Monday, November 30, 2009

Couple 'em, Ron and Internet Battles

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

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

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

Internet battle: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Who wins?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Betting World & a Test for CERA

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

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

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

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

Around the World in 30 seconds

This interweb thing might catch on.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Going Smaller to Get Bigger

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Zealand Drama - Like a Reality TV Show With Horses

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

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



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

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

That's not all. Of course not.

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Good Payoffs & Where's the Muscle?

Some wild and wacky payoffs tonight in horse racing.

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

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

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

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

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

You can go to Harnessracing.com and vote here.

Monday Notes

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

You Just Never Know

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ditch Racing and Head to Poker

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Want Your Track to Make Money? Call Bono

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

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

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

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

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

h/t to Standardbred Canada

Making Decisions - In Betting, HOY Votes & Racings Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bill Belichick Must Be a Horseplayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Costly Mistake


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

h/t to Beav

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Handicapping - One Sentence Usually is Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In a Nutshell

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Roy Sproxton is National Handicapping Champion


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

Some Horsemen Bang the Drum; Blue vs Legacy

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

More here.

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

We Report, You Decide

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

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



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



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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Will Quid Pro Quo Hurt Rachel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success is Nothing to be Ashamed Of

The Breeders Cup was completed yesterday and by virtually all accounts it was a huge success. After what seems like an eternity of reading negative press on some of the trade websites quoting every Tom, Dick and Harry who did not like the decision to go to Santa Anita again, it was refreshing to let the brown four-legged things, the weather, the crowd, and the racing do the talking.

And the racing, especially a mare in the Classic, spoke loud and clear. From Todd Schrupp of TVG on the BC feed directly after the Zenyatta race:

"This place has seen some phenomenal ones - Seabiscuit, the resurrection of his career - and this grandstand has not shaken like this for a very long time. You have just witnessed one of the greatest moments in Breeders Cup history."

A quote from a racewatcher who was there, when answering what it was like near the wire in the Classic: "Louder than any college football game I have been to."

Another quote from a young fan via Paceadvantage.com who made the trip to Santa Anita: "Thank You Zenyatta, because you made me a true believer in the greatness of the sport of horse racing...... you gave me the greatest feeling I have ever had in my life. I don't care if your fractions were unimpressive as some say, or if RA wasn't there, or if you only ran on dirt one time, or if you only ran out of CA one time. You cemented yourself in the history books for all time, and in the heart and mind of me for the rest of my life."

Take that, Gloomy Gus's.

Breeders Cup day is a day to be proud of. Just because Jess Jackson does not like it and wanted to make a political statement, or just because racing has its share of problems it does not mean we have to follow that opinion into the sun. We are allowed to enjoy this sport on days like this and no one should ever have to apologize for it.

In a nutshell the Breeders Cup at a place like Santa Anita is a good thing. It gives us weather that those of us in the north east only dream about. Some European stars show up and give our North American horses a good tussle. For betting it represents tremendous opportunities to make our whole year. The place is packed, the setting is gorgeous and if you are watching on television and not wishing you were there, I think you might be from another planet.

I sat in my living room and watched the Classic with a friend who is a very big bettor - it is his life and he has been doing it successfully for a living for many years now. He faded Zenyatta badly, thinking she had zero shot. At the head of the lane he said, 'she is done.' But a funny thing happened. She was not done and when she rolled and was looking like a threat, costing him more money than I make in about three months working, there was no yelling for her to get beat. There was only a respect for a mare who overcame: "Holy cow she is going to win! WOW!" he said, with his heart firmly planted on his sleeve.

If a cold hard bettor who displays no emotion ever can get behind an event like this as a pure fan (while getting his livelihood kicked in the can), racing has done its job.

Trade magazines and anyone else who does not like, and never will like this event might dominate the headlines. But what is in the headlines does not matter one bit. If someone took the collective pulse of racing fans at 6:45 eastern time yesterday, whether they be from New York, or San Francisco, or Sao Paulo or Sydney - they would be calling the paramedics.

