Monday, May 30, 2011

Should Racing Run Their Own Exchange?

As exchange wagering becomes more and more debated in North America (we have to remember it's old hat overseas, where punters have embraced the concept in droves), one item that tends to filter the landscape seems to be, "why can't racing just run its own exchange?"

On the surface this does have appeal. The sport is controlled, Equibase, slots tracks and some corporations like CDI have a few bucks in the bank. Why not?

This is nothing new in Internet business, as well. Bricks and mortar auctioneers saw Ebay in '98 and someone said "why don't we be Ebay?". Newspapers saw Craigslist and said "why don't we be them?".

At the present time, it is really not that difficult to get an exchange going. With a small investment (sometimes under $100k, if you give away a slice of the commissions), the resources and the back end can be had, and it can be up and running in no time, really.

There are a number of reasons, in my opinion, why this is a futile pursuit, which would probably leave us worse off than we are today:

Too Many Fingers in the Pie

In 1908 takeout in North America was 5% and now it is over 22% blended. Whenever a faction in racing, whether it be a state, horseman group, organization or racetrack needs a dollar, they have raised takeout. Unfortunately for these racing managers, you can't raise takeout on an exchange like a pari-mutuel pool, because low pricing is a vital element of their success.

From Betfair's annual review when asked about their low takeout:

"We know that the least valuable customers to Betfair are the ones who lose all their money quickly. They go away and never come back. So, we are happy to take less off our customers per bet."

Even if racing did start at a low takeout and kept this growth pillar, once revenues were not what they wanted, the take would go higher.We'd be left with an Ebay that costs $10 in commission to sell an old comic book for $6.

Technological Advancement Will Not Be Good Enough

E*Trade, Ebay, Betfair, Facebook and many other successful web companies know one thing: If you do not invest heavily in your technology, you will get killed. Today's savvy web-consumer demands a few things - they want cool stuff, it better be good, and they want it yesterday. Betfair alone has 400 IT people on their payroll and 1500 servers in five or six countries. They are constantly on the move.

Racing would have to become a cutting edge tech company, virtually overnight. Money in huge amounts would have to be invested in the exchange, and the profits would have to be reinvested as every tech company does. As in point one, with so many fingers looking to fill purses and state coffers, it would be incredibly difficult to have the reinvest needed to compete.

Hugh Mitchell, CEO of Western Fair and a former Woodbine executive recently said that change and innovation in racing is hard because "it's like turning around a 747 on a tennis court". On the net, companies that can not turn that jet on a dime, have their lunch eaten.

The Marketing Will Be Old-School

Betfair, since inception, has spent more in marketing than any modern gambling company in the world. They have not marketed to gamblers only, but everyone, in many languages, as exemplified in this TV commercial. Don't worry, the youtube link is not broken, it is in Bulgarian.

It Will Cannibalize Wagering

It's not a newsflash to bettors that Betfair does not cannibalize wagering when they enter a market, and this has been proven in places like Australia. The reason this has not happened is because they have targeted a win betting niche, brought in brand new younger demographic (as well as a financial trader), and attacked patrons who have long ago left racing for lower price games.

Whether racing will be able to do this with their exchange is debatable. Where will they run ads for their exchange? I bet we'd see them target Horseplayer Magazine, American Turf Monthly, at tracks themselves, and of course the old industry stand-by: On simulcast screens. They will be advertising to their existing customers, just like they always seem to do. We will not be creating new customers, we'd simply be shuffling them.

No Volume, No Exchange, No Business

The reason an exchange ticks is because of volume. Just as Ebay would fail if there were only a few sellers, so would an industry run exchange. By advertising to existing customers, charging a high price, and having no real value proposition, who exactly is going to get hooked?

Betfair has three million customers, with hundreds of millions (if not billions) in their accounts. It's ready made and it offers volume immediately to any racetrack who chooses to partner with them.

No Viral, Hard to Market


Internet exchanges or web service businesses tend to grow because they are viral. Facebook grows because people sign up, chat and tell friends. Ebay grows because someone sold an old coin for $100, they told 100 people about it and those 100 people want to join in. Online stock trading grew because people shared trading stories. Online poker grew because friends can invite friends to come play with them, and with others from all over the world.

Starting a non-viral racing exchange only markets to us, the people we already have.

Scott, over at Sportismadeforbetting.com, commented on a piece here along the above lines a year or two ago:
The simple reason why they shouldn't run their own exchange - there have been something like 40, yes 40, rivals to Betfair over the past decade. None of them have made a profit, and few remain. Those that survive are backed by stubborn men with ridiculously deep pockets, but they are still heavily in the red.

A locally-run exchange sounds like a great idea, but it will be like trying to run a city council with every citizen given an equal say - nothing will ever get done because everyone thinks they know what they are doing, but actually they don't have a clue.

Even with a monopoly, the issues that plague racing - too many cooks in the kitchen calling the shots, lack of reinvestment, lack of vision, charging too high a price for their product in a new world, and lack of customers - will probably rear their ugly head. It's why we're better off partnering.

Today's racing power structure has presided over the Internet-age for well over a decade now. Since that time, if racing simply stagnated at the rate of inflation, handle would be $20B this year. Instead it will be about $10B. A regime who lost half their business in the internet age (where they have held a legal monopoly no less), suddenly knowing how to run a new internet business successfully, is an argument I have trouble feeling very confident about.

The Undefeated Filly

Fillies with the ability to race top colts are a rarity in both standardbred and thoroughbred racing. We've had the undefeated Zenyatta tackle them twice, until her final race and only defeat. On the harness side the top filly (easily) of the last decade, or perhaps in a generation, Rainbow Blue, never did. This year, however, it might be different.

See You At Peelers is a monster and not your average everyday filly with a nice record. Yesterday at Tioga Downs she stretched her win streak to 15, and in doing so set a world record without breaking a sweat. For those folks who weight the driver so much in betting decisions, she did it with a pilot who is not even close to a household name. She is undefeated with three separate reinsman.



Each year it seems we plead for a filly to take on top males, but that is most times wishful. Generally, the filly is not as good as we think - beating up on slow mares - but since she is winning we want to see it. With Peelers, this is not the case. She is as good, or better, than any horse sophomore colt in training and I do not think we will have to wish this year. Trainer Jim Takter has never been afraid to take on the boys with his other mares, and now that he has one that might change the sports' history books forever. In fact, he has already announced she will start at the Rooney at Yonkers.

When Rachel was taking on the boys she was not taking on a Curlin-type. Rainbow Blue, who probably would've crushed the boys was in a weak crop. Zenyatta did it so rarely. This year we have a fantastic race-filly and a fantastic race-colt, Big Jim. Both are world record holders. And I would bet more than a ham sandwich we see them meet this season. I think it would be a race we'd not want to miss.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

With a Different Mousetrap, Two Horse Races Can Spur Interest

As California and New Jersey continue to flirt with the possibility of developing exchange wagering systems, discussions of the pros and cons of such systems have begun to percolate. Both The Paulick Report and PTP deserve credit for having focused attention on this important issue, and for providing forums for discussion.

The two aspects of the issue which are most polarizing, and which predictably attract the lion’s share of opinions, are take-out rates, and whether or not giving bettors the opportunity to “lay” horses might lead to an increase in attempts at cheating by trainers and riders (in the form of stopping horses).

What tends to get lost in the heat of such arguments is the fact that exchange wagering platforms are intrinsically superior – and by a very wide margin – to the pari-mutual platform with which American race-goers are so familiar.

That superiority is incorrectly assumed by many to be all about low take-out rates, for while the narrow margins found on exchanges are, of course, very attractive to bettors, there are other intrinsic advantages to such platforms which are rarely mentioned in discussions in the U.S.

One such advantage is the potential to utilize hedging and arbitrage strategies, which are made possible because all of the bets struck on an exchange are of a “fixed odds” nature. In other words, if one were to back (or lay) a horse at 3/1, those odds are fixed, irrespective of how the market may change prior to the running of the race. So, for example, if one were to back a horse early in the wagering cycle at 8/1, and the odds on that runner were to drop significantly prior to the race, it would be possible to then lay the same horse at shorter odds, and either reduce exposure, or, in some cases, eliminate all risk entirely.

This may sound esoteric to most American bettors, but it wouldn’t be at all unfamiliar to those who work in finance. To give readers a feel for what such options mean in practical terms, consider the following, frankly stunning example.

