Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Status Quo

Godin has a nice piece up on defending the status quo. When I read it, as I surmise you might, I thought it paralleled what happens when racing is presented with new ideas.

Here are a few items that Seth says organizations go through, which are a sure sign the status quo rules the roost.

"When you are confronted with a new idea, do you:

Highlight the pain to a few instead of the benefits for the many?

Focus on short-term costs instead of long-term benefits, because the short-term is more vivid for you?

Fight to retain benefits and status earned only through tenure and longevity?

Undercut the credibility, authority or experience of people behind the change?"

There are dozens of others, so click the link if you are interested.

If you visit a racing website and someone has a new idea, like changing takeout, or updating a tote system, or allowing betfair to partner, you will see each of those at work. Someone, somewhere might lose a fraction of their slice. You are just a dumb bettor and you don't understand. Look at the attendance at Saratoga, things aren't really that bad. We're entitled to help, because we were always here, and lotteries showed up later. etc.

In my opinion, the biggest threat to the future of racing is not drugs, lack of TV time, short fields, or falling foal crops. It's the above.


Notes: There was an Op Ed in a Boston newspaper on slots. The state is exploring the bandits, but racing is not high on the list.

"The 9 percent set aside for horse racing from the take at the slot-machine operation is a genuflection to a bygone era. People have voted with their feet not to support racetracks. There is no more reason to bail out racetrack owners than there is to tax motorists to support a steam locomotive company."

If slots contributing to purses was a stock we could buy and sell, I am sure a lot of us would be shorting it. There is very little support out there to adding to purses via alternative gaming in states which don't have it.



Monday, August 29, 2011

See You at Peelers Win Streak Ends

It's bound to happen sooner or later to virtually any horse. They throw in a bad one. See You at Peelers was looking like an easy winner until the top of the stretch (she even had the pocket horse gapped out, just like she usually does), when whatever was not right with her, kicked in. She was badly defeated, coming sixth.

She dodged a bullet where she came home slow at the Meadowlands a month ago in a slow time, but fortuitously hung on. Today there was no such luck. She was pushed much more than her last near miss, and could not even muster a check.

Congrats to the connections for a glorious run with the filly. It is so difficult in this day and age to have them on their toes, healthy and sound each and every race. Takter and crew pulled it off for 22 straight trips behind the gate, at a dozen or more racetracks, in two countries. That's pretty amazing, and nothing to hang your head about.

Xtreme Under Saddle

Xtreme racing was held at Georgian on Saturday evening, and one of the cooler spectacles was the trotters racing under saddle.
Xtreme racing handle fell this year to about $177k. This is probably not unexpected, and it shows that even good ideas to promote our sport through change without money behind them can have a tough time. With Xtreme racing we are trying to break into the entertainment market (although the betting and handicapping is superb, sans the high takeout and small pools). Breaking into the entertainment market takes money.

It is one of the reasons I wholeheartedly support the SC vision of taking money out of slots to promote. Without money pushing events, they are really tough to grow.

Notes:

See You at Peelers goes at 3PM ET today at the Meadows. If she is as good as last week she'll be tough to beat, but with tons of speed inside her and some decent competition, she might have to work for it. Should something strange happen, I like longshot's Swinging Beauty and Myluvmylife to hit the board. For free program pages, click here (it's a pdf).

The Zweig and the drivers championship goes at Tioga and free programs are available for that as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Racing Lawsuits Getting Stranger

Andrew Cohen in Harnessracingupdate.com yesterday, explored the Crys Dream story.

As most everyone knows, the filly was suspended in Ontario for 90 days for a Class II. The owners of the filly went to New Jersey court (New Jersey was giving the Ontario ruling reciprocity) and they won, so she could race in Jersey.  She raced in the Hambo Oaks Final, and came third.

But now, Cohen reports things have gotten strange:
  • What’s unusual about the Crys Dream litigation is that Gulotta and Company also are asking the federal courts to impose money damages, including punitive damages upon Zanzuccki. If the plaintiffs win this part of their case, if the state is forced to pay, racing commissions everywhere will tremble
  • Among other allegations, like future damages caused by the fact that the horse missed those two starts, Crys Dream’s connections essentially allege that they lost the Hambletonian Oaks Final-- that they suffered damages by coming in only third-- because the horse didn’t get to race on July 22, the week before she won her elimination. In the Oaks, they say, “the horse lacked a finishing kick because of its lack of conditioning,” 
Crys Dream came third again last night, in the American National at Balmoral. One would think (if the judge is a handicapper) that result would eliminate the chances of suing because of lack of conditioning.

I am surprised I have not read more about the above angle. I would have figured the racing press would've been all over this.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekend Notes

There is a teeny chill in the air evenings nowadays, and it's a sure sign of ..... solid stakes races.

On Saturday, The Travers and the return of Uncle Mo in the 7f King's Bishop highlight the thoroughbred action. I have handicapped neither, but there is plenty of commentary on the interwebs. Ed DeRosa at Twinspires seems to break down the Uncle Mo return, in terms of the pick 4, pretty correctly. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. I love this horse, but I am never confident in a return in a spot like this. As a bettor we can place faith in the connections and say "they don't want to cheapen the horse, so one would think he will be ready", and that is usually super-sound thinking. However, with Pletcher I take it with a grain of salt. I was sure Super Saver had to be ready for the Travers - or why enter him - and he stunk. I was sure Esky was sound for the Derby and he was scratched. I was sure Quality Road would be just fine for the Classic last year. You get the idea. I have to go deep in this race.

Saturday marks the return of one of the more interesting cards in all of harness racing - Xtreme Horsepower. Do you want to see different distances, racing under saddle and a ton more? Look no further. It is not a novelty card, as one might think. The payoffs are good (there is a guaranteed pick 4), and with so many horses in some races, you can find value. The handicapping seminar is a must-attend if you are going. Darryl works really hard on the card (and usually makes money) and Roy Sproxton is no dummy.

Later on that evening, about an hour or so drive from Georgian, is the She's a Great Lady, Metro and Canadian Pacing Derby elims. It's a fantastic race card. Again, being busy this week I have yet to handicap it, but I will (tomorrow will be a busy day!).

Saturday evening might present an opportunity for Balmoral, Georgian and Mohawk. There is no racing at the Meadowlands, and Yonkers is cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. 

Want to play a nice track, with good people and low takeout, for free? Tioga Downs has free PP's for Sunday's races this week.

Big Jim has severe ankle issues and it looks like he may be retired. I believe this is a strong lesson for handicappers. When a horse races poor, as compared to their ability, it is rarely a driver problem, or a trainer problem. It is usually a horse problem. How good is Big Jim? Pretty damn good, because even with his issues he raced like a bearcat. I feel bad for Friday, Phil and Big Jim Carr. They are good people and deserved to go to the Jug, and defend the Crown in October.

I'm going to stay off twitter this weekend. The New Yorkers are going to be putting up pictures of overturned flower pots, litter blowing around and "oh look, a big puddle!" as Hurricane Irene comes close. If it doesn't trend on twitter - even if turns out to be a light mist - I'd be shocked.

Governor Christie in Jersey is about as well-liked as a boil, in harness racing circles, but I like his straightforwardness. Instead of waxing poetic about this hurricane like some politicos do - telling people to stock up on food, not to go surfing, not to drink the water if a nuclear reactor overheats, not to leave your pets on the outside deck, or other things only people with an IQ of a yam would not know, Christie just tells them to "get the hell off the beach." Press conference over.

There is an FBI investigation at Penn National. I sense those who bet there are nodding.

I watched the business news as per usual this week on the tube, to do something other than look at PP's on work breaks (which I did not have time to do). It struck me pretty quickly: A lot of analysts would make pretty bad horseplayers.

Jennie Rees makes a lot of sense with her chatter on race day meds. She's one of the few turf writers who is taking the bull by the horns with this issue. It all comes back, in my opinion, to us not taking care of the scum in this business. Sure an overage for something therapeutic screams in the headlines as "cheating" and that's wrong. But the blame should not lie at the doorstep of the people screaming "cheat".

