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Showing posts from January, 2012

Quick Notes

The ever-interesting Prix D'Amerique went today in France. Ready Cash got the job done. What a spectacle that race is. The coverage is awesome, and seeing 20 harness horses thundering down the lane is exhilarating. The video is here. Of special note, stay through the end of the video. The dude who interviews the winning trainer looks like Bernie Madoff. Maybe it is...... hmmmmm.

Cangamble looks at fantasy horse racing. I'll draft Mickey Burke's stable first for all Meadowlands starts.If this keeps up I'll take Yannick Gingras second.

The O'Brien Award winners are all here. It's no shock who won Horse of the Year this year. He'll likely double up in the US.

I watched, kinda, the O'Brien Awards last night. The Woodbine stream didn't come on until about a half hour in via Ustream. Ironically, we missed seeing Woodbine win the excellence in broadcasting O'Brien.

I was on the digital marketing committee for the Breeders Cup and got to meet and chat wi…

Horse Racing, by Definition, Invites Skepticism

There was quite the chat on twitter a couple of evenings ago regarding Rachel Alexandra and her new foal. Apparently, according to her caretakers, they were taken to the clinic but later proclaimed fine.

On the surface that all sounds normal.

But to some, with a lifelong history with horses and caring for them, there were holes in the story. They wanted to know more and they weren't taking this at face value.

Others thought the old horse racing line "it's their property and it's none of your business" should reign supreme. That was the crux of the twitter battle.

Not siding with anyone, or any side in this debate, and just speaking generally: Not taking things at face value in horse racing is pretty much what horse racing is. The culture of our sport - buying, selling and caring for horses - has a history that invites it.

If a house seller does not disclose the 1930 wiring that can result in a fire to a willing buyer, he may find himself waking up and starting …

Slot Purses Rise, Imagination Falls

I was on a call this week and the Horseplayers Association's Bob Dwyer mentioned that the slots issue in Illinois is "not really a customer issue" on the positive side because slots don't do much at all from a customers' perspective.

Not only that - which I think we'll all agree with - even sometimes for the business side it makes one scratch their noggin.

Never is that more telling than yesterday's news about Georgian Downs increasing the slots-fuelled purse of the Upper Canada Cup by $100,000, to a whopping $600,000.

The Upper Canada Cup is a sire stakes race, in a province full of sires stakes races. In Godin-speak it's not a purple cow, it's not even a cow. Last year, on a card that gave out about $800,000 in purses, the handle was $225,000. The customers yawned. They yawned so much that apparently it's a good idea to hike the purse even more.

Where is the imagination?

We all know if the purse for the Cup was $200,000 you'd get exactl…

Billy Davis Isn't Afraid of Social Media

Since the beginning of time some customers have believed that the game is not on the level. "The participants want to cash a bet, there's reason to be skeptical of any driver, jock, trainer or vet". You know the drill.

Someone wants to change that, in his own small way. Driver Billy Davis, who's no slouch with over 400 wins last season, is one of the more refreshing, transparent and honest folks on twitter you'll ever see from racing. He'll tell his followers what horse's he likes today, what they did last time, and even what his strategy might be.

Here's a snip from yesterday via Twitter:

Racing at Flamboro this afternoon. 10 drives

In the 5th race I'm on St Lads Glamourgirl(3-1). This filly Is very green, she won last week in the front, I'd like to race her from behind

Hoosier King (3-1) in the 6th, was 2nd last week and surprised me on how much gate speed he has,I have the rail today,expect me on the front

In the 9th race Maes Rustler(2-1) h…

As the Data Turns

Do you want to be a major league sport? Perhaps it's time to open that Al Gorian "lock box" we have on our data.

Wolfram Alpha, a possible google competitor, is called a "computational knowledge engine", and the queries are top notch. In Search Engine Land yesterday, it was shown how free NFL statistics help fans and searchers learn more.
I am a long time admirer of Wolfram|Alpha and I’m happy to report that my admiration continues to grow, as you can now access NFL (National Football League) statistics using Wolfram|Alpha.Here's the query for "Tom Brady versus Joe Flacco passing yards". In the words of CDP track announcer Vance Cameron, "Boom, just like that."

Now, let's check the results for "Triple Crown Winners" via a query here.


This afternoon on twitter, o_crunk noticed Tennis is getting its act together too.
Tennis Australia has exposed match analytics for the Australian Open to the public for the first time, a…

Gural's Tough Talk on Rule Breakers

Jeff Gural at the SBOA banquet in Toronto:
Some individuals will always be one step ahead of any testing procedures,” he said,” but once a couple of people are taken away in handcuffs, that will be a big deterrent.” Gural emphasized that he’s prepared to use his newly-forged relationship with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office to make prosecution for illegal drug use in racing a stern reality. There's always whispers on backstretches about the use of synthetic painkillers, blood builders and the like which are of course, illegal and dangerous. When caught with something undetectable, the suspensions are just that - time off - and there are rarely any other repercussions. If Gural has his way, "time off" will have a whole new meaning.

