Sunday, August 30, 2009

Xtreme Racing & Saturday Action

Last night at Georgian Downs, the annual Xtreme Racing Day finally had some semi-decent weather, and the crowd showed up. There were the usual for the young and new fans - jugglers, tents, a ride or two - and for others there was 12 races which allowed one to step out and handicap a whole different way.

I arrived early for the day and was struck by the amount of activity in the simulcast area. Travers Day was at Saratoga, and all the other major tracks were going as with any Saturday. The simo area at Georgian is quite good and bettors were betting. I think the lounge there was designed quite well, and is conducive to attracting bettors.

At 6PM the action started with the xtreme mile, and ended a few hours later with the Marathon.

This type of racing does have a tough time to catch on, however, catch on it should, with handicappers. Handicapping this card is a real brain stretch and can yield fruit. No RGS patrons looking to bet $400 win tickets can play here as the pools are too small, but for the sharp lower bankroll capper they can, and should.

Perhaps next year I would like to get something going with a syndicate bankroll on this day, and go deep. I think that can work to make this a good, fun betting day.

Some examples:

The Xtreme Marathon race had an 18 horse field and was won by the 3-1 morning line horse. He paid $36.50. The second place horse and third place horse were useable. The super paid a pool shot and the tri paid out on "all".

In race one, the logical horses were 2,3,4,5 and 10. The Richard Moreau horse (5) won easily and paid $18. The second choice (2, King Joe who along with the ten was the class) was second, and the four horse, coming off A track lines came third. The tri 5-2-4 paid $3900 and the super paid out on an "all". This mainly due to the deep field and the overbet ten horse.

The 1/8th of a mile sprints were interesting as well. Inside posts are terrible in them, so chucking them out and playing around yielded sharp handicappers a chance to score. In the second leg, the 6-8 ex (5-1 onto a 5-2) paid $140 for toteboard watchers. In the first leg, outside posts got the job done too.

In a nutshell, if branded as a pure betting event (say on ADW's and so forth) this can and should see increased handles as time goes on. There are many, many holes in the betting that can be filled with people willing to do the work and handicap these deep fields and interesting distances. People complain (rightfully so) that there is little value left in harness racing. This is not true at Xtreme day.

Here is a look at the 1/8th of a mile sprint:



I looked at the sprints with an eye on drivers. You will often hear from cappers "this driver can really get them to leave" and so on. I do believe it somewhat, but after watching these races I might have to reconsider. Every driver there, whether a vet, or a new younger guy got those horses off the gate just fine - in twelve seconds.

I would recommend this day for harness fans wanting a neat night out at the track. Georgian does a good job with things, right from the start with food and good cheer, to the end of the evening where the bar area has a one man band playing tunes, and many patrons are hanging around til closing time.

Other action

I remember reading on the web some time ago: Southern Rocketop will give Muscle Hill a run! He had just won in 152 over a 7/8's mile track and figured to have some go. I was not buying it, but I must say that the shellacking yesterday by Muscle was a little more than I imagined.



Nothing totally jumped out at me last night in the She's a Great Lady and Metro Elims at Mohawk. I have to rewatch the races to be sure.

I watched the Canadian Pacing Derby Elim. Won the West is as sharp as he ever has been. Shadow Play looks to be very funky right now. Mr. Big looks ready for a big rest, and Art Official can not go by horses it seems. Next weeks race will be a very good betting race, in my opinion.

I would like to see them run these 2 year old races on a Thursday as eliminations. They are rarely good betting races and people just do not like to bet two year old elimination races. I heard that more than once last night with the simo-crowd, and have heard it many times before. Saturday should be reserved for the good betting events and stakes finals only.

If you'd like to watch more of the Xtreme races, including the standing start, click here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Internet Invented in Illinois. New Pick Four, and More.

Recently a bill has passed in Illinois to allow internet betting on horse races. Now, from the comfort of their own home, bettors can bet into 22% takeouts without being thrown in the clink. With this brand-new invention of the interweb, it is nice to see some states starting to offer online wagering. Soon, no doubt, people from Chicago will be able to use their computers to check the weather, surf for porn, or maybe even buy a Best of Twisted Sister CD on the web. Although for the latter they will probably never admit to it.

Do you ever do this? I bet Jeff Gillis's two year old filly Slimsplace last night in the fourth race (chart here). I knew Steve Condren would take her right to the back. I knew she was going to use the race as a learning experience. I knew it. And that is exactly what happened. But since the odds were so good, and she looked like the most talented horse in the race by far, I swung. It was a peaceful loss, simply because I knew it was probably going to happen. Betting is easier when you expect not to cash a ticket.

I went to Woodbine yesterday afternoon for the races. There were not too many fans out. The slots were a different story. There was some sort of bus tour or something, and a bunch of older folk were lined up to get something free, or whatnot. I think I would like to stand in line to get into the slots about as much as I like eating glass. But to each their own.

We hear all about corruption, or stiffing horses, or cashing a bet in racing. It has been there for a hundred or more years, whether real, perceived or otherwise. But other sports have it, too. In the super-hot betting sport of snooker, it seems there is a problem. A "9-3" score in a recent match was heavily bet. Bookies alerted the authorities before the match happened, and when the match came 9-3 the players were detained by police and questioned. I would think it would not be hard to tank a snooker match. I remember playing some when I was a lad. I would go to the local hall in Chinatown here in Toronto and have a bunch of ales. Invariably I would hit shots that flew balls right off the table. I wonder if the guy who lost had a few too many Guinness? Never know.

