Monday, October 31, 2011

Fan Friendly

Keeneland announced they had a 9.3% increase in all source handle for the meet that concluded this weekend.

Is there a more fan friendly track than Keeneland out there in racetrack land?

I dedicate the bulk of my wagering money to tracks that I feel want my business, and it got me thinking. What tracks do I find fan-friendly on the thoroughbred and harness side? Which tracks do I feel good about supporting?

Top Three Thoroughbred Tracks

1. The aforementioned Keeneland: I don't have poly-fright (in fact I like the big fields, the uncertainty and modeling jockeys), so that isn't a strike for me. A polycapping database, they keep their fans informed, they lobbied for a takeout reduction early in the decade (that was rejected, but prescient), a willingness to card large fields at all costs without dogma, and a fine on-track experience. Hands down, a track I love to support with my money.

2. Tampa Bay: There is plenty of work to do for Tampa to reach Keenland for me, but any track that moves from about 68th in the HANA rankings to number three is clearly doing something right. On-trackers have nothing but good to say about this track too.

3. Monmouth: It plays fair, the marketing department tries hard, and they were the first track to try something different for the customer with the elite meet. They were also the first track with a 15% pick 4 and pick 5.

Honorable mention is Hawthorne: They try their asses off, have lowered rake the best they can right now, and are always looking for player feedback to get better.

Top Three Harness Tracks

1. Tioga: The owners and racing managers lobbied the New York State Wagering Board for "the lowest takeout allowed by law" and got it. They are carding stakes races that once raced at the Meadowlands. On track buzz is huge. Anyone who says this gets my number one ranking with a bullet:
  • "Jeff [track owner Jeff Gural] and I would like to see the takeout lowered to nine or 10 per cent," he was quoted as saying in the ESPN.com article. "That way it would be equal to what the take is on the slots. We want to put the horseplayer on an equal level with the people who play the slots."
2. Balmoral Park: Try and try they might. The push and promotion of the low takeout pick 4 is noticed by players. There are some decent fields and they put on a worthwhile product for fans.

3. Northfield: They lowered takeout, the drivers try each race like they are racing for a million dollar purse. Fun place to watch.

Those are the tracks I watch and think "they really want me as a customer". I also don't think it is a coincidence that the six tracks listed are not dependent wholly on slot machines.

Do you have any you feel treat you well that I did not list?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Great 'Blue Collar' Horse Does the Sport a World of Good

Admit it, in a world where we're talking about 99ers and one percenters, no matter where you fall on that spectrum, you love to cheer on blue collar horses, owned by blue collar folks. In the sport of horse racing, to find that horse you have to look no further than shoe-in Horse of the Year, San Pail.

Moved as a three year old to a mom and pop stable, the horse was an unraced gelding that "no one wanted". Years later as a seven year old, he has climbed the mountain to the top of the sport. He has raced 107 times, with 49 wins, and has amassed a bankroll of almost $3 million dollars. With each of those wins, the winners circles get bigger, the turnstiles spin a little more, and more and more people turn their televisions on.

Last evening at the Breeders' Crown, the San Pail Fan Club reached a crescendo. He would get his biggest test to date. He would not only have to race the top trotters on this continent, but from Europe too.

Landing on Friday, Commander Crowe and Rapide Lebel, the top horses from overseas were fit and ready to take on the blue collar horse, and they delivered (especially the latter) two performances that made everyone take notice just how good our European counterparts are. Hung from the quarter, even for a period three wide, and moving first over through stiff fractions, the excellent Rapide Lebel kept digging and digging, trying his heart out.

In the end the local horse, to cheers, won, but the invaders certainly had nothing to hang their heads about.

I remember speaking with an old time horseman once, and he said the days where when you got beat you  "shut up, shook the man's hand and congratulated him for having a fine horse" have been lost. Well, lost for some maybe , but not for all.

In the post race interviews (if you are interested please watch them below - they are at the 3:45 minute mark) the blue collar horse's connections showed no bravado, and they conducted themselves like they always have; with respect for their horse, his fans, and his competition.  They are truly happy to be blessed with this animal, and are incredibly appreciative of the fans who feel they are a part of their horse.

A very emotional Randy Waples: "I honestly think that if I had stayed where I was and the other horse had gotten to the front I don’t think I would have beat him. They both raced unbelievable, they are truly champion horses those two [European] horses. They are just unbelievable, it was a great experience to race against them. I’m glad that I beat them, but they didn’t lose any races tonight."

Trainer Rod Hughes: "It just shows what can happen when a horse like this sticks around and races. It's good for the sport"

Indeed.

This is the power of one horse, in one division. One only wonders what we could do in terms of viewership and participation via attendance if we had five or six.

Notes

For full Crown recaps and video, please click here.

Further to yesterday's post crown blog where I mentioned the international flavor adds to its excitment and marketability, Greg from the Harness edge tweeted this to me this morning:


It is a good illustration why I disagree vehemently with the argument the Breeders Cup and it's pitch as a world wide event has hurt racing, and that we should focus on our horses, and our dirt. Please enjoy the San Pail video below. Again, around 3:45 are the interviews.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Breeders Crown Complete

We'll have a ton more on the BC no doubt, but a few quick notes.
  • If you came wanting to bet chalk, you were probably rewarded nicely, as no chalk was worse than second, and seven favorites won. The two pick 4's (even with the longest shot of the night clicking in the last leg), were microscopic.
  • Clunker of the night: Big Bad John. The Jug winner was leading, and came last
  • Horse that could've went around three times and still beat them? Chapter Seven. 
  • Handle was $3.7 million, which is good. Woodbine, since starting to be more customer and bettor-driven in about 2009, has started to turn a bit of a corner.
  • Tough night at the office? Tony O'Sullivan. Alsace, perfect trip and no fire. Drop the Ball was nothing like she was last week. I bet he thought he was winning both those races, easily.
  • Tim Tetrick horses won a lot of races tonight; without him in the bike. It shows when we replace a good driver with another good driver, who cares.
  • I bet against Sweet Lou at Lexington, and cashed my ticket. How did this horse lose that race? What a performance.
  • If I could've bet a horse at the head of the lane at 1-20, it would've been We Will See and I would have thought it an overlay. He was flat as a pancake.
  • Brothers (and Seth, their breeder) did well. Sweet Lou and Bettor Sweet winning-exacta.
  • HOY? San Pail
  • 3YO of the year? Roll With Joe. In a suspect group, he won a million and a half and raced all year long.
  • 3YO Trotter of the year? Who the heck knows.
One last note. On the blog the last several years, especially with Breeders Crown posts, we have talked about trying to make the event international, because it will drive betting and interest. Tonight, in race 7, we saw two foreign invaders make the race super exciting.