There was a maiden race run over five furlongs at Brighton (UK) on Thursday. For context, note that Brighton is a lower level track, equivalent to something along the lines of Philadelphia Park. The race cut down to only two runners, and, while both had raced previously, there was a very heavy favorite. Bubbly Ballerina was long odds-on throughout the betting cycle, and was trading at around 1/10 at the off.

Now, imagine such a race taking place at a minor track in the U.S., and how little interest there would be from the betting public. I don’t follow the pools at small tracks, but the win pool would certainly be miniscule, barring any bridge jumping.

Well, at the sleepy, seaside course Brighton, there was over $1.7m wagered on that two-runner race, as this screen capture provided by a British friend of mine confirms:



That’s over one million seven hundred thousand dollars wagered on a non-competitive, two runner race!

Think about that.

For some perspective, on the Preakness day undercard the very competitive, 10 runner, James W. Murphy Stakes attracted an aggregate Win, Place and Show pool total of under $900,000.

This is just one illustration of how exchange wagering can alter the landscape of straight betting in the U.S. New players, new strategies, better odds, and even opportunities to create no-lose positions.

This is a guest post from frequent blog commenter "Tinky". We thank him for the article.

The Pre-Race Appearance Puzzle

Mike Maloney, interviewed in the USA Today not long ago, commented that there are about "10,000 factors" that go into handicapping a race. I think many of us can agree, that's not far off. It is all a part of this great puzzle of handicapping.

Steve Haskin adds some much-needed insight and clarity into the Preakness Stakes telecast where Donna Brothers and Gary Stevens commented on Shackleford's nasty pre-race appearance.
There is no denying that NBC analysts Donna Brothers and Gary Stevens both became concerned by the way Shackleford was sweating and acting up before the Preakness. So the horse wins, still dripping sweat crossing the finish line, and everyone is in an uproar for being misled by the experts.

Well, guess what? Brothers and Stevens are indeed experts and know how to look at a horse as well as anyone. They are getting paid to provide viewers with their observations and that’s all they did.
 Touche. These two "horse folk" added what they knew about horses, namely when they expend energy before a race, they can run worse than they look on paper. It does not mean they are going to lose, they will race worse, or finish 9th by 40, just that it is not an ideal situation before a race. It's one of many factors, and probably tantamount to saying that Shackleford's beyer in the Derby might have been a little light due to path bias, or his number in the Florida Derby might have been a little too high because of the speed bias.

For touche number two in the piece, Haskin mentions Sway Away's appearance (which was totally washed out) and we know how he ran.

At betfair, where sharps from all over watch horses loading and act accordingly, this situation is illustrated each race day. You might see a horse rear at the gate, become agitated, or wash out. What happens is exactly what should happen - the odds adjust. But there is never a move from even money to 3 or 4-1 for such things, it is simply a move from a 50% to 45% or 42% chance. If the horse is a notorious bad actor, sometimes the odds never move. Even Life At Ten only moved from about 4-1 to 5-1 when it looked (in hindsight) like she had zero shot to win.

Geoff Hutson in "Watching Racehorses" did a massive study on myriad factors with pre-race appearance. The result was as advertised - there was a small correlation in finish and appearance. If a horse had two strappers, had neck sweat, bucked, swished a tail, or many other adverse reactions, it did not mean the horse lost, it just meant he did not quite win as much as expected.

One of 10,000 factors.

Brothers and Stevens were simply relaying it to the viewing audience, which is after all, what they are paid to do.

Notes:

The Dan Patch last night was won by Giddy Up Lucky, the 9-5 chalk. The competitive FFA field at Hoosier drew over $113,000 of wagering, up from last year. The USTA had a targeted superfecta pool last evening which helped.

Big Jim got the job done in the NJ Classic last evening. He dominated the competition en route to a 51 score. I am sold Big Jim is the best of this bunch (from what we've seen so far), but I am not sold he is a solid 48-type pacer quite yet.

The Eiltlopp is this morning! Now I just have to find somewhere to watch it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Notes

One-quarter of the big harness racing weekend is complete. Foiled Again won the Molson Pace in 151.3, as expected by punters who sent him off as the overwhelming favorite. The race itself was tactically interesting, because there was only one leaver, the rail horse Legal Litigator. When Yannick Gingras got the two hole (you knew he would ease first up at some point), the race was pretty much over.

Tonight there are two races on tap: The NJ Classic at the M and the Dan Patch at Hoosier Park. Tomorrow the Swedish Elitlopp takes centre stage in one of the coolest harness events around.

For the Western Fair pick 4, close to $10,000 was wagered into the pool, which was fairly good. Last year they did about $3000 in the same pick 4. Pick 4's at very small half milers are sometimes hard to get going, I find. Northfield who does over $600k in handle can barely break $10,000. I suspect it is because of the payoffs - with chalk so prevalent, there is little reason to go deep, and with that, the pool sizes are small. It's easy to spend $500 in pick 4's at the Meadowlands, on Breeders Cup Day, what have you, but very hard to spend that at a half miler.

Tioga's pick 6 guarantee continues tomorrow and hopes to build. It has been building the last few weeks. In addition, there is some very good weekend racing at the up and coming oval.

In the sign of things to come file: Money from slots taken away from racing, year one result.

There are some updates on the nasty accident at Mohawk on Thursday.

Here is someone who gets the game; a breeding/industry rep from New York, talking about what needs to be done in that state.

Nice sniff out by a few guys at HRI. The author is listed as a journalist but a google search shows he was employed by the European Pari-Mutuel union - who at all costs loves to slam exchanges because they are something they don't like: Competition.

Enjoy your Saturday folks!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ted the Dog Picks Molson Pace

I watched HRTV last week and all these dogs are picking horses. My dog can pick horses, I think, because he watches me pick them all day (I didn't say he watches me pick winners, only horses). So I tried a little experiment - a very high level one - to see what he has learned and if he has the goods to be one of those HRTV dogs. I figured I would try out this newfangled Playbook video to see if I could share these incredibly scientific picks with the world, and since it uploaded, I think I succeeded.

I suspect he has been studying post position data from Western Fair.



The HANA Pool Party this evening on the pick 4, starting in race 9 at about 9PM or so, is rolling. Check their site for tons of free stuff.

Good luck!

Accident in Last at Mohawk; Twitter Updates

In what was looking like an innocent and exciting finish to the last race last evening at Mohawk, an accident occurred, with several drivers and horses getting caught in the melee (2:30 mark).



Mark MacDonald, truly one of the nice guys in the sport, went down hard. He had a bad accident a few years ago as well, and it appears he is banged up pretty bad. According to Chris on Twitter

"Prayers for Mark Macdonald! Several facial fractures, broken teeth, broken shoulder. Feel awful for my buddy. Horrible to see and watch"

Jody J, whose horse went down, reported he was ok via twitter:  "Very bad accident in the tenth at moh. I hurt my shoulder and banged my head but my friend mm is who I'm worried for."

Reports say the horses are all ok.

It looks like Jody might make his mounts at Western Fair this evening. Legal Litigator, with the rail, was to be driven by Mark, but a driver change will obviously be listed shortly.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Harness Time

With the commencement of the Preakness (and Kegasus) Pull the Pocketsus says that it's harness racing time. Maybe not, but it sure feels like it.

Friday night is the $300,000 Molson Pace. This race, which has grown from a $30,000 Invite to a major race shows a bit about the power of branding. The top rated pacer in North America, Foiled Again, headlines the field of pacers and the event has created some buzz. HANA has the video of Greg's picks and will have more freebies tomorrow. Allan has his picks up. 

Saturday is the New Jersey Classic. Can Big Jim move forward, or does he even have to? In addition, the Dan Patch at Hoosier - usually a good one - is on tap.

Sunday is the Elitlopp; a fabulous event. Arch Madness and Define the World head the NA contingent. Blog commenter Janne, who is going to win?

If you are a harness fan, this weekend is a good weekend to be watching.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Positioning Racing

In the late 1970s, the groundbreaking book “Positioning; the Battle for Your Mind” was published. To this very day, it is often quoted by marketers. The authors contend that you, your business, or your organization must define who you are and market that definition into your customers' minds. You “position” yourself, and hope that the position you have carved out is a good one. If it is, you succeed; if it is not, you fail.