What's the deal with EPO? Sure we have it in horse racing, but other sports seem to really get a kick out of using it, on people. Three more Russian skiers have tested positive, and a couple were Olympic medalists. Ever since Ben Johnson I have watched the Olympics, wondering who or what would get caught with a drug. It's become a part of the games. Next year if you like, play along with me: If you see a female athlete that never gets tired and looks something like this, start a pool with your friends. Take the "in under three months she will test positive for something" bracket. I bet you're cashing.

Woodbine is scrapping the Pick Seven and adding a late pick 4. It is about time, this punter says. The pick 7 was a horrible bet. A 25%+ pick 4 is not great value, but it is better than any pick 7 and will probably be welcomed by fans. This should up handles a bit. They would no doubt be upped more if the old 14.75% takeout pick 4 was still at WEG, but I digress.

Last up, courtesy an anonymous commenter, we have breaking video of a new match. No, not Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta, or Lucky Jim against Muscle Hill. But close.


Evander Holyfield To Box Horse For Heavyweight Title

Have a good day everyone.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Boxing and Racing: Two Sports, Same Leadership.

I was watching ESPN (TSN up here in the Tundra) and they had a one hour show featuring Mike Tyson's best knockouts. As anyone over 30 who watches the sweet science would remember, Mike Tyson was a brute. He was completely unstoppable in his early career. I remember having to study one night for an exam and listening to one of his bouts on the radio. It lasted 22 seconds and that was pretty much the norm for his early fights. This brutality even spawned a catch phrase. When someone was confronted with something they did not want to do: "I'd rather get in the ring with Mike Tyson", was heard quite often.

The produced "best of" show was not overly well done, because much of the footage was grainy and it seemed cobbled together. Some of the knockouts were missing, as well. Enthralled with some of them, however, I began to surf the web for a DVD of some of the great bouts over time, including Tyson's. What I found was a hodge-podge of DVD makers, some sure to be pirated, but no compilation DVD's from anyone in a position of power. One would figure that the World Boxing Council, or one of the myriad acronyms in the sport would have all of the great bouts throughout history digitized, available and documented. Should not Liston-Clay, Foreman-Ali and the hundreds of amazing bouts in history be there for all to see?

Nope.

Forty some years ago NFL films was created so that the sports entire history - every snap, every play, every locker room shot, every news item, everything - could be kept in a vault. Should they need it, it is there. Should local news need a clip when doing a story, it's there. For historians or fans, it's there.

Did it happen by accident? Of course not. Back in 1964 Commissioner Pete Rozelle asked for $12,000 of seed capital from each team (like herding cats I imagine) and they bought an existing company who was taping games. The rest is history.

What did it do for the sport. According to the Wiki: "The real value of NFL Films is how it packages and sells the game and many credit it as a key reason that the NFL has become the most watched league in the United States."

NFL - foresight and strong leadership. Boxing - a mess.

Which one is racing? It is pretty obvious, is it not. I remember about four or five years ago wanting to see Secretariat's career on DVD. I could not find it. I went to the web to see if I could find his Belmont win. Nothing. Recently much of this has popped up on the web, but uploaded by individuals, just like we see in boxing. In fact, try and even get the historical running lines for some horses - either you can't or you get charged money for it.

Boxing has fallen on hard times. There are several competing belts, no one knows who is a champ and who is not, the best don't fight the best, they worry about other things (if a boxer was a horse he would probably not be going to the Breeders Cup to face a foe in a bout that fans want to see), their history is hard to find, or watch. Their TV ratings are abysmal now, after a half-century of being highly rated. It had no leadership, fighting factions, lack of foresight, and a fan-base that looks nostalgically at the game, wishing that things were like they were.

If that sounds eerily familiar, it should, because its us.

Over the years we have fought about rules, we have raised takeouts to oblivion, we have wrung our hands at government interference, we have considered bettors a necessary nuisance, we have worried about this week, or this month; because thinking any further ahead was too tough. Sooner or later these things bite you in the butt.

Like the sweet science, is racing too far gone? Time will tell I guess.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Herb's Tuesday Questions

Harness Herb is back. And he has his Tuesday questions.

How can a data provider like Equibase make oodles of cash the last ten years by charging race fans huge fees for past performance data they use to bet, while the industry suffers from handle losses?

How can Charlottetown Driving Park attract 20,000 people on Saturday drawing from a population of less than 150,000 (with less than $100,000 in purses on a race card), yet the Meadowlands with many millions to draw from, as well as $3M in purses, can only get half that for Breeders Crown night?

Why is the Confederation Cup thinking of going to Ontario sired horses only, when we already have a half a gazillion OSS finals that few people watch, or care about, each week?

Why is no one speaking of Muscle Hill dodging a half mile track race (the Yonkers Trot)?

Who voted for Lucky Jim over Muscle Hill in the Breeders Crown poll?

Why do Australian jockeys get fined their purse fee, their riding fee and given over a week off for hitting a horse four times, yet in harness racing that same fine would be lucky to be $100?

How can the multi-billion dollar Wynn's Casino in Las Vegas give a room comp for $4000 bet, yet you'd be lucky to get a free coffee for the same amount at many racetracks in North America?

How can harness racing B tracks expect to survive when if you bet $20 to win, you can knock a horse down from 50-1 to the chalk?

How can a driver like Randy Waples, who will retire with over $100M in purse earnings and win many big races, have that career with nary the use of a whip, but any driver under the age of 30 seems to want to use it like he is Mel Gibson in Braveheart?

Why is Stan Bergstein seemingly the only insider to comment on the implosion of the Ontario Harness Horse Association?

How can Luc Ouellette, one of the winningest and most professional drivers in North America, get so few live drives at WEG?