I've been trying to follow the California racing news this past few weeks, but whenever I look at it, my head hurts.

Woodbine upped purses. Handle has been good and everything seems to be moving forward. Just watch yourself on the pick 4's. There was one last week that spawned an email spree from my horse racing pal, wondering why the hell he plays them for those sized payouts. 20 cent tickets, a huge takeout, and so little dumb money in the pools is not a trifecta I can handle very often.

I played the Balmoral pick 5 and pick 4 this past Wednesday. I missed both. The payouts there have been pretty good, and if you are looking for some value, look no further in harness land, in my opinion.

If I were a bettor (on weather), I would be shorting the Hurricane. I think it'll be nothing more than a rainstorm. Come flame me Monday if the Statue of Liberty is seen floating back to France.

I know money makes the world go round, but in a lot of issues I would tell them to keep the paycheck. There are links floating around to secret paparazzi pics of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who is ill. Why can't people respect anothers privacy in this day and age, while going through a sickness we would not wish on our worst enemy. It would not happen 50 years ago, but everything is fair game now...... (non racing mini-rant over)

Enjoy the Saturday racing everyone and good luck at the windows.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Chat with Perretti Farms' Bob Marks

One of the most successful breeding operations, not only in Jersey, but in North America announced last week they are dispersing their holdings. 

The name Perretti Farms has always been respected, and virtually everyone in the harness community was saddened by the news. We asked frequent blog reader Bob Marks, who handles the marketing for Perretti, some questions, and we post them here.

We first asked Bob: When decisions were made to disperse, how much of it hinged on pure economics, and how much on simply wanting to call it quits. Did the uncertainty in racings future play a major role?

"New Jersey is at a disadvantage when compared to neighboring states that have racino revenue, so that played a role" wrote Bob.

Bettors and breeders are on the same page with that one. Not only does the lack of casino revenue hurt entries for us to bet on, it depresses yearling prices on the supply side. When both ends of your spectrum are being hit - supply of racehorses; yearlings and racehorses, and the demand of bettors - it's not pretty. 

Supersire Rock n Roll Hanover
I had read in Harnessracingupdate.com, Bill Finley's newsletter, that Anthony Perretti spoke about partnerships really hurting yearling prices of late. The thinking goes like this: When four or five (perennially) big yearling buyers get together to purchase horses, very few bidding wars ensue, and yearling prices are further depressed. It's common sense really - if you or I look over and see a power group bidding, are we going to look elsewhere, or are we going to try and compete?

"Murray Brown [Hanover Shoe Farms] will tell you that 10 years ago, I predicted partnerization would kill the yearling business and it pretty much has. Everybody is in bed with everybody else or at least privy to what they’re going to do. As a result there is minimal competitive bidding. That doesn’t happen with T-breds." wrote Bob.

As for the question if anything can be done to fix that, I do not think it's likely. You'd have to break up partnerships, alienate your buyers, and probably lose some owners. If we do look at thoroughbred racing - where Bob notes this does not happen - and try and parallel it, one wonders if there would be partnership rules implemented the first time four or five oil barons got together to buy as one. It would no doubt decimate the high end yearling market.

From being a yearling buyer over the years (a small one) and owning a couple of broodmares, I always found - even with slots - the breeding business to be very difficult. Many years ago I asked people in the know what would happen to the breeding business if handle began to fall. Often times there was a reliance that if slots are there things will be well. However, with handle falling, slots money slowing (the 16% haircut in PA and the $11M charge in Ontario examples) and the costs of bringing yearlings to market, we are seeing a squeeze.

Marks: "[When you] figure $20,000 over stud fee as the cost of getting a yearling to market from the time of conception and you can see how precarious the breeding business has become. Moreover, decisions by The Hambletonian Society and Mr. Gural regarding mandatory racing as 4-year-olds by potential stallions will negatively impact the top end yearling market as its hard to imagine anyone giving $300-$400,000 for a yearling knowing he “can’t cash in” as a 3-year-old."

Can anything be done? The business has pulled to card more claimers, and more bettable races. As well, the mantra that it's easier to attract more owners to racing from the claiming game has taken hold in many areas - from new partnerships and as a narrative. This has resulted in some serious money for claimers. It is not uncommon to see purses that equal a pacer's claiming price (in thoroughbred racing it is even more pronounced).

The iron tough Matt's Scooter
"What came first the chicken or the egg? The best betting races tend to be overnights for claimers and conditioned horses not young horses who are always perceived to be “prepping for something else down the road”. The purse structure needs immediate overhaul as it’s asinine for $20,000 claimers to race for 80-90% of their value each week while 2 and 3-year-olds who are not necessarily megastars race for fractions of their purchase price." Bob said.

Although I am a bettor and I completely understand the thinking; I am with Bob on this. Claimers racing for 100% of their purchase price is not good for racing, in my opinion. What we tend to see happening is massive inflation on horse bills, and a willingness to find the next big thing to turn around horses in a week - simply because the money is there. If you or I can claim something for $20k and get 2 or 3 times our purchase price back in a month, while sporting a massive $5000 a month bill, there is a good chance we will. What we see are people injecting every hock, or using everything under the sun to get that investment squeezed, then do it all over again. This, again in my opinion, not good for the sport because it does not put the horse first, and also pushes out mom and pops who do not want vets training their horses. There is no easy answer, and I completely understand the above opinion is not popular with some.

Rather than dwelling on the past, I wanted to ask Bob about what Perretti is offering out this year. As you all know, it's an awesome farm and I would bet dollars to donuts some stars of the equine variety will be dispersed.

"What yearlings are looking good in the field?", I asked.

Two of Bob's current favorites are the full brother to Rockaround Sue (who is racing at Mohawk this weekend) and the Wendy M Hanover brother to speedster Modern Art.

"The brother is better than she was at this point, and the Wendy M colt reminds me of Modern Art." Bob said.

As for some of the awesome stock being offered, here is the short list:

Graceful Touch dam of Muscle Mass and Muscle Massive

Ruby Crown dam of Scarlet Knight

Aerobics dam of Lucky Chucky

Fox Valley Shaker dam of Pretty Katherine

Economic Clout dam of Twist N Clout

Mercy Mercy Mercy dam of Palone Ranger

Simple Gesture dam of Shark Gesture

Examination dam of Costa Rica

Muscling dam of Windsong Soprano

Fairy Tail dam of Talespinner

That's a great list for a potential buyer, but I guess in the big picture, it's sad that it had to be compiled.

We thank Bob Marks for answering a few questions, and reading the blog. All photos are courtesy Perretti Farms.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Three Reasons to Watch Harness This Week

One, Wednesday evening Balmoral Park has a carryover on its pick 5, and it's low takeout pick 4, back to back.

Via their Press Release:

Multi race mania will be the theme at Balmoral Park on Wednesday. One carryover and two guaranteed pools will bring the national gambling spotlight to the mile track . Handicappers across North America can get a head start on their competition with free program pages for races 2 through 10 right now courtesy of the USTA and Track Master on the handicapping section at www.ustrotting.com.

    The 50 cent Pick 5 wager is offered on races 2 thru 6. With a carryover of $7,416 , the USTA and Balmoral Park have created a $25,000 INSTANT GUARANTEED POOL on the Wednesday Pick 5. Post time for the second race is 8:30 Eastern, 7:30 Central and 5:30 Pacific.

   Balmoral will also offer a $15,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 pool on races 7 thru 10. The Pick 4 immediately follows the conclusion of the Pick 5 and has a one dollar minimum and a low takeout of $15%. Through August 21st, the average payout on 49 guaranteed pick 4 pools at Balmoral Park is a record $2,708.70 for a buck.

        The 49 guaranteed Pick 4 pools have generated $1,395,876 in handle , resulting in a nightly average pool of $28,487. In the absence of The Meadowlands which concluded their meet on Saturday, Balmoral now offers the largest Pick 4 pools in the United States and hopes that Meadowlands Pick 4 players will keep playing until the Big M opens late this year.

