Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year on the Blog & Happy New Year

Well, an end of year post a little about you. I am fortunate to have a lot of you come and read my nonsense, and we had a good year here for interaction and traffic. Being a marketing person in real life, I decided it might be interesting to look at the traffic, some links and a few other metrics to learn more about you guys, and maybe a little about myself. I thought I would share them here.

Here we go:

45% of you who visit come from direct traffic (e.g. you bookmark the site), 38% are from referrals (e.g. referring websites from a link), and the remainder come from search engines.

For every one of you from Canada visiting, there is 1.6 people from the US visiting. Hits came from all over the world though, including racing hotbeds like Sweden and downunder.

The top referrals for this site this year, in order rank, were: The Paulick Report, Equidaily.com, with Raceday360.com and the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance in a close third. Thanks to you big guns for allowing me to join, or linking the little blog this year.

You are google users, more than the average web surfer.

Top three blogs who send traffic here? That would be harness pal Allan at View From the Racetrack Grandstand, Cangamble, and the Knightsky Racing Blog.

The top keyword (non-brand related, like racing, or ptp etc) of 2010: Who else, Zenyatta. Why would the mare be the most popular search term who landed here with only a couple of blog pieces on her? She’s Zen-freaking-yatta - the most popular horse of the internet world, and it is not even close. I got hits from everywhere from people searching her.

You are pretty loyal. 7% of you have visited over 200 times. Thanks.

29% of you use Firefox. That’s cool, I like Firefox.

You are more techy than the average Tom, Dick or Lucy. Iphone’s and IPAD’s make up a huge percentage of mobile visits. I was surprised as I have seen other blogs and there is nowhere near this amount of Apple penetration on them (and it ain’t me visiting with them, I have a Blackberry).

Top stories here of 2010? Those are easy – the stories which got linked from the big guns. My critique of my pal Ray Paulick (he’s still a pal even though we think each other is nuts sometimes) got a ton of hits and was number one. Zenyatta posts were both number two and number three (I think that must have been from Z’s faithful on Facebook). As far as generic posts go, the handicapping articles (linked at the side) continue to get piles of hits. You seem to like those, or at the very least visit them. If track executives do not think you are interested in fair odds lines or Harville Formula's, they better change their tune.

I sincerely appreciate all the visits. I write this blog pretty quickly (usually five minutes or less per post) and tend to write whatever strikes me. I know it’s not for everyone, but for those who do come to read, I can’t say thank you enough.

Enjoy your New Year, and all the best for 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 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 in 2010 asked people to bet and not watch the race? Who was running that business, a chimpanzee?" But it was the case, with the politics. However, decent management (and in my opinion NYRA has better than average management) with a will to succeed can overcome bad politics.

On the flipside I was shocked and stunned at this: Yesterday Santa Anita had a three horse field and..... wait for it..... they allowed trifecta wagering. We spoke yesterday about how we feel we need more watchdogs for CA racing. We have our first one. The Big Event Blog said it best, so there is no need for any prose from me.

I don't know what is happening with Cali racing, but the press sure is bad. Regardless of what is going on, there is no denying that people expected huge numbers from SA early this meet. The switch to dirt and the massive marketing should have had this place rock. As a sharp dude in CA said on the Christine blog before opening day: "The track is doing massive marketing on the return to dirt, and do y'll think this is going to deter the player from sending (money) in with both hands on opening day? Some players won't even know of the takeout hike, or won't care. It's Santa Anita, the Great Race Place. That's all they hear, calendar, Santa Anita. "

For whatever reason (pick one or twelve) that has not occurred. Handle yesterday, standardized and even with the "American Pickers" marathon on History Channel factored in, again was horrid.

There is an article on NJ.com about Gural and the Meadowlands. I have some optimism for this place with him there, and like NYRA and the video thing, their backs are against the wall, so forced change is needed. Give the article a read.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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 not want to give up without a fight; I am not telling you anything you don't know.


I love stories like this: A rescued horse who was abused, finding a new life. Animals never cease to amaze me. I adopted a dog who was on the streets recently, and he simply forgets his past. After some care and help, it is like he has sat in front of a fireplace his whole life. I don't know horses very well, other than to give them a carrot (I remember alone leading one to the test barn once after he raced and I was scared out of my head he'd run away), but it seems they are the same way.

Instant racing passes in Kentucky. I have a feeling if Kentucky gets revenue from machines, they will actually implement it correctly. I know Keeneland will definitely work something out to lower juice, implement some customer friendly initiatives and build field size. CDI, I am not sure. But I hope something happens with it.

