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Showing posts from February, 2010

Mark Mac Gets the Boot; and Other 'Matters'

Last year Mark MacDonald drove two year old Canadian champion Sportswriter to a near flawless record. Not only did he get the best of him in the big races, he also drove him to a victory when by all rights he should have been beaten in the BC prep. However, he has been taken off the colt in favour of driver Brian Sears for the upcoming season.

Brian Sears, the sport’s top driver, said he has made a commitment to drive the outstanding colt this year when he competes. That includes, of course, the million-dollar events like the Meadowlands Pace and the North America Cup.

I find things like this a little premature, that is: Changing a driver for races three months in advance, when you have no idea how a horse comes back, and when you had mucho success with the old one. Maybe I am just superstitious, but in a sport that only has one certainty - the uncertain - it makes me quake when I read things like that.

In other Matters, a maiden colt out of the Noel Daley barn won his debut Sunday at th…

Oh Boy

Ontario is going to look into legalizing online gambling.

"Premier Dalton McGuinty is opening the door to allowing Internet gambling in Ontario.

Paul Godfrey, the new chairman of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, wants the province to get in to Internet gambling instead of watching potential revenues go to other provinces and offshore websites.

Quebec has announced plans to join the British Columbia and Atlantic lottery corporations in allowing online gambling."

With upwards of 17 racetracks, multi-millions in horse race handle and over 40% of the entire country's GDP, this could be a huge blow to horse race handles. As we know, handles are off on live racing by about 40% on harness alone since 2000, without any government promoted online gaming.

Three Times Heads or Tails, One For the House

In a pretty cool act of google mapping, an ADW created a harness track map, complete with takeouts. It's here.

Clicking the icons for takeout data is like a kid opening up his Christmas stocking and finding a lump of coal.

I wonder how that 32% superfecta take is doing at Chester. You can get a bargain on trifectas though; that take is only 30%.

Or how about that 24.6% win, place show takeout at Hiawatha? Would you play any game where if you flip a coin four times one of the results go to the house?

In the words of a thoroughbred playing friend of mine after seeing this map: "No wonder no one plays harness racing, they are all broke".

And Off Stride They Go

Sitting outside, or in the grandstand at Greenwood brings back many memories. Racing was super-popular and we usually had a packed house and some energetic fans. Every harness fan at that time will remember the reaction when a horse broke stride. First there would be cursing; players more upset than they are finding out they do not get a tax refund this year. Then, after the horse would come by the grandstand, far, far behind the others, the crowd would give the driver a bronx cheer.

"Am1947" has been tracking horses who break stride in his database and posted them at Pace. I found the numbers pretty shocking.

At the Meadowlands there have been 11,815 pacers sent to the gate in the past year and a half or so. 329 of them broke at some point of the mile, for a 2.78% break frequency.

There have been 4604 trotters sent to the gate and 522 have broke stride, for a 11.3% break frequency.

That means about 900 times the past year or so a bettors money went up in smoke without even havi…

Go Green

Tracks and racing organizations are constantly asking for government help. We often read a similar angle while they try to convince government for this help: Racing speaks of the "economic impact" when money is injected into racing, and hands off an economic impact study, done by some company with six names. This has always been a curious angle to me. Sure if you give a racetrack $20M for purses, that money will get filtered down to feed men, hay farmers, gas stations, trailer and truck sellers and so on. But if I give that $20M to say, a deck maker to give everyone a free cedar deck, then that money will be filtered down to lumberjacks, construction workers, steel makers and places that sell those tables with umbrellas in the middle of them (among others).

Why do they continue to do this in places like Jersey? I don't really know. If anyone knows about people asking them for dough it is the government, and they know x will go up if you give money to y. They see these thi…

Big Loss for East Coast Harness Racing

It was announced that the General Manager of Harness Racing PEI, Jeremy Pierce, is leaving for a new job. This is not very good news at all.

