Thursday, March 31, 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, horseprerace.com. 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 part in the bottomless beer mug infield fest and get flagged with 64 drinking violations, you get to keep drinking. 
  • Bob Evansus - Two thirds man, one third machine. Special deal: If you bet $28,000 on the machine-part on Preakness Day, you will receive enough points for a toaster. 
  • CHRB-Adactyl - Eight ninth's man, one ninth woman. The $20 bottomless beer mug will now cost $22.68, and there will be hijinx-a-plenty watching the beast wander aimlessly through the infield wondering why attendance is down.
  • DRF-O-Raptor - A beast which is two thirds from New York, with the other third from New York. Big draw: Every infield patron gets a completely free "Blame, 2010 Horse of the Year" tee shirt. 
  • Vet-terotops -  This is half equine vet, half accountant. The bigwigs nixed this one early because they found out the $20 bottomless cup was changed by this beast, by adding beer-cup dispensing fees and a 750% markup on pretzels.
  • Betfairdemonraptor - This odd animal with an English roar will try and serve the younger infield customers by taking bets during the running of the race, causing it to be attacked by both Bob Evansus and Frankstronosaurus in a jurassic grudge match for the ages. It was nixed due to the fear that horse racing patrons might actually have a good time.
I can not be 100% sure the above were all considered, but that's what I hear down the peanut vine. After reading it, I think the dude with the set of fetlocks and a spare-tire was probably a good choice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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 public just does not understand". That's true to some degree, but we bring much of it upon ourselves.

Case in point: British trainer Nicky Henderson.

At the recent concluded Cheltenham Festival in the UK - where you can pretty much bet any prop under the sun at various bookmakers - it was revealed Henderson "bet on himself to train no winners at 16-1". That's exactly what people complain about. One might expect the hammer to fall, but the exact opposite happened.

"Racings governing body confirmed they would not be bringing charges against Henderson"

We have seen several cases in racing of things just like this. Trainers who have abused horses are back working with them, trainers who bet on themselves to get no winners are not even given a penalty. Why would we blame the public for our woes? Who's looking out for our brand?

Hat tip to @sidfernando and @francesjkaron for the heads-up

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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.

Dog likes Salvi's Twitter page
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". It seems like a pretty tough thing to do, especially in a business that works together like oil and water. I wonder what thoroughbred trainers would do without lasix. It's some sort of ritual. Regardless, legal drugs I have never even considered much of a problem. It's the really bad guys out there who are using undetectable stuff that's the problem. Even when we catch them, often times they are let back in, going right on with their business.

Free PP's and other stuff for the USTA's Strategic Wagering Pick 4's. Very nice.

I took my election poll last night, just to see where I was on the spectrum. I am fiscally conservative. Seeing that on this blog I use the phrase "roi" for about every decision I make, that bit of breaking news is about as shocking as a Frank Calabrese win at Arlington.

I answered a phone survey yesterday as well. I used to be a phone surveyor for cash when I went to University, so I answer them because I know that job sucks. It was a survey about the Ontario Lottery and Gaming folks. They wanted to know how I felt about gambling, if there is a gambling problem due to all the casino's etc etc. I think the OLG is worried about their image with a couple of the scandals, where heads rolled.

That's about all for my silly blog today. Have a good Tuesday!

Monday, March 28, 2011

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 a side pool game by game, there is the ego gratification of beating your friends, and lastly it allows you to be part of the water-cooler chat at work ("How's your bracket?"). That's pretty compelling.

How is that different from your average every day horseplayer? It's quite a bit different. I, and many of you, would never even consider filling out a "perfect" bracket for a contest. It's a waste of three minutes or more and if I have to give my email address, it's many more minutes of spam.  It's like a trillion to one; and you and I have better things to do, like 'cap the third at the Meadowlands.

I think that's why super-duper quadrefecta's and Sliders do not resonate with average horseplayers. Horseplaying involves having a realistic chance to win and when we take that away, we're not interested.

I am a proponent, like many of you, of lottery bets, however. If we had a pick all for $X million, with a chance at a side pot by picking a race the following weekend for $X million of course I would play. For the pot to get up that high though, we need people playing it from the start - and the people who would be jacking the pools up are the bracket folks. Currently we have no way of getting to them.

Dave Bryans is a head of a convenience store organization. A few years ago at a wagering conference he brought up the often-trotted-out idea of being in corner stores via a lotto system. They do it in Sweden, for example, for the V75. The way he explained the concept it seemed somewhat achievable. Since the average NCAA bracket player is not visiting a racetrack, having the infrastructure right is paramount for it to succeed.

Until that happens, in my opinion, we're best trying our darndest to increase the average wager of the current customer or lost poker player and sports bettor (through rebates, lower takeout etc). Brackets are for the masses.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

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 for
  • The Unions (he mentioned tellers) have not returned calls. He needs them on board.
  • He is looking to Cantor Gaming to revitalize some wagers/wagering
  • It looks like he might be wanting to bring rebated players to his platform
  • He 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 takeout significantly on the Pick 4. I am one of these guys who likes to analyze things and I would religiously track what kind of bets were showing a positive ROI for me. The Pick 4, for me, was slightly positive. When they raised the takeout it took me from a positive ROI to a negative ROI. That really annoyed me. With superfectas, the problem arose when they started letting people bet 10 cents or 20 cents on it. That just killed me. I am not a chalk bettor. I go for value and I used to be good at finding value in superfectas."