How is it that only two years ago Mark MacDonald was considered the horse whisperer who could magically make horses go faster, but now he is considered by many bettors to be ordinary?

Is Jody Jamieson now the new horse whisperer, only to be replaced by another who scoops live drives in two years?

Is the above why I don't bet drivers?

How do slots companies always ask for a tax break and generally get them, but horseplayers can never get one?

How can a horse go from 3-1 at 0 minutes to post, to 8-5 at the finish line, with no one in our industry wanting to fix it? Would those same people consider it a positive customer experience if they picked up a pound of ham for $1 in the meat section of a grocery store, to be charged $4 at the cash?

Until next week, Harness Herb............ out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Promoting to the Masses

If you go on chat boards, or go to a horseman meeting, you will often hear "let's promote", "we do not spend enough money on promotion", "we should be on TV", or "where are the billboards promoting racing". Oh if it were only that easy.

The nebulous concept of promotion to the masses might sound great, but it does not work overly well. Selling horse racing to the non-gambler might be the most difficult marketing there is.

This weekend the Adrenaline Festival in Sarnia, Ontario tried to achieve this unenviable task - offer several promotions to get the masses, or the non-fan out to discover racing. This event took months and months to pull off, and some serious money was spent. By all accounts they did quite well. They had a decent crowd, they had some bands, some dogs doing tricks, some neat racing. I was very impressed with the effort; how could you not be.

However, we must look at the effort for what it is: Trying to brand a day, or an event, where little will be achieved in year one, and little will be achieved in handle gains. For example, Friday's handle (day two of Adrenaline) was less than $10,000. On Saturday this was boosted up to around $30,000. Getting the masses to come out for some affordable food, a couple Kokanee's, and a night out is one thing. Getting them to bet is entirely another.

The next time we go to a meeting, or read on a blog that says "we have to promote, promote, promote" like it is some sort of panacea, please point them to the above data. The promotion of the sport of racing is one small part of things, and in no way will it ever work on a stand-alone basis.

How do we get people to bet, instead of just brand racing? Well that is what this blog, and other blogs around the web are hopefully about. We hope to get our industry to realize that fixing it can not be done with a TV commercial, a beer giveway, dancing girls, or putting nine brown horses behind a gate in a nice setting and expecting people to run to the windows, or cheer for them like they are human athletes. It takes real change. Change that will hopefully make harness racing (and racing in general) a far better gambling proposition than it is. One thing I hope has sunk in by now is that 25% takeouts make racing a poisonous bet, and it will take far more than a few beer and a good band to change that reality.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saturday's Jam Packed Racing

Harness racing Saturday happened yesterday from all over the east coast.

At Charlottetown Driving Park, the usual huge crowd showed up for the Gold Cup and Saucer. All the Weapons, a longshot, shocked the crowd to hold off pre-race favourite Silent Swing. One of the most unique and interesting races in all of racing is now gone for another year. I hope to head there again next year. For commentary, Allan has a post up about it.

Here is the video for some thoroughbred readers who have not seen this unique midnight race, with a full crowd.




The Breeders Crown races took place a the Meadowlands last night. The highlight was the aged pace, where stalwarts Mr. Big, Won the West and Shark Gesture took on 4 year old challengers Shadow Play, Bettor Sweet and Art Official. Won the West skimmed the rail to defeat Shadow Play. The latter finished in about the twenty path because of his foot issues.

Several questions have been answered this year for me with these horses, and last years three year olds.

One, Shadow Play is an absolute monster. He has now defeated Art Official in all his starts, with three and a half feet. With apologies to Mr. Jesk, who proclaimed his horse better than Beach, and any other horse in North America earlier this year; sir, your horse is no match for Shadow Play.

The second thing for me is that Mr. Big has finally had father time catch up with him. Despite the mind-blowing start in the Franklin, he has been pretty ordinary this year. I hope he makes a good stud. He is as tough as nails and clearly one of the best FFA'ers we have seen in some time.

Three, these horses have to be at the top of their game nowadays. Twenty years ago, a talent like Shadow Play could show up with nagging issues and still jog. The depth today is tremendous. If you are not at your peak fitness and health, you can and will get beat.

Lastly, I am so happy that Beach raced last year. We get to see horses like Shadow and Art Official because of that. With that, we get a better idea where horses fit in history. For example, if you asked 100 people last year who was truly a better horse, Beach or Art Official, you might have 30 or 40 say Art. Now after getting to see him for another year, and having been able to put his career in perspective with more racing, we know he is no Somebeachsomewhere, and probably not as good a racehorse as Shadow Play. He was a sharp horse for a period of time, good enough to slay the Beach, once; and one race does not make a career.

For a full recap and video of all the BC tilts, Allan has it synopsized for us in a post here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kool-Aid, Me Too. Weekend Harness Stakes are Interesting

I don't know who Claire Novak is, but we need more of her. She calls the Jess Jackson stuff for what it is, pure nonsense. Since I lived a life as a poor student for many years, I used to mix plenty with kool-aid. I must say, I was never much of a wine drinker.

Standardbred Canada has finally gotten into the RSS mold. Good to see. As well, Twitter updates from this weeks Adrenaline Festival are to be had. Well done.

It looks like Shadow Play will not have the nose on the gate this weekend at the BC Final for aged pacers. I would love to see what this colt can do healthy. Like many before him, we just might never find out.

Ray Paulick kicks butt. His piece on Equibase and their monopoly on data is as good as it gets for a journalist that makes his cash on a trade site. It is incorrigible that a business that is flatlining in a whole lot of areas charges for racelines. Want to build a database so you can bet $20 million dollars where $4M of it goes to purses and profits? Want to do an academic study promoting racing by offering regression analysis on Secretariat versus Man O' War? Not in racing; it'll cost you twenty defaulted mortgage payments. Choose another sport instead.