I have been emailed a few times "Why is Santa Anita handle down?" I have no idea. But players are not playing it for some reason. Today Tampa Bay Downs had a higher handle. And that is shocking no matter what kind of excuse you want to use. Seven or eight years ago Santa Anita could outhandle an entire Tampa card in one nice race - rain, shine or snow.

Dan Patch winners were announced. I see no surprises, do you?

Congrats to Brian Zipse. He moves from blogger to a big dude at Horse Racing Nation. He's a wonderful horse racing fan. If we had more like him we'd be in good shape.

"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, the CHRB earlier in the year talked about the numbers at a meeting and spoke of "handle per race" being up and that was the narrative they wanted to use.

Obviously this was a red herring, and with a little common sense we could figure it out:

1) Handle was down before they cut dates
2) Apples to apples standardized 4 day a week's which did occur, handle was down
3) Less dates means bigger fields and more betting opportunities - i.e. if I cut Woodbine to one day a week and had ten 14 horse fields, handle would certainly be up on a per day basis. Bigger bankrolls playing more betting interests.

So, a researched blogger would not take that at face value. He would look and do some digging.

If he did, he would further find out that Monmouth reduced dates like Los Al, but unlike them : overall handle was up.

"In 2009, the 141 T-bred race dates were split between Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands Racetrack, and, according to the brisnet.com report, total handle rang in at $354,867,156. In 2010, with nearly 50 per cent fewer race dates and racing consolidated at Monmouth, the total handle was $477,375,167."

This morning on the Paulick Report, Ray wrote an editorial talking about "handle per race", just like the CHRB talks about.

The story was not handle per race after hiking takeout, the story was that quarterhorse racing in 2010 after the takeout hike had less opportunities for racers, fewer customers, and smaller betting handles - exactly what we don't want in racing.

We need people to ask questions in racing, and do a little digging, or we will continue to give bad policy a pass. New York has it. California does not.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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'd like someone (RAY) to ask that publicly and have it answered. It's a fairly basic, fundamental question.

Whether you agree with HANA or not, no one can disagree that how things are done in California are ludicrous. And the results of this charade bear it out.

How long are we going to let this go on? And why do people pretend it isn't responsible for killing the industry, when it so obviously is?

I know its not money, CHRB has $12 million dollar budget, HANA has 12 cents.


What he is alluding to of course, is Cal MacWilliam - an economist who has taught at Vanderbilt and Carleton Universities, is a horse owner and former quarter-horse trainer - has been plucked out of the wilderness to be a part of change and HANA. He is currently working with the organization on a white paper where alternative takeout mechanisms can be employed, with hopeful benefit to handles and purses. Meanwhile, making wagering (and voting on them) and economic betting decisions in California is a person like Bo Derek. As a lot of you know, Ms. Derek when speaking with horseplayers at a recent CHRB meeting, thought takeout on slot machines was higher than horse betting takeout. This is not a shot at her - she does wonderful work at horse retirement and other horse owner issues and is an asset - it is just a shot at the fact that a horse racing group, with no money can find a Phd in economics to help, but the CHRB does not.

There is a lot of chatter out there. Alan over at LATG for example, found time to write a 500 word post today because he does not like the way HANA is purporting the takeout increase (HANA and CG say it is 14.7%, which is the percentage change from 20-23 for example, instead of 3%, and Alan wants 3%), the Thoroughbred Times and the DRF and others have found time to write about California races, people, weather, food prices, what band is playing after the races and everything else. In other words, there are a lot of people writing a whole bunch about HANA and Cali-racing.

Is it not too much to ask them to write about Death Spiral's simple question?

I think it help racing more, because when a Horseplayers Association with no power, with all volunteers and with no money can find a wagering economist to help them, and a board in control of billions of dollars of wagering has someone voting on multi-billion dollar wagering decisions who thinks slots are a worse deal takeout-wise than racing, there is clearly something very, very wrong.

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 they made change one: The price, and it was not a minor change: 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. So far the results look promising: They had a purse hike and handles are trending up. Last week they had their highest handle night in at least two years.

But price is only one part of this business and its success or failure. Pompano has also implemented several customer focused themes, have a nice track side show and have gotten involved in the community. And today they have announced another important phase. For those of you who have been critical of Equibase in thoroughbred racing, you will like this.

Effective immediately, the online resources available for the South Florida harness racing product will be offered to the fullest extent by The Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park. This includes the free availability of race program pages, live race night online audio and video streaming, and the archive of on-demand race video replays.

Doing that, three or four years ago, was a dirty word in our sport. Paying for replays, paying for programs (i.e. a restaurant asking a customer of $2.50 to read the menu) and locking up a signal behind a Department of Defense firewall was considered a common business practice. Not any longer.

