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Showing posts from March, 2011

Glad to See They Didn't Leave out Pigeons

"Pre-racing" is a dirty word in racing. It is one of the things the RCI is peeved about. However, it is mainstream, and today's funny was a twitter page I came upon, The interesting part to me, it's for more than just horses.

It's nice to see that in 2011, even Camels are looking for an edge.

Kegasus Wins Out Over Some Big Names; And I Have Them

Kegasus, the half horse, half slightly chubby man was announced as the new mascot of the Pimlico Infield Monday. Call me crazy-sus, but it seems Pimlico might be going after the under 30 beer-drinking crowd with this one. Time will tell if this is a good move, or a bad one.

As you all know, I like to break huge secret news on the blog and I will again this morning. I have spoken with some of my chipmunk spies who have access to the high offices at Pimlico. They tell me that although Kegasus won out, it was a wild battle because there were other candidates.

Here - and only here - are the super-secret nixed infield mascot candidates. Take that Bloodhorse.
Frankstronosaurus - Half man, and half a can of energy drink. The big draw here was that if any infielder can chug a 12 pack of the drink, hit a Pimlico Slider, and a quadruple quadrefecta, he wins 8 trillion dollars. TeranaDutrowrex - Half man, half horse trainer. This one might have been a hit because if you are taking pa…

Does Horse Racing Kill Its Own Brand?

If you read virtually any marketing book it will talk about how difficult it is to reinvigorate a brand. If your restaurant is known for bad service, and you correct it, it can take years to break free from the stigma. I am sure in your daily life you can come up with dozens of examples of stores, businesses, what-have-you, that exemplify this.

Racing is no different. Since seemingly the beginning of time, we are known as "cheaters". Owners and trainers can bet their horse, bet other horses, there are stories about abuse or drug use in racehorses, and many other possible pitfalls. Where there is a pitfall, the public tends to agree that those pitfalls are probably being exploited at their expense. Those of us who bet, own, or even have a rudimentary understanding of testing realize that the vast majority of participants are not tempted by those pitfalls, but we don't matter much.

Racing loves to blame the public for its problems. You will often hear or read "the pub…

Tuesday Stuff

Uncle Mo can run pretty fast, it looks like he can rate, and most of all: Mo-knows HTML and Flash!

CTT, TOC, CHRB and now CTHA. That seems to spell KAOS. It is nice to see this new owners group gives some props to the chipmunks, though, as item nine talks about the players boycott.

Nick Salvi, racing insider, facebook junkie, world-traveler etc etc, has joined up on twitter and began twinkying last night. You can follow him here.

Twitter is making more and more headlines across the world of late. We have seen it in full force in Egypt, we had Charlie Sheen's one-million followers in less than 24 hours, harness racings number one fan Norm F 66 joined, now Salvi. It's catching on.

Frank Calabrese says he is not going to Arlington Park this meet to claim horses for 20k, do a pile of vet work, run them for 10k and win at something like an 82% hit rate, mostly at 1-5 odds. It's because "he can't make money in Chicago".

"Leaders Call for Phase-Out of Drugs"…

Bracket Madness

The Final Four is set in the never uninteresting NCAA's.

How's your bracket? If you are like the ESPN players, not good. It seems that only 2 out of 5.9 million people who filled them out are alive. When we think about it, that's not too bad actually.

The odds of filling out a perfect bracket are insane. If you are an amazingly good handicapper - and that means out of the universe good, the odds of filling one out that's perfect are 423 billion to one. If you are just really good, it's more like 25 trillion to one.

There are many contests out there asking you to fill out a perfect bracket for a chance to win $20 million or even more. With those odds, insurance companies would be happy to back them, and it would not be very expensive. Why are these contests so popular if no one even has a remote chance to win? A few reasons I guess.

If you are in a bracket, you have a chance to win if you are the best (you don't have to hit them all), you are probably playing in…

Saturday Notes

Jeff Gural was interviewed last night on the M pre-game show; it's linked below. Some highlights:
It looks like he has the amount of capital he is looking forThe Unions (he mentioned tellers) have not returned calls. He needs them on board.He is looking to Cantor Gaming to revitalize some wagers/wageringIt looks like he might be wanting to bring rebated players to his platformHe wants to schedule meets properly in the future.He wants a Championship 45 day meet in the summer (long overdue)Dubai's card is a good one, and it is going on today. If you are looking to mess around, HRF/360 has analysis and  Dick Powell has his selections up.

