Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2011

Woodbine Lowers Pick 4 Juice at Mohawk

For HPI customers (Woodbine's internet wagering arm) pick 4 juice will be lowered via 4% cash back for Mohawk each Saturday in July. The pick 4 on Saturday's comes with a $75,000 guarantee.

This might sound like a miniscule step, but for them this is a pretty huge thing. The historical corporate culture there resisted price breaks.

There are also free programs, and free video available for punters, so for those interested, there's some cash back in your pocket, and some convenience to take a poke at the bet.

Slots Sure Seem Fun

Chester Downs is a race track, which happens (thankfully for horse owners) to have a casino attached. Don't ask me how, but I ended up on their twitter page recently (for the casino side, I am guessing). Here's a snippet:

These messages are about more and more fun, excitement, bar deals and giveaways.

I know the horse racing customer is different, but I wonder if the juxtaposition strikes others. Chester is a track that has given away over $2.0 million in one day, to paltry handles, but if I did not read the industry websites I would not even know they did. If I go to the twitter page I would not even know a racetrack existed. I am sure (maybe?) they have a track twitter feed, but after searching for a couple of minutes, I could not find it.

The casino sure looks fun, though.

Wednesday Notes

A positive test was recorded by super-filly Crys Dream this morning. According to the ORC, the drug was a Class I, II or III, which ensures not only the trainer and owner are suspended, but so is the horse. There were few other details given.

If I was a betting man, I would wager this is a trace positive of a common drug, because the connections of this horse are who they are, and you have to be certifiably insane to do something willingly with such drugs, seeing the way the ORC tests. Trace or not (and we won't know that soon, because the ORC, like other commissions only has a positive/negative trigger; it does not test for levels of the drug), the hammer will likely fall on the filly, at some point this summer or fall. If they drag out the appeal, one would assume they will be able to race for awhile.

...... The Kenutcky folks are holding hearings into the Life At Ten disaster at last year's Breeders Cup. So far the Sgt Shultz mantra of "I see nothing" seems to be …

Why is Optimal Takeout So Difficult to Understand?

If you peruse the Interwebs and the question of takeout crops up, there is the inevitable chatter about the cost to put on the show, or my favorite line: 'we only raised takeout because we had to'. It seems, to this camper, the concept of optimal takeout is something that alludes many.

A poster on summed up optimal takeout once, and I thought it was pretty dang good. I share it here.

Optimal takeout means maximizing revenue. There is only one takeout rate that will maximize revenue for a given "demand for X" over the long term. Zero will never be an optimal rate, it returns zero is officially the least optimal takeout rate (it shares that honor with 100% takeout rate.)Optimal takeout doesn't exist in anyone's mind, it's not an opinion. It exists, as an actual number. Nobody knows what it is, exactly...but the truth is out there. It's the takeout rate where you get maximum revenue. The reason the cost of the show d…

California Racing on Display

Yesterday there was a meeting of some sort in California, between the horsemen association (the TOC) and some other folks (who are not named in the article linked below, so it's a bit of a mystery).

The quotes from the meeting, from a customer perspective, are pretty curious. And that's putting it mildly.

In terms of the takeout hike, which has helped result in hundreds of millions in handle losses so far, owner Mike Pegram said "I am not willing to take an 18% pay cut". That was an interesting comment, because with handle losses continuing, I don't think we need a masters in math to figure the pay cut is going to come on its own.

In other news, the horsemen group appears to want to block low takeout (and very popular) exchange wagering, unless the takeout is sky-high (among other things that have been studied for years already).

"On a different matter, Pegram said the TOC will not support the implementation of exchange wagering in 2012, unless issues regard…

A Man Walks Into a Bar.....

I am off to meet a couple of friends last night at the Crown and Dragon north of Bloor on Yonge, here in the Big Smoke. For those who might not know, the bar has the best wings in Toronto, not only in my opinion, but from real restaurant critics. Anyhoo, I pop up to the bar, and what's on the big screen? HPI TV. The 6th at Mohawk is just going off. I must say, other than being in an OTB, I have never seen a horse racing channel being the feature at a pub! I got to watch a couple at the Meadowlands and Mohawk before they switched to some-sort-of-a-MMA-slugfest. That interests me about as much as an arts and crafts class.

Further to the strange horse racing reference to the evening, I walked to the restroom and saw paintings of old race meets, and a 1907 Royal Ascot poster. This is not a horse racing bar, but it sure looked like one.

