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Showing posts from 2012

The Twitter Moral Suasion Machine

Last evening I saw on twitter that a horse in Southern California had broken down:

A few minutes later we learned the horse had earned some serious cash and was dropped into a $12,500 claimer. This drew the usual outrage.

Because trainer Bob Baffert is on twitter, his feed was talked about as well. Not long after the alleged euthanization occurred, Bob was tweeting about watching the football game. I assume he found this in bad taste when he saw the chatter about his broken down horse and deleted those tweets. But of course, they stay around.

Let me stress: I do not know what happened in this case and I am making no judgement regarding Mr. Baffert or the owner. I don't know either way, and I am only reporting the above from what I've read on twitter.

However, and in general, dropping a horse down that may have problems is a part of racing. In the past when it happened, outrage of some sort would occur via a phone call or a grandstand conversation. Now the outrage is palpable an…

Sunday Notes

This weekend's racing at the Meadowlands was a pleasant surprise. Handle was up, but more importantly the races were pretty competitive, which may portend more good news. The classification system seems to be working. I often look at Compubet, to see the race breadth in the ratings. The last couple of days the breadth has been really tight and the tote board has been similar.

Slots have thrown racing into disarray, whereby some of the smaller handle tracks have the highest purses. This is different than in the recent past where a place like the Meadowlands had the highest purses, and the best horses each Saturday evening. The Meadowlands will continue to struggle in that regard, however carding good races can breed handle, and they're clearly making some headway on this.

I had a chat yesterday with Darryl from Standardbred Canada about the PMU in France. Darryl is a supporter of a central organization doling out signals and bets, like is done in France, and would like to see si…

Standardbred Canada Jumps the Shark & The Truth About Slots

We've all read the stories. Cangamble even did a post about some of them titled "C'mon Man".

Ironically, the ESPN "article" written on Standardbred Canada yesterday took it to a whole new level.  The opinion piece designed as an article, I believe, does more harm than good. I think they're jumping the shark.

There has been so much written about the OLG and Liberal government's decision to end the program it can make your head spin. Opinion pieces like the above disguised as "news" rule the day. It's even gotten more brazen of late, as people sit around a table with the same opinion, which only solidifies it more and makes it more insular. No wonder everyone is confused.

It doesn't have to be that way if you look at the "facts". This is a simple piece of legislation.

The OLG "modernizing" of gaming simply means expanding gaming so the Province can make more money. In fact, ending the slots at racetrack program an…

2020 The Year of the Racetrack?

Moving closer to New Year's Eve, I think I am  going to make a resolution. Buy a racetrack; sometime soon anyway.

Public policy, like most things, ebbs and flows. Over the past several years cash-strapped governments have been pushing casino gaming like an inner city dealer has pushed crack. 'Come one come all, bet til you lose all your money. It's okay, if we get the proceeds for schools, or Solyndra subsidies.'

It's not only happening here in North America, but elsewhere too.

But it makes me wonder. When will the dam break? When will the public say enough is enough?

In Italy, strict betting laws were relaxed about ten years ago to try and bring in more cash. What's happened is not overly pretty. 

Pathological gambling and its associated problems are not easily swept under the rug. Slot machines on every corner, lottery stands, all the quick and easy games that the government uses to bridge budget gaps...... I think, maybe in a half a decade, we are going to s…

A Strange Horse Racing Merry Christmas (With Text Hacks)

I was trying to think of a Merry Christmas post and I had a mental block, just like I usually do. I wasn't going to post one this year as a result - other than "Happy Christmas" with a gratuitous Kevin Bacon and/or TOC takeout hike reference -  but by happenstance one kind of fell into my lap.

Yesterday I was chatting with Sid Fernando (the most interesting man in racing ™) via text message, and this is how it went.

I chuckled. What a silly goose.

Anyhow, as most know, Sid is an omnipresent pedigree guru, amateur weather videographer and has something like 186,000 twitter followers. What you may not know is that he has plenty of contacts on his phone, too. Somehow a glitch occurred and my phone hacked into his phone. Suddenly I was seeing Christmas greetings and various other text strings from the virtual who's who of racing.