   Balmoral offers a Guaranteed Pick 4 wager every night with a 15% takeout. The guarantees are $15,000 on Wednesdays, $20,000 an Saturdays and $25,000 on Sundays. The Balmoral Pick 4 pools have reached historic levels with the help of Chris Schick at the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative and the addition of free program pages that are offered every racing night at ustrotting.com. The nightly averages thru August 21st are $19,127 on Wednesdays, $24,987 on Saturdays and $35,906 on Sundays. 

Two,  Saturday night's Mohawk card. It is absolutely fabulous, and sets up the following Saturday where the She's a Great Lady, Metro and Canadian Pacing Derby all are decided on the same evening. Here are the entries.

Three, See You at Peelers heads to the Meadows Monday, for the Nadia Lobell. This is a must watch.

Monday, August 22, 2011

4 in 12 Days. It's Why We Need Rules

Racing tends to govern down to the letter, but only if the letter is written. The problem as I see it is that sometime, somewhere, there will be someone who pushes an envelope, and we need another rule.

It was reported this past week on twitter and elsewhere, and today on the Paulick Report, that trainer Richard Dutrow's filly, who raced four times in twelve days, was put on the judges list. The outrage on the web has ratcheted up several notches, because in her last start of the tough stint, she was eased.

It's true there was no 'rule' broken, but it's a big reason why this sport needs more and more of them.

It doesn't matter if trainer 'X' once raced a horse four times in 15 days, or another trainer raced one three times in eight days, or whatever anecdotal evidence we want to give to excuse it (I am sure we all know someone who never wore a seatbelt, but didn't die in an auto accident). What matters, is that in this day and age, when racing purses are being subsidized upwards of 40% by slots (i.e. public money), when the public has never before been so in-tune with animal rights and treatment, and where the spotlight has never been greater, the above shouldn't happen.

This has happened many times before in other areas. For instance, when a trainer gets convicted of horse abuse, but is still allowed to work with animals as a trainer. There is no rule that says he can't, so he does and the public thinks we don't care a lick for our equine friends.

We have always needed protection from ourselves in racing because of that, and that is why we see so many (sometimes ridiculous) rules.

I hope this is at least a lesson learned. If you are thinking of entering your horse four times in 12 days, please don't. Your horse will thank you, and so will racing. We won't have to waste everyone's time writing a rule to stop you from doing what 99.8% of trainers would never even think of doing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Super Weekend of Racing

This weekend had plenty of fireworks for racing fans and bettors

For me, it started on Saturday which was my very first viewing of the Saratoga broadcast on NBC. Clearly they are dealing with a horse racing, rather than a pure betting audience, and that was whom they targeted (it's no Bet Night Live). I thought the production was excellent, as was the crew. Thumbs up. ....

For Canadian fans, the Alabama was disappointing, as Plate winner Inglorious simply had zero pop. She raced like a sick horse. However, all signs seemed to be fine the next morning, as reported by Keith of Triple Dead Heat via twitter. .....

The Gold Cup and Saucer was again a compelling and interesting event. The little track had over $275k bet, which is a huge accomplishment. For video and some nice shots of the big crowd, please see below. .....

Today at Chester, See You at Peelers shook whatever has been ailing her and dusted some decent rivals like they were in lead sulkies. The 150.2 score was pretty good on that track, and there were signs she could have gone quicker. That's the best she's looked in awhile. ....

Mel Mara's stablemate, Major Bombay won the Woodrow Wilson on Friday. This colt has something going on with him. If you'd said to trainer Tony Alagna a month ago he would be beaten by a stablemate, he probably would've thought you were from the planet Zolton. .....

Alexi Matoosie found some magic at the M. He looked like the second coming of Cam Fella in the Haughton Saturday. ....

Roll With Joe wins the Battle of Brandywine in a nice 149.2. I always liked this horse and thought a lot of him, but early in the year he was just sorta 'there'. Now he is the best colt in racing. I think the trainer deserves a ton of credit. Oh ya, and probably his dam. ......

Manofmanymissions really looked solid today at Chester as well. He is probably the best sophomore trotter in the country.....

Hurricane Kingcole finally settled a little Saturday. I still worry about him late though. Regardless, all signs point to the Metro for him.

Notes: 

Peelers knocked Saratoga and Del Mar off TVG today, as the running network went to the Jugheads.....

NBC is helping out fans across the globe.The Alabama stakes, on the big network, had a healthy $113k traded at the betting giant. That's large for a stakes race, and a Saratoga race. .....

Frank Mitchell commented on my Slots piece below and turned it into a blog post of his own. Thanks Frank, for the comment and the mention. ......

I was snakebit at Monmouth today. A second at 4-1 which was a pick 5 key, another second at 9-1 and a non-box and no back up where my key for second beat me at 12-1. We all have those days. ....

It felt weird today, back playing semi-seriously, as I have been so busy. The only big track my ADW covered was Monmouth, so I played Monmouth. I am truly at the point that I need availability and a fair price to look at you if I am playing seriously. Monmouth is more than fine for me, despite the seconditis. ....

I spent hours this weekend looking for a $99 Touchpad and I could not find one. I found it quite quizzical however to see Touchpad ads for HP on the display networks, while HP was long sold out. People must have clicked that ad 100,000 or more times, at maybe 20 cents or so a pop, with no conversions and no chance at a conversion. ....

I played the Gold Cup and Saucer yesterday and bet, who I thought was much the best horse - Fire on the Water. He came last. What a time to throw in a clunker. He is such a nice horse, and I wonder what's happened to him of late. ....

Uncle Mo looks like a go in the Kings Bishop next weekend. The Factor is a no go. I am kind of hoping we see the Factor next year. He has so much talent. This weekend will answer a ton of questions for Mo.

 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Slots at Racetracks: Poor Policy Haunts Racing

The DRF yesterday compiled figures in terms of handle, field size and purses for slots and non-slots racetracks. The results, although alarming, should not be a surprise to anyone who follows the sport, or who has followed how these slots agreements were written.

"Racetracks that received subsidies from slot machines in 2010 generated on average only two-fifths of the betting that non-subsidized tracks generated even though they distributed nearly equivalent levels of average daily purses"

In harness racing these results are commonplace. It is normal to see a track give out $100k in purses, with less than $40k of nightly handle. It is also not uncommon to see upwards of 90% of all purses come from the slot machines.

What went wrong? I believe it can all be traced back to the singular policy-focus on the supply side, with a hopes that this would increase demand.

As far back as 1995, while lobbying for the machines, the narrative focused on purses leading racing to the promised land. The thought went: If we offer better racing through higher purses, people will bet more, and off we go. This might make sense on the surface, but when we dig deeper it was a plan built for failure. Studies like the University of Louisville showed as far back as 1998 that when we double purses handle only increases six percent.

Not to mention, takeouts were always too high and were still at 22%. Now they brought a 5% takeout slot machine on the premises and expected to have on-track demand rise?

In addition, adding slots at tracks seems to have taken the dumb money out of the pools, making betting even a less desirable proposition to core customers, or to potential ones.

The demand side has never even been looked at. A lot of people, way back in 1996, were warning about this. And even governments were trying to lead racing (believe it or not.) In Ontario, the politicians offered racing back a 7% parimutuel tax, asking it to be used to stimulate demand, through lower takeout.

What happened? Very little. The money was taken by different alphabets and never returned.

The sad part about the above, is that we keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Virtually every slots deal written since Ontario, almost 15 years ago, is exactly the same: Put all the cash into purses, and demand will go up. It was this way in Pennsylvania, it's this way in New York. On the demand side, the entire slots castle was built on a premise of pure folly, and we have repeated it.

Even today in other areas, the demand side is ignored with the hopes this failed mantra catches on. In California purses were raised in the short term, at the expense of the customer. It will likely fail, just like the dozen or so previous times it's been tried.

Adding to the economic morass we see in the sport, allocation of purses has thrown even the supply side out of whack, exacerbating handle losses. Slots rich Indiana and Pennsylvania for example, have killed field size at Keeneland and Churchill. Slots at Chester has killed field size at the Meadowlands. Our flagship tracks, the ones that people patronize, are being hampered by places that people do not bet. It's like opening a top of the line lemonade stand in the Arctic, and expecting to grow demand for lemons.