Bill Finley interviews@obvern about harness betting and thoroughbred betting.The lower mins and higher takeout killed his buzz for harness racing at WEG.

"The best example: two bets I used to like a lot were the Pick 4 and superfectas. Two things killed me with those two bets, particularly. Woodbine, about four or five years ago, raised their…

Friday Thoughts: Derby, Horse Retirement & Some Pick 4's

Mike Maloney talks Derby, and likes Premier Pegasus's last so much, it seems the current 14 or 15-1 is a good bet.

Speaking of the Derby, Kentucky Confidential seems to be doing well with their crowd-funding strategy. This might be the wave of the future for former print journo's. All the fine writers are probable targets for funding. I gave a win bet and if you know the people involved you might consider it, too. Being a kickstarter member allows you to fund quite a few interesting projects.

Today's feature contributor is Ernie Munick. His profile pic is his pooch, named "Jelly Roll". I liked the toque. I have a similar pic, below.

New York Horsemen Group head on Horse retirement: 

“That way everybody that participates in racing—handicappers, tracks, jockeys, trainers, owners—would be giving something,” he said. “Yes, it means an increase in takeout. But I can’t think of a better reason for a takeout increase than the protection of our race horses.”

What I wish…

Chipmunks Carry Wallets

One day - hopefully a day not far off - our industry will finally learn you can not continue to piss off your customers.

CA handles are decimated.

Beware any track in North America who even dares to raise prices in 2011. Let California racing lead you in what not to do.

Betfair - Get to Work on Horse Retirement

There is a hue and cry out there right now in horse retirement land. The Joe Drape story in the New York Times regarding the funding problems at the sports' largest placement farm has spawned dozens of comments. In most, there is a call for better support of horse retirement. Some jurisdictions, like here in Ontario for standardbreds, some of the cash from handle set aside for breeding has gone to horse retirement. But we are rare, not the norm.

One thing for sure - the industry will have trouble fixing this problem by itself. We have more hands out for money than perhaps any industry on the face of the earth. Everyone wants their slice. This, to me, is an opportunity for betfair.

Betfair has been trying to break into various fiefdoms, and they have been somewhat successful, because as WEG CEO Nick Eaves said at the Standardbred Wagering Summit a couple of years ago, "they have customers that want to bet there". Customers (whether our industry wants to believe it or not…

Horsemen Fail to Rally Around the Meadowlands

Jeff Gural asked this week (paraphrasing): Please enter your horses at the Meadowlands so we can have a great set of cards and show the people I am negotiating with we are serious. This might very well be the last time we race here.

As we have spoken about before, Chester has peeled off entries, leading drivers now go across the border to Yonkers; all for the pursuit of slightly better purses. I guess that's fine, but as everyone knows - if the Meadowlands dies the sport of harness racing dies - so one might figure just this once people might rally for the good of the sport.

Surprise, crickets. According to some on facebook and twitter, the entry box is still open.

Steve Miller would be proud of this sport. After all, he penned the industry's theme song.

* Update: The card filled, but it isn't pretty. Only 9 races, two of which have 8 horses.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when the cash runs out. It's closer than we think.

Plainridge Tries, Kinda, To Make a Statement

Plainridge Racecourse has decided to lower rake to 15% this meet. That's good news for bettors. However, it comes with a mixed message. The President is charging an 8% signal fee, and takes an odd shot at resellers:

In addition, the live Plainridge signal will be sold at the nominal fee of 1 percent to all racetracks offering live racing, including outlets which they own or control. Independent outlets and tracks with no live racing will be charged 8 percent. To bolster purses, the horsemen's purse account at Plainridge will receive half of those fees.

"We are tired of 8x10 offices equipped with just a phone line and computer pillaging horsemen and racetrack revenues," said Plainridge President Gary Piontkowski, adding, "It is time someone stood up to these fly by night operators who are making millions on the backs of horsemen's and racetrack operations."

The above statement (along with the simple fact some ADW's will probably not even take the sig…

Sunday Morning

My dog woke me up early and I figured I would do a blog post. If you disagree with anything I say and want to vent, please blame him.

I played the races yesterday for the first time in a little while in a semi-professional fashion. It's amazing how exciting this game is when you have your head into it. Quite the puzzle.

At Oaklawn, The Factor won the Rebel, proving to some folks he is a pretty talented horse that should be able to go longer. On the downside for him, the track was speed favoring. Considering the trouble and the track, Sway Away I thought was good. In addition, Blind Luck raced fairly well too, although her seemingly losing contact with the field was disconcerting.