Doing some fundamental things like this - adding to churn with lower take, offering out some common sense customer perks - is considered common for casino's, slot parlors, or your neighborhood Wal Mart, but in racing (some tracks are doing free replays now like Woodbine and Charles Town among others) they are not. But little tracks are showing the big ones that the time has come to join them. They won't fix all the problems we have, but they're a start. And when we see places like California doing the opposite, we should be thankful for them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

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 off?

As some of you know im NOT yet tax deductible but i do account for every donation and where it gets used if we would get enough pledges to do this.

If im out of my mind trying to do this please say so.

Just think of how positive it would be if standardbred people unite to save some needed horses that our own industry has disregarded.
Straight of the track.
For those of you who dont know of my rescue Horse Rescue United you can ask me any questions and also look the group up on fb,my profile or on the website:

http://www.horserescueunited1.com

I would also like to ask for your support in asking the Usta to ban people from membership if they knowingly sell to slaughter or grade auctions like the auction at new holland is.

I know thats hard to enforce but for the few horses we could possibly save that way it would mean everything.

Anouk
you can call me at 609 481 8561 if needed.
PTP note: You can paypal a donation at horserescueunited1@yahoo.com. Send it as a gift.

This time of year, where we get so many commercial things, I think there is no better gift than saving a horse and giving him or her a life they deserve. I have already donated to her earlier this year, but I am going to again right now. Please join me if you feel the same way and have the wherewithal to do so.

For the thoroughbred side there is a rescue I have become familiar with in Southern California called "Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue". I know a bunch of you are not playing Cali-racing any longer, but there is a way to support it - by donating to that organization. They have calendars for 2011 for sale, and I see they have a few left. Get a nice calendar and help a horse.

Good luck and enjoy the racing today folks.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Who Writes the Headlines at the Bloodhorse?


Has the Bloodhorse been 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 never will be profitable. This was in a time when racing was North America's number one sport, and race horses were on cereal boxes. It was a proud game yes, but not a money making game. At the turn of the century it was estimated that 1 in 500 horse owners would make money. When you buy a horse, one thing you know, and this holds to this day - if you hit the big horse you can make some money, but if you don't you will struggle.

From 1930 to today, takeout increased over 130% (takeouts are margins, not real dollars, so the rate of inflation has nothing to do with that number). The thinking for the last 80 years is that if we take more money from the customer and sink it into purses (this actually had theoretical merit because horse racing was a monopoly and could average cost price back then - i.e. raise takeout and make more money), all will be well. It is 2010, and that thinking is alive and well in California, despite the fact our sport has been relegated to a minor sports and gambling entity. Of course, as we all know: raising takeout does not raise more money because we are moving further away from optimal take as we raise it.

As a California horse owner with around 20 head posted (someone who both owns horses, and bets this game daily):

If the magical purse fairy made avg purses in CA 100K starting tomorrow, they would not lower takeout for the bettors.......owners would just go out and spend higher prices on horses....trainers, vets and vendors would raise their prices, etc....and in a short while, owners would be complaining that they need more money to stay in the business.

Bingo. That is exactly what has happened and will happen. Add to the fact that raising takeout does not raise purses in the long run and you realize just how hard it is for Ray to make this silly argument show legs.

Horse ownership has grown already - by a ton. In Canada, there were 30,000 racehorses registered in 1975. In 2008, there were close to 200,000 - a 587% increase. How did that 6-fold increase in horse ownership do for our handles and popularity since 1975? Not well. Increasing foal crops, into a system where we don't have customers, is an experiment which already has empirical data associated with it and has failed. This is nothing new and should not be shocking to anyone. Without customers paying for purses, every business must shrink. There is no way around it. We have a customer problem in racing, and have for some time.

From my personal experience, I have filed 17 tax returns since 1990 where I have asked for the maximum tax deduction for losses all but twice. I have owned about 80-100 horses since that time, in a super-slot rich province. We have an expensive hobby. We all know that going in because we stick money into something for entertainment as a hobby. Our customers on the other hand are not hobbyists, they are rational gambling customers who like all customers of anything, seek value.

A big four automaker three years ago might have said "if we could only charge $44,000 for an Impala instead of $30,000 we'll be well." Clearly that is folly, because they had more than a revenue problem. If you have a cost problem, throwing more money at it will not help. In addition, at $44,000 you are going to sell less Impala's and more Honda's anyway, so in the long run you are toast.

We try to put round pegs in square holes in racing. We try and use faulty logic about takeout and ignore all the real issues. Some like Ray write: higher takeout means more money for purses, more purses mean more owners, and somehow (this is the real stretch - see the Ontario foal increase for that above) more owners mean more bettors and a healthy industry.

Since we have tried that algorithm about 50 times since 1900 and it has failed horribly, one can see how Ray and the CHRB are having such a difficult time convincing people it makes sense.