Not only that (and this was shocking): The pools for the aged trot, with only a seven horse field, were the biggest of the entire evening. International money, international interest? I don't know. But when a seven horse field trot beats the pulp off the handle of 10 horse 3YO final, or the 10 horse aged final, we're onto something.

Despite having a terrible night at the windows (I know I wrote short prices should do well tonight and you may have trouble finding some long ones, but I can't play short ones in big pools trying to make a score), it was a good night of racing (made so primarily by race 7), in my opinion. I hope y'all enjoyed it.

Saturday Notes

Happy Breeders Crown day.

Here are a few notes that caught my eye:

The Aqueduct slots parlor opens with long lines. I am reading on a few chat boards and blogs like Alan's the need for capital improvements at the Big A, and the general excitement that somehow a bigger purse will make life so much better.

I guess because I have seen multi-millions in improvements here in Ontario since 1996, purses 300% higher than they used to be, and racing handle at the same time be decimated (it's been cut in half) that I have no glee for the Aqueduct casino for the future of the sport.


With the folks in line at the racino today - all there to pull a lever - it tells us just how bad of shape we're in. Not to mention, now with a casino on the premises, when you hit a $500 tri in the last, you stop in at the machines on the way out and lose a few hundred, killing your churnable horse racing bankroll. It's one of the reasons why every track in existence since they were introduced in the mid-1990's has on track handle go kaput after putting a racino in.

Until places like NYRA put slots money into the demand side of the equation, we will be back in 5 years (just like everywhere else) wondering where the handle and fans went.

I spoke about this several years ago at both a marketing seminar and at subsequent horse racing wagering conferences - and was met with horror at the marketing conference and nods of the heads at the wagering conferences.

Horror from marketers, and nods of heads from the industry that the policy is very wrong. But in New York, this long-failed policy has not changed a bit.

Boy I'm cheery, eh?

On to more happy items!

Tonight's Breeders Crown card starts at 6:30 and several of us will be chatting and playing along on twitter. You can follow me at @pullthepocket if you want. Unfollow me after and I won't be offended. Nothing offends me on twitter anyway; it's the only way you stay sane :)

My thoughts are below, and there are several other avenues for picks and strategy across the web.

What wins is free tonight (you just have to sign up) and their odds lines are good and (and unlike many other odds lines) are historically ROI flat to positive. Speaking of conferences, I presented with Dave from Whatwins on a "new wagers for horses racing in the 21st century" panel and he was just developing What Wins at that point - and it was working! Check them out.

VFTRG has his picks up. The DRF has some action.

The Sportsman had a roundtable of cappers picks, but for the life of me I can't find the link. If anyone sees it, pop it on the comments section. Edit: Here it is. Thanks Dave Briggs.

Good luck and hope to chat with you later. Enjoy your day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Breeders Crown, Here We Go

Tomorrow evening at 6:30 starts a big night at Woodbine. I'll take a look at a few races here, and if you have any horses you like (or want to call me a big dummy for my selections) please comment below.

As usual, since everyone can read the odds board and know who the chalk bets and likely winners are, I will probably focus (and bet) several price horses.

Race 1 - Mares Open Trot

This one is a real head-scratcher for me. The wiseguy horse and software horse (we were on her here on Hambo Day at a nice price) is Jersey As. I can't do it, because I can't bet short priced horses who are going to get away 7th or worse. I am going to go bomb shopping here if the on-track looks cooperate. Emmylou Who has looked lame in the back her last two in the PP, but she's raced well. If she looks any better tomorrow, I am on her. Pembroke Heat Wave has not been bad all year and has been here at McNair's farm for awhile. After Friendly Amigo brushed and crushed in Lex I thought she might be sore. After a couple of weeks (and with a driver change people will fade) I might have a look at her at a bomb price. Great race for betting.

Bet: Emmylou Who if she does not look hikey.

Race 2 - 2YO Filly Trot

This race starts and ends with the chalk for me. When she lost to Win Missy B she was not at her best, and the other time the latter was a runaway who somehow stayed. Miss Paris, I think, was not at her best last time, and if I chuck WMB, I will use her underneath. For a Dancer trots like a little metronome.

Bet: Check Me Out onto Miss Paris, For a Dancer and  Real Babe

Race 3 - 2YO Filly Pace

This is a good race which is very deep. If Economy Terror comes in soft, and is well bet, the exotics might light up the board. I can't play the chalk, without a trip over the track. From there, you have a lot of possibles. Handsoffmycookie is a wise guy horse who can win. Ed Hart might have Pirouette fresh. Shelliscape and Big McDeal are solid stock. Is Angel Sent getting better? Off a month off she aired, and if she was not tight for that, she may be sitting on a huge one. I may go way off the board here and bet Podges Lady. She was sick for the SAGL final and she's some stock. Now, cue the chalk to win by ten.

Bet: Podges, for a flyer longshot. Handsoffmycookie if over 4-1.

Race 4 - 2YO Colt Pace

Who shows up and races big? The 3,4,5,7 and 8 are all likely winners and this may be a trip race. I am not a huge Sweet Lou fan, and Rock n Roll Dance (whom I love) will be heavily bet. I may go to the wiseguy horse here, Hurrikane King Cole (who is 20-1 ML and won't be near that come post time), and way off the board with Mark Harder's colt from the outside.