Over the years, on this blog, at wagering conferences and elsewhere, there have been suggestions offered to grow demand. Things like player rewards, takeout reductions, set asides of slot monies for slush funds to attack and cultivate a new base, etc. There is some recent movement from the tracks and horsemen to finally address these things. For example, Jeff Gural has asked for "2% or 3% of slots money to be set aside" for player and customer cultivation. In Ontario, funding a slush fund from slots to enact numerous (mostly customer-centric) ideals, was shot down; but the plan was at least spoken about, and constructed.

But really, there is little progress. There is simply no one there to lead.

In the meantime, customers continue to look up, see a $30,000 purse with $2000 in a win pool, and wonder what might have been. It seems tracks and horsemen groups are starting to see the same thing - when you focus on the supply side, you get supply, but when you ignore the demand side, there is no one there to buy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Notes

......... I'm currently out east for Old Home Week and the Gold Cup and Saucer and the weather is about 77F/24C with not a cloud in the sky. Oh, and I have to work. Lovely. Here are some Thursday thoughts.

..... See You At Peelers goes for her 22nd win in a row in the $350k Valley Forge at Chester on Sunday. Thoroughbred fans that are following her streak (via places like Equidaily who have promoted her) must be flummoxed with her schedule, no? Supermare Zenyatta was lucky to be seen once every five or six weeks during her streak, but Peelers is entered like a harness horse. I don't blame them a lick for scratching last time in the soup by the way.

..... This Saturday's Gold Cup and Saucer is heating up. I don't think people outside the sport, or the area really understand what kind of an event this is. Dave Briggs speaks about it today in the Guelph Mercury:

Everyone loves a good party, everyone loves a good race. You get both here,” Anthony said. “Mix in the food, patronage, atmosphere and golf and why wouldn’t you come?”

On Gold Cup & Saucer night, the Charlottetown Driving Park grandstand is packed with fans young, old and in between.

Each horse in the race is represented by an ambassador — a young woman dressed in old fashioned racing silks. During the post parade, the field is introduced via spotlight with the track lighting turned off.

The post-race lobster party normally lasts until dawn.

The article is a must-read. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy about the sport of horse racing, and we need that sometimes.

......... Speaking of must reads, Dana over at Hello Race Fans asked some cappers how they cap. I would not have fit in: I use software and figs, take a rudimentary look at the form to find trainer intent; that's it. Great article!

........ If you are on Twitter it's great to wake up to twitter papers. @sidfernando and @turfnsport have two of the best.

...... Bob McIntosh on twitter informs us that Stevie Condren is going into the Hall of Fame this evening. That's deserved. Steve has been ill the last while and all of racing wishes him well.

...... I have not followed the Saratoga meet at all this season (flame me now; but sheesh, I can't bet it at my ADW and I'd rather eat bees than play into 26% exotic takeouts sans rebate), but is it not lasting longer than octogenarian marathon? How many days is that track running now each summer?

..... Foolish Pleasure writes about Kelso. One of my friends was married this weekend and his middle name is Kelso. His dad was a horse racing fan, and the apple did not fall far from the tree. Good luck Bart.

..... Cangamble no-likely the takeout talk on the McKinsey report.

..... Would someone out there please give @gregreinhart a job in racing? Sheesh, he'd almost work for free and as long as I have not polluted him too much with this blog he is sure to fit in nicely. Like Settlmoir at Toiga, if we have a hundred of him this sport would be much better off.

.... Speaking of folks who should be hired by a track near you, Dan over at Thorotrends mentioned he thought the takeout talk in the McKinsey Report was saying "we did not look at it". I hope so, because marketing the sport versus marketing to bettors and the corresponding customer cultivation, are two separate issues.

Via @njderek on twitter: "The Japanese plan to save horse racing is far more compelling than anything in the McKinsey Report" You be the judge!



...... Enjoy your Thursday folks!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Disconnect, Jockey Club Style

I was reading more about the McKinsey Report commissioned by the Jockey Club this evening. I came across what I think is something that is a little bit disconnecting.

Keep in mind I am just a dumb horseplayer, so I expect I am probably missing something.

The report calls for an increase in spend for TV coverage, to try and drive eyeballs to our sport. That's cool. Revenue can come from eyeballs over time by cultivating them - even with interruption marketing. It's a mass market strategy, and that's fine.

However, on takeout, it appears that strategy is completely turned on its head.

"I think we heard a lot from our most important customers that the pricing of the product is a little bit too high. But, in general, we thought a better way to deal with it - because of the regulatory environment - was to give targeted rebates to our best customers as opposed to a general reduction in takeout."

Instead of mass marketing to bettors - who supplies us with about nine out of every ten dollars of non-slot revenue - they have decided to target market.

So, if you want to watch on television, turn it on. If you want to fund the sport and get what your everyday slot machine gives you in value, you have to find an ADW that might or might not be legal in your state, learn the game, bet over $10,000 a month, call the owner of the ADW, and negotiate a rebate.

Like I said, I'm just a dumb bettor, but can anyone tell me why we'd want to spend millions mass marketing to people who will not give us revenue, but spend nothing target marketing to those who might?

Cup & Saucer is Set - Pure Magic for Race Fans

On Monday, Blissful Breeze won the third and final trial for this year's Gold Cup and Saucer, and the field for this Saturday's final is set.

One thing we have learned from this spectacle the last several years, is that it's hard to keep people away from it, despite the relatively small purse. On HD.com an insider posted that Mark MacDonald, recent Canadian driver of the year and the perennial $5M + winner, has booked off his Saturday stakes drives at Mohawk to compete in the Final in Charlottetown.

That is something rarely seen nowadays - drivers booking off solid mounts where they are going for hundreds of thousands of dollars in an evening, to compete in one $60k race. But for those who have been to the Gold Cup, it probably does not surprise them too much.
Scott and Wayne celebrating.

Delaware's finest trainer (if not the best colt trainer in the US) George Teague only had one horse qualify for the final - Western Ace. His other entrant, Southwind Lynx, is in a $20k race this weekend. I hope George and Brenda have a great time this week, and spread the word.

The final will be televised on HPITv (it goes at midnight on Saturday Atlantic time, 11PM eastern) and the last four races comprise the $10,000 guaranteed pick 4. The race will be bettable at Twinspires, America's ADW, I believe Ebet affiliates and a few others. If you are a thoroughbred fan and are sitting around Saturday night wondering what to do, pop it on at about 15 minutes to post via one of the ADW's listed. The post parade is the best post parade anywhere, in my opinion, and to see so many people jam a harness track on an island with a small population, is pure magic for any racing fan.

If you love the sport of horse racing, you will love this event.

Notes: 

The lasix debate is a funky one, as we have spoken about many times here. Teresa looks at it today.

Perretti Farms is selling their broodmare stock. An absolute shame. This is one of the finest farms in the history or our sport. When I go through the catalogs I look at every one of their colts and fillies because I know we are probably looking at a potential champion. We'll see if we can fire off Bob Marks a few questions and find out more about this story.

Another unique event is the Xtreme racing at Georgian Downs. This year's conditioned sheets are out.

One of our pals, Jason Settlemoir, has been inducted into the USHWA Hall of Fame. Way to go Jason; we need about a hundred of you. If we had that, we'd be in good shape.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Notes: Welcome to the Future

....... There is plenty of reaction on the interwebs and various social media outlets regarding the McKinsey Report. Bill Finley spoke about overlapping post times, Valerie talked about how blogs and other outlets have been saying similar for years, Teresa had a recap, LATG and Handride talked about similar. For a full list, you can check the raceday360 trending topics list.

....... On twitter, I thought Dan from Thorotrends made a great comment: "The study lacked a cohesive, convincing, sophisticated road map to customer acquisition. For the price tag, it needed to."

Having said that, the Jockey Club - whether this study was worth it or not - has begun to put their money where their mouth is. $10M is to be spent over the next five years on a variety of the issues.

