Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gural's Meadowlands' Goes Transparent; Hambo Fields Set

In the new world, where information and opinion have a free flow, businesses have to be extra vigilant. Companies like Domino's Pizza have embraced the 2010's, going to the nth degree to be open and honest with their customers, and potential customers. We might be adding the Meadowlands to that list.

Last evening the Hambo Oaks and Hambo Elims took center stage at the Meadowlands. The most talked about storyline on the net, and inside racing circles, was the addition of super-filly Crys Dream to the Oaks field. The connections, after the horse received a positive, went straight to the Jersey Supreme Court to get an injunction so she could race, and they won.

Not long ago the races would have went off as scheduled, the interviews would have been filled with the usual pablum of "how much did you have to use the [horse]" or "is she the best you've driven/trained". Today, the Meadowlands met the issue head on.

In the pre-game show it was talked about, and a huge kudos to Hollywood Bob. In the post race interview the owner clearly wanted to talk nothing about the injunction, but Bob did not let him off the hook:

"This filly was off 42 days before this race, can you tell us what happened?"

Good for Bob, and good for the Meadowlands. It's not their job to paint a picture that does not exist, it's their job to speak to their customers with respect and meet the stories head-on.

Hambo Notes:

I'll lead with the biggest story, in my opinion: 2YO sensation Mel Mara threw in a total clunker! Why should we respect horses like Somebeachsomewhere and See You At Peelers? That's why. His qualifiers and his one pari-mutuel win were more impressive than either of those horses, yet last night he lost. If he was at his best, he rolls easily, under a strangehold off that trip, but he was not at his best, and even sharp trainers like Tony A can't tell when they are going to throw in a clunker beforehand. It takes a special horse - a total freak - to do what horses like Zenyatta, Beach and Peelers do.

Crys Dream won her elim, as noted, and did so in a total grind with a slow last quarter. What did you think? Tightener and a nice springboard, or should we look elsewhere next week in the Final?

I wasn't sold on Jezzy and I am still not, but boy did she race great off the break. Tetrick said she wanted to pace before the gate and that was that. In a bad case of bad luck for me as a bettor I went deep there in the pick 5's, looking for a bomb and thought I was in good shape. Of course, Iron Lady, the lesser half of the entry got the job done.

The rumored sickness of Blue Porsche was a reality. He had zip, nada, nothing last evening. Stablemate Chapter Seven was good again and has some serious flash. Broad Bahn went gate to wire. I noticed in the post race interview driver George Brennan said he got fractions his own way. He likes speed, and I guess that makes sense to him, but to me not really. The back half was slower than the first half and he could have walked.

Manofmanymissions won the second elim in a less than tidy fashion. I *think* he will be the chalk in the final, but he has little speed, has to be babied, and looks like he is ready to bust at a moments notice. Chapter Seven has to take huge cash. In this elim Jim Campbell's colt was about the only one I saw who showed any zip.

Next weeks super card will include the Nat Ray, where San Pail tries the best on their own Turf. With the Hambo Oaks Final and Hambo Final looking bettable, this is going to be one hell of a racecard.

Other notes: Rumors continue to swirl about Yonkers giving the boot to Lou Pena. It's hit the chat boards.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Harness Saturday

It's raining today, I am watching dogs, I am up early. I am sensing- after I download the days thoroughbred races, watch the Adios at the Meadows, and switch on the Hambletonian Elim card at the M- it's going to be one of those 13 and a half hour racing days. I'm not complaining.

Looking at the Meadowlands card, it might not be great for betting, but as a fan of the sport, it's a must-watch.

In race 2, the 3 year old fillies take center stage; minus See You At Peelers. As an aside, I was not sold on her last race, because driver Marcus Johanssen (who never goes to the stick and pilots her home in 26 and change) had to. I don't think she was the same horse on Thursday that she was at Mohawk, or Vernon. Anyhoo, the second race tonight showcases the very good Krispy Apple. She is the only filly besides SYAP who can pace 50, as the rest seem to hit the wall around 51.

In race 3 we have a two horse entry which might be the only entry in harness racing history to be coming off positive tests. Crys Dream is the best of this division, but because she has raced so many races in Canada, the US seems to have discounted her as such. In the simulcast world I have no idea how, or why this still happens.

In race 4 we have the Jezzy entry, who I am not sold on, and Lady Rainbow, who is not the same filly she was last season. They will both probably be overbet. But I can't find anyone to beat them. Quandary!

Race 5, is a very good Hambo elim. Blue Porsche is probably the most talented trotter, but he is coming off sickness and has no charted line. I would suspect Blair zipped him in 55 at Mohawk in a schooler to prep, and I hope someone in the Meadowlands press asks him about that. I like the way Chapter Seven closed out his last, but the race did set up for him, with a decent pace and a slow third quarter.

In race 6, Manofmanymissions is the best horse, possibly by far, but he can beat himself. Usually trotters off a big effort are poor betbacks, but he did it so easily last time, we have to discount that. I do like John Campbell as a longshot here. That horse has some go, and if something crazy happens, who knows.

Owner Robert Hamather has gone to supertrainers in the past, and he does again, moving from one to another. Kyle Major in the Open, is first time Pena. Despite this magic ability of this guy, if this horse wins off the barn change, the game has clearly passed me by as an owner. One More Laugh is another interesting horse in here, simply because of the way he has come back, and how overbet he has been. Won the West is the play in there for me. If he makes front, we might see a huge mile.

The Wilson Prep is the highlight for me. How a $12,000 race could be a highlight? Because it has Mel Mara in it. I would expect another off the pace effort from this guy, and I bet we continue to see something special. At times Yannick Gingras has driven the horse and not the odds board in situations like this, so bettors will be beware.

All of the above sets up for next week of course. It will be, and has annually been, the greatest and most interesting card of stakes racing this sport has to offer.