Bet: Hurrikane King Cole to win. Longshot: Lawgiver Hanover

Race 5 - 2YO Colt Trot

There are no superstars here, and that makes it a good betting race. The 3,4,5 are good horses and one of them is likely. Prestidigtation was good in his last with a no shot trip. If the crowd is fading Takter as a driver too much I may play him, but I expect he won't be in my price range. I don't mind two longshots on the ticket. Little Brown Fox is not a bad colt, grabs Campbell and was boxed in his last. Dan Daley's colt, Royal Shyster, looked good last time and had trot. Swing for the fences?

Bet: Little Brown Fox, at a price

Race 6 - Mares Pace

I feel Anndrovette will be very overbet. I am leaning towards taking a poke on Western Silk or Chancey Lady at prices. The former had pace last time, and the latter throws in a huge race now and again off a subpar line (I bet her in Lexington when she almost stole it at 9-1).

Bet: WS and CL on top of the 1567 and 10

Race 7 - Open Colt Trot

The fun begins. San Pail has had it pretty easy this season and one wonders if this is the race he is tested hard. The European horses add a big wrench into the mix, and I don't know what to do with them, although I know Rapide is fast. I still love Hot Shot Blue Chip as a big bomb here (I bet him at Lex, trying to beat San Pail last month and he was great).

Bet: I'll probably watch and enjoy, or bet a few bucks across on Hot Shot Blue Chip. Congrats to Moira and Tom working the phones to make this a great race.

Race 8 - 3YO Filly Pace

Drop the Ball beats herself only.

Bet: DTB onto Swinging Beauty and Strike an Attitude for an action bet

Race 9 - 3YO Colt Trot

Chapter Seven won with his ears pricked in a 27 last Q. That's enough for me. I watched the Man of Many Missions replay three times and he still looks off to me.

Bet: Chapter Seven if over 2-1

Race 10 - 3YO Filly Trot

Cedar Dove is very good, but I am going off the board with Crys Dream. I think she will be super tight tomorrow off her last. I honestly am not in love with anyone else. The whole field looks kind of spent to me.

Bet: Crys Dream onto all, all onto Crys Dream

Race 11 - 3YO Colt Pace

What to do here? If you bet Big Bad John, Alsace Hanover and Roll With Joe, or take a $10 tri box, I can't argue much. I think the winner comes from one of those three. This, along with the Open Trot, is the highlight of the night for me as a fan.

Bet: I am a spectator, unless one of those three reach playable odds.

Race 12 - FFA Pace

This race begins and ends with We Will See for me, off a tremendous prep. I am tired of getting beat by this colt. I might use One More Laugh behind him, because that horse can throw a big one once in awhile, and might be sharp tomorrow.

Good luck everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Breeders Crown Free Program is Out

This weekend's Breeders Crown (Crown, not Cup!) program is out, and it's free. You can get it here.

It's the first time all Breeders Crown races are on the same card north of the border. Going through the races (I will throw up some analysis later if anyone wants to chat about them) and replays, I am finding some interesting tilts.

Last year we had a couple of bomb winners, but the chalk was pretty poor in a lot of cases. At first glance this year's chalk look more like Woodbine in '09 where we had a steady parade of cheap prices. After looking at it a little more closely, the two year old races might be worth betting, and with the weather report (cool with a chance of rain), it may add a little bit of intrigue for bettors.

Anyhow, just a note above on the PP link, for anyone who doesn't know they can get one gratis.

More Protection as a Business Model - Texas to Ban Out of State ADWs

Hurting industries often do curious things. 

"The Texas Racing Commission has begun informing out-of-state wagering companies that it's now illegal to accept online horse or greyhound bets from Texas."

Apparently, the following internet websites may be forced to no longer allow Texas residents as customers.

"According to the TRC, letters were sent to Twinspires.com (a Churchill Downs affiliate), XpressBet, AmWest Entertainment, USOff-Track, eBet, Premier Turf Club, The Racing Channel, PayDog and Racing2Day."

If they don't comply? They will apparently be snoozin' in the grey-bar hotel.

"The letter concluded that the TRC "may pursue criminal action against violators under Chapter 7 of the Texas Penal Code.""

This is not dissimilar to what happened a few years ago in Arizona. And we all know how that worked out.

Other than drive customers offshore - you know, the ones who wish to patronize racing via that brand-new invention that might even catch on, a personal computer - I am not sure what good can come out of this.

I'm sure consumers would not like a "Texas Book and DVD commission" to make it illegal to buy an item on Amazon.com. Or a "Texas Stock Commission" make you go to a downtown Houston brokerage office to purchase 100 shares of Microsoft instead of clicking a mouse.

That's silly right?

Not in horse racing. In horse racing it's considered a pro-growth policy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Accountability for Business Decisions

Over the last couple of months we have followed the Netflix story here on the blog, and used it from time to time as an illustration showing the difference between the business world and the racing world.

For those who have not followed along, the story is pretty straightforward: The online video streaming company raised prices in Q2, much to the ire of its customers, and they paid for it, as their stock dropped from around $300 to $220. This loss of market cap was mainly due to future quarter projected earnings. The market said - you need to grow eyeballs, and raising your prices is not the way to do it. The company was punished.

After the exacta of annoying your customers, and your shareholders, a mea culpa was issued on their blog. They backtracked some, and tried to re-energize.

However, today Netflix's quarterly earnings came out. The price hike, although good for a short term revenue bump (sound familiar high takeout proponents?), killed their subscriber growth.
  • Netflix reported 21.45 million streaming subscriptions at the end of the third quarter and 13.9 million subscribers to its DVD-by-mail business. The company said total U.S. subscriber base by the end of its third quarter was 23.79 million—below expectations of roughly 24 million. Netflix lost 810,000 subscribers between the second and third quarters.
Further, growth does not look good for the next quarter, based on churn rate:
  • More worrisome, however, was that in the latest period, churn rate in the U.S.—a measure of customer cancellations and free subscribers—rose to 6.3% from 3.8% a year earlier and 4.2% in the prior quarter.
There was hell to pay and they were punished again. The stock, afterhours, dropped 27% to $85, down from over $300 only a couple of months ago. Gone are executive bonuses, millions in stock options, big valuations, and good press. Takeover chatter (i.e. throw the bums out) and downgrades are coming fast and furious.