It would seem (to many) that the right thing to do would be to inform those folks that I had their private messages, but I got to thinking: Tha…

The Jackpot Obsession

Taking a little break here from wagering between races, I just read John Pricci's piece on a reader who suggests a new bet. It's called the "64" where a pick 6 ticket can be taken but it can have no more than 64 combo's for a dollar. The hope is that newbies can participate in jackpot bets, because (as we all know) syndicates and big players tend to shoot for large jackpot bets, and crowd out the little guy.

Noble I guess, but this fixation on jackpot bets, especially for newbies, really kind of irks me.

Newbies, or small players playing the markets can go to E*Trade and make a few plays, scalp, straddle, whatever, for a few dollars here and there, and they are charged $6 or $7 a trade. They can make a little scratch, get better, and try and learn the markets at the same time.

Betfair is very popular with new players, because you can trade (a version of scalping), dutch, and grind out a little scratch with (sometimes, if you are good) zero takeouts. 

In racing, …

Frankel Data & Racings Business Strategy of Hope

"A sold-out crowd of 32,500 people watched Frankel win Champions Day at Ascot in October" says CNN in a story yesterday.

32,500 people. That's quite a number. The Hamilton Tiger Cats would like that crowd. So would the Toronto Blue Jays.  That's a larger crowd than any NHL game. 

If 32,500 people show up at whereever in NA - which for arguments sake would be about 30,000 more than usual - each would play maybe $40 into the betting pools. On-track, takeout breeds much more revenue for the home track than off-track, so again for argument's sake, lets set the rake rate at 20%.

30,000 bettors each betting $40 is $1.2 million of handle. 20% of $1.2 million is $240,000. It can be argued that a horse like Frankel brought in a quarter million of revenue for the racetrack (from only betting).

If you add another $40 for parking, program and concessions, we have another $1.2M in revenues. So, off a back of a napkin, let's say the wonderhorse brought in about $1.5M that…


Jamie Berk wrote an article yesterday that spoke about the state of journalism in racing. In it, Jeremy Plonk said:
"If you're writing about horse racing and you stick your neck out and make a statement about somebody or about a bad topic that kind of sheds bad light on the game, it can hurt your business," he said. "There aren’t very many mainstream outlets for horse racing coverage, so that's why a lot of that stuff doesn't get written about." I think most would agree that's true. People are very close-knit in this niche sport, writers included. Many don't rock the boat on virtually any issue.

Why that happens I don't know, and I'll leave it to smart people to discuss and debate.

But one thing we do notice is that the way we express ourselves (and get our information) has completely changed, and I think it's pretty fascinating.

I was trying to think of an idea for my yearly Christmas post here on the blog and I looked ba…

Racing's Version of Mark Sanchez, Tuesday Notes

I went to a Bills-Dolphins game about ten or so years ago. Starting for the Bills was Rob Johnson, the former Jacksonville quarterback. Johnson was a big signing. The owner appeared to like him and they gave him a nice sized contract. He was their future - the new Jim Kelly.

But a wrench was thrown into that plan - he was awful. That day, and every day.

After a first half when the Bills could barely make a first down, Johnson was throwing balls a grade six quarterback wouldn't throw in a schoolyard and looking particularly horrible, he trotted out for the second half. Flutie did come in about four series later, and led the team to a couple of touchdown drives, but I wasn't there, I had gone home.

Doug Flutie won games but rode pine. Johnson played, series after series, looking horrible. The team stuck with Johnson because they had put their money where their mouth is; they had to. Or they'd be proven wrong.

Simlarly last evening, a quarterback who looks to be playing wor…

O'Neill Interview With "60 Minutes Sports" (Pre-Air Notes)

Bacon wrote last week that 60 Minutes Sports was planning a story on horse racing, and that Saturday, the interviewers would be meeting Doug O'Neill at Hollywood Park. Bacon's piece focused on the fact that the narrative would be pro-racing. As most know, Doug  has been interviewed in the past and had his medication violations and TCO2 positives brought up, both here and in the Chinese press, so that was a welcome proclamation.