After the race a few bucks popped up wanting to bet the Factor at 15-1 at betfair. Someone liked what they saw and thought that was a fair price.

It might be because I was busy and missed it (likely excuse), or that I am a terrible blog manager (likely truth) but I see I missed a comment on Friday.... f…

Friday Notes

Whoops! In one of the more flagrant social media boo-boo's, the New York Times decided to buy tweet time announcing their "paywall". Why would they pay to announce they are now charging for news on the free-media, young and down-with-old-establishment twitter? As one scribe puts it "It's like PR suicide: the Times of New York serving itself up for lunch, to be eaten over and over again." The screenshot to the left shows what happens when you click the hashtag. Not exactly good marketing.

I don't really know why the harness media puts out feel-good pieces on some individuals. Sure it's news that Lou Pena won six races at Yonkers, but your average every-day horseplayer is not overly happy about it, and neither are many owners.

Tweet of the day, from Phil Juhring "Chester today ... where the temperature should barely exceed the take out."

The story that racing will try and not promote too much, but will have lasting-legs on its own - the scan…

It's Easy Being Green

It's St. Patrick's Day, one of my favorite holiday's. Saint Patrick was a dude who lived a long time ago, and interestingly died on March 17th, rather than was born on March 17th. Those are about all the facts I know about Saint Patrick, without consulting Wikipedia.

Let's get to today's St. Patrick's Day edition of this silly blog.

Green Horses

Back in the late 80's, as a first-year student (read: idiot punk who went out and drank beer too much), the family stable's trainer zipped to New York for a mixed sale. We were a small stable, so while some really nice horses were going through the ring, we focused on cheaper ones. One of the hip numbers came out that we liked. He was a son of Most Happy Fella out of an Albatross mare, Firbolgs.

His name? Happy Irishman. I think of Happy on St. Patrick's Day every year it seems. He ended up not being too good for us, but he did win a couple of races. Incidentally, a year or two later his brother was born and…

Non-Racing Media Coverage and Branding Our Sport

Jennifer Wirth has taken it upon herself to contact newspapers asking for more racing coverage. It's a noble cause and it goes into the 'every little bit helps' file. While most of racing revenues come from betting, there is a huge need for branding. Branding can not only help turn a casual sports fan into a bettor, but it can drive eyeballs. We have said it 1000 times or more here on the blog: Eyeballs on our big events, and the revenue that can drive, is the future of the sport as a spectator avenue.

Taking it one step further, what else could racing be doing? If there was that central office, or if things like the RDSP in Ontario were passed, this might be easier because it would be funded. We don't have that of course. But I think we can still look at a few angles for some of our events that might be cost-effective.

In the 1000 channel universe, reality television is the new norm. Discovery Network, HGTV, Do it yourself, History Channel; you know all…

Tuesday Notes

I often get my news and opinion from the blogosphere, and there is not much wrong with that, however when you get to read a great piece from a professional turf writer, it shows just how far ahead they are (of some, like me, not all). Bill Christine is one such scribe. His piece this morning on the ninety year old paddock guard John Shear reads like a symphony. Marvelous story.

Northfield Park goes low. They have dropped takeout on pick 3's, 4's and 5's to 14% - an industry low. Harness tracks are severely trying to get business. It is tough to turn around a sport with so many problems, but they are not going down without a fight. Northfield, Western Fair, Cal Expo, Balmoral, Pompano and even Pocono (although that was a drop from 35% to 25% believe it or not) have all moved the past 12 months on take.

How did newspapers lose 92% of revs? It reads like a racing manual - almost to a tee. Thanks to Thorotrends for the link.

"Inside the Pylons" has joined the twinkysp…

The UK Spiral of Incoherent Thought

Mark Davies has been pretty fascinating to read as a blogger, and following his blog allows you to study some history. He was one of the Betfair founders, and has been the point man working with governments, racing alphabets and the overall betting industry for many years.

The last ten years - and not only for racing but many other industries - has been wild. Disruptive technologies, the internet, video on mobile phones, the rise of new competitors like poker have all made a dent and changed the landscape forever. This is nothing new. However, as with any disruptive technology or technological change, it can be planned for and embraced, or fought.

In the UK, racing chose to fight.

That has not worked out very well.