...... Does this sound like "what might have been" for a harness racing lover? Standardbred Canada, since about 2007, has been compiling a list of things that need to be changed to grow that sport in Canada. This was done through wagering conferences, volunteer groups, working groups and steering committees, and it was all done for free (the Jockey Club report supposedly cost millions). When they asked for a slice of slots money to fund many of the initiatives to horsemen groups, the answer was "no". There was no counteroffer, or even a dreaded committee offered. What a shame.

...... I watch the Golf Channel fairly regularly. When Tiger Woods was winning almost every big tourney the pundits were asking "is it good for golf that he's so dominant?" Are you freaking kidding me? This years PGA Championship had two unknowns coming down the stretch, and a pile of the last majors had the same thing.For gamblers it was exciting, because Jason Dufner traded at Betfair at 1000-1 early in the week and 1.06 with three holes to go. Other than that, CBS was crying Tiger tears all week.

.... Speaking of that, the Jockey Club wants to spend money on TV promoting to the masses, and like golf, we need a big hoss. Can you see your average viewer tuning in each month to watch a race and not knowing any of the participants? When Zenyatta was on her run this would have been a perfect time to show her races, but she's long gone.

..... Is anyone else wondering why there is so much lament to the Breeders Cup not going to Belmont in 2012? It's almost as if the Breeders Cup said " we are never going to Belmont ever, so take that NYRA". They didn't - they are about 1-20 to be there in 2013. It'll give them time to spruce up the joint with some slots cash. Take a deep breath everyone, it's only 12 months.

...... Juxtaposition and a reflection on today's world:  Tiger Woods, as most know is pretty protected, and in interviews tends to say a whole lot of nothing - he has been coached by the best. When it all comes crashing down this does not tend to help in today's world. Conversely, Rory McIlroy, the new kid on the block takes things a little bit differently.  "I've got half- a-million Twitter followers so how can I complain if I go out to dinner with someone and it's posted two minutes later." This, in my opinion, is why horse racing needs to be more open. It's a different world.

..... Art Wilson has been holding the TOC's feet to the fire in California. Years ago it went like this: Takeout hike happens, nothing is written or said about it, horseplayers leave because they are fed up with losing, they don't tell anyone, track loses handle, horse racing executives blame it on alternative gaming, or the economy.  Today it is not like that at all. Welcome to the Future.

Monday, August 15, 2011

McKinsey Report - Nothing New

I have not spoken too much about the McKinsey survey here too much (if at all) when, or since, it was announced. I felt - mainly because they were interviewing (for the most part) industry insiders (the ones who have presided over our lost viewership, handles and revenues the last twenty years) - that there would be nothing new in it.

Source: thisisbroken.com
The results are in:

"The nine recommendations involve fewer, better race days; innovative wagering platforms; integrated rewards systems; improved television coverage for racing; free-to-play online games to educate the public; social games to develop interest; safety improvements; new ownership tools; and best practices at racetracks."

I think we all knew the above needed fixing before, but we now have a survey that tells us it's broken. I am guessing that was why the company was hired: The Jockey Club needed a road sign containing long talked about recommendations to rally the sport around, and they got a road sign.

What did trouble me in the report is that it seems insiders (or existing customers) were interviewed on pricing and exchanges; not gambling people who run successful exchanges, or gambling businesses and the people who patronize them. These are items that the industry knows little about (e.g. if our industry insiders knew how to run an exchange, we would have had the foresight to create one; if they knew how to attract low takeout poker players, they would have already).

"The report touched on exchange wagering, which is not yet available in the United States. McKinsey believes exchange betting has the potential to attract new patrons; Singer said the platform is “unlikely to be profitable at a takeout rate under 10%."

For takeout it was similar:

".....fewer than 2% of most fans know about takeout. Thus, the report makes no recommendations on an issue that has boiled over this year, particularly in California."

This is directly opposed to what gambling people like Richard Thalhiemer, Eugene Christansen and companies like Betfair have said. If you talk to a betfair customer, or betfair themselves, and ask if a 10% rake is profitable, they would probably say no too - for the opposite reason (price sensitive players who patronize it, would stop and they would not have a business). In fact, this is from Betfair's annual report:

"Racing knows that customers who go racing, and a) feel they had no value for money at the racecourse, and b) don’t win a single bet all day, don’t have much fun. They may not come back. In just the same way, 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. Business is all about offering your customer the product he wants at the price he wants. If you can do that, he’ll spend his money with you."

In my opinion, this study is a good example of what Seth Godin said (from Free Prize Inside) a few years ago, while he was studying why old businesses have trouble making huge, necessary changes :
  • Your growth will come instead from the dissatisfied and unsatisfied. The dissatisfied know they want a solution, but are not happy with the solution they’ve got. The minute they find it, they’ll buy it. Yahoo’s best customers were not google’s first users. Nope. The happy Yahoo customers were not looking for a replacement. Google focused on dissatisfied web surfers- people who were online but were not blown away by what they had been using (and who wanted to be blown away).
  • The unsatisfied are the folks who do not even realize they have a problem that needs solving. That is why focus groups are often so useless. The people you really need to hear from are the great unwashed, the people who are not even looking at you. That is where you will find the customers you need when your current line becomes obsolete.
  • The problem is that management really likes those satisfied customers. The first question they’ll ask about any innovation is “Will our satisfied customers like it?” Of course, this is a silly question, because satisfied customers already like what you’ve got. The question you ought to ask first is, “Will people dissatisfied with what they are doing now embrace this, and, even better, will they tell the large number of unsatisfied people to go get it right away?”(1)
That was the major reason I have not paid close attention to this process: We asked our existing industry what they thought about our industry, and it was reported. Although the recommendations regarding some/most of the inside baseball items are good, none of them should be considered new, fresh, or something that can lead us to major change.

To find that road, they need to ask directions from a new audience.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Best of Best Wins a Super Confederation Cup

People have called half mile track racing anachronistic, something that should be done away with in the speed game, and worse. Often times this description fits, especially in stakes finals like the Jug, where the draw of your colt in the elimination means everything (e.g. draw a seven and you are pretty much toast, as you ain't winning your elim, and the elim winners pick their posts for the Jug final).

If you watched the $500k Confederation Cup final today, you certainly can't call it anything but exciting.

Best of Best Hanover, who drew horribly in his elim (and flipped his palate for good measure), showed his class and his talent, winning the final in 152, due (a lot) to a brilliant backstretch move by driver Jackie Mo.

Darryl Kaplan at Standardbred Canada spoke eloquently in last month's Trot Magazine about the Open draw for stakes finals, and what we witnessed today was exactly what he was talking about. Just because a horse draws a rail in a $50k elim, gets things his own way and wins, doesn't mean he gets to win a $500k stakes final at 1-9 or 1-5 odds by picking the rail - he has to earn it.

Eliminations are there to eliminate and cut down a field where too many horses are entered, they are not there to coronate the horses who are fortunate enough to win them.

The Cup final was enjoyable, bettable and interesting - yes, a half mile track final that was enjoyable, bettable and interesting....... and (it can be argued) the best horse won the Final.

What more can fans of our sport ask for?

Notes:

Is there a better trotter in North America (overall) than Daylon Magician? Maybe not. He went in 54.2 today, with ease, on a track that was not that fast. He's a nice colt.

It looks to this camper that some of your suspicions about Warawee Needy might be warranted. He broke today, and two of the last four weeks looked a little off. I think the odds board was telling us something - he opened up at 4-1 (he is usually 1-9 each week) and he closed at only 4-5. He was the proverbial "dead on the board" horse. He broke stride before the half.

Confed Cup, GC&S Trials & M Action

While thoroughbred racing basques in the Million (and the excellent undercard), harness racing's stakes schedule seems to never disappoint with more stakes than you can shake a stick at. It is a wonderful part of our sport. Here's a bit of a rundown, and look forward.....

Last night at the M, the Haughton elims prove that the older division in harness racing is, by far, the most exciting division in the sport. Next week should be an excellent tilt.