Bethanny Frankel has 459.434 followers on twitter. The horse Frankel has about none. I find this disturbing. If there is a new World order and you elect me and Sid Fernando co-Kings, we are going to reverse this trend.

RCI talks exchange wagering. The good part, it was a sensible conversation.

Who is Cantor Gaming? VFTRG explains. Bettor Inside the Pylons, who usually has his pulse on this issue, has relayed that Cantor has not had a very good rep so far in Vegas gambling circles.

It's a start! Woodbine drops tri takeout 2%.

Nice page! The USTA has a schedule up of all the harness tracks participating in their guaranteed pool program. 

Tweet from yesterday via Greg Blanchard: "There are 21 tracks going off at the same time. Too much product"

Here is the full Gural video and enjoy your Saturday folks!

Friday, March 25, 2011

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.

Jelly Roll - Sniffs out winners
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 he said:

"With slots coming to New York racing we have a tremendous opportunity to use some of this money in a positive fashion. After lowering takeout, we should earmark some for horse retirement. Slots deals across the nation have all gone to purses and this has not worked to grow our sport or protect our horses. It's time we as horsemen started thinking of the future."

Jessica seems to agree.

One of our horse's is still looking for a home after retiring. We hope there is someone out there to take him, but at the very least he will have the time he needs to find a new family. I am not sure why this is such a difficult thing for horse owners to do. Retirement of your horse is a business expense and part of being a horse owner. I don't expect a customer to pay for my horse and if our stable can't scrape together a few hundred a month to feed him while we try and find him somewhere to go, we should have never purchased him in the first place.

My nominee to draft a policy for horse retirement? Caroline Betts.  She is an economist, runs a retirement farm and has a head on her shoulders. She also has a good idea about 401k for racehorses. Pay her some money and get her to figure this mess out. With billions of slot money floating around, it's time.

Santa Anita has turned into Mountaineer. Yesterday's ISW handle: $1.9 million.

Ted, dressed as a cow
There was a power outage here yesterday and it was cold. At about 2AM it went off and by 10AM I was icy. My pooch did not have a toque, but he had a blanket. I think he was warm, but I am not sure because I can't speak dog.


The pick 4 guarantee's for harness are in full-force. Included in that are low rake tracks like Northfield and Balmoral. For a look at some morning line oddsmaker numbers for these harness tracks to hopefully help you with your capping, please click here. (go against the BLMP capper at your own risk!)

April 2nd, I believe, is the first Woodbine $100k Pick 4 guarantee. I have to recheck that. It's Spring Championship Day. In the old days this was a huge race - long ago it was the Willowdale with horses like Banker Fretz and Willow Wiper. Later on it was the Toronto Pacing Series with some top FFA'ers around. With huge money available at places like Yonkers and Chester it is tough to get those kind of fields any longer. Still, it is a good race for betting, because when ten competitive nice horses get together something can happen.

Beanie Barbaro visits Caroline Betts' offices at USC.

There appears to be some backtracking going on in California.  With so many players saying bye-bye to the product, how long would it take to recover unless they do something big? That's anyone's guess.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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) = Power. With this leg up, they have been building coalitions throughout racing.

What sectors do they have?
  • Horseplayers: If you are a player, you love Betfair. They have lower take and a new way for you to play.
  • A TV Network that shows only one thing, horse racing
  • The ear of the industry, the quiet ones who know that what we're selling people ain't buying. You'd be surprised (despite the vitriol on industry websites) how many insiders are listening. I have spoken with some of them.
With those folks behind them you'd think they'd be alright, but the power brokers (CDI, Magna and some horsemen groups) are fighting for their slice too. They are pretty tough to overcome.

I believe one more industry sector should be added to betfair's reach - an offer to fund horse retirement farms, from some of their racetrack revenues. It's a perfect time.

If gross profit deals are constructed that are in the 25% range for betfair taking the product, I could easily see 2.5% set aside for horse retirement farms. Would this be enough to fix the problem? Clearly not, but it might wake the business up that when outsiders are there to take care of the horses they breed and race, there is a serious problem and they better get off their asses.

On the political side, how critical can those breeders and insiders be of betfair when some "UK company" steps in to take care of the horses that they're supposed to take care of?

This industry has always been political, and the status-quo old guard - through various forms of demagoguery - has perfected the tact. With a little smarts and verve, Betfair might be able to beat them at their own game.

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 signal with such tight margins; contrary to populist drivel, it costs money to run and market an ADW) makes me think this will not work out very well for Plainridge. To catch a fish, you need bait, or at the very least dip the lure into a lake that has fish in it.

Notes: Gural calls for horsemen to enter the M this weekend, because it could be the last weekend there, maybe ever.

Auckland Reactor, who has not looked very good for a long time now, is out of the Inter-Dominions.