Have a great Saturday everyone!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday's Here

There's plenty of talk about the race day med ban this morning.....

Sid Fernando has a piece up on sires siring bleeders. It is a topic I am very interested in, and I bet a lot of you are too. In harness, not long ago, trainer Brett Pelling spoke off the cuff about our breed and had some not too nice things to say. In a nutshell he profiled some of our top stallions as passing on some of their poor traits, like bad sesamoids, breathing problems and bleeding. I won't mention who those sires were (he did not mention any names, and since it is anecdotal I will not share my opinion, either), but he seemed to strongly believe it was more than myth. What do you think?

HANA was called by Jim Gagliano of the Jockey Club for a chat on their stance on race day meds. HANA ran a survey and published it this morning. Some of the comments were fascinating. I hasten to say there might be a bit of a bias showing in the debate, however. Horseplayers have been so annoyed about illegal designer drugs that some might support any ban at all, on anything. I think there is a spillover effect, and lasix is a whipping boy.

John Campbell will be driving tonight after his major injury. Good for John.

A horse who does not get much respect, but seems to keep cashing checks is Custard the Dragon. He drew the rail on Saturday in the Adios.

VFTRG looks at Christie's anti-racing stance in Jersey.  You know my view: If a politician is ROI driven, and works with numbers and makes decisions as such, racing will always be a loser. We simply do not generate ROI, and there is not enough government capital (or skin in the game) to put it on some sort of pedestal like casino gaming, or Atlantic City.

What were the odds on Frankel here in North America? I swore I saw a 4-5 close at Twinspires. He was 1.60 at Betfair.

As noted yesterday, See You At Peelers goes tonight, and appears impossible to beat. What I think is the best two year old to come around since Somebeachsomewhere, Mel Mara, goes Saturday at the Meadowlands.

Have a nice day everyone.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday Has Been a Fun One

Here are my Wednesday thoughts, if anyone is interested.....

I have read dozens of opines on the race day lasix ban in the press, and I have read nothing about how if it's banned some super-trainer-of-the-week will jack their horses with something that prevents bleeding, that he or she learned out of a junior high school chemistry book. That irks me.

NBC will again broadcast the Hambo. Moira and Tom have done some amazing things with this event and they should be commended. Of special note to me personally (I was on a panel once that he moderated, and I was struck by his love of the game, and general good nature), Gary Seibel will again be behind the mic.

Twitter rolled this morning due to a horse named Frankel. A lot of the time a horse is hyped beyond belief and people follow along like lemmings. In my opinion, this is not one of those times. This horse is an absolute monster. I telephoned a player who plays UK racing professionally not soon after the race, and he was blown away just like everyone else.

Crys Dream is in the Oaks this year and if you go to the chat boards, you notice the fans are not cheering for this lass. Ontario banned the mare for three months due to a Class II, and their owners went to court to get a stay regarding her eligibility.  If Karma plays a role she will not win a race for 91 days.

The greatest driver, in my opinion who has ever lived - John Campbell- is back for the Hambo, after yet another serious injury. I wish him luck and I am pretty sure I am not the only one.

Last week I was again pitching out a trainer who wins lights out, because he is in the D Barn. When the day comes that I can't pitch out a trainer when he is in D, is a day when racing starts to attract more honest money into horse ownership.

There was some major trolling on the Paulick Report today, regarding the Horseplayers Association of North America. Apparently Brad Cummings is the new President of HANA. Does that mean that HANA President Jeff Platt can switch with Ray and call the site the "Pimp Report"? Instead of the site being sponsored by the TOC, it would be sponsored by a company that makes pink fuzzy hats.

Chris Ryder thinks his colt can trot 51. I went through the lines, and I know I won't be mistaken any time soon for Pittsburgh Phil, but I can't see it, no matter how hard I look.

Jimmy Takter says Peelers is ready to roll this week. I hope so, because Fan Hanover pulling a fat man in an iron race bike could have beaten her last time.

San Pail - which is one of the greatest feel good stories in all of racing - will parade at Kawartha on Saturday. Way to go to all the connections. You deserve every minute of this.

I am busy this week, but I hope to be back for a look at the Hambo and Oaks Elim card. Have a great evening everyone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Notes

A few things that caught my eye today.....

Bob Baffert has now replaced his twitter avatar from an egg to a real picture.  I'm sorry for giving him the gears about it, but someone had to do it. Now if we can get him to change his tune on takeout.

Speaking of eggs and a resulting Xfiles-12 Monkeys coincidence..... Bob McIntosh - the Bob Baffert of harness racing - joined twitter recently and he too has an egg as an avatar. Top trainers are very creative, except when it comes to twitter avatars. I vote Bob uses Artsplace as his pic. #nomoreeggs

Say what? According to Teresa Genaro on Twitter, someone at a conference said that bettors will stop betting horses if lasix is banned. You can't make this stuff up.

The Hambo and Hambo Oaks elims are drawn. Blue Porsche has made it to the dance for the males, and the Matlock Horse, Crys Dream, races in the Oaks. Is there anyone out there pulling for that mare? I highly suspect not.

The HBPA, presumably because of the stance of horsemen groups against a race day lasix ban as a deflection, are for harsher penalties for Class I and Class II drugs.

The Tour De France probably has a worse reputation for undetectable enhancers than racing does, but this year the result was a good one. Cadel Evans, who has never even been smeared by a rumor, won the whole thing. I watched the Tour a few years ago and saw Michael Rasmussen drop Cadel like a malnourished welterweight, and later saw Alberto Contador do similar. Most would say "Cadel is good, but just not good enough". When we see guys like Rasmussen get booted for doping, right in the middle of the Tour, and Contador test positive for eating bad steak, it makes the win pretty damn sweet for the Aussie (I would imagine).

