (26-15-5-5 $3.0M) - Brett Pelling did a masterful job with this horse and he responded. He was born to be a champion and he was. He set a world record at two and went on to win the big three at three. At the end of his 3YO year he looked done, but he was not. His win in the Breeders Crown was as good as his win in the North America Cup.

#8 - Mr. Big (85-34-20-11 $4.1M) - He is probably the most accomplished older horse of the decade, but he was not bad as a two and three year old either. He lost a teeny step this year at age 6, but he still won some races, including the Ben Franklin in a sparkling 148. He is now retired, but I have a sneaky feeling with last years less than stellar three year old crop, he could give them a run for another year.

#7 - Snow White (19-14-0-1 $1.4M)
- She is a filly that is generational. Her 152.4 world record at the Red Mile (below) is the stuff of trotting legend. How good was she as a two year old? Her dominant effort in the Breeders Crown would have easily won the sophomore division, which never happens. If we look, the same night the two year old colt Crown (won by Deweycheatumnhowe) went 157, she crushed in 55. Truly one of the greatest freshman, male or female, to strap on a bridle.



#6 - Art Major (49-32-7-2 $3.3M)
- If there was a match race tomorrow between Art Major and Somebeachsomewhere, I believe that he would be 7 or 8 to 5 because he was that good a pacer. During his three year old year I had the feeling that each win would be an open length one and its was not will he win, but how much will he win by. That is a mark of greatness, especially when his crop included horses like Mach Three and Red River Hanover. His win over McArdle in the US Pacing Championship at 4 was breathless. I do not think that there are many horses alive who could have won that race off that trip, against those tough horses.

#5 - Muscle Hill (21-20-1-0 $3.3M) - Muscle Hill was one of those transitional figures, as well, which it tends to take to make my list. There have been fast trotters to step on the track before. Sometimes they get a flyer and win easily, however often times this is never repeated, nor can they last doing it. This horse was the first trotter that reminded me of a pacer - push button speed, can go a quarter in 26 then back it down with a 30, and finish strong. Although he did not accomplish it, to me he is the first real 149 trotter. We have never see a horse win the Hambo in 150 with so much left. A true superstar.

#4 - Eternal Camnation (101-47-18-5 $4.2M) - The winningest mare in harness history is here for many reasons, the most of which might be her longevity. I do not think she could have beaten Rainbow Blue, but boy could she have given her a tussle. I sincerely wish her Classic Series win at Dover was on Youtube. In it she proved she belongs on anyone’s list. She was in a no win spot and driver Eric Ledford had to tip her three wide extremely prematurely. That would have stopped virtually any horse, but not horses who make this list. She continued to surge, and surge and surge; and she won. She was another who broke down barriers and was mentioned as perhaps a starter in some races against the boys. She might have had a tough time beating the Free for Allers, but she would have tried her butt off, because that is who she was.

#3 - Peaceful Way (52-33-3-2 $3.2M) - She won $3M, and probably beat herself (not many could beat her when she stayed flat) out of another million or so. She crushed male free for all superstars in the Maple Leaf Trot, she was constantly talked about as being able to possibly beat Mr. Muscleman. It will take many, many years to forget this mare and I don’t know if we’ll see another one like her. During her heyday she was always compared to the greatest trotters ever, which happens only to the true greats. For a race that sends chills up ones spine, remember her performance in the Classic Series at the Meadowlands below. She was awesome.



#2 - Rainbow Blue (32-30-0-1 $1.6M) - Words do not do this beast of a mare justice. Does anyone have any doubt that in the ten seasons of this millenium she would have beat any filly foaled? I don’t. In her Roses are Red elimination at Woodbine she won in a hand drive in 49.2. There is a chance she could have set the all age track record that evening. In the final, on a soupy track, she proved her talent even more, going three high at the half, surging to the lead and winning with ease. This was the three year old year of horses like Metropolitan and Modern Art. Not only was she argued as being one of the best fillies in history, there were many observers who felt that she, if entered in the Pace or North America Cup would have won. That has not happened with a three year old filly since perhaps Fan Hanover 30 years ago. She stands at number two, but could easily be number one.

#1 - Somebeachsomewhere (21-20-1-0 $3.4M) - I constantly am looking for kinks in an armor of horses, but with this colt I can not find one. He represented a sea-change in racing in 2008 - a horse built for pure speed, but with a toughness and constitution that we will have a hard time seeing moving forward. There is one three year old colt in modern history who would have been 3-5 racing free for allers, him. Only a few horses can stand the rigor of modern racing for two full seasons, and those did not set four world records in the process. Fans for his two years of racing tried to bring him down. He was never challenged, he only raced in Canada as a two year old, he could not handle heats, just wait for a sloppy track, wait til he meets Shadow Play on a half, he won't last the season going that speed they said. He answered every criticism, game set and match. He won on a half, and set a world record. He went heats and won both. He paced first over to a half mile track world champion, locked wheels and still won in a rainstorm. He set a world record all by himself, in less than ideal conditions. From the moment he set foot on the track, til the moment he left it, he dominated, while making other world champions look like they were not in the same species. In 21 races (by my count) he was tapped with the whip no more than a half dozen times, and it was not because of sub-par competition, it was because he was faster than any horse alive.

In the end I guess it can be summed up like this: Throughout his career the "Beach" was compared to Nihilator and Niatross, while horses like Rock n Roll Hanover, Art Major and this years star Well Said, were compared to Somebeachsomewhere. It is why he is number one my list.

Power Play & Old Grey Friends

A recent blog piece on business quoted a book publisher saying "We must do everything in our power to uphold the value of our content against the downward pressures exerted by the marketplace."

The author rightfully says, "You don't have the power."

He is fundamentally correct, of course. Fighting market forces is a one way ticket to the poorhouse. Over the last ten or so years racings response to competition reads like the playbook of a prohibition politico from 90 years ago: "Internet poker is illegal and it must be stopped, we need legislation .... once we ban offshore wagering people will be back betting at the track .... we can not lower prices to compete because it costs too much"

I don't think that strategy is working too well.

The future is something we move towards, not look for protection from. Let's hope we do better this decade than the last one.