It pays to watch replays, and have an opinion on how a horse finishes. Krispy Apple looked horrible at the wire last time, and she blew as a 50 cent on the dollar chalk last night.

Mel Mara - too fast too early, physical issues, or what? He goes from a 26 second last quarter horse that would be 2-1 in the Metro futures to a 28 second last quarter horse, where we are wondering if he gets out of nw2.

$225,000 was bet into the Larry Lederman race last evening. Way to go.

Today's Confederation Cup is one of the highlights of my summer race meet. The two heat affair, and the resulting undercard is a must watch. I always wondered what they might do in simo-land if the track offered some seeded pools, or normal takeout for the day. It has serious trouble reaching a nice handle, and that's a shame. The card starts at 1PM and the elims are races 8 and 9. The first elim is stacked - I am super interested to see how Up the Credit and Foreclosure handle the half. The second elim has what I think may be value - Eighteen. He can leave fast like a fish and might be tough on that oval.

Trial 1 for the Gold Cup and Saucer was raced last night. Trial 2 goes today starting at 1PM with the third and final trial tomorrow evening. They even get a nice crowd for the trials at the Gold Cup and Saucer. Bravo. Video below:



Thursday, August 11, 2011

For the Long Term

A lot of us, including most of you who comment and give the blog a read, love racing. Most of the time we get into discussions about the long term health of the sport. Usually the decisions made in racing are very short term in nature - like a quick bump of purses hoping things will get better, cutting off an ADW which does not pay a high signal fee, or signing a status-quo deal after a horseman and track dispute. However, at times, there are some decisions that are made that want to change the way our sport operates, with a long-term vision in regards to its health.

Yesterday the Hambletonian Society announced that in 2018, no horse will be eligible to race in the premier event, unless they are sired by a horse four years or older.

The hope is that, in the long term, we will see more and more excellent three year olds not have their careers cut short, allowing them to go on and perform for fans, and the people who love watching great horses race.

This is a very bold step. The Hambo Society is stocked and supported by breeders and owners who make their living's buying and selling three year old stock for stud. Once you get the taste of the $8M syndication apple after less than 24 months of owning a colt, it's something you want more of, and you continue to spend on that cycle, trying to recreate it. For them to come right out and take this stand, it took some guts.

They will be criticized for this, and they will be hammered for it by some, but they have a friend in their corner: The long term health of the sport. They are trying to fix a problem on the betting and marketing side which has been complained about for 20 or more years. The funny thing (and I have always said harness racing is a leading indicator to what happens in thoroughbred racing, and I believe it) the runners could do better with this policy than the square gaiters - it's an absolute crime what the handicap division has become in that sport.

Similarly, chats about takeout usually degenerate into an "us versus them" argument. But once again, this is not about the short term, it's about long term customer cultivation. Dropping takeout will not save racing (just like having stars race after their three year old career will not save racing), but for the long term, pricing your product to make the most money, and to generate the most betting interest is a sound business practice for the sport. It takes time, patience, some hard work, and a willingness to know you are doing the right thing.

I received this from Balmoral Park a couple of days ago. It's a grid of pick 4 handle since they dropped their takeout in 2010 to 15% (click to enlarge):

$7,000 and $8,000 pools have become $24,000 and $26,000 pools.

I remember chatting with someone soon after this initiative took place. I was stoked at the way the handle was starting to grow very early on, but this insider multiplied 25% of $8000 and compared it to 15% of $12,000 and said "horsemen make more money for purses before, so they should go back to the way it was".

It's not about the short term, it's about the long term and I am very glad we have people in our sport like the Hambo Society and Balmoral Park. They are not thinking about tomorrow, they are thinking about many tomorrow's.

Notes:

There is always a marketing angle that astounds me in this world. Betfair's astounds me. H/t Equidaily.


The Confederation Cup goes this weekend and the two heat event is a must see for fans. Each year the track goes all out, the stands are full, and the racing is fantastic. I am going to miss it this year, but will be watching via the internet. Full field and posts are here.

Word is coming out of California that takeout will be lowered - no one is sure what bets, or by how much.

Samshu Bluegrass has passed on at age 30. I enjoy looking at old sire and dam lines, and foal production, and there is a link to her wonderful career on SC. I look at the sires chosen for her, and wonder what a hot sire breeding would have done in terms of foal ability. On the Road Again, Goalie Jeff, Magical Mike and Precious Bunny were never really hot sires.

There is a lot of hand-wringing from New York racing and its supporters (or apologists depending on your POV) regarding Santa Anita given the Breeders Cup in 2012. Some points make sense to me, however it seems the BC wants to race in good weather and near prime time for the Classic - something I tend to agree with. Santa Anita is perfect for that, while Belmont, or most any east coast track without lights, has trouble guaranteeing either. Regardless, I find it somewhat funny that some folks are saying the BC is out of touch. They have made better decisions than any racing jurisdiction I know of. This event is growing and expanding.

Have a good Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gold Cup & Saucer Field is Set

The final goes for $60k - chump change in slotsville - but this year's Gold Cup and Saucer on Prince Edward Island has attracted a good field, from all over Canada and the US.

Included in this year's mix is Southwind Lynx, who won the $1.0M Meadowlands Pace as the three year old, trained by the Delaware based George Teague. I find that amazing. A small race a long way away, attracting such a trainer and horse. It's like Todd Pletcher sending Super Saver for a cheap race in Idaho; just to be there. This is what this little race has become.

Here are the fields for the trials which go this weekend. This year the Cup will be able to be bet in Canada, across the US (through various ADWs) and even in Europe. They are certainly trying to grow the GC & S brand.

Sobeys Gold Cup Trial 1
Post Position: Horse
1: Secret Weapon
2: Fleet Sensation
3: Fire On The Water
4: Pan Larceny
5: Oakmont
6: Im Gorgeous
7: Chasin Racin
8: Awesome Armbro N

Sobeys Gold Cup Trial 2
Post Position: Horse
1: Firethorn
2: Southwind Lynx
3: As Tuff As Nails
4: Part Shark
5: Ultimate Success
6: Did It Again
7: Rare Jewel
8: Carnivore
9: Western Raydar

Sobeys Gold Cup Trial 3
Post Position: Horse
1: Western Ace
2: Pontiac Luck
3: Joseph Michael
4: Strand Hanover
5: Formal Affair
6: Blissful Breeze
7: All The Weapons
8: Serious Damage

Here is the video for last year, for those who have never seen this unique spectacle, that can somehow attract horses like Southwind Lynx, and trainers like George Teague.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday Musings

..... Do you want to make a bet Saturday and I guarantee, win or lose, you're going to feel good about it? Try the 5th at the Meadowlands - the Larry Lederman race.

.... One of the most accomplished bloggers in the space is Foolish Pleasure, and she takes a shot at polling today. I could not agree more. Remember last year with the HOY voting? 'Older males who race classic distances, have a leg up'? What nonsense.

.... Slots wealth should be used in better ways. No kidding. No one inside this sport or outside of it, has ever given me a good reason why slots states and provinces are not mandated to have the lowest takeouts in the country, and of course, set aside cash for a marketing slush fund. When up to 90% of your purses come from gaming handle, what in the hell are you waiting for?

..... Tom LaMarra on twitter asks this morning:

..... Daily Racing Form ad - taken out by a gambler - stirs some controversy. I have no idea why a gambler would do such a thing, but some of them are true fans I guess. For me that salts it. I am taking out a harness ad looking for more mounts for one of the old faves - William Mann. Free Willie!

..... I love reading Harnessdriver.com sometimes, especially when a new policy is being looked at. As you know, Jeff Gural is initiating a new policy whereby horses who are sired by three year olds cannot race in his stakes. This is driving the insiders crazy, but most fans are all for it. Comments like: "We should take a poll and if horsemen are against it, it has to be good" and "no billionaire should be telling me what to do with my property" are always comical on that site.

