Friday, July 31, 2009

Learnin' Something

In the last post we mentioned the story of a Hambo winner, lost in war-torn Europe. I learned something. Well, a few more things I learned today.

What was the first $1M horse race in the world?

What website describes harness racing at Aylmer Quebec with this language? "The air is filled with tension as the standardbreds and riders enter the starting gate."

Who thought the Canadian Pacing Derby was a power-walking event?

What producer produced both "Racing From Rooselvelt" and Captain Kangeroo?

Mike Hamilton always has a fact or two on his Woodbine Blo.... er Column. The last two are worth the read, here and here.

Hambo's of Yesteryear

I like glancing from time to time at Colin's Ghost, which has a story up once a week or so about the history of racing. Sometimes it's about a horse, or a trainer, or a track, or even a bettor from yesterday. Whomever writes that blog does a very good job.

In harness racing it is not a secret that the sport has lost its fans. Because of that we tend to see very few blogs on our sport, and very few stories about its past. But an interesting past it is. Today on ESPN.com Kristian Dyer has a well researched piece on a Hambo winner of days gone by - 1929's winner Walter Dear. After being sold to German interests, the war got in the way and the colt was never heard from again. The piece gives us a good look at not only a racehorse, but an excellent look at just how things went after the war in Eastern Europe.

I always found the way the story of Black Beauty was told to be right on. A horse goes through many owners, or trainers, and sometimes moves from place to place like a nomad. The way he or she moves through time usually weaves an interesting tale. The story of Walter Dear is no different. To see the world through his eyes is something that we will never see, but the author brings what we do know to light.

The Hambletonian Elims are this weekend. Three eliminations, with some of the better three year olds we have seen in a long time competing. 80 years ago Walter Dear won the Hambo, which was written about today. 80 years from now something might be written about Muscle Hill's 2009 Hambletonian. This one is one we do not want to miss.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bad Beats and Lucky Wins

I had to have a chuckle at a paceadvantage.com post regarding someone who made a bet he should not have and won.

I was down at the simulcast betting some B-harness tracks on a tuesday night. I was up about 40... or maybe I just had 40 left to lose and ready to leave. It was race 5 at Northfield Park and I spotted a sweet driver change that I was sure was going to win.... Almost 3-1. So I went to the terminal bet the 40 to win on the 5 and got ready to see if my trotter was going to get away clean. He did...... got away second and I thought I had an easy winner..... then his odds popped up under the number and it read 30-1!!! I couldn't believe it..... I glanced quickly at the program and realized I bet the wrong horse!! I meant the 6 and bet the 5 (Just as I'm typing this I realize it must have been because it was race 5)..... I was disgusted... there was no way the 5 was going to keep up..... He had Charles Smith Jr driving..... I have a rule against betting on anything Charles Smith Jr drives......but he did..... a coulple of horses broke that would have beat him. My 6 finished 3rd......... Again.... I couldn't believe it......over $1200 I made on that mistake. What a night.

This made me laugh even more because on another chat board we were discussing betting horses on driver changes. I know a lot of people who "will never bet Driver X" because they don't like him, although the person wins 12% or 15% or his races. We also know quite a few people that bet driver changes as a strong bet. This fella was betting a horse because of a driver change, and stoked to do it, then he lands on a horse driven by someone who "had Charles Smith Jr driving..... I have a rule against betting on anything Charles Smith Jr drives", and Chuck Smith gets the job done netting him $1100+, while his driver change horse loses. That is too funny. As Steve Crist says "this is called horse racing for a reason". We do much better when we bet horses.

Regardless, we all need a little luck sometimes, because we have bad luck too.

Last night I had a funny moment of my own. I was busy for most of the day and just glanced at racing, and then during the evening life kind of got in the way and I was not at all playing seriously. I did like the Del Mar Pick 4, however, because there were horses in the 1st and 2nd legs that looked like they were bombs (bombs with a chance) to throw in a ticket. From my software output:



The 8 horse in the first leg was a must use at a big price (he was 30-1) and so was the long one in race 7. I made a ticket up earlier then got working on something. I missed getting it in. The result? You guessed it. The 8 won leg one and paid $64. The one won race 7 and paid $34. The third and fourth leg winners were on my "notepad" ticket. The pick 4 paid a nice $42,000.

I used to get mad at bad beats, or typing in a ticket wrong, or getting shut out. But that was the old handicapper in me. I remember about six or seven years ago I bet a horse at the Meadowlands whom I really liked. He was a good price. He won and I cashed my win ticket, but I had the ex and tri too and my balance did not go up by what I thought. I had keyed in the exotic tickets wrong and it cost me upwards of $4000. I chatted with a friend who bets stuff for a living after that and vented. He said you gotta let these things go and what goes around comes around. We all make mistakes.

About two weeks later I was betting a race, again at the Meadowlands, and it was a shorter shot in the sixth race. I had about ten seconds to get my bets in and again I keyed my tickets in wrong - second time in a fortnight. This time I chose the 7 instead of 6. The seven won at 19-1 and I cashed more than I would have won not more than 14 days earlier.......... on a wrong ticket.

If we get all uptight and get into a woe is me mindset with handicapping it does us no good at all. We do not learn from our mistakes, we do not keep that even keel that we all need to even come close to beating 22% takeouts. I am a much happier person as a bettor now and realize that I will make a mistake on tickets, I will lose photos, I will lose by bad rider or driver decisions in a race, I will lose inquiries. But guess what? I will win my fair share too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We Knew What to Do.... in 1935

Cangamble weeds through old-time articles and sees that takeout was a hot topic. It turns out, that in 1935 many in racing wanted takeouts dropped. The kicker is, they wanted to drop track takes from 8% to 6%.

The California legislature is considering an amendment to its parimutuel betting law reducing the takeout allowed the tracks from eight per cent to six. A Los Angeles assemblyman introduced it, but the change is being opposed by William P Kyne and John W Marchbank operators of the Bay Meadows and Tanforan tracks, who say they cannot operate successfully if the reduction is made at this time.


When six percent was balked at, some in the industry tried to hold firm the 10% number overall:

"We have apparently failed to get across to state legislators and other public officials the message that a takeout from parimutuel pools of more than 10 or 11 per cent is not only unfair to the patrons but also is unwise and detrimental to the long term health of the sport."

It seems the lobbyists for "fingers in the pie economics" were alive and well 75 years ago, but at least some in racing were still trying.

Thus we get back to this familiar and disturbing fact of racing. This is the fact that in the power politics of racing between the horsemen the organized employees. the racing associations, and the financially hard pressed state governments, every element of racing is able to force a larger slice of the pie for himself, except the racing fan, the all important lover and patron of the sport, who in the last analysis, is the man who keeps the show on the road.

Fast forward to today. Some Pennsylvania tracks have a 31% takeout rate. Two years ago at a conference, I heard nothing about takeout; only that if it was lowered to anything below 20% it would result in "destroying racing".

We knew what to do 75 years ago. We knew that raising prices would destroy racings growth. We knew it, and we did the opposite.

Lotteries did not destroy racing. Neither did slots. Neither did the lack of TV coverage, or excessive whipping, or offshore bookmakers, or lack of horse population, or whatever else is trotted out by many. These articles show, beyond any reasonable argument, that racing destroyed itself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That Damn Internet & That Funky Twitter

It is always interesting to read old school versus new school on the web. Yesterday there was some fun had, witnessed by Ray Paulick's headline on his site ("Zast upset about transition to the web...written on his website") about Vic Zast's piece on the new reporting of racing on the web.

It is funny that in this day and age we are still having this debate. Two of the most successful horse racing news operations today are The Paulick Report and Equidaily.com. Ray Paulick is perhaps as fine an example as we can uncover. He was a print guy, now he is not. Nice to see people like Seth and Ray in our business, rolling with the punches.

It is intriguing to me that in racing (and to be fair elsewhere these days) you have to be for or against something, you can not like a little, or a lot of both.

Twitter is something that seems to inflame passions. It is as polarizing as polytrack, and it seems either you like it or hate it. I don't love it, I don't hate it but I think it is here to stay and I think we should be using it better and more effectively. The people who like Twitter have a vehicle to learn something that they might not get from Standardbred Canada or the Bloodhorse. Great. The people who don't like it will not use it. Great, to each their own.

But one mistake that can be made is ignoring it. By old media and new media both.