There is a story today (h/t to Standardbred Canada) about the 23 year old mare Keystone Wallis. She made over $600k with 18 wins from 62 starts. I remember seeing her maiden race and followed her throughout her excellent career as a class-skipping track goer. She stood out like a sore thumb - a beautiful grey mare, almost bright white.

She was recently (now a barren mare) sent to auction where her days would be numbered. But some Christmas cheer came her way when a gal at Hogan Equine named Kate Miller saw her in the catalogue. They scraped up some cash and voila - the grey mare has a new loving home. For more on the story and to see pictures of Keystone Wallis, click here.

Ontario to Privatize Slots?

It is being reported that the Ontario government is shopping around its lottery arm - the "OLGC" - for a potential sale to private investors. The OLGC is a partner at the reacetracks and slots program. They run the slots, the tracks and purses get their cut.

Jeff Gural, among others in racing, have long complained that the slots train might some day come to an end. Usually politics trumps everything, however. For example, there is little chance in privatizing the liquor control board because of unions, and racing and the people it employs (especially in rural ridings) also has political clout. But if the OLGC is privatized one would think that can change.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. There is a good deal of political capital behind slots at racetracks (Conservative MP's, Woodbine Entertainment to name but two) and one would have to think there will be built in protections for racetracks if this comes about. We'll see.

December Harness Edge is Up & Slots & Coyotes

This month's Harness Edge, the online harness magazine is up. The Christmas issue is always neat because it is filled with ads of industry insiders wishing each other a happy holiday.

This month the story that caught my eye was the one on All Speed Hanover, the two year old Breeders Crown champ. He is perhaps the least hyped two year old I have ever seen, but arguably the best.

Click here to enter the magazine if you'd like to read it.

There is still some major lobbying going on in Jersey for slots. There is a new governor there and maybe something positive happens. I am usually indifferent to slots being approved since for so long they have hurt handles. But for Jersey I have a sneaky feeling the Monmouth, Meadowlands and others might actually do something with the cash windfall other than throw it into purses. It's also funny to me that I think there will be a slot machine at the Meadowlands before Aqueduct. Funny of course because slots are approved in New York. They just can't get out of their own way.

Further to our rabbits post below where a driver and a horse got into a minor accident due to Bugs and friends, there is some follow up. And the follow up includes more animal stories. It turns out that there are about 20 rabbits in the infield of the track. In past years there were not too many at all because (if you are a PETA type do not continue reading) there was a coyote in the infield and he ate them. But the coyote (again don't read this PETA folks) had to be put down last season because he was "following staff out to the parking lot." Full story of rabbits, coyotes and Northlands Park here.

Low to High, Instead of High To Low

The post today on the horseplayer blog (via an article on Colin's Ghost) shows that when the pari-mutuel system was started, way back in 1908 the takeout was 5%. That got me thinking about what happened.

Racing was a monopoly in 1908 - want to gamble, go bet the races. Usually monopolies charge as high a price as they can, then competition steps in, or the government does (slapping you down for an unfair practice), and the price is lowered. Instead racing, like all too often, seemed to have turned this on its head. They charged what they thought would make them the most money (I think they knew about churn and customer retention in 1908) and kept it there. Until, of course, they saw that being a monopoly meant they could charge more with some impunity. In the 1930's we were up to 8% take, 10% in the 1950's all the way up to 22% today. When they were the only game in town, their prices were over 400% lower than when they are not the only game in town.

Nothing should surprise us in racing, but that really does. They operated like a capitalistic business in 1908 when they were protected, and now in 2009 when they should be operating as a capitalist business (with a plethora of competition), they act like they are monopolists.

I have said it before, but I truly do believe that 50 years from now racing will be studied in MBA programs across the entire planet as a case study on "ass-backwardness" in business.

Golfers and Horses

The headlines in sport, unless you are living under a rock, have been filled with Tiger Woods. TV networks, the PGA Tour itself and every associated with the future of golf are hand-wringing about him taking time off, and his problems in general. "When Woods missed eight months to recover from knee surgery, television ratings for the tour dropped 50 percent."

As well, several endorsements that not only promote Tiger Woods, but the game of golf too, have gone by the wayside.

I think this is provides and interesting comparison to the marketing of horses. Often times we'll hear that horses should not retire early, because as soon as they are known to the general public, they are gone, and it hurts racing. I believe this is true to an extent, but to believe it makes a huge difference depends on the supposition that revenues are gained or lost because of the horses. Being a gambling game I doubt at all this it true. Until purses are increased or decreased based on the sale of Somebeachsomewhere or Rachel Alexandra t-shirts, or we are selling our major races for millions upon millions to TV networks, that is a huge leap of logic. And of course bettors would rather bet a deep field with a lot of possibles. The Kentucky Oaks this year, or Somebeach's races last year? Not a chance. A field without a standout star brings more revenue for their race than one with a standout.

So what good can a racehorse do for us, if anything? I think it is solely based on the casual fan. The NFL has plenty of funnels to the casual fan - office pools, community outreach, United Way work, and several other avenues. These help them brand themselves and get into the fabric of society, and maybe grab some fans and goodwill along the margins.

Racehorses racing for a long time can help us in exactly that same way, I believe. For example, we all know the government controls the purse strings in many areas. Without slots, racing would be down by more than half this decade. The public, through their knowledge as casual sports fans of our most diligent competitors, can be pushed on our side to help protect that revenue stream. As well, horses who have raced for years can be used to show the care they receive, show they are treated, and can be an ambassador for the sport. This helps with PETA types or others who simply want racing to end. "I saw that horse race for years and saw features about the care they receive" comment from a stay at home mom is some solid ammo against those types.

The PGA Tour is a shadow of itself without Tiger Woods. Without Zenyatta we are essentially the same game, but on the fringes I think we lose some things that we can't see or touch - horses speak to casual fans in a way we can not, and we are a better game if they are around longer to do just that.

Let's Party Like it's 1949

There is a story in the Globe and Mail today about Woodbine's lost handle due to the shutdown of racing in Quebec.

"Since the four Quebec racetracks operated by Attractions Hippiques shut down on Oct. 14, Woodbine has lost $500,000 weekly in off-track wagering from that province."