Early on, when the internet and betfair were beginning to get a toehold in betting, racings alphabets were encouraged by the new guard to partner, plan and embrace this change. The response was that "not too many people use the internet, or this new wagering" or…

On and Off-Track Weekend Action

TOC versus CTT - Battle Royale

The Executive Director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, who are looking for a toehold in that states racing power structure, fired a major bullet yesterday. On the Business of Racing Blog, Allan Balch talked takeout, and it is a 180 degree different discussion that has been preached by the TOC. It looks to me that the CTT wants player support and to talk seriously about arguably the most important issue in terms of handles - pricing.

One thing that comes out of a sophisticated discussion (which takeout in racing sorely needs) like this, is that people like Caroline Betts are urged to comment. If you read the Paulick Report this morning you see the elevation of the chatter. It's a good thing.

Spring Forward

The clocks have moved ahead, in case you did not know. It struck me: How did we ever get every village, state, city, church, mosque, country, government and citizen to change their clocks one hour, but getting Magna tra…

I Need a Set of Binoculars & Norm F Alert!

The chalk for the Champion Hurdles in the UK, Binocular, was scratched and that has forced a refund; and some upset punters. The BHA, it appears, knew about the chances of this scratch but some feel they were late to report it.

What appears to have happened is pretty simple - horse gets treated for an allergy, horse gets drugs for allergy, drug given were too close to post time, so instead of risking a positive test the horse is scratched.

It has not stopped some speculation though, and if you read the chat boards today at Betfair, the conspiracy folks are in full force.

Speaking of Betfair, Binocular traded all the way up to 7.4 yesterday. Betfair closed the market early and I am sure will be looking at the trades. This is another reason why this sport, world wide, should be embracing exchange wagering.

This is the second year in a row something funky has happened with this horse. Last year there was some question if he would run, or not run.

"Binocular drifted to the maximum pri…

If Faraldo Wins, Gural Bolts

Jeff Gural speaking to Bill Finley in Harness Racing Update (pdf) says that "if the Board of the USTA thinks that Joe's vision is the right one it probably does not make sense for me to put a deal together to invest $100 Million dollars to rebuild the Meadowlands."

For a background on this election and issue, please check this out.

I can't see a guy like Faraldo winning, but stranger things have happened in racing.

Friday Notes

Worst marketed sport in the world? Possibly. The sad part is, when a group wants to actually get some marketing done to the tune of $9M per year (still not enough but a good start), alphabet organizations shoot it down.

Doug O'Neill is contesting his TC02 results. We've seen this movie before with other trainers. The bottom line is that only a small fraction of horses can fall outside the proper range, like our Australian friends learned long ago. It is fascinating going through all the Aussie tests from the last ten to twenty years. The lower percentage trainers have 30 mmol's for virtually every horse. The higher ones are envelope pushers, running around 34. Still legal though. Regardless, with about 1 horse in 10,000 to 1 in 100,000 naturally having high readings according to studies out there, it appears it would be bad luck to have one, really bad luck to have two, and 'I could get hit with lightning on the way to picking up my second winning powerball ticket'…

Chantal Sutherland's Website, Where's the Love?

Jock Chantel Sutherland has created a new website, apparently launched this week. It's a self-promotional venture that is a little racy, and certainly out of the mainstream as far as racing is concerned.

I have been scanning a few comments across the interwebs, and we see things like "yawn" or "is she serious" about this venture. Holy smokes, it's like she whipped a horse with a steel rod or something.

Scanning twitter and other avenues we often hear tons of complaints that our participants are not mainstream - that they are not doing what others do to promote our sport. Now we have one that does.

Lady Gaga has become a brand, doing what she does best.

"In an interview last winter, Lady Gaga recalled her anguish at being ignored as she performed at a bar filled with drunken NYU students. No one paid the slightest attention to her until, fed up, she decided to strip down to her lingerie. "I started playing in my underwear at the piano and I r…

A Call to Harness Racing; Twinky Challenge

Harness racing is a neat sport - a throwback to a time when horses and buggies were a staple in North America. That is a fantastic part of our culture, but we have to start getting with the program here. We need more people on Twitter.

Thoroughbred racing twinkeyers are in full force. People like @sidfernando have more messages sent than carrier pigeons have sent in four centuries. I have heard down the grapevine the man does not eat, his DNA has been altered which allows him to have power from sending tweets.

Where are our harness peeps?

I would like to see a few of you join up and start conversing with us harness racing degenerates.

Andrew Cohen (CBS News, Horseowner): You are a talented writer. I bet you could tweet Lou Pena critiques in 140 characters or less.

Kathy Parker ( We need Kathy badly. She can give us updates about wind condition at the Red Mile in the summer.