For a case in point, as you know I follow the Tour De France as I find it consuming. In a way it is a lot like horse racing, and I like horse racing. This year American icon Lance Armstrong came back after a retirement and landed on the same team as the sports' newest star, Alberto Contador. Since the team needs to only pull for one person in this race, it was a match made in hell. There was friction from day one and it made the Tour something worth watching. Would Lance be team leader, or would Alberto? What were they feeling? The press conferences were at times fun, and the writing in old media was worth reading. But what were they really feeling?

In the end we saw old world meet new. Alberto Contador, the race winner, was quoted in newspaper after newspaper and made news: "I have never had admiration for him and I never will." said Contador of Armstrong. He also said the Tour was a painful experience with Armstrong. What did Lance say back, if anything? Here is where it gets interesting.

Lance is on vacation. No cameras, no press conferences, so no news, huh? Not so fast. Lance Armstrong is on Twitter and he responded: "Seeing these comments from AC. If I were him I'd drop this drivel and start thanking his team. w/o them, he doesn't win." and "A champion is also measured on how much he respects his teammates and opponents. You can win a race on your own not a grand tour."

The Twitter updates made it to daily news stories in old time newspapers this morning. Fans who did not use twitter found out what Armstrong said because old media was following new media.

This is a lesson for all of us, in my opinion. Progress might be stalled and some don't even have to directly use progress, but it will shape our lives, whether we want it to or not.

In racing I have always been consumed by the Internet and what it can do for us as a sport. On the ADW front it is obvious. With platforms like betfair it is equally obvious. With things like Twitter it has been less so. But let's think about that for a second. What if we saw a feud between rival drivers or jocks or trainers, like we see from time to time? The news reports on that are always filtered and we rarely even hear about them. What if the protagonists were like Lance Armstrong and we got news from them completely unfiltered? I think it would be pretty darn cool.

We can argue about new technology and new media, as we have time and time again, because it makes for some fun debate. But one thing we should never do is stop thinking about how it can be used - and made better - to grow the sport of horse racing. We failed with television, let's not fail again with the Internet.

Photo credit: Reuters - l to r, Schleck, Contador, Armstrong

Monday, July 27, 2009

Slots, Rakes and Bare Midriffs

A plea from a lobbyist in New Jersey to turn the Meadowlands into a racino.

...... convert The Meadowlands Racetrack into a racino. Let the casinos run the track. Offer both racing and machine play. Take a portion of the revenues generated and allocate it to racing and breeding. Take the remaining dollars and split it between the casino operators and the state.

For once..... just once I would love someone in this business say "take the portion of the revenues and allocate it to racing and breeding and lowering takeout so we can keep horseplayers interested in Jersey racing"

Further a rally is held for slots at Aqueduct in the New York state capital.

Placing VLTs at the Aqueduct track creates money for the state, for education and the thoroughbred industry.


Cool. More money for everyone but the horseplayer.

Then again, slots work wonders to grow handle and interest in racing, right? Whoops, maybe not. Racinos in New Mexico want to slash 28 race dates due to falling demand for wagering.

I am all for getting some cash from government, but hell, when the people who are asking for it are proposing the same thing over and over again which will end up failing, I have no use for the machines, or them.

h/t to Equidaily and the Paulick Report for the above.

On to racing: View From the Grandstand discusses the fair start rule, and how if the Maple Leaf Trot was held in another jurisdiction, punters would not have gotten their money back.

Takeout discussions at HANA, in response to a couple of pieces out there on takeout.

When a lottery's takeout is lower than some superfecta takeouts in racing, I think we can all agree that we have a serious problem.

Irish columnist lets fly on drug use in racing, especially here across the pond.

Things have descended so far in the States that Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg told a congressional subcommittee in June last year that training horses had become "chemical warfare". Arthur Hancock, a fourth generation owner/breeder, said that after routinely receiving medical bills for more than $1,000 per horse he told his vet to give his horses drugs only when they were sick. "You want to win races, don't you, Arthur?" Hancock said the vet replied.

The writer parallels drug use in cycling racing and horse racing. In one paragraph, I found an interesting tidbit that I was unaware of, although I follow the sport:

However, when Belgian sports physiotherapist Willy Voet was discovered by police in 1998 with a car full of drugs that included cocaine, heroin and amphetamines -- it was all downhill from there with scandal following scandal repulsing especially the newer and less tolerant audiences in Germany, the US and Japan. To use drugs was now seen as getting a lift up the Mont Ventoux. This year girls with bare midriffs ironically line the route with the letters E-P-O painted on their bellies. Soon they won't even bother to show. Average TV audiences in the important markets have halved since 1998.

Thank god that was for a bike race. If my local racetrackers painted letters on their exposed guts I don't think it would do a whole lot for promotion.

My funny for the day was Ray Paulick who linked to Vic Zast's piece on how reporting on racing on the internet by bloggers and others is 'nothing meaningful'. Ray's hyperlink was "Zast upset about transition to the web...written on his website".

I am sensing a little sarcasm in that :)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tricked Up Tracks?

The speed show we have seen this year at several venues - Mohawk, Georgian, The Meadows and Chester - makes me wonder if these tracks have been tricked up.

The biggest change appears to be at Mohawk. A few years ago there was a debate about Mohawk versus Woodbine and which track would be faster. Since Mohawk had never raced in the summer before it was a decent debate. Would Mohawk's sweeping turns be more conducive to speed? I would say most thought so. But it turned out to be not the case. Big event after big event the speed at the Hawk could not approach the speed at Woodbine.

But that appears to have changed. On several nights this meet, Mohawk has been at least one second faster than previous years, and by any estimation, just might be faster than Woodbine.

The last two years for the Breeders Crown and Canadian Pacing Derby at the Hawk: 150, 149.3 and 149.3 (all on fast tracks and nice days, with good splits)

This year: The Open Pace has gone quicker than that three times. The Open went 148.2 last week, and the Classic Series went in 148.2 to Bettor Sweet.

North America Cup? How about 150.3 and 149 flat (the Beach) the previous two years versus this year where the top four finishers paced faster 149 and the horse who came 8th by 12 (OK Bormir) paced quicker than Tell All did to win in 2007.

On these nights the track seems souped up, it makes for a good time to pad the speed stats at Mohawk.

Silent Swing, despite anyone who knows the horse would say he is nowhere close to what he was last season, lifetime mark in 149.1.

Bigtime Ball? How about 148.2, lowering his lifetime mark by a second, and he would have went faster if he had any competition.

Either all these horses have found a magic speed elixir, or Mohawk on big nights has been tricked up for speed.

We see it elsewhere as well. This season rock hard tracks at the Meadows and Chester have been making some horses flat-out airborne. For a baseline we can use the Meadowlands, which is the same old Meadowlands. The Meadowlands Pace went pace speed (with an excellent horse winning), the Haughton went about right, so did the trot stakes, so do the Open pace's.

When someone asks me right now is Mohawk faster than Woodbine? I'd have to say yes. As for the other tracks, if this holds, we are going to see more and more lifetime marks set this year, than perhaps any year before.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

High Fives in the Maple Leaf Trot

Ironically, just last week I wrote the post about harness folks showing a lack of emotion when their horse wins a race. Well, maybe I should have prefaced it with "some owners and trainers and drivers of superstables who win all the time", because in the Maple Leaf Trot tonight, San Pail, a family type horse, threw down and defeated the best older trotters in the world. The winners circle was electric, Waples (great job Randy) was stoked and all was well. It is really nice to see this win for these people. These folks got a life changing win and a $360,000 payday which will never be forgotten.

For a look at the exciting tilt I have the youtube thingy below.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Harness Racing Turf Angles

Tonight at the Meadowlands we had a turf race in race 5, for what I think is the first time ever here across the pond. The winner was a New Zealand bred, Onedin Legacy, paying $15.20.

As frequent blog contributor Greg states, this gelding was the only horse in the field with turf experience (not seen in the PP's), the trainer and driver (Chris Ryder) is from Downunder and was the only human in the race with turf experience as well.

So, for those keeping track at home, standardbred horses who have raced before on the turf have an ROI of 6.60, and standardbreds with no turf experience are stuck at a donut ROI.

:)

Well Said Energizes a Division

Last year I was at the Meadowlands for Adios Elim day. The field was not bad, but I did not even watch the races. I got an email saying "Shadow Play won in 148.2" so I guess I should have been watching, but wasn't.