I, as your cub reporter, can confirm that Paulick is correct. I travelled to Hollywood Park and clandestine-like sat like a snake in the weeds catching most of the interview. I found the reporters questions to be softball. What was striking to me, however, is that it seems some of the negative press has gotten to the Kentucky Derby winning trainer. He looked to not be his usual cheery self. At times - and this is simply my cub reporter opinion - he seemed very defensive.

Anyway, you can judge for yourself. I have transcribed my cub reporter notes and…

Sunday Pivots

A couple of letters and articles were written this weekend about slots ending in Ontario. One, from Dave Perkins, lambastes the Liberal government (ballsy, The Toronto Star is a Liberal paper). Another, from Dennis Mills, does similar, but offers solutions.

We've read those tomes many times - people will be thrown out of work, it's a "revenue sharing" deal that works, and on and on. I believe most of that falls on deaf ears. The public is not stupid, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's probably a duck. And people know that when a subsidy/revenuesharingagreeement/whatever-we're-calling it, gets pulled, it will result in job loss -  whether it's in horse racing or wind farms.It's happened a million times before, and it will happen again.

I think the thing that might resonate is that the OLG plan expands gaming. Instead of slots and gaming being held at a racetrack, they're being moved to a street corner near you. People do not want it…

Bettors At The Governments Beck and Call

A couple of interesting items for the horse bettor hit the wires yesterday.

First, Betfair announced some news. This headline seemed to cause some confusion, though. The Daily Racing Form reported that "Betfair is pulling out of a dozen countries". This is not quite accurate, as they are pulling their marketing and promotions from 12 countries; they are still accepting customers, as they have been.

This is not shocking, I would surmise. It's like Twinspires putting $10M or more in marketing to South American countries, and having the governments come along and say they can't operate. Capturing a customer for online gambling (or anything on and offline) has a "CPA" or "cost per acquisition" and it forms a target. Government uncertainty is a component of it (risk), and it seems that number is becoming higher and higher. It makes little sense to spend like a drunken sailor on landing a new customer, when it can all be taken away at a stroke of a pen.

No Need To Be Interventionist

We had our fun yesterday with the NYRA meeting notes. We haven't had that many retweets since I mentioned Justin Bieber once, so thanks for that. But the real story yesterday was that business began with the "New" New York Racing Association.

As most know, handle was up this past year at NYRA tracks. They're moving in the right direction, for mainly three reasons (in my opinion of course): 1) Field size was up over a half a horse 2) The NYRA rewards ADW has been pushed, and OTB money is being shifted into more profitable areas pretty well and 3) Takeout has come down a couple of points on exotics, adding a little bit of churn.

Things are going well.

When I read NYRA board member Bobby Flay say:
"We got lucky, said Flay, in that video lottery terminals "bailed out NYRA. We don't have a product that the public wants to go see. We need to build the infrastructure of the racing product. We need to start doing that now, not later. It gives me pause. What me…

NYRA Board Meeting (Cub Reporter Notes)

I am here at the meeting and reporting, as cub reporters do. I present my notes from today's NYRA board meeting. Some of these things clearly didn't come across in the video and my twitter is broken. I describe them here, for you.

2:08 PM - Meeting called to order, new NYRA chair -  that doesn't know much about racings internal situation - is still milling around, talking to people. 

2:09 PM - New NYRA Chair introduces himself and shakes hands with Joe Drape. Crowd hisses. NYRA Chair looks confused.

2:10 PM - Ray Paulick shows up in gym shorts.

2:12 PM - Steve Byk enters, and proclaims "It's going to be a great year for NYRA"

2:14 PM - O Crunk enters

2:15 PM - O Crunk escorted out

2:16 - Tom LaMarra seen handicapping the sixth at Turfway Park. Serling tells him he likes the four on the turnback.

2:17 PM  - Brooklyn Backstrech is collecting for the Toys For Tots backstretch Christmas fund. Mike Repole gives her a fifty.