Warawee Needy goes into the Battle of Waterloo as a huge fave off his win last night. I watched the race, and while everyone sings this colts praises, I'm still on the fence. There is something with the way he goes I do not like. I think Mel Mara would beat him easily.

A 66 year old lady crosses the border into Canada to play Bingo. She ends up incarcerated for 12 days for a mistaken test where her motor oil apparently was "heroin". How a motor oil test can turn up positive is one thing. How the police could jail her in that situation for 12 days might be the bigger question.

Have a nice day folks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shanklin's Take on CDI & Other Notes

Bill Shanklin recently sung the praises of Churchill Downs Inc, and remarked on how well it's run as a publicly traded company. Some of the negative comments focused solely on Churchill's ADW - Twinspires.com - and how it is taking money away from live-track revenues. Today Bill responded by showing how the world is changing, and that disruptive technologies are here to stay:
  • The inescapable lesson for those of us who are aficionados of horse racing as it once was is this: Regardless of how fervently traditional horse racing fans would prefer to bring back the halcyon days of the past, when fans spent leisurely sunsplashed days at the racetrack and bet with a real, live pari-mutuel clerk, we cannot excepting at a few venerable throwbacks like Saratoga, Del Mar, and Keeneland
As we have spoken about here on the blog before, it's not unlike the NFL in 1960 when the choice was to use or not use television. There were those fervently against televising football games because it was believed this would hurt the live gate, and concessions. That argument seems ridiculous now, but racing (almost daily) is barraged with similar arguments regarding advanced deposit wagering.

One area I do feel Mr. Shanklin did not touch upon, which I will here, is that disruptive technologies succeed in the new world because of mainly three distinct features and benefits:

i) They're convenient
ii) They are long tail and provide reach
iii) The economies of scale, and cost effectiveness, provide a superior product to consumers at a reduced price, which (at times) can increase demand a hundred-fold or more (e.g.online stock trading)

Twinspires.com (CDI's wagering arm) is definitely convenient. For the most part they are fairly long-tail, and they do provide reach (there are people 500 miles or more away from an OTB or racetrack who can now bet most tracks almost 24 hours a day). This is not dissimilar to an Ebay. It's convenient for me to sell my #1 Spider-Man comic there. I can sell to comic collectors from all over the world, via that website's reach. It's something I could not do even 20 years ago.

But, if I want to sell that comic on Ebay, I can at a 1% commission. If I wanted to sell it at 1993 Sotheby's, the commission would be 25%.

This is where Twinspires.com and CDI have failed to make a dent, in my opinion, and it's where the three legged stool breaks down.

CDI pretty much charges the exact same price online that they charged 40 years ago at a live venue. Only two thirds of this winning formula has been enacted, and this is happening despite Churchill receiving signal fees of 3% (or even lower) for some tracks. At the same time they charge a very high fee for their own tracks.

Does this mean that I disagree with Mr. Shanklin's assertion that Churchill Downs Inc is a well run business? No, absolutely not. Maybe, just maybe, it is in their best interest to shoehorn as many players into their platform at a huge margin e.g. CDI handling $1B at 20% margins at Twinspires might be better than handling $2.5B of wagering at 7% as a corporate strategy. I do honestly wonder, however, what it could do for racing overall, if the third stool of the Internet chair was on the floor.


Notes: 

First Dude is retired with a tendon "strain". Press releases like that make me think of gastronomical infections or chips that are not chips. Apparently eight months of rest is now press release-speak for retirement.

Tioga Downs is working it's way to major racetrack status. They now hold the keys to the Cane Pace.

Imagine what would happen if horse racing did what Domino's did here? The comments might be "colorful".

There was a big battle down under for aged horse of the year. The best part: It was Monkey King versus Smoken Up, two of the best named excellent horses I can remember.

Hambo elims are this weekend. I'm excited.

A newbie racetracker shows why slots have 5% takeouts - because winning is important.

Horse racing in AZ is not doing well. It's been three years since Arizona passed that crazy ADW law. Ironically, horseplayers were the ones who tried to correct that last year.

Del Mar and Saratoga ain't hurting so far this year. We've been on the Big Event wagon for a long time here, and it is one opinion I have barely modified over the years. Big events are what every marketing dollar is made for because it can grab eyeballs, and it is the future of the "sport" of horse racing.

Speaking of eyeballs: How quickly can an innovation take hold when you have them? Pretty quickly. Google + is at 18 million users already. Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole lot else out there is probably getting pretty worried.

Have a great day everyone!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Huge Saturday Action & Raffetto Meets Jeff Platt

Ya, Saratoga is going, Del Mar is going, but how about the action in harness?

Back to back track records are set at the Meadows in the Adios elims. The Final goes next Saturday.

At the 3/8's pole in the $700k Maple Leaf Trot any handicapper worth his salt was saying "move on Arch Randy". Driver Randy Waples was thinking the same thing. He stole a nice little rest with San Pail in the third quarter, and the not-very-sharp Arch Madness had no response. Good win, for a nice horse.

Mel Mara, who we talked about Friday, is the real deal. After getting messed up around cover, he won exactly as programmed. If there was ever a 1-5 shot who was an overlay, this might have been the race.

Big Jim won nicely this evening in an NJSS.

Krispy Apples might not be quite as good as she has been. She tried to win in a fast time in tonight's first race, but she ain't no See You At Peelers.

Dreamfair Eternal won the Roses Are Red, in large part thanks to the poor effort by the chalk. She was not keen at all, and could barely clear in a 28 and change second panel.

Buck I St. Pat threw in a major clunker in the Armbro Flight as well. She does not do that very often.

Note: The Thoroughbred Owners of California head Lou Raffetto reported in this video that he has met with Horseplayers Association of North America's members, including President Jeff Platt. Art Wilson also reported on the meeting here.