This year the early stakes for three year olds were pretty boring. Several of the highest rated horses were hurt and not racing (in fact this has only been added to with Dial or No Dial on the shelf), and Well Said was less than impressive in his first couple of starts. Ho hum.

But, that all changed. Well Said had me watching the Adios elims this year for the first time in a few years. He won his elim, wrapped up in 149 and in no way disappointed.

Last year in the thoroughbreds we had Big Brown against the clock, history (and his foot problems); and competition in the races was not on our minds - watching Big Brown was. This is happening this year in harness racing. We are tuning in to watch one horse against the clock. It might not happen all year as it is pretty clear Well Said has the odd issue and has had to battle them before, but in the here and now he is really sharp and it is fun to watch.

Mr. Wiggles won the other elim in 149.1 with a nice steer by that kid on him, but clearly ain't anywhere near the big horse.

Two Year Olds and Different Strokes

The two year olds are starting to roll at the Meadowlands and elsewhere. Two that have caught ones eye would have to be Rock n Roll Heaven and Il Villaggio.

The former (a nice catch drive for Dube, and a lesson to cappers that the horse a driver chooses is sometimes not the best) made a really nice late move to win. Bruce Saunders seems to be a guy who can have a good one and keep him going for the long term. This is witnessed in his chart lines. While some trainers want their horses to roll big time early, Bruce is working this horse into it, with his sights on the later stakes. Right now he looks good and the test will be the Metro.

Il Villaggio looks like some stock. For the first few races, Break the Bank K looked to have a stranglehold on the jersey breds, but as we spoke about below, when you turn up the purse size, competition is there and you have to bring your game up a notch. Ill Villaggio has.

The Meadowlands does things that make sense, and even with the massive handle drops it is not because of a lack of trying. Thursday they ran all their $200k stakes finals. Most other places run them on a Saturday (see Mohawk's card Saturday with CBC races). The salient point in that I think, is that the Meadowlands knows that a $200k stake with freshman trotters are bad betting races - a 15 claimer with ten solid horses is much better - so they do not run them on their highest handle night. It is all about their brand, and that brand has taken a hit lately, but they do hold true to betting axioms and that brand whenever they can.

I see Standardbred Canada has linked to the Art Official's owner comments that he was better than Somebeachsomewhere. Since it is a Canadian site that should get some play. Interestingly Mr. Big has been installed the favorite in this Saturday's Ben Franklin final. That was a bit surprising, but if we are speaking of respect, Mr. Big certainly is a horse who deserves some. That race is a tough one to handicap and I could see several winners. However, I think Art Official, with any kind of trip can get the job done there. I like Bettor Sweet for second.

On the good side of things, a test has been developed for Cobra venom.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Best Public Cappers

I read and watch quite a few of the harness handicappers from racetracks and in publications. It got me thinking, who are the sharpest out there?

This is a question that we have to take with a grain of salt a little bit. Andy Serling, who handicaps Belmont for the thoroughbreds, does not worry about hit rate, he worries about ROI. You will hear that as the crux of his analysis every day. The phrase "the six is 4-5 and you have to be nuts to bet this horse", or something like that is said by him fairly often. Of course, the 4-5 shot is most likely to win the race - he knows that and we all do - but he is constantly talking value for your wagers.

Conversely, I have seen written by quite a few public handicappers that they have to pick lower shots (ofttimes at the direction of track management) because it is more important for them to show gross winners, instead of money making, because the people who use public handicappers find it more important to cash tickets at a day at the track. They make a very good point and their logic is not flawed. A newbie who comes to the track would love to cash four or five winners in a day, even if it means betting place or show on chalk. Cashing tickets is fun. An example of this is the WEG in-house guys. They will go on short shots, rather than playing bombers with a shot because of this phenomenon.

Public handicapping is a thankless job. If you are picking football games you can hit half your picks and survive. If you are picking horse races you could publicly pick wrong horses 85% of the time and you will get called names reserved for a driver who gets locked in behind a 100-1 shot. Despite the fact that with a 15% hit rate, you could be making money for your followers, which is rare and should be trumpeted. Anyway, let's have a look at some of the most maligned people in our business, the public handicapper.

My list of the best out there:

Bob Pandolfo: Pandy displays his knowledge of two things very well - harness racing, and gambling. He plays both thoroughbreds and standardbreds and grinds away at this game, and has for years. He also tends to look for hidden positives, which is the only thing we can look for if we want to beat the races. If a horse he likes that won last week with Mike Forte in the bike, has Brian Sears on him this week, has a better post, and is picked all over, Bob will tell you to avoid this horse like the plague and look elsewhere. Another thing Bob seems to like is a speed try gone wrong. A horse who gets cooked, yet does not fold his tent is overlooked by bettors at times. Bob is all over those.

Dave Brower: Dave's descriptions on the Big M site are very good. He constantly will give out trip notes and often talks about that we should "watch the overbet on this horse", should the horse be an obvious one. He speaks about not picking winners, but getting value for your wagers.

Sam McKee: Sam is another who likes to step outside the mainstream. He will pick shippers, he will talk about trainers and will dig into the race a little bit. Good announcer, and a good face for racing.

A couple of others who offer out something good to players:

Mike Hamilton: Mike keeps track of a lot of statistics. For example, he kept track of detention barn stats, which he would inject into his picks. His database work that he publicizes will include post position statistics, trip stats and more. These tidbits to some are overkill, but to players who do not have access to harness statistics, these are very valuable at times.

Shannon (I don't want to spell her last name wrong, so I won't) from Chester: Relatively new on the scene she provides some good descriptions of the horses, and sometimes a pace set up. I think she has done a great job from what I have seen.

As said, these folks are easy to be critical of. If we go on chat boards you will see complaints about all of them. "They give out chalk", "they are useless", "they don't help" and more. However, they are not there to be everything to everyone, and some have different styles based solely on the track's vision of their job. If you look at them dispassionately I think the above people do quite well in the job that they are tasked with.

Does anyone like any others? Does anyone watch Yonkers or Northfield, or any other track that I do not? How do their handicapping crew stack up?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Show the Harness Racing Greats Some Respect

“______” is better than ‘Rainbow Blue/Niatross/Somebeachsomewhere/Nihilator/Greyhound’.

This is a phrase we have been hearing from time to time the last six or seven years. With horses who run out of their skin and flash big times it is almost assured that some fan, or some watcher, or some race owner will say it.

The latest is Art Official owner Jim Jesk.

“He is the best pacer in North America and we haven't seen the best of him yet.”

“He's better than good. Nearly everyone says that Somebeachsomewhere was the best racehorse in North America, but I honestly believe my colt was better.”

I’m glad he likes his horse, but there is a big difference when you like your horse on what he accomplishes, versus mentioning another horse to illustrate it, which requires a jump of faith, and logic.

Somebeachsomewhere, by anyone anywhere at one time or another last year, was described as the best three year old colt we have seen since Nihilator. The evidence was certainly there – 20 for 21, four world records on different size tracks and in heats, open length wins against other world champions, the all time earnings record, and so on – so anyone who said that could make a strong case. In contrast, Art Official is compared to Somebeachsomewhere. Therein lies the rub.

Art Official is a wonderful horse and looked so good last week that it seems he might be on track to set some records this year. However, he had a lot of chances to set records last year too, but he could not deliver a full season of racing to place him in the upper echelon of sophomores, like Nihilator or Somebeachsomewhere. He might do that this year, or next, but Mr. Jesk comparing this colt to some of the all time greats does those all time greats a disservice. Hold your horses, Mr. Jesk – let your fine horse win some races first.

This is nothing new. We see similar whenever there was a horse winning races in open-length fashion. In just the last three years we have heard “best ever” associated with Donato Hanover, and Deweycheatumnhowe. Just because a horse wins races does not make him the best ever. The competition is important. Just like a 10 claimer might blow off a 152 mile at the M and then moves to 15 claimers and gets dusted in 153, a stakes horse wins races more impressively than they might due to talent because of competition. People might remember that the 2-1 second choice in the Hambletonian two years ago was a filly, Pampered Princess. She could not even win her own Breeders Crown race later that year. When competition came in the form of Arch Madness, Donato Hanover had his hands full. He lost his last two races to the Trond trainee. And Arch Madness, although a very nice horse, is not a world beater. Similarly, Dewey had it pretty easy last year. As a bettor who posts here on the blog said “Crazed would not be in the top ten trotters this year”, and he made Muscle Hill a 15-1 chalk to beat Donato head to head, and an 8-1 chalk to beat Dewey head to head. He is probably close to correct on those odds lines.