We are race fans, and for one day the world was just fine. Wearing your heart on your sleeve and yelling from the rooftops about the last two wonderful days at Santa Anita is nothing to be ashamed of.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Big Handle Overseas - Betfair Analysis In Running

In trying to make the BC a worldwide event, Betfair was licensed as a partner this year for the first time. It seems it has worked if the first race is any indication. Here is a screen shot (click to enlarge and note: I will update a few things here in this post during the races if you are interested).



Only $200,000 or so was bet in-running, more than likely due to a slight delay on the feed. However, over $1.3M was matched on this event dwarfs what was bet last year. The markets were super-deep, reminding one of the UK races that these punters normally flock to. I believe this is brand building, going on right before our eyes.

The 4th race
on the card had some huge volume as well. With only a 1.8% overround and a well traded chalk (Lillie Langtree) there were several opps to trade and overseas players took advantage of that. Here is a screen shot of the inplay (around the three quarters). Lillie Langtry was even money when she made her move and a nano-second later when she looked to flatten she moved to 4-1. She dove from there. Note the winner was 14-1 at this time. $1.5M ended up being matched on the event. Tapitsfly closed at 14.5-1 there before in running, for a $31 mutuel.



Only $800k bet in the 2YO F BC race, singnaling perhaps the US based race that this tends to be. In-running trading on the winner was good (screen shot below) and you could have had her at a nice price. Funnily enough I did not think she was traveling great so I don't think I would have taken a poke on her in-running.



Back to the Turf and the UK bettors were back betting in race 6. About $1.4M matched, a few hundred K of it in-running. I wonder if this race might beat the Filly and Mare Classic. We'll see in a couple races.

For the Filly and Mare
sprint the presence of the Ventura trading upped the handle precipitously. About $1.5M matched here, with most of it on her. There was again deep depth on almost all the horses. There was about $600 willing to lay Free Flying Soul at 60-1. Last year you would simply not see that volume. Of note in this race, the winner looked never to be threatened, however in running pricing had her fairly generous. Even close to the wire where she clearly had no shot to lose there were trickles available at about 2-5. She closed with money on the bid at 1.02, or close to 2% on your money on a horse who would need to be DQ'd or hit by lightning to lose.

In the days big one, $1.4M matched and an interesting in-running brigade. Would she or won't she? That was the question about Careless Jewel. For the first half of the race punters were hammering..... for the last half... not so much.

Fascinating day and a wonderful card to handicap.

Now I just have to get some winners.

Looking at Some of Tomorrow's Races

I am just having a look at the BC tomorrow and cross referencing with Betfair. It is nice to get a feel of the odds board when playing some pick 3's and other horizontal's by looking at some sharp money, so here are a few thoughts.

BC Marathon - With a 4 point overround and a decently tight spread it looks like the ML is right on Mastery. Father Time is second choice at 7-2. I like the looks of the odds on two I think can hit the ticket - Nite Light at 9-1 and Black Astor at 27-1. I think I might try the latter for my price horse this race.

BC Juv F Turf - No surprise Lillie Langtry is chalk at 3-1. I don't mind the five and thirteen here and they are generous at 15-1 and 27-1 respectively.

BC Juvy Fillies - Not a very tight market here with close to 8% overround. Blid luck is a 7-2 chalk and the crowd says to go deep in this one. Mark Cramer says in chaos races bet the chalk. This does seem to work but I have to go outside that chalk here. 9-1 current price on the 11 looks like an overlay for me. I like the ten but she is getting well bet, below her ML, so that eliminates her for me.

BC F and M Turf -
I thought Forever Together looked like a slam dunk here but the crowd at Betfair thinks I am nuts. Midday is a 5-2 chalk in a tight market. 10-1 on Visit is tempting. I was disappointed that this was the first pick 4 leg as I will not take a short shot in an opening leg, but maybe the odds on FT will allow me to take one.

BC F and M Sprint - I kind of figured Sara Louise would be a price here and that is confirmed with early betfair betting. Ventura is obvious and monster chalk at 7-5. I'll probably take a stand here with Sara.

BC Ladies Classic - Zenya..... er Rachel Alex.... er, I mean Careless Jewel is the fave at around 7-2 in a medicore market; a bit surprising I guess. Nice prices on this board and it looks like it will be an excellent spread race. The longest shot on the board (Lethal Heat) I do not really mind here that much. I am contemplating hitting the all button perhaps. I wish this field was a little deeper and bigger for some superfecta bomber shots, but that is nitpicking I guess.