The first person to arrive was a friend who is a professional gambler. While waiting for others I asked if he read the Tom LaMarra Bloodhorse piece on …


It was announced earlier this week that handle at Golden Gate Fields was down 21% overall, and 16% per race when compared to last year.

At the same time, a teeny meet at Stockton had a handle boost this season, primarily due to a free admission policy.

Two different meets, two different kinds of racing customers.

The Pareto Principle, which loosely states that 80% of all events, sales etc, are driven by 20% of an item, customer or what have you, has been changed to mean many things. We've all heard them: The top 5% of taxpayers pay 70% of the taxes, the top 20% of criminals produce 80% of the crime, etc. In horse racing we have a similar 'truism': The estimation is that the top 5% of players, probably play 60% of the volume.

In California the top 5% of players have not been playing that product this season. The other 95%, had a fun time at the Stockton Fair, and bet their admission.

Racing is at a crossroads, as we all know. It is (or should be) a battle between caterin…

Drugs Can Be a Murky Bog

One of the hottest topics in racing continues to be drugs - of all sorts. At times you can read some heady stuff out there on the scourge, at other times the chatter seems to do more harm than good.

I first learned about lactic acid build-up the hard way, which amazingly Thoroedge talks specifically about this week. In high school I played many sports, and with our maniacal basketball coach making us run ten miles before practice consisting of plays, a scrimmage and wind sprints you would think I was in decent shape. One day each year we had a "track and field day" at school, intramurally, and decided I would try track and get out of class. I warmed up and joined the 400 metre, thinking the trip around the oval looked easy, one which anyone with a lick of common sense and a modicum of athleticism could run full tilt for. At the head of the lane, with a like 90 length lead, I began to know what Uncle Mo felt like at the top of the stretch in the Wood Memorial. I felt like som…

North America Cup Post Script

Up the Credit took the $1.5M North America Cup last evening in 149.3. The race pretty much unfolded much differently than was expected - the early speed was simply not there. Here is my horse by horse take, by finishing position:

Up the Credit - From the get go you knew he'd likely be first over, and when they are going that slow, it's not a bad place to be. He ground down a very poor leader and grabbed the prize.

Roll With Joe - The early speed in this tilt in no way materialized, and Randy Waples was the beneficiary. He got a very easy lead and got to sit close behind a chalk. What more can you ask for? This colt shows the importance of having a trainer who knows what he is doing. He peaked perfectly.

Big Jim - He raced well, with a no-shot trip. When you try and come from behind and don't get any fractions you are in a bind, and a bind he was in. It's nice to see the colt have a little more fire for a change though, so I think we will see them try and trip him out t…

North America Cup Day is Here

Tonight is almost upon us, where we get to witness arguably the best card of racing in the sport. You can get your free program here.

The third race kicks off the stakes action with super-filly Crys Dream, who will be tough to beat. So far this season she has done what she has to, looks sound, and is a pleasure to watch. To fill out the ex, I would expect some vet work to be done on Lukes Sophie this past week and I will peg her to be better.

The 4th kicks off the pick 4 with the Cup Consoloation. This is a very nice betting race with several possibles. Anyone else shocked to find Better Than Cheddar in off last week's effort? If he somehow regains some form, he is likely. As a longer shot I do think Custard the Dragon is worth placing on a few tickets.

The 5th is the Goodtimes, named after one of the better Canadian trotters to have ever trotted. I think I am going deep in this leg as I am not in love with anyone, nor am I totally sold on the chalk. Blue Porsche will probably be…

Big North America Cup Card at Mohawk

Woodbine Entertainment Group has quietly assembled one of the best harness racing cards I have ever seen for this Saturday. The highlight, the $1.5M North America Cup, goes in its usual race 7 slot and is surrounded by some excellent racing.

The Elegant Image for $520k goes in race three and features the very good Crys Dream.

The $100k NA Cup consolation is a nice betting affair in race 4 to kick off the pick 4.

The $350k Goodtimes is in the race 5 superfecta slot.

The Mohawk Gold Cup returns to Mohawk in race 6 and is an excellent addition to this years card.

The $600k Fan Hanover goes in the ninth, with the undefeated See You At Peelers looking (and likely) to stay that way.

This is one of the few harness cards of the season with $3M + handles, and is a must-bet for any harness fan, and even some thoroughbred fans. I am not sure they are offering free program downloads, but I sure hope they do.


We complain about television coverage in racing, but we're not the only ones.…

$1.5M North America Cup Elim Preview

There is a little race going on in New York, however... the Cup elims are pretty darn interesting! As like most years we have very few solid betting prospects in the elims, and what you see is generally what you get and I won't go in expecting to find much value.