Competition matters. If Somebeachsomewhere did not have much to beat last year, the hype would have been monumental (eventhough it already was huge). Could you imagine if Art Official and Shadow Play alone were hurt, or born in a different year? How about Bettor Sweet? He has the national seasons mark in 147.2 this year, beating Mr. Big and many other good horses, like Art Official and is one of the best horses in North America. Last year Bettor Sweet was beaten by Beach in the Breeders Crown by nine. If none of those horses were around, Beach would have won the Pace by twelve, and every other race by open lengths. People would no have doubt said he was “way better than Niatross” because he won by so many lengths. They would have been wrong - if Beach is the Prince of Freaks, Niatross was the King of them - but they would have said it. Regardless, who he had to race and beat last year was frightening.

If we look back at Nihilator, we see a bit of the same thing. His mystique is sadly nowhere near some of the best horses in history some 25 years later. Why? I believe competition. Nihilator at two had to race one of the best freshmen of all time, Dragon’s Lair. He got hot at the right time, loved a 5/8’s track and beat the big horse easily, but it took a shattering of the world record to do it. People were left wondering, “is Nihilator really that good; after all he was beat by a Jeff Mallet driven horse?” Of course he was that good, but the competition was amazing, and when you have competition you have to work and you will not dominate inferior stock by large margins. At three, who did he face? How about Falcon Seelster – one of the fastest horses ever, proven by his jaw dropping 151 world record at Delaware set as a four year old. When Nihilator won on Hambo day in 1985 in 149.3, who was right there with him at the wire? The Falcon. Throw him out and Nihilator wins by fifteen, and people are gasping. With Falcon so close in that mile you will often hear about that race, “Falcon Seelster raced good as well,” despite the story being Nihilator and Nihilator only. When you add competition, you can not win by ten or fifteen, where all they remember is you.

Nihilator and Somebeachsomewhere have a great deal in common. They were both beaten in World Record times, but they both went on to survive "wave two" of the competition, and pretty much won out. In addition, both of these tremendous colts set more world records of their own after being beaten. Both of them earned and deserve their place in harness history.

This year we are hearing rumblings that Well Said should be mentioned with the all time greats. He is a marvelous horse and might well prove that he should be. But when we jump the gun, it does all those horses, and all the work they did in the trenches over a couple of hard-fought seasons a tremendous disservice. Would he have won the Meadowlands Pace by an open six if Somebeachsomewhere, Art Official or Shadow Play was in the race? No. Would he have dusted the field if he had to brush by Nihilator instead of Art Colony at the half? Since Nihilator went 53.4 to the half 24 years ago in an anachronistic display of speed, I don't think he'd have trouble parking Well Said in 53.4 and 120 and change today, so it is highly unlikely. Just one month ago this horse, off a pocket trip in the Burlington Stakes, failed to hit the board. The team was in panic mode after that, changing the shoes, and wondering publicly via the harness edge if Pierce should race him near the front. His overall record shows he has lost more races than he has won (8 for 17). He is a great horse with mind blowing speed and I think he has a shot to set a world record, but let the horse win some races first before tarnishing the greats of this game.

Sadly, Well Said might not get to show where he fits, unless they step out and race him against older. Ironically, it might end up doing him a disservice, because out of the top 4 ranked three year olds in the experimental ratings over the winter, three of them are out with injury. On paper, there is no one close, other than maybe Keep it Real (who was not even Meadowlands Pace eligible), so he should win against this group by open lengths, where he might end up looking better than he is. I know one thing though, handicappers will be able to give him a grade at the end of the year, if the harness press can not. Handicappers gauge competition every time they open a program and they will be able to measure it with him, as well.

There are great champions out there, and by any stretch Muscle Hill is one who deserves the hype. It will take a few months to see where he places himself in harness history. But just like Well Said and Art Official, the proof will not be in what is said by their owners, trainers and drivers on the Internet. The proof will be what these horses say on the racetrack.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

High Fives

Mark Hetherman discussed a topic today in his blog piece, which is always good for debate. In effect, the question: Why don't drivers show more emotion after a win?

I am always amazed at the difference between jockey's and drivers in this respect. I watch Hollywood Park sometimes and when a jock wins a race he is usually pretty pumped. The winners circle looks like a party, with hugs and high fives. When the jock goes to weigh out, the scales dude always has a big smile and pats the jock on the back or gives him a high five and the jock is equally happy to receive it. The sceen shot ends usually with the jock looking at the camera and giving viewers a big thumbs up.

At Mohawk conversely, the winners circle tends to look like a gathering of people comforting someone who just lost their dog. There is a smile, but it is virtually silent. The drivers are speaking to the trainer, getting grilled on how the horse performed, and there is usually a complete disconnect from the fans.

I was at Mohawk last weekend, and after an adept steer and win, Randy Waples brought the horse to the winners circle. As he was walking back, I said jokingly "you still got it Waples" (I chat with Randy so it was not like I was a drunk fan who just lost my shirt on him and was yelling at him or something), so he did what he usually does - flashes a smile, says hi and thanks, and moves on. This is very rare, however. It is pretty much the opposite of the Hollywood race aftermath most times, with the driver walking away (on the side of the horse which shields him from fans).

Why? I don't know.

As for showing emotion after a win on track, I think there is nothing wrong with that either, unless it is ridiculously over the top. A fist pump is seen often in thoroughbred racing. Overseas when a horse wins a big race in trotting, the driver usually lets out a huge yelp and waves his whip around like he is a child who just won King of the Mountain. Why not, he took care of his horse all week for this, he drove the horse well, he has beaming owners happier than heck in the winners circle waiting for him. He should be happy he won.

In harness racing we rarely see this at all. I remember a few weeks ago, Phil Hudon was in the lead and he was working on his horse, giving it his all for the win. When a horse went by him late, he dropped his head in a shrug, showing he was completely pissed that he lost. I liked that. Not only does it tell me he tried, it puts a face on a game where the public at times (whenever a horse loses) tends to yell "he stiffed him; this game is crooked." It's not crooked, and by showing one is happy with a win and mad at a loss it helps illustrate that these guys are as mad or happy as a bettor is with the result.

I hope we see more of what we see in thoroughbred racing on the harness side. Show you are happy with a win and sad with a loss. If you do it in a class way, which shows your happiness, but does not denigrate your opponents, it can be a wonderful thing for the sport.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Admiring the Lack of Cliches, and Wanting More of it From Racing

I watched the Tour de France yesterday for the trip up the mountain. The hilly stage was well anticipated as it would show who has the gusto to win the gruelling tour. With about seven kilometres to go, Spain's Alberto Contador, teammate of Lance Armstrong, flicked his wrist and burned rubber, accelerating up the hill like he was going down one. Lance Armstrong, much to the dismay of fans who figured he was a contender, simply could not go with him. Contodor won the stage easily and took the yellow jersey. Armstrong was over a minute behind.

In an interview afterwards, Armstrong said "If someone like Contador shows today, 'Hey, I'm the best,' you have to accept it."

There was no, pardon the acronym, BS. There was no "it is a long race, and I have sponsors, and I have a shot, and I am going to take it day by day, and anything can happen, and I can turn this around, and I was not feeling well, and I had a bunyon". It was just a cold hard realization that "this guy is better than me."

Not long ago in horse racing, when a horse got beat fair and square, all you would hear from the participants was "we got beat by a better horse", and a congratulations. That was that. Now, we see more and more of what we hate to see from athletes - buzzwords, excuses, cliches - to explain getting beat fair and square.

I think this is in response to breeders and selling the horse via the breeding shed. There is so much money at stake that getting beat fair and square any longer is not an option. With millions at stake it makes more sense to embellish the truth, rather than tell the truth, to keep a horses mystique in place.

In addition, we tend to see this embellishment fly right into the face of racings customers. If a horse is 1-9 and should beat a group by ten, but wins under the whip by a head, you will sometimes hear "it was a good win and he did it easily, I was just reminding him he still had to go because he gets lazy" or some such other nonsense. It is clear the horse was not right, any handicapper with even the most rudimentary skill knows the horse was not right, each competitor knows the horse did not race well. Why try to pull the wool over people's eyes? It makes you look ridiculous and you are fooling no one.

Recently we saw Federal Flex race in the final of the Goodtimes. This is a world class trotter capable of big speed. He was on his hands and knees to hold off a horse who is not in his league. After the race there was no "it was a good prep for the Hambo, we are right on schedule" or all the rest. Driver Jody Jamieson said that 'this horse was not right tonight and we have some work to do obviously.'