The Factor is the now horse. The press is all over him. Watching the race again, I like the way Sway Away raced. He is the opposite of the now horse.

Reality Check. Indeed.

I didn't know you were involved with Thorofan Equispace? Good on ya!

Subtle post, with a lot of substance.

Top Ten Reasons Gural is good for the M.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

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.... from O_Crunk! And it was a fairly typical OC comment too - irreverent, interesting and with a point. It's on Friday's post.

Meirs Hanover romped in the Cam Fella. There was a reason they slid this final into the sixth race slot - solid chalk. It's usually one of the better races of the winter stakes season, but not this year.

Cal Nation's race at GP in the third would have been interesting on Betfair yesterday, trading in-running. The horse was 1-5 and he looked like an absolute monster, ready to run away from the field at the head of the lane. Then it appeared it started to hurt a little. The horse hung like a cheap suit. I am pretty sure he would have been 1.05 at Betfair with a furlong to go. Whomever would have capitalized on that is smarter than I.

Me too Jessica! "In the short eight years I’ve paid serious attention to racing, I can’t think of a time where the industry felt so adrift."

Woody Stephens (or maybe another throw-back old time trainer) once said that he needed a four months to work out the kinks in a horse to get him/her back racing well, or improving. With pain-killers and pre-race galore, nowadays that seems to take four minutes. With my pooch that I got from the pound I am happy to say Woody's philosophy does work. After about five months the little fella (with some sort of shoulder issue and torn ligaments in his back leg) is moving like a "tremendous machine". Well, maybe not that good. But he is running and doing some things he could not do five months ago. Feed, some R n r, some natural supplements and care seemed to do the trick so far. I wish trainers would do the same with their stock, instead of injecting and dropping them in class. Would we not have deeper fields and better racing if Woody was still King?

Canlumbo on the case - Why tracks competing is a good thing. Competing on take is certainly important, but we obviously need more than that to compete. News on Trackus, on-track changes like adding Wifi, exporting signals on the interweb etc is all looking up. Better late than never?

Last evening I checked twinky-ville and noticed they were telling me to follow Britney Spears. Why? I have no idea. I also have no idea how she has 8 million followers. It also asked me to follow Rachel Maddow, Howard Stern and Win Star Farms. Maybe they are telling me I am a left wing, foul-mouthed Aerosmith fan who in his spare time likes reading pedigrees?

Life's worth can be measured in many ways. I personally find that one way to do it, is to count how many times you have to write or say "thank you" to people who are offering their best wishes. People who live their life well use a lot of thank you's.

Friday, March 18, 2011

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 scandal at a well-known horse retirement farm.

In Ireland they have chosen the slaughter route for some thoroughbreds.

Bill Finley looks at the good news out of Hastings Park via the take decrease. It is nice to see them realistic about year one as well - they are looking for a 5% to 10% bump in handle.

More good news for thoroughbred fans. Trackus is being looked at for CDI signals, including Churchill Downs.  Add a free API for software players and we are away to the races.

We can say what we want about Woodbine - and the buzz from the years 2000 to about 2008 was poor with players - they have been on Trackus for awhile. Their poly is pretty good and they have tried some things the last few years, like the $100k Pick 4 guarantee for harness April 2nd. They are turning the corner and they are a track to put on the radar.

Cummings wants Chantal to be racings Danica Patrick.

Ralphie9 watched Betfair being played yesterday for the first time.

"Jamie E. Cool dude, explained BetFair to me, we even played some bets. Neat stuff, I suggest NA racing gets on board. The Volumes are crazy.. $1 mil + bet on every race. We get that on 13 race cards. Craziness how much it would help racing $$ wise and interest wise. Ratings would be way up.. We even made $372 in the last 4.6 seconds of the NCAA game when we bet against the Louisville Losers. Morehead St. came to play, fantastic action. Love the Madness."

Randy Waples' new harness racing trailer has been receiving comments from all over. I can't comment too much because we have seen so little, but a thoroughbred fan and tweeter extraordinaire Sid Fernando chimed in after seeing it:>

"wow! Blown away by that. Great production values, plus I'm now intrigued by harness off that clip. WTF?!"

I recently changed my cable package and grabbed Animal Planet. I finally got to watch Jockey's the now-cancelled reality show on some of the riding colony at Santa Anita. I hope the new harness show is not patterned after that show, because I can see why it was cancelled. I think it's horrible.

In addition, showing the accidents for a show trying to capture a female audience is, well, like the New York Times buying twitter time to announce they are charging for something that was once free.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

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 he was a really nice colt (Right Hand Man). We had the right pedigree.

Green Purses, Red Handles

Standardbred Canada has started to list both the nightly handle and the nightly purses on their results list. Some of the numbers are nothing short of maddening.Green light on purses, red light on handles. Racing in Ontario should start a fund with 5% of slot cash going to marketing and player rewards or something. I know, I know, I kid.

Green Light Betting Decisions

Thorotrends recent survey is a good one. He asked several questions of all different types of bettors. One of which was the importance of certain factors to each subset.