..... On Standardbred Canada the comments are similar with the Pena story. Not that he has been caught for anything, and I qualify it with this comment, but why do insiders rally around some people so much in racing? I remember Brett Robinson getting banished for EPO for ten years. He took horses and turned them into stars overnight, like his dad used to, and when he was caught, people still said "poor guy". It makes no sense to me, because some of those people came second instead of first, or lost stakes races because of it. I know I'm just a dumb bettor, but it makes no sense to me at all.

..... O_crunk on twitter kills me. He has been on the Paulick Report advertising train for awhile. Some of his comments are quite comical.

.... Hit a pick 6? Scraps  on!

..... Reading keywords that triggered a hit on my blog are sometimes funny to go through. Some of my faves (with more than ten searches) in 2011? "Uncle Mo surgery", "mario letizia bhakti", "Auckland reactor sucks", "Twinky", "Tinky", "Jody J harness driver stupid" are a few....

..... Tom asked if he could find some dysfunction. I tried my best, and I even looked really hard today for positives!

..... Have a good Tuesday everyone.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The 747 is Slowly Turning

Western Fair CEO Hugh Mitchell, at a recent round table, possessed one of my favorite quotes (I have mentioned it before):

"Making changes in racing is like turning around a 747 on a tennis court".

This, in reference to the lack of central authority in racing, power groups fighting over their slice who are unwilling to give an inch etc, is met with a nod from virtually everyone in our sport.

Our little blog here is read by both insiders and bettors, and it has always amazed me that on many items we discuss, there is a virtual church chorus of agreement: Yes we need change, and much of it is common sensical. The problem has always been getting there.

However, I think we are starting to.

Recently we have seen some changes that have been spoken about at conferences and in back rooms for years: Things like lowering the takeout, concentrating on race dates that card good bettable races and don't just dole out slots money like food stamps, and so on. In addition, the dam is being broken with some solid marketing on both sides of the border on guaranteed pools, free past performances and many other customer-centric benefits. The Hambo has been exporting their signal for some time now, to growing interest outside North American confines.

On the sporting side of the equation, which as a catalyst should trickle down into customer interest, we are seeing even more.

Recently the World Driving Championships took place at four separate racetracks. Say what we want about these championships (yes the horse wins races, not the person sitting behind the horse), this one was done better than any others I have seen. I watched the last leg at Yonkers and found it well done, interesting, and something to build upon.

Adding to that, and trying to generate even more excitement and marketing possibilities, (using something we have begged the industry to use to promote itself for years - slot cash), the fine folks at Tioga Downs are going one step further, offering cash incentives and prizes for the Annual Driving Championship in the US. The top seven reinsman in earnings will be competing, in what I think is a first.

Further we have Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural. He wants to force this industry to meet something head on that we have spoken about and others have spoken about as being a pox on our sport for a generation: Our stars retiring at three to go to stud. We all know what the NBA would be if Shaq or Kobe, or Dr. J or Larry Bird retired after one or two seasons. Horse racing has lived with this throughout its history, with simultaneous cries of "why don't people look at us like a sport?"

There will be cries to stop this initiative (he plans to not allow foals from sires who are under 4 years of age to race in his events) from the usual 'status-quo protecting' suspects, but I say phooey on them. A few malcontents should not rise above the voices of many.

Just think about what we as a sport can do with this new policy. Our breed will be strengthened because the horses who are able to succeed at two, three and four will command top dollar. Money may be diverted from the two year old stakes to the four year old stakes, adding to handles. Most importantly, we might be able to really roll the Breeders Crown, by finally creating a Breeders Crown Classic, where fans can see the best and fastest three year old and four year old horses in the World compete against each other for a fan friendly TV made event, for a monster purse.

We are making some progress and continue to. Usually the next sentence involves prose asking "if it's too late",  but that's completely counter-productive.

I still agree with Hugh - changing things is like turning around a jet on a tennis court - and we have a long, long way to go. But rest assured: That jet is slowly turning.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

If You Go To Stud at Three.....

.... don't expect to race in a Meadowlands major stakes race.

In what is sure to be a lively and heated discussion about the future of the sports stars and personal property, Meadowlands' owner Jeff Gural has thrown it down:

People like betting on star power, and Gural announced that he’s going to make horses sired by four-year-olds not eligible to the Meadowlands’ major stakes, including the Meadowlands Pace, the W.N. Reynolds Memorial, and John Simpson Sr. Stakes

"Anybody in the entertainment business knows you need stars," said Gural. "But the breeders have destroyed the ability to see our stars by retiring our very best horses at their prime."

Gural said he has asked the Hambletonian Society, Woodbine Entertainment Group, and The Red Mile to join him this year in making horses sired by four-year-olds ineligible, but up to this point he said they've been mostly reluctant. 

Wow.

While, I'm at it with "wow's", can someone (who is a member of our solar system) tell me why there was no inquiry on this race (before the three quarters; around 1:58):



Friday, August 5, 2011

Hambletonian Hank's Picks and Pans

My name is not Hank, but I thought it was catchy. 

Saturday at 11AM begins the best harness card of the year (although of late, the Metro Card and NA Cup Card is giving it a run), and Hambo Hank is here with some thoughts. For a free program, you can get one here.

The daylight Hambo card is geared to speed over the years, almost without fail. If the first couple of races are wire jobs and that apparent bias exists, I will be constructing my late horizontals accordingly. It looks like there is a chance of rain later in the day.

Race 2, is The Perretti Matchmaker for $100k. This is the first big question mark race of the card, and if you pick soundly, you might get paid. Both Autumn Escapade and Buck I St Pat stopped like they were hit with Hong Kong poison darts last time, and both are back in. I doubt the latter will supply you with any odds though, and we probably have to a take shot on something else. I’ll try Jersey AS. You cannot find a hotter trainer if you looked, and the mare raced great last time off the speed try. She’ll be odds, and I am throwing her in the mix.

Race 3 is a spectating affair for me in the first Oliver Wendall Holmes. I expect Big Jim to get the job done,  as in between finals, it appears Ed Hart does not have the big colt too wound up. If I bet I might take a 5-1 or 5-3 ex and look for value with Roll With Joe off the ticket.

Race 4 is the $333k Merrie Annabelle. I will more than likely watch this one as well.  Check Me Out looks as nice as a filly can look at this stage (unless you are, say, Snow White). I might take a poke on something on the post parade and score out looks, but I doubt it.

Race 5 is the Peter Haughton and this is a nice group of colts. I have been on the Big Chocolate train for a few weeks, but he is in tough here and will need some luck. I am 100% going with on track looks here for my play. The logicals are who they are.

Race 6 is the US Pacing Championship. I saw my first one on television way back in the 1980’s when On the Road Again crushed in 151, and since that time it has been my favorite race on Hambo Day. Tomorrow, if the track is quick, we could see a monster mile. Like a lot of you, I think Won the West is the best in here, and when he makes front, he can really motor. But will he? He will probably be overbet either way you slice it. Other than Vlos and Kyle Major, I think a case can be made for any of these. Atochia has been live and should be super odds, but is a closer; and Aracache Hanover is usually an underbet speed threat. Great race and I’ll be scanning the odds board for my play.

Race 7 is the Nat Ray, and if you are a racing fan, it has to be the most entertaining tilt of the day. Arch Madness, at his best, is the best horse, but he has not been for the last two starts. San Pail might be underbet because he is a Canadian horse, but he is fine down there. Lucky Jim from the rail should take some money. I am looking forward to taking a poke at none of those contenders – I am going with Hot Shot Blue Chip. The horse is a monster when he has his head screwed on right and he raced like a freight train in the Maple Leaf. He’s fresh, he’s fast and he’ll be odds. He's my blink horse for the card.

Race 8 is the Hambletonian Oaks, in its usual time slot. A lot of years this is a coronation of sorts, as there tends to be one really nice filly in the mix.  Crys Dream is arguably the best horse of any sex and gait in harness racing, and she gets a chance to prove it. Although a good many of you (because of her last positive and the court injunction) would like to see her beat, it looks like a tough task. However, in my opinion there is evidence (if you watched last week) that she is ripe for the picking. I know she had time off, and I know she should be better, but this is a filly who exploded off a slow qualifier and six months off to beat older colts in May. She did not win with as much punch as I’d like to see in her elim. If she is odds, I may have to take a poke at Jezzy. If not there are others to look at, like Iron lady, Zerons mare, Sashy and Hey Mister, to name a few.