Here is my preview:

Elimination One: This leg is filled with speed, and Big Jim might not be able to intimidate like he did previously. What on paper looks like a Big Jim-Powerful Mist finish, perhaps it is not that easy. Custard the Dragon (7) might provide value, as might Rock to Glory (2). The latter did not even look like a horse two starts ago, but raced surprisingly well last week. Most likely: 3-4-7. Longshot chance: 2.

Elimination Two: This is a very interesting betting leg, with Feel Like a Fool (1), Up the Credit (4), Better Than Chaddar (2) and Shadyshark Hanover (8, with an error in the morning line), all with chances. By far the most visually impressive horse last time was Up the Credit, but he does have some …

Wanting to Watch Excellence

Claire Novak, in her ESPN column yesterday, asked us to look at the current crop of three year olds through a glass half full lens.
It is human nature to find fault with the athletes we follow. Sports fans love to hate almost as much as they love to love, sometimes more. It is also part of the sporting world to seek out flaws, to expect them even as we hope they don't exist. I'm not suggesting this is wrong. But the 3-year-olds of the current season are putting on a show that is far from dull or predictable. That's all probably true, but being a sports fan means we want to see, revere and follow excellence.

I watch the Olympics every four years and I long for the 100 metre final. It is usually a mad dash with two or more contenders sprinting for a world record. I am sure I would watch it if the assembled athletes were unable to run 10 flat, but I really want to watch it when a Ben Johnson is against a Carl Lewis, going for 9.79. If it's a "bad crop" of spr…

It's Time For Woodbine to Lower Pick 4 Takeout

Over the past year there has been a slow but sure movement to lowered serial takeouts. The list of tracks, for example, who have moved the pick 4 takeout to lower levels has grown leaps and bounds. Tampa Bay Downs, Northfield Park, Balmoral Park, Western Fair and just this week Fort Erie Racetrack have all dropped takeout precipitously on this bet (to name just a few). Right now in harness racing, the industry standard for pick 4 take is 15%, down from 25%, or more.

Several years ago the Meadowlands and Monmouth branded the 15% take on this bet and it has proven to be a staple. Despite falling handles everywhere, the volume on the bet has stayed strong. In harness, the Big M is the stalwart, with pools exceeding $100,000 frequently.

Woodbine went the opposite direction. In the early part of the decade they raised the take on the bet to approximately 25%. At the same time they went to the 20 cent minimum for the wager. Because the pick 4 bet has been branded as value, Woodbine has push…

You Can't Always Judge a Book (Horse) by the Cover

Excuses are a part of horse racing and they always have been. As a horse owner, or a handicapper, you will hear many like "he lost a shoe", or "she bled". Sometimes these excuses are valid, sometimes they are simply the connections hoping against hope that their horse is better than he is, sometimes they are not even given, because it might hurt the colt's stud value. This is prevalent in both breeds, although I find in standardbred racing if you ask a horse owner what the problem was, he is much more forthcoming than in the runners. For example, when Big Brown ran like an eight year old Mountaineer maiden in the Belmont, some close to the horse tried to blame the rider to deflect, when to virtually everyone else there was a problem.

I was chatting with Bob Marks of Perretti Farms today, who stands Rock n' Roll Hanover, the brilliant son of Western Ideal, out of the supermare Rich n' Elegant - who is quite possibly the most dominant pacing sire in racing…

Promo, Mo, & Monday Notes

Jeremy Plonk on ESPN relays a thought on Uncle Mo which has been talked about by fans (particularly on twitter) for quite awhile now. He sums up a lot of people's view pretty well:
While it's not the responsibility of horse owners and trainers to disclose all the truths about what's going on with each racehorse to the media and public, this was a different case. This was a horse, after all, for whom the owner created his own website complete with first-person updates written as if they actually came from the horse himself, calling his handlers Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike. They held a fan contest to "Get to Know Mo" complete with breakfast at the barn. You can't do things like that and then, when the media calls your bluff on big talk of full disclosure about racehorse health records, you claim that you'll come clean when everyone else does. That doesn't float. You're either a refreshing breath of new air in the game or just lik…

Saturday Action, Sunday Carryovers

As a thoroughbred watcher a major complaint I hear from the fan's perspective is the spacing of major stakes, and the lack of top competition meeting each other on a regular basis. If that's the major reason one is a racefan, I say "come to the dark side of harness racing!". Our horses meet regularly and you are usually entertained. Case in Point: A Lazy June Saturday evening.....