2:18 PM - Lasix ban mentioned. Trainer…

Flip, NYRA & Studs

Before 2008, everyone tried to Flip That House. Now, well, not so much.

In the bloodstock world, buying a horse for $10M and piecing him a few months later with no appreciable change in market, or the horse, for closer to $14M ain't seen too often either. But, Sid Fernando reports on twitter that I'll Have Another, bought for that $10M after the Belmont sometime, is standing for $38,000 a pop, and was syndicated for $13.6M. Flip that Horse.

New York racing is a little odd. I don't particularly get it.

First, Governor Cuomo came in and took the whole thing over, feeling the wrath of virtually everyone. "He doesn't know anything about horse racing, he doesn't show up at Saratoga", etc. Now, Cornell head David Skorton has been named Chairman of NYRA. What's funny is that he knows "nothing about horse racing", too. Just like Cuomo taking over the organization after the takeout snafu, to rebuild it, this is consistent with taking over, and changi…

Perfectly Rational

For border residents it is a common sight. If gas is $5.50 a gallon at home, but you can drive across a border, ten minutes away, and get the same gas at $3.85, you go across. If you have a double tanked Durango, even better. You have shoppers at a US Costco with B.C plates buying so much gas and milk the police have to be called. You have online shoppers looking for a deal, or people crossing a state border to gamble legally. You have people who make big money leaving France or England to go next door to escape new wealth taxes.

It's not because people hate their state or country, because they dislike the customer service at their gas station, or are really peeved at the cow farmer down the road. It's not because they're greedy meanies. They are simply acting rationally, like most of us act in a free market system.

I saw a tweet yesterday from one of my favorite people on twitter saying "if you are at the track don't bet on mobile with an ADW, because horsemen a…

Grading Harness Stakes, 2013, & Sunday Notes

Is grading harness racing stakes a good idea? I, Mr. Giwner of the DRF, and others seems to think so.

Today in Harness Racing Update, the theory about why it's a good idea is put forth.

Last night in harness-land, a relatively interesting Cleveland Classic was contested. Bolt the Duer, who has been in and out (mostly out) the last while, charged up and ran down the very good Thinking Out Loud in 1:51. Pet Rock really had no excuse. A Rock n Roll Dance, who looked fumbly gaited throughout, looks like he needs a break after that very tough season.

Yesterday, as the card went on, there was a nice speed bias at Penn National. A couple of speed horses were let go at odds. You can almost beat their rake with an edge like that.

"Pacer of the Year" is a tough vote this year, mainly because very few pacers stood out, or lasted the whole year. I think the vote is between American Jewel and Foiled Again, leaning to the former. She had a great year in a pretty tough division.

In the …

Pocket Takes Over Some Meadowlands Marketing

The Meadowlands hired a new marketing director today, Valerie Harlan.

Not long ago, Valerie asked Pull the Pocket to come up with a marketing plan to help bring young bettors back into the building.

Pocket had some immediate thoughts.

"I was up for the challenge, and was happy the Meadowlands chose to tap into my brilliance for a new marketing program" said the fit, smart, loquacious blogger.

"Bringing young people back to racing is a priority. Like really, who wants to watch a bunch of old guys sitting around the track cussing at Brian Sears and smoking Camel's. That's so 2008. We need new blood"

Using his vast knowledge and experience, he decided that using Jeff Gural as the new spokesman in all marketing made sense.

"I saw Jeff Gural on the O'Reilly Factor once. He's good in front of the camera and he appeals to hipsters, like those who watch Fox", said Pocket. "This was the ultimate of no-brainers. It was as easy as choosing that…

The Meadowlands Gets It Right & Transition

Yesterday the Big M announced changes to their stakes season. Out are the Sweetheart and the Wilson, in is a new stake for older trotters and pacers, with a chance for the top three year old to enter.

As written last week in HRU, the line has become blurred between three year olds and older. Somebeachsomewhere, Well Said, Rock n Roll Heaven, and many others could easily compete against older. Any number of 148 pacers this season in the three year old ranks could probably give them a tussle as well.