I congratulate the commenters on the Paulick Report for seeing through it. We may finally have a chance in this industry to do some good if we start finding and solving the real problems, and stop concentrating on the specious ones. If we can find a way to decrease horse owner costs in our business we have a chance at more horse ownership; until then everything else is simply ignoring the real problem. If the CHRB and Ray Paulick spent more time on that, they would be doing our business a service.

As a poster on the article penned (and a sharp poster at that): "Your stance will hurt the industry Ray. Everyone involved. That is why you "strike a nerve" with it. It's not provocative, it's just wrong."

And "wrong" is a hard thing to sell.

Note: The comments at the Paulick Report have brought out the best from people who care about this sport and have a keen understanding of the issues. There are several intelligent posts (in fact most of them). It is so nice to see people standing up and saying "enough is enough". They are worth a read because it shows we are maturing as an industry and when sharp people like that get involved, it is good for our long-term prospects. Four years ago a topic like this would have 12 comments and 9 of them would be "bravo Ray, we put on the show". Not any longer. There is real discussion going on, based on sound economics and business principle. It appears industry back slapping and "woe is me" hyperbole has finally taken a back seat to proper discussion. For that we should all be thankful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

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 days on his case - alone - he was released from prison for being wrongly incarcerated. Today he has been hired as a paralegal by the lawyer who finally took up his case. He is a normal every day guy, just like you and me. His story is truly remarkable.

Mr. Collins with only his own mettle, worked himself out of a hole that would seem to you and me insurmountable. With nothing, many of us would simply throw up our hands and accept our fate.

Mr. Collins did not have multiple billions of slot money to help him. He did not have hundreds of thousands of passionate fans willing to help him for free. He was not backed by $1B of purse money to dip into. He did not have the ear of state representatives or a Provincial Premier to fall back on. He did not power brokers over for dinner to be lobbied or to give free advice.

He did not have that, but we do.

With such a fortunate head start our problems are easy, not impossible. If Mr. Collins looked and listened to our problems he would laugh. We fight over slices of the pie in racing, and he did not even have a slice to begin with, yet he triumphed and we falter. We need to look at our problems and laugh too, because we can fix them.

It just takes some will and some human spirit; ask Jabbar Collins.

Merry Christmas to you and your families.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

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 passed? Why can't we lower takeout to try and spur some growth? One area that has done that, and is doing it, is Australia. Story here. After adding betfair and doing some good things, handle in AUS topped $20B last season, a 4.4% jump. What recession? And how is betfair bad for pari-mutuel racing again?

Waples talks about the planned harness racing TV show here.

Oh my head. California dudes with some strange quotes. The business has to ask itself if these folks should be in charge of gambling decisions. It is something we have to come to grips with sooner or later, or we're finished.

Plonk on "silver hairs" and racing.

There are some worthy Hall of Fame harness inductees to vote on this season. For me: Two of the best mares ever - Rainbow Blue and Eternal Camnation (just like my top ten horses of the decade list order).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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 miner.

2010 O'Brien Award noms are announced. I think Rick Zeron will be Susan Lucci again this year. To me, Riina is a great nominee.

A hearty welcome back to Richie Silverman, after his terrible accident. The Silverman family are good people and we wish Richie great luck on his return.

I find myself following the "Bourbon Slush" crew. As mentioned, a buddy of mine joined, and I know several of the shareholders. Frank has started posting videos of the horses training down.



Good luck folks!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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 local TV dude to create a show which will focus on harness racing, and the North America Cup.

"Having watched countless harness racing broadcasts, me and Al have decided to move harness racing into the year 2011 with an edgy, behind the scenes show,” he said. “I have always wanted to be involved in broadcasting and this is the perfect opportunity.”

Further on HD.com, a chat site, Waples expanded on this theme:

I hope people are ready, willing and open minded enough to watch and give this a shot. I'm hoping that we will be able to show harness racing (warts and all) in a different light than what it is normally shown.

I really believe that there are dynamics within horse racing that are never truly shown. Basically taking a camera in to the drivers room, showing accidents, showing competitiveness, showing the behind the scenes of getting a horse ready to race ( the ups and downs), showing temper tantrums and asking participants to give candid interviews without fear of reprisal, to admit making mistakes.Any help that I can receive from fans or participants on questions that you would like to see or show lines would be greatly appreciated.

Expect edgy folks cause thats what I want to show! Harness racing should be seen for what it is but not thru rose coloured glasses.

Go get em Waples.