As we see as plain as day, the larger the bettor the more importance he/she places on takeout rate. For those who cling to purse size as a major factor, for about the 1000th time, it scores low on the list. Give us a full field of competitive 8 claimers, sans supertrainer at 2-5 and with a takeout rate which doesn't require us to give our first born and four pints of blood, we'll bet.

Old Sod & Green Wood

I am going to miss it tonight, but the Old Sod crowd should be in full-force. The pub, located in the Royal York area on Bloor Street West has been around for an eon and St. Paddy's Day is a big day.

I used to frequent the pub, often times after the track. There were a few track bums in there.

For those who patronized old Greenwood Raceway it was certainly no Orchard Park or the Mecca, but not too bad for a West end joint.

Have a happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

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 the culprits. Even network TV is littered with reality shows. No, this is not another cry for a horse racing reality show, but for a presence in the space.

Reality shows work because people watch them, but they also work because they are amazingly cheap, and there is alternative forms of revenue for them to add to the sale.

Coke pays big money to have their glasses displayed on American Idol, for example. On NBC's The Biggest Loser, turkey, zip-loc bags, diet supplements and many other products are paid for and promoted.

No one is saying we should pay big cash to be on these mainstream shows, because it does not fit; not even in the least does it make sense really. But how about some other ideas?

Photo Credit - Shooter Images
On American Chopper companies pay some major cash to be featured on bike builds. The company reps get to be on television and the bike when completed is a must-see. It brands the company.This is one expensive proposition and perhaps too pricey for racing, but you get the idea.

There are some cheaper avenues though, aren't there?

On Ice Pilots NWT, the Stanley Cup was recently flown around the Northwest Territories and it was the focus of the entire show, and the weeks lead-up to the episode. This is not unlike the Olympic Flame marketing discussed on R2. It brands the Cup.

What about flying people into the NWT on this airline for a Kentucky Derby party and having it covered in an episode, right down to the ice-filled mint juleps? It's freezing cold, it's fish out of water, it brings the event to people in a unique way, and it is cost-effective.

Brew Masters is another show which offers some neat branding possibles (although it appears the show has recently been canceled). In the show they created custom beers for companies, and featured the process and the meetings, not unlike American Chopper.

How about them brewing a Breeders Cup or Breeders Crown beer to be sold at the event and stoke some branding?

Just today in fact we have a little bit of this happening with Derby contender Mucho Macho Man. Superterrific was on this via twitter long ago.

I am sure you can think of dozens of other possible avenues.

Rome was not built in a day and I can tell you as a web marketer that works on branding, good vibes do not happen overnight. But it does work, if done right. We need to see more of it from racing, in my opinion. It takes planning, creativity and a little bit of cash; nothing more than that.

Harness Racing Behind the Scenes - Teaser Video Released

O'Brien winning driver Randy Waples' behind the scenes racing show has been a hot topic of late. Randy is certainly one of the more colorful individuals in the sport. Today Standardbred Canada released the teaser. It's below. What do you think?

Unharnessed - Behind The Scenes Teaser Video from Kirk Taylor on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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 twinkysphere. ITP is known throughout internet-ville on various chat boards and as a frequent commenter here, at the Paulick Report and elsewhere. He bets, he has an opinion, he owns horses. Perfect for Twitter. Even Ray Paulick followed him; and for those who follow those two's history on the Paulick Report, that says something.

Norm F, harness racings number one fan, has surged followers since his joining. He now has twenty, which is just short of Charlie Sheen. The followathon continues.

A blogger looks at drifters and shorteners for the Cheltenham festival. We all know the markets are fairly efficient, but his/her findings are interesting. I have done a little bit of research into this, and drifters almost always made me look twice. Often times if you see a horse drift near post time it is a sharpie who sees a horse lathering, lame, what have you and should be something that gets your attention. Not to mention the markets are incredibly predictive in other sports. For example, watching the PGA Championship last year when Dustin Johnson made a boo-boo on the last hole it went to the judges. The market at betfair told you what the result would be before the television commentators did.

The Jockey Club is commissioning a study into the future of racing. I bet they will find - if they look at the demand side - players want competitive fields, lower takeout and big pools. It ain't rocket science. As for my take on racings future, when I presented something at a conference several years ago I pretty much presented this, verbatim. To this day I feel this is what we are going to be looking at 10 years forth. However, getting there will be a bumpy ride. Fights will abound:

"I think in ten years we will have exchanges for win betting, with a possible fixed odds system as well. Win takes will be about 6% with it. The exotics will be run by a system which gives semi-accurate odds for all pools, originated and developed by betfair (who will probably buy the tote and modernize it) or someone with back-end tech expertise.

It's a win-win if that happens. Price sensitive folks will get their fix with fixed odds at low rake. Newer/younger players wanting to trade get an exchange, which they have been eager to patronize. Jackpot players get their bets, which are good for promotion, and they will be at a higher rake, which will make the tracks and horsemen happy. Exotics players will get things at a fair  price, subsidized by the jackpots. Rebates of 15% or more will be slowly weeded out
. Three or four tiered, modernized betting systems with choice will be in NA sometime; it is only a matter of time, in my opinion." 

Middleton via twitter hit the pick 4 last night at Woodbine and it clicked for a G-note. Nice work Ken. Ken is one of the sharper handicapping insiders out there. He announces, but he is a huge fan and consistent bettor.