So, let's get this straight. The tracks shut down, but what about internet wagering, or offtrack venues? Surely for such a huge market of willing bettors they should easily be able to play online, or somewhere should they not? This should be a non-issue for bettors.

"The shuttering of their province's tracks means Quebeckers cannot legally wager on a horse race anywhere. Federal rules require that a racetrack must conduct 50 days of racing to collect wagers from off-track parlours or account wagering."

Home market bricks-and-mortar rules for racetracks that were written a half-century ago. This in an internet world where you can buy a share of a stock on the Hang Seng at 3AM in your pajamas. Is it any wonder why we're in the tank?

Horses are Scared of Rabbits

At Northlands Park Wednesday several rabbits were in the infield. This spooked one of the horses, and he took a tumble, sending driver Debbie Manning to the track. She injured her shoulder. They are kind of tough to see in the video (it is just before the quarter), but here it is.




"I could see (Last Chance Buddy) get scared of the rabbit," explained Manning. "He jumped straight sideways."

Sometimes watching these horses on television as bettors we do not get an appreciation of how they are flight animals. If something is out of whack, they get scared. A laymen might say "to be scared of a rabbit as a 1100 pound horse? It does not make sense." Smart horse folks tell us that it sure does make sense.

That got me thinking about the classic Mythbusters episode where they tested the "are elephants really scared of mice" question. I was astounded at this piece. Quite entertaining, and I don't blame our equine friends at all for being scared of a bunny after watching this.

Harness Racing TV Ad Wins!

The V75 has struck again, this time earning the "People's Choice Award" for best TV ad at the Arizona Symposium. I think this ad is supposed to mean "the horses are taking over, so to join them bet the 75", however I am usually slow on the uptake. Plus it's Swedish.



For a previous award winning V75 ad, click here.

Helping Out

I got an email from Susan over at Scarborough Downs this morning about helping out the folks who survived the carnage of the Lebanon barn fire. Two men and 43 horses lost their life in the fire.

Harness racing is like the police, or fire departments, or the military. They stick together and when one of theirs go down, the troops rally. We have seen this time and time again over the years. Just this week, driver Greg Grismore started the movement in his way.

Greg Grismore, a native Ohioan who now races at Yonkers Raceway, is calling on all drivers to donate their driving fees earned in races on Dec. 8 to the funds.

He posted the following online: “I am deeply saddened of the news out of Lebanon today. I would like to send my condolences to all that have been affected by this tragedy. I will be donating 100 percent of my earnings on Tuesday, Dec. 8, and would like to encourage other drivers to do the same. We as horsemen need to stick together and show our support to our fellow horsemen and friends in this time of need. My thoughts and prayers go out to each and every one of you.”

“My post has gotten a big response,” Grismore said. “I’ve talked to a couple of drivers here, and they are going to do it. I’ve also talked to Ronnie Burke, and he and a bunch of guys are also going to do it at the Meadows.

“I’ve gotten Jason Bartlett and Jordan Stratton to agree, and I’m going to talk to more of the guys at Yonkers when I get to the track.”


Susan at Scarborough is asking for patrons to donate this weekend, and asking horspeople for silent auction items. Details are here.

Meadowlands Meet to go January 1st

I spoke with a friend today and he said "has the Meadowlands closed down?"

With handles lower and lower, along with field size thanks to neighbouring slots tracks, one might be excused for thinking that. After all, each year come the third week in November the harness world focuses on New Jersey. But this year, the meet is starting January first.

A few changes from last year:

* Sustaining payments for the Meadowlands Pace are lowered. I think this is a good idea, as I found those high.

* Hambo day is huge again: "Racing's greatest day is set for Saturday, August 7 with the sport's premier events for 3-year-old trotters, the $1.5 million Hambletonian and $750,000 Oaks for fillies, forming the centerpiece of a $4 million card. Sharing the spotlight are the $525,000 Merrie Annabelle, $523,000 Peter Haughton Memorial, $400,000 Mistletoe Shalee, $325,000 US Pacing Championship, $300,000 Nat Ray Invitational, $246,000 Lady Liberty, $230,000 Oliver Wendell Holmes and $100,000 Perretti Farms Matchmaker."

* The Woodrow Wilson and the Haughton are late August starts.

I sure hope the drivers hang around a little this year instead of bolting to Chester at the first sign of a higher purse. As well, a few more fields of eight or more are on the Christmas wishlist.

Some Stiffs and Some Tweets

Y'know when you go to form an opine on something and then get hit right between the eyes? This happened to me today. Last evening I was reading about the NTRA Survey on thoroughbred racing, and was struck by this metric:

Among core fans, 70% said they don’t believe there is “widespread cheating” in Thoroughbred racing—but that means three in 10 aren’t convinced.


I was about to write a post that this was too high, and the reasons why. I got busy doing a little pre-Monday work and did not get to it. Then I wake this morning to see this:

According to a report, a harness racing owner has been banned from the sport for 13 years after it was determined that he was found guilty of manipulating a race.

An article by the Herald-Sun states that Queensland harness racing stewards down under have banned the owner, Lucas Sullivan, and also disqualified drivers Jay Bellamy and David Turner for four years for not letting their horses run on their merits.


It seems these fellas were making some scores on off form horses. Nothing new there, but I would submit this is rare. With purses so high there is no reason for this any longer. But I guess to bury our heads in the sand would not be wise. Regardless, just when I was gonna write about something..... boom.

Next up: The R2 Collective had a post up today about a company which offers "tweets" from some celeb's about your product and service. Yep, for a few hundred bucks singer Leanne Rimes can tweet to her followers that your really awesome new broom kicks some major ass around the kitchen.

I wondered about this for racing; so let's talk harness. Who would be good celebs to promote harness racing via online mediums?

George Steinbrenner owned harness horses, including the very good Incredible Finale. He would be a good candidate. It would be funny to hear what he thought about the quality of drives his horses receive.

Also, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has harness ties. His dad ran Castelton Farms in Lexington for many years (among other things racing related).

Eddie Olczyk, the former NHL coach and player apparently bets some harness racing.

Former Leafs centre Mats Sundin is known for more than being traded for Wendel Clark. He owns Rotation, the really good trotter, and I think still owns horses.