Good luck tomorrow everyone and enjoy your day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fanning Up

I was messing around and came across a Betfair promo for soccer betting. It seems they have set up a television/web show with five dudes who really like soccer and each has a favourite team. I watched the promo, called "The Betfair Front Room". It looked kind of neat, however I could not understand what they were saying; and 'West Ham' does not mean much to me unless I am eating a sandwich in California.

The idea did strike me with some thoughts though about here in North America.

I have a friend who is a huge Steeler fan. So much so he is annoying. Jack Lambert this and Franco Harris that. Like, enough already. When I went to a game with him recently in Detroit he actually bought me a Terrible Towel. It turns out he frequents a site called Steeler Nation (pretty original huh?) where all these Steeler fans gather to chat about how good their team is. At the game he met up with some of these "nation" people and they were all wearing their gear and telling us how great the Steelers were.

Sometimes the site is infiltrated with Browns fans like this one (sorry no link, I got sent it in an email), "I love being from an underdog, disrespected city like Cleveland -- especially compared to the other AFC North locales. Consider what we're up against: Pittsburgh: America's crotch. Literally one of the worst cities on the planet. Full of toothless mountain people. Looks from above as if someone decided, "You know what I'm going to do? Cut out a huge chunk of one of the worst sections of Eastern Europe and drop it in the middle of Pennsylvanian Appalachia." At the end of the day, the Cleveland Browns suck, but at least we're not from Pittsburgh."

Take that. And he does. Then he, or someone else from the "nation", tells the dude that Pittsburgh has won 347 Super Bowls (or whatever it is), recites Terry Bradshaw's quarterback rating from each one of them, and what player once helped a child from a burning building (or some other Steeler folklore).

So what's my point? I don't know really. But it seems to me the passion by sports fans for soccer in the UK, or football over here trumps anything I see in racing. I don't see people calling Rachel Alexandra names because they like Zenyatta. I don't see the 4 claimer who lost last week at Pocono being heckled near the paddock. I don't see anyone swinging a $44 terrible towel in Jess Jackson's colours.

Maybe it is because we are not really a sport, in the truest sense of the word. We are a collection of bettors, and fans, and horse owners, and trainers, and drivers, and grooms. We all like betting, or horses, and we watch them race and cheer, but it is not the same level as in real sports leagues. I don't think it ever will be like that.

But sometimes I wonder - I am looking more forward to the Breeders Cup this weekend, (and enjoyed the Breeders Crown last weekend more) than any football weekend. Maybe I am nuts? I guess you can be a fan without calling someone names, or wearing their shirt, or being like my buddy from Pittsburgh. But regardless, it sure feels different being a racing fan.

Inside Baseball & Inside Leadership

In Lexington during a race last month, Ron Pierce whipped Costa Rica with two "swats" one-handed which is a no-no. For that he received a 10 day suspension. It is the second such fine for Mr. Pierce with a new whipping rule. As most remember, he was fined $12,800 under the Swedish rules (which are about the same as Kentucky's) while driving Mr. Muscleman over there. The Trot insider column had several quotes from Mr. Pierce and a couple of readers wondered why I did not speak of it here.

Sandy writes: "Actually PTP, myself and a few others who frequent your site were surprised that you let those Pierce comments go by without any mention or opinion ? You know the ability to drive a horse does not come complete with an MBA, apparently it doesn't even include any tact in some cases. And unfortunately most in the industry would rather line up behind one of their own, like Pierce, with no regard for common sense. It's really sad."

An anonymous commenter states: "Do not let Ron Pierce voice his opinion publicly ever again. The piece in Standardbred Canada, and the majority of comments that followed were disgusting. Pierce uses terms like "Mommies and their daughters", and "a good lickin", talk about alienating, or eliminating, new fans. Does he live on a different planet?"

Some highlights of Ron's comments from the piece:

"I was aware of the rule in Kentucky. I knew that I was supposed to keep both hands in the handholds and to keep the whip over the horse's back and don't go under the shaft. I saw a filly flying up on the outside. I put the lines over in one hand and I gave her two little swats. The filly on the outside ended going by us anyway. I didn't even realize that I had done it (put both lines in one hand)."