This weeks Gold Cup and Saucer program is out (Saturday's evening card). It is one hell of a betting race. I will be watching and maybe even making a little wager.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Life in Prince Edward Island


The race card has an average purse of about $1000. Horseman have shipped their horses from four or five different Canadian Provinces. The afternoon card has 12 races, then after a short break, there are 12 more tilts for the evening card.

Parking is $3. You can get a hot dog and a coke for a decent price. You can see pigs and ducks and cows from the 4H club, buy home made dog biscuits, see horse pulls, buy fresh strawberry jam, pick up some homemade soap, ride a ferris wheel.

Welcome to Old Home Week at the Charlottetown Driving Park, in beautiful Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.


"How do they survive with these purses?", asks my date for the evening, who is used to watching races at Mohawk with a $22,000 purse. "They are horseman for the most part who do it for the love of the sport", answers Harness Racing PEI's General Manager, Jeremy Pierce.

Seeing that it costs $40+ for a bridge toll, a buck a litre for gasoline, and time and all the rest, one would have to love the game to participate. You certainly are not getting rich, even with a very nice horse. I figure Jeremy was not kidding.

The crowd this week is pretty huge by any standard, and they are energized to play racing. On Monday - a normal day of the week - they will bet over $70,000 on-track. For Saturday's races which includes the Gold Cup and Saucer, they will bet tons more on track. It seems half the town is here.

In comparison, slots-fuelled Woodstock Raceway in Ontario will card a $20,000 Open pace, have well over $100,000 in purses in a given day, and bet ten thousand the entire card.

Heading into the track, right away I was struck by the easiness of life here and the hospitality of virtually everyone around me. Not only is the staff second to none but the participants seem genuinely happy to have the privilege of racing a horse. If you sit upstairs at Woodbine or Mohawk and a horse comes third (and pick up $5000 for the check) it is not uncommon to hear an owner curse out a driver or a fellow participant for everyone to hear. It tends to make my blood boil, because we don't know how good we have it.  I must say I did not hear much of that in my evening in PEI. It's slower, more laid back, and people do not seem to take themselves too seriously.

Think Toronto...... but the exact opposite of it.

As for the folks who run the event, I can not say enough about how hard they try. Their simulcast feed is excellent, with top shelf graphics (seriously, as good as you will see anywhere). On-track there are several people manning the mics, offering tips and suggestions, and it seems almost all of them who are working have a harness racing background. The "walk-around-with-the-mic and talk to people" gal's grandfather raced horses right in Charlottetown for many years, and she did a great job in front of the camera. Our hostess too had racing in her roots, and spoke glowingly that her 5 year old son loves harness racing and can "hear Vance Cameron's race calls from his bedroom", only a few miles away. (Speaking of Vance Cameron I am not sure there is a better harness caller in North America. He could make a snail race sound exciting.) It is one of those places where everyone knows someone and they all have a single thing in common - in this case, of course, that thing is harness racing.

So I do speak glowingly of my first trip to the Island, and the show they put on there. I tried my best to bet some money, tip the staff, support the product; and I will try to do the same this Saturday when the Gold Cup and Saucer is covered on HPITV. I hope you give it a shot as well. If we do not support tracks and events like this, our sport suffers, and a little slice of our history is lost.

If you are looking for a seven star meal, a $500 wine list, and expect to see a Sheik with a racehorse worth more than the GDP of some countries, this ain't gonna be it. If you are looking for a little harness racing, in a place that they have raced since 1888, for small purses, for the love of the sport, with a staff who says please and thanks quite often, I can not recommend it more.

My best wishes to everyone racing this week; and to everyone whom I got to meet during my time there - thanks very much for your hospitality and good cheer. I hope I can return the favour one day.

There are three trials before the big Gold Cup and Saucer Final that goes this Saturday. Here is trial number two raced last week for a look and listen if you are interested.

August Heats Up........ with a Dash of Adrenaline

In the northeast, the summer which had been on hold, is finally here. And the racing has heated up as well.

On Sunday, Explosive Matter and Well Said both won their respective stakes at Chester - The Battle of the Brandywine and The Colonial Trot - the latter in a world record 153 flat. Muscle Hill is supposed to resurface late in the month and then go on a 5 race in 5 week tear across the US and Canada.

One of the highlights of the three year old stakes season is the Confederation Cup near Dundas, Ontario. Last year as most recall, Somebeachsomewhere defeated Shadow Play and several other colts in a world record time. This years field was not quite as good (but in this crop no field is as good as last years) but the addition of River Shark, Passmaster Hanover and If I can Dream made the two heat affair worth watching. The winner was If I Can Dream, in 152.1.

The Adrenaline Festival is this weekend near Sarnia Ontario. In addition to all the neat stuff they have planned, there is also three free handicapping contests, where the winner will gain admission to the TCNHC $25,000 final in Ottawa in early November. If you are in the area and want a free stab at it, click here. Of note, this is not a pick your horses and watch qualifier, it is one where you get a card and just play. You of course keep your winnings.

The Breeders Crown Older Horse Pace goes this weekend at the Meadowlands. Seeing Mr. Big, Shadow Play, Art Official and a few others go, is something worth tuning in for. I have not seen an older division with more talent, or deeper in a long time. Isn't it great when horses do not retire at three?

I will have a full report on one of the most unique events in all of racing - Old Home Week in PEI - sometime today or tomorrow. Until then, enjoy the heat!!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is it Finally Time for a Harness Saratoga?