Friday, July 22, 2011

Crys Dream: Why the Sport is Difficult to Police

We've seen it before: A penalty given to a trainer by a jurisdiction with reciprocity to other jurisdictions (following suit) only to have the courts intervene and strike it down. This time, there's a first: The ORC ninety day suspension of the filly Crys Dream for a class II positive was struck down by the courts in New Jersey.

I feel the Crys Dream positive was a mistake, and was not worthy of a 90 day suspension. However, rules are what they are, and you can take them when given, or you can try and circumvent them through the courts. These connections chose the latter, and in my opinion, it is another black eye for policing this sport. To be quite honest, I'm finding it difficult to be a fan of the filly now, even though she did nothing wrong.

It's another example of why racing has such a tough time getting rid of folks and attracts people none of us would want to get into business with. There's always a US court there to bail people out, if they have enough money.

The Greatest 2YO Qualifier I've Ever Seen

Last week several two year olds qualified at the Meadowlands, as is usual this time of the year. However, what was unusual, was a qualifier by a son of Lis Mara, named Mel Mara. Off a 1:01 half, the colt hit the three quarters in a leisurely 29.1. Then the fun happened. He stormed home in 25 flat.

True it was his third qualifier, and his previous two were good efforts that showed he was already-brilliant, but a 55.1 mile off a 1:01 half with that kind of shake-up speed is astonishing. If they bring him along correctly, there is no telling what we are looking at. If someone said right now he could be the fastest horse ever, I would not be able to argue with him. He just might end up being that.

One things for sure, a great many folks would not buy a foal sired by a horse who's dad is Cambest. So much for that; it seems Lis Mara is going to do just fine.

He makes his debut Saturday at the Meadowlands. I hope he sits, stalks and storms home under a stranglehold. There are too many important dances in this colt's future to blow the wad Saturday.

H/t to Bob Marks for this tidbit - Saturday also sports what might be the chalkiest double in harness racing history. Big Jim and Krispy Apples. Unless the latter decides to grab a snow cone in the grandstand at the head of the lane like last time.

Enjoy your Friday everyone.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

She'll Be Better on Lasix, Success, and Layups

There was an interesting quote from French trainer Fabrice Souloy, who is shipping his mare in to tackle the big boys in this weekend's $700k MLT.

'Souloy welcomes the change in location for his mare and feels that competing in North America will allow her to develop as she can now race on lasix.'

I have no preconceptions about lasix. I know what I think about it as a bettor, and I have had many on (and taken off) the drug as an owner. It is one of the more interesting debates in racing. For takeout, and other business decisions, I have read, studied, talked to people and wrote papers about it, and I know how I feel. With the lasix debate I have done close-to-similar, and I am still stumped.

The Maple Leaf goes Saturday, and if Arch Madness is not at his best, this is one whale of a tilt. If you are a trotting fan, it's a must-see.

One thing I do know as an owner, is that I am not made for the claiming game, because "inject and race" is not in my vocab. There is a thoroughbred partnership that thinks similarly, and this article put a smile on my face. Can you imagine how many starts per year we'd have long-term if all trainers worked like this?

“Whenever I get a horse from the racetrack, if it needs three months off, I give four; if he needs four months, I give him five. Richard is OK with that. We give the horses the right time off, and if the horse is not 100% sound, I never send it back to the track.”

That can't help but put a smile on your face if you care about our equine participants.



Kudos to Brett and everyone at Charlottetown. Not only do they hold one of the most compelling event of any breed in North America, their business is growing. The most-excellent Gold Cup and Saucer goes next month at the historic oval.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let Them Eat Hambo Cake, Wednesday Notes

Both the handle and the buzz for the $1.5 million Hambletonian seems on the upswing. Like the Derby, this staple of the standardbred game seems to have legs. However, brands can and do falter if they are not cultivated. During the past several years the storied trot has made some changes, and the branding and work done by the Hambletonian Society should not go unnoticed.

An example of it comes in the form of a press release yesterday. The popular TLC show "Cake Boss" is baking and building a Hambletonian cake. The star's right hand man will be on-hand at the Hambo Draw to discuss the venture, and the cake will be sampled by lucky fans (cake lovers?) on Hambo day.

That's really well done. We wrote a blog post on a strategy like this last year via reality TV, and I think it makes sense. No, it won't grow handles leaps and bounds, but it is a neat way (and is cost effective) to gain some traction in the crowded media space.

Notes:

Wanna help the horses? There is an Ebay auction going on now with some neat stuff.

Sometimes I wish I was just a fan, and not a bettor. Saratoga opens soon, and Del Mar does today. I am interested in playing neither; not because I don't want to, but because I have a betting bankroll that I take very seriously. Saratoga is not playable at my main ADW, and I would rather chew on broken glass than play 26% take with no juice-break. Del Mar is available for me, but the take is up, the signal fee is high, and I have not played a dollar into California since last fall, anyway. I'll watch the big races, of course, but betting? No mas. You guys have broke me.

The Jockey Club has approached the Horseplayers Association of North America, looking for support of their race day ban. It's a thorny issue, but the Jockey Club has some good people looking into it. I worry about several items with a lasix ban, mainly: Will the crooks with brown bottle illegal bleeders simply have more of an edge over honest people who honor the ban? Does it not take resources and the thinking needed to finally catch the cheaters who use harmful things like blood builders and synthetic pain killers?

Stan Bergstien looks at funding the blood builder testing. This is not only good for bettors, but good for the horses. I have spoken to more than one horsemen and groom who said "it's heartbreaking to care for a horse who has crashed on Epogen."This stuff is evil.

Sports teams twitter demos here. H/t to O_crunk.

Hello Race Fans top summer tracks for the runners. Mine for standardbreds would have to be Mohawk, and Mohawk, with a dash of Gold Cup and Saucer day in PEI for good measure.