Those are off the top of my head and I am sure there are many more, so add to those in the comments section if you guys and gals can think of some.

Speaking of R2, the very talented writer and journalist Claire Novak wrote a blog post about the project today on NTRA.com. "Racetrack executives should take notice and bookmark this site; advertising and marketing managers should add it to their RSS feeds or a daily click-through part of the morning news routine. As various forms of social media develop, it will serve the industry well to remain up on the times – and R2 Collective will lead the way." It is darn nice to hear such positive things about the project. Thanks very much Claire!

200 wins in 233 Starts? Youbetcha

Glen over at Harnessdriver.com has a look at Jarvsofaks, a cold-blood trotter racing in Scandanavia. Today this 15 year old trotter got his 200th win.

Some facts that Glen offers about this phenom:

-Born 1994 -15 years old
-233 starts, 200 wins
-21.2 million in earnings
-sire of 500 plus; 11 are millionaires
-holds every World Record for cold blood trotters
-win : 86%
-in the money : 94%
-horse of the Year title in Sweden -Norway -Finland -11 times
-multiple winner of every major race
-number of consecutive wins 42
-200th win today
-mandatory retirement this year

When he was profiled last year by Dean Hoffman, this old fella only had 176 wins - so he has been busy.

Somebeachsomewhere was heralded for his 20 for 21 record. Zenyatta is equally heralded for her 14 for 14. How about 200 for 233? Priceless.

Handicapping Time Warp

I got into a conversation a couple of days ago about handicapping yesteryear, versus handicapping today. What a difference a couple of decades makes in our game.

Back in the pre-internet day you would head to the corner store for a program (usually out 48 hours to the minute to post time) and pick it up for $2. You would then head home and study. If you saw what you thought was a trainer change you would dig through all your other programs (in my handicapping roommates case - all over his floor with the 'throw it up and see where it lands' filing system he had) to see if it was or not. Was the three horse boxed last time? You would check your notes. But, you did not see that race because you had to write an exam that night - time to make a phone call to ask a buddy if he saw that race and remembered. Did this horse race here last year as a shipper and win? Does his trainer ever do this move and win? Back through the old programs I go.

Using techniques like going through old programs and using your memory was a staple. The sharpest folks I knew were those who could remember facts about races, facts about trainers and were able to read and recognize quickly. Your memory was your greatest ally.

Fast forward to now. That same exercise is very, very different.

You download your program 48 hours out and save it to the hard drive. You can print it out if you'd like but it is really not that necessary. Trainer changes are listed in the program, so no need to try and get an edge there. Was a horse boxed last time in the Mohawk 5th? Don't call a friend, go to Youtube to watch the Woodbine Entertainment replay channel, or use your ADW to sift through them on that replay platform. Trip notes sheets? They are done virtually through the Trackmaster stable alert, or via computer. Did this trainer make this move last year? Just go to Trackit, or Pathway and go through last years lines - yes, he did and he won in a higher class than he is in this week - green light. Am I missing something? Go to a chat board like Harnessdriver.com and ask a question. You will probably have an answer. What about figures of some sort to see what others think? Woodbine through HPI has compubet figs up for free. Click your mouse and away we go.

I kind of miss the old days because if you were sharp, you could find some horses that others could not. There was dumb money in the pools because working at it was too damn hard to do. Nowadays it is easier to work less and find a winner. This has hurt a lot of price horses that we used to play. For evidence of that look for a horse that was boxed at 5-2 last week with a ton. He will open at 3-5 the next time.

But what happens in response to that is interesting to me - we have to step outside the box and search for value to play the game, just like we did before, but with a different set of factors. Some factors that were underbet before are overbet now. Some factors that are currently overlooked are still there for us and tend to yield fruit - warmups, physical handicapping, proper odds lines and so on.

The handicapping game has changed, no doubt about that. But the fundamentals are the same. We need to find a horse who has a greater chance to win than his odds indicate and it does not matter if we use a PC, or a pen and paper.

Jackpot Syndicates

One thing (among many, like some excellent fish) the Swedes have over us is the V75. The jackpot pick 7 is sold weekly throughout Sweden and has an average total prize pool of $15M per week. This bet is of course on harness racing, in a country pretty mad for it.

One thing big pool bets do is allow for syndicates. In the US and Canada, archaic betting laws tend to frown upon these syndicates, which I believe is a major reason we do not see our game more mainstream.

Here is an example of a syndicate for the V75 in Australia. It gives lotto minded people a chance to play a simple bet, and perhaps walk away with a whole lot of money.

It is something that the industry should look into here in North America more and more in my opinion.

I guess this gives me time to place up my favorite horse racing commercial ever. It is not for a race, or a horse, or a movie. It is for a harness racing bet - the V75. Now we're talking.

Good Stuff

Nice post today on racing losing some of its identity. With stud deals, politics and almost a fear to lose, times have changed. To read "My horse is faster than your horse.... let's race" click here.

Couple 'em, Ron and Internet Battles

Great post by VFTRG on coupled entries. In the world of Bulletproof horses, this is a no brainer. I don't think too many people are playing games any longer with these huge purses and we need more betting interests. The largest gambling franchise in the world uncouples horses for their customers, it is time racing here does as well. He's got the Matron final up there as well.

Ron Pierce is always quotable. Today he said "I don’t know if I have ever driven a horse with more wicked speed than Art Official. He has the ability to leave the gate faster (:25.2) than any horse that I have sat behind and still have enough in the tank to pace home in an amazing :25.3." After he won the Meadowlands Pace with Well Said a few months ago, he said "This colt was wicked. I would say he's by far the fastest colt I've ever driven in my life." Wicked stuff. I love Ron.

Art Official stands for $7000. In the breeding game (they are sure not handicappers) it all depends on what you win, not how you win. If SBSW was not his competition last year, Art stands for $15,000 and retires last year, this despite him being exactly the same horse.

Internet battle: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Who wins?

The Betting World & a Test for CERA

I like doing a blog sweep and tend to read quite a bit (especially on Sunday Night Football night). I have been looking in on "Oi What the Heck". This is a betting blog by a Kiwi gentleman who knows nothing about horse racing. He is using a betting system which involves betting favorites to place (with a filter or two I imagine) and using a form of the martingale system.