20 or 30 race card meets. A staple of the racing community. People come from all over. Huge purses, great stakes races. TV news coverage, blogosphere and internet coverage. ADW's offering bonuses and free past performances. Something everyone waits all year for.

That is what thoroughbred racing has with their boutique meets at places like Saratoga, Del Mar and Keeneland.

In harness? We have nothing really close, other than perhaps the Delaware State Fair, which is populated by more Ohio breds than one can see in a middle school in Youngstown.

Why don't we have a huge meet, where all other tracks in an area are shut down and the world focuses solely on that meet? Intransigence and lack of cooperation I believe are the main culprits. People in this sport want money now, want to travel as little as possible to race, and want to race cheap horses for big money. It is, and always has been, a pox on our business. It seems that cutting racedates for a meet to help the overall health of the sport is akin to asking one to take a pleasure trip to Kabul.

What if we would have thought ahead here in Ontario, and had people working together for the betterment of the sport; or perhaps actually mandating that it happens? Let's take Georgian Downs for instance. What if it was built for the sport of harness racing, and not as a conduit to give out slot money. The business plan is written and it says that instead of racing 110 days a year, we race 15. For those 15 days, Mohawk is given a break (we need breaks in harness racing, just like many states do in thoroughbreds) for a few weeks. We make sure it is set up in the Meadowlands off time, as well.

The top horses and drivers converge on Georgian Downs. A years worth of slot money has been accumulated, as well as a years worth of simulcasting revenue - we are not talking Red Mile or Delaware State Fair purses. We set up stakes for several divisions, mostly pacers, and we have our Gold Series, Masters and other finals for Ontario breds. We jam that into this short meet.

For five days a week we see races with Brian Sears and Randy Waples and John Campbell. We see Mr. Big, we see Muscle Hill, we see Lucky Jim. We see San Pail, we see Dreamfair Eternal, we see Well Said. We see Erv Miller, we see Chuck Sylvester, we see Blair Burgess. We see Swedish trotters over for our big aged trotting stakes. We see TV coverage, we see local news coverage, we see world wide coverage. We see Ken Warkentin in to call the races, we have Bob Heyden and Mike Hamilton and others doing on air promos. We have TVG on board with a low signal fee and/or a pay to play deal. We have European bettors on board with a deal with Betfair. We see people coming from all over to enjoy the lakes and rivers of Ontario's cottage country.

We have bands after the races, we have bar-b-ques, we have after-parties. We have the Barrie government helping out, we have local businesses - bustling with increases in business - offering harness racing promotions, we have the Ontario Lottery folks working in promos for the week. We have a low takeout bet or two for punters. We have our Adrenaline Festival, or Exxtreme Racing night all jammed in, for some extra hot sauce on our already spicy meet.

We might have had that, or we can have $150,000 handles on a cold December night, with a card filled with 5 claimers, going for a purse close to equal what the horse can be claimed for, with about ten people in the grandstand. In other words: the status quo.

Case A versus Case B is an easy choice for me...... but then again, I am just a dumb bettor.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cup Field Set, New Whip Rules For Tbred and Sbred Enacted

The Confederation Cup is set for this weekend. The field:

• Bay Of Sharks
• Chief Of The Beach
• Fast Pay
• If I Can Dream
• Lyons Horace
• Nob Hill High
• Passmaster Hanover
• Primary Purpose
• Rescue Plan
• River Shark
• Shipps Xpectancy
• Stonebridge Master
• Vertigo Hanover

For the second year in a row the field that has been assembled is not too darn bad. This crop is not deep at all, so to snare 150 pacers like Passmaster and If I Can Dream is more than solid. Early season winner River Shark was a supplement.

New whipping rules are set to go in effect in Ontario starting September 1st.

Among the provisions in the new rules: for standardbred racing, there is now a requirement to keep a line in each hand for the entire race. Thoroughbred and quarter-horse rules now stipulate only a ‘humane or cushion’ riding crop may be used, and the horse must be allowed time to respond before it may be used again.

We shall see if the drivers comply with this and not drop the feet or use the whip where the sun don't shine which goes on daily in Ontario. For the runners, they will have to not "tap, tap, tap", as they must let the horse respond.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Questions

Why is it that jockeys are proactive with whipping changes, but drivers seem to be married to what they have always done?

Jockey's at Del Mar, being proactive on using new light touch whips: “The jockeys came to us and said, ‘Our riders are ready to do this here,’ ” he said. “We love the horses and we're always looking for new things to improve racing,” said jockey Alex Solis.

Why is it that with some positive tests it takes two years to settle it, yet with others it is part of the game and it takes like ten minutes?

Dick Clark, Prairie Meadows trainer, caught with too much banamine in his horses: "When it's your own stupidity that does something, what's the use of fighting it?" Clark said. "It was my fault. It was just a misunderstanding between me and (the groom). I'm still responsible whether he did (understand) or not."

Why is it that we can't seem to find any promotions in racing with the billions of slot money we receive, yet a furniture salesman can find two million bucks to promote the sport?

McIngvale, the Gallery Furniture owner and philanthropist, on Monday told the Chronicle he will put up a $2 million purse if Zenyatta and 2009 Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra come to Sam Houston Race Park for a duel tentatively set for Oct. 3

Why is it that horse racing bettors have been around since about 1870 and we don't know who they are, but slots players have been playing at racino's for less than a decade but we know all about them?

"I don't think we know a lot about our horse bettor," Prairie Meadows board member Tom Whitney said. "I think we know about our casino player." (in response to the fact that PM is worried that horse crowds are hurting slots players.)


