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Showing posts from 2010

The 747 Turns

I was on a round table in racing several months ago. Hugh Mitchell, former Woodbine dude and now President of WFR slots and racetrack said one thing that stuck with me (he said a lot of really good things, but I remember this line vividly). When speaking about racing making a change he said "it is like turning around a 747 on a tennis court". I think we all believe that accurate. However, there is evidence out there that when change is forced, it can happen in a jiffy.

Kudos to the New York Racing Association for swiftly and with alacrity getting video allowed on their platform after the closing of the OTB's.

Living in a State where bureaucracy reigns, kudos must go to NYRA for overcoming the nonsense that is New York State Legislation. After the demise of the New York City OTB, NYRA has moved swiftly to finally receive approval allowing live steaming video on their ADW site(NYRA Rewards).

If a time traveler from 2154 came to 2010 they would probably say "tracks …

It's Slow, Yet Interesting

It's a slow time for racing, but there have been a few happenings.

Bill Finley, not only a good writer (his book on synthetics I thought was awesome), but a horseplayer's friend who has been writing about customer issues for two decades, won an Eclipse Award today. His article on why horses do not start as much as they used to was a really nice piece. Congrats Bill!

Those of you who are HANA members who are reading won a nice award today too. The President's Award, given out by the USHWA and to be presented at this years Dan Patch Awards in Fort Lauderdale, was won by the Horseplayers Association. In addition, Yannick Gingras (I don't know about you guys, but to me he just keeps getting better and better as a driver) won it for his charity work. This might be somewhat surprising for a customer group to be honoured, however HANA has worked closely with harness racing on a few issues as they seem quite eager to change. There are some really good people in our sport who do …

"Cali-Racing Needs an Alan Mann"

I got an email this morning from an industry watcher. "California racing needs an Alan Mann".

Alan runs the blog Left at the Gate and proves blogger's can be journalists. He has a differing view of a race, or a track, or some of the issues like takeout than a lot of you, but the big part of his blog is more than that. He is a watch dog on New York racing. His posts on the subject of New York racing and its political games are frequent, concise and well-researched. He takes nothing at face-value and if he sees something that does not make sense, he calls them on it. He is not on some people's card lists.

This morning Caroline Betts, a professor of economics at USC ran some numbers from the Los Alamitos takeout hike. They are dreadful. Racedates were down, so there were less opportunities for racing participants, handle was down, and on-track handle was especially down. The racing shrunk.

The chart is self-explanatory - handle was killed.

Despite this obvious bad news, th…

Proactive Prose at Paulick & a Deep Question

I felt early on that the format change at Paulick would hurt discussion. If the comments there are any indication, that looks wrong. Some of the comments on the story about California, their takeout hike and the handles, are very good. There is so little name-calling, it sticks out. And there are some tough questions being asked.

One such poster, "Death Spiral" might be the sharpest poster I have read. His quips are "O_Crunk" like, and his knowledge is beyond criticism. In his most recent post, he asks a question, and in a few lines he asks a question that cuts to the chase more than any I have read, regarding horseplayers and the California Horse Racing board:

Why does HANA have a World Bank economist PhD advising them on takeout issues, and the CHRB has Bo Derek? In what world does that not only make sense to people, but it doesn't even draw any comments from the press?

As a CA resident, one that is disgusted by what the CHRB has done to my states racing -- I&#…

Pompano - A Little Track That Leads

Sometimes we have to look small to see big. In a lot of industry's the smaller ones (who are forced to do things to keep afloat or die) make changes the big ones should make first. It looks like Pompano Park is one of them.

The small Florida track, where handles were small, decided it was time to focus on one thing and one thing only - the customer.

Harness racing is like a have-not state or province. Drive through West Virginia and the gas taxes and price per gallon is huge. Cross the border into Virginia and they ain't. Harness racing - with a dwindling customer base has always done the California shuffle: Raise takeout to hopefully make money, because they felt they had to. Unfortunately, when you squeeze a lemon with no juice left in it, all you get is a sore wrist. So not unexpectedly, the result has not been pretty. Pompano, like most harness tracks, absolutely raked their customers out of existence and handles fell quicker than a Lindsay Lohan film check.

Late last year…

Giving the Gift of Life

Horse Rescue United placed something on their Facebook page today. They need a little help. The group, run by trainer Anouk Busch, who was profiled here in a wonderful piece, is after seven racehorses who are going to be sent to a slaughter sale.