It is an interesting read because (of course) every bettor will tell another he is nuts to use that system, and he knows that. However, he seems to have enough filtering (and smarts) to make a go of this. He has made himself a little bit of scratch and seems to be having some fun. Is not that what horse betting is supposed to be about - a little fun? Good luck mate.

The bloodhorse reported today that racing has come up with a test for CERA - the brutal blood builder that can wreak havoc on a horses system. This is the drug that has rocked the Tour De France past years and has long been rumoured to be in horse racing.

Last up, the video for last night's Miracle Mile in Australia is up. You can watch it here.

Around the World in 30 seconds

This interweb thing might catch on.

Ray Paulick reports some (annoying) breaking news that the very nice Summer Bird had a fracture in training for the Japan Cup. Like lightning speed that moved across the web.

When I read that I could not help but think of the Tiger Woods story which was similarly linked and relinked on Drudge yesterday. This TMZ story giving some sordid details probably got a couple million hits due to that aggregator.

Continuing with the changing world, we are about 20 minutes to post time for Australia's $500k Miracle Mile, featuring Auckland Reactor and the Monkey (we spoke about the Joey Buttafuco-ness of this race on Friday). According to the Harness Edge the race can be listened to on www.sport927.com.au, and the replay can be seen here after the race. I'll post up the Youtube thingy when I get it.

Currently there is quite a bit of interest in this race. Checking betfair, there is already over $50K matched, which is quite large this far away from post time. The Reactor, the Monkey and some horse named Smokin Up (no I am not kidding) are all 4-1.

Going Smaller to Get Bigger

In Canadian Football, the Montreal franchise was resurrected by moving out of the 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium to a small 20,000 seat venue at McGill University. The closeness of the crowd made the team an event again. Instead of getting 25,000 fans in that large stadium (it was ridiculous to look at on television), getting 20,000 in a small one completely changed the optics, and changed the franchise. It was hip and cool to go watch football with 20,000 of your closest friends.

Now I see they might be looking at the same thing in Toronto.

BMO Field, on the Exhibition grounds, hosts some soccer games and the crowd is very energized. It's capacity is 20k. The CFL Toronto franchise might move here, from the Skydome, where it is at best half full for Argo games.

It is no secret that cavernous grandstands at racings old-time tracks are not very friendly to race fans. A long while ago, when we were the only game in town and we could pack the places it was fine, but no longer.

Some tracks have gone to more of a quaint feel - like Mohawk. Right now if we could build a new track, no doubt it would look much different. It makes me wonder; if we somehow could change some of our venues to be closer, more compact and have more of a "be there" feel, can we improve the live attendance?

New Zealand Drama - Like a Reality TV Show With Horses

We have syndicates, fights, personnel changes, knife throwing, Benny Hill, Monkey's and suspensions. It is not an episode of your favourite reality show, it is harness racing in New Zealand.

Last week in a FFA race in NZ, champion pacer Auckland Reactor was sent to the lead, driven by Mark Purdon. He was "attacked" by a longshot, Awesome Armbro driven by Phil Butcher, and pushed through stout fractions. Off third over cover came "the Monkey" - Monkey King - and he sailed to victory. Most times that would be the end of it, but not this time. Here is the race video (note: anytime I hear "Here is the Monkey" in a race call, I think it is a damn cool race call):



After the race, it was reported that an Auckland Reactor owner had a dust up with Phil Butcher, driver of the presser. No word if it was just yelling, or if fisticuffs ensued. It also appears the stewards are looking into the drive saying he did "not give his horse the best chance to win." Watching the video I do not think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure that out.

Then it was announced that there would be a driver change for the Reactor's next race. Mark Purdon would be replaced with Tony Herlihy for the $500k Miracle Mile this Sunday in Australia. Syndicate spokesman: "He's the best in the world, and it takes a bit of pressure off Mark," he said. "We spoke to Tony a few days ago, it was Mark's idea to put Tony on."

That's not all. Of course not.

It was then reported that during the race itself, someone threw a "bread and butter knife" at the runners when they were 100 metres from home. This might have been done as a protest to one of the controversial trainers in the race. "I've spoken to the person who reported the incident and he is in no doubt it was a knife. He said a security guard retrieved it from the track." said a steward.

The Miracle Mile goes this weekend, featuring the rematch, and we will have the video up here on the blog when we get it. Let's hope for no knife throwing - bread and butter or not.

Good Payoffs & Where's the Muscle?

Some wild and wacky payoffs tonight in horse racing.

Mountaineer's third race had a pool shot tri, paying $36,000 for a buck. What is weird is that on paper it was not that difficult. A 6-1ML onto two 15-1ML's. The morning line chalk was not a 1-5 shot either. In race 5, another whopper. RG's favorite trainer Donna Zook had a first time starter who won at a huge price. The heavy chalk ran off the board and the tote board exploded with monster show prices of $56, $45 and $48 respectively. A 1-5 shot ran off the ticket in race 7 as well, keying some nice exotics. It was bombs away night at the Mountain.

At Woodbine I notice off form, or on form horses without decent finishes are almost always underbet. Throw in a non-top driver and they can get downright scary on the underbet side. In race 8 (I was watching, not betting, so no accusations of redboarding please!) the Roger Mayotte driven Windsun Thunder went wire to wire and paid $13. If you look back into his lines it shows just how crazy this price was. At this exact same class 8 starts ago he jogged at 3-5. It was his lowest level in awhile. Then he moved up the ladder all the way to the 4YO open against some tough horses. Just two starts ago he was racing Bolero Charles, who is a Free For Aller. Down in that class he would be expected to be under 2-1, but for some reason he was not.

Harnessracing.com is running a race of the year piece. View from the Racetrack Grandstand took a look at them.

* Breeders Crown 2yo Colt Pace
* Hambletonian Oaks
* Kentucky Futurity
* William Haughton Memorial
* Little Brown Jug Elimination (Well Said elimination)
* Meadowlands Pace

I figure these races were picked for their excitement level; and those are good choices. What do we do with the Muscle Hill Hambo, though? I know it was not spine tingling, but the sheer dominance of that colt made it the race of the year for me.

You can go to Harnessracing.com and vote here.