It's a little tougher for trotters, because they tend to need to find their footing, but Donato, or Dewey, or Market Share, or Intimidate would likely not be disgraced in such an event.

It's an event that allows for times to change.

It also lengthens stakes season, which might be an issue. To prep for a North America Cup, you need to be ready in mid May. It's a long year.

What of the North America Cup, Metro and other stakes north of the border?

According to a story in Harness …

Going FTW

I was reading a Blood-Horse article last night about computer bettors. They said this:
 Panelists said from a handle perspective, tracks would be better off having seven races a day with 14-horse fields rather than 14 races a day with seven-horse fields. I think this is correct for a number of reasons.

As Dana Parham noted in the piece "he rejects high takeout rates combined with a minimum number of combinations." That is clearly a factor. A five horse field with 20% win takeout is a mugs game. Try selling a mugs game to real gamblers, and you have a game that struggles to hold market share. It's simple math, and common sense.

In addition, also mentioned, when you have deep fields it opens up exotic bets. A superfecta bet in a six horse field causes the same issues; you'll likely be raked to death, and small payouts for these combinations cause serious bettors to look elsewhere. Superfectas, super high 5's and horizontal bets can yield fruit in deep fields. Pay…

Is the Core Product Forgotten?

I was doing my usual scan of the headlines and noticed a few whoppers.

I see the story on the big honchos who wrote the OMAFRA report discussing it and the comments below it, still - eight months later - arguing that slots aren't subsidies.

I see folks talking about fantasy games at the RTIP.

I see the French Pari-Mutuel Urbain dude at the RTIP talking about how France does it

You've seen those headlines and more. About table games, and Atlantic City money, slots. They never end.

From Wikipedia: 
 Most subsidies are set in place by the government for producers or are distributed as subventions in an industry to prevent the decline of that industry (e.g., as a result of continuous unprofitable operations) or an increase in the prices of its products or simply to encourage it to hire more labor (as in the case of a wage subsidy) Subsidies are often regarded as a form of protectionism or trade barrier by making domestic goods and services artificially competitive against im…

In the Element

We've cringed a little bit here on the blog of late when Steve Crist writes about NYRA, and particularly management or the takeout snafu. It just doesn't read right, nor feel right; to me anyway.

In the muddy world of horse racing where everyone seems to be competing with someone else for PP's, Adw's, advertising or whatever, maybe we shouldn't read his shot at Churchill yesterday without a grain of salt, either:
That is a sharp contrast to Churchill Downs’s new Kentucky Derby qualifying system, which threw the graded stakes system out the window in favor of a corporate-driven marketing plan to boost the importance of races at tracks owned by Churchill while punishing its rivals. The idea that winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby is literally 10 times more important than winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is utterly preposterous to anyone not employed by Churchill But that just feels right. It's like he's perfectly in his element talking about …

Ontario Sires Stakes in 2013 - Just Fine For Smaller Stables?

No one knows what the Ontario Sires Stakes will look like in 2013 in the Province. But that hasn't stopped some from saying the sky will fall. I tend to disagree.

In 2013, there will likely be a change to the model, and certainly it will have less money, but when you add a few potential salient points of discussion, it might not be too bad at all. If you purchased a nice son or daughter of Badlands Hanover, for example, at firesale prices (up to 30% or 40% off), your ROI just might be okay.

My opinion:
The OSS "Gold Finals" will be smaller, or phased out to a more equitable plan. The Gold Finals are nothing more than a paycheck to a colt or filly who stands out. If you owned a nice 3YO pacer this past year, your gold final was at maximum a $60,000 purse instead of a $120,000 one, with Michaels Power. With divisions, you can dodge a horse or horses like that. With golds the OSS was top heavy.The funding, off the back of a napkin, will not be like zero. It appears the OSS …

The Standard & The Matron

I saw Game on Dude win yesterday in 152.1 for nine furlongs. We've seen Breeders Cup Classic's slower than 2:03. We've seen big speed on turf this year, in the 12f Turf and Turf Mile at Santa Anita.

What's it all mean? Well, we generally go to the Beyers to find out.

In contrast, Standardbred racing is, well, standard.