There is a fantastic race card on Saturday at Mohawk for fans. Almost all the races are stakes finals, opens, or preferred's.

Have a great day folks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Notes

Harnessracing.com is doing a pretty bang-up job covering the sport of late. Their exclusive yesterday was a call to Jim Takter regarding the health of See You at Peelers.

“All day Sunday we had a veterinarian here,” said Takter. “We jogged her and she was not good. She was also laying down. I almost took her to the clinic but a couple hours later she came back.”

Handicappers, who know a sub-par appearance when they see it, were all over that on Saturday night. She is an absolute monster, but she will always have some nagging questions when she throws a bad one in like she did in the Tarport Hap, and when she consistently runs-in badly. Sometimes I wonder what she could pace if she didn't run in badly. It's scary.

Silly policy usually ends up on the chopping block. That's Mark Davies take this morning, and he is confident some of the decisions in Europe against betting customers will be changed. Mark, can they come across the pond next and change them here? Start in California and work east.

Del Mar uses their noggin to increase field size in a common sense way, rather than pissing off thousands of their customers raising takeout that doesn't even raise field size.

There is some obligatory chatter from thoroughbred fans on harness racing at Pace. I notice the old breaking rule is mentioned yet again, and as I have ranted about before, it is a rule for a different age (i.e. one where a monopoly could do what they want to keep your money in the pools). If a slot machine malfunctions and does not give you a third spin to complete your line, you get a refund. If a horse does not get onto the field of play on stride, you get a losing ticket. I don't know how to fix it, but it is something that is intellectually dishonest to new patrons.

One thing we have over our running cousins is good, deep fields that race as older horses. For example: Saturday's $700k The Maple Leaf Trot. This is one of the finest fields you will ever see assembled in the older division, with the precocious Il Villagio, Arch Madness, San Pail and Lucky Jim. Fabulous race!

Warrawee Needy stayed undefeated last night at Rideau. I am not sold on the horse, but he is sure racking up the wins.

There was a post at Harnessdriver.com asking Woodbine to kill the twenty cent pick 4. This is not uncommon lament from handicappers, because it dilutes the payoffs. Even with a $50k pool, a lot of us don't much care to bet them. Case in point, the late pick 4 on Saturday evening. A 4-5, a 2-5 and a 3-5 all ran out in the sequence, and it paid $1300.

There was some sharp comments below on the Pace handle Saturday. A couple of their points: Why is the Hambo handle about the same as it was several years ago, but the Pace handle has fallen off dramatically? It's at the same track, and for comparisons sake, pretty apt. In addition, the Pace handle at 3.9M is about $500,000 less than the typical Saturday several years ago at the M. That would be tantamount to Woodbine's North America Cup handle coming in at about $1.1 million last month. One player simply believes it's the card (two young trots carded in the first two races does not exactly energize bettors), and the pool size turning him off. Via Twitter:

I too did not bet much. I have always believed that tracks do not come back quickly, or are destroyed quickly. It's incremental. The Meadowlands road back will take quite awhile, in my opinion, just like Woodbine (who has stabilized and started to even grow) did not change, nor grow overnight. Bettors all don't get up and leave, or decide to play you on a Saturday, it takes many Saturday's.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Meadowlands Pace Recap

Last night's $1M Meadowlands Pace was pretty much as advertised. With the absence of any superstars, whomever jumped up and raced big, or got a trip was going to be around at the finish. Roll With Joe, with a talented trainer and a good team, took down the prize with a solid speed show. He earned every bit of it.

Big Jim, the sentimental pick for many - including me - got stalled behind some dead cover, went way wide and raced fabulous to fall a neck short. Driver Phil Hudon worked out a second over trip. Unfortunately, that cover was terrible. If he could do it all over again clearly he would have liked first up off that 53 half.

In the other watched race of last evening, See You at Peelers ran her unbeaten string to 21, but she did so while being (for lack of a better word), truly awful. After reaching the half in 55, Brian Sears looked for his customary third quarter rest with the filly and succeeded. However, when he called on her on the far turn she was flat as a pancake and passed by the talented Krispy Apples, who then - for reasons only known to her, I imagine - took a right turn and went wonky. After surviving that, she then was beaten by another filly who promptly went wonky and broke. Divine intervention worked last night, but if she races that poorly next time, the undefeated streak is probably over.

Notes:

Not even $4.0M was bet on the card which clearly shows the disarray at the Jersey track. Not long ago, $4.0 million was bet on a typical Saturday.

Is it just me, but every time there is a winners circle photo, is Jerry Silva's mug in the win picture?

In the interviews and post script to the Peelers 'win', trainer and driver seemed to simply say everything was hunky-dory. As a bettor and spectator who knows better, would you rather not hear the connections say "she could barely come home in 56 and got extremely lucky tonight". What's wrong with the truth? Edit: Today it's a different story, which seems like an accurate one.

How can Better Than Cheddar go from a horse who can win in 49 and pace a 52 back half, to a horse who comes 10th by 20 a month later and now enters races as an afterthought?

A lot of people have long said they'd like to book bets made by drivers. Brian Sears chose the Teague horse over Roll With Joe. The public disagreed, making Roll With Joe 5-1 and Sears' choice 11-1. The public, as is proven time and time again, was the superior handicapper. 

How can I as a bettor get thrown out multiple times at the M over the years for not losing ground on a break (even for a couple of strides) but Idyllic is left up last night?

You'll be hard-pressed to find better people in racing than the owners and trainer of Roll With Joe and Big Jim. That has to be the best exactor in a $1M race I have seen in a long time. In a game where the supertrainers (some who can barely train a poodle without their vets, likely) dominate at times, it's great to see the Classic races left to horsemen.