Why is it when someone comes looking for government money, they always trumpet how many people are employed by their business. If I run a basket weaving company that is losing trillions of dollars a year, do I have a better chance to get free money if I employ more people than another company only losing a few billion a year?

New Jersey horse racing: "... pegged to horse racing, which is said to have roles in providing some 13,000 equine industry jobs in the state and in supporting 176,000 acres of operating farmland"

New Jersey casino dude: Corbo said the casino business supports 60,000 "direct and indirect" jobs, generating tax receipts and consuming goods and services that dwarf what the horse racing industry provides. "It is without question that the economic impact of New Jersey's casino industry to the state far exceeds those (impacts) of the entire equine industry,"


Why is it that when horseplayers mention we need a takeout reduction, many trainers will ask for incontrovertible proof and ten year studies that a reduction will mean more money, but if two horses break down on a Thursday on a poly surface, some of those same trainers will want every polytrack ripped up?

Why is it when we read interviews with people over a certain age like John Campbell we see class and humility, but when reading interviews with some drivers under 30 like Tim Tetrick, all we seem to get is Terrell Owens in a driving suit?

JC: "The horses are the ones. I can go out there and drive the best race of my life, but if I've got nothing to work with no one will even notice."

TT: "There are so many horses I drive that pay about $10, and if anyone else drove, they'd be 20/1, and for some reason they win."


That's it for today! Enjoy your Tuesday everyone!

Monday, August 10, 2009

We Tend to Race, Don't We?

With the debate raging about Rachel Alexandra not going to the Breeders Cup because her owner does not want to race her on polytrack, it is pretty interesting to see the difference that we are afforded with harness racing, when compared to our blue-blooded cousins.

Although owner-speak is alive and well in harness (especially with Breeders buying into stars early now and wanting them protected), it is nowhere near what it is in the thoroughbreds. Will Muscle Hill miss the Breeders Crown? Of course he won't; it is our end of year championships. If by chance a horse misses it (see Windsongs Legacy) they will pay for it at the ballot box for HOY, or with fans. Muscle Hill, barring injury or sickness, will race in the BC, and many other races too before the year is over.

I enjoy following both sports, but for pure frequency of racing, there is nothing like harness. Over the next three months we will see a horse like Muscle Hill at several venues, for big money. He will be in Ontario, Lexington, maybe Illinois, perhaps again in New Jersey, and hopefully New York before the year is out. For several of those races he will race two times at each venue. At one, he will race at least two times in one day. Rachel won't go to the Breeders Cup where the world will be watching because her owner does not like a track. I wonder what he would say if she had to race twice in a day :).

Our game has been brought closer and closer to the runners of late. Several horses are so protected that it seems they race not more than a half dozen times, or (and this is huge with some trotter connections) they avoid a half mile track like the plague. But they still tee it up and let it fly.

I hope Muscle Hill from here on out travels everywhere and lights each venue on fire. I understand the reticence about half mile tracks, but if we are to crown him a champion, should he not race on them? The last two three year old trotting colts of the year avoided them like the plague. Let's hope Muscle Hill breaks that trend. He clearly does not have much to fear, and it helps with a horses lore, and in my opinion, should help, not hurt any stud value.

I think Beach setting a WR on a half placed him well ahead of many other stallions. A long-gaited horse like Beach, if he did not try a half mile track, would have people wondering "could he handle it?". Well, watch the Confederation Cup or the Messenger for that. Handle it he did. I want Muscle Hill to go blow the doors off a half mile track to nip any criticism in the bud.

Regardless, I will probably be watching the Breeders Cup this year, like everyone, and wondering "what could have been." I don't think we will be doing that in harness racing with Muscle Hill. And thank god for that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hambo Day Notes

The Hambo Card is all done, and we will have some more thoughts on Muscle Hill in the upcoming weeks, but Muscle's performance was not the only good one of the day.

In the US Pacing Championship, Shadow Play (although probably still not 100%), answered the bell and won easily, defeating Mr. Big, Art Official, and other top pacers. I wonder, can this colt finally get some respect? He is a freaking marvelous beast of a horse and would be considered one of the better colts in quite awhile if he had not been born the same year as Somebeachsomewhere.

Another myth that keeps getting shattered is the 4yo's can not beat older. Shadow Play is the latest in a long line of 4yo's to win prestigious Free For All races. It again adds credence to the opine here and elsewhere that Somebeachsomewhere was perhaps the greatest three year old since Nihilator. Shadow Play can not even get a sniff of him last year and he beats up on horses like Mr. Big? Beach would be 1-5 against FFA horses this year, and deservedly so. Don't think for a second he wouldn't.

Muscle versus who?

When we discussed How Good is Muscle Hill awhile back, we were comparing him to other horses who seem to have a lot of hype. One commenter, ITP, stated that Muscle would be an 8-1 chalk against Dewey and a 15-1 chalk against Donato if they match raced. I am sure people read that with a lack of credulity, but as he stated in the comments section tonight, he will "have to increase those odds now". Yes, most definitely. To change around a Jack Nicklaus comment, "Muscle Hill trots in a way I am unfamiliar". He will have to have a lot of bad luck not to break 150 later in the year.

Standardbred Canada is running a poll "Who would win a match race, Muscle Hill or Lucky Jim?" It's a fair question.

So, we have some things happening in harness racing at the high levels to keep us interested. It's a great sport to watch; I just wish more people did!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hillacious!


Muscle Hill proves to the world that we have not seen a sophomore trotter like him in a long time. Let the comparisons to some of the all time great trotters begin.

Hambletonian Time!

Super card tomorrow at the M, of course highlighted by the Hambletonian. This race, has its best field in many years. I could imagine what it would have been like if this was several years ago when this was raced in heats. Wow.