On a mile track, with a nice day, if a horse goes 26, 54, 121, 149, we can likely compare him to others, that day, or any day. It's really not that difficult.

While the thoroughbred breed seems to have hit some sort of speed wall at various distances (especially route racing on dirt), the standardbred breed seems to be rapidly evolving. The one mile teletimer is being tripped pretty quickly, by virtually all ages and sexes, but especially with the younger horses.

At Harnessracingupdate today, this was looked at, and some of the horses who have been performing at a high level are discussed. It's on page two (pdf).


This evening, year end honor…

Racing's Encapsulation

We spoke about the NFL and horse racing a couple of days ago, and once again (like most of these silly blog pieces) it got me thinking.

I was watching a conversation between Sid Fernando and sportswriter today on twitter. The NFL writer writes for the about sports business only; behind a paywall.  Sid writes for a number of magazines, blogs and what have you, and he is immersed in many facets of horse racing. Sid's writings - for the most part - are available for free.

If you go to, the Paulick Report, the Racing Post in the UK, or any other news and information site in racing you will see stories listed that are something like this in the scroll:
Frankel to stand for big money Dutrow's appeal deniedSynthetic tracks saferLasix banned for 2YO'sHavre De Grace sells for $10MRemsen Stakes previewPurses up 20% at CalderNYRA revenue up 12% And so on. These are the stories we read each day.

For, or's section on the NFL you'll see:
 Brees throws fi…

Gural Ups the Ante at the Meadowlands

Jeff Gural, multi-gazillionaire owner of the Meadowlands, has decided to turn the screws another time in pursuit of a good racing product. He's requiring a signed waiver which will allow a racing investigator to enter a barn and out of competition test. Testing - at his expense - will likely be done in Hong Kong, with supertests. If you want to race at the M, you sign, or you race somewhere else.

Some folks have said that this might hurt entries, and it's KGB-esque. They might be right.

One thing though: It is certainly not groundbreaking.

A few years ago Woodbine wanted a similar waiver, backed up by the ORC which does OOC testing. It's really the same playing field that Ontario currently races under. Interestingly enough, when Woodbine required this, it triggered a (very poorly attended) strike at Woodbine by the then horsemen group on record, the OHHA.

It seemed - despite the bluster - that the rank and file at Woodbine didn't have too much of a problem with it. Not…

The NFL And Horse Racing's Ecosystems

NFL Football is a $9.5 Billion dollar business. If you're like me, that sounds low. Racing, from feedmen to racetracks and venues, ADW companies, horses, farms and all the rest certainly has a lot more money than that invested into its sport, yet from the demand side it seems so small when we compare it to the NFL.

However, the NFL "Shadow Economy" one of betting, office pools, and fantasy football shows that the $9.5 Billion number is low.The spin off effects are dazzling.
The amount wagered in Vegas on NFL games: $1.34 BillionThe amount wagered offshore on NFL games: $380 BillionThe number of people playing fantasy football, a form of wagering: 33 millionThe number of people added to fantasy football each year: 2 millionThe amount of money spent on fantasy football: $800 millionThe amount of money changing hands for fantasy football leagues: $1.18 Billion Those numbers don't include the money spent on office pools each year either.

All in all this so-called "…

Leaky Funnel

Here's a good old fashioned sales funnel. You start with a swath of potential customers, and end up with a customer who buys something. Success.

Horse racing's sales funnel to turn a new visitor into an every day horseplayer is unlike many others I've encountered, especially in the Internet age. It's pretty leaky.

Your potential customer comes to the track has a nice time and you want him back. Maybe he saw an ad in the paper. Maybe he came with co-workers for a employee outing. He's the type of guy that comes to the track for the first time. He represents no real demographic.

He finds racing too complex. Leak.

He finds it too expensive: Parking, program, racing form, food, $6 beer. Leak.

He compares it to his time in a casino, or at that neat NFL game he went to last year. Leak.

That's enough for him to not come back, or come back once a year. Failure.

How about if we pre-qualify him? Like racing should be doing.

He's 40, he has money, he has no kids, h…