Twitter is an interesting place. Today I said "100 yards" in a post to @sidfernando who is US based and "Metric Bot" corrected me a moment later with this tweet.
 
 
@ Please use metric units instead. They're far more convenient once you know them. 100 yards is equal to 91.44 m.
Now you know: Watch yourself with the yards, inches and feet tweets. Long live Metricbot!

Monday, March 14, 2011

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 something to that effect and it was at first ignored (think music v napster). After some time passed, when it was being proven that people in fact do like new technology and the internet thing might actually catch on, the focus shifted to legal fights.

The legal fight (and we see it here almost daily with ADW wagering, our only growing segment) was to hammer it for more money, which as a corollary will probably destroy it. Problem solved! Destroying something is always preferred, if we don't own it. The road taken was to try and prove this new technology made people bookmakers so each trade should be charged like a bookmaker. Poppycock to anyone who has ever used it, but a solid racing narrative that captured easy-to-scare participants. Plus, who doesn't want more money anyway?

This fight lasted many years, which racing spent many hours and considerable dollars on. Last week even their own lawyers have concluded their argument is folly.

It gets worse, though.

Because you have fought someone for so long, how can you now work with them? It seems you don't. For example, Mark took a trip around the racetracks a couple of years ago asking "what will racing look like in 2020 and what can we do about it". Some ideas from Betfair-tech and others was to build something to take advantage of the Iphone and Blackberry surge. It involved wifi at tracks and more.

"With the demographic of race-goers almost certainly having a significantly higher level of such ownership than the general public, it seems foolish to me for racing not to be developing solutions for this now, rather than turning to address it in a few years’ time, when someone else has beaten them to the punch (whereupon everyone can start whinging about the fact that they don’t own the product)."

This is something that definitely should be planned for, I think we all agree. Wifi at racecourses, webpages, video replays and the like which are mobile optimized can enhance on-track experiences, just like NFL.com and MLB.com have done for their live game spectators to spectacular success.

Sounds right, but maybe not. When bringing a new partnership to tackle these ideas to racing Mark got an interesting response.

"The answer I got was, “Not everyone owns an iPhone.”"

The period seems be summed up in this paragraph:

"Nic Coward’s first task when he took the job should have been to get out of all the arguments that had bogged racing down for years, but unfortunately (for everyone) almost the first thing he said was about the need to get more money out of Betfair. As a result, racing has wasted four more years than it needed to."

Righto, and when you keep losing court decision after court decision, that is not an opinion, it's fact. Knowing when to quit and shift is important for any industry or business.

We are currently on the same course here in North America it seems, doesn't it? It's a fight, a struggle, to keep the status-quo. To not take a shot, to not change. We are not unlike newspapers.

It made me think of "The Dip" a neat little diddy written by Godin a few years ago:

"Every day at most papers is going to be just a little bit worse than the day before. Every day you stay is a bad strategic decision for your career because every day you get better at something that isn’t that useful-and you are another day behind others who are learning something more useful. The only reason to stay is the short-term pain associated with quitting.  Winners understand that taking that pain now prevents a lot more pain later. "

Our chance is still here, and there is still a sliver of a window open. Do we open that window and try and walk through it, or do we board it up? If racing here is like the UK, and by all accounts it is, I sense we will be doing the latter. I hope we don't complain too much when find out that spending time "getting better at something that isn't useful" doesn't help the sport. After all, it's happened before.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

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 tracks to report exacta probables in $2 increments like every other track is like curing a disease?

Layers are crying Uncle with this colt
Uncle Mo Takes a Stroll

Uncle Mo was superb yesterday in his first Kentucky Derby prep, covering the mile in a decent time, with a nice last quarter (and 89 Beyer by the looks of it). His last three panels showed some fitness and his ability to separate was on display. We're not talking a great field or a tough test here, but for some out there who thought the easy schedule and somewhat of a delay was foreshadowing a problem, it was game set and match Mo.

He is now trading at 5-2 at Betfair and the trend lines are about as expected.

Some of us have little faith in Pletcher for a Triple Crown run, and we all watched Eskendreya win a laugher in the Wood last season and then retire, but right now it looks like every other owner in the Derby hunt is in a heap of trouble.

Harness Racing Update is Kicking Some Butt

Bill Finley's Harness Racing Update is doing some good things. Saturday he had a chat with Seth Rosenfeld about betting harness, versus the runners. Today, Andrew Cohen chimes in on the HANA Harness Survey.

Phew!

It's official, Axelrod beat Faraldo for the USTA chairmanship. According to Allan, the President might have been reviewed as well.

More View

Cal Expo is kicking some butt on its Pick 4. I believe they had the option of hiking rakes as well. Instead, they dropped them on the Pick 4 - it is about 33% below Los Al's or Golden Gate's. There's some buzz happening at this track.

Waxman is Convicted

Sad Day

Get Out of Dodge, the classy son of Artiscape had to be destroyed this weekend, due to the same injury that befell Barbaro.

Norm is 999,990 followers Away from Charlie Sheen

Norm has 10 followers now. We're starting to roll.