There are several stakes finals this year, which makes it a good card for fans, but for bettors not as much. Supers are being offered on every race, unless I heard wrong. If they went to $1 min supers like the big days in Thoroughbred racing I think I would have been a bit more stoked to cap the card. But I did anyway.

I can't find a ton, but I do like Dreamfair Eternal in the first. I can not believe this horse is ML chalk because this is ripe for an underbet. We'll see if she is odds.

In the second, the $525k Merrie Annabelle I will swing for the fences off the "second time overseas" angle and take a swing at Kronos. Hell, it worked for Victory Tilly.

I have no opinion on the Haughton, although I will cheer for Chuck's horse. He needs a break this week to put a smile on his face after his sons horrible accident. He is 100% class and one of the best trotting trainers I have ever seen.

Nice field in the 4th. I think Share the Delight will be odds there and has a good chance to win.

No opinion in the Shallee. I can't handicap the Brainard horses, so I won't even try.

The Nat Ray is a great betting race. I will pitch Lucky Jim off the tickets and mess around there. I wonder if Lanson can steal this thing? I bet San Pail will be good odds in here too.

Nice competitive race in the 8th. I think Noble Falcon is the best there, and I think he might be a tiny bit overlooked. Awesome Adventure intrigues me a little as well.

The Oaks is a good betting race. I don't think the chalks are a lock. I am not sure which way I am going to go here.

The big one is Muscle Hill's if he shows up. I will be sitting on my hands. If he was not in the race this would be a dandy race to take some swings. I think Triumphant Caviar with a second over would be tough in here.

The US Pacing Championship is my favorite race of the day every year. If Mr. Big races like last week, he will be tough to beat. If he races like his previous four before that, he could be off the ticket. Art Official was large in his last too. Which way to go? I don't know, but I think I will go bomb hunting here in exotics and look for a good score, despite the obvious chalk box. Perhaps something mixed around with Shadow Play, Won the West and Shark Gesture.

I have to check the board, but I think Passmaster will have his day in the sun and win in a fast time. Looking at it again, I sense he will be overbet. If so, I might try Hypnotic Blue Chip. He was sick for the Pace final, and might be overlooked by bettors. I love betting against driver choices as well, and Tetrick will take money away from this horse, due to the fact he bailed on him. I would not be shocked to see Annieswesterncard race well at long odds and that is another possible for me.

Anyhow, have a great Hambo day everyone!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

First Online Edition of the Harness Edge

It was announced recently that the Harness Edge print edition will be no more. This month marks the first online edition, which you can read here.

I was impressed with how it read and how it looks. I think the most telling example about the online edition is the story on Falcon Seelster. I grew up watching him and missed his big race at Delaware. In fact, I did not see it until many years after. The story speaks about that race, but with a twist that only an online edition allows, the video is embedded right in the piece. You do not have to load the video and wait, you just have to mouse over it. As well, I watched the Ponder ad video the same way.

So, I would say three and a half hooves up for the new online edition of the Edge. Give it a look.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Owner Racing

I like reading books on the history of racing. Long ago, in another time, people raced their horses for ribbons, or bragging rights. They would meet on roads, on beaches, on bullrings, or on racetracks groomed to perfection. It did not matter. This was horse racing, and they were racing horses.

Even today, I will bet you that in rural Indiana or Ontario, or Ohio or Pennsylvania there is an amish kid speaking to another amish kid at this very moment: "My horse is faster than your horse. No he isn't, my horse is faster than your horse."

Then, no matter if it is raining, or misting, or if the distances are not right, or if there are too many pebbles on the farm track, they hook up the horses and go to it to decide just who has that fastest horse.

Pure magic.

Conversely, in the big bad world of modern horse racing, this innocence that the sport was built on has been turned on its head. It is a corporate run nightmare where egos, politics and owner statements rule the roost, and racing fans are left to live with whatever those personalities or conglomerates decide, on any given day.

It is no longer horse racing. It is owner racing.

Rachel Alexandra is the most electrifying thoroughbred of 2009. Maybe the most electrifying horse of the decade. Zenyatta might just be as impressive. They have helped racing get put back on the radar a little bit. New fans have heard of them, and old fans are begging to see them meet. Over a quarter century ago the Breeders Cup was created to do exactly that - have the worlds best meet for an end of year championship. Perfect. I can not wait until the Breeders Cup!

Unfortunately, owner racing trumps horse racing in 2009. The owner of Rachel Alexandra apparently does not think much of synthetic tracks, and will not race Rachel in the Breeders Cup because of this: “I’ll go to the Breeders’ Cup on dirt, hopefully at Churchill next year, but not this year. That’s a firm decision, even though they may be pressuring and cajoling."

If that sounds curious to you, you are in good company. Just last year that same Jess Jackson (applauded by everyone in the industry for it) was asking fans where they want to see Curlin race on a poll on his website.

"It became obvious this weekend at Belmont Park that Curlin is not only a hero to me and my family but also to thousands of fans," Jackson said. "With so many people supporting Curlin and his future I wanted to ask the public where they think Curlin should go next."

The poll, which will be open through July 30, asks simply: "If you were Curlin’s owner, Jess Jackson, where should Curlin go next?"

A. Turf Campaign
B. Dirt Campaign
C. Synthetic Surface Campaign
D. Retire


Notice choice "c"?

Mr. Jackson seems to have liked the media spotlight and good press afforded to him when he was asking fans for input on where Curlin should go next. My question I guess is, can he handle the negative press which will point out his hypocrisy with Rachel over the next four months, whereby those same fans are summarily ignored?