Selections, FWIW - 10-1-2

Race 9 is the big one, the $1.5M Hambletonian. It is a really nice tilt this year with some possibles, and I would like to say I am doing a major deviation from others, but I am not. 

From the rail out:

Broad Bahn – You want a speed horse on a speed favoring track? You’ll be betting George. Something tells me he is going to go way too fast, so I can’t play him tomorrow at odds which might be underlayed.

Manofmanymissions – If you want the most talented horse, this one is yours. Erv Miller will probably have him primed and as sound as he can be with vet work, salt water baths, whatever the cat dragged in. I wonder if his problems are more than just his ankle or feet though, and with such a big crowd and afternoon sun (and low odds) he’s not for me.

Fawkes – A longshot last time who raced great, but he can’t possibly get a better trip. Nice horse, but a longshot.

Chapter Seven – He’s fresh and he’s got a big motor. If he is second or third over off a 23 flat three panels behind MOMM, he’d be about 1.15 at betfair. He’s the now horse, a likely winner, but I fear he’ll probably be too low to bet.

Whit – A punchers chance with traffic trouble. 

Whiskey Tax – Tom Durand is a good guy and I hope this colt does well. I threw him in my pick 4 last time and he wasn’t bad.

Opening Night – He raced with some pop last time. 1st time JC on a trotter is ROI positive. He has lots going for him, but I don’t think he’s fast enough. Who knows though if Brennan goes 54.1 or something.

Magnum Kosmos – He’s a nice little horse who really impressed me last time. Sure Andy Miller was toying with him, but he raced really well. He’s hard to see from out there, but he has something going for him.

Luckycharm Hanover – Longshot.

Pastor Stephen – Last year’s champion has had like 100 issues this year. He had no zip last time, but he probably needed the race. Stranger things have happened if he kicks it up a notch, which is not out of the realm of possibility. If this race was on betfair, getting matched above book would be advised I think.

FWIW: 4-2-6-1

Race 11 is the Mistletoe Shallee and it is a really cool race. I made a bet after her first start that Idyllic would not make a couple hundred K this year, and although she did not improve an inch off her initial start, she keeps racing. She has a shot in here. Krispy Apple with the ten might scare some people off, but she has been a machine. I expect Drop the Ball will try a covered trip this time.  Two horses who have some go that are not mentioned by many are Swinging Beauty, and the horse I will be playing: Myluvmylife. She exploded last time and had plenty of pace. I think I'm going deep here, and I am going to try and make a score.

Race 12 is the US Pacing Championship II and it’s another excellent race. Hypnotic Blue Chip is back on form, and people tend to forget he was a top ranked horse earlier in the year. Jody will no doubt have him covered up, and he is a probable play for me, if odds. Foiled Again went a monster mile last time and could be heard from. Bettor Sweet is a great horse. This is truly an odds board race for me. I wish Razzle Dazzle had a good post, as he was very good last time. I might chuck him in, just in case the pace is crazy.

Race 13 is a nice race – the Lady Liberty. Anndrovette was totally off her game last time, but she still raced well. I can’t see anyone catching her, as Kesmodel should have her ready this time. She might be a single for me, as everyone will be going at least two deep here, with Dreamfair Eternal. I'd bet her flat if I could get 2-1 or over.

Race 14 is the second division of the Oliver Wendall Holmes. Big Bad John is fresh and is a must use. If he is anywhere as good as he was for the Burlington, good luck catching him. I’ll probably look towards High Noon if the odds board cooperates. He is a bit better than he is showing, and if he gets a nice trip from the inside, he’ll be heard from.

That’s it for me. Join us on Twitter if you are playing the card, and are interested. 

I hope everyone enjoys the card, and good luck!!!!

Hyperbaric Chambers

A hot topic over the last year is the use of hyperbaric chambers in horse racing. Most of the chatter we hear in the sport publicly, talks about how they help heal maladies, like a sore tendon or a hairline, quicker than conventional. In the backstretch it's different - a lot of people are talking about how they boost red blood cell counts (like EPO does) and this gives trainers an edge because with a boost, the horse gets less tired.

In this week's edition of Harness Racing Weekend Preview at Harnessracing.com, trainer Noel Daley tells how he uses the chamber on one of his charges, and he does not avoid the RBC angle (of course, this is 100% legal, so I want to be clear he is doing nothing wrong):

“It simulates high-altitude training,” said Daley. “It’s like what some people said worked for Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby, when he trained in New Mexico and then shipped down to near sea level and won. Some people think that helped. It helps the body naturally increase red blood cells, which are infused with oxygen.”

“He spends about six hours a day in there. It’s got to keep him healthier. He’s at about the equivalent of 17,000 feet in a nice cool 72-degree stall during the hottest part of the day. It certainly isn’t hurting him. It’s not going to make him faster, but hopefully he’ll be able to carry his speed a little farther.”

With training costs through the roof costing owners a chance, with this practice coming in about $150 per hour; with red blood cell boosting such a hot topic in racing..... I wonder if this is a good thing, or a bad thing.

NYRA currently bans the use of them seven days out, and I am pretty sure others are looking at this. I wonder what some trainers who read the blog think, and what bettors think (e.g. is this something that should be regulated and placed on the racing form/program, would you like it outlawed outright, or is this simply technology and sharp training at work).

Any thoughts?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Taking Frankel Down a Notch

Handicapping racing is a wonderful mind exercise, and many times (which often offers us value) people see different things, or there are external factors at play that we have to analyze. One of the things thoroughbred racing adds for a mind-stretch is the need, with different distances, to really dig deep into pace, and internal fractions, and judge a horse on how he finishes and who he beats.

Frankel's win at Goodwood last week was sparkling to the eye. Yes he got a slow first half, but he relaxed and then sprinted home nicely as a good horse should. But, we had to dig deeper: Is there something to put this horse over the top in that race? The solidifying factor was Canford Cliffs, the second place finisher who is an awesome horse himself - Frankel dropped him like a cheap internet connection. Wow!

But today we learned, as is often the case in racing, Canford Cliffs was the outlier, not Frankel. He was retired due to a leg injury sustained in the running. When we saw him bear out, we might have thought he was simply a beaten horse, but look again.

Does this take some shine off Frankel's win? Certainly for me it does. Derek Simon had a wonderful look at the fractions and what he did on Twinspires, and I discounted a lot of it, because of the fractions (his internal furlong times in the second half are difficult for a racehorse to do, with finish), yes, but mostly because who Frankel beat. Now it seems the horse he left in the dust, who we were all so impressed with, was not at his best.

Notes: Speaking of 'who he beat', this weekends Nat Ray Trot at the Meadowlands on Hambo Day features two wonderful trotters - Arch Madness and San Pail. Arch Madness was clearly not at his best in his last two tilts, one of them where San Pail dropped him like Frankel did Canford Cliffs. I wonder if this weekend will be different. Arch Madness has 150 in him, and I think, off a pocket, San Pail would give him a run at that speed. If the weather is good and both horses are at their best, can we see the 150 barrier taken a run at?

DK's The View on Standardbred Canada is "in defence of the open draw". No kidding I agree with that. Our stakes finals have been coronations, not races.

Casual fans, in my opinion, pay far too little attention on how a horse races, or finishes; they simply look at the result (see Frankel above). In a fantastic look at how a trainer works on a top horse, take a look at Hambo favorite Man of Many Missions. He has, like a lot of horses - thoroughbred or standardbred - 'tweaks', and those tweaks throw him off measurably. The next time the horse we bet loses, take a look at how he raced and don't blame the jock, or the driver first, or say "that horse stinks!"; it could be something as simple as a tweak in his ankle. It happens 50 times a day. They are not machines, no matter how much with modern vet work we'd like them to be, and one little thing can take them out of their game that gets them beat by a football field.