Mea culpa. So far so good.

"I've been driving horses for 33 going on 34 years now and it is our job to know how to make horses go fast. Now, all of a sudden, they take that away from us"

This is the "I know how to do it one way, you took it away from me an I do not like that" defense we see from the industry; and in fact most of us in our own jobs don't like change, so I think we could all understand this. In other sports it is like the forwards who crowded the net in hockey to get a goal not liking the crease rule, or defensive lineman who were taught to jam their hands underneath your opponents voicebox to gain an edge not liking that.

"I think it's safe to say that 70 per cent of the leading drivers are against the rule more than I am."

This is the "look it is not only me" argument. See point above.

I feel along with all the other top drivers -- except for maybe one or two…maybe just one -- that it puts us in a dangerous situation out there.

The one he is referring to is probably leading money winning driver (Standardbred or thoroughbred) John Campbell. They have some documented history.

"Once they find out that they are not going to get 'licked' if they don't go, than they are not going to go."

I agree with the commenters that it is bizarre that someone in this sport would publicly say such a thing when we are trying to sell it, or to answer critics who complain about horse abuse.

So those were the comments in a nutshell. He also went on to talk about his version of marketing, fans, and gambling.

I did not comment before; that is correct. I figured that the article was self-explanatory, and Ron is known for some strange comments either in print, or to the camera over the years. It is what we see from the business almost all the time - a relentless clinging to the status-quo and the "not in my backyard" phenomenon - so I filed it in the common sense department and deemed it a whole lotta nothing.

Over the years in this business it is readily apparent that the people who are involved in putting on the show have a forum, have some control and they use it. The trade press picks up their opinions and runs with it (they have advertisers after all), and then more insiders comment on stories in the Internet age, almost without fail in support of the insider. It is just the way it is.

Whip rule aside, (who knows if it will be good or bad for the sport.... new policies in a sport with very little measuring or forward-thinking are always a crapshoot), it shows just how bad we need leadership.

Take the NFL for example. Larry Johnson made a "anti-gay" slur via Twitter and was immediately suspended and investigated. If a coach or a lineman speaks up against a new rule they do not like, or an official's call, he is fined, and fined hard and he does not do it again. When the crease rule happened in hockey and the players did not like it, they could not complain to the media. The PGA Tour? Even if Tiger Woods says something out of turn the PGA immediately acts.

Why?

Because rules are set behind closed doors with input from all factions (just like this whip rule was done) and then it is policy. You do your griping to the league, to the owners or to the players association if you have one and that is the end of it. It is the way real leagues are run because in successful leagues the sport is bigger than the individual.

In harness racing we are not a real league, nor a real sport. We are a hodge-podge of acronymical associations, and until that is somehow fixed, expect to see more and more of this, with the whip rule and everything else. I don't blame Ron Pierce for that, I blame racings dearth of leadership and like many I do not see this changing anytime soon.

In the end, John Campbell in the other item linked above with the incident last year might have summed up a general feeling: "As is usually the case, in my opinion, there is a bigger picture here that Pierce fails to realize or comprehend."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

360's and 180's

We won't be talking about the Breeders Cup here, but there are several places to get your information. Of course, there is the widget to the right side of the page with many handicapping and special interest story items from the blogosphere.

For everything one needs to handicap or follow the Cup, however, you will not find a better resource than Breeders Cup 360. Breaking news, handicapping items and a whole lot more, all in one place.

Glenn over at Fugue For Tinhorns (nope, I don't know what that means either, but it is a good blog) chats about takeout in Pennsylvania, with slots. In replying to an article at the Horseplayer Association of North America about the slots influx there and the lack of help for horseplayers he does not mince words. "But the current takeout in Pennsylvania, as HANA shows, is garbage."

As we posted below when referencing Darryl Kaplan's fine piece on the destruction of racing in Quebec, we need to do a 180 on using slot cash to help this game on the demand side. Customers need more, and are demanding more. They don't care if they bet a $40k purse, or a $4k purse. They just want a fair shake. Let's give them one.