If we look at business history there are numerous examples of successful companies who have positioned themselves and stuck with that positioning message:
  • Walmart positioned itself as a leader on price. Low prices are what we think of when we hear the name Walmart.
  • Mercedes positioned itself as class, power, speed and excellence. It is not a car, it is an experience.
  • In an often used example, Avis positioned itself as the "#2 car rental brand," but said "we try harder." That resonated with people (they stood out by saying they were not #1) and positioned them as a can do company who wants your business.
  • In 1969 Coke's slogan was "the real thing". They were a part of Americana and that slogan was embraced by their customers. In 1985 when they became "New Coke" and directly challenged that position in a consumers mind, we all know what happened. It was a complete disaster, one which they were forced to rectify within three months.
According to the authors, there are six questions related to positioning, and if you cannot answer these questions, you are in a heap of trouble before you even start:
  • What position do you currently own?
  • What position do you want to own?
  • Whom you have to defeat to own the position you want?
  • Do you have the resources to do it?
  • Can you persist until you get there?
  • Are your tactics supporting the positioning objective you set?
So, does racing position itself properly? Let’s ask those questions as they pertain to our sport.

One, what position do you currently own? Ask 10 people in racing, you will get 10 different answers.

Two, what position do you want to own? Again, ask 10 people, you will get 10 different answers. Some want to own the family market and do on-track promos for families. Others want to own the college kid market, by offering bands after the races. Some want to sell us as pure entertainment (just look at almost any racing commercial ever made -- a gaggle of people watching a horse race and cheering). Others want to sell us as pure gambling, and to somehow get those slot players over to bet racing. It is not a question of what we have a chance to own, it tends to be a question of what we wished we owned, almost in an utopian way, or wholly dependent on what faction in racing you represent.

Three, whom do you have to defeat to own the position you want? Sensing a pattern? Again, 10 different answers from 10 different people -- we must beat slots, lotteries, poker, pro sports, and so on. Pick a number, any number.

Four, do you have resources to do it? With hundreds of organizations all with completely different visions of what to do, this one seems tough to even begin to answer. We probably have the resources, but in no way have a vision.

Five, can you persist until you get there? With handle falling and no real plan emerging, it is hard to be confident.

Six, are your tactics supporting the positioning objective you set? I think the above shows we have not even been able to set an objective. If you have no objective, your tactics are probably not very good.

I think it is fairly safe to say that racing has failed in positioning itself properly. The question we might ask is: Is it too late?

Several years ago, former marketing executive Gibson Carothers wrote an article that won an honorable mention at the Eclipse Awards'. In it he said, “It's amazing how many advertisers confuse their real market with the market they would like to have. In all my years in advertising, I can't recall a client [racing] who was so conflicted about its own product."

I think he is 100% right. We do not know what our product is, and if we can not define who we are, marketing spending is perfunctory at best. We all wish we could market to everyone, we all wish racing was mainstream and on cereal boxes or prime time television, but what we wish for is irrelevant, it is who we are that matters.

It seems that spending money to have racing shown on television like some organizations do, or spending money without a plan -- marketing to the mass market without a proper positioning message -- is futile. But what should we do? That is the million dollar question. In my opinion, I agree with Mr. Carothers -- we must position racing as a thinking man's (or woman’s) lottery -- and all else be damned.

Going back to a couple of our six questions:

For the “what position do we currently own” question (or want to own question), we do have a good shot to own one with my premise. How many times have you seen a horseplayer make a score on a longshot where he tells you the methodology of his pick, like he just cured the common cold? I bet you have heard stories like that countless times. Now, how many times have you heard a lottery or slots player speak of the methodology behind how she bought a ticket, or hit a button on a slot machine to make a score? Never. It takes no skill, and they will show no pride when they win. They are simply happy to say that they won.

Racing is a puzzle, and people who enjoy racing are puzzle-masters. Poker has taken a pile of this positioning away from us (notice they market themselves as a thinking person’s game) but I would contend we need to own this market. Regardless, I believe trying to sell racing to people who get a kick out of hitting a button, or playing numbers will not increase our market share.

For those who would say concentrating on one type of customer pigeonholes us, I would say that is unimportant and in fact the antithesis of what successful companies are doing in this century. Trying to be everything to everyone has failed us, so why repeat it? As well, I do not think we should sell our game short. I remember having a nice dinner at the track last spring. Beside me was a newbie and she was learning to play the game from a regular. She immediately took ownership of the puzzle in front of her and picked two show bets that cashed in a row. The pride on her face was delightful to watch. When that newbie comes to the track to play the puzzle and not for a free cap, it pre-qualifies her and others to play the game -- the game we are selling. Why would we want to sell the game to people who won't come back?

By targeting our marketing to the subset of people who are likely to enjoy the game, we improve our return on ad spend. For example, in internet marketing we can spend money and drive traffic to a site - that's easy. But if that traffic bounces out and does not return it is wasted traffic and wasted money. Bringing people to the track who are not pre-qualified to come back is equally wasted marketing spend. That might sound like common sense to you, but it is the exact opposite of what we are currently doing.

How do we get at these people (and this gets to the other three or four questions)? I think by honing our message to a targeted customer. Just like Mercedes sells their cars as an experience, and not on their gas mileage, or kids seats, we sell the puzzle and the game, to the people who enjoy such pursuits:
  • How many times do we hear that we should be selling the horses, like a match race between Rachel and Zenyatta. In contrast, how many times have we heard we should be selling the intricacies of completing the puzzle, on who will win between the two if they met? We need more of the latter and less of the former.
  • How many times do we see an ADW offer a clock radio for a gazillion “points,” somehow selling us like we are a Costco or drugstore points card customer? In contrast, how many ADW's give the puzzle-player cash rewards to help them have more money in their bank to continue playing the game instead? Cash rewards equal a better chance to win, and more customer loyalty to continue to improve their game playing. If they want a clock radio they can use their winnings from the fifth race and stop at Walmart (there are low prices there, remember?) on the way home.
  • How many television features go on and on about a human interest story about a horse, the caretaker of the horse, or the owner of the horse. Instead, what if we analyzed speed figures in the upcoming race on the horses, complete with showing fair odds lines, to help a player generate profit from her puzzle solving? It again goes back to the "throw stuff against a wall and hope it sticks" marketing plan, rather than honing the simple game playing message.
I think by deciding on, and sharpening our message, we can do better.

In another piece of fine marketing writing, the authors wrote, "Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure." Racing was once successful; people flocked to the track by the millions to watch and bet racing. But it was built on a house of cards. Patrons were not there because they loved us or that we were doing everything right, they were there because there was nowhere else to go. We were a monopoly and we lived the high life that often comes with being one, and that did breed arrogance. Because of this, I believe we have erroneously decided that racing's loss of market share is not our problem, but the problem of the general public, for not seeing us like they used to. The reality is that they never saw us like we think they did. And that is our problem, not our customers'.

We are never going back to the days of old with packed grandstands -- it is pure folly to think that. In 2011 and beyond we must compete and win, by being what we are. Knowing who we are, honing our message and marketing to that message as a singular mission is one way to perhaps help racing. Marketing to what we are not, or what we wish we were, will only worsen the problem.

The good news is that repositioning can and does happen. Honda was positioned as a motorbike company in Japan years ago. When they tried to sell a car to the Japanese market they were crushed, because the Japanese consumer did not want to buy a car from a motorcycle company. But they entered the US market with a new "position" to a new market. They used the fact that they were a cutting-edge company who made great products as their major message, and did not deviate from that message. It was ingrained in the minds of the American consumer, and the rest is history.

I think the time has come for a repositioning of racing. Marketing to the mass-market is a concept that should be shelved. I believe the NTRA and others should work on an industry wide marketing program that filters from the top, all the way down to each track and organization. It will have one simple message: Horse racing is a game ....... and you will have the time of your life playing it.

I have been having a chat on Twitter with Marc from the DRF and Dan from Thorotrends, an email exchange with Bob Marks of Perretti Farms, and noticed a good comment below by "Tinky" on yesterday's marketing piece. This energized me to reprint the above post written for r2. I welcome any comments.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Marketing Racing - Harder Than it Looks

If you visit a blog, maybe attend a horsemen association meeting, or read the comments on various news stories, an invariable cure for racing ills will be listed as 'marketing'. As Daryl Kaplan has written many times, we market less on a per dollar revenue basis (and it is not even close) when compared to poker, lotteries, or even bingo, so there is some merit in that proclamation. However, when we get down to brass tacks and have to decide what to market, the strategy and road to the promised land becomes as clear as handicapping Mountaineer slop.

Seth Godin broached a marketing subject this week with a solid thesis when looked at in today's landscape. Looking at the massive interest in the apocalypse one would think the world did end. It did not, but with everyone talking about it - in the media, on facebook, twitter etc - it sure had a good marketing plan.