Notes:

View from the Racetrack Grandstand has some cheers and jeers on his Naughty and Nice list for 2010. For harness fans, the comprehensive list is a must read. Greg Blanchard and Darryl Kaplan, were they nice or naughty? How about COSA & OHHA? How about HANA? Or Moira Fanning? Rock n Roll Heaven?

It's all there so check it out, and while you are there, be sure to vote in the poll. It should be one of the more lopsided polls in harness racing history. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

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 leadership that can think beyond yesterday because this season, 18 of the top 20 watched television shows are NFL games.

When someone (and we see this almost every day from some groups) tell us we have to stop at home wagering, tax it more to squeeze more revenue from customers, or make people go to the track to grow, point them to the NFL.

Zenyatta ran second! Again. They're in the Gate looks at the latest athlete to beat her.

Jeff Gural speaks of his plans for the Meadowlands via harnessracing.com.

Saddest commentary one can ever read on the California boycott by Steve Davidowitz.

"I do not agree that a boycott of the wagering windows can be effective. not when the handle has been sliding downward for years. [ and ] there is no way that a further decline will wake up California racing officials any more than the steady declines have to date."

Let's look at that for a minute: Handle is off about half in the past "x" years. In fact, if CA racing would have grown at the rate of inflation since 1990, handle would be close to $5B. Instead it is $1.9B.

So players have been telling racing for years that they dislike the product, they don't want the product, it is too pricey and too static, and all the rest. That fell on deaf ears of course. So now, Steve says even if handle dropped another 50% they won't listen anyway. The sad thing to me: If history holds, he is probably right.

I am a shareholder in a lot of different stocks, as are many of you. I can tell you with certainty that if sales were off by half in any of the stocks that we own, the board of directors and management would look nothing like they did from day one. In racing it seems the same people trying to fix the business are the ones who presided over its demise. Why does the sport let this happen?

Cangamble lets his thoughts be known. HANA has a list of commentary from Pricci and Eng.

Friday, December 17, 2010

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 "North America low 15% takeout pick 5". It's weird: About five years ago players were asking for low take bets and big field size. They were told to shut up. Now, five years later, with handle decimated, virtually every press release from racing uses the words "lower takeout and better field size". It's great, of course. But really, why so long, and did you not know in 2005 lower take and better field size ups handle?

Betting 101: There is a $500-$750B skill game gambling market in the land. Horse racing offers one of the best mind-puzzles ever, but if players cannot win, or if they feel they are getting a bad shake, there is always another sport to play, which offers, an edge, a chance to win, and a little bit of fun.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

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.

The Meadowlands is currently run by some people who know what they are doing - there is little doubt about it. However, like most in racing who want change, they are handcuffed by disparate interests. Sooner or later all they want to do is cash a paycheck and go home. A lot of us do not blame them. However, Gural is a mover and a shaker and he does not cash a paycheck and go home - he forces change.

In New York this past year he went to the wagering board and said "I am lowering takeout". He did. Tioga Downs now has the lowest takeout in North American harness racing; he did that by lowering it to New York State mandatory minimums. That is not really enough for him, though. As his racing manager noted recently:

"We'd like to see the takeout rates reduced even further to put the horse racing gamblers on the same level as a slot machine. The slot machines are generally between eight and ten per cent."

In this sport, a racing manager who says things like this publicly is usually muzzled. With Gural, ideas like this are encouraged.

This thinking - this outside the norm, let's change this sport and make it better by throwing out the conventional which has only given us negative growth - is rare. But Gural has it.

The Meadowlands and Jersey in general is ripe for radical change. Their legislature recently passed a number of items they hope moves the sport closer to the 21st century world. Chris Christie, racings favorite whipping boy, is a free-marketer and has asked racing to stand on its own two feet. This is a blessing for someone like Gural. If he brings a free-market change to him for the track, there is an audience. There would be no wagering board to beg, no CHRB telling a track owner how to price his gambling product, no Governor's office telling him "if you don't do this, I'm going to ....".

New Jersey racing might not win the fight with Gural at the helm of its largest track, but at least they would be in the fight. It would be the ultimate game changer, and in a sport in dire need of a new direction based on sound business management, customer-centric policies and a captain leading the ship, we should all be hoping it happens.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Partnership Party

Charlie at the Meadowlands playing Tioga Downs
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, who was stoked to own a harness horse.

It turns out this partnership is expanding, according to Charlie. Two more yearlings have been added, and in my opinion, they look like they have a shot. One is a Bettors Delight and another is an American Ideal. Both are first foals of dams by Artsplace and Life Sign respectively.

Like the partnership up here that Woodbine Mike Hamilton mentored, this one makes me smile. I could not wish Charlie and the other shareholders more sincere best wishes.