Monday Notes

New York state continues to make ones head spin on testing. The Saratogian reports that "Testimony at the hearing, conducted by committee chairman J. Gary Pretlow, revealed shortfalls in funding, and a testing laboratory at Cornell University that has put the state on notice it plans to stop testing early next year."

Shortfalls, bad management? Who knows, but it seems like a mess.

This year has not been a memorable one for the three year old pacing colts. About once every few years we get spoiled with a solid crop, this year was not one of those years. Last year in the Windy City Pace we had a knock-down, drag out battle between Shadow Play and Badlands Nitro. Badlands, a two year old world record holder grabbed rail control, and double world record holder Shadow Play was at his flank every step of the way. The teletimer tipped 150.4 and Shadow got up in the final strides. This year, no world champs, no freak speeds. And the result had heavy chalk If I Can Dream going down to defeat to a 55-1 longshot, "Over my Head".

Next year, if these colts come back ok should be a better year for us as fans. Although these colts have to go faster and faster and that is never a guarantee. This season as most recall, four of the top five rated two year old pacing colts were shut down, retired or made only a couple starts in 2009 due to injury.

Updating a previous story (hat tip to Equidaily), the 12 year old mare who was scratched out of her last start, passed vet inspection. But there is more to come.

You Just Never Know

Controversy at Churchill Downs this past week. A 12 year old mare, whom the previous owner thought was going to be a riding horse showed up in the box this week in a five claimer.

Costello said she is aware she could face some backlash for trying to run a horse off a nine-year layoff, but she maintains that Grand Forks will eventually return to the track.

"You know, (the backlash) might happen the first time I run her but, when she wins that race and comes back fine, I think people will accept it," she said.


She was scratched because the judges wanted to watch her work first.

When one sells, or gives away most time, a horse for a retirement career you tend to just never know. It would be good to have some sort of contract signed as an industry norm in these instances, in my opinion.


Fog killed the races last night at Woodbine. Photo courtesy Standardbred Canada.

This usually happens at Mohawk, since it lies in a different area, but last night it bit the city track. I am not sure why they cancelled, however I heard a rumour that it was because they could not get the photo finish camera working.

The Horseplayers Association's Theresia Muller was interviewed in Cali at the Breeders Cup this past week. Video here.

No matter what we hear about the economy, whip rules or whatever else excuse we have about lack of wagering dollars, they all should be taken with a grain of salt. Downunder wagering set a record for the Melbourne Cup this year. The past couple of years there has been tremendous competition for betting dollars in Australia. Competition breeds lower prices, more access and advertising dollars; and is good for the bettor. What is good for the bettor is good for gross wagering.

Woodbine has added their replays to Youtube. Now if you lose a bet because of driver error, you can re-live, re-live, and re-live it again via the number one video social media platform in world history :)

Ditch Racing and Head to Poker

After Quebec pulled the plug on racing this past year, the sink appears to be filled again - this time with online poker. "If all goes according to plan, Quebecers will be able to play poker online at a secure, government-regulated site by next summer." says the Montreal Gazette.

After the nasty stuff that we have read about online poker in the press and in political arenas, it seems gambling is only bad in one instance: When the government does not run it.

To any person with a lick of common sense they will see this is a harbinger; especially after British Columbia did virtually the same thing. Racing must compete, and compete now with other games, or be a shadow of itself within the next decade - and that goes from sea to shining sea.

Want Your Track to Make Money? Call Bono

As most know, old Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal is pretty much done. Racing was shut down there this year and it is the end of an era for racing in Canada's second largest city. It is simply not feasible to run a racetrack there any longer.

But for a concert - one concert - it is fine and dandy.

In an unprecedented move, the band U2 is injecting $3M into the grounds for an open air concert on July 16th, 2010.

After the concert the venue has a date with a wrecking ball.

It is either a sad commentary on racing, or a glorious goodbye to a storied venue. It depends what side of the fence you are sitting on I guess.

h/t to Standardbred Canada

Making Decisions - In Betting, HOY Votes & Racings Future

I continue to be fascinated with both the press and general football fan reaction to the Bill Belichick 4th down decision in Sunday's game. As most know, the coach went for it on 4th down instead of punting. The visceral reaction to such a call (because it steps out of the mainstream) is "holy smokes he is nuts", but when we look deeper we find out that it might not be so nuts at all. I read this article this morning which cites a University football decision making software's take on the odds, based on historical numbers, called "Zeus".

"Zeus can simulate hundreds of thousands of possible outcomes of a specific scenario. Zeus determined the probability of a Patriots' victory was higher with Belichick going for the first down rather than punting and putting the game into the hands of his defense versus the Peyton Manning-led offense. But Zeus seems to be in a minority."

Then the article lists - based on "gut" mostly - reaction on the other side.

It reminds me back in the 1980's when super-trainers were starting to make noise. A horse with a poor speed figure, or who has never gone 158 before, would go 157 off a claim in a certain barn. Time and time again when this barn change (or barn changes like them) was made, old time handicappers would not believe it and constantly discount the barn change factor due to long held beliefs. The angle might go 10 for 21, yet the horses would consistently pay good money, and handicappers would continue to fade the move. It was too new, too different, and did not fit into their prism as a capper. Now, a generation later, trainer changes are perhaps the most overbet angle in racing.

We spoke a little bit about this phenomenon for handicapping in our "betting without validation" post while back, and I am amazed how much it goes on elsewhere. We see it in football, at work every day, in places like government who tend to make decisions based on history rather than real life today. The hand washing example has stuck with me since reading it.

Alan at Left at the Gate seems as interested as I am in decision making in racing and elsewhere, and posts up some notes on Horse of the Year voting (thanks for the linkback, and the fixing of my grammar, which needs to be done often in my five minute post writing). He takes a stand about the Breeders Cup, believing that owners should be pointing their horses towards it and treating it as a championship day:

Mike Watchmaker agrees with the above opinion, but adds: Rachel Alexandra should not be penalized for not competing in the Breeders' Cup.

Here, I respectfully disagree with the esteemed Racing Form columnist. Is it a "requirement," as in a "prerequisite?" No, certainly not.