Godin's point in the article is pretty simple: If you have a story that people want to believe, you can market in today's world. If you are selling a story that people do not want to believe in the first place, you are throwing money against a wall, doing traditional marketing that will probably fail.

The story has to be integrated into your product. The iPad, for example, wasn't something that people were clamoring for... but the story of it, the magic tablet, the universal book, the ticket to the fashion-geek tribe--there was a line out the door for that. The same way that every year, we see a new music sensation, a new fashion superstar. That's not an accident. That story is just waiting for someone to wear it.

And the some part is vital. Not everyone wants to believe in the end of the world, but some people (fortunately, just a few) really do. To reach them, you don't need much of a hard sell at all.

This might explain why Kegasus, the Preakness mascot, worked to some extent. Patrons under 30 who have visited the infield the last decade, got drunk, tried the urinal run, bared various body parts, and told their friends about it (or it was picked up by the media, both old and new). Kegasus was selling that demographic something they already believed.

In the context of selling racing (not the get drunk infield part) we can try and construct a marketing plan that has a building block to succeed by using this principle: Let's find something people already, or want to, believe about racing and go to it. We create a Godin tribe, market and we roll.

Have you thought of anything positive that people already believe about racing, we can sell to them?

Maybe we can sell betting. Well since the general public believes "you can beat a race, but you can't beat the races", that's a tough one.

How about selling the fun of the day outside at the races? The general public believes our demo is old, we bet in smoke-filled rooms and it is not a place for families and children.

How about selling the excitement? The public believes our game is slow, they don't know the participants, and waiting 30 minutes between entertainment is tantamount to a root canal.

We can throw millions at marketing, but you have to have something to sell to a tribe that fits their world-view. The next time you see, hear or read someone mention "we should market racing more", ask them what they want to market, because marketing racing is easier said than done.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Notes

Some items catching my eye this Sunday:

The World did not end, apparently.

Shackleford confounded many of those who thought a hot pace might fold the leading group. He ran a 103, which is not a bad number for this group, and carried his speed nicely. Animal Kingdom I thought raced well, firing from off the pace, and leaving two horses with 100 type capabilities (Sway Away and Dialed In) in his wake. I thought they were clearly the two best horses yesterday. There was no bounce for the Animal, and Shack's Florida Derby and Derby were not fluke efforts. Sometimes as handicappers (especially those looking for a score) we make things more complicated than they are.

Big Jim won his 2011 debut in impressive fashion. The last 50 yards showed (in my opinion) he was tired, but schoolers and one qualifier can only do so much. What happened to Lookingforadventure? The top rated colt early last year simply could not stay with Big Jim. The super-fast and freaky Grams Legacy stayed flat and roared home nicely. Is it possible to keep this horse sound? Seeing that Takter had spreaders on him recently makes one think not, but if he does, watch out.

The Molson Pace elims are in the books. Foiled Again just might be the best horse in North America and he proved it again Friday. This weeks final has the two elim winners with good posts; Foiled Again with the three and Atochia with the 8. The other good performer, and post time chalk in elim one, Art Professor, drew poorly. It could be worse - Piece of the Rock drew seven in his elim, and seven in the final. The post gods can be very unkind.

The A-news report below:



Crunk: Crunk says the inside bias is back at Monmouth for those who are playing the Shore today.

The Big M Free For All last night shows, to me, the need for us to do a better job with barn instructions. It is pretty clear for handicappers that Hypnotic Blue Chip is better covered up, and he has gotten away from that at times. Last night one can surmise they wanted him covered up at all costs, and Sears did that, getting locked in. The problem is, how are bettors supposed to know that? He was 6-5 and no doubt a lot of bettors were looking for the license plate of the truck that just ran over them.

Saturday is blues-day at Mohawk. With so much product, Saturday has become a time and place for smaller than average pools. Some tracks, like Charlestown and Hawthorne, found their niche mid week. Monday seems to be a night - with massive TV coverage and hopeful TVG coverage, that Woodbine/Mohawk can do some damage with from a betting perspective. Last evening the $75k pick 4 guarantee could not break $60,000. Is it time to race some good cards with betting opportunities on Monday's?

Marketing geek notes: If you are in racing and you're not taking advantage of Facebook like buttons, it's time to. According to Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, social plugins are delivering the goods.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Good Weekend of Racing Ahead

The betting market for the Preakness has tightened on the exchange, but there is still little action. As thought, the ML on the Animal (that's what I call him, since we met in the Derby), might be a little low, because there is a whack ready to book at 3-1. He is the clear chalk, however. Dialed In is sitting at about 5-1 and Mucho Macho Man has about $500 wanted at near 7-1. Friday is payday, so that loaf might be the construction worker looking to buy.

If you are planning your betting attack today and tomorrow like I am, Crist lists the exotics and races for them here in a nice graphical way.

It's not a secret who I like in the Preakness, but I always like to look around for others choices. I am pretty amazed at the variance out there in blog land. It's never chic to go with a favorite, but this year (probably because there are no present superstars?) the picks are all over the map.

Tioga Downs has turned into a top level racetrack. Not only have they lowered takeout, they are putting on a good show. This weekend See You at Peelers makes her 2011 debut in the EBC. There are a few other decent colts and fillies on the card too.

Big Jim makes his debut at the Meadowlands tomorrow. A little bird told me he has been schooling well, so the layoff between Q and race is no concern.

Molson Pace elim night is tonight. Free programs n' stuff from Western Fair.

Unharnessed, the new harness TV show, released their first episode.

UNHARNESSED BEHIND THE SCENES - EPISODE 1 from Kirk Taylor on Vimeo.


Caroline - you have to be kidding me? You should get into that database and push some votes. Paulick will have to change things up and call you a "hot" egghead, instead of just the latter.

There have been some big bets at Betfair lately on UK racing. Yesterday I get a ping: "Colour Scheme has $154000 at 10 in the Haydock 4:00. He’s trading at 9.8-10. I noticed another a couple of races ago at Haydock that had over $160000 at 7.6, trading 7.4-7.6."

It would take a commissioner to do something with this for horse racing, but I found a recent study I read about online habits by age demographic fascinating. Boomers versus Gen Y are not as different as we think, with many of the same habits online. One thing that stuck out was the older generations' willingness to read longer copy and watch longer video online; but the rest was amazingly similar.

Standardbred Canada ahead of the times, again. A couple of years ago they created an Adrenaline Festival which mirrors virtually exactly the Preakness Infield Fest. Because it did not take off the first year things were scrapped, but it was a sound idea.

Enjoy the day today. I am hopefully going to be able to quit early to play the Pimlico card today. I will more than likely be on Twinkyville for that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

1/2 Man Half Horse Brings ROAS, Preakness, "Chip Surgery" & Data

The post draw is complete for the Preakness. I was slightly confused at the low morning line given to Derby winner Animal Kingdom - thinking 3-1 would be more than fine from out in post 11 especially - but it is what it is.

It's not like you could take too much advantage of any Preakness feelings anyway - Betfair did not even offer a book before today.

There has been copious chatter on the web about disclosure, with rumors abounding regarding an off-season chip surgery for Uncle Mo. That surgery question would not be answered, even when the connections were pressed. A lot of us thought it was over-the-top to be so secretive if your horse had a procedure because the general public knows that any athlete - human or equine - will have sports injuries to tend to. Enter Pretty Katharine. The world record holding mare's early season progress as a three year old was updated in the media. 

Lo and behold: “She wintered in Ontario at Anna Meyers’ farm, Emerald Ridge Farm,” noted trainer Casie Coleman. “She was shut down for approximately six weeks. She had chips taken out of her hind ankles at Milton Equine Hospital after her last two-year-old start."

It's not that difficult, folks.

Free race programs are out for the Molson Pace elim card at Western Fair.

We spoke immediately after the Arkansas Derby about a hopeful equipment change for Sway Away. Jeff Bonde has made a change for the Preakness, cutting away the cup. I think that is a fantastic move.

Bill Finley (h/t Railbird) writes that:

Since 1984, a horse that has started in the Derby has won every Preakness but three. And one of the exceptions is Rachel Alexandra (2009), who was coming back in two weeks and one day after her win in the Kentucky Oaks. Fresh horses don't win the Preakness. Horses coming back two weeks after the Derby do.

Maybe because I am a horseplayer, or maybe because I look at data all day for a living, I get a little stuck with a lot of pronouncements like this. One would completely expect the above to be the case. The best horses run in the Derby with the highest graded stakes winnings, who are sound. With that encompassing data pool who else is going to win the Preakness, or any race, two weeks later, as an outlier?

Answer: Dance City. Question: Who is this year's wise-guy Preakness horse?

Mark Stevens in Your Marketing Sucks spoke about older-time marketing and the need to get $1 of revenue for $1 of your ad spend, and how this has completely changed. The Internet, using ads, social media, old media and more, can allow for much more than dollar for dollar windfalls.

With that: Meet Kegasus.

This return on ad spend has been pretty stout for this campaign. There was a nice web-search spike when he was announced, and the top state for the search term is Maryland - exactly what they want. There are not too many casual race-fans unaware the Preakness is going this weekend, and if the half man, half horse can bring another 20,000+ folks to the infield (which is likely) spending $100 each, their marketing clearly doesn't suck.

Jessica says OMG regarding the hand-wringing regarding a turf/synth horse winning the Derby, like somehow this is a puzzle beneath the game of handicapping. I could not agree more with her. Animal Kingdom ran a decent fig at Turfway, he has some turf breeding, he has some stamina. The question to answer is a question we put to ourselves for any other race - can he move up and win? The exact questions are the ones that are a little different, like: Does he have a turf/synthetic foot or can he move forward on dirt, does his trainer have a record with moves like this, how did he work over the dirt, does he have a good action for dirt on video, and most important - will his odds be too high because of the anti-synth groupthink?

Handicapping is a great game, and the principles of it in terms of gambling are the same, whether the horse comes from Mars, or runs on jello. The questions you have to analyze just might be a little different.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quick Filly Starts the Buzz

Last evening top Canadian trotting filly Crys Dream made her three year old debut and the track was abuzz. The filly, who was 7 for 8 last year, winning most in laughers, showed the winter may have only helped. Leaving 7th in the field of nine, driver Luc Ouellette moved her off third over cover and roared home.



She is essentially the first pure buzz horse of 2011, and it is really rare for a trotting filly to hold that honor. Often times they rarely show brilliance, only capability. Not this one.

Usually the three year old colts have the sport talking, but this year that crop looks somewhat suspect. It may be the year of the filly, as filly pacer See You At Peelers is a superstar and has already qualified well.

Notes

Western Fair has put together a nice card for Friday's Molson Pace elims. Over the last three or four years they have worked very hard at that event and it is paying off. Branding an event takes work, no matter if you are putting on a horse race, sporting event or flea market. They are doing things right there.

Do you ever wonder why betfair is popular? Here is a chat board post from a betfair horse racing customer complaining about paying an extra charge; because he is winning too much. That is a narrative that old time racing and its penal takeout rates can't construct.

Tomorrow is the first edition of Unharnessed, the Randy Waples web harness racing show.

Woodbine missed the $100k pick 4 guarantee the last three weekends. What think, not enough harness players, or is the twenty cent option the culprit?

The Preakness mascot was a good idea. Time to end that debate.

Have a good Tuesday folks!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Action 'Round Racing

May, beginning with the Derby, it seems racings season begins to heat up for both thoroughbreds and standardbreds; both here and overseas. Here are a few of the items catching my eye this Monday:

Greg updates the $300k Molson Pace Eligibles on the Western Fair site. Greg brings an infectiousness to that track and was a tremendous addition.

When are women trainers deserving of headlines, even ones that that talk about their looks? When they can train with the best of them. This lady is a top, top horsewoman.

Paulick highlights what's been happening with the Preakness probable starters.

With governments moving more and more into the red, change occurs and for racing that usually means you are on the short end of the stick. It was announced today that accounting changes at the Ontario Lottery Corporation will impact the slots share to municipalities. The cities will not be happy about that, and one can bet that the fight for slot money is game on.

Nick and Jason put on a nice little pre-game show yesterday at Tioga. They spoke of industry issues and the chatter was pretty heady.

Hec Clouthier - known to many of you as a man who lives and bleeds harness racing - took a stab at the seat in the Renfrew-Pembroke area of Ontario, during the Federal Election May 2nd. Hector, a former Liberal, ran as an Independent. At times that can be a blessing, at times a curse. With the economy doing rather well, and things seemingly moving forward, it seems to be not one of those good times - he was beaten by the Conservative incumbent. It was not for lack of trying (he generated a ton of support and came second). I hope he succeeds in the near future because he is one of those voices who has the guts to take on elephant's in the room like entitlement spending that helped sink half of Europe and the big four automakers.

The Elitlopp preps are heating up and North American horses are in the mix. Arch Madness has always been a nice horse and he proved it last weekend with the best named harness driver - Bjorn Goop - in the bike. It is nice to see so many horses excel with so little equipment. Some of our NA training leaders might be lost there!! Video at link.

Kaplan looks at the recently concluded battle for slots money in the Province. At times, I think he makes too much sense to be in our business!

There's some very intelligent chatter on twitter going on between Inside the Pylons and others regarding some bets, namely the place pick 6 at Monmouth, and the 50 cent pick 5 at Hollywood. I agree wholeheartedly the former is a bad bet, because so many things have to go your way to get a longer shot with the absence of a shorter one in the mix. I also agree that the success of the low takeout pick 5 does horseplayers little good in the long run in California. The bet was a no-brainer to get volume, but it helps the status-quo.

We wrote about the potential bounce of Animal Kingdom last week, in non-figure terms. The sheets are saying the same thing, via a story by Bob Ehalt. Trainer Graham Motion is the wild card in this, and when you see how he's handling the Derby winner, he is setting him up not to bounce. He's a good trainer.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

“Woodbine 2010” Redux. How Did They (we) Do?

About three and a half years ago I wrote an article called “Woodbine 2010”. In it, I listed ten things that I hoped Woodbine/Mohawk would implement by the year 2010 to help get racing back on track. In 2007 things were not (on the surface) horrible yet, but all the signs were there and bettors were warning about the trends.

Here are the ten points from the 2007 article verbatim, and a 2011 summary with any changes. I was wondering how they (and me) did, so here goes:

2007 Point 1: The Pick 7 - would be scrapped. I would immediately lower pick 4 takeout back to 2003 levels, which was 14.75%. Why they raised prices in a falling handle landscape in the first place is beyond me. We right this wrong. Lower takeout would then be advertised. "We have the lowest win 4 rake in North America" is our tagline. If this grows, I would seed this pool on Saturday nights to a big number and hope to get new money into the pool.

What has happened since 2007: The pick 7 was scrapped and they “kinda” did some work on the pick 4. Now each day of the week the pick 4 is advertised and is guaranteed. The pick 4 is one success story they have going for them. They have not yet changed the takeout, but I highly suspect this is coming. 15% is the industry norm in harness now and the market expects that number. Woodbine can’t be the leader on this like they could have been several years ago, but they can get a brand push by joining the many other tracks who have dropped pick 4 takeouts.

Grade: B

2007 Point 2
: With WEG currently at 4 nights a week for harness, there is absolutely no excuse to card races with fields less than 9 - with some work. Entries have been in the 160 range, for 110 spots the past while. The horse population is there. After a few weeks of tweaking the condition sheet, we should be able to see full fields in most races.

What has happened:
This has been a slam dunk, frankly. Bruce Murray addressed race dates and began to get fuller fields, and the ORC stepped up to the plate in late 2010 to ensure the premier track gets premier entries. Short fields rarely happen anymore.

Grade: A

2007 Point 3: The high end of the condition sheet (FFA’s) will now be full fields with FFA/JrFFA Handicaps. The purse for this event will be upped to $60,000 from $45,000. It will be a feature race every week.

What has happened: Not much, as we still have five horse FFA’s. However I can’t be too hard on them because the population is what it is. It’s hard to promote horses, when the horses are nowhere to be found. This was not much of an idea anyway.

Grade: n/a

2007 Point 4: We own a night. Trots are raced on Thursdays, perhaps with some sort of bet promo. Young horses are raced, say Fridays. We own Saturdays: The best fields are assembled, the pick 4 is seeded, HPI rewards points are doubled, purses are upped to attract the best horses we can (while diverting purses from other nights), 13 or 14 high quality races are carded, the pre-game show with Mike and the boys is promoted and they work on camera most if not all night - no dead air.

What has happened: A little bit has happened along the above lines. Just last month Woodbine and COSA (the horsemen organization) began the $100k guarantee for Saturday’s. They have had fair success hitting that number. Time will tell if they can build Saturday night as a branded harness night. In retrospect, I think the idea about the other days of the week is a better one. Saturday is so crowded, especially with the Meadowlands back. HPI has started offering out rewards points bonuses at times, following private ADWs who have done this for some time.

Grade: B+

2007 Point 5: Claiming races are written, and written and written - every week until they fill

What has happened: There are more claiming races being written as of late. Using ten claimers for some of the super races has surely helped.

Grade: A-

2007 Point 6: Rewards programs are increased immediately. I read a "Harness Tracks of America" conference transcript several years ago where WEG's exec said "we won't pay people to play" with regards to rewards. How is that working out? Well we pay people to play in WEG 2010 - every gambling business does it, and has for literally centuries.

What has happened: In the last couple of years, even old stalwarts like Twinspires have really embraced this concept, with their zero % takeout pick 4’s and pick 5’s as promotions. Woodbine – having an ADW monopoly – has only dipped their toes in the water on this. I fully expect them to follow suit, because when you give back money it is not stuck in a sock, it is churned.

Grade: C-

2007 Point 7: Day of the week promotions, whether that be a seeded superfecta pool, a cincofecta, a low takeout pick 3 night - whatever, are established and promoted.

What has happened: There is some movement on this with guarantee’s, and Monday has been rebranded on the Score. Takeout changes are still resisted for the most part as a promotional/handle driving tool in the offices in Rexdale.

Grade: D


2007 Point 8: The signal should be available to anyone who wants it. Mountaineer Racetrack went from a backwoods place who races 5 claimers at night, to a high handle track within a few years. Their philosophy was to sell their signal to resellers and let them do what they want with it. There is a new sheriff at WEG in 2010, and he exports the signal.


What has happened: The signal is no longer treated like a high price commodity in a protective shield, worried about an offshore boogeyman - brand humility has entered the corporate offices. Rebaters have more and more access, and handle has followed this access. Horseplayers can’t bet what they can’t see, and now many can at least see it.

Grade: B+

2007 Point 9: In the corporate offices a new employee incentive program is announced. It is based on handle. If handle goes up, your bonus goes up. This program is established for everyone - right down to a program seller.

What has happened: I am not privy to the inside workings of WEG, but when I see some Woodbine employees taking pride in recent handle gains, it bodes well.

Grade: n/a


2007 Point 10: Judges rulings are explained on air, by the judges. The racing product itself is scrutinized. Uniform calls are made, as we illustrated here below. In addition, there will be no hock kicks, and no illegal whipping - these are fined heavily - $500 for a first offense, and up $1000 for each offense after that. These guys are making $200K a year, $100 fines don't cut it. That will stop this stuff in about a week, once and for all. A jockey in Hong Kong just got two months for not riding a horse hard enough for second place, which will probably cost him $50K, so please, no one tell me this is too penal.

What has happened: It is tough to grade this with respect to Woodbine, because the judges are ORC employees. However, whipping rules are now zero tolerance and hock shots have gone down appreciably as the drivers start to fall in line. In addition, rulings are handled much better today than three years ago when this was written. The WEG youtube page and free program pages are also a step in the right direction along these lines.

Grade: B+

Woodbine has changed quite a bit the last four years, and they should be commended for what they’ve done right. Handles have been trending in the right direction, and the brand is not as tarnished as it once was.

Let’s hope they do not rest and continue to attack the market in an aggressive fashion. If so, in three years hence, perhaps handles can be much higher than they are today.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Baffert-Repole

Mike Repole, on Bob Baffert's off-the-cuff comments that he was "trying to get a price for the Derby":

"The Kentucky Derby was neither the time nor place and I was thinking that I didn't need to address such stupid, idiotic statements."

Apparently, comments like this by Repole were a perfect time and place. Four days before the Derby:

"If he doesn't go off the favorite, I'll make him the favorite. If you're going to go by the Wood Memorial, I'm not afraid of any horse. ... If you want to make Dialed In the favorite, go ahead please, help me."

I don't know about you, but this is game-set-match Baffert. At least Baffert's hyperbole we knew was tongue-in-cheek.

Notes:

Black Caviar made it 13 for 13 last night in Australia. Video recaps and many links on Equidaily.com.

Ted on fractional wagers. Yes, the industry has embraced them, which is a good thing. However, when Thalheimer told them to embrace them, it was a three pronged study: 1) Go Fractional 2) Lower takeout and 3) Increase field size. We're waiting on the last two.

Dan on Kentucky Derby viewers.

Molson Pace adds Art Professor to the mix. For on track fans it sounds like the place to be in two weeks.

Enjoy your Saturday everyone.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Brand Humility: A Needed Concept for Change & Success

For literally decades the horse racing brand was sound. The stands were full, betting was stout and the state of the game was more than fine. California racing especially had a strong associated brand – the big pools, sunny weather and a place one could always get a bet down.

In 2011, this brand is being challenged; not by Indian Casino’s or slots, but by customers.

When customers challenge your brand it means one thing and one thing only – sales will fall. Organizations meet the challenge different ways, one of which is by clinging to the old brand exceptionalism, and looking for blame rather than solutions. Today marketer Seth Godin looked at this phenomenon:

“So, your brand doesn't do anything wrong. What it does is the best it could do under the circumstances. Someone who knew what you know would make the very same decision, because under the circumstances it was the only/best option…. you say it is not fair or expected” he wrote.

He goes on to say that once this thinking is entrenched, it is “impossible to innovate”, because innovation can mean failure. When you believe you are exceptional and your loss of market share is everyone else’s fault, why would you innovate. It’s a vicious circle.

When we look at failed brands across the landscape, or in general business anywhere, most market share losses can be traced to the corporate culture at its very core: Where decisions are made at a fundamental level. If you don’t even know your brand is broken, and no one you surround yourself with has the guts to tell you it is, you are in serious trouble.

Godin alludes to this:

“Brand humility is the only response to a fast-changing and competitive marketplace. The humble brand understands that it needs to re-earn attention, re-earn loyalty and reconnect with its audience as if every day is the first day.”

Horse racing’s leadership, and media in some quarters, can coddle and sympathize when decisions are made at the highest level. “What else could they do, the economy is bad” we might read. This does not do us any good. Sitting around boardrooms, or reading turf press that encourages failure and the status-quo, with everyone preaching to a choir can be dooming to horse racing, or any business.

Samuel Goldwyn once said: “I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job.”

In my opinion we need some in our leadership, especially in California, to ditch the yes-man dogma and stand up and say “Our brand is broken because our customers are telling us it is. What are we going to do about it?”

A little bit of brand humility can go a long, long way.

Related: Art Wilson looks at the TOC and California handles.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Around the World in Futures Betting - Preakness Odds, Top Sires & Even Some Harness Action

In the early 2000's offshore sites permeated the landscape and each one of them - fighting for their slice - would have odds up in record time for many horse racing events. Of late, this is not the case. As we noted last year, the "Horse of the Year" futures were not even offered at an exchange, let alone a bookie site, and stalwarts like Pinnacle Sports did not even offer Derby betting. One wonders if it is a sign of the times, seeing there are simply less people interested in the sport, or if a lot of these sites have said "no mas" to betting giant Betfair.

Regardless, if we do some digging, we can find some futures action out there, and some of it is pretty interesting.

"All Horse Racing" has the only Preakness Book I can find on the net so far (pdf alert!). When you see the 5-1 offered on Animal Kingdom and 7-1 on Dialed In, it might come as a shock, but when you look at the last horse offered, we see why they are so high. The Factor is listed at 9-1, even though he is not going. This is reminiscent of the old 5 Dimes, that would leave horses up after they were reported out. Any way you slice it, this is probably a bad book.

Betfair has no Preakness futures betting up, but this is not overly surprising. Not being legal in the US there is little pressure to get a book up early.

In Australia, where betfair has been embraced by customers and fans and is 100% legal, it's a different story. The Melbourne Cup has already had about $50k matched, it is a pretty tight market, and the race does not go off until November. This is an awesome odds board for those looking to trade, or for those who have a favorite - the chalk is about 20-1!


Continuing down under, this week's BTC Cup is supposed to be quite a thrilling race between Black Caviar and Hay List, according to the press. The press doesn't bet much perhaps, because punters have traded Black Caviar all the way down to 1.22, or about a $2.40 mutuel.


Something you will rarely see in North America is a top race with a horse at 1-5, and another top race in two weeks with the same horse at 1-5, but you do with Black Caviar. She's traded at 1.29 for a race on May 28th. People have the fever.

Betfair is allowed in Sweden and harness racing makes the list for Futures. The Elitlopp is set for this month. There is very little action, as one might expect. North American hopefuls Define the World and Arch Madness are in the mix, and have been added to the antepost market.

In the UK the market is huge. There are dozens of things to bet on and the Epsom Derby has already got over $500K matched.

Recently there was a horse purchased on Twitter called "Twitterhorse". It's an offspring of Dark Angel, and that sire has traded at 3-1 in the "Leading first season sire" bloodstock market.

Word is that Frankel's next race will be at Royal Ascot and bettors are hammering the talented colt.




France's politics are what they are, and they have not been kind to punters in terms of freedom to play, but that has not stopped the antepost market for the Arc. Only $25k is matched, but there is some action on the two Arc potential chalk - Workforce and So You Think.

Futures markets are not very popular here across the pond, but bettors seem to like them elsewhere. With mechanisms like exchanges bringing them to the masses, there are plenty of choices for punters.

Animals, Numbers & 65

There is plenty going on this Wednesday in our sport.....

65 is the number, and racetrack management, New Jersey racing, and everyone who has a lick of care about the sport is not happy. For this Friday's card at the Meadowlands, only 65 horses were entered and SBOANJ President Tom Luchento is none to pleased:

"It is beyond comprehension how there could only be 65 horses in the entry box for Friday. It is like a kick in the teeth to the SBOANJ, Jeff Gural and all those who stepped up to help. It is a disgrace." he wrote.

On this blog since about 2007 we have written about the need for some sort of organization which dictates a semblance of a schedule for the good of the sport. Chester and Pocono with their over-the-top breeding bonuses and Yonkers with their slot money were a harbinger, and it was as plain as day. What we are seeing now is not really due to the horsemen (although of course they could easily fix this by entering), it is because of a lack of central authority. When a dumb horseplayer like me brought this up three years ago, I am sure others could have done something about it. Even in Ontario, where tracks that no one bets were protected by horsemen groups (like Woodstock), change has happened. No longer is the status quo acceptable, but it took leadership and the use of the word "no" to participants to change it.

Colins Ghost does not write non-history posts very often, but he should. He took a look at the Derby in a post-script message today. I think those who were looking at the Derby winner, and the betting, were looking at it differently this year than most years. This year, as we have alluded to, we had one question that needed to be answered: "What horse could step up and run a 100-105 Beyer at 10f". That, in effect was your Derby horse and it was different in past years where there are so many who looked able to run a 105+ at their best. Animal Kingdom, off a solid figure at TP, was that pick for some - and they were correct.

Preakness betting is next. Punters are wondering what kind of odds board we'll see for the Derby. The DRF ponders that even favoritism is a question mark, citing Charismatic and Mine That Bird. I think AK will be favored, because he, on paper, does not have the negatives of those two (Charismatic was a mega bomb, and in a claimer before the Derby and MTB came out of nowhere with connections very few knew, with a female shooter added to the mix).

What AK does have working against him from punters is a regression possibility reflected by sheets players and cycle enthusiasts. But I doubt that will be enough to bring him down: The Triple Crown is the silly season, as witnessed by Pants on Fire and Twice the Appeal's odds, and regressions off tops are trainer functional in subsets - Graham Motion is such a subset. I'd be shocked if he was not a solid chalk.

I agree with Colin about the lack of coverage post Derby on sports networks. I fully realize the Derby is a one-off type of party, but so in many ways is the Super Bowl. You can see features on that for a month after the big game.

Are you watching the Molson Pace this year? If so, take a look at the pick 4 because it is a HANA Pool Party. You can pick what races you'd like to see in the sequence here and Western Fair will card them. I picked the two preferred's and the Filly and Mare Open. Gold Series Final's are often chalkfests, which can really screw up a pick 4, so I ditched those. I think my choices present the best case for a nice deep field.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Animal Kingdom and the "Bounce"

Horse racing has changed rapidly over the years and old dogma is being challenged virtually each year. No longer are the hard and fast Derby rules being clung to, by bettors or trainers, and it seems almost every year one of the rules falls by the wayside.

One theory that permeated the landscape of handicapping for decades has been the "bounce". As you all know the theory prescribes that an all out effort might take something out of the horse and when he/she races next, this might cause it to throw-in a clunker of some sort. It especially can affect horses with gaps in their schedule, or those who come off a layoff, because a taxing race after only workouts (or in harness racing, schoolers) can exacerbate any tweaks.

I guess this is not really theory, it is more common sense. If you or I are not fit enough (for me this is not an "if") and we do something strenuous, we feel it the next day, or sometime the next week. It's the same for horses.

Derby winner Animal Kingdom might test that theory in two weeks.

Barry Irwin on the radio said:

"This will be the freshest horse in the history of racing that won the Derby and went into the Preakness"

That is probably true; he certainly is fresh. But how many horses have had a 10f slugfest off six weeks, and come back to run just as big in two weeks? Did the Derby tweak him at all with that off time? Will he bounce?

It is an interesting question as a handicapper.

What Animal Kingdom does have going for him, is modern vet care. With the medications of today, it's not your grandfathers racing. Immediately after a race a horse can get massaged, some bute, an adequan regimen, a hyperbaric chamber and maybe a little salt water action in a nice warm pool. Good training can and does stop a bounce. Still, every i can not be dotted and every t crossed. Horses can't speak.

What will Animal Kingdom do in two weeks? Be a fresh horse with a will to win again, or be a horse who has a little too much taken out of him with only one huge race in six weeks time?

It's part of what makes the art of handicapping the greatest game in the world.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Notes

As we saw with the Derby aftermath, when good horses race bad - and it happens a lot - often times the result is sickness. St. Elmo Hero, who was a badly beaten 8th last week, was a casualty of a high white count.

Uncle Mo ships to Winstar for a recovery. A common sense person might ask if this is the result, why was it not done about a month ago, rather than putting the horse (and everyone else) through the three-ring circus.

My chuckle for the day "What's Osama Bin Watchin'" h/t to Crunk

Why fewer bettors are playing horses. There are some good points here, and it all follows the script of 'ability to win'. The industry's squeeze the lemon has not worked. In fact, that policy never works in any business. h/t to Crunk

Not a very nice break for Arch X 3. It's unable to heal enough to ever race again. I suspect he'd service a book at a little farm somewhere, so it's hard to feel too sorry for him. He's a nice horse.

Read this story on Online Poker, then think horse racing? It does not compute, eh? It does with Betfair, because the mechanism means as much or more than the machine. How many stories like this would we read if poker was held around a table in a saloon? h/t to o_crunk, for the 3rd time.

Define the World got razor sharp and is off to Norway, then hopefully Sweden. Trotters are pretty unique and when they're on they're on, when they're not they're not. A trip overseas can really throw them in a tizzy, so we'll see if this fine horse can get the job done.

Woodbine failed to hit the $100k on the guarantee this weekend (Derby day). It remains one of the better values in racing. If you are a harness player, you can not miss this bet, especially when it does not reach the threshold.

The USTA pick 4's are doing well still. We are getting there in harness. Much more is needed, but things are at least happening.

HANA Harness is supporting the Western Fair pick 4 on Molson Pace day. Western Fair's handles are not too bad, considering it is a small half mile track. Greg and crew are trying. Watch for news from HANA in the coming weeks.

Alan looks at some of the results of the last HANA Harness survey.

Brett Revington at Red Shores reports that handles are starting to grow, mainly due to the expansion of the signal for the Charlottetown track. They did over $43,000 Saturday, which is a large improvement on the $7100 last year.


The CHRB shows some cajones. Jeff Mullins will not use the word "idiot" for 70 days on a backstretch. With falling handles, an RCI push, and general malaise with CA racing it actually helps the board make a common sense move.

Enjoy your Monday and Tuesday folks.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Plenty of Disclosure in the Post Derby Transcripts

I thought we're supposed to be an old boys club that is tight lipped about everything? Perhaps it is just from some participants that this has reared its head.

The synopsis of the post-Derby mahem was frank, honest and extremely detailed.

Some thoughts:

Archarcharch looks like he is going to be fine. The hairline was "a clean break" and he is ready to undergo surgery. I really like that horse and when you read the story and how disappointed the connections are it truly shows how you can be on top of the world one day and at the bottom the next in our sport. That horse is as game as they come.

Often times as bettors we strike out a horse off a poor effort because of some preconceived notion like distance limits or bad rides (or whatever it is we make up to fit our handicapping view). A lot of times we are off base. Pants on Fire bled pretty bad in the Derby and looks to be a no-show for the Preakness. “We’ll take him back home to a big old fluffy stall and see how he is in a couple of days.” Great quote.

Speaking of the Preakness there are a couple of horses for shooters, which should make the task very difficult for Animal Kingdom. Dutrow's horse has talent, Sway Away (I think) is a top three year old and Dance City, who raced so well near the speed in the Arkansas Derby, have booked flights. This will be one heckava horse race, and in my opinion, much better than the Derby was for bettors with an opinion.

Master of Hounds, who I agree looks like a great addition for the Belmont, was "bright as a button" today.

Zito's comments on Dialed In were good, I thought. Originally it looked to me he did not fire, because he was being asked at the three quarters without a real surge, but looking at the replay he closed fairly well. A lot of folks thought he was not a 10f horse, but I think the Derby erased those questions. If the half was 46.3 I am pretty sure that he would have been right there. I am not sure if y'all agree.

We need a Dialed In caption contest for Jessica's pic of him after the Derby. I'd go with "Nick, what the hell did you just put me through?"

I am a bit curious on Soldat. I am not a huge fan, but I think he'll show something later on. I think he was not right at GP and perhaps just did not like the going at CD.  There is nothing wrong with him. “He had a perfect trip, but just wasn’t good enough yesterday. He came back fine and scoped clean last night.”

Quote of the day for me from trainer Kathleen O'Connell, who saddled a well beaten Watch Me Go:

  • Although disappointed with the fate of her Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner, O’Connell was able to put things into perspective Saturday night. “My only consolation was: I felt so bad, so depressed leaving here, and then I drove by Mr. Jinks’ barn and thought ‘I should be ashamed the way I was feeling the way I did,’ ” said O’Connell, referring to Jinks Fires, whose Derby starter, Archarcharch, suffered a leg injury. “Here his horse was coming back in an ambulance, that’s about as devastating as you can get.”

That's the kind of class and perspective we had in a different age in racing. We need more of it.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Derby Line by Line

It was quite a show today. So much for a boring Derby (I don't know about you, the Derby is never boring).

Here are some thoughts:

My software called for a fast half, and after all, it's the Derby - we always have a fast half. Not this time and there were no rank speedballs to throw a wrench. Shack went 46 in the Florida Derby, but Castanon almost stole the thing here with almost a 49. I think the jockeys with the speed had "don't be Joe" on their lockers.

When you turn on the pre-game show and see people who think pace is something owners do before a race telling us about "hearing the rail is bad", it's time to go long. Archaracharch was felled by a hairline, and early reports say he's going to be ok, but the trip he got was fine.

@Insidethepylons hit the super on twitter, and the tri. However, he is heavily bankrolled. You need to be to hit that sucker.

No one hit the super high five. It carried over.

2011 was was the Year of the "Woman-Who-Picked-Pants-on-Fire". It's like every chick with a hat that was interviewed on TV bet this horse. At 7-1 he had to be one of the most underlaid bets in Derby history.

Oh, hold it. Maybe Twice the Appeal was. He was 9-1 on the board and 34-1 on betfair.

Anna is now known as Rosie. She seems to be doing well, so I too would like to be known as Rosie. I might get mentioned on NBC like 386 times.

O_Crunk on twitter picked Animal Kingdom, but @joedrape did too. Who was first? We'll never know. It's a grudge match, but Crunk posted it before Drape's piece, so take that Mr. New York Times.

The two "take a shot because this Derby looks poor" horses - Animal Kingdom and Master of Hounds - both raced very well. It was a good year to spike and fire.

The $100,000 win bettor this year chose Mucho Macho Man. It was a good pick; the horse raced well. But I think he's probably listening to the Bee Gees on the way home tonight.

For me it was the year of the photo. I bet tons of races each year, and photos tend to even out, but when you get hit with Regal Ransom, Apriority and Fusa Code with supers and pick's in the balance, you have to think someone is a'gin ya. Other than shorting Jaycito, Uncle Mo and The Factor because of physical issues, I made very few good calls on the Derby this year.

The Pick 6 carried over for over a half a million. I'll be swinging at that.

I have no idea what's up with Soldat. I did not like him today, but he is a better horse than he has shown in his last two.

We won't read that synth preps can't win the Derby - for at least a month.

"Tired of trainers lying to me". Horse owners everywhere nodded.

I wish Sway Away made it in. The Derby either needs an AE list, or owners who scratch their horse on time.

I have followed betfair since pretty much their inception. I have never seen $237,000 wanted to be bet on a US horse there - ever. But I did this year. Amazingly it was on Twice the Appeal and it popped up at about two minutes to post. Here is the evidence.


Not long after, he took a dive, down to around 20-1.



The sponsorship was pretty huge again as Bob Evans tries to juice the CDI share price. I expected to see the starters dressed like Long John Silver.

There was well over $400k bet on the Derby at Betfair, but no in-running betting. In fact, I can't remember the last time the Derby was bet in-running. It might have been Street Sense, who traded at 9-1 when it looked like he'd be shut off.

I say it every year on this silly blog, but the Derby is fantastic. You could have people betting woman trainers, horses named after a disco band, the way a synth horse worked over the track, rumors and speculation, or the color of the saddle pads. It is simply the best betting spectacle in the World. I can't wait until next year.

Enjoy what's left of the weekend, and for those of you who have had a good betting weekend, congrats. Hopefully I can get your money next year!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Oaks' Done, on to the Derby

The Kentucky Oaks was an interesting race with many possibles, and one strong possible (off a huge fig) showed that was no fluke and ran beautifully for the win. The super and super high five paid well, and with three of the top four on paper hitting the ticket, it shows just how good this game can be with big field and big pool days.

Now we're off to the Derby, with another race with a big field, that will be hugely bet.

I, like most, am not overly thrilled with the field, but when there is $100M bet, you could card a field of 19 ants running around a donut and I could get excited.

My pick, if anyone cares, centers on Dialed In. I think he is the most likely winner, because he is the horse with pure talent, in a field devoid of it, and he shows me no signs of having been tweaked. For evidence of that talent I offer his maiden win below. You can not teach that type of athleticism.

I give him about a 27% chance and I would bet him at anything over 5-2.

The other horses I think had raw talent - Uncle Mo, Premier Pegasus and The Factor - are either gone because they are not right, or in the Factor's case, aren't built for the Derby. So this is an easy Derby for me.

Underneath Dialed In, I like Archarcharch. He has some go and seems to be versatile enough to hit the ticket. I played him underneath Sway Away in Arkansas, and have liked him for some time. Because everyone and their mother are talking about his post, it makes me like him more.

For third I will try Shackleford, who was pretty damn good off stout splits in the Florida Derby. I have several models on the horse in my jcapper sheets as well, but as he's speed, he'll need some luck.

For a longer one to hit the ticket, I choose Brilliant Speed, who I think is getting better. I also do not mind Baffert's horse, but he seems to be taking some serious money.

Some folks in interweb land are trying the question mark horses Master of Hounds and Animal Kingdom, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, like a team drafting an unproven high-schooler. I do not blame those folks in the slightest - if they are right, they will get paid, and in this type of race there is logic behind those picks.

But I can't get past Zito's horse, so he will be on top of every one of my tickets, and my key for the big one in serials.




Notes:

I watched HRTV all day today, because I had internet access and no satellite horse racing channel. I can see why TVG is liked by horseplayers much more. I found that HRTV is about as welcoming to the horseplayer as Michael Moore would be at a Bush family reunion.

There were a few good picks on twitter today for the Oaks card. Myself and "NJ Derek" liked two horses - a lot - together. They are both crossing the finish line about..... now.

I worked pretty hard on the cards today, but simply could not get a sniff. I studied the PP's, Jcapper, had a glance at thorograph, spoke with a good horseplayer (Theresia Muller from HANA) and even called horseplayer Mike Maloney to share some pick 6 thoughts. It was a hell of a good due diligence day, but I could not put a thing together. It's what makes this game great; you can dot every i, but you need that winner and/or that score to make your day. Maybe tomorrow.

A sincere best wishes and good luck to everyone tomorrow, whether you are watching as a fan, or taking $800 in supers each race trying for the score. Tomorrow is a day where we are all fans no matter who we are. I hope to see you on twitter, twinkying away.

Have a great Derby Day folks.