See You At Peelers, taking on the boys in the Rooney Pace at Yonkers, made a mockery of the event. She went to the front and then just cruised. She won easily, but she did not look as sound, in my opinion, last evening. She remains undefeated.  Video evidence of this marvelous filly here.

I think we may see her try a few more of these tests in the coming months.

The Burlington Stakes triumvirate certainly was entertaining. In division one, Big Jim was defeated at 1-9, and the winner was a tough one to pick. Up the Credit exploded home in 52.4 showing brilliance that he has never come close …

California Handle Losses Drag Industry Down in '11

Equibase reports that May handle was off by 8% and US handles are off about $400 million in 2011 overall.

Fortunately, there is some silver lining. If you remove the numbers from California, where the CHRB and TOC make policy in the state, handle losses are not nearly as bad. This season alone, over $185 million in handle has been lost in the Golden State. California raised takeout on January 1st this year by about 9% on exactas and doubles and by about 14% on all other exotics.

If we add in the lack of churn on simulcast action from California as the result of the takeout increase, handle is probably affected by well over $200 million dollars in the state alone. In effect, California is likely responsible for over half of all the US handle losses.

In Kentucky, where entries have been raided by neighboring slot states there is still some good news. Keeneland handle was up for the spring meet. Other tracks who have tried to do some player friendly things, like Tampa (lowered rake agai…

Friday's Pocket State of Mind

A few interesting tidbits that I saw today:

They are changing the theme song of the Belmont back to "New York, New York". I am glad to see we weren't the only ones who were dumbfounded by the move last year to change the song to something the on-track demo has never heard of. I see they are still going with the Star Spangled Banner instead of Born in the USA, too, so there are no major changes from 2009.

Yesterday's article where I chose not to pile on Alex Waldrop was not overly well received. It seems folks like to pile on ol' Alex. However, as an illustration -

* It appears the Nor Cal State Fairs will be raising takeout. This is after a takeout hike in 2006 in California which did not work, one at Los Al that did not work, and another one this year that has presided over about a $150M or so handle loss.

* Calder and their horsemen are fighting over slices of the pie. Internet wagering takeout should be a fraction of what it is, due to the cost of the deli…

"Socially Responsible"

David Jones, CEO of Havas and Euro RSCG, one of the world's largest marketing firms, was the keynote at last months Mashable conference in Florida. He spoke about shifts that he sees business, and marketing making in the new world. He believes the biggest winners in the new economy (among other things) will have a socially responsible focus.
Jones thinks that the most successful businesses and leaders in the future will be those that are socially responsible. He envisions “a world where the people that do the most good make the most money,” citing programs like Pepsi Refresh and Nike Better World as examples of companies finding what he calls a “social business idea.” Clearly for us in racing - racing animals - we will never be at the top of the list in being socially responsible. Our detractors are vocal, and there are many of them. However, doing the right thing the best we can should be a priority.

Bettors and participants often have an opinion that this does not matter very mu…

Alex Waldrop - One Tough Job

The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight, with my favorite team (no, not the Canucks) facing off, trying to win the Cup for the first time in a long time.

Looking at the growth of the NHL the past twenty years, I cannot help but remember a time, back around 1994 when I was a wee Canadian lad, playing NHL '93 on Sega Genesis, drinking beer with my University peeps. Gary Bettman had just been hired by the NHL to be commissioner. This "outsider" was (and this is not too strong a word) hated by a lot of the old time Canadian hockey fans, including my NHL '93 playing partners. He wanted to modernize the game, he wanted to sign a US deal, he wanted to put teams in sunshine states. He did not even mind the Fox Sports glow puck. He wanted to expand the sport the best way he knew how. For the most part, if we looked at things from the outside, or dispassionately, Bettman was right, and we old time fans were wrong.

Bettman has held the job for a very long time, and things are mov…

Here Come the Three Year Olds

It's a rite of spring in Toronto - The Burlington Stakes (now called the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes). It's the weekend where the $1.5M North America Cup eligibles gather to prep for the big one. Years ago this was a huge night, because many times us locals (in the absence of simulcast) could finally set sight on the US invaders, in the flesh. Now we know a great many of these horses, but it still has energy.

The full card is now published on Track it.

In division one, lies Big Jim. He will be the heavy chalk. If he steps through like he should, he is a likely favorite for the Cup. Some might try their luck here on another - maybe Prodigal, or the talented Powerful Mist - because Big Jim has not quite lit up the teletimer this season. I can't blame them for trying, because he will be such a short price.

The second division can be described as non-descript. Last years early season star Lookinforadventure, has not even come close to his ability in a long while and there are s…