This was not unlike last year in the Simcoe Stakes, where trainer of Somebeachsomewhere, Brent McGrath, stated after a sub par performance that Beach must have an issue. He was a deer in the headlights seeing his stable star crawl home, as everyone was in the crowd. There was no cliche about "Paul let him come home slow because we have big races coming up" or some other type nonsense. It was a simple cold hard realization that something was amiss, and he had to get the horse home to find out what.

These responses are a breath of fresh air.

It is nice to see some in our sport lose the cliches, and explain what happened honestly to handicappers and viewers, instead of what we see all too often, especially in thoroughbred racing, where in this day and age horses are bred not to race, but to be bred. The aftermath of finger pointing, and pure nonsense in the media after last year's Belmont Stakes probably had a guy like Woody Stephens rolling over in his grave. It was beneath the sport, and it was wrong.

Some consider Lance Armstrong a "jerk" for being so open, and off the cuff. That might or might not be true. But I will take a guy like him who tells me the truth, over someone who feeds me incorrigible cliches ten times out of ten.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tom Watson

Today at the British Open we saw something magical. 59 year old Tom Watson had viewers from across the globe glued to their TV screens in his pursuit to win the Open, decades after he last did. A person his age is not supposed to do what he almost did - win a Major Championship in golf. That is supposed to be reserved for Tiger Woods, or other twenty or thirty somethings with agents, mental coaches, big contracts and computer swing analysis, at more an hour than I make in a week.

I spoke via email and on the phone this morning with a few non-golf fans, all watching and messaging "do you believe this?"

After watching last night's Meadowlands Pace it struck me again that those in racing who constantly pontificate "if we only did 'x', with regards to our big races, racing would be popular again", are simply off the mark. In the Meadowlands Pace in 2008, Art Official's win was one of the most impressive wins I have ever seen. Anyone who watched the race was impressed no matter an old fan or a new one, and the press afterwards was all positive for harness racing. This year we saw a remarkable performance by Well Said - no not one like Art Official's, I know - but remarkable in its own right. Every one of us who watched them, or on the thoroughbred side see the same type performances from Rachel Alexandra said "do you believe this?" Regardless, and no matter what, the bet is down, and only going lower each month.

We are not, nor will we ever be like a human mainstream sport. Nothing will change that. It does not mean we have to close up shop and never try to sell the sport or our big races, it just means that to move forward we must come to grips that we are a niche gambling sport. When people like Fred Pope speak out relaying his view that racing can be like what we watched today at the Open and we should change the gambling side of the game to fit that view, it is our duty to make our opposite views known because racings future depends on it. With limited budgets we can not afford to spend money and time on something we hope works, we have to spend it on something that does work.

In harness racing we have been blessed the past couple of years. We had Somebeachsomewhere, we have Muscle Hill, and now adding his name to the mix, another fantastic three year old colt who is making most other colts the last ten years or so look ordinary - Well Said. But all that does not matter much. The bet will go down, and continue to go down until we embrace exactly what we are, instead of dreaming what we wish we were.

Well Said Romps; Pace Handle Poor

As promised it was the Well Said show at the M tonight, where he destroyed a field of overmatched horses on the way to a super sharp 147.3 tally. Last year on the blog we always seemed to say "what if" with this guy, and early in the year we were left wondering if he would ever be a force. Not any longer. He is the best colt by far in 2009.

Vintage Master raced really well to be second, and our ex pick here was a good third, after being limbed three high on the first turn. Chasin Racin raced ok to be fourth.

The topic of the evening has to be the card. It was probably the worst Meadowlands Pace cards ever assembled, mainly due to the horse shortage caused by Yonkers and Chester. The crowd responded by barely betting $4M. It was only a couple of short years ago that $4M was a slow normal Saturday at the M. It is a shame how far it has fallen.

For those who did go, they saw an awesome performance. I guess now the question is, in this weak crop of three year olds can Well Said find a rival? Time will tell.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How Good is Muscle Hill?

Muscle Hill won the Dancer last night at the Meadowlands with a statuesque Brian Sears in the racebike, in 152.1. This race will serve as a prep for the Hambo elims in two weeks.

For this, and any race when speaking about a horse's place in history, we have to look at the past, and what others have done thus far into their careers. One of the things that the public tends to overlook is the final result - wins and losses - rather than how a horse wins and loses, and what competition he is beating, or being defeated by.

Muscle Hill's record is clearly defined. He has only lost once, and it was in his first start:

M $39,750 6 7/11H 7°/8 6°/5H 4/2 2/NK 1:58.4 27.3

He went to the back, the field crawled, and he stormed home in 27.3 with a fast last half, where he had to go around traffic. He had no shot, but still almost won. When he won the following week with a 55.4 back half (pretty much unheard of for a 2 year old trotter in July), handicappers were not surprised.

He has won every race since in dominant fashion, and by my count has seen the whip about three times since last July.

Other trotters have been undefeated, and with a hype machine in full-force, have gotten as much or more press than Muscle Hill. But those trotters were not Muscle Hill. Not even close.

Last night's Dancer represents the early season for trotters. Let's check what two undefeated types did versus Muscle Hill.

Donato Hanover:

3 2°/1 1/1H 1/1H 1/3H 1/1 1:54.2 28.2

He won in 54.2 with a last quarter of 28.2 under the whip.

Deweycheatumnhowe:

1 1/1T 1/1T 1/2 1/2T 1/3 1:53.2 27.4

From the rail he took an easy lead, had an easy half, and came home in 27.4 under urging.

Muscle Hill last night:

1 1/2H 1/1H 1/2 1/3Q 1/6 1:52.1 27.3

As easy a win as one would ever see, and done so under no urging. Not even a chirp from driver Brian Sears. In fact, as the picture above shows, the lines were tight.

In addition, Muscle Hill is not beating up on everyday competition. Federal Flex (who he is yet to meet this year), sold for a huge sum last year and looks to be at this point comparable to a lot of the trotting stars the last few years. Explosive Matter's trainer called him the best trotter he has been associated with. There are others capable of 153 speed, where almost every year at this point there are but one or two.

How good can he be? He has clearly not shown us a bottom. When Dewey and Donato went to the midwest on the red dirt, or at Duquion, they cut about two seconds off their times at the Meadowlands. If that holds, Muscle Hill should be able to shave perhaps a second off the world record. That would mean a 149 and change mile.

It is all in the future and as we know as race fans or horse owners, it can all change tomorrow. However, for the question "How good is Muscle Hill?" at this point in racing history it might not be premature to call this horse the most talented sophomore trotter of the modern age.

Pace PP's are Up

The Meadowlands Pace free PP's are now up.

My quick analysis:

In a slightly different, and very suspect crop in 2009, we find that four contenders will not be using any gate speed. Well Said, Hypnotic Blue Chip, Arctic Warrior and Vintage Master are all heading to mid pack, or the back of the bus (so the story goes). That does leave the door open for some leavers at a price to hit the board. I expect that Chasin Racin, or If I Can Dream will foot the bill. Chasin Racin raced ok last time, and Sears would probably want to take a shot. Knucks Brennan, who the words "ease to the lead" are not exactly made for, has a dead speed horse as well, capable of firing. He raced well last time, pacing his third quarter under a patented Brennan bullrush in 26.1 and still having something in the tank to come 4th. Lesser horses would have come home slower. I think using him underneath might be an idea.

Art Colony and Hypnotic Blue Chip will both be overbet as they are the obvious horses, so I will pitch those. In addition, Hypnotic had a high white count this week so was sick with something. Never a good thing.

As for the winner, he is pretty obvious, as well. None of these horses have the talent to get down to the quarter in 29 and pace 49 first up from 6th, like he did last week. He probably has somewhere between a 55 and 65% chance to win. He'd have to be flat like he was earlier in the year to not put in a good account of himself, and I guess that is a possibilty for bomb players. He is also rammy, so for super bomb lookers, there is always a hope.

My plays:

Well Said - If I Can Dream - all
Well Said - IICD and Chasin Racin ex's

I'll box up the three if they are paying something.

Good luck and enjoy the race folks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

$1M Meadowlands Pace

The Meadowlands Pace goes Saturday at the Meadowlands. This is annually one of the best races to watch in the world of harness racing. The Meadowlands has been proactively promoting it with something I think every track should do: Player rewards. Twinspires.com is offering 10X the points on this race, which works out to be a hefty rebate for players big and small.