Via Equidaily:

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 price on Betfair when Nicky Henderson ruled him out of the Champion three weeks ago.... a colossal £881 has been matched at 100.0 or bigger on the one-time favourite. In addition, he has also been matched at 980.0, 880.0 and at all rates down from 720.0 on the exchange. There are six lucky Betfair backers at 1000.0, with £10 being the biggest individual bet struck. Binocular is currently trading at 28.0 on Betfair."

Of course, Binocular won.

Norm F, Charlie Sheen? Not quite yet

The big news last week was that Charlie Sheen joined twitter and he gained 1 million followers within 24 hours. I, and two other harness peeps on twitter, took it upon ourselves to get Norm more followers than the zero he had twenty four hours ago and set our target to a lofty "10". I am sad to report Norm now has seven. If we were Hollywood publicists, we'd be fired.

Norm is arguably harness racings number one fan. While most husbands and wives take trips to the beach, or Europe or a weekend in NYC for vacations, Norm and his wife hop in the car and drive to racetracks. I saw him at Industry Day a couple of years ago at Grand River and he was just getting back from some obscure fair track in Indiana that I had never heard of. He told me there was no betting there, which made my head spin. But that's Norm.

If you want to follow Harness Racings Number One Fan, please do here.

For a look at Norm's extensive Flickr page, with shots from both thoroughbred and harness tracks around North America, check it out here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

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, March 11, 2011

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' bad luck to have three. If y'all see any newer studies out there which states the old ones are bogus, gimme a shout.

Our stable owned a higher than average reader once. He was one out of something like 75 or so horses owned. I think he was a 34-35 horse, if memory serves, so never over the limit, but he was that on all tests, no matter what he was doing.

It's not often we can link two blog posts from one blogger in a day, but we will. Valerie has some harness racing ads from yesterday linked today.

It's harness racing Friday. Harnessracing.com has their weekly (free) newsletter up and so does Bill Finley at Harnessracingupdate.

Another feature at Harnessracing.com was a story on guaranteeing some pick 4's. Very good stuff for Northfield, Meadowlands and Balmoral players. The BLMP pick 4 has been kicking ass since lowering the rake to 15%. Some good branding going on.

Other than a nice email from Kate Lockhart at the USTA I have not heard much about my Twinky Cry for Help!  

Anyone watch the HBO special series on the Penguins and Capitals? I watched it for the first time last night. Bruce Boudreau certainly likes to swear huh? I worked a lot of my early life in union environments where if you don't swear it's like you are from the planet Zolton; Bruce makes my coworkers in those jobs look like choir boys. We have long been a proponent here of using this medium and this genre for racing. "Jockey's" flopped but it was on Animal Planet. It does not mean it can't work elsewhere and tweaked. And don't give me the "we don't have any money". We have tons of slot money - billions have been given out. ESPN ain't going to do it because of ratings, TVG/HRTV and HPITV can't do it because of a fractured audience and zero budgets. It's up to the industry, just like it was up to the NFL to create NFL Films. We're waiting.

I've been going through the Life at Ten report. It strikes me that we make things way more complicated than they are. Why the jock is supposed to make this decision is beyond me. If jocks or drivers scratch horses on their own, the trainers and sometimes the owner get pissed. The responsibility begins and ends with the trainer, in my opinion. If he sends out too many lame horses, he should be given a lengthy suspension. If he does not set up some sort of communication and instructions before the race, he is not doing his job. He or she is the last line of defense for the health of the horse. Tangential folks are just that, tangential.

And some thoughts on the matter are circulating about making sure in big races we don't talk to the Jock on television. That is pure insanity. It's the age of twitter, facebook, the 24/7 hockey series and NFL Films "Miked Up"; if your sport needs to be hidden (e.g. cycling etc), the problem is within the sport itself.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

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 remember everyone was all of a sudden like 'Whoa!' And I said, 'Yeah, you're looking at me now, huh?'

Katy Perry, another who has a fine marketing brand behind her, has become a superstar.

Good for Chantel Sutherland. She's doing what many other people have; with some success. Racing can use some, that's for sure.

Notes: Randy Waples' television pilot on the backside of harness racing has been completed. The tease will be viewable on SC next week. Read more here.

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 (harnessracing.com): 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 feeling he could be the Sid Fernando of harness!

Moira Fanning (Hambo Society): She'd immediately have like 47,000 followers, because everyone who meets her, likes her.

Randy Waples (Driver): Scratch that, he'd say something wild and get booted for a week by the ORC. And he'd blame me.

Ron Pierce (Driver): He'd have some kick-ass one word tweets.

Harness Herb: I'll talk to him.

Chris Roberts (Georgian/Flammy): As long as he does not constantly tweet about his workout regimen, he's gold!

Darryl Kaplan (Standardbred Canada whipping boy): He'd get in trouble for it, but he should tweet. Maybe we could crowdsource him a job if need be.

HD.com's Bigbeaver: He could flame Auckland Reactor, tweet after tweet after tweet.

Enman (Owner, bettor, commentator): Oh, he's already there, talking nice-nice.