So as long as the Breeders' Cup exists and bills itself as a championship event, it better damn well be a crucial determinant of the year-end awards. I believe that some judicial activism on the part of the voters to encourage intransigent owners who hold out for no other reason than to serve their own interests and ego is not only appropriate, but demanded.


I completely agree with this, and do as well for our end of year championship. We need to sell this game, and we need owners supporting Championship races. The best horses should be attending this event, if they are able. 3,000 people watched Rachel Alexandra in the Mother Goose. 60,000 people and millions worldwide watched Zenyatta in the Breeders Cup. We need the latter and one way to do it is to make sure these races are looked at as a 'must' for year end honours.

Last up on the decision making front, Andrew Cohen, CBS News dude and harness racing owner, has reiterated his desire to get something done in harness racing and if so, be the lead on such an effort. In the latest edition of Trot radio Andrew speaks about the game, suspensions and leadership from his perspective. Despite hearing over and over again that "this can not be done", I firmly believe it will be done; so I figure we might as well make a decision start now. I believe we are a lot closer to doing something than people think.

Bill Belichick Must Be a Horseplayer

Last night on Sunday Night Football we saw a coaching call that reminds me that every day decisions, whether they be in sports, or life, can generally be described as a horseplayer decision.

With the ball on his own 28 yard line, up by six and facing a 4th and two, Patriot coach Bill Belichick stunned the conventional football world by going for it. The pass was completed, but the ball slightly bobbled and the referee placed the ball just behind the sticks. Indy ball.

They would go on to score, and with only a few seconds left New England could not get the ball into field goal range. Victory was Indy's.

The press shows their true colors on this - when something goes right, they tend to over-hype praise. And when something goes wrong - they tend to over-hype criticism. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Fortunately, we can mess around and check the numbers, like a bettor does when making a value decision on a horse in the 4th. What would you have bet the Patriots before the play? What would you have bet on Indy to win if they are stopped. What would you have bet on Indy if they receive the ball on a punt instead? What would you have bet the Pats, if Indy scores quickly and they needed a field goal to win?

Speaking with a professional bettor who runs these numbers better than I can, said "He [Belichick] made the right call because the odds favored him. It was probably around 60-40 call - at the very least a coin flip - and nothing out of the ordinary if you run the numbers." In effect, Belichick made a value bet.

If you read the papers today or listen to call-in shows about this, I would bet dollars to donuts you will read about a "blatantly stupid call" moreso than other more dispassionate opines, over and over again. Patriot fan "Vic from Long Island" will be calling for heads, but as horseplayers, it appears the decision was nothing more than debatable.

By the way, well before that play with New England up big, the Patriots traded at 1.01 at Betfair. If you would have taken a chance that Indy could come back and win you could have laid New England $100 and got back $10,000. Not a bad days work; and you might want to send Peyton Manning a Christmas card if you did.

A Costly Mistake


How often do you see $14800 bet on a 40-1 shot to show? When the nine horse is the 1-5 shot and someone hit a button wrong one would guess. Wow, what a mistake (screen shot of race 4 for Woodbine above).

h/t to Beav

Handicapping - One Sentence Usually is Enough

There is an interesting handicapping discussion going on at Paceadvantage.com. The thread "When is Too Much, Too Much?" and it supposes that with all the handicapping information out there, there is a point where too much information becomes detrimental to your ROI.

I thought about that for a little while, and looking back as a long-time horseplayer, I believe this does have merit. When I have a sound bet that I am confident in, and believe to be a very good play I can usually sum up why I like the horse in one simple sentence. Time and time again this seems to hold.

Try it sometime - your buddy really likes a horse that just hits and pays $19. Ask him why he liked it. Chances are it will be simple and to the point - "he was the only speed and the track is playing fast", or "he was live last week and dropping in class", or "he showed sneaky speed for the first time last week."

Then try it with a loser horse. Why did you like him? I bet it is a long drawn out answer about how the favourite was overbet and looked lame, the driver or jockey is hot, the trainer won a race earlier in the day, he had a fast time last time and looks to be peaking, and more.

When I was at Keeneland a few weeks ago I sat down after the races with horseplayer Mike Maloney who is very sharp. He had a decent day that day and I tried it with him too. All his winners were one line answers, pretty much without fail. I think everyone has that characteristic, and it is not about winning or losing, it is about the simple fact that if you can describe quickly why the horse will win the race, it is probably a high hit rate bet.

I guess technically we spoke of this before in our post called "Blink" and I very much believe that for automatic bets. But this is different. Being able, in your own mind, to explain your thinking quickly and easily means you had a crystal-clear vision of the horses and the race in front of you. If I feel that way I tend to up my bet size, because those plays do not happen nearly enough for me, and capitalizing on them can be the difference between winning and losing.

In a Nutshell

There is a good discussion going over at Standardbred Canada regarding Jack Darling's post on the future of harness racing (linked at Equidaily no less). One post really grasped the issue quite well I find, from a harness player.

Many of the themes are obvious, but one which we speak of quite often here, has been the poaching of best racehorses from the B Tracks. Two years ago the writing was on the wall for the Meadowlands with Yonkers and in some cases Chester taking those horses. It has long been known that in 1990 when Barrie Opens were going for $1200, they were not poaching Woodbine Open horses going for $19,000. This has never been addressed and I believe it has to be, or we will see many players like this not come back to racing.


The harness game is dying out and the powers that be seem to be turning a blind eye to it and hoping that the government and casino companies will continue to bail them out. Well this may continue for awhile but as the wager continues to plummet and the tracks are losing massive amounts of money on live racing they will sooner or later get cut off from there welfare checks.

If something isn't done soon to reverse the handle at racetracks it will reach a point in the next 5 to 10 years where it has become to late to reverse. I have bet the harness racing for years, weg and the big m and i bet big dollars, into the hundreds of thousands per year but i am doubtful if i will ever bet another race.

Here is a few of the reasons why, the product at weg and the big m is a shadow of what it was 10 years ago now yonkers has most of the good horses and yonkers is a half mile track which does not interest me. Secondly dwindling pools to bet into, now if you bet big money on a race you are starting to affect your price. You now see win pools at weg consistently beneath $20k and dropping and the bottom is also falling out at the big m compared to what they were 5 to 10 years ago.