Up the Credit - was his best race the Cup win? He seems a little off, and not as explosive. This could be one of those years. Big Jim and Roll With Joe seem to head the 3YO class right now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Farming, Data, Sharp Bettors & Pace Analysis

Seth Godin asked "what kind of farmer are you?" today. Dan over at Thorotrends is trying his best to make racing the professional farmer, instead of the naive one. His piece on racings segments (different markets/fans) I thought was top-notch and I think should be linked all over the place (and hopefully on some desks Monday, in hard-copy).

I disagree with very little of what he says, and I have been looking at that same question for years. Either we're both nuts, or both on the right track. What do you think?

We've spoken quite a bit here about how sharp the horseplayer is. With vicious takeouts, I believe a successful horseplayer will be very successful in many other pursuits. This comes across virtually everywhere. On Paceadvantage.com someone posted about the new 50/50 bet at Del Mar, and the posters dissected it perfectly. This bet has a 10% takeout, and possesses breakage. In other words, it's an awful prop. Some have said this will appeal to newbies, and others have said it will appeal to sports bettors. I disagree in part with the first assertion and definitely on the second, for many of the reasons mentioned on that thread.

Last up, tomorrow is the Meadowlands Pace, and it is a fantastic betting race. Often times the Breeders Cup Classic, and the Derby has eight, ten or even more possibles, and you can get lost in analysis. However, you will always find something. In harness, with only ten entrants, there is usually one or two big favorites, or big horses who can win the Classic races.

This year there are probably seven that can win this race, and it is a smorgasbord for value players.You truly need to see this odds board to make your decision.

For me, I feel the logicals will be overbet. These include Big Jim and Powerful Mist.

BetterthanCheddar takes money all the time, and he was not overly impressive last time.

Feel Like a Fool, Westwardho Hanover, and Wink n Atcha simply do not look fast enough for me to place on top of any tickets.

I am a Roll With Joe Fan, however, I can't use him either, as he was pretty ordinary in cheap fractions.

That leaves me with the following possible plays:

Custard the Dragon: He was 11-1 last week off the Hoosier win, and everyone and their brother is saying how he stole the elim. That usually means value. Add the fact that he is a nice horse, and he has speed (which wins big races in the sophomore division) and we have a possible bet.

Bestofbest Hanover: He has one wicked brush, he's tiny, and he definitely needs a trip. But he will be huge odds.

Foreclosure: I think this colt is the best colt in North America. With the ten post, and a history of this race, at this speed digging him in a giant hole, it's probably not advisable to bet him. However, he is so very talented. Can he someway, somehow, work a trip from out there? I'll swing at any decent odds.


Most likely: Powerful Mist, Big Jim, Foreclosure, Custard the Dragon

My Plays: Foreclosure onto Custard, Powerful Mist and Best of Best Hanover onto all. 910-236910 ex, plus the reversal.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Big Jim is Harness Racing

Courtesy USTA
If you are a fan of both thoroughbreds and standardbreds you know there are many differences in the two sports. The frequency of their starts, the cost of blue-blooded yearlings, to name but two. However, one thing that strikes most, who own and/train both breeds, is the difference in the people who tend to own the big horses. In harness racing, as year after year proves, you can be an every day dude and get lucky with a horse. In thoroughbred racing, that tends to be pretty tough, and much more rare.

Jim Carr, the owner of the multi-talented pacer, and 2-1 morning line favorite for this weekend's Meadowlands Pace, might be in a league by himself - in any breed.

Early on, this was pretty apparent with his choice of driver. Phil Hudon, a journeyman driver who often gets replaced as soon as a star is available for a hot mount, is Jim Carr's regular driver; from the beginning. After a couple of losses, the catcalls came, as is par for the course, but Jim has stuck with him. Seeing Phil has done nothing wrong, that was a fine choice. I would bet dollars to donuts that 99.9% of other owners would not be so loyal in this situation.

Today in the harness edge, we see another example of Jim Carr's nature and joy in having a racehorse like this. 

Several months ago Jim was interviewed and said "anyone who has kids and wants to come in the winners circle when we win, please do". That has happened, and more to the Nagle family.

"It's like kismet," Tim Nagle said. "We bet on Big Jim and Big Jim won and all of a sudden Mr. Carr came out and swept us into the winner's circle. It was really wonderful. We didn't know him from Adam when he invited us to go in the winner's circle. It was like, 'Wow.' No one does stuff like that. It's fantastic."
Not long after, there they were again.

The Nagles returned on July 9 to see Big Jim win his elimination race for Saturday's $1 million Meadowlands Pace. In addition to Kyle, they brought grandsons Jake and Aaron Goldberg, as well as more than a dozen other family members and friends. They wore T-shirts Tim Nagle and his son, Scott, made up to show their support for Big Jim, and they ended up back in the winner's circle for another photo.
Prior to the races, Carr visited with the family at the Nagles' home in Wayne, New Jersey, and brought hats for the kids. They also enjoyed lunch at a local diner.
"Jim Carr has been so good to us, and so kind; it's almost like we're family," Tim Nagle said.
There are a lot of folks cheering for Big Jim this weekend for the big prize. Count me as one of them.

Rolling on a Thursday

Here are a few things catching my eye this morning:

I believe the longevity of horses, and their ability to stay sound, lies a lot with how they are brought along early. Uphill Battle, bought young from a good horsemen that does not push his stock through kinks, celebrated the last day of his 14th year at the track, and will lead the post parade on Saturday at Northfield. This coincides with this weekends "Back to the Track" initiative by the USTA. He raced 400 times, and seemingly never missed a week. What a horse!