For the race itself (free PP's for races 1-4..... why those 4 races I have no idea, but I assume this will change with the Pace PP's.... here), Well Said will be favoured, deserves to be favoured and is the horse to beat. However, with not much speed in here, there is perhaps an opportunity to make some cash using a leaver in the tickets. Unfortunately it looks like Art Colony will be that leaver, and he will be well bet. I might have a closer look at it tomorrow, but with a well bet chalk that looks more than solid, it looks like a tough race to formulate a plan to make some coin to me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Snowballing?

Illinois passed video lottery terminals. Good for racing, right? Yummy, we get a slice of cash; after all we are entitled to it. Not so fast. Kentucky: No to slots. Pennsylvania: We want more slot money for the government. Now Illinois.

Restaurants and bars will have up to five video poker machines, and there may eventually be 45,000 machines in the state. None, however, will be found at racetracks or offtrack betting parlors, which were written out of the program.


h/t to Ray Paulick

In other news, the dog racing zealots have looked to ban dog racing in Rhode Island. This is why the whipping debate and horse safety stuff must be addressed in harness racing. They will come after us next, and we need to have proactive pro-horse policies in place so we have something to combat them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

$100M Gone from Pennsylvania Racing?

Bloodhorse reported today that because of a budget shortfall, up to $100 million could be taken from racing in the Keystone State. This money comes from slot machines.

The Pennsylvania horse racing and breeding industry is fighting proposed legislation that could take roughly $100 million from the Race Horse Development Fund and use it to help balance the state budget, which is billions of dollars short.

The $100 million would come from purses and breed development programs for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.


I remember reading Seth Godin's blog awhile back, or perhaps it was in one of his books. The newspaper industry, all the way back in the early 2000's, invited him to speak to them at a conference. His presentation said to them (paraphrasing) 'if they do not get their act together half of them won't be around in ten years'. His warning was met with a yawn, because money was good and everything looked fine.

It is not much different in racing. Money was good and everything looked fine several years ago. Many, many people warned that governments were going to take slot money away sooner or later. I personally thought it would take 15 years. It looks like it has taken about five.

This will not be the last time we see headlines like this. They are only starting. I hope this industry moves forward on working on their customer base, because someday in the future, racings customers will be all they will have left.

Harness Edge Goes Online Only

In a first that I have seen in racing, a print magazine is going online only. The Harness Edge's first online edition will be on their site in early August. Some snippets from today's podcast that I found interesting:

Yearling ads for the sales will have embedded video of the little fellow or gal romping around. A brilliant idea.

Stud ads, when an offspring wins a big one, will have embedded video of the race won.

Of course, not unlike regular news items on many news websites, pictures and video can be added to every story.

Last of all, the online edition of the magazine will be free. Today's podcast announcing the change and what they have planned is here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The One Man Gang

Horseplayers are a passionate lot. With judging, where judges are often times perceived to be too close to the participants, this is usually apparent. All you have to do is visit any chat board, thoroughbred or standardbred, for a glimpse of that. Usually, however, this never goes beyond a gripe or two, or maybe a letter.

Well on Harnessdriver.com, the preeminent chat board for harness racing, one man has taken it to another level. "Timebomb" a Windsor Ontario racefan has been on a crusade to get the judges of harness racing in the province to call infractions based on the rulebook. If it is in the rulebook and it is not called (the fines and suspensions are published via the web at Standardbred Canada) he is making sure people know about it.

Some snippets:

Well the ORC should have made a LOT OF CASH for whipping fines tonight

Race1....Tim Tetrick whips between the legs 3:01 on the replay

Race 3...JODY JAMIESON once again whipping away between the legs of FEDERAL FLEX
watch the replay at the 2:55 mark

Race 5 Jim Morril Jr at the 3:05 mark whipping between the legs of YELLOW DIAMOND

Race 10 Dave Palone at the 3:05 mark whipping between the legs GINGER and FRED

Race 13 Chris Christoforou at the 3:05 mark whip between the legs SPAGO HALL

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Those are the easy ones....a few others likely exist. Do any or all get called lets tune in tomorrow to see.


Want more?

JAMIESON,JODY C
ORC - EXCESSIVE USE OF THE WHIP
Date Issued : 07-JUL-2009
Total Due : 500.00
Violation Occurred : Race 1 at WOODSTOCK RACEWAY on 07-JUL-2009 horse LEXIS STAR
********************************************************************************

Where are his days? And I believe its another $800 due for the other two fines that were .....well lets say SET ASIDE.

Now if this was oh lets say AL CULLEN he would be out for a long long time.


Not only is he keeping tabs on, what he thinks are non-called fines, he is taking it a step further:

Well Rob wasn't in today so they put me through to RUSS FERNADES> We had a good 20-25 minute talk about what I perceived as the Judges not making the calls on WHIPPING BETWEEN THE LEGS. He asked for race examples so I gave him a few that I could remember off my top of my head as I sat waiting for my flight out of Pearson this morning.

He has also called two other judges by my count and has called the Ontario Racing Commission's head office several times to talk to whatever head honcho he can find.

It is fascinating to watch the thread if you are a harness fan. To read it you can at Harnessdriver.com, but you have to sign up first.

He has also gone so far to post videos of the races in question. I have watched many of the races he speaks about via his posts. He is absolutely right almost without fail. The use of the whip that is going on is not in the rulebook. The judges I believe do not call all of them because of two reasons 1) They are so voluminous they would be stuck in paperwork all night and 2) Drivers appeal fines and cost the ORC money.

My solution? I don't really have one, but for starters I would simply make the fines more penal, and I would also ask them to cover the cost of an appeal if the appeal fails. I have no idea if that would work, but $300 fines don't seem to work either.

Who knows, maybe Timebomb, "the one man gang", will achieve what the ORC and many others would like. Regardless I find it absolutely fascinating to watch a racefan try to change harness racing, one whip infraction at a time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Sites, More Racing & Lost Horses

New websites for racing that encompass media are springing up, and our very own TBA Blogs is one. It contains blog posts, news, twitter feeds and more. That is a damn good job Patrick P.

Saturday night harness was more than just Meadowlands races. At Mohawk, Shadow Play returned off a foot ailment and was second. He does not yet look like the old Shadow Play, but it appears he is heading in the right direction. A few years ago American Ideal, who was super-fast, raced in the shadow of Rock n' Roll Hanover and was brought back at 4. After a nice first effort, he suffered some nagging injuries and was retired. I hope this is not a repeat of that. I would love to see this big colt add his name to the list of Canadian Pacing Derby (which is shaping up as the best race of this year) at Mohawk next month.

At Georgian, Yellow Diamond was beaten soundly in an OSS final. The week before she took the lead and won, snatched up by driver Mark MacDonald. However, she was not pacing through the wire, like a good horse should. Sharp cappers could have made a score against her as she was 1-9, but with small pools (a pox on the harness racing house) it was difficult. There was clearly some sharp money in the pools, and despite YD running out, the exotics were not as they should be.

The saddest news on Saturday was that rock-solid pacer and $700k winner Stormaway had to be euthanized after an accident in the $100k+ Masters.

This is not your everyday story where a good horse who has a mishap is 'filled in' with other great horses from a conveyor-belt stable. Stormaway, the recent Molson Pace winner, was a homebred for a small stable which has had little success in the past. These folks had the horse since he was a baby - not as blue blooded breeders or something - just like you and me would. A lesson for me? Any horse I have who does well and gives me some thrills, appreciate him/her every day.

Stormaway finished his fine career with 19 wins in 46 starts and was well on his way to having his finest year to date. Allan has some thoughts and a post about Stormaway here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pace Elim/Haughton Recap

Shark Gesture, who is becoming a war horse, won the Haughton last night at the M, in a great effort (story and video here).

A few notes on the Haughton: i) Sometimes we need to be reminded, but speed wins races. Closing into the teeth of a 55 back half is tough to do with quality horseflesh on the front end. SG ran away from this field. You can never, ever, ever bet harness horses at 3-5 when they will get off seventh like Mr. Big did. You will lose your shirt and it is the worst bet a player can make, and arguably the worst bet in all of racing. ii) Bettor Sweet is a quality animal. Yes folks, 4YO's, even the ones who are left after all the best three year olds retire, can compete against older. iii) One can argue Mr. Big has lost a step, but I disagree. Bettor Sweet, Shark Gesture and others are all racing superbly. Larry Remmen has Shark better than he ever has been. Add in Art Official and a couple of others and Mr. Big will find it hard to dominate this year. iv) Speaking of Art Official, he has come back well, but I do not think he is ready to go the speed he went last year. If you remember, he sat behind Beach in the Cup after going a stout half and tipped off his helmet to run him down. I do not think even sitting behind a horse in extreme fractions for a half he is ready to win in 47 yet. It's early though and he looked good his last couple.