Note: Charlie wrote on the Horseplayers Association of North America site about his first trip to the harness races in August. "What's the difference between a trotter and a pacer" was a question he asked at that time. Now he owns a piece of one of each. To read Charlie's take on harness racing as a first timer, click here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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) does not help the long-term growth of your gambling business. Over time, your customer base always shrinks and we are left with less than we started with. In fact, the same group (the CHRB) did something similar in 2006, raising purses in the short term, and everything was supposed to be fine. It failed, and now they are back again doing the same thing. Unlike most businesses who correct mistakes after trying them and failing, California redoes them, hoping for a different result.

There are many people supporting this because they see a few more dollars waved in front of them, but in my opinion, they are focused on only one thing: Their pocketbook over the short term.

I know someone like Bob Baffert supports this hike in takeout, and he has said so. He will see a purse this spring of $20,000 for his horses that last year was $18,000. Who doesn’t like money? The problem is, ten years ago that $18,000 purse was $25,000. In ten years that purse will probably be less than $10,000.

Not long ago I saw a video of a California trainer say “we should take as much as we can when it’s there, because it won’t be around much longer.” It’s the way the business functions, and thinks (and not just in California; as a good friend likes to say “racing cannot look past its own nose”).

This takeout hike might have a pharma sales rep adding a few more dollars to his expense account for 2011, because people like John Sadler can put some of the purse increase into a new supplement. Awesome! But ten years ago the same pharma rep had ten stops on his horse route and drove a Lexus. In ten years he will have to move to Pennsylvania in his Impala.

It might help some others in the short term too. This takeout hike might get a groom tipped $20 more for a win because of a slight purse increase this spring. That’s wonderful. Who doesn’t like money? But ten years ago she got $50. Ten years from now she will be unemployed.

Why am I supporting the boycott? Because I want horse racing to have a good future; and takeout hikes, a lack of customer appreciation and a dysfunctional management system whereby horsemen make gambling decisions assures a bad future, not a good one.

If people like Keith Brackpool, or Bob Baffert, or a groom, or a Pfizer sales rep won’t stand up for racing’s long-term health, who the hell will?

I bet $1833 a day on California thoroughbred racing last season. This season I will bet zero.

It is not because I want to hurt someone. It is not because I am a fly-off-the-handle militant who wants something for free. It is not because with takeout going up my betting ROI in California will go down.

It’s because in a decade’s time I want the sport I enjoy to be bigger and stronger than it is today, instead of smaller and weaker.

And it appears not a soul in racing other than my fellow horseplayers care enough about our sport to do something about it.

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), you won't see the light of day, sans you regular readers. Not with Seth on this piece.

I have never been one for pure link bait (and I know how to do it; I work on the internet), because my opinions are mine and if you don't like them, that's ok. It's what the comment section is for. One of the best conferences I have ever been to was the SC conference in 2009 in Windsor. Moira Fanning - someone who loves this sport and who's passion is beyond reproach - stood up in front of a pile of insiders and said (paraphrasing) - 'we are not a sport, we are a gambling game fueled by alternative wagering, so stop calling us that.' I think we need people like that in our business. And I think we need less groupthought and more independent thought.

Along those lines: An organized boycott of California racing has been called. For more info you can read about it at playersboycott.org. Seth at Equidaily strikes again; it appears he is the only thoroughbred industry website that has linked it. The other? Standardbred Canada. Kudos to SC for keeping up on the news from the people who pay everyone's salary - you the bettor.

Of note: Cal Expo (it is noted on the site) is excluded from this boycott. They have been horseplayer friendly, and have said "no" to any takeout increase. In fact, they have lowered their pick 4 take.

Arlene Siegal passes. The long time owner of some really nice horses was wonderful for this game. They do things right, and in its spirit.

Remington handle was through the roof. The press runs the release as is, so I do not really blame them, but a commenter at Paulick (frequent commenter here in fact) "ITP" has the story correct.

"A track that got out of the Tracknet/CDI/Magna monopoly....opened up their distribution to price sensitive players while also reducing host fees which means lower takeout for them and MIRACULOUSLY....UP 53.9% on their export signal."

Lower prices, more signals = higher handle. Why is this rocket science?

Speaking of Churchill, they are in a fight with Tampa Bay Downs over that signal. Tampa has been making noise lowering takeout since 2002.

Doug McNair is searching for some wins, so he can hit the mark for youngest driver to 1000 wins. How important is power? Much was made about his trip to the M this past weekend, but he could not muster much. Sans one 5-2 shot, he was on bombs. Drivers don't win races, horses do, although sometimes we need to be reminded of that.