Nick Salvi (Racing consultant): He's on there, but he ain't tweeting. He should.


Peter Kleinhans: Lawyer, trainer of a world champion and he even bets.  Cool.

Bob Marks (Perretti Farms): Bob breeds (horses, I am not sure if he has kids), watches and bets. Again, cool.

Alan Kirshenbaum (bettor, driver etc):  He wrote for TV shows, he should be able to tweet real good!

"ITP" on Paceadvantage: It would not be dull. He would use the word "moron" for sure.

Gary Seibel (TVG/Betfair): He could share secrets on looking like you are 30, while double that. If TVG gets upset I know a few betfair players who play big, so I got your back.

Dana Parham (Bettor): We need a bettor tweeting, not just those crazy insiders. He'd be a good choice, plus he annually bets the GDP of Albania.

That's my list. Let's get them on and get twinkying! Anyone else you want to see?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

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 propping up others? Let's not kid ourselves, states, whether conservative or liberal in nature, are a cesspool of special interest money. Tax rates and government spending are not sky high because they are spending the money only on roads and schools in tiny amounts.

Kentucky already has a rich history, and tourist-centric facilities and races; like Churchill, Keenland, the Derby and the Oaks. The Meadowlands already is the destination for hard-dollars and has branded races like the Hambo.

When you have a following or already are a leader in something, you are ahead of everyone else. If I am going to place money into a potato factory I am going to choose Iowa over another state. If I am in Iowa and my potato farmers need a push, I am going to look at it, because the brand kicks ass. In both cases the return on investment is greater than supporting non-branded enterprises, ten times out of ten.

I don't buy the long-trotted out argument about economic impact. Sure racing might bring $X million of economic activity to a jurisdiction with slot money or government money, but that is a complete red-herring. If the government gives me $10M to spend on an ant farm, and the spin-offs of my spend are 6X, ant farming generates $60M of economic impact. It doesn't mean they should keep giving me free money. Government hears these statistics all day.

The argument for Kentucky and New Jersey to me is simple: If you are a world leader in something, which brings eyeballs, tourism and hard money to your state, you should never let it die; it should always be supported. Supporting and concentrating what you are good at and known for (unless it is completely finished) is ROI positive. Supporting things you are not good at, makes you part of the landscape.

Why spend money on what we are not good at, or have little chance to recoup the money invested? Choose racing instead.

Notes: Betfair joins others and have moved to Gibraltar. What took them so long? If your government is against everything you do and wants to take you to the cleaners, get the hell out and join the others who left before you. Racing is now only 30% of their revenues, partially due to their intransigence, and in ten years (the way racing is going) it will probably be less than ten percent. What is happening has been warned about for years - racing and governments need get out of the stagecoach business.

Gingras is great for the sport of harness racing. He's at it again.

Meadowlands employees are getting layoff notices.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Clyde

Geri Schwartz photo of Clyde
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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

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 for every positive one, via word-of-mouth. This fella in particular is evidence of that. It's 20 years later now and at a gathering where horse racing comes up he mentions the story, over and over again, reciting my hobby as a mugs game to anyone within earshot.

The above rules are ingrained in us because it is what we have always lived with, so to us this might be no big deal and "part of our game". But to others, they simply think it's nuts.

It got me to step back a second and do some thinking: has there ever been a policy or decision made in racing which leans on the side of the customer? We're so used to getting the short end of the stick, there are probably a few others.

How about breakage, which "is what the track makes due to the rounding down of what a horse should actually pay versus what the track ends up paying to the winners." Notice this is rounding down, not rounding up. Breakage costs horseplayers about $150 million a year; and despite super-fast computers, the rule is still on the books. Colin's Ghost showed a tote board with penny breakage in 1927, so don't insult us and tell us changing this today is like landing a man on Neptune.

What about uncashed tickets. If someone loses a voucher, or drops a ticket on the floor, or has scores of $1.40 vouchers at home, in most jurisdictions after a set time this is track property. In some areas the horsemen get it. Everyone gets it but the rightful owners - the customer.

I am sure you can think of other examples.

Breakage has been brought up time and time again by horseplayers, and industry watchers but nothing happens. It's their money, not yours, so see ya.

At a recent wagering conference I attended, it was agreed in meetings that uncashed ticket money would go into a huge fund (the CPMA, horsemen groups and tracks were all at the meeting) for jackpot bets, or giveaways to promote the sport. Sweet! Finally something is to be done on that for the customer. Two months later they apparently had another meeting about it. It was agreed the status-quo would rule and there would be no jackpot bets, or giveways to promote racing. They would rather keep all the money for themselves.

Let's look around the world of business and betting. Would Walmart be able to break to "the next ten or twenty cent" number? Of course not, the owners would be placed in Rikers if they did that. It's fraud.

I you lost a cap, or $50, or a ring at WalMart would they have a lost and found, or would they auction off all the items on Ebay and say "finder's keeper's loser's weeper's?

If your football team does not even make it out of the tunnel and the game is a no contest will your local bookie keep everyone's money?

If Michael Shumacher's Ferrari is stuck in the Autobahn and never makes the green flag will William Hill take your money from you and say "too bad, so sad"?