If we compare this accountability and speed of such with our sport, there simply is no comparison. Racing makes Netflix look like Apple. Our sport has lost upwards of half its customers, and revenues from betting are falling and have been falling since about 2003.  California, perhaps a perfect example, raised prices on January 1st this year (doing what  Netflix did), and handle has fallen about $200 million dollars. Yet, California continues along the same path, making excuses for the losses, with zero accountability. Most of our so-called "racing press" even gives them a pass.

Lose half your business over a decade? Raise your prices in 2011 and lose $200 million in handle? Ah, it's the economy and no one likes racing. Don't blame us.

During the Netflix earnings call this evening the CEO responded:
  • CEO Reed Hastings and Chief Financial Officer David Wells acknowledged the anger sparked by its change of pricing plans for subscribers. "We've hurt our hard-earned reputation, and stalled our domestic growth."
That's something we will likely never hear in our sport, ever, because without accountability, there is no need to respond. It's a big reason why we're in the state we're in.

Breeders Crown Notes

The elims this past weekend are complete. A lot of the time there is very little news in the elims, but this time there certainly was.

The biggest story was in the 3YO FP division, where See You At Peelers confirmed that her condition is not very good, and like we see in racing quite often, a new star is starting to emerge.

SYAP again stopped like she was hit by a Hong Kong poison dart. They tried her and she simply had no response to pressure. I would think we've seen the last of her, but if they do decide to race next season, maybe an extended layoff can do the trick. Regardless, when she was right, she is a tremendously classy mare; one of the best we've seen in awhile.

Taking the baton is Drop the Ball. She always had an amazingly quick brush, and you knew you were looking at a quick horse, but she had serious trouble putting it all together. I don't think she's there quite yet, but all you can say is wow. Her Canadian record was effortless, and she finished the race looking around, completely shut down. She's the type of mare who gets good, and might stay good because she seems to be learning what she's out there for. I can't wait to watch her as a 4YO.

Chapter Seven looked as good as a horse can look, as well. He finished with a 27 kicker, and pricked his ears no less than three times. Sometimes horses finish races tired (and Gr I race at 9f in thoroughbred racing for sure!), and at times they finish wanting more. He was the latter.

Cedar Dove looks like the chalk in the filly trot final. She won easily. Crys Dream prepped well however. In the other elim, Pierce took his elimination life in his hands, almost getting boxed, but he weaved through and beat a horse who seems to not like to win.

Man of Many Missions had an easy time of it after Big Rigs broke in the pocket, but he was tired.

If you are looking for a good prep race, We Will See did it. He was on fire in the stretch and that should help him next time.

Prep thought 2 - Can there be a bigger stiffaroni than David Miller put on Big Bad John? You are 1-2, and you should at least try a bit Dave, for the people who pay your salary (hint - bettors). I am a fan of elims, and we know the risk, but holy smokes.

Twitter post on BBJ's elimination from a bettor:



If you can tell anything from the mares pace elim, you are a better person than I. That was a boat race.

Early in the year I did not think Idyllic and Pretty Katharine would have good years. I think I was just too early on my Idyllic prediction. She is beginning to look like I thought she would in July. 

I am pretty sure that was the prep that Ed Hart hated. Roll With Joe was brutalized, and he still finished well. If he races like that next week, one might expect everyone else is racing for second.

How about the last late pick 4 on Saturday? They might sum up why people have a hard time with harness racing. Brodies Song is a career 42 times pacer. 42 times he went to the back, devoid of speed. In start 43 from the nine post, he fires to the front, goes three and four wide getting there, and airs.  Can we have a twitter feed or something letting punters know when some driver is going to try something like that? He was 2-1 behind the gate, and he might have been 1-5 if we knew he was leaving. Although I don't think it was a set-up to cash a ticket, or that anything nefarious was going on, I don't blame any bettor in simo-land watching that race and thinking our sport is fixed.

Fitz Z Tam in the last was a head scratcher, although I did use him in the pick 4's. He had shown absolutely nothing if you are a race replay watcher. Saturday he fired home in 26 and change and won easily.

With the aforementioned Big Bad John stiffaroni added to the mix, it makes one wonder. The game is very tough, especially when we are looking at monster pick 4 rakes. With 1-2 shots going to second last off the gate, a non-leaver turning into a speed freak, and a horse who looks like he has been finishing slower than a fat man at a marathon winning by daylight in three of four legs, we are up against it.

Despite that, we are looking at some excellent races this weekend. I did not say too much about the first evening's tilts, because I still have to watch replays.

Have a good Monday everyone.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Yearling Sale Unlike Many Others

I’ve been to dozens of yearling sales, but this one was certainly different.

On Friday evening I headed out to central Nova Scotia, on beautiful sideroads through places like Pugwash, Wallace and the Wentworth Valley. The destination was Truro, where there was a yearling sale.  

“Breeders usually lose a few thousand a horse, and owners are lucky to not lose about the same”

I read that earlier about this, and other sales out this way.  

The purses are simply not there, the bet is not there either. We’re not talking Ontario, Pennsylvania or Indiana, where slots drive purses (and yearling prices) into the stratosphere.

Anyone who has been to Harrisburg or Lexington for a sale sees the who’s who of harness racing. $300k colts with Jerry Silva or Jeff Snyder’s name on them are commonplace.  Syndicates are formed, planning is intense. If someone hits the jackpot it could mean millions. 

As I walked into this venue I quickly learned it is not that kind of sale. What I saw was refreshing. There were no deals being made, no $80k cars in the lot. There was no electronic sales board. There were no clearance forms or credit items just in case you stiff someone ("Oh no honey, if you have a check that's just fine", the lady told me). There were a bunch of folks, who seemed to know each other. There was hot dogs, and $3 beer.  The shedrow was tight, mucky and a little dim. And there were horses – only 44 of them - some from sires I have personally never heard of.

After moving the tack from Toronto to the east coast (on a part time basis) I decided I wanted to support the local harness community and have some fun in the summers by buying a yearling. This sale exemplified exactly why I made the decision:  There is zero pressure to pay stakes payments for the Metro or the Jug. There is little pressure to meet $4000/month training bills. There is little pressure on anything.  There is a bunch of people wanting to partake in harness racing, because they like harness racing. 