Ken Warkentin (M): Transplanted Canadian racecallers are ok in my book.

Sam McKee (M): I have a …

Kentucky and Jersey - How About Some Foresight?

In a not-so-shocking revelation, I am a free-marketer. With more and more people dependent on other people unsustainability comes into play, so I rarely advocate what racing seems to in almost every opinion piece or cry for help - i.e. more taxpayer help to prop them up. However, in some cases and in two states I believe this is something worth getting behind. Some forward thinking and investment can be ROI-positive if the ducks are in a row and the infrastructure is already there.

Two states currently are world leaders in racing, harness and thoroughbred - Kentucky and New Jersey. As Tom Lamarra notes today, Kentucky is a mess. Neighboring slot states are killing the once proud state which is a staple of thoroughbred racing. We all know about Jersey and what neighboring states have done to racing at the Meadowlands especially. The world class facility which is the Fenway Park of harness racing, is on its last legs.

How can state houses let two branded staples go by the wayside, while…


Clyde has passed on.

The USTA tells his story here.

Allan, in a must-read, tells a heartwarming story about meeting him here.

Horses are cool. 'Nuff said.

Will We Ever Have Customer-Focused Policy in Betting?

Long ago now I took some friends to the track who had never been to the races. They knew I was hooked, and since we could grab a beer or two (and maybe even make a few dollars) they decided to give it a try.

While there, a horse broke stride long before the gate was gone - galloping like a reindeer looking for a rooftop to land. Although we did not bet the horse, my newbie crew was dumbfounded there was no refund. One gentleman in particular recited the words "horse racing, where you don't even get a chance to play" several times during the evening. Most could not understand how a horse could not even start a race yet their money is taken as the tracks money.

Several years later my vociferous friend and I were watching a thoroughbred race (he was playing poker and I was playing the races), and a horse did not take a step out of the gate. He said:  "let me guess, the people who bet him got screwed on that too!"

They say that negative feedback is given 28 times f…

Thursday Notes

Jennie Rees makes some great points about the Arlington experiment to tie field size to purse size. It will be interesting to see if AP makes some changes as time goes on with this experiment. h/t to Equidaily.

The dominoes keep falling: Hastings lowers take and now has the best WPS rake on the continent. I am not sure about 2011 in this industry, but I am 100% sure national handle will be up solidly in 2012. Too many tracks are finally coming to realize that customers need to be cultivated, not sucked dry. Bettors bet more when they have more in their pockets.

Try and try again: Western Fair, who lowered their win 4 takeout to 15% has also offered a guarantee. 

No Cam Fella start for the undefeated St. Elmo Hero this weekend as he has spiked a temp.

World Series of Backgammon? Yes, I checked that out over at R2.

Ferguson has a look at Betfair and their bid to buy Monmouth Park, which may or may not be happening. This is probably one of the better developments we have seen in awhile. …

Racing at a Crossroads with Online Wagering

Today the Wall Street Journal has a feature piece on online gaming. In it they review several states that are looking to the avenue to make up for budget shortfalls.

One of the states, as we know, is New Jersey and they are further along than any other state at the present time.

Once one state passes an online-gambling law, "you will see other states go 'aha.' It will spread very rapidly," said Anthony Cabot, an expert in Internet gambling law.

Racing has had a virtual monopoly on online wagering for some time now (a legal one anyway). What have we done with it? Most would say not much. Archaic 1978 rules for a 2011 internet world, horsemen fighting tracks for revenues or "more of a shrinking pie", huge takeouts in a very low marginal cost medium, and red tape to sign up for an account that would make one's head spin are a few of the unaddressed problems. 

We don't have much longer to capitalize on this medium, in my opinion. But with the aforem…

Branding Works, Even With Bettors

With a restaurant or a retail place of business we tend to see sales or other customer-focused techniques work rather well. In racing it is much different. Being a skill gambling game we are funded by skill-game players. They rarely react to an on-track giveaway, a band or some sort of one-day sale. We as horseplayers tend to simply show up to the races like it's our office.

However, one thing it appears we do respond to is branding.

At this moment some tracks have good vibes, like Tampa Bay Downs, Keeneland and several others. More often than not if you ask a patron about those tracks the brand comes up; Keeneland might be "fun" or Tampa might be "good value on pick 4's" etc. On the flip-side, visit a chat board; you can find the bad branded tracks in a flash.

The problem is it's really quite difficult to shake some bad branding. It takes time.

The recently concluded HANA Harness racing survey shows the branding angle, almost to a "t".