Her post:

I have gotten word that at Monticello a trainer is allegedly being evicted from the ship in stalls.

I dont have this confirmed but i have been told that out of his 10 horses he is sending 7 to new holland for the january 3rd auction.

I was already planning to get 2 standardbreds from NH auction myself that day.
I already have the funds for that.

Now of course i would like to try get all 7 but for me to do that i need to hire additional transport,qt and boarding.

I can arrange all that but would need an additional minimum of $7000 for me to take them in as Horse Rescue United to make sure i can afford them several months.

Could all of you commit to asking your fellow standardbred people to try come up with the PLEDGES to try and pull this of…

Who Writes the Headlines at the Bloodhorse?

Has the Bloodhorsebeen taken over by Pravda?

Handle was off 23.6% and it appears to be the worst opening day in terms of betting handle since 1995.

Ray Paulick is Having Rough Time

Common sense, devoid in a lot of areas in our business, is making a comeback. Just take a look at some of the comments on the Paulick Report.

During the debate about California racing raising its prices while fans are leaving the turnstiles quicker than any Milli Vanilli album signing in history, Ray Paulick has tried to make the case for California, but has not done it very well. It's not his fault, of course. It is difficult to make an argument for policies that fly in the face of economic theory and all common sense. But he sure has tried.

His latest salvo is "that it is really tough to be a horse owner." No kidding. And he says that money going into purses, by increasing prices on customers is the way to go. All you have to do is read the comments on the story to see the cogent, sharp and articulate points against that, so we won't hash too many out here.

In "The Story of Dan Patch" owners spoke of how the game of racehorse ownership was not, and probably …

It's Christmas Time

I like what Christmas is about. No, not the traffic, the jammed stores, the running around like some sort of wild turkey, the commercialism, or the lack of racing.

I like the spirit of the season. It's a time when we wash away some troubles, have some decent food and exchange a few gifts with people who care about us.

In horse racing we have so many troubling issues. We speak about many of them here, and there is no need to rehash them. But are these issues so troubling that they cannot be fixed? Sometimes it seems so, but it should not be that way. Racing is a business, with good people who care about it. It is not some sort of Chinese finger puzzle.

This Christmas I want a present. I want racing to be Jabbar Collins.

Mr. Collins was a man without a high-school diploma. He had no money, no family with money, no ACLU lawyer behind him, no internet or free time, nothing; and he was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

What he did have was the triumph of human spirit. Working for over 5000…

Woodbine Paying to Play, Handle Records & More

Woodbine wants to add hitching fees. The pros: Fuller fields. The cons: Dead weight in those fields.

Paying only $300, and with a race secretary watching the entries, I don't buy the dead weight angle. If it is a pilot project we will find out very soon. However, a pick 4, with ten horses in each race adds to handle. With supers each race and each race having ten, it adds to handle. Woodbine is trying to add handle, and after years of wondering if they were even trying, it bodes well. Of course, the pick 4 takeout has turned off a lot of bettors, so do what you wish with that.

We mentioned below the purse increase at Pompano Park in Florida. The takeout rates were slashed there this season, and over time it seems to be paying off. Last night the little track had "the highest handle they have seen in two years".

On this blog for several years you have asked some tough questions. Why doesn't racing do something about reversals of form? Why can't we get fixed odds p…

Handle & Purses Up at Pompano

It seems there are rays of good news in racing of late. Pompano Park announced a purse increase and a handle increase this past week. Pompano shifted around the schedule, and lowered their extremely punishing takeouts this season.

John Yinger:

“The recent handle trends have been encouraging and our scheduling change to move the Friday programs to Tuesday has worked out really well. With respect to the competitive and entertainment aspects of our on-track product we think we're continuing to move forward,"

Takeouts at Pompano had previously changed as follows: WPS dropped from 20.5 to 19, Pick 4 from 25 to 15, all other bets dropped from 27.5 to 23, except supers from 29.5 to 25. If you are a harness player those numbers are fairly favorable. Still high of course, but worth a look, especially if you patronize an ADW that gives a little juice back.

John Pricci's top ten stories in racing in 2010. Number one? If you can't figure out that one, you might be a Chilean min…

Alotta Fa-Waples & Allan's Naughty and Nice List

What was that movie character, Alotta Fa.... ah forget it, I might get censored. Several years ago most of you will remember Randy Waples' interview on national TV after driving and winning a harness race. He said hello to .... well her. This caused him some trouble with racing powerhouse Woodbine Entertainment and he served some sort of suspension. I think he wasn't allowed to be interviewed for awhile on the simo or Score show.

