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Showing posts from December, 2009

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 h…

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 …

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 t…

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 …

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 …

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

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…

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 th…

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 Wal…

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 jus…

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 …

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 S…

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 y…

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…

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 a…

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,…

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 …

200 wins in 233 Starts? Youbetcha

Glen over at 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 prog…

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.