I glanced at several in the book and I liked five or six of them. Brandon’s Cowboy as a sire made some sense to me, because I liked the horse, and he is the top sire out here from only a couple of crops. He has some chops. In addition there was a Four Starzz Shark selling. I bet him about 50 times and liked him as well; he has produced some nice horses from only a couple of crops. The rest I had no idea about, to be quite honest. 

"Bite Reflex" Four Starzz Shark out of a Western Hanover mare
It was time to go see the colts and fillies up close just like you’d do in Lexington. Not really knowing a fetlock from a padlock I trusted a trainer named Ross to have a look-see at them walking, and shuffling around. There were a few that stood out: A couple of Brandon’s Cowboy fillies and a colt, and a filly by Fourstarzz Shark.  I particularly liked  the Four Starzz filly because I saw her stumble and not lose her feet, and she looked at me and winked.  That’s usually not a good sign for my pocketbook. 

The bidding at the sale, was again, nothing like I am used to. It started sometimes at $500, and moved in $100 increments a great deal of the time. The average price usually ended up around $2000 or $3000, and it took a while to get there!

That damn Brandon’s Cowboy filly looked so good in the pre-walk, she looked at me, and was so well mannered. She was not at the top of the list and my trainer friend was getting a beer. But I bid to $5200. I had to stop since I didn’t want to spring it as a post-beer surprise to the trainer.  She was hammered down for 6k. 

"Hold on Tight" A Cute little colt in the back shedrow
The Four Starzz filly was my first purchase as a local. The bidding was less than I thought. I bet the lack of a maternal line scared some folks off, but I thought she had a chance, and was worth it. Not long after this, "Inside the Pylons" on twitter said her mom brought $50k as a yearling at Lexington awhile back. That can't be a bad thing.

A half dozen hip numbers later, what I thought may be the sale topper was heading to the ring. 

“Let’s take a look” I said, and my cohorts agreed. 

I figured the handsome little colt with a nice new potential cross might bring 8 or 9, but the bidding stalled and he was purchased. Not really planning on it, I was the last person with the hand up, and my one yearling excursion was now two.

I spent a few bucks, and I had a great time. 

“Breeders usually lose a few thousand a horse, and owners are lucky to not lose about the same”

Why do people keep doing it? I don’t know, but this morning I don’t have a regret in the world.

Notes: I missed the first night of elims for the BC so I have some replay watching to do. I should have some notes up this weekend if you want to chat about them. As usual, free programs are up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cooling Off

On July 31, 2011 supertrainer Lou Pena was given the boot from Yonkers Raceway.  Sometimes in this type situation a trainer may "cool off", other times they keep right on winning. I figured I would look at a few numbers to see what happened this time.

At Yonkers, before he was sent packing, his numbers were pretty remarkable.

He had 242 wins and sported a 39% win percentage. His "UTRS", or batting average, was a super-duper 0.535. Off the claim he was 18 for 26 (no not a typo) in 2011, for a 69% win rate.

Since Lou cannot (officially) race at Yonkers any longer, I figured I would look at his two main stomping grounds since the Yonkers ban, to see what's been happening. Has he cooled off, or is he humming right along?

At Pocono, where he seems to be hanging his hat most now, his stats are very un-Pena like.

Since August 1st he sports 122 trips to the gate, with 20 winners, yielding a 17% win percentage. His UTRS is 0.296, about average for an everyday stable. He has claimed six horses since August 1st, winning one, for a 16.7% win percentage. Before August 1st at Pocono he had a 37% win percentage and claimed 10 horses, winning with 7 of them for a 70% hit rate.

At Chester, where he is also doing some racing, the numbers are near identical, pre and post ban (0.450UTRS before August 1st and 0.440 after), with 2/2 versus 2/4 off claim numbers.

When you add the numbers together, it is clear there is some cooling off going on. It'll be interesting to see what develops, if anything, with this story.

Notes:

I mentioned I was surprised to see Peelers entered in the Breeders Crown off that poor qualifier. I asked the press if they might ask Takter if he zipped her in a training mile which told him she was better, because that was (I thought) an explanation that might make some sense.

I shoulda known better: Kathy at harnessracing.com was probably already on the case - "Trainer Jimmy Takter told harnessracing.com Wednesday morning that it was a “last-minute decision” to enter See You At Peelers in Saturday night’s Breeders Crown eliminations at Woodbine Racetrack, and he did so only after the 3-year-old filly pacer went an “awesome” training mile at his New Jersey farm early Tuesday morning."

I hope she's back, and I don't expect handicappers to give much to the "she's short" excuse if she loses. With a 54.1 qualifier, a training track zip, and a 151 mile two weeks ago, she should be more than fine. Takter's horses are almost never short.

I was reading harnesseye, and the "bounce" is back! Even after it was reported that Peelers was ill (and has been for some time before and after the Meadows race) and long ago it was known Big Jim had ankle issues that flared up after every start causing his early retirement, Capper Bob has stuck to the nasty-ass bounce theory for their performances.

"Three-year-old filly See You At Peelers had the first tough trip of her career at the Meadows recently, then was all-out against a much weaker field at Tioga last Sunday (September 4) and was disqualified when she lugged in and caused interference. Yes, even a win machine like See You At Peelers can bounce. I knew she would bounce but I still thought she'd win at Tioga, since it was a weak field."

"If you examine the career past performances of the now retired Big Jim, you can see that every time he went a big mile, be it a winning or losing effort, in his next start he bounced and went considerably slower. And Big Jim was a big, strong colt. If he bounced, you better believe that smaller horses and fillies are even more apt to bounce."

Oh my head. It appears that every sick horse and every lame horse that races bad "bounced". Someone should call the vets and tell them horse's don't need injections, cryo's, medications or anti-biotics when they are sick and lame, they just need an extra few days to recover so they don't "bounce". It sure would save us a boatload of money as horse owners. The bounce theory does have a place in harness racing, but using Peelers and Big Jim as examples of it, is ridiculous.