Rules like the above were constructed when racing was a monopoly and made for another age. Refunds cost tracks money, so no refund. Breakage is "free cash" so tracks wanted it. Lose a ticket? "Too bad for you. Where else you gonna go to bet?"

Customers had no choice where to bet, other than a racetrack, so they could be taken to the cleaners with near-impunity. Nowadays this is not the case  - if you take a customer to the cleaners, he visits another store.

With slot money one might expect some of our archaic rules would be addressed and updated for today's world, but they have not been. The monopoly mentality reigns in our sport.

Breaks before the start, start refusals, breakage or uncashed tickets are not going to make you and I leave racing forever, nor will it effect those who are satisfied. But for those who are not satisfied, it means everything, and this is where our growth is supposed to come from.

As Seth Godin wrote:

"Satisfied customers are not likely to increase your sales. Satisfied customers are not likely to push you and your colleagues to stay ahead of the competition."

Indeed. Most would say after 100 years of it, that has already occurred. The competition is killing us.

There are a great many people unsatisfied or dissatisfied in racing, and the population is filled with people who will not give our game a cursory look. When we look at much of the above in totality, who can blame them?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

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. If they took both Monmouth and the Meadowlands, those two tracks would get a ton of play. Being featured on their channel is a big thing. Perhaps it won't be long before Matt says (like all the telecasts do now in the UK and Australia) "the seven is taking no action and is 9-1 at Betfair, while 4-1 on the board". That's some killer exchange branding.

Dan over at Thorotrends released the results of his first ever survey into thoroughbred racing. There were some neat results and some cool questions. I was struck by the age demo for the survey. Being primarily online, we seem to get a bit of a boost on younger fans/bettor demos. Check it out.

Dan asked a question on the Players Boycott of Cali Racing, which I and many of you share support. That question showed some results which I was a little surprised about. The data pool was extremely broad, yet it seems there was good recognition of it, and some support.

HANA's Harness Survey was chatted about on the HANA blog this week as well. The results are pretty much what we expect, and chat about here on the blog. Rake is too high, too many supertrainers coming out of the woodwork and winning at 30%, pool size is too small.

The funny thing to me is the cause and effect of that, and the spiral. Rake is high, so handle goes down and we have small pools. Supertrainers winning at 2-5 dropping horses and claiming new ones providing zero betting-value makes handle go down and pools be too small. In the past, some tracks (to combat falling revenues) raise takeout to "make up the difference". Then handle goes down again, and we have even smaller pool size. Racing is one of the levels in Inception.

Allan checks out some of the results at VFTRG.

North America Cup eligibles have been released. Last year looked like a solid year for the three year olds, but it ended up being nowhere near expectation. This year looks like a weaker group. Maybe the opposite will happen.

Jessica reports that the fight between the horsemen and Suffolk is close to over.  Who wants to bet that the deal signed protects the status quo? I'll give you 10-1.

CDI does not want to sell their signals easily. Gee, wonder why.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

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 aforementioned stakeholders digging their trenches for more of less and not relenting even for a moment to work together does not make anyone very optimistic. Horse racing might be the only industry, aside from music, who have the shown the ability to use the internet to help destroy itself.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

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".

Several years ago (you'd know this if you were a player, or followed many blog posts and comments here) the Meadowlands allowed a trainer back who had been caught with EPO. Around the same time Ledford who was expelled, was kind-of-not-really expelled, and was allowed to compete if he wished. This angered players a great deal. The Meadowlands I am certain wanted to get rid of these types, but because they were a public institution, they could not kick them out forever. If you go to any simo-center today, or read on chat boards, the Meadowlands is known by some as the place where every shady trainer can go, without having a problem. Many times you will get an email or read a topic where existing trainers at Woodbine or other tracks make the trip to the M and their horses all of a sudden find "life".

This has stuck with them. When the harness players in the HANA survey this month were asked what was the number one problem at the Meadowlands, the majority answered "questionable trainers". This finding is somewhat surprising due to the fact that field size and field quality has been such an issue of late. Those factors scored low, however.

The thing that I think is positive about this branding though is that it can be reversed. Another part of the survey offers evidence of that.

The WEG circuit has had their share of shady trainers, just like the Meadowlands, and the complaints from the early 1990's onwards were there. But WEG have taken a hardline against them in the past eight or ten years. If you are a 25 year old lighting up a horse like a Christmas tree and winning at 40% off the claim, chances are you are going to be given a rough ride at Woodbine.

If it was the year 2005, I would bet dollars to donuts "Questionable trainers" would have come first at Woodbine too in a survey. However, in the HANA survey, it came third.

If Jeff Gural gets the Meadowlands off the ground and tackles that number one branding problem, I would submit that in a few years another survey would take place, and the questionable trainer category would be down the list.

I think that works with most tracks, too. There are a ton of thoroughbred tracks with bad branding problems due to questionable trainers. There are a ton of tracks where people know the takeout is sky high, or the field size is too low and it is what those tracks are known for. It will take them awhile to see the fruits of their labor in trying to attack these issues, but in my opinion there is some fruit on the tree if they have some foresight and patience to give it a shot.