We are a long way from old time racing where two horses would meet, where ever and whenever, to decide who was best; and I doubt that this will change any time soon.

Owner racing is here to stay; the horses are simply a tool in the game.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ummmm.............. Did We Just See That?

I might be having trouble with my television. I think I saw a filly, hung out in speedy splits, in the slop, against a Triple Crown race winner and several other top colts, destroy them like they were 5 claimers at Mountaineer.

Did I just see that? It can't be.

I am calling my cable provider.

Adios, Hambo Elims in the Books

Vintage Master and Dan Dube got the job done in the Adios yesterday at the Meadows, defeating Mr. Wiggles and Well Said. I did not get to see the Adios Final until later last night, but I knew the result beforehand. I watched the race on video and at the half I said "how in the hell did Well Said get beat?" I would have made him 1-20 to carry on, come home in 55 flat, win by an easy three or four, and that was that. After the race, Ron Pierce told us he was tired. I guess the horse is tired. I would assume he will not race in the Holmes next week, but we'll see when the entries come out.

The Hambo elims were as advertised, with a twist. In elimination two, like Well Said, Federal Flex did not deliver, racing to a poor 4th place finish, and rocketing show prices. He made the final, however one would think Gillis and crew have some work to do.

Elimination one was Explosive Matter's and he won easily. Mike Lachance guided the very talented Hot Shot Blue Chip to an impressive second place finish. He is a player.

In the third and final elimination, Muscle Hill got a perfect trip and won easily in 152.3. The time off that trip was a little slow considering Muscle Hill is what he is. But I think he will show up next week and be very tight for the final. Luc Ouelette's colt raced really well to be second.

Later on in the evening, last years Jug winner Shadow Play was a neck short in the invite, proving what we all know - the horse is tough as nails, and has some serious issues. Dr. Ian Moore enlightens us on the various issues the colt has had this year through his Standardbred Canada blog. It would be nice for racing if they get this guy fixed up for the second half. You can't race on three and a half feet at this level and succeed.

Next week we get to see the Hambletonian Final. Muscle Hill will be no longer than 3-5 and we will see if he can deliver a huge performance, stamping himself as one of the best sophomore trotters in the last quarter century.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Big Race Days

The blue-bloods are having a field day, rightfully so, with Rachel Alexandra returning to the races at Monmouth. But us plumbers have a day that is pretty darn good, too.

First up the 700k Adios Final goes at the Meadows, near Steel Town. Well Said has drawn the far outside nine post, which on the surface spells trouble. I have two problems with that. One, he is about five lengths better than the others, and two, the nine post at the Meadows (we looked at that here) is not as bad as one would think. I have little problem with Well Said, except the fact that there is a chance he can beat himself. I think that's the only thing that can beat him today.

The Hambletonian Elims go tonight at the M. The first elimination has an all world trotter headlining the festivities - Explosive Matter. He will be, and deserves to be chalk. However, there is a horse who is freakishly fast in here, the seven Hot Shot Blue Chip. If this guy stays flat - which is probably not a great bet - I could see him winning this elimination at a good price.

The second elimination looks like Federal Flex's to lose. A decent field with some nice trotters yes, but this is not your regular trotting year. Flex is world class, and if it was one of the previous years he would be the hype horse, all alone.

The last elim is Muscle Hill. One would expect that Brian Sears will try to steal some easy fractions here, to leave a lot in the tank for next week. There is a fast trotter or two from the outside, but if they do not get off well, this might be ripe for a 2-1 ex, with Triumphant Caviar in the place spot.

Notes:

As you know because we wrote about it here, one of my pet peeves is the super-hype we see in the harness press. Every win is "sensational" or "overpowering" or "dominating", depending on the reputation of the horse, and having nothing to do with said horses performance. I remember a couple of years ago reading how Donato Hanover was "dominant" in a win. He was under the stick and all out to win, and the win was anything but that. Every fan knew it. This year, it was nice to see Jeff Gillis and Jamieson after Federal Flex's Goodtimes win actually be honest, when that colt was flat. In fact, the same press and publicity offices who tend to over-hype constantly, was less-than-thrilled that Gillis was actually honest after that win. "Gillis took some criticism from the media and fans after expressing his disappointment in Federal Flex's effort in the Goodtimes." says a story at the Harness Edge. Well, the horse scoped terrible and was bad. As fans we learned that later, then in Flex's next start at the Meadowlands he actually was brilliant, and fans knew exactly why.

"The Goodtimes Final was exactly how a top horse finds a way to win despite not being 100 per cent," he said. "We took a lot of negative feedback for our post race interviews because we were disappointed with his effort and of course concerned. Hey, we were honest and we just felt he was a much better horse than that.", said Gillis.

We need fewer cheerleaders, and more analysis. Kudos to Gillis and Jamieson for not speaking to us like we are children, like so many do in post race interviews. Go get em Jeff, and keep not falling into the nonsensical claptrap.

Speaking of analysis, Andy Serling, the NYRA handicapper has been taking it on the chin from a poster at Paceadvantage.com who thinks his picks stink. I always love to read anonymous trolls on the internet. If you know what they are there for, and take it with a grain of salt (as Andy has on that thread), it can be fun.

We have spoken about it before, but is there any weirder job than a racing analyst? You lose upwards of 70% of your picks, you can mathematically go on a 30 race losing streak in this sport, and you can look like a bumpkin when your horses inevitably come last. Yet, that same person in racing can do all that and in the long run still be profitable. Tiger Woods only wins around 28% of the time, yet he is the worlds best golfer. A track handicapper who wins 28% of the time can be considered a complete idiot. What a game!