Want a free look at the early PP's for the Crown elims Friday and Saturday?

Speaking of the Harness Eye, despite the bounce stuff, there is a hell of a lot of good 'capping info on that site. Derrick's look at HOY is pretty good, and Bob's stuff is usually worth a look.

Enman is back on Twitter. The Woodbine/Mohawk/Greenwood and sometimes Hiawatha or whereeverthehellthereisatrack dude has tried a new name . @doubleplayball.

Have a good evening everyone.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Breeders Crown, October 19th, and Marketing

The six million dollar Breeders Crown elims have been drawn and they are an interesting set of races, starting this Friday. The link contains program pages and entries.

The biggest shocker (for me) is that See You At Peelers is entered. She, coming off a sickness and a heart issue (and off a crawling qualifier) was not expected to be here, but she is. I am assuming Takter zipped her in 52 or 53 Monday and made a decision, and I hope someone asks him about it.

Next Saturday the finals will all be run on one card, and it is sure to be an entertaining evening.

I began to wax a little melancholic this morning when I heard on CNBC it is the 24 anniversary of Black Friday, where the markets dropped precipitously, destroying about a half of a trillion of wealth. Growing up I learned life ain't free and not only do you have to go to work early, you have to invest early. With that, I tucked away as much work cash as a could as a kid in the stock market. By the age of 18 I amassed about $2500 in the markets. I had a 1st year class that fateful morning (Calculus in McLennan Physical, for U of T'ers out there) at 9:10. I overheard a rich kid chatting that the markets were going to collapse and at about 9:40 I went out to a pay phone and tried an old family friend who was a broker. Amazingly he answered, and told me my stocks were tanking big time. I went back to class, not thinking of advanced integrals, but of "should I try and put my meager savings into a bottom bounce".

That afternoon I bought about $500 more of stocks (money that I was going to use on my food card), and was completely broke.

I learned that day not to bottom fish, because I think it would have taken me until I was about 25 for my portfolio to be above what it was on October the 18th 1987. It didn't matter at that point I guess, because I was broke with a $9 an hour post-graduation job in an expensive city, and had sold what I could to pay rent a year or so before I was in the black.

I'll remember that day for a long time. I learned something and it wasn't from my math class.

One thing I learned in marketing over the years - it's in virtually every text book, but in recent history it is a huge part of writing web ads - is that your message has to be distinct and easy to understand. In the real world this is becomes apparent to me in many examples.

Three present day stories like Herman Cain, The Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street folks really exhibit this nicely, in my opinion. Mr. Cain, an also ran in the Presidential race, has vaulted to the lead in some polls with his "999" policy platform. I don't know how he feels about Iran, or the bailouts, or social issues, but I know about his "999". It's one message that is resonating and getting him noticed.

The Tea Party had one simple message early on: There is too much debt. That resonated with people looking at a $150B deficit in 2008, and a $1.3 trillion dollar one in 2010. "Ya, I guess there is too much debt" many said. Easy peasy, lemon squeasy.

The OWS folks are for? I am not sure, and polls show I am not the only one. They are having a little trouble getting mainstream support right now from independents and apolitical types and it is not because I think they're bonkers or strange left wing radicals, it's because they have not shaped a simple modern message a la the Tea Party and Mr. Cain.

I find this apparent in horse racing, and I think it is our biggest marketing issue. If you see an ad for horse racing you might think the marketing departments are getting paid by the word. They try to jam every single feature or benefit in a lot of their ads, hoping something sticks. My advice, for what it's worth, is pick one. And stick to it.

Have a great Wednesday folks.

Monday, October 17, 2011

You Can't Regulate Risk

Mark Davies today wrote about a betting conference he was attending, where the afternoon topic was betting integrity. 

The session looked at somehow plugging an integrity hole, where Mark agrees it does more harm than good. You know the drill - there might someone, somewhere doing something to undermine the sport, so we must over-regulate the betting of the sport, or at the very least, shout it from the highest mountain.
  • But what concerned me about the session was the extent to which it – and so many sessions like it – served only to perpetuate myths which rapidly take on the status of fact in the public pysche. 
The example proponents used to further their case for some sort of betting regulation was a potential situation at next year's Olympics: An athlete who "might finish third in a heat, in order to save him/herself for the final." This is the exact same argument we see in racing, primarily about eliminations in harness. The colt or filly's driver might not try as hard because he too has to save the horse for the Final. Harness racing has tried over and over again to regulate eliminations in some way.

Resistance is futile, because like an Olympic athlete saving himself, this is baked into the price with a risk component. Bettors ain't dumb.

If Usain Bolt is 1.15 to win his elim on merit, but at a meet in this exact same situation last year he tanked the quarterfinals, his price will probably be 1.35. Some bettors will look at it as a bargain, some as too risky and make their plays. If Rock n Roll Hanover is in an elim and he is off four weeks with a bad post, he may be 4-5 instead of 1-5. Some will roll the dice at a 45% implied probability, some will look elsewhere.

I agree with Mark. There is no need to regulate something that is an intimate component of the off price. That's why it's called gambling.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

UK Jocks (Not Unexpectedly) Whine

In the 1970's in the NFL, football was downright dirty. Players had tricks they used to get an edge that were right out of a scene from Braveheart. Clotheslining was legal, so was (said by one player I saw interviewed on the subject) 'jabbing your fingers into an opponents neck and grabbing his voicebox'. That sounds pleasant, huh?

At this time in the sports' history, highlight shows were popping up, and those highlight shows were becoming popular (only a portion of games were even shown in the early to mid 70's). The brutality of football and these laissez faire rules resulted in some very bad injuries, and some stomach turning episodes. To combat this, Rozelle had NFL Films never show, or distribute the brutal stuff - the dark side of the game would stay hidden, come hell or high water. Rozelle's reasoning was simple: Selling the game to new markets would be hampered if the brutality of it was not snuffed out.

After that policy not being overly successful (you can not stop progress and technology), the NFL, under his guidance, changed the rules. No more dirty stuff, no more clotheslines, no more head hunting. The players would be fined and suspended, no questions asked. Of course, the players hated this. They had plied their trade for years one way, and were asked to do something different.