If I could describe a good horseplayer, I would describe him/her as a critical thinker. Yesterday, in what o_crunk called "easily in the running for the most retarded blog post all year", the comments flew from the aforementioned betting degenerates. Horseplayers really diced up the piece, logically, and one dogged poster ("Tinky") simply would not let them off the hook. It was fairly fascinating to watch and read. I have long believed playing the horses is different. Your average horseplayer is pretty smart, and when you get down to brass tacks, it is exemplified in their responses to blog posts, letters to the editor, and so on. You do not see a lotto player on a lotto chat board dice up an argument like that.

Mark Steacy's luck sucks. Like American Ideal a few years ago who also drew the ten in both the Cup and the Pace, Steacy has with Foreclosure. Amazingly, two horses I wanted to use fairly hard - him and Bestofbest Hanover - drew the nine and ten, for this weekend's M Pace.

Speaking of Bestofbest Hanover, I wonder what he must have looked like as a yearling. He's a son of Western Hanover, out of Bunny Lake and he went for $27,000. I know he was small, but wow, that's cheap.

Del Mar opens. Horseplayers have their beware hats on due to the almost 23% ex take in short fields (about as easy to beat as an egg on Mars), but the legendary track sure knows how to do it right. The management there, from a branding and marketing perspective know what they are doing, that's for sure.

I got my rebate from Woodbine for June! But I should have read the fine print. The offer of 5% cash back if you bet Woodbine or Mohawk and spend over $5500 seemed good. If I spent $6000, for example, I would get back $300, for a nice takeout reduction. Apparently that was not the case. The 5% was 'over and above' the $5500 level. I don't play much in that account, because that is the losing one, and yikes, with $70 back on around $7000 bet it's tough to make it a winning account.

Speaking of ADW's, HANA's Jeff Platt wrote a great piece on signal fees and signal distribution. A lot of horseplayers do not understand them, and how high signal fees can really kick them in the ass (and the industry if they ever get super-high). If you are not taking advantage of rebates (and there are many ADW's who offer them to small players) you are truly missing out. If you are a 0.95ROI player and switch to tracks where your effective takeout drops 6% or 7%, you can be betting $250k or more per year in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Not lyin.

Have a good Thursday everyone!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Morning Harness Notes

The Meadowlands Pace elims wrapped up on Saturday and we might be looking at the best betting final in years. As we have been discussing almost all year, this crop looks sub-par, but pretty even. It seems the soundest talented horse might end up the end of year champ in this class; and right now it's up for grabs.

In elim one, Montrell Teague led the field through sleepy fractions, just like he should have and won under-wraps with Hoosier champ Custard the Dragon. The North America Cup winner, Up the Credit, failed to fire at all, and looked a little bit unsound to my eyes, although being so far back he had little shot to hit the board. Bestofthebest Hanover, a son of supermare Bunny Lake, looked to have some pace in the lane, and he might be a sneaky one to throw on the tickets in the Final. Foreclosure closed from aways back in quickening speed  - he might be the best 3YO out there right now.

In elim two, the "we'll race Big Jim off a helmet" experiment was over, although I imagine it had more to do with Phil being forced to take the lead. When right Big Jim is a top horse, and being on the front end should not, and did not make a difference. He won fairly easily in 50. I can't blame a soul for wanting to bet Powerful Mist in the final. He closed nicely from off the pace and finished strong. Betterthancheddar, this year's super-hyped three year old, was rather blase first over and no threat.

The post draw might tell the tale and is needed to be seen before stepping out on a limb. I will likely be betting Foreclosure, however.

We must have had an equipment change, shoeing change, some vet work, or maybe driver Marcus Johanssen just gets along with her better, but See You at Peelers drove pretty straight and was impressive once again at Vernon. She set a track record in a training mile. She's looking more and more like the female version of Somebeachsomewhere. In fact, we are seeing a few criticisms that she is "not tested". Well, you can't test what you can't catch. She can move to the lead in 26 flat and no filly in NA has a hope in hell of stretching her out. It's what class and talent is all about - the superstars make it look easy.

Trainers and owners (and drivers for that matter) are finicky. After a no shot trip at Tioga, that any driver would have delivered the way the race went, Randy Waples was booted off top older mare Dreamfair Eternal. With Jody Jamieson at the Meadlowlands she needed a driver at Georgian this weekend and who did they call? Randy. Track record. At the top levels, the driver means so little in harness racing. Randy, Jody, Brian, Paul, Tim, whomever? She'll win for them all.

Have a good Monday everyone.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ohio Recommendations - Sounds Familiar

For years, consultants and customers have asked for a VLT plan which encompasses the needs of the people who pay the pari-mutuel freight, to grow the sport of horse racing. Up until this point in time, places like Ontario, Pennsylvania (probably the most egregious in their slots planning) and New York pretty much copied each other by using the "if we have purses, people will bet" action plan. This plan, with the blessing of horsemen groups, also believed in putting out the most product (racedays) possible.

If the consultants in Ohio have their way, we might be looking at the first slots plan that wants to respond and cultivate the customer base, and the on-track product:

"CIS in its plan makes recommendations, some of which Murphy advocated when he was a racing executive in Ohio: consolidation of the live racing calendar; incentives for horseplayers, including lower pari-mutuel takeout rates; revision of the Ohio code that governs how simulcast revenue is paid to purses; adding a turf course at Thistledown, which had one many years ago; and a plan for racing should VLTs be implemented."

The chances of the above coming to fruition, with all our internal fighting for the pie, is probably slim, but it's nice to see someone listening, and at least trying to move the business of racing forward.

Notes:

We should have some time to take a look at the elims for the M pace tomorrow.

HANA's racetrack rankings are out. Woodbine, with a reduction of takeout, decent field size moved up again this year to 23rd. It's stunning to watch the corporate culture change there. Truly stunning. And horseplayers seem willing, after some time, to give them another chance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hot News at Twitter

Well, not really, but someone told me that a headline like that grabs attention. Anyhow, I did notice a couple of things on twitter which made me think, and wonder, and scratch my head.