For those who do not know, PEI hosts the annual Gold Cup and Saucer in Charlottetown, and it is a tremendous event. The Island is one of the most unique places on earth. They are somewhat secluded from the rest of the country, and have their own style. And they love harness racing, sometimes simply racing for ribbons. Jeremy, though his knowledge of sports marketing, and passion for a new sport, worked his butt off this past few years.

I first met him at a wagering conference in Montreal, and was immediately impressed. He moderated the panel on new racing innovations in Windsor this past year as well. He always, without fail, wanted to know an opinion from a bettor about a new policy. He also was always trying new things, to up the bet, and grow the game, even a little bit.

The new guy or gal has some big shoes to fill in PEI. We hope they find a g…


I have my TV on the racing channel today, and about 2:45 I see the track announcer at Oaklawn announce that the Apple Blossom Stakes has been moved back. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will meet on Friday April 9th.

The weird thing was, I did not really believe it. There was no press release, no story up on any of the top websites, nothing. After about an hour, the DRF picked it up, and it appears to be true. It is a pretty good illustration that we do not need press releases much anymore. Word filters through.

Some folks are upset it is a Friday instead of a Saturday, but that is irrelevant to me. If people want to watch it, they will find a way to watch it. Seabiscuit versus War Admiral in 1938 was on a Tuesday, and they did not have what we have today: Cable racing channels, live video streaming, and all the rest.

Not to mention, they will probably run the race late in the card anyway. It will be an early evening affair.

Saturday appears to be a bad day to run it, because of competition…

The Peta Police

Audi's Super Bowl ad has been causing quite a stir both in print and on the web. The agency who wrote the ad (Venables Bell & Partners) and is marketing it after has done a good job in getting the message through. Outwardly, the ad is one which tells the consumer about a product, its features and benefits and does it in a funny way. In the bigger picture, the message is a bit more pronounced.

Cars are polluters, more than a battery thrown away, having your hot tub over 105 degrees, or using a plastic bag; one look over any major North American city confirms that. Audi makes a car, and it is greener than some, but it is still a car. Audi, knowing that just like everyone else does, says to the mainstream: "Yes we agree, things are crazy out there on the fringes, and being a driver you know damn well you pollute, but if you want to be socially and environmentally responsible while owning a car, here is one you might like."

It is a grown up message, for a grown up consumer…

Random Thoughts

Chris Christoforou is a hell of a good driver, but one with an issue. He wrote a letter to the industry today on the SC website:

To My Fellow Horsemen and Women;

It has recently become obvious to me that I need and want immediate professional therapy to help me fight an addiction I have developed to prescription pain medication. I have tried to control this problem myself, and although I am currently clean and am winning the battle, I feel as though I'm fighting something I don't fully understand yet.

With the help of a loving family and wonderful friends I have decided to enter a 45-day, 12-step program in the United States in the hope of getting my life and career back on track.

The encouragement and support I have received from everyone (especially in the past few weeks) has been overwhelming -- THANK YOU! It also serves as a reminder to me as to why I love this business and the people in it.

This must be tough to go through, especially publicly. Good luck Junior.

I hear New Yor…

Pick 6 carryover at the Big M, and Low Take Pick 4's

Tonight there is a $96,000 carryover at the Meadowlands Pick 6 pool. It's probably time to play. Depending on the weather, one could expect the pool to reach $300,000 tonight.

For more information, some analysis and sample tickets, click here.

As most know, Balmoral Park (and Maywood) have lowered their pick 4 to a 15% takeout. Here are some sample numbers about what you can score when these tracks lower their takeout.

Sunday, January 31 Pick Four at Balmoral

Old payoff $8,984.90 New payoff $10,182.90

Added winnings of $1,198

Wednesday February 3 Pick 4 at Meadowlands

Old payoff $7,821.70 New payoff $8,864.70

Added winnings of $1,043

Thursday February 4 Pick 4 at Meadowlands

Old payoff $7,624.50 New payoff $8,641.40

Added winnings of $1,016

It is important to note for Canadian readers: You can not get these rates here in Canada at Woodbine, or through their ADW. Those 15% takeouts are jacked up, to (I think) 25% or more. So beware; you will get lower payoffs at the old, or worse than the old …

It's a Trainers Game

Drivers make some cash - a lot of cash. And as handicappers we will hear almost incessantly how important they are from the media.