Waples has always been a little nuts (click for a synopsis). Not in a bad way, but a good one. For example, after winning the Breeders Crown years ago he stood on his racebike "like a Roman Chariot driver". He also (and this is still on the pre-game clips from time to time) jumped off a racebike and made that gesture a heavyweight boxer makes feigning a world championship belt. He's like I said, kind of Chad-Johnson/Ocho-Cinco nuts.

Well that personality, like it or hate it, is going up on screen. Waples has partnered with a lo…

Pick 6's, Z's 'Seconditist' and Big Plans

Gulfstream introduces two new bets - one, a 15% rake pick 5 and the other, a 10 cent pick 6, like the one in Puerto Rico. The pick 5 is a good idea as it gives players a chance to play a sweep in (perhaps) a higher pool that GP's anemic pick 6 at a low rate. The pick 6 is a good idea because lottery players can shovel some cash in them. Serious players, unless there is a huge value-added carryover (where 5 of 6 money makes it worth it), or on mandatory payout day, will not be looking at this bet too hard.

What's the NFL and racing have in common? Not much, other than both are being bet. In the old days they were a little bit similar though. They were fractured and had no real purpose, with defending factions fighting each other tooth and nail, and they were insular. In fact, would you believe that in the early 1960's several of the big gate teams wanted nothing to do with television, because (get this) it might hurt live attendance.

Thank goodness for them, they had leadersh…

Meadowlands Rolls in 11, Whales & Good Laws

It was just announced: The Meadowlands will race in 2011. Jeff Gural seems to have made a difference. We can hope that his forward thinking is a boon for the #1 harness racetrack in the World. The sports handle just took a jump in 2011 thanks to this news, because without the Meadowlands, it would be dismal.

Michael Vick wants to own a dog. I can't speak dog, but if I did I think they would all be saying, "for the love of god, no". It's funny, there is a law if you are convicted of dog abuse, you cannot own one. Common sense right? Why in the heck is there not the same law for horses?

John Pricci goes through the California boycott today on his website. Jeff Platt is interviewed. It turns out whales, as well as $2 bettors, want some proper takeout. The former might surprise some people, because they are already getting lower takeout, but you'd be wrong.

From the "polar opposite" file. Gulfstream Park issues their plans for 2011, which includes a "Nor…

Governor Christie, Meet Jeff Gural

It looks like there is a chance that Jeff Gural might be a willing buyer for the Meadowlands. In yesterday's Daily Record, Gural said he "may have solutions for the Meadowlands".

This would be a game-changer.

Gural, who owns Vernon and Tioga Downs is his own man - a successful one at that - who loves racing and is not afraid to try things this business barely pays lip-service to. Over the past several years he has floated out ideas like having horses unable to breed before age 5, adding purse money to the older divisions and created a business where our horses can race longer and become known. This of course angered breeders. He has also shown a willingness to stand up to horsemen groups when he feels they are not rowing the racing boat to prosperity, angering them. He stood up and lowered takeout at Tioga Downs, angering some in the depths of this static-business who all-to-often fall back on the words "we can't".

Anyone who angers everyone has to be good.

Partnership Party

I got an email around 6PM tonight: " I bought a share for some friends as a Christmas gift, and bought a few for myself as well.  Now I can say I'm a thoroughbred and standardbred owner, and thoroughbred horseplayer."

The email was from a thoroughbred friend who was introduced to the harness races just this past August. The seller of the shares was Frank Antonacci (story on the partnership here), who on Facebook, Twitter and all those new-fangled mediums offered out an $11,000 trotting yearling, to 100 people at $500 a pop. Bills, stakes payments - the whole she-bang are included so the share owner does not have any further liability.

According to Frank, this was done to "get some new people involved who have never owned a harness horse".