First, Uncle Mo is back. The talented bay horse who can type, last informed the world via twitter that he was very excited for the Wood Memorial, which didn't turn out overly well.


Then the cone of silence took over. With all the weird press conferences and Mike Repole quotes that were flyin' at the Derby, I don't blame Mo for not talking or typing at that time. However, twitter broke some big news from him tonight. He told us three hours ago that he is looking forward to Saratoga.

It's nice to see Mo back twinkying. Let's hope the spelling mistake in his last tweet isn't a Freudian slip, or even worse, a quarter crack.

Secondly, Bob Baffert is now on twitter. His name is not Bob B, or Sunglasses Bob, it's Midnight Lute; which I guess is fair enough. But Bob, known for pinache, a little style and some braggadocio (his webpage has the word "legendary" on it, when talking about himself), is still using the goofball Twitter egg as his picture.


What's up with that, seriously. Can we get a picture of anything instead? Go wild and maybe even use one of, oh, Midnight Lute.

Bob's twitter picture is certainly not legendary.

The other funny thing I find with Bob's twitter account is that he is following only one person. Is it Alex Waldrop, Jerry JAM, some dude at the TOC, Bode? Nope. He follows swimmer Michael Phelps.

I scanned Michael's twitter feed and I have not found a "hey, look, this dude who has an egg is following me" twinky yet, but I bet it's coming.

Anyway, that's the cutting edge twitter news on a slow Wednesday night. I'll report back via twitter if Bob adds a picture or if Mo says anything we might be able to make a few dollars on. I'm watching them like a hawk.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Moira Fanning - A More Than Deserving HOF Candidate

It was announced today that the Hambletonian Society's Moira Fanning will have her name on the ballot for this year's Harness Hall of Fame inductions. If she is not a slam dunk inductee, I believe the voters hail from the planet Zoltor, where yes means no.

There are very few people in racing who work as hard for the sport, and do it with amazing good cheer. The words "tireless", "kind", "knowledgeable", "caring" and "hard-working" usually accompany her name. I, like you, have heard literally thousands of bad things said about people in our business, but I have not heard one - not even one - bad thing said about her.

Because of racings internal struggles, I don't think I can even name one person, other than Moira, who has the respect of breeders, trainers, drivers, industry insiders, the media and bettors.

I hope she enjoys the honor and once and for all realizes how much she means to harness racing.

Notes:

With less than usual fanfare (I could not even find some of the stories on the industry sites!) the Meadowlands Pace elims were drawn. In elim one we have the North America Cup winner, Up the Credit, facing off against the colt who was perhaps the best of the bunch in the Cup where he came fourth, Foreclosure. In the second elim, Big Jim will try his new racing style against a weaker bunch. The interesting part of this tilt is the addition of the filly, Drop the Ball. It is extremely rare to see a filly in this spot, but I guess since the three year old crop is so weak, they figured they'd take a shot. Amazingly, she is 0 for 2 this season, and lost her second last to an optional 35 claimer, but she is trying for the big prize.

According to my database work, an overlooked jock (in terms riding with a brain) is John McKee. He is the subject of a story today in the Evansville paper.

Two trotters won tonight at Mohawk with the ten post. When was the last time that happened? I am guessing, never. Anyone?

Nice post on VFTRG on the drug ITTP, and the campaign to start testing for it. We better get cracking on this drug, because it is not going away. Fortunately in this day and age most of the miracle trainers who turn horses around rapidly are being looked at, and some are surely scared to push the envelope. Woodbine is a prime example of a proactive organization that does not believe the "I changed the shoes" line when a horse drops 15 lengths in four days over and over again in the same barn. When those types hire a lawyer, well, WEG has plenty on their board, so they hire one too.

Does anyone else wonder why we are spending all our time looking at race day lasix when crooks are stealing money, and hurting horses with drugs like the above? It strikes me as a colossal misuse of scarce resources.

Tuesday Notes

I've been a little busy, but playing catch-up, here are a few things that caught my eye.

Christie vetoes the purse subsidy in Jersey. Cry as we might, and we will, what he says in the statement makes perfect sense.

Jay Cronley looks at the subsidies in other states, and how racetracks tend to "go through the motions".

More madness, this time at the slots rich Meadows in Pennsylvania: Tri takeouts are increased to 35% at the micro-handle track. Horseplayer Bobby Z estimates that if handle stays the same (California thought the same thing), the revenue gained by this move is about $280 per race. This business is an absolute mess, although for horseplayers wanting to play smaller tracks - it's reason number fifty seven or fifty eight to send your money to Tioga Downs.

What kind of odds would you give me at the yearling sales if I bet you that the top colt in North America July 1st was by E Dees Cam and wore knee-boots? The super-fast pacer won the gold final last night in 52 and change. I thought he looked just okay yesterday, after looking awesome in his first two.

Big thumbs up to WEG. Tonight they have carded the Open Trot as an Open Handicap, saddling San Pail with the ten, and Define the World with the nine, in a full field. This is forward thinking, and bettor friendly.

Nice piece by Kaplan on Jody J. He's right, there are few drivers in this sport who give up as much time as Jody. South of the border, Yannick Gingras does similar. Drivers are the true winners with slots. 25 years ago the leading driver like Doug Brown at the big tracks like Greenwood or the M were lucky to make $75000 a year (about $150k today). Now a driver like Brian Sears can make upwards of $750,000, or more than a top surgeon. This has, of course, gone on while the sport of harness racing has about a third the popularity it had in the 1980's.

Another one leaves. Steve Calabro is out at Gulfstream. Steve knew the business of gaming, betting and gambling, and he was poised to do some good things there, in my opinion. Someone should scoop him up.

Have a good day everyone.