$500 for a $11,000 yearling share? That is a good deal; with all included. Frank, from what I hear, is an honest horseman.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

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 matter. When Joe Montana threw the ball to Dwight Clark in the NFC Championship against the Cowboys, we hear from him and we listen and we relive it. When Tiger Woods has a birdie putt to win the Masters, we hear from him and we listen and relive it. Conversely, when Zenyatta comes bareling down the stretch at Churchill Downs, we watch. She can't tell us how she feels, what she saw, how her trip was, or how tired she was. People love to say "well that is what jockey's and drivers are for - they are the stars". That is intra-industry nonsense. The general public knows that when Secretariat won by 31, or when Somebeachsomewhere came home in 54 flat to set a World Record in the Confederation Cup, it matters not who was on, or behind them. We want to hear from the true protagonists in sport's, and in our case, the protagonists whinny.

2. Momentum and Being in the Game Matters - In any pro sport, the thirty or sixty minutes or more are a roller coaster. We live and die with momentum. We scream at an interception, we exalt at a punt return TD depending on which team we are supporting. And we know the player who makes this mistake, or big play, because he has been around for many years, or is a hot rookie with plenty of press. We are a part of the game, and the emotion of it is a major reason you and I watch sports. Do we live and die with a 6 furlong race at Beulah in January? Only if we get photoed out I guess. There are times (and with 50k races a year they are so rare that they cant stand on their own) we live and die with a horse race (Barbaro, Zenny in both BC's) but not enough, and it never could be enough to rival true sport's.

3. Individual Sports Have a Difficult Time Breaking Into the Mainstream; And We Can't Play Jockey - Quick, list the top TV sports: Soccer, Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, Cricket, Rugby. They are team sports and team sports rule - bar none. People might point to golf, which does get some good ratings, but these ratings are surely juiced since a guy like Woods appeared; and they still are nowhere near team sports ratings. How about NASCAR? Sure, there is something to that, but like golf, NASCAR does have a team element, and they are (of course) participant sports.

People drive cars to work every morning, people play golf, sometimes six days a week; and they are intertwined into the fabric of society. Agrarian racing was, but is not any longer. A sixty year old, 240 pound guy in Montana can take the back roads and pretend he is Jeff Gordon on his way to a golf course, where he can, when arriving, hit a nice six iron to four feet where he's Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, the same guy is not going to pretend he is Mike Smith, Randy Waples, or a horse.

4. Agglomeration Matters - There are a hundred social networking sites, but only one is worth billions. There are hundreds of sports, but only a few capture millions of viewers to pay the bills. In November each year I hold two get togethers. First is the Breeders Cup, the second is US Thanksgiving football. Being in Canada one might think I could get more friends out to a BC day on a Saturday than for a football game when everyone has to go to work. Nope, Thanksgiving is popular, the BC is for die-hards. Real sport's tend to work work like a social network - go to a tail gate or Super Bowl party, join an office pool, play Madden 11 online, or be in a fantasy league, to see that sport's in action. Racing simply does not have the critical mass to grow internally, or virally as a sport. The other obvious point of agglomeration is revenue and that growth - sponsorships, TV commercials, cross branding and all the rest that come from a sport's popularity. With racing, no matter what we do, this revenue has been no more than a dribble.

5. Revenue - This one is obvious and unassailed. How much would the average fan pay for a nice seat to a Wild Card game? Will they pay $400 for a signed Peyton Manning jersey? Will they buy a product supported by Joe Montana? Will they shell out $200 a year to watch the Sunday ticket? Will they watch Sunday Night Football and pay for advertising? Yep, and that's where the money is. If racing had to survive on T-shirt sales, seat sales. TV revenues and concessions, the average purse at Acqueduct would be about $60. Scratch that, probably less.

6. There are Very Few Champions- I kind of like curling, believe it or not. I really like the Tour De France. I love watching track and field. I watch each event once or twice a year, when there is an event. It might be a national championship, a bike race in France, or what have you. But I watch, even though I am not a pure fan. In racing we have the Breeders Cup and Breeders Crown. We have the Derby. I know the Tour De France winner is the best cyclist in the world. I know the Olympic curling champ is the best team in the world. Is the Derby champ the best horse? Um, no, I think that is only for three year olds.... or something like that. What sport does not have a "best" of something? Even the Eclipse awards are a mess of old time colloquialism.

7. Detractors - Because we are dealing with animals in our game, we have our share of detractors. Some sports have drug scandals, but those are with human athletes, not animals, and because humans are making the errors those sport's live by sport's rules, not animal welfare rules. Gymnastics might be a good example where overzealous Eastern Bloc coaches were forcing 12 and 13 year old girls to compete, according to many. The sport took a hit and people do not look at it the same way. In terms of non-human sports I would submit Rodeo is the prime example - that 'sport' used to be on TV screens each weekend. Now it is banned in many states and provinces. When Sidney Crosby plays a game with a broken leg, he is gutsy. If a horse races with a broken leg, it's barbaric.