Some of the excuses used against the changes came from them, and the old guard. One such argument was that fans loved the brutality, they cheered when big dirty hits occurred and changing the game would cause the game to suffer. Rozelle was a visionary, however. He knew that the people in the stands would always love football, and watch football. It was not about them, it was about the new markets that did care if they saw people get hurt, or possibly die right in front of their eyes. If they did not change the game those markets could not be sold to, using the relatively new medium of live sports on television.

It is clear that the policy worked. The NFL changed their demo from men, to men women and children. Changed it from an insular game in cities, to a game to sell the world. More people watch the Super Bowl than live in 80% of the world's countries. People tune in for the halftime show at a rate that tune in for some of the most popular television shows in existence. Football is still a brutal game, but if you ask the masses, the brutality of it is rarely mentioned. They changed the mindset within a generation.

In Ontario horse racing the whips were banned in some form several years ago. The participants went bonkers. "We know no other way", "we can't do this", "what about horse safety" and on and on. It was like the commission was not asking for a rule change, but a kidney.

Currently in the UK there is a change happening to the whip rules, along the exact same lines:

The regulations, announced by the BHA in September, come into force on Monday and limit a jockey on the Flat to seven strokes of the whip in the course of the race, while over jumps it can be used eight times. Under both codes, the whip can be used a maximum of only five times after the last obstacle/in the final furlong.

Failure to adhere to the new frequency limits will result in a minimum of a five-day suspension, replacing the previous minimum penalty of a caution.

Jockeys who pick up a ban of three days or more (for offences such as hitting a horse without giving it time to respond) can expect to lose their share of the prize-money and riding fee. It will also be an offence for any owner or trainer to reimburse the rider from their own share of the prize-money.


The jock's response to this: Someone call the whambulance. It's Ontario all over again - talk of strikes and being mad as hell and not taking it anymore. An extra-curious note: The old rule had a strike limit as well that they are simply bringing down, so this is not anything that new.

If it were the NFL or the NHL this episode would not even exist. The rule would be discussed and passed, and if a defencemen clutched and grabbed he would go to the penalty box. If he did it too much he'd be made an example of. If he didn't adapt, he'd be cut. If a lineman continued to clothesline, he too would be cut from his $2M a year job.

If you want to play in racing, you play by the rules and realize you are not bigger than the sport. If you can't count to seven or read a rule book, one would suggest a remedial math and reading class is in order. The alternative is to sell the Mercedes and dust off the resume for a $15 an hour job. There will be someone there ready to take your place, more than happy to follow the rules. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Strategery

After listening to the Google earnings call last night I was amazed by some of the new, fresh ideas, in addition to the business savvy to meet earnings targets.

Conversely, racings strategy seems to be: Let's try and squeeze every penny out of our existing customer base, because we have no strategy to grow the customer base.  

Read Jeff Platt's article on the new (and it appears "secret") idea from "Monarch" who controls many track signals you play via ADW.

  • I am a horseplayer advocate. I can’t sugar coat this for you. It is my opinion that if this goes through, and Monarch pulls track signals from ADWs, the result is nothing short of a knife in the back for horseplayers everywhere.

Controlling signals and raising rakes to grab more and more of a shrinking pie, while angering your best customers. Nice business strategy, boys.

With my wagering handle down about 80% from several years ago, sometimes I wonder why I continue with the other 20%.

Quick notes:

See You at Peelers qualified in 154.1 today with a last quarter a fat man carrying a sack of potatoes could come home in. She looks done for the year.

Melissa does what racing very rarely does: She econometrically modeled something: She studied synthetic handle with dirt handle for her thesis. Her conclusion? That synthetic track racing has been a drag on handles (although I doubt in a hugely tangible way). This should not be surprising (as every horseplayer nods his head). When we introduce something new, which is completely unmodelable and adds a new risk component as handicappers, we are going to avoid that risk. In the 1970's it was similar when the Meadowlands was introduced - the mile track variable left cappers scratching their heads and they continued to play Roosevelt. It took quite awhile for the Meadowlands to become King.

From someone (read: geeky racetrack dude) who did his thesis on Off-track betting's influence on On-track handle, I commend her :)

Blanchard on Trot radio. Way to go Greg. Western Fair opens its meet tonight.

Whatwins is free this month. Go to Whatwins.com and check it out!

Have a nice Friday everyone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Will Dutrow End Up Like Bill Robinson? I'd Bet on It

The news was fast and furious today as The New York State Racing and Wagering Board revoked trainer Richard Dutrow's license for 10 years. After sixty four rulings, and public pressure, I guess they have had enough.

This, in my opinion, completely parallels what happened with super-trainer Bill Robinson about ten years ago in  Ontario. The perennial training leader not only had whispers surrounding his horses' performances, he also had a string of violations. In 2004 after another positive, the ORC and Woodbine as well said enough is enough. He was fined $100,000 and thrown out for five years. In addition, Woodbine ruled him off the grounds so he could not train during appeals, and went to court with all guns blazing to defend their right to do it.

WEG head David Willmot:

“Gamblers are paranoid and more often than not are convinced that something funny is going on. If we as an industry do not have their confidence we’ll lose them as customers and we are doing everything we can to be a customer driven company. Perception is so important. "

What happened with Mr. Robinson? It's been about what you or anyone would've expected. His son Brett took over the majority of his stable - training for many of the who's who in racing, because he won just like his dad did. Up until 2007 rolled around that is. He was nabbed with EPO and he joined his father, with a ten year ban.

Not long after, with Bill still training a very small string, his former assistant trainer took many of his old clients, yearning to not lose the winning magic, and the vast riches it affords them.

He too was caught with EPO and banned for ten years.

If reciprocity takes hold, I expect we might see similar in the Dutrow case. He will fight it. His clients will search for another trainer or an assistant that can turn horses around on a dime. It may take awhile, but when commissions and the betting public have said they are through with you, most times they tend to mean it, and do what they can to make it stick.