The Cup eliminations are in the books and it was the Well Said show. After two pretty horrible starts in his first two trips over the trap rock he has rebounded to dominate the division. He pulled first over from sixth and closed with a solid back half in a flat-out dominating mile. The result was never in doubt. For a handicapping lesson we can listen to Pierce. Almost all the time handicappers will ask for cover. We often hear announcers speak of a "monster first over journey". In slow fractions this could not be more wrong. In slow fractions, if you have the best horse and are behind, you want to be first over as quickly as possible. 20 times out of 20 a superior horse, like Well Said is, will grind out the non-superior animal to win easily. If cover is gotten with these trips, sometimes the cover can not go the speed needed to tow the horse into the race, they have to go three wide and the leader opens up daylight. We see this at least once a night in racing. Ron Pierce on wanting a first over journey instead of traffic: “I decided I’d better get a bit closer to the front; I didn’t want them to get away too cheap and have somebody pull and get in my way from catching them." This is why handicappers were left scratching their heads a few weeks ago when Lucky Jim won first over, grinding out Lansen in slow fractions, which prompted Bob Heyden to say it was one of the "top five trotting performances he had ever seen." It was not shocking to see Lucky Jim grind down a longshot off soft splits, it would have been a shock to see him not grind down a longshot in soft splits. Well Said's journey was impressive due to solely the blinding last half speed, and that he was well off the pace at the slow first panel, so it is apples to oranges - it was a true "monster first over journey". Full story and video here.

Art Colony seems to be better digging in this week. All last year he was a hanger and this year was too early on. Apparently they finally made an equipment change on the horse, cutting slits in the hood with cups. I guess that has made him better. Great idea by Campbell trying to park Well Said - if he limbs him out and wins he gets to pick his post and places a rival in the luck of the draw. No such luck, because AC is simply not in Well Said's zip code, but not for lack of effort.

Tough DQ for Drop Red huh? Too bad, the horse deserves to be in the final.

Elim Two was non-descript. Although I would never have bet him, I had a sneaky feeling Passmaster would be good as Burgess is a miracle worker with unsound horses. No dice, he was poor.

It seems like the final is Well Said's race to lose. 6-5 on the ML seems about accurate.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Horizons & A Chance at a New Life

Often times we get a comment or two from "New Horizons" here and I neglected to check where that came from. Doing a twitter search today on twazzup I find that it is from a Wallaceberg, Ontario woman who has made it a passion to rescue standardbreds.

The Kitchener "sale", and I use that term loosely, is a place where unwanted horses go. They don't go for kids, or pony rides, the bulk of them go there to die. Claudette frequents that sale looking for horses she can save, on her own dime.

There are at least 25 Standardbreds on average going through their ring every Tuesday,” says Claudette. I’ve also taken two horses directly off the track, Yankee Buck, who has a fractured coffin bone that’s currently being treated, and the other, Whiter Than Snow, called Poppy, a grey 16.2 hh Standardbred mare, who just wasn’t fast enough. Then, I had one given to me, Grapes Magic Trick, who’s already trained in Western pleasure.

In addition she rescued another one recently - a yearling with a facial deformity. He could not sell, of course, although he was bred to by us to do exactly that. He was left at the sale to be discarded like yesterday's trash. He wasn't yesterday's trash; he was a horse. And thankfully she was there for him.



We can not save all the horses, but as owners we have to be responsible for them when we can. We breed them to use, and they deliver the best that they can. They should not be thrown away. If an owner's trainer asks for $2000 for vet work or surgery so an infirm horse can be entered to race, you bet the owner will pay for it. There is absolutely no reason that $200 or $300 can not be used to humanely destroy a horse too lame to find a home. Kill pens are not a product of too many horses, they are a product of irresponsible people.

People need to realize that owning horses is a big commitment, and if it comes time that they can no longer care for them or the horse is no longer enjoying a quality life due to an incurable injury or illness, then it’s their responsibility as a horse owner to take the time to do the right thing. Whether it be re-home them for a new career, or humanely euthanize them if their quality of life is hindered, the responsibility for that horse’s health, safety and welfare is theirs.


If you are a horseperson or own a farm, the New Horizon's website linked above has a list of items they need to keep the stable happy. She does not ask for much. Give it a whirl if you have some of these items hanging around the barn. Horses like Pickle will say thank you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

$688k Haughton - A Must Watch and Bet

Tomorrow night the Haughton Final goes at the Meadowlands. It is, in my opinion, the best race of the year thus far for bettors and fans. The field assembled for the tilt is stunning. About $10M of career winnings are represented with the field.

From the rail out:

1. Palone Ranger
2. Shark Gesture
3. Won The West
4. Bettor Sweet
5. Dali
6. Mister Big
7. Winbak Speed
8. Art Official
9. Dragon King

Looking at the field one could make the case for seven out of the nine to hit the winners circle. Shark Gesture was absolutely brutalized last week in a first over journey. Won the West closed from Chicago to win, Bettor Sweet probably used the race as a prep and should be better, Dali was scorched and did not give it up until late, Mister Big was awesome from downtown, Winbak Speed has been solid all year and Art Official raced very well in his prep, just missing.

I will be looking as always for value. I assume Mr. Big will be overbet, so I will look elsewhere. The trip that Shark Gesture endured last time and still hung around to talk about it has me leaning that way. He is as tough as nails, is not the now or wiseguy horse, and should he get any type of trip he should be heard from. Another one who should provide board value is Bettor Sweet. I have a feeling he will be better this week. The odds board will tell the tale on where I go in this fantastic race.

Also on tap of course is the Meadowlands Pace eliminations. They are good affairs, and although the betting opps are limited, are well worth the watch.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

M Pace, Gold in the Hills & a Touching Tribute

The Meadowlands Pace elims are off and pacing this weekend. We will have some analysis over the coming days. Of note, Bob Heyden had Mr. Wiggles at number three heading into the race, but he is not entered. Anyone see why?

For a take on the Meadowlands and the apparent dancing on its grave (a good opine.... people who think Chester and Yonkers getting top quality horses instead of the Meadowlands is good for racing are misguided), check out Alan's post here.

The Gold Rush hits Georgian Downs this weekend with over $1M up for grabs. We'll see if Louis the whip, our resident B-track guru has any tips.

Last up, iron horse and $1M winner Daylon Trooper escaped from his stall, was injured and had to be put down last week. In a touching obit, Micheal Sweeney of Scarborough Downs lets his thoughts be known on the old champ who deserved a better end.

I met him only once, just days after he arrived at Scarborough Downs. I couldn’t wait to lay eyes on one of harness racing’s elite.

He was a fine looking animal, shiny and strapping, endowed with the presence and bearing that only those who have been to the big time could ever possess. He came to my hand as I grabbed onto his halter and he even allowed me to pat him on the forehead once or twice. His tolerance quickly gave way though as he tired of the attention and began a playful game of trying to chew off the newcomer’s hand. Apparently even star players can tire of the attention of their adoring fans.

His loss was felt deeply at Scarborough Downs this weekend.

“The only word that can describe this situation is heartbreaking,” said longtime Scarborough trainer Dana Childs. “It was a heartbreaking end to a brilliant career.”

What a career it was.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Has it Come to Cheering For Injuries?

I saw a recent post at Paceadvantage.com speaking of the minor injury sustained to thoroughbred Musket Man, who was a player in the Triple Crown. The poster (not meaning anything by it of course) said that the injury was unfortunate but that it would assure fans would get to see the horse race next year, instead of winning a race or two in the summer and be shuffled off to stud. What a sad commentary on the state of racing when an injury is looked at like that. It is like saying I hope Tiger Woods has a hamstring injury before each Major, because he will quit when he beats Jack's record, and it will assure we'll get to watch him golf for awhile.