A comment from Eric on the last column about the 5 horse field for $170k at KD last month illustrated something new:

It gets more bizarre than 5 horses-2 owners going for $170K. As reported by Standardbred Canada, only 3 horses were entered in the ~$265k 2yr old Matron at Dover Downs....so they just split the purse money 3 ways....no race, just purse money divided up. A cynic may suggest this represents the success of the industry's marketing strategy, the elimination of the horseplayer!

We have some 360's in racing and coming full-circle with websites like that are a good thing - considering we pay for data in racing like a horse's past performance is laced with gold. But we need 180's too. I do not think any reasonable person can argue that an about face on slots is needed badly. Three horse fields where they don't even race can not be a good thing for anyone.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Alright Already - Can We Not Just Do Something?

Darryl Kaplan, editor of the trade magazine Trot, pens a column this month with some stark stats on the dismantling of racing.

His thesis contends that it is finally time to do something with slots money to grow the sport. We have heard these things before, however with some of the following, is it not time to stop fighting and get to work? If the past tells the story of the future, this article should be read by everyone. In Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania; And don't for a second think that this can not happen to thoroughbreds either. Over $100M was just taken from the Horse Initiative in Pennsylvania - and that was runner and trotter money.

Just days before the Quebec provincial government recently announced their end-game for harness racing in the province, they put out a release. It included this paragraph:

Let us not forget that the horse racing industry started its decline several years ago. Since 1995, the government poured more than $450 million in subsidies to support this industry. In spite of this aid, the industry continued to regress. The evolution of wagering on horse racing proves this. In 1990, $315 million was wagered and fell to $136 million in 2008.


Four hundred and fifty million dollars
was put into racing. Now it is gone.

Kaplan then speaks about the lack of public outcry in Quebec for this demise of this once proud industry. As well the response from horse racing overall? Nothing.

Yet somehow month after month, meeting after meeting, we are met with industry leaders who have no problem distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in purse money without any plan to drive bettors or new patrons to the track.

Virtually all the cash that slots are used for is purses, and for breeding. Marketing, lower takeout, perks for customers like a casino gives? Nope, and the sad part is no one is even looking at Quebec and offering a new plan. Just more of the same.

And the product? How is the massive cash doing for sires stakes and other things here in Ontario to grow the sport?

A few weeks ago, I watched a five horse Gold Final at Kawartha Downs go for $170,000. One owner had four of the five horses. The single-file event had less betting on it than a $4,000 claiming race later in the program.

A Sires Stake program, mares residency, breed improvement and new ownership initiatives are all very positive things. They’re vital pieces of the puzzle. But without a product that is relevant to the consumer, harness racing is hurling head first toward its demise.

A $170,000 purse. Five horses, no betting and no customers. How can anyone think this can possibly be sustained?

Kaplan concludes:

Right across North America, despite mounting evidence that the sport is out of touch with the general public, the event is presented in a manner that, aside from the odd superfecta, is virtually identical to what it looked like 15 years ago.

So now, it’s just a waiting game. Waiting for courageous leadership to stand up and invest in the future. Or waiting for the next press release to take everything away.


Nice job Darryl. I wonder if anyone is listening.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How to Turn $3000 Into a MIllion

There are a few ways to turn $3000 into a million. Buy a seed capital share of Microsoft in 1979. Maybe buy some puts on your favorite short and hope for bad news. Buy $3000 worth of lotto tickets and hope one of them beats the odds and hits.

But you can do it in harness racing, too.

At our friendly neighborhood mixed sale here in Ontario one can find, several times a year, hundreds of horses who have not quite shown much. I have bought a few - $4500, $14000, $5500 - none have sipped from the holy grail, but it is fun to see if you can find something for a bargain price. One such horse that was bought in such a sale was Ramegade Bruiser.

Purchased for $3000 in 2006 by the mom and pop stable headed by Dave Brown, the Rambaran gelding surpassed $1M in career earnings last night by winning a top-level pace in 151.2.

Overall this gelding has supplied a lifetime of thrills for this small stable. How about a 138 start career with 43 wins, 22 seconds and 11 thirds?

All for $3000.

Ain't harness racing grand.