Last year, we heard quite a bit for example, about David Miller - he was driving like a man possessed according to many. He was 38 for 259 and making some serious moola. However this year he is 9 for 235 and you get back about 50 cents for each dollar when you bet on him. Suddenly, he has "lost it", according to many of the same people.

He has not lost it, he lost power.

Last year he drove for Casie Coleman, who was an amazing 10 for 35. He also drove for Ken Rucker. He was 13 for 82. 23 of his 38 wins were layups.

This year, Ken Rucker is 3 for 83, and he does not drive much for Casie Coleman. Result: a 4% win percentage.

In this day and age where what vet you employ makes the utmost importance, drivers do not make horses, trainers make drivers.

Worst in Show

The Thoroughbred Times reported the break-down rate at Penn of banished owner Michael Gill's horses today. It turns out about 1 in 200 break down. As most everyone knows, the jockey's at Penn National have stood up against the owner, feeling for their safety.

Switching gears from the Gill-bashing (there is plenty of that both in print and on the net) to racing in general, it makes me wonder.....

How do we ever expect racing to be mainstream, or even tolerated where 1 time out of 200 a horse will end up dead?

If a dog was destroyed due to injury once every 200 laps around the walking ring at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, I am pretty sure it would not be very well attended.

Video: MSM take on the Gill situation.

A Change in Attitudes

As we spoke about below, Harrah's is trying to get out of a racing deal by paying Iowa $70M for them to not hold greyhound races. A congressperson agrees: "It's an industry that does not have a lot of following," Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, told The Register. "It doesn't make sense to subsidize something Iowans aren't interested in."

Several years ago it was proposed that some purse money goes to lowering rake, and to market the sport. It was met with "do not touch our purse money!" from most quarters. However, with the writing slowly being etched into the wall, there is a bit of a change in attitudes.

From Standardbred Canada a comment:

Harness racing is next.

Takeout needs to be lowered while racing is on the last leg of it's casino subsidies. That is the only way it will ever become a sustainable business on it's own.

When the subsidies are gone, will racing for about 10%-20% of current purse levels keep racing alive? Of course n…

Can Racing Be That Far Behind?

"Harrah's Entertainment, the world's biggest casino chain, is pressuring Iowa lawmakers to end live greyhound racing and is willing to pay the state millions to see it happen." says today's story in the Des Moines Register.

It has been said again and again that sooner or later horse racing must show ROI on its own, or it will be culled. At many jurisdictions it does not. Although it sounds pretty strange, since we are all horse racing nuts, not dog racing nuts, it does not take a huge leap of logic to see this item be replicated for some harness and thoroughbred tracks in the next decade.

Slot tracks need to lower their takeout and put money into the customer soon, in my opinion. Today's "far-out-can't-happen-to-us" story, might be tomorrow's reality.

Video Monday

Two videos. First a true racing spectacle from France. I have no idea what they are saying, but I love this race every year.

Second, Andrew Cohen interviewed after his O'Brien Award for a piece he wrote which tried to give racing one swift kick in the butt. I thought it was a good interview and I agree that change is coming.

Slots, a Tale of Two States

The New York slots debacle appears to be over, as the governor has made his choice. You can see the dollar signs in everyone's prose, eyes, whatever it may be. Unfortunately, virtually all the commentary I have read is exactly what we heard here in Ontario, circa 1995, about slots at racetracks.


If we upgrade our facilities

If we increase our purses and get better horses

.... we will thrive.

We all have problems with that because, well, been-there-done-that and we have the t-shirt. In Ontario we learned the hard way that a new coat of paint did very little to increase attendance or wagering, and the promises of site improvements being a savior were completely off the mark. In addition the better horses promise was equally specious. One would think people in racing would have read the University of Louisville study on wagering which stated when increase purses, handle goes up by only a negligible amount. What many knew at the time, but it was not trumpeted, was that adding slot…