8. Real Sports Have a Central Authority - As we have looked here at PTP, sports like football have had hard and fast rule changes to make the game better and it was done from the league office. Meanwhile, "sports" like boxing and racing have chosen a different route. In racing, to change a rule, we need to part the Red Sea. To kick out a cheater, we need Matlock. We can't even bet the races depending on where we live, let alone watch them on the interwebs. Real sports have someone minding the store. Racing is a hodge podge of wagering boards, horsemen groups, or no-teeth acronyms. Many of them work in opposite directions, ensuring the status-quo rules, and we circle the drain.


If you agree with any of my points, or even if you do not, one thing we do have going for us is our passionate gambling base. It is not a secret that is where I would go to grow this sport. It is truly one of the best gambling pursuits ever to grace the earth and it is a selling point, even in the worst of times.

In fact, there are other sports who wish they were racing. They wish they had a great gambling game to fuel it. Could you imagine how popular Arena Football would be if it was the only sport we could bet legally?

The question to me is: Why are so many people in racing wanting the opposite?

Saying we're a sport might make a good sound bite, and it might make us feel better. But making us feel better by wanting to be something we are not does not pay the bills. In racing, trying to put scarce resources into a pipe dream with the goal of changing the entire demographic who funds this sport, while there are dozens if not hundreds of ROI-positive, or potential ROI positive avenues screaming for money, is nothing short of professional negligence. It's something that has to stop.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

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.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

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 those offshores stealing the money (there should be a picture of this argument under a Wikipedia entry for "Red Herring"), so contracting and being insular ruled the roost.

When I asked why this policy was in force during some of my phone calls at that time (I really wanted to bet the product because I liked it, but I was not going to play into the new 25% pick 4 take, which was raised from about 15%) there was no real answer. As with most huge organizations, the lower troops have orders.

However, since about late 2008, it seems the philosophy changed. No longer would the signal be treated like a protected child. We heard less and less about the offshores and wild numbers of lost handle. Rebates were treated more and more like a handle driver and less and less like the devil.

In 2009, enter TVG. No doubt Woodbine is either i) taking less for the signal fee or ii) paying TVG something to show the races as a feature track. Having a major network cover your races will always drive handle. In addition they did another thing that they have rarely embraced: Guaranteeing pools. They tried the seeded pool in '08 I believe, and in '09 and beyond they have guaranteed pools. For Canadian fans, no longer do you have to give a pint of blood or un-encrypt a website to watch a Woodbine race - they now stream live on their website for free.

Last, and certainly not least, larger players are welcome again - no longer are you treated like a nuisance, you are treated like a customer. As long time player "Rook" said recently (after not playing a dime into Woodbine for years):

"For over two years, I was in favor of boycotting Woodbine due to their extreme anti-rebate stance but things have gotten a lot better this year now that their former CEO David Willmot has retired." he typed.

"The effective takeout on Woodbine races has been slashed this year, [and they have] changed from being the most hostile to rebates track to being one of the most generous."

In August he wrote: "I've gone from betting $0 on WO to $206,377 thus far in 2010"

He ain't the only one folks. Price and signal availability matters.

WEG's CEO Nick Eaves has said his goal for 2011 is to lower takeout on punishing high take exotics, so more people can get some lower pricing. I imagine they will be working more on their events, looking to expand some of their signals (like they have done with Vegas), and doing some marketing to new players via the Score show, in addition to that.

It did not happen in 2002, or 2003 or 2004. But it has happened, and is happening in 2010 and 2011. Better late than never. The tradition of Woodbine (and the old Ontario Jockey Club) as a racing entity has deserved better. And so have their customers. When WEG grows it is a win-win for Canadian racing.

Now, go get that takeout down in 2011 and we'll be back a year from now talking about more handle growth. When more tracks focus on growing handle, and less on bean counting or infighting, racing wins.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Response

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 NYRA rewards, some weird, antiquated, horse and buggy law prohibits these folks from even watching the races they bet.

"Hi Mr. Customer. You know you can still play the races at NYRA rewards online"

"Really"

"You sure can. You can make all your bets, you just can't watch the races"

If you and I were running a business and a competitor went out of business, we would be on the ground asking for their business. We would employ a grass-roots team to meet them at the door. If we were doing business online where they need an account we would be handing out leaflets, signing up people left and right, offering them $40 free to try us. We would have demonstrations of our product. We would be doing business. And we sure as hell would not be handcuffed by a 1990 law in a 2010 world where when we do sign them up, they can watch what they are signing up for.

Such is horse racing; and there seems to be no one in charge to fix such common-sense problems.