Last but not least is because of the track take out. Years ago the races could get away with excessive take out because there only competition was bingo well those days are over. Now stop and think about it you have to be 20 to 25% better then the rest of the people around you just to break even but if you want to bet big dollars and have any shot of making something worthwhile you have to be 30 to 35% better then those around you. A tall task in this day and age where you get so much information about trainor changes and so on in the programs and on line. Years ago you had to keep all your past programs and if you were willing to track trainors and other things you could get an edge on your competition, well the information age has taken a lot of that away.

For someone like me to consider coming back i would have to see the track take out drop to a maximum of 10% so it is at least a fair game compared to other forms of gambling. To me i am not sure what else they can do to reverse this other then this but if they don't do something soon in 20 years assuming the big m and weg is still in business the condition sheet for most races will probably read for non winners of a ham sandwich last 6 starts.

Roy Sproxton is National Handicapping Champion


Blog reader, and all around nice guy Roy Sproxton won the Trot National Handicapping Championship this weekend in Ottawa. Congrats Roy, enjoy the payday and the accolades as they are well deserved....... oh, and I am glad you dressed up for the occasion!

Some Horsemen Bang the Drum; Blue vs Legacy

For many years with handle declines in Ontario and elsewhere, things such as takeout reductions and marketing initiatives - fully funded from slots and elsewhere - were mainly thoughts one would read on blogs, or from bettors. With the large handle declines of the last couple of years, and the recent government rumblings in Pennsylvania, the loss of racing in Quebec as two examples, we are reading more and more from industry insiders who are pledging virtually the same thing.

Jack Darling, a trainer from Ontario writes the following on his blog this week:

"...reducing the percentage of the take substantially from each bet to return more of the winnings back to the gamblers. I think this would be worth a try. Most of our purse money comes from the slots so I don't think it would cost us that much out of the purse account."

Also:

"My next comment is not going to be popular with a lot of my fellow horsemen. Just putting on a bunch of races where a handful of people come out and bet almost nothing is not sustainable. We simply have too much racing. Believe me, I am as concerned as anyone about losing race dates but what we are doing is going to destroy us. Sudbury, Woodstock and Hiawatha are in worse shape than this but I will use Rideau Carleton as an example. On a Friday night they will have 15 races with an approximate handle of $60,000. This amounts to $4000.00 per race. This small pool makes it almost impossible for gamblers to bet any amount of money without affecting the odds dramatically, and the contribution from the handle to the purses is pretty close to nothing."

Horse racing, because there is no leadership who can make decisions that we all have to follow, must change from within. This is a good start because for years we would not have read anything like this from an insider.

More here.

It is fascinating to read the talk on the web and elsewhere about the battle for Horse of the Year in the US. Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra. It brings me back to harness racing for some parallels and we all remember the battle between Rainbow Blue and Windsongs Legacy. It was virtually neck and neck - Blue was a supermare and Legacy had just won the trotting Triple Crown. Then came the Breeders Crown to settle it all. Rainbow Blue crushed, but Windsongs Legacy did not. Not because he didn't win, but because he did not race choosing to call it a season before the end of year championship. That might have been the kicker and the big filly rolled to win the vote with ease. It will be interesting to see what happens in the US with these two great fillies.

We Report, You Decide

I am not Shepard Smith, but I will try my best. Here is some video with fan reaction of two horses. I don't know about you, but being a racing fan is pretty sweet when watching this.

First an inside the clubhouse look at RA at Saratoga. Fast forward to 2:24 to skip the prerace and give it a listen.



Now the track feed from Santa Anita. The ESPN sound certainly did not do it justice as I did not hear this explosion of the crowd when Z finds room on ESPN. Flip to 1:45, hear the pop at about 2 minutes and let 'er roll to Schrupp's comments after the three minute mark. That crowd cheered for a good minute and a half.



Horse of the year? By sound alone it has to be one of them; I don't think the cheers were for Bulls Bay or Gio Ponti. :)

Will Quid Pro Quo Hurt Rachel?

In US thoroughbred racing there will be an interesting Horse of the Year vote coming up. We all know the two protagonists – Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Who will win? The vote is more than likely pretty close.

As most know, Jess Jackson bought Rachel earlier this year. He raced her in a great many tough tilts, starting with the Preakness and ending her season with the Woodward at Saratoga. All season fans lobbied him hard to race her in the Breeders Cup (hopefully against the undefeated Zenyatta), but Jackson was having none of it. He was not racing her at Santa Anita, and he used something as a crutch that many found curious – horse safety. “My concerns are well known about the tracks in California," Jackson said in a statement. "These false tracks create potential for injury, a risk that I am not willing to take with Rachel."

Funnily enough, last year Mr. Jackson sounded none of these alarms when the decision was made to race Curlin in the Breeders Cup at this exact same racetrack. "I owe it to the horse. Curlin tells us he's fit. He loves to compete," he said.

When Curlin retired not long after that, Mr. Jackson wrote a special piece on the Bloodhorse entitled “Pure Sport”. In the piece Mr. Jackson highlighted this about Curlin: "I especially want to extend my deep gratitude to Curlin’s fans. In the end, we ran Curlin as much or more for the enjoyment and inspiration of the fans and sport than for ourselves. He ran on all surfaces, in all weather, against all competition."

In the very recent past, Mr. Jackson not only listened to the fans, he did everything he could to cement his horses' legacy by racing him in end of year events, regardless of the venue, weather, or competition. Most gave Mr. Jackson a big thumbs up for his sportsmanship, his love of racing and his support of the racing commercial that is the Breeders Cup.

What happened then only a few months later with Rachel and the decision to not go to the Breeders Cup? It seems that same sportsmanship was gone, replaced instead by Shakespearean-type diatribes about unsafe “plastic racetracks”, under the umbrella of horse safety. It appears that she was turned into a political pawn against Santa Anita and the Breeders Cup.

I personally do not have any problem with Mr. Jackson’s choice with Rachel – she's his horse and he can do what he wants with her - but I do have a problem with hypocrisy. I think I am not alone in that. I believe it might cost Rachel some Horse of the Year votes; not because it is right, but because voters can play politics, too. The only thing different is that they won’t be using a horse to get their point across, they will be using a ballot.

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