In harness racing we had a year last year - one which thoroughbred racing needs. The presence of Somebeachsomewhere, as well as injuries, has given fans something to look forward to. Art Official, a talented horse, was hurt late last year and it assured that his stud career was placed on hold. Dali could not get a deal, other than a small one perhaps, because he could not win any big ones with the presence of Beach. Shadow Play had physical issues early, had to face Beach, and did not win enough to warrant a deal. Ditto Bettor Sweet, who recently set the track record at Mohawk in a stunning time. They are all four year olds, they are all racing in 2009, despite two of them setting world records, which any other year would have them off to some farm somewhere, playing with mares.

The breeding game has always been a game of three card monte with racing fans the marks. It is the last great insular fiefdom which has no one to answer to but horse buyers. It is unwilling to change, and unable to fix itself and most would say does nothing for the game of racing in the first place. Despite massive handle losses, despite lack of interest in racing, despite purses being down, despite yearling sales off, we know that nothing will change and it will be business as usual. As strange as it sounds, maybe a quarter crack or two might do more for the fan base and the sport of horse racing than any marketing program has ever done.

Notes:

Wagering is getting killed. Don't say we didn't warn you. Cangamble explores that issue in his last piece.

We're tough on milkshaking here in Ontario. When I see someone get caught with it in California thoroughbred racing it seems they are asked nicely to promise to never do it again. When they do it again, they are asked again to promise never to do it again, but they tack on a $400 fine and a 13 day suspension, so they can enter their horses in two weeks.

I am half done my driver change study, which I have been working on in my spare time. So far all I can selfishly say to those who bet driver changes, is please keep doing it.

It seems another past posting incident might have occurred in thoroughbred racing today. I think I can improve my ROI if I bet horses after the race. I am adding it to the arsenal.

A New York Post writer says racing is finished. Why? "1. Modern racing has no stars. They're all in the breeding shed. No sport can prosper without stars to engage and excite the base. 2. The modern racing program is an endless stream of small fields and short-priced favorites. No competition, no excitement. 3. If a product is not selling, check the price. Casinos and sports betting take an average 5 percent off the top. Racing's minimum take is 16 percent, stretching up to 30 percent. It is priced out of the market." I am not sure if the patient is ready to star in CSI, but the writer sure has the symptoms down pat.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Handicapping and Golf

Gamblers of other games, say sports betting, or casino gambling tend to flinch when looking at horse racing. "How can someone play a game where you lose so many more times than you win", or "how can you possibly play a game with 22% skimmed from the pot" are common questions.

I usually answer that horse racing is a great game to play because it is just like golf. No matter how good you get at it, you can never, ever master it. When Tiger Woods shoots a 61, he is mad at himself because two missed putts, three off-center iron shots and four missed fairways all occurred during the round. He promises himself he can 'do better next time' and he will practice to assure that he will. In any other sport, or any other vocation how many people think like that?

It is the same with handicapping. No matter how much you learn, there is more to learn. No matter how many bets you make, there is always a way to make them more efficiently. You can never master the game of handicapping the horses.

People have their passions and for some it is the previously mentioned golf. I used to play quite a bit. When the company I am involved with started there was but two of us, we both golfed, and we only had a couple of clients each. As an added bonus, winter was super-busy and summer not so much. Once a week or more rounds of golf happened regularly. I tried constantly to get better, and of course I never came close to mastering that difficult game. After some time work got busier, employees were added and time to play waned. I recently took a short vacation near Moncton, New Brunswick on the Amherst Shore of Nova Scotia where golf courses were everywhere but I did not even bring my clubs. What I did bring though was my computer, and while there, in my spare time, I worked on handicapping. Instead of going for a five hour tour of the links I toured questions and data mining of "if a horse is used in the second quarter quicker than a par time, how much does his final quarter suffer", "how many horses win with three hole trips", "if a horse is scorched in a quick pace what does he do the next race when on the engine in a proper pace?" Questions only a handicapper would want answered.

Handicapping and getting better at it is my current passion. Just like a few years ago when I worked on my golf swing like a total freak, I work on handicapping like a total freak. I know I will never master it; not even close. It is what keeps me coming back and it is what makes handicapping the horses the greatest gambling pursuit ever invented. We need to shout that from the rooftops, and get track management and horseman groups to realize that this game can grow rapidly, just like golf did if we treat improving it with passion like horseplayers do. It is often said, I think correctly, that track execs and horseman groups have no idea who their customers are. To get them to understand us we can tell them to look at their golf games. Handicapping is the same thing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saturday Night Fighting

Many harness handicappers like to criticize prep races for being non-competitive affairs. Tonight in the Haughton Prep at the Meadowlands it was anything but. Jody Jamieson drilled Dali hard from the get go and put the hammer down. Tim Tetrick in a pretty wild move, tried to quarter pole into the quick pace with Shark Gesture and was rebuffed. This tangle set the plate for the backfield and longshot Won the West swooped to take the win. This prep signalled a potentially tremendous final next week. Often the best 4YO's retire at three. This year it is not the case and that makes for some very good racing.

Drop Red won a conditioned race, taking advantage of a bit of a duel as well, proving that horses do not know what their birth certificate says, they just race. He made older horses look ordinary and won easily.

I took a stab at the Meadowlands Pick 4 tonight. I liked Doug's Fame in the sixth as I thought the speed try last week would sharpen him up if taken from off the pace. I was right on that one. Then I took "all" in the next leg, thinking that the chalk was vulnerable. I followed that up with an "all" in the last leg. I chose to key Casie Coleman's horse in the third leg. Of course the 4-5 fave won the first "all" leg, and a short short won my other "all" leg. I missed my key. Did anyone ever say this was a tough game?

I played Mohawk tonight as well. As is often the case there, non-competitive fields were the norm and several of the races seemed almost pre-determined. Any live horse was well bet, and there simply were not enough alternatives to try and take a stab at. I find that there are only two races a night there to bet. The Meadowlands was not much better. I think I found two I wanted to bet there and one horse who I did take a poke at was 7-2 at one minute to post closed at 2-1. Playing harness is getting very difficult if you are a pure value searcher.

I watched a little Georgian Downs tonight and I must say that the Innisfil oval is becoming one of the highest quality tracks out there. Next Saturday is a huge night there and if you are a harness fan it is worth watching. You can watch and bet on Georgian via HPI in Canada and Twinspires in the states.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Snow White is Gone

Whom I consider the greatest two year old trotter I have ever been blessed to see, Snow White, had to be put down today. As a two year old I wanted to see her be honoured with horse of the year. She should have been. I doubt we will see another like her.

Her World Record. God bless you hon.

Studies and Numbers

Being a big fan of Super Crunchers where the author says "don't tell me what you know, show me what you know with evidence", I have always given stock to numbers. If a coin flips a million times and you show me half the time it lands on heads I know you have a pretty good coin. One of the most fiery debates I have read over the years has been on lasix use in racehorses. Talk to ten trainers you get ten different answers. Some of them very militant when espousing that lasix does absolutely nothing to stop bleeding in racehorses. Finally a comprehensive study has been done on the drug. It showed that yes, lasix does reduce bleeding in racehorses. For a blog opine on the study, click here.

Secondly, blog readers know that I have been a fan of trying things new, especially on half mile tracks with regards to equalizing post positions. A couple of ways I have thought out loud about included starting the speed of the speed in trailing positions to encourage movement (posts assigned) and a more staggered starting gate. Being a horse owner at a place like Western Fair always comes with a caveat - it takes two weeks often times to get in, and if you draw the seven your monthly bill has zippo chance to get paid. The post difference in chances to win on a half is polarizing. A horse from the seven can be 20-1. Give that same horse, in the same field the rail and he might be even money.

Well the Meadows recently (a five-eighths track) went to a 14 foot stagger on February 9th. The numbers are pretty startling and you can read them here. The rail used to be 16%, now it is 11%. The 8 post used to hit at a 6% clip, now it is 11%. This is not a small sample. This works.

This is not only good for horse owners, it is good for bettors. On a half mile track, or even on a 5/8's at times you can eliminate half the field. A 9 horse field becomes a 3 or 4 horse field. With a staggered gate it increases field size for all intents and purposes as the bettor has more contenders to choose from. In thoroughbred racing an increase in field size by one horse increases the handle on a race by 5%. This should be done in harness in a big way, all over the world. Chris Roberts and Chuck Keeling, as well as Hugh Mitchell at Western Fair are folks who have the guts to give this a shot. I wonder if they have considered it. Just like the lasix study, the numbers are there, and if the numbers are there, the reason not to try it is nil.