From that point on, the infection of owning horses started - emails back from me, because Charlie would not know a Bettors Delight from Turkish Delight and I was stoked to fill him in on harness breeding - and from Charlie,…

Why I Support the California Thoroughbred Boycott

This week it was announced that there is a national boycott of California thoroughbred racing. As a good deal of you know, The California Horse Racing Board decided to raise takeout this past year, despite gambling experts, empirical data, most of the racing press, and horseplayers urging them not to.
The same board passed a takeout hike earlier in the year as a test case at Los Alamitos and on-track handle was off over 25%, with total handle off around 15%. Regardless, they pressed on and did it again.
California certainly is a dysfunctional state, in many ways. Their horse racing board, which makes wagering decisions, is mostly filled with horse owners, bureaucrats and political appointees. To many, this is a group that should not be making multi-million dollar gambling decisions - real gambling people should - while leaving horse decisions to them, yet they do.
As has been shown time and time again, raising purses through a takeout increase (or even through slots) d…

Tuesday Notes

Some items that caught my eye in racing this past couple of days.

Dust up! Have you ever seen two owners go back in forth on a chat board before? Well the owner of Western Silk (Tom Hill) spoke about his filly being the best around, which was taken in a poor sportsmanship way by owner of Put on a Show, Richard Young. The two of them went at it and the fingers were burning. It's entertaining reading. For the record, I think Young's filly is much better than Tom's. But since they are both coming back in 2011 as 4YO's perhaps we will see if that is right or wrong.

Equidaily seems to be linking. I have read several times from bloggers that he has been less than supportive of the blogosphere, however two items say otherwise to me. First, he linked to my piece on not being a sport, which was not a puff piece. In racing, as some of you noted in the comments section, if you write something in racing that does not fit the industry narrative on a blog (no matter how good), y…

Eight Reasons We Ain't a Sport

Recently, CHRB Vice-Chair David Israel has been at work - making several comments about racing, and its ability to be marketed as a sport, among other things. A good deal of commentators, from Bill Christine to horseplayers, have been dissecting the comments.

The end goal for the foes of such comments is purely from a bottom line perspective. A perspective which has been echoed by marketers, bettors and others who care about the industry, namely: If we can not even decide who our customers are, how can we ever grow?

It appears Mr. Israel and his (albeit very few) supporters think racing can grow as a sport, like the Lakers and the Giants and the Maple Leafs, and Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant do. I believe the evidence is overwhelming: This is a complete red herring, a waste of money, and most importantly (as the clock ticks in our game) a waste of time.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Horse's Can't Speak - In the sports world players and participants mat…

The Good the Sad and the Ugly

Racing runs us through most emotions.

The good: San Pail. A trotter no one wanted, who through the patience and respect problem trotters need of a caring trainer, and an owner who is tops went on to win $1.6 million (so far). There is a great story on SC about him.

The sad: Brenna Seely, who I knew as a groom of two of our horses (and a wonderful caring groom she was) passed due to a vehicle collision. She was 24. I hope the next time I get a bad trip as an owner or a bettor and I want to lament my luck, I remember things like this.

The ugly: The RDSP - Racing Development and Sustainability Plan - here in Ontario is finished. The horseman groups (why they have so much power when so few support them is beyond me) who did not support it was the major reason it is off the rails. The unfortunate thing - we all circle the drain with them, whether we like it or not.

Woodbine: More to the Story on Handle Growth

Woodbine's 2010 thoroughbred handle was up, which is of course a good thing. However, reading some of the press, I wonder if the story is being told correctly. Most of the press is focusing on US exposure and big event marketing and it as a driver of new handle, but I believe they are missing (or not telling, and I am sure you can figure out why) what is really happening.

US players are playing Woodbine and certainly the bigger events are being marketed - so that part is not at all untrue, however there is much more to this story. It appears Woodbine has been doing what we as players have wanted them to do for several years now - reverse the policy of demanding a huge price for the product (and protecting its signal), and their elimination of the ban on lower takeout ADW's.

About 2004 the handle was falling, take was high, rebate shop money was being shut off and watching a Woodbine race via a video feed was like asking for the keys to Fort Knox. The bogeyman at that time was …


We see it in virtually every business: A company folds and a similar company offers out the old customers a discount, or a trade-in. They are like vultures circling a carcass. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

The NYC OTB's have shut their doors. It is estimated that about $750M in handle goes through the windows there. At a 22% blended take, that is $150M or so in revenue. The OTB customer is not like me and many of you. They are not price sensitive like we are, they do not shop for an ADW which has good service and good prices. They are the old-time horseplayer. They are not going to jump into another plan without some prodding.

So, it is interesting to read that there appears to be no response from Yonkers regarding this. Other than an ad from NYRA rewards (good on them for a response, but we expect it from Dan Silver), we seem to hear crickets.

Even then, as They're in the Gate talks about today, as well as Power Cap, even if NYRA rewards do sign up some customers via …