I think Mr. Dutrow's career as we know it is over, and I doubt we'll ever see it like it was, no matter how hard he fights.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We Can Learn from Business 101

courtesy pcworld.com
In racing, many lament its inability to think on its feet, or listen to its customers and respond in a timely fashion. For those who follow business outside the sport, we see such things each day.

Less than a month ago online streaming company Netflix announced that they were restructuring their offering by splitting the DVD rental business and the streaming business in two. In addition, they forced a price hike on customers, letting them know that the hike in DVD rental costs would be spun off to their streaming catalogue allowing them to expand the shows offered.

Customers were incensed. On chat boards, on facebook and everywhere else they did not want to login twice, be forced into the new DVD business (called "Qwikster"). As well, the share price was hammered.

Fast forward only one month. Just moments ago, Netflix has backed off their plans to split the offerings in two. They have added hundreds of new shows, TV's and news in their content since announcing the hike (delivering on what they promised), and lastly they announced to customers that pricing hikes will be a thing of the past. As an added bonus, the tech savvy company did not announce this via a 1947-type newswire service, but directly on its blog via a post from its CEO:
  • We’ve recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we’ve added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS. 
  • It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster..... we are now done with price changes.
Yes, in one month, a multi-billion dollar market cap company, with 25 million subscribers has changed  business strategy on a dime as a direct response to customers.

In racing - in places like California and elsewhere who have angered customers - we wait and wait and wait. And more than likely we quietly and unceremoniously leave.

Netflix shares are up to $130.20, or 10.92% in premarket trading.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Notes

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in the Tundra, but there is no Tundra. I went for the morning coffee on the deck with a sweater on, and ditched the sweater. It's about 21C/70F here and there is not a cloud in the sky. What a weekend!

Last night at the Red Mile we had some good racing, and the meet - despite harness racing (and racing in general losing its edge - is amazingly interesting. Strike An Attitude who always had mucho talent, has begun to put it together late in the year. She won in 48.4, off some weird internal fractions set by Drop the Ball. I think the catalyst in the win might have been Idyllic. She is a crazy mare and when she ran over top Gingras' helmet it appears he thought he was going slow and sped up the second quarter in a stunning 26.2. Internal fractions that are not close to even usually sets it up for a horse sitting just off the pace.

I've been watching Keeneland as I do each spring and fall. Not only does Nicholson and crew do a fine job with their festival atmosphere, they do their best to help bettors. It is so nice to see a meet like Keeneland's each year.

I got to travel around small town Nova Scotia yesterday for really the first time. We were dropping off our foster dog to a new home in Antigonish (near Cape Breton) and the drive was so beautiful. I got to see the St. FX campus and it brought back memories for me (each fall until I was about 30 I felt like I should be in school). It's a really nice little campus and looked so hospitable. When we met the new hopeful owners for the pooch, it turns out the father of the family is a professor at the school.

Speaking of the area, since I am spending more and more time here and I've always beena  "buy local" type guy, I am considering buying a yearling colt. I missed the PEI sale Friday evening and I wish I did not. There was a Blissful Hall colt who was a half to Future Destiny that only went for $6500. If you look at the sales prices it makes you wonder - how do these folks make any money? I think the short answer is that they don't. This part of the world is truly for the love of the game.

Bills-Eagles today. Ever since I was a kid we got the channel two feed from Buffalo so I grew up watching the Bills. Sometimes I have cheered for them, sometimes not. Today I will be a Bills fan. I asked my dog who he was cheering for and he said "Buffalo" so that makes two of us.

With the Red Mile going and a ton of good meets in the tbreds happening now, the $50k guarantee at Woodbine last evening had to be squeezed. Handle is about critical mass and there is simply not enough critical mass in harness.

Ken Middleton reported on Twitter that American Jewel suffered a sesamoid injury in her last and will be sidelined.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Definition of Irony

About ten months ago here was an ad being run by Santa Anita (and Cal Racing) at the start of their meet on a major website, in support of a takeout hike:


Fast forward to today: Here's that same track at the start of this meet, this time running an ad promoting the virtues of low takeout.



It appears that a $250 million dollar handle loss is starting to sink in at the marketing department. 


Monday, October 3, 2011

Three Heat Drama in Futurity

The standardbred breed is known for its kind, docile nature and its toughness. Horses can go a big trip three days before a race to sharpen up, a three minute mile two hours before post time, a two minute mile an hour before post time, and then race. So, when we see a rare three heat effort, it is no surprise the horses can put on a show. That's what happened yesterday in what amounted to a match race between Man of Many Missions and Dejarmbro for the Kentucky Futurity crown at the Red Mile.

It was an exciting a race as you'd ever want to see.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Saturday/Sunday Racing Action

Here are some news and notes that caught my eye this weekend (so far!):

Short fields makes for some pretty awful racing, but when you are watching excellent horses do their thing it makes it a whole lot easier to watch. Yesterday at Belmont we got to see Uncle Mo look sound, happy and impressive in his win. Ditto Havre De Grace and Stacelita.

At the Red Mile last night we got to see similar. Although the purses for these events are not juiced, horsemen and horse owners made the drive to the storied track to race, and it was a great night to spectate. San Pail stamps himself (again) as the best trotter in the land with his victory. And what about Drop the Ball? She is quite simply (when on her game) freakish. In the Allerage for older pacers, two of the hardest hitting horses in all of racing were noses apart, with We Will See beating Foiled Again.

I thought the freshening of early year standout Arch Madness might do the trick, but no dice. He could not sprint with San Pail. In the fillies race Idyllic again showed just how hot she is when she has to be fired up early. She was a complete runaway.

I wish the Greater Sudbury Pace was on youtube. I do not think I have ever seen a horse go a tougher trip than Piece of the Rock. He was seconds better than the field, but with the 8 post and being four wide to the quarter and three wide to the half took its toll.

Eric P - commenter, Canadian bettors advocate and fan/bettor of both breeds - joins twitter. He's at Epo13.  With a name like that he should last longer than your average twitterite.

Today: The Kentucky Furity at the Red Mile.

Today: Balmoral has another carryover in its 15% pick 4. Get handicapping as the pool will again be huge.

Today: The Arc. Early betfair odds below: