Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!


Got a caption? Yes, those are Waples colors, so be nice if you lost a bet on him recently :)

Racing management speaking of churn, lower take and doing betting math? It happened, and it is from a harness racing dude. I am convinced harness racing will be the first to crack to adopt some real change. About three years ago if you showed someone in the thoroughbred business the problems we were having in harness racing, and said that the problems were going to get them next, you would have probably been greeted with "ya, but that is harness racing. We're the runners, it can not happen to us!". I think we are a leading indicator and will try things to pull ourselves up before they do. Articles like the above are welcomed from an insider on a trade website! His plan to use slot money to lower the takeout to 8% is about the most fresh thing I have read from an industry insider for a long, long time.

Very interesting reading from the New York Times on the Jeff Mullins detention barn incident. Us harness racers (again, we had Dbarns a couple of years before the runners did) know that if you bring in anything at all into that barn it is a no-no. To read the reported Mullins' testimony you would think it was his barn at home :)

Anyone dressing up for Halloween? I am going as a horseplayer. I am working on a slight beard, a scowl and I already have a wallet with no money in it. My costume is pretty much done.

Enjoy the day, whatever you may be doing!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Betting the Horses - Easy Money Baby

We tend to have to deal with quite a bit as horseplayers. High take, inquiries, horses racing bad. It is a tough game.

Bad beats drive players nuts. I have gotten that out of my system over the years. We discussed them before on some handicapping topics. You have to stay sane to play the game - no ifs ands or buts.

We do not chat too much about bad beats here. After all, we all have them. We have all missed some scores. Just because I have a blog there is no use going through them all. Not to mention, after a few minutes they usually fade away anyway and I am on to the next race.

However............

I bet a lot of races - tons of them. Over the years I shudder to think how many. Today something happened that in all those years has never happened to me before. If I heard this happen to someone else I would probably share it, so I figure what the heck. If you don't like losing bet stories, stop now. You are forewarned :)

I am having a little lunch today, tough week. And decide, since I downloaded all the tbred stuff today, I would have a look at it. I flip on to Aqueduct Race 5. I see this (click for a clearer look):



The two in the 5th looks great. Good speed, excellent models on my software that I have written based on AQU's track, and these speed horses in general. Green light, especially at 6-1.

So I take some supers and some ex's. I use the 5 (a bomb) and 6 (a shorter shot) as my key horses. My two horse jogs and a three horse photo happens behind him between the 4,5,6. I need the six second or third for supers, and the five second for ex's. Well, the 4 horse photos me out, and the five photos the six out. $5500 super and a really nice ex gone, so no luck there.

Big deal, right? Happens a million times a day.

Then I flip to the 5th at Woodbine going off not far after. Here is my sheet:



The ten looks great to me. #1 speed and a "High ROI instance" for horses over 10-1 ML that I have monitored over the last two years of cards. Worth a poke. But holy smokes the 14 looks solid too for a bomb. A nice speed model for horses at this distance too. Well, let's go superfecta hunting!

I play a 20 center, throwing in the four (chalk) and the six with a Fcycle model:

Woodbine TB, Race 5, $0.20 SFC 4,10,14 / 4,6,10,14,16 / 4,6,10,14,16 / 1-8,10-14,16

The ten is 17-1, the 14 is 30-1, the six is 99-1. If this hits I should be good, but almost no chance.

But it happens. The 14 wins, at 30-1, the ten is second at 17-1 and the six at 99-1 bobs out the 11. This could be a pool shot. It is kind of dark and I watched it quickly, though, did the 11 nose out the 6? Photo: Sure enough the 11 comes third. My poterntial pool shot is lost on a head bob - I think around $40,000. The super paid 14-10-11-all.

OK, two in a row, this one for $30,000+. Not good. But life goes on.

I took a small break after that and came back for the AQU seventh race. This is what I saw (I told ya I can't tell just a regular story with two in a row):


The 8 horse might just be a good play. Holy cow she is 30-1 and ranked first. What the heck, let's take a swing. The three, six and seven look like the uses behind her. So I take some ex's and a super.

The 8 looks to be cruising to victory, but 50 yards from the wire goes nuts and interferes with the seven and she checks. But the 8 goes on to win easily. Regardless, inquiry!

Easy pitch I thought and it happened that way. No win money at 30-1 and another lost superfecta that would have paid big dough. The 7-8-6 is no good to me, although I am sure many were happy as the seven was well bet.

One beat in a row for a good score is alright. Two for a monster score is a little less alright. Three in a row? Never in my life. Not even close.

Whoever says the game is easy has obviously never played a race in his life. I know, I know: I am preaching to the choir.

OK, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Time to get back at it. It's been a long week and I need a little more racing. I wish everyone of ya good luck! I hope one or two of you even made some cash on those races that I got squirted on. I might as well pass along some dough to you guys who put up with and read this blog!

November Edge Up; Some Horse Stories of a Weird Nature


This months Harness Edge is up. The full color mag (once a print magazine) is jam packed with great reading. I have gotten accustomed like most to reading newpapers online, and ditto magazines.

I spoke with a long-time racing guy this past weekend and he said "we don't cheer for each other in harness racing anymore." This tends to be true I find. This month's Edge story on To Helen Back owner Mike Shunock is not one of those times. Mike is one first class fellow and I was happy to see the Edge feature him. He helped a lot of people in this world (a young punk trying to sell deals on Bay Street to put food on his table can attest to that) and I sincerely hope he gets some world champions with the money, time and effort he is putting into the game.

The magazine opens into a reader here.

Some weird and nasty from the harness racing world today.

A driver in the UK is going to the slammer for 4 and a half years for..... hold on ..... beating a racing official with a whip.

As well, the great racehorse Conduit had his life allegedly threatened recently and that spawned charges.

It is alleged that Rodgerson sent threats via text message and email to the ownership connections of Conduit, a leading thoroughbred overseas. It is alleged that Rodgerson sent messages to the connections stating that the horse would be killed if he were not removed from competing in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes this past July.

What a world.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Less Races, More Betting?

In racing one of the biggest debates is about racedates. Horse owners or trainers (like I am sometime) want a lot of them. Please dial me up a five horse field where we all get some dough! Oh, and make the purse high too, ok?

Bettors on the other hand like short fields about as much as gastro-intestinal surgery.

Who is right, who is wrong? I guess that depends on your perspective. In the case of handle as a metric, deeper fields, less races and more contentious affairs win that battle ten out of ten times.

In thoroughbred racing, Delaware Park concluded their meet with something wacky - a rise in handles.

Delaware Park raced 27 fewer days this year but registered increases in total handle and average daily handle, track officials said Oct. 28. Track officials and horsemen agreed to cut the final seven days of the meet to conserve purse money. This year’s meet originally was scheduled to end Nov. 7.

Larger field size, a positively correlated metric to handle (add one horse a race and handle goes up by 5%), is the main reason why they say.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Greatest Trotter Who Ever Lived?

Standardbred Canada has a poll up asking who is the greatest trotter who ever lived. These questions are fun, but really it is impossible to compare a horse who raced in 1930 to today, is it not?

We had this question last year with Beach. Is he better than Dan Patch? Who the cripes knows; not me that's for sure. It's not like we can say we watched Dan Patch get hooked by a horse in 1903 and lose, while Beach getting hooked with Shadow Play in the Messenger and winning makes me think he is.

I like Beach and Muscle Hill. Love them. I think they are the two best three year olds of this generation, however that is as far as I can go.

Another thing that makes it hard to compare is longevity. Is Muscle Hill better than Peaceful Way? Probably, but hold on. She demolished boys and won way more money. Maybe he isn't.

It is a neat question though, because it makes us think of all the greats. People are generally biased in putting modern horses over older ones in these lists. I remember growing up and watching Gretzky and it was the same there with hockey players - "he ain't no Gordie Howe" people would say. Well ya, he was actually. For me there are five or six great trotters that I absolutely think were awesome and I would have Muscle Hill on the list. He is the best of the modern super-speedy trotter (one that reminds us of a pacer) and that means something. I would add Greyhound because he went 155 and 1/4th when that time was something bizarre, Mack Lobell for his pure speed and race record, Varenne for an absolutely unparalleled career and Nevele Pride for his pure speed and amazing run at two and three.

These horses were generational, or they lasted long at an extremely high level, changing the way we think of the breed forever. Just don't try and get me to separate them; because there is no way I can.

Greyhound in action. Wow. Fast forward to 1:11 for some really cool video of this great horse.



And present day. 150.1 under pretty much a hold. 99 out of 100 3YO pacers would lose this race.

Wednesday Reflections

Some notes this Wednesday.

Interesting interview that the Horseplayer Association did with Betfair and some of their players, including Scott Ferguson who posts a comment or two on this blog from time to time. The comments from racing are well-known about betfair, so to me it is neat to read answers to questions from both players and the organization. Some players are playing hundreds of millions there and are certainly worth being read. Similarly, being an internet guy myself, seeing how a company with a value up in the stratosphere like they have thinks is an added bonus.

On competition: Mr. Cunningham answered that competition and choice is a good thing. "It’s worth noting, in fact, that the money that goes to horseracing in Britain is almost twice as much, a decade on, from when Betfair launched, and while we obviously can’t claim the credit for all of that, there is no doubt that competition in wagering product has been a major contributor to it."


On being a horseplayer there and how they look at racing here: "I'm not the common player though. UK punters can be very parochial, but there are more people warming to the idea of global racing, or US racing in the evening because the time suits their lifestyle."

Full interview is here.

I have had a few days to reflect on the Breeders Cup. I watched that replay of All Speed Hanover again. Man he was huge. I spent a half hour trying to find replays of horses who made a move like that at Woodbine in even fractions and won and I could not find one.

I wonder about two year olds. Remember in August? They were running off the screen and a lot of folks were grovelling over the crop. Now it seems there are only a couple who seem remotely capable of doing that, or even approaching August sharpness. Is this a trend? Will the shining lights for our horses be July and August when they are two? If we ask horses like Nebupannezar, Major in Art, Moon Beam and Duneside Perch I think they might agree. I made a bet earlier in the season when the 2yo's were hot like a pepper that next year's NA Cup and M Pace winner will not have qualified before September 12th. All Speed qualified late, but not that late for me to take advantage, but y'know what? I don't feel too bad about that bet. I think there is a strong chance that next years superstar has not started yet.

I know one thing - I am going to wait until long after the season to judge a two year old crop from now on. There is something-a-funky happening in harness racing.

I watched the Well Said race again, not to watch him, but to see if I could make a horseplayer excuse for Vertical Horizon. I bet him pretty good. No luck, no dice, and I did not even bet show.

The handle was $2.7M. Sign of the times? It appears so. I am predicting the fourth quarter will be horrid for both thoroughbreds and standardbreds. Tons of racing, short fields, bad weather. This just feels really ill.

We're at that time in harness racing where the stakes dry up a little bit. But there are a few on tap that we'll be watching. The Matron, Messenger and a few others might turn out to be betting affairs. Last year at this time two excellent colts, Southwestern Dream and Bettors Sweet were just getting rolling. Maybe a couple of those will show up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Betfair and the Breeders Cup - Who Courted Who?

With the recent announcement that Betfair and the Breeders Cup have a deal I thought about a previous look we had at racings demographics in terms of internet searches.

Age Demographics for Internet searches for website A:



Seven of ten searchers are below the age of 34

Website B:



Close to half of searchers are below the age of 34

Website C:



About one in ten searchers are below the age of 34

One is a racing site, one a poker site and one a peer to peer betting site. Can you spot them?

A: a is Betfair, b is Pokerstars.com and c is the Daily Racing Form.

I wonder if we need them more than they need us.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Exciting Breeders Crown

Last night at Woodbine, the weather got a bit rainy, but that did not stop the racehorses. Some of the races were all that were advertised.

Muscle Hill locked up horse of the year on both sides of the border (not that there was much of a chance he would not, I guess), with another win. Word was the shoeing was a bit off and he was not grabbing the track right, but this horse is too good regardless. He put together an undefeated season and did so with the most impressive Hambletonian win that anyone has ever seen. That race alone defines what this horse was.

The two year old pace was absolutely thrilling. The undefeated Sportswriter grabbed rail control in 27.4 and used a 90-1 shot as a pylon throughout the middle half. All Speed Hanover made a huge move wide and the stretch drive between these two good horses was quite a spectacle, with the latter getting up by a head. This is a good illustration about competition. All Speed was arguably the first talented horse that Sportswriter has met. Think for a second if he was not there last night - Sportswriter wins by four and people are talking about Horse of the Year and him being better than Somebeachsomewhere. Competition matters and it is why it is sage advice to judge on who horses beat and how they do it, not on what races they win. Here's the video.



Well Said was soundly defeated in the three year old final, by Confederation Cup winner If I Can Dream. The latter went huge fractions and was the best this night. Well Said and driver Ron Pierce looked completely disinterested this night. He pulled right to the back and went for a hole. Conversely, with a similar post at the Meadows in the Adios final, Pierce fired away to the lead with no respect for the competition. I don't know if the Jug hurt this horse or what, but he is not the same horse as he was this summer. Here's the video.



This was a wonderful night for bettors - good racing, all super card, seeded pick 4. However, in a sign of the times handle was only around $2.7M.

Next year's races go to a new venue and after watching last night's races, fans have to be looking forward to that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Horses Getting Ready for the Crown


Blogette Hanover, getting her game face on. I love this picture. Horses are cool.

For our Crown analysis, it is here.

For a free program with full PP's click here (pdf alert).

Fairly warm in the big smoke, but a little windy. Enjoy the evening.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Breeders Crown Race by Race

It’s time to have a look at tomorrow night’s Breeders Crown at Woodbine Racetrack. Only my opinion of course, but I will make a few picks.

The three year old filly pace is the first on the slate and there is no magic in handicapping this race. On paper, the exactor looks like a chalk one between Shacked Up and Yellow Diamond. Shanghai Lil if she is at her best can surprise here if the big two are not at their best. My pick is Shacked Up. I think she might be a better horse than Yellow Diamond on this night and she will be second choice. Value ex box: Shacked Up and Shanghai Lil.

The three year old colt trot features Muscle Hill. If he wins this and is not Horse of the Year on both sides of the border we should call for an inquiry. He will be 1-9 in this tilt. Filling out the ex is tough because there are a few possibles who are racing well. I might take a tri here, tossing the fresh Swan For All (who will probably be used by many handicappers as an obvious horse) and focus on Triumphant Caviar and Neighsay Hanover (John is wonderful first time on a trotter, as they seem to relax for him). Tri: Muscle Hill keyed onto TC and NH.

The two year old filly trot kicks off the pick 4 and we could see some value here. The two chalk (Poof She’s Gone 7-5ML and Costa Rica 3-1ML) I am sure will be overbet, so let’s go hunting. Fashion Feline will still take money, but might be value. I will probably head off the board to the John Bax trainee Tequila Slammer (25-1ML). She looks to be getting better and will provide value. She’ll need some luck, though.

The two year old colt and gelding trot is race 5. It is another decent tilt. ML fave Lucky Chucky won on cruise control last time and should be favored. If you are looking for a colt to cheer for this might be it. Recently trainer Chuck Sylvester’s son died in an accident and a victory might place a well-deserved smile on the family’s face. 2-1 second choice Pilgrim’s Taj was a mess last week. I am not sure if it was the shoeing or what have you, but no serious handicapper would have him on the ticket off last week at low odds. I think the value lies with Wishing Stone (4-1ML). I think this colt will be overlooked off last week’s loss, but I have a sneaky feeling this little fella is a better chaser. If he is not on top and has some cover, or a cushy trip, he might convert. Newport Volo and Hard Livin should supply some longshot value. My bet, Wishing Stone, with ex’s onto Lucky Chucky, Newport Volo and hard Livin.

In the sixth, the $600k 2 year old filly pace the morning line shows who the contenders are: Fancy Filly, Western Silk, Put on a Show and Higher and Higher. Put on a Show has the most talent I think, but she was wickedly bumpy last time. Is she tweaked, was it the shoeing? I don’t know but everyone saw it and I am sure that she might not take money like she should because of that. Western Silk looked great on the track last time – like an aged mare. Fancy Filly and Higher and Higher raced well. It is tough to make a play without seeing the odds board in this race, but If Put on a Show is decent odds I will bet her. Ditto Western Silk.

The next race is the three year old filly trot. This is a good race, perhaps the best betting race of the evening. Last week nothing stood out to me. I watched most of these horses score down and I could not find a standout. The contenders are obvious, and the local horse, Elusive Desire got around the track last week like a hoop around a barrel. She will more than likely be overbet, however. Yursa Hanover raced very well last time, but pulled the pin in a way-too-fast third quarter setting it up for Margarita Momma. Switch the trips and it might have been a different story. I think I will take a poke on the Ice Queen with Yursa Hanover and look for value. Both with a trip could be there at decent odds as the top two will take the bulk of the cash, I believe.

Race 8 is the really interesting 2 year old colt pace. Without seeing the odds board this is a tough one. The standout to me is All Speed Hanover. He waltzed to a 150.3 score at Lexington and won easily. The rail horse, Rockin Image, is also one that has impressed. The undefeated Sportswriter (6-5ML) looked less than stellar last time, all out to win in 153 and change – and virtually everyone says he will have to improve by several lengths to compete here. If too many cappers are thinking that, he might actually be much higher than his ML, where your thinking might switch. Regardless, to make money you have to take a stand, and this race is it for me. I will be using All Speed on top of Rockin Image in ex’s, tris and supers. I will be keying All Speed Hanover in pick 3’s. If All Speed is anywhere near his ML (I highly doubt that) I will be making a good sized win bet.

The big one is the 3 year old colt pace. Last year we had one of the coldest exactors in BC history with two super talented colts locking horns – Beach and Shadow Play. This year is nothing at all like that. We have a standout, Well Said, versus several, but that standout has raced poorly at times this year. Last week at Lexington he stumbled home in a slow time to come 4th as a heavy chalk and for those who remember, he did that a few times this year, most recently in the Simcoe. But, the next week he won the Jug like a champ in straight heats. What do we do with him? I have no idea. If the pattern holds he will jog; if not, he is a monster fade where money can be made. I never seem to guess right on this colt, so I will be spectating here more than likely, unless Well Said is really low – like 3-5 or 4-5. If I do bet against him there are a couple who are worth a poke to me. Vertical Horizon is a very live bomb and Dial or No Dial is starting to show some fine fettle. I will group them in exotics more than likely if I play this race where WS's odds are making us take a shot on something.

The latter two races are the ones that interest me the most, since we have suspect chalk. Just like two years ago, taking a stand against Donato Hanover who was signaling he was tired, and Deweycheatumnhowe the following year which signaled the same thing, there was money to be made. It will be interesting to see if this repeats itself, or if these fine horses respond and race very well.

If you are playing tomorrow – especially to our thoroughbred friends who might want to try – a poke at the pick 4 should hold some interest. The pool is guaranteed and there are 20 cent bets offered. For the serious 'capper the twenty centers are an annoyance, but for those who want to take a shot and have some fun they are a godsend for deep fields like these. Races 4 through 7 are all decent races where something might happen to make the ticket worth playing. The three ML chalks – Muscle Hill, Well Said and Sportswriter are not included in the mix, thankfully. This bet is worth studying and playing. I will be taking a shot with some of the bombers.

That is my analysis. As always, comments welcome and good luck tomorrow everyone. I hope you all have a great time and good racing luck on this great night of racing.

Breeders Crown Notes - Free PP's

A couple quick notes. We will have a look at each race and the pick 4 tomorrow.

First up, a free program. PDF file here.

Secondly, there is a guaranteed $50k pick 4, for races 4 through 7. It has a chance to pay at first glance. No Muscle Hill in the pick 4, making it a pick 3 or some kind of trap race to scare away punters.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Devil Wears a Bowler

I remember speaking with a few industry types several years ago - it might have been close to six or seven. The conversation centered around Betfair and a few other offshores. Generally, the conversation was "these places have a market of bettors that are playing sports and some racing. Why would the business not do a deal with them to try and get a piece of the action?" Fishing in a stocked pond is always preferred.

Finally, several years later this is made a reality. Betfair and the Breeders Cup have struck a deal where the exchange portion of betting the Breeders Cup will be taxed at 10% gross profits, and supply the BC with some revenue.

In addition, because Betfair bought TVG, now punters from dozens of countries who could never play an exotic bet before, can do so. They will be able to bet right into the pools.

Opening markets has been a theme of this blog since we started, and we think it is great news that it is finally (albeit slowly) happening.

It will not be long however, just like in Australia years ago, where such a simple and common-sense deal will be attacked. In fact, the comments on the Paulick Report show that - the knee-jerk "what about integrity, or we don't get enough money" comments are already there.

In Australia when Betfair was approved a few years ago the fangs came out, just like that. The pools would crumble, integrity would suffer, money for purses will evaporate - all the common misconceptions were yelled from the rooftops from racing insiders. What happened? Revenues to horse racing went up, not down. “None of the issues of concern before Betfair became licensed over here have come to fruition." said the Chief racing steward in the Hobart Record.

Change in racing is tough. Even when a company wants to open up your market to millions of people worldwide to grow your sport, there is pushback. And this occurs no matter what the facts say.

The devil does not wear a bowler, he wears a status-quo suit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bringing People Closer to the Horses

We have perception problems in racing with drugs and the like. Steve Crist mentioned not long ago on his blog that when he asked about drugs and penalties the sentiment from fans was to "hang them high and hang them higher". I don't blame those people - there are some bad people in racing who wantonly break the rules by some means that are not acceptable. As the Ontario Racing Commission said recently, "having a license to race is not a right, it is a privilege", so showing the people that have used awful things like EPO and snake venom to willfully cheat the public and fellow horsemen the door is preferred.

However, do we work hard enough to expose the general public and the racing fan to our horses while at the track to help stop some of the perception that we are all a bunch of crooks, and that we don't treat these horses well?

I was at Georgian Downs last night for the races and I went to the paddock. This is a "B track" and "B" tracks are not supposed to have the grandest looking steeds. This is not Keeneland. But that could not be more wrong. Almost every horse I looked at was immaculate. He or she looked like they were treated like gold - shiny coats, toting grooms, healthy happy horses. Speaking to the grooms, which I do often, all you see is a deep care for the horses they have to take care of. Pink tassles on mares are common. Braided manes, like they are a Michelangleo creation, are on virtually every horse. Drugs, milkshakes, people "putting one over on us"? Cripes no.

In addition, the testing area is right there in front of "insiders" and we see how the horses are tested. It is professional and with tight security. There is no question what happens here.

I need an ORC to get in to see this, but can we find a way for more people to see them and be exposed to this? Why is the backstretch or back paddocks locked from the public so, so much?

I would guess the answer is insurance and racing commission rules. But it would be great if we could find a way around this.

The thoroughbred game is equally tight, eventhough they have front paddocks in many places. I went to Mohawk a month ago and pet champion steed Well Said on the nose. I brought a long-time fan in with me, and he pet him and took pictures. Try that with Rachel Alexandra someday. I bet you'd get tackled by a security guard.

If you build it they will come is a great line in a movie, but it has no place in racing. That worked 20 years ago when other gambling games were not prevalent and the crowd had nowhere else to go. It is a different world today, and if we are going to be proactive to combat fan misconceptions and grow racing, bringing fans closer and giving them a birds-eye view of the sport is vital, in my opinion.

Can we not do better and find a way to make it happen?

Photo: Well Said, up close and personal, taken by long time fan Norm F.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Breeders Crown is Set

A very entertaining Crown was drawn today at Woodbine, and the fields are now set. The two most entertaining races of the evening for me are the two year old colt pace (All Speed Hanover is my most likely winner and he is 9-2ML. I am hoping for anything over 3-1), and the three year old trot (not a betting race, but Muscle Hill drew the rail and is always fun to watch).

The three year old colt pace features the enigmatic Well Said. I have no idea what will happen in this race. After last week the signal is to fade Well Said, but alas I can never figure him out.

The three year old filly race is a good one too, but it is a Brainard-fest. I wonder about Shacked Up; Luc Ouellette did a hell of a job with her all year but he gets bounced for Tim Tetrick. Loyalty is not a strong suit of today's game I find.

We'll have a look at the races more closely later in the week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

No 2010 Breeders Crown-Breeders Cup Conflict

The 2010 Breeders Crown, originally scheduled for November 6th in direct conflict with the Breeders Cup, has been moved to October 9th, 2010. This move is not entirely unexpected I guess, as negative flack from the industry (some making good points) was front and center.

I am pretty ambivalent. On one hand it is probably better for handle. Pocono is a new venue and you do not want to change too much in one event. On the other hand, some cross-promotional ideas could have been tried and measured with it running the same day as the Cup.

Full press release below, courtesy the Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown.

Date Change for 2010 Breeders Crown at Pocono Downs

Cranbury, NJ …The Breeders Crown, harness racing’s $7 million year-end series, will take place on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 instead of the previously announced date of Nov. 6 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre , Pa.

When the 2010 World Equestrian Games displaced the Grand Circuit meet at Lexington ’s Red Mile, a window opened to move the Breeders Crown back to its traditional October date. Eliminations would take place the prior week.

“Mohegan Sun at Pocono made the commitment to be the first track to host all 12 divisional championships on the same night, and we wanted to make sure we chose the best possible date, taking many factors into consideration.” said Tom Charters, president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society, which owns and services the events. “We worked with the existing stakes schedule and the Red Mile to try to optimize the situation for all involved.”

Pocono Downs will be the 30th host track and the first new venue since Colonial Downs in 1998 to host the series. The five-eighths-mile oval is the first to stage all 12 events on a single night.

-30-

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No Studbucks & No Politics

I caught the article on Mine That Bird, and the comments from trainer Chip Woolley regarding the gelding's Breeders Cup try. Mine That Bird has not won since the Derby. But it is not from a lack of trying. He has been in the box four times since. He has taken on Rachel, made a trip to Chester, West Virginia for a shot at Mountaineer. He is now pointing to the Breeders Cup Classic, after a disappointing sixth place finish in the Goodwood.

I am struck by both the talk and horse management with these connections. There are no excuses, no hand-wringing, no talk of not wanting to "run on plastic" like it is some sort of death-wish. There is no talk of retiring him early, so that the massive stud fees can be protected (after all, he's a gelding). There are no lawsuits or partner arguments about how best to protect the horse for his 'reputation', or public worries about where to start him next so he does not get beaten. They just seem to figure what the hell; they have a horse, he seems sound, they like to race, they have a few bucks in their pocket.... why not take a trip to Tinseltown and see what the gritty gelding can do?

Horse racing to me is much, much different when driven by racing horses, instead of stud money and politics. I don't know about you guys, but as a fan I like it. I am cheering like hell for this little horse in the Classic.

H/t to Ray Paulick

Trouble Brewing?

I had not been to Woodbine for this meet yet until last night. The Breeders Crown elims were on tap, and although there were a couple of trots, the three year old elim was quite a good tilt; and I did want to see a few of the horses.

The three year old race was a good betting affair. For those who chucked the chalk off the two heater at Lexington, expecting a dull effort, they were rewarded with a nice price on a fresh Mr. Wiggles. We will have more on the Crown finals this week of course.

I have been watching Woodbine since they came back and there are some troubling signs. Fields are shorter, there is usually at least one race less carded per racecard, and the field quality is not what we expect from the largest everyday track in harness racing.

For example, last night with several BC elims filling the card, there were only 11 races, and those 11 races is not what we normally see on a Saturday night. Out of the 11 races, I found three of them bettable, and the rest red lights.

Race 1 was a low conditioned race, with 7 horses. Race 2 was a low level trot. Race three was a low conditioned. The best two races of the night were the 4YO open and FFA, but they did not have a large field size. Almost every overnight was a race one would expect to see run on a Monday or Thursday night.

The handle was $1.3 million. In terms of live racing there were not too many people at the track, as well.

This is starting to feel like last years Meadowlands meet.

We constantly look for things to blame, or people to blame in this business, for poor performances. Heck, I once saw a guy at the track blame the driver when the horse came 8th off a two hole trip. It is that way in both thoroughbred or harness racing. If a polytrack has a loss in handle, poly-haters will blame that. If next week a dirt track has an equal loss of handle, the same people will blame the economy. Horsemen like to blame management, management blames horsemen. We often blame whatever it is that forwards our cause - whatever that may be.

Looking at the situation at Woodbine right now I quite honestly think there is no one to blame but the business itself.

Woodbine is offering huge purses. Their race office does a fairly good job. But there are not very many competitive horses to fill the box. Almost every B track in Ontario has a preferred carded, almost all have conditioned races with good purses, and this is a drag on Woodbine's box. The business made it that way by not forseeing this. Just like when they took 7% or so from the pools that was given them by government to grow, without thinking of the bettor, slot money for B tracks was thought of the same way. "If we raise purses and saturate a market people will come." If the cocoa market gets flooded tomorrow, futures traders will hammer it. In racing we would be going long. It was a horrible mistake.

I have no idea what the solution is, but I am sure of one thing: slots without a plan will be the death of harness racing. The Meadowlands carding poor racing because of tracks like Chester and Yonkers nearby has happened, and will continue to happen. Woodbine carding $19,000 conditioned races on Saturday, and eight or nine race cards on a Sunday is a road to less and less handle, and less and less interest in harness racing. It is happening right in front of our eyes, and for fans like us, it is sad to see and hard to watch.

For those who say "that's ok, we have slots", all I can say is wake the heck up. Pennsylvania just cut 16% from slot money to purses and took it for education and health care.

I wonder if someone will do something somewhere to help, or we will simply watch the upside-down hockey-stick handle curve continue, until the taps are shut off, the lights dim, and we all head to the casino.

I hope not. If I ever have to watch a ball on a wheel, or a card flip instead of a six wide finish with my little brown four legged friends, it won't be a happy day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Crown, The Warnings & Trips to Keeneland

The weather is cold here in Toronto, but the racing sure is heating up. This weekend it is not a hockey town, but a racing town. Tomorrow afternoon, as runner players know, is the Canadian International. Tomorrow night, the Breeders Crown eliminations continue (written about by Greg here), after several division finals being settled this evening.

There is quite a bit of talk about the track. I will find out a little more about that first hand tomorrow, but I have a sense that this is slightly overblown. The track does not look too bad to me. The horses who broke tonight did not look totally sound, and I think the track had little to do with it. But again, I will check that out tomorrow and see if I can find out anything.

The TRA conference this past week in New York is come and gone and there were several panels with tough words for racing. Jeff Gural, who runs Tioga and Vernon racetracks, long ago has been warning that the slot money we all receive will go away if we do not do something with it to grow racing. This week he was even more dire, saying racing could be close to finished. When I think that online wagering on skill games (games other than racing) will have close to $600B of handle this year, while racing - the only legal game online in North America with its $15 trillion GDP - will do about $12 billion total, it is not hard to see he has a point.

John Pricci of Horseraceinsider.com lends some thoughts on the conference here. He has a look at a gambling experts comments that the takeout is too high and the “Amount of Money Taken from Bettors Is Not Sustainable”. The Horseplayers Association of North America spoke about these issues today as well, here - "When my sink backs up I call a plumber. I do not call an electrician. Right now in racing we seem to have too many electricians trying to fix the toilets."

A reminder for horseplayers that there are only a few more chances to land a spot in the Trot National Handicapping Championship. Details are here.

Speaking of handicapping contests, I am just back from a short trip to Keeneland. On Wednesday I played in one, along with a couple of friends. The entry fee was $10. One of my friends came 12th, another 27th. I came about 300th, which is pretty poor considering I think there were only around 250 entries.

Keeneland's weather was poor, but the track was not. That place is gorgeous. Walking in you walk into a slice of Americana. You are greeted with a smile, the place is impeccable, and the horses all look great; like they are cared for like they are a child, not an animal. Making my first bet was fun, and it was just like my last bet when a 60-something lady said "why thank you hon. Now you come back and cash ok? I wish you luck."

The ushers of course, were dressed well. They have been there for a long time, and take their jobs seriously. If you need something at Keeneland, ask, and someone will help you out, and do so with a smile. What a wonderful racetrack.

While at Keeneland I got to spend a little time with horseplayer Mike Maloney, which was quite a blast. Mike loves this game to death and is a perfect gentleman. He, myself, my stable partner James and a friend had a nice dinner at a horseman hangout and shared some horseplaying, and horse owing stories. I have some decent ones I thought, until I listened to Mike. He is quite the story teller and it was entertaining.

On Wednesday I was pleased to have dinner with Kathy from Harnessracing.com and her husband, as well as John Cashman, formerly the head dude at Castleton Farms. The conversation was good - everyone cares about this sport and wants it to get better. I had a great time.

My time there was short, and I wished I could have done a Red Mile-Keeneland doubleheader, but it simply was not in the cards. Work got in the way of racing. I hope to make it back next spring. Good times with good people and good racing makes life better.

I'll pop back on Sunday and chat about the Crown elims. Maybe we can come up with some winners. Good luck this weekend everyone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breeders Crown Preview

Breeders Crown: Harness Racing’s Championship Night
by Greg Reinhart


It’s time once again for harness racing’s Breeders Crown for two and three-year old trotters and pacers of both sexes. This year’s event, which is going to take place at Woodbine Racetrack in Rexdale , Ontario , has eliminations slated for Friday, October 16 and Saturday, October 17 with the eight finals on October 24. We’re going to preview the elimination events that were required and also talk about the races that advanced straight to the final with no eliminations.

Three-Year Old Colt & Gelding Pace

The “glamour boy” division has one ten horse elimination on Saturday night (race eight) and eight of the ten horses will advance on to next week’s final to face division leaders Well Said and Vintage Master, who both received byes based on their 2009 earnings. In the elimination, it’s very difficult to get by If I Can Dream (post four, Tim Tetrick). This son of Western Hanover beat Well Said at The Red Mile last week in a Grand Circuit stakes event and was the only horse able to pace with Well Said in the Little Brown Jug before that. The high-class Mr Wiggles (post six, Corey Callahan) is also in this race, as is the improving Straight Shooting (post two, Dave Palone). Another horse I’m interested in seeing in this race is Dial Or Nodial (post ten, Brian Sears). He’s rebounding from a foot injury, and raced okay at The Red Mile in his two tries there.

Three-Year Old Colt & Gelding Trot

Ten sophomore male trotters dropped into the box in this division, meaning there are no eliminations. Muscle Hill is obviously going to be the horse to beat, especially since Explosive Matter has decided to race in Italy instead of taking him on again. That probably means Triumphant Caviar, who set a world record in a division of the Old Oaken Bucket on Jug Day, is the next best horse in the race, followed by Neighsay Hanover, who won a Grand Circuit Stake race at The Red Mile last Saturday. The always interesting Hot Shot Blue Chip is also entered; he’s a high speed horse who makes a lot of breaks, which probably doesn’t bode well around Woodbine’s sometimes tricky surface.

Three-Year Old Filly Pace

Eight three-year old fillies entered, meaning no elimination races were required. Bulletproof Enterprises supplemented both Shacked Up and Yellow Diamond to this event for $62,500 since they were not originally eligible. Shacked Up has been a terror in Ontario this year, winning several Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series finals, the SBOA Stakes, and the Simcoe Stakes. After a period of dull efforts, Yellow Diamond has hit her best stride again, winning the Gold Final at Kawartha Downs and a Grand Circuit Stake at the Red Mile in her recent outings. If there’s a filly out there that can beat the Bulletproof duo, it might be Ginger And Fred, who finished second in the Jugette to another Bulletproof filly, Showherthemoney.

Three-Year Old Filly Trot

Twenty sophomore trotting fillies entered for the Breeders Crown, which meant they were split into two eliminations (races four and five) on Saturday night. This division has been wide-open all year, with the fillies taking turns beating each other.

The first elimination features Ontario star Elusive Desire, the 8-5 morning line favourite from post five for driver Paul MacDonell and trainer Mike Keeling; the stout Raising Rachel from post four for Jack Moiseyev and trainer John Kopas, and the Hambletonian Oaks champion Broadway Schooner from the seven-hole for Brian Sears and trainer Jim Campbell.

One race after that, Kentucky Filly Futurity champion Seaside is the 2-1 morning line choice from post position five for Dave Miller and trainer Jonas Czernyson. She will have to deal with New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Margarita Momma from the rail for Ron Pierce and trainer Jan Johnson; the fast Yursa Hanover from post five for Tim Tetrick and trainer Ben Baillargeon; Windsong Soprano from post seven for Steve Condren and trainer Bob McIntosh and multiple stakes winner Southwind Wasabi, who will line up from post eight for Mike Lachance and trainer Chuck Sylvester.

Two-Year Old Colt & Gelding Pace

Eleven of the continent’s top juvenile pacing colts and geldings entered for their Breeders Crown, so they will all advance right on to the final. Obviously Metro Pace champion Sportswriter will be the one to beat in this division, especially since One More Laugh was not eligible. Sportswriter hasn’t raced since the Nassagaweya Stakes in September, so the connections have dropped him into the box for an overnight race on Sunday. There are several other talented colts in here as well, though, like All Speed Hanover, who won both of his Grand Circuit races at the Red Mile, including a dazzling 1:50 and change effort over a sloppy track last week against One More Laugh, and Rockin Image, who also won both his tests in Kentucky.

Two-Year Old Filly Pace

A total of 16 rookie pacing fillies dropped in the box for this Breeders Crown event, and they were divided into two eight horses eliminations on Friday night (races seven and nine) with the top five from each race advancing to the final.

Fancy Filly (post four, Brian Sears) is the 3-5 favourite in the first elimination based on her nine-for-ten win record. She didn’t race in Kentucky , but she did win the $500,000 Three Diamonds at Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack on September 20. She will be matched up against the likes of Siri Hanover (post three, Ron Pierce), who put together two nice efforts in the Grand Circuit at The Red Mile; Western Silk (post five, Mark MacDonald), the top filly so far in the Ontario Sires Stakes program; Cannae Cammie (post seven, Luc Ouellette), who finished fourth in the Shes A Great Lady and has beaten overnight rivals in two straight outings, and Ticket To Rock (post eight, John Campbell), who upset in a division of the Champlain Stakes at Mohawk back in September.

Undefeated Put On A Show (post seven, Jody Jamieson) will line up in the second elimination. She is this year’s Shes A Great Lady Stakes champion and won both of her Grand Circuit races at The Red Mile. She will be tested, though, as Higher And Higher (post eight, Dave Palone), this year’s fastest two-year old filly pacer, is also entered in this elimination as is $227,000 earner Casino Nights (post two, Tim Tetrick).

Two-Year Old Colt & Gelding Trot

There are two eliminations on Friday for the two-year old male trotters (races five and six) as 19 horses entered. Again, this means the top five from each division will move on to the final.

Il Villaggio (post four, Tim Tetrick) is the headliner in the first elimination. Il Villaggio has only lost once this year, and that was early on at The Meadowlands when he made a break. Since then, he’s won the Wellwood final at Mohawk, the Champlain at Mohawk, and his one start at Lexington . Looking to beat him will be Lucky Chucky (post seven, John Campbell). Lucky Chucky pocketed the $450,000 Valley Victory on September 20 at Harrah’s Chester and then went on to win twice in Lexington, both times in 1:56.2, and both times with sub-28 second final quarters.

Pilgrims Taj (post eight, Mike Lachance) looms as the trotter to beat in the second elimination. Pilgrims Taj was second in both the Peter Haughton Memorial and the Valley Victory, and then went on to win the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship at The Meadows in his most recent trip behind the starting gate. Wishing Stone (post five, John Campbell) will try to beat Pilgrims Taj off two wins in 1:55 bracket at The Red Mile his last two times out.

Two-Year Old Filly Trot

15 two-year old trotting fillies will compete in two elimination dashes (races two and three) on the Friday night program at Woodbine. The top five from each elimination will come back to contest the final the following week.

In the first elimination, Poof Shes Gone (post two, Dave Miller) is the 4-5 morning line choice. Poof Shes Gone has won seven of her nine starts, including the rich Merrie Annabelle final on Hambletonian Day and her lone Grand Circuit try at The Red Mile. Trying to take her down will be the likes of multiple Pennsylvania Sires Stakes winner Bone A Fide (post four, Yannick Gingras); Spicy Wings (post six, John Campbell), who won a Grand Circuit Stake at The Red Mile in her last start, and Impressive Kemp (post seven, Andrew McCarthy), who was an impressive 1:55.3 winner in the first week of the Grand Circuit at The Red Mile.

The second elimination showcases Costa Rica (post three, Ron Pierce). Costa Rica has won eight of her 12 tries, including the Goldsmith Maid and the Peaceful Way Stakes, and she has earned over $831,000. Fashion Feline (post one, Brian Sears) , who rolled through an undefeated campaign in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes, is also in this elimination as is Angostura (post seven, Trevor Ritchie), who beat Costa Rica in an elimination of the Peaceful Way before being placed last for violating Ontario’s new whipping rule.

Greg is a harness fan and frequent blog contributor.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If Wayne Gretzky was a Horse

Standardbred Canada, a harness racing site we all know, picked up Sea the Stars fever a bit ago. This horse was transcending breeds, like only a few do. "The Next Super Horse" was one of the titles of their stories. Anticipation was high for the Breeders Cup, or perhaps Dubai next year.

But the excitement was short-lived, as he retired. No more races for him, and we won't get to see him in North America, ever. In the words of the CDP's Vance Cameron: Boom, just like that; he's gone.

It brought me back to when I was a kid. I had heard about Wayne Gretzky, a young fella from Brantford, Ontario. He was supposed to be good. No one ever saw him, no one knew how he skated, or how he shot the puck, they just heard that he might be good. Everyone wanted to see him.

Take a look here. At age 16 or 17 in the pros.



Now picture if he retired after that goal.

Horse racing is one tough sport to market, folks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meatballs

We were chatting below about Explosive Matter, and what he would have done this year without Muscle Hill being in the field.

Well, trainer Noel Daley is going to find out. Explosive Matter is tentatively heading across the pond and racing in Italy, rather than face Muscle in the Breeders Crown.

“There are only two Group I-type races left for three-year-olds anywhere in the world. One of them is the Breeders Crown, which we probably can’t win, and the other one is that race over there. It will give him a little bit of European exposure. He’s the No. 2 horse, but he doesn’t have as much visibility to a lot of people.”

That is called respect. A respect that no other trotter I have ever seen in my day has received.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Night

It's Friday night. The kids are clubbing about, the citygoers are having some foie gras somewhere downtown like Canoe, couples have maybe rented a movie and are having some popcorn.

I, on the other hand, am watching Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird on his stall cam. Man, that is too cool.

Life Without Muscle Hill

Trainer Noel Daily on Explosive Matter via the Harness Edge.

“He was as good as he was going to be the other day,” Daley said. “Everything was in his favour to race as good as he could, and he did in the second (heat). He just can’t beat that other horse, that’s all.”

Daley refuses to contemplate what could have been if there was no Muscle Hill, or if Explosive Matter competed another year. Explosive Matter has won four of 11 races this season, including the $500,000 Colonial, and earned $1.08 million.

“It’s hard to compare from year to year,” Daley said. “You don’t know what would happen. This year, we’re second best. We know that.”


Noel can't but we can; so we will.

If Muscle Hill was born in another year, this year for the trotters would have been different. A good deal different.

First, Explosive Matter would have been undefeated last year, and a world champion. People would be comparing him to the greats. I would not doubt for a second he would win, or be right there in any web poll asking fans if he is better than Dewey, Donato and many of the good two year olds we have seen the past ten years. Expectations would be high.

Operation Hambletonian would not be about Muscle Hill, it would be about him.

He would start the year with a win in a PASS. Then he would move to the Dickerson and the Dancer. He would win both. This year he lost to Muscle Hill of course, but he broke, was 12 lengths off the big horse, yet still came second in a fast time. In the Hambo, he would have been 4-5. He probably would have won easily.

In the CTC, and the Futurity (he came a strong second to Muscle in those races), he would have swept them. In fact, I would submit his 26.4 last quarter and strong second to Muscle Hill in the Futurity final this year would have won many of the previous editions of that race.

In the Breeders Crown, he would have been 2-5.

Ron Pierce would have a microphone in his face after every big win asking him "is he the best trotter you have ever driven; is he better than Donato?" The press would be asking about stud deals, and sooner or later an eight figure deal would be announced. In the press release, he would be lauded. He would be protected and probably never have raced on any track other than a mile (he set a world record on a 5/8's this year at Chester). The superlatives on chat boards about him would be endless.

Instead, there are no microphones, no press releases, no eight figure deals. There are no fans calling him one of the best ever. In fact, it is just the opposite. They tend to say "yes, he seems like a good trotter".

What a difference competition makes. Everything is different when you win. If you win, even if you are beating up a bad crop, or what have you, you will get the dollar signs and praise. When you lose, even if you are losing to a World Champion trotter that many think we have never seen before, you are just "alright".

Every year horses have to win the classics. There are only so many sophomore colts born and the restricted races are there for them. We often tend to judge them if they win, not who they are. That's the way the horse racing game is played, but as handicappers we don't have to live with it. We can judge these horses for what they are. And when you do that, Explosive Matter deserves praise for being a very, very good colt, who would probably give any trotter this decade a good tussle (any trotter not named Muscle Hill, of course).

Explosive Matter was simply born in the wrong year. We should not hold that against him.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Feeling Down?


Roy, in a comment below mentioned that he loved the "Purple Haze Lady" story in this month's Harness Edge. I could not agree more.

If you are feelin' a little blue and are a horse owner who loves our four-legged friends, you might want to give it a shot. It will put a smile on your face. We need more people like her.

It is on page 43, and you can access the article via the online magazine here.

The New Versus the Old

The Paulick Report has been getting good press since its inception. Ray trumpets a recent Racing Post article highlighting some good promo for his site here (pdf alert). Ray has original content and is not afraid to take on some issues, whether the majority agrees with him or not. He was of course the editor at Bloodhorse for many years.

Coincidentally, we see a new article from the current Bloodhorse head this morning. Where Ray's site deals with new issues and tries its best to think outside the mainstream, the culture of the Bloodhorse seems to keep speaking of issues that have long failed us.

What can be done? Simple. Make racing fashionable once again, rebuild the fan base, and return racehorse ownership to a proud and profitable venture.

Sounds good, but for the latter I have no idea when horse racing ownership was ever a "profitable venture". It was not 100 years ago, and it is not today. Read "The Story of Dan Patch" and owners spoke of how the game of racing was not, and probably never will be profitable. And this was in a time when racing was North America's number one sport, and race horses were on cereal boxes. It was a proud game yes, but not a money making game.

Since about 1995 (the year slots were introduced and starting to proliferate) suddenly we heard more and more about owning racehorses as a business. I don't know why that started - I guess it was all that free cash that you and I enjoy as owners - but it permeates this business at almost every turn, and it hurts us from moving forward. I am a horse owner that has lost money every year since I have owned horses. I don't see that changing soon, because it is what it is, and I sure as hell do not want our customers to pay for my hobby.

Mr. Bearse wants to double the popularity of the sport. That's cool.

Can we set a goal of doubling the popularity of the sport? Why not? Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, recently told me there are some 7.4-million core racing fans in the United States. Doubling this number is within the realm of reason and would lead to a surge in handle and a much-needed bump in purses.

And here is one way how....

And speaking of handle and purses, it’s time for owners to stand up and demand their fair share of the take-out.


Yes, if we squeeze money from customers, take the game off of the web, control signals and hike prices, just to raise purses a couple percent all will be well. We'll really be able to increase the fan base.

Increasing the popularity of the sport and improving financial opportunity would help lure new owners to the game.

The capital provided by Thoroughbred owners is a crucial factor in the survival and growth of our sport.

I find such logic frightening, simply because the empirical evidence does not support it.

As posted here and elsewhere before (and we all know this by now in places like Ontario, which has seen well over $2B of slot money thrown into the supply side of the equation, with a resulting 40% drop in handles and tracks that are ghost towns) - an increase in purses does very little to grow the sport.

Don't take my word for it, take the University of Louisville's. "Wagering would increase by only 6% if purse were doubled. This is a surprising finding considering the importance that is attached to the purse variable in all major policy decisions to increase the wagering in this industry."

In Canada, there were 30,000 racehorses registered in 1975. In 2008, there were close to 200,000 - a 587% increase. How did that 5-fold increase in horse ownership do for our handles and popularity since 1975?

It was estimated in the early 1910's that one out of 500 racehorse owners would make money in a year. From 1930 to 2009, takeout increased over 130%. The thinking being that if we take money from the customer and sink it into purses, all will be well. It is 2009, and that thinking is alive and well, despite the fact our sport has been relegated to a minor sports and gambling entity. Money going from takeout to purses is 600% higher in North America than the UK, yet handle is tanking and purses are tanking. We are not taking too little money from our customers for purses, we are taking too much. And guess what? Horse owners don't make money in the UK either, but at least they have 700% higher per capita handles, and a shot at some growth.

We seem to have as much foresight in our business as the Digital head whom in 1977 said "There is no reason for an individual to have a computer in his home." Taking money from the have-nots, and passing it over to the other have-nots is not a policy.

I don't know if new thinking will fix things, but I don't think many people are giving the old too many gold stars.

In the end we have the old versus new. I can get my information from a place like Paulick's, with thought-provoking articles not married to a long-ago dogma, or I can get the above. I choose Ray.

Note:

The newest edition of the Harness Edge is up for downloaders. You can click here and get it (it opens directly into the magazine). They have improved it quite a bit and if you are a harness fan it is a must read. The pages turn beautifully. A big thumbs up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Two Sides of the Coin on Fair Odds

Sea the Stars this weekend at the Arc, resulted in a massive loss for bookmakers, who made the horse about an even money chalk. He was in a 19 horse field, he was the best horse. They figured that a 50% chance was warranted. I don't know one person who bet this horse and everyone I spoke to said that he was overbet. But, bingo for the crowd, he won. No doubt after that performance we would hear a lot of "that was an easy play at even money; he was the best horse. It was obvious he would win."

Secondly, US President Barack Obama laid his cards on the line and went to push Chicago's olympic bid in Copenhagen. The mystique of this President, not unlike the mystique of Sea the Stars in the Arc, resulted in a massive amount of cash going on Chicago to win the 2016 Olympic bid. "Could the Obama factor really be America's Trump Card? We'll find out shortly, but the betting action is squarely on Chicago." The 3-5 price on Chicago was a sure thing, right? Well I guess it was, until they came fourth out of four cities. No person was heard saying "this was easy money, how could people bet against Chicago", after that outcome.

For people who went with the "sure thing" they are one for two, and they broke even. But for bettors who based their logic on fair odds, not sure things or mystique, they faded both on-paper overbet events. They also went one for two. I think the latter rather than the former were on the right side of both bets, although the outcome was the same for both parties.

If you run the numbers on short-priced chalk, in a big racing event, in a perfect information public market (tote board, or bookmaker), as a rule the fade side will be better for us than the long side. We see this time and time again, and even as horse racing pools become less and less filled with dumb money, it is still the case 9 times out of 10. Sea the Stars if he heads to Santa Anita will be overbet. I will be fading the horse, no doubt in my mind. And whether I win or lose on that bet is irrelevant to me.

Boy, I Need a Break

The Mohawk meet closed up tonight and racing moves to Woodbine on Thursday.

The offseason lasts from Monday to Thursday at the premier meet for harness racing.

I don't know about you, but the lack of even a meager offseason for harness racing at our major circuit makes me scratch my head a bit. Mohawk in late September seems to wear a little bit. After Labour Day, with kids back in school in heavily suburban Milton and area, and the days getting shorter, and weather getting a little colder, it seems that the racing at Mohawk gets a little dry.

Why don't we end the Mohawk meet after the CTC and take a few weeks off? I guess it is economic, but I think a few of the horses could use a break, and I know the cappers could. A few weeks gives us some time to market the next meet a little bit, and generate a little bit of excitement for it, one would think. There are opening nights in baseball, football, at many, many thoroughbred tracks. Why not harness racing?

I guess it is a small thing, but ever since I moved to T.O. to go to school, it has been one big 365 day meet. I guess after about 20 years I am finally longing for a bit of a break, and an opening day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Look at Two Great Animals

The video is in for two great horses.

We have two sets of folks who read this blog: Lovers of harness racing, and thoroughbred fans who give our game a look from time to time. This post is a rare one, that speaks to both of us.

For harness fans, check the Arc coverage below. It is a fabulous look at a unique event, and a marvelous horse. Good horses are good horses, and at the end of this race, on the gallop back to the winners enclosure this horse speaks the universal language of a winner. A 100% class animal that we can all relate to. Great horses overcome, and they bring out superlatives like this at Paceadvantage.com.

If any thoroughbred fans want to watch a horse with equal class, here is the Kentucky Futurity and Muscle Hill.

For some edification for our thoroughbred friends, what Muscle Hill did here is special. This is not your normal gate to wire win. Trotters are a finicky bunch, and they are not unlike turf horses in many instances. I am sure you have all seen a turf horse get rushed in a big quarter at a route, where he dies the last sixteenth, even if he is a champ. They get into their rhythm and that is needed to succeed; if they do not, they tend to be short. For trotters, they need a rhythm as well to finish strongly. They can not be rushed or go big uneven fractions, because when they do, they get messed up and tired. If you watch this race, take a look a the horse who is second at the start (Big Bikkies). He is a very fast animal, but when Muscle Hill puts the hammer down, he gets discombobulated. Dr. McDreamy is similar. At the head of the lane his head nods. He has had enough.

As for Muscle Hill, even going flat-out, barnburner speed, he is trotting like a metronome; almost like it is a Sunday stroll. His leg speed is frightening, and his ability to finish is unparalleled.

You do not make a horse like these two; they are born. And we are damn lucky to be able to watch them.

(Note: Just out - Big Bikkies broke a bone in the Final)

Sea The Stars (in yellow, on the inside of the pack turning for home)




Muscle Hill

Simply Special Horses

Racing might make it tough to be a customer who bets, but to be a fan of racing who wants to watch brilliance, the stories and horses are there.

Yesterday, Muscle Hill romped to an easy victory in the 117th Kentucky Futurity, in yet another display of trotting perfection.

This morning, Sea the Stars rolled to another breathtaking victory in the Arc de Triomphe. Ray Paulick said, "He is what a great Thoroughbred racehorse is all about."

It appears that both colts will make the Breeders Cup and Crown their next starts. For that we are fortunate.

Racing has problems - big ones. But the star horses of our era do not. They just wake up in the morning, have a bit of chow, hit the paddock for a little roll in the mud and then walk into the trailer for a trip to the track. It's been like that virtually since the beginning of the sport. Racing is the ease of simplicity and routine.

It's why I love horse racing. Horses don't talk, they just race. And in some instances, like Muscle Hill and Sea the Stars..... they are faster than many of the millions who came before them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Some Movement, Track Bias and a Few Losing Items

Woodbine Entertainment Group had a couple of things surface today. One, the appeal by Mr. Whelan who would not sign an access sticker that Woodbine asks us to sign to race, was dismissed, and the reasons for it were posted by the ORC. That is a big win for them. Secondly for horseplayers, they announced that they are offering a 1% takeout reduction for Australia racing. I am a big believer that the pricing control for wagering lies solely with ADW's. I think more promotions, more takeout reductions and more special deals should be done in this way. We can't bean count; we have to be aggressive, in my opinion.

We have been speaking of takeout for some time here. Only a couple of years ago this was a non-issue for many in racing. I remember one anecdote where a track exec was asked about his track's 25% exactor takeout by a horseplayer, and he replied "I know, the state will not let us raise it!" We have all heard that it "does not matter" like somehow the price of a product does not matter. On and on. However, there is a sea-change, and it appears to be happening right in front of our eyes. Alex Waldrop came back from a marketing conference, and the NTRA President wrote this.

"We have to recommit ourselves first and foremost to selling our game as a unique, challenging, exciting opportunity to wager on live horse racing. To that end, our primary customers are and must always be horseplayers."

"Said another way, do some tracks need to consider a reduction in takeout? From a pure economics perspective, the answer is clearly "yes." "

"Every other industry fighting to survive in this economy is taking a hard look at its retail pricing structure and it is high time horse racing considered doing the same."


It is very rare to see an insider speak like that in our sport. He is getting hammered by horseman groups, long held beliefs by many insiders, and it is something that is considered heresy to many.

It bears repeating: The biggest problem in racing is that we do not know the right price for our product, other than knowing it is too high. Slot machines know (they used to have a 30% takeout and have moved it down to 6-9% as they make the most money there), lotteries know (the best lottery in NA is in MA, where they dropped their price to a profit maximizing 31% from a profit losing 60%), and every other business in this land knows. Isn't it time we find out?

Great Canadian Gaming, owner of Flamboro Downs and Georgian Downs are getting their butts kicked for their new idea of splitting dates between the tracks. This is somewhat comical, because this is not a new thing. Back in 2007 they offered out a discussion paper about doing a split meet, hoping that time off between, and making the meets more interesting will help their brand, and their wagering. The business was silent. Not a response of any sort in any forceful way.

I race at those tracks with my horses at times. I have no idea if it will be a bad or a good thing. But are not these items that we should have modeled, discussed and pilot projected for the last few years? Every time someone offers something out for racing the answer should not immediately be "no, I like the way things are". That stance has poisoned racing for 100 years. In this new century we should bury it.

I am in a pretty bad losing streak at the ponies. Nothing new there for any of us, but do you ever notice when it goes bad, it goes really bad? Last week I bet a super with two longer shots I liked. At about ten seconds to post I noticed one of my keys was washed out, so I cancelled the ticket. Sure enough he jogs, the super comes in, and it pays $23,200.

Trying to get out of a slump is one of the hardest things for horseplayers. How I am doing it now is like I always tend to. I am watching, and if I see something that sticks out, I will bet. If not I will sit on my hands, or take a very small poke. Currently for the thoroughbreds I am looking for a bias. That usually helps me. But I have not found one anywhere yet. It seems to me there might be a slight closing bias at the Meadowlands, but I am not sure.

Regardless, in frustrating times like this, being patient, not getting worked up and trying to keep a good perspective seems to serve me alright. I just hope something happens soon, or I will be hitting y'all up for a loan :)

Enjoy the weekend racing everyone.

Classic Crist

I am a Steve Crist fan. He is a good gambler and seems like a decent enough sod. But especially I like some of his quips. One of which in his most recent blog piece on bad beats.

(I had my share of bad beats too but I don't tell bad-beat stories because they are the least interesting stories in the world and having to listen to them is the leading reason that poker players are among the most boring people on earth. At least bad-beat horseplayer stories have the potential for genuine drama and genuine injustice, like losing a bet because the rider misjudges the finish line or a horse jumps the infield hedge or an alligator crawls onto the track. But every single bad-beat poker story is essentially the same: I had the best hand going in and lost. It happens. Even when you're an 80/20 favorite, you lose 20 percent of the time. Big deal. Get over it. Nobody cares.)

More, on Vegas, the NTRA Marketing Summit and so on here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thursday Notes

This Saturday at the Red Mile, the 117th Kentucky Futurity goes in a two heat event.

Race 7 - First Elimination
1. Tom Cango (Mike LaChance - Jim Campbell)
2. Air Zoom Lindy (Tim Tetrick - Frank Antonacci)
3. Dr Mc Dreamy (Homer Hochstetler)
4. Big Bikkies (Ron Pierce - Noel Daley)
5. Neighsay Hanover (Trond Smedshammer)
6. Windshear (John Campbell - Jimmy Takter)

Race 8 - Second Elimination
1. Explosive Matter (Ron Pierce - Noel Daley)
2. Broadway Bistro (George Brennan - Jim Campbell)
3. Hot Shot Blue Chip (Steve Condren - Jonas Czernyson)
4. Even Better Odds (Tim Tetrick* - Chuck Sylvester)
5. Cesar A Blue Chip (Tim Tetrick* - Noel Daley)
6. Russell Hill (John Campbell - Jimmy Takter)
7. Muscle Hill (Brian Sears - Greg Peck)

It is no surprise to say that this is Muscle Hill's to lose. He's one of the rare horses that sickness, lameness, or running into a flock of seagulls like Rainbow Blue did a few years ago, are about the only things that can stop him. Let's hope for some good weather this weekend.

For competition sake, it is a shame MH is around. This is a good group of square gaiters, and without him in the mix we would see some good races. Big Bikkies, Hot Shot Blue Chip, and of course Explosive Matter are all super-fast steeds. I think any one of them would be able to take the hardware and win in a fast time.

Dressing up your horse for Halloween? Here are some tips.



I dunno, but dressing up as the Grim Reaper with your horse is not my first choice. I think I would dress up as a big carrot.

The Horseplayer Association has been working with Equibase the past several months on getting scratches and changes updated in real time. For anyone that uses software, or some of the web totes, this has been a real problem. In addition, it is not uncommon to see scratches not even updated for some tracks at times. This should fix that up. I do not know if harness changes will all be there or not.

There are some diamond-in-the-rough blogs out there that never get any press, but are just dandy. Marshall Gramm's is one of them. Invariably he will have a solid 'capping post up which resides outside normal handicapping. For example, when youbet had a contest with show betting he looked at some numbers. He is good for the brain.