Read the full story here.

Slot Cuts on the Table in Ontario

It's not like we weren't warned.

Today in a special report in the Toronto Star, it was announced that the provincial (defacto) austerity czar, economist Don Drummond, has put slots at racetracks "on the table".
[He] recommends that Ontarians play slots at “alternative sites” to racetracks so they won’t have to hike out of town to play.  Ontario, the last decade, has been Europe-lite.  The government has raised taxes, while spending like drunken sailors, racking up tremendous debt. Last month, Moody's put the province on credit watch.

Someone has to pay the piper, and where will the government go? Taking a bigger slice from racetracks and horsemen seems to be the logical first place. We'll see if this trail balloon survives.

In fiscal 2011, about $340 million went to purses and tracks, according to the OLG Annual Report.

Non-Handicapping Handicapping

Over the years what I've found is that the principles of being a good handicapper (and money-manager) in horse racing, overlap with many other disciplines.

Today in Harness Racing Update, one of the books on this list was used as an illustration with regards to how so, so many participants and gamblers view supertrainers. If you'd like to read that story, or sign up for Bill Finley's internet magazine, for free, you can here.

Here's a short list of books I have read that have made me better at betting, decision making on play/pass, odds board makeup, and understanding horse racing, in general.

1.Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell - Although on the surface this book is about "gut feel" it truly isn't. There are dozens of examples and illustrations in it, that hit home for us as handicappers. It reads like a magazine piece, as well, and you can finish it in one or two sittings.

2. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - Behavioral economics is the rage of late, and…

An Outstanding Racing Documentary

Horse racing has many stories to tell, and when they are told well they can make excellent motion pictures. Phar Lap, Seabiscuit and The Killing are but three examples. I have always believed that we tell the best stories in documentary format, however, because what we do each day, whether we bet, groom, shoe, train, drive or ride, is very interesting.

One such film, "Exhibition Drive", examines 9 days at Charlottetown for last years Gold Cup and Saucer. As you most know, the event is very unique - something we don't see in racing pretty much anywhere - and to have virtually an entire town and province stoked for one event (for the modest purse of $60,000) is fascinating. That it's in such an out of the way place, it even makes it more intriguing.

The filmmakers touched on a lot that I've seen from visiting: The horses and the people who care for them. The event, the parade, the two century history of racing on the Island. But it went beyond that. It captured the…

Let's Do Some Lobbying & Save Horse Racing!

Horse racing has lost its way. Sure we have slots, but slots are only a band-aid. We need more to save horse racing, and I have a solution. This is big.

The Presidential elections are upon us, and this fall, the US will be voting in a new dude, or sticking with the old dude. What happens in Washington is pretty interesting. Generally, when you look at who gives cash to whom, the decisions made at the top level tends to fall right into line. If you want to run the World Bank, make sure your school is number three on the list. If you want to stop the Internet Piracy Act, make sure you're an Internet company that's at least in the top ten.

It doesn't really matter if you're business is poor, your product sucks, or even if it doesn't make any sense. The Solyndra thing was probably poo-pooed as unrealistic by a seventh grade science fair winner in Duluth, Minnesota. It still got some nice cash.

It's time for horse racing to join the fray. Enough is enough. We need to…

A Shot of Pop Culture

If you read virtually any book or white paper on marketing that studies brand change, or re-branding, it's often said the hardest brands to change are the ones who have something negative seeded in the minds of the general public.

Kate Hunter posted this pic from the Derby Wars iPhone horse racing game this morning on twitter.

Yes, just go behind the barn door Mr. or Mrs. iPhone user, take that little syringe, and light 'em up for the race!


Other Twitter notes-

Frank Stronach joined Twitter. There's a fascinating conversation going on Twitter about lobbying for an Eclipse Award via the medium (some think people like Graham Motion got a leg up this year with Animal Kingdom because he is so well-liked on Twitter). Well, I wonder if Frank is lobbying for Exec of the Year?! As you know I am not a Frank basher. Not only do I believe it's not warranted for the most part, it's also the easiest pass into horse racing hipsterism. I hope people treat him well on the micr…

Hambo Changes & Other Notes

It was announced today that the Hambletonian has changed formats, and the change is quite interesting:
"We think returning to heats will be exciting for the fans, particularly those onsite at The New Meadowlands facility on a day that is always the sport’s greatest showcase.” In 2014 a $400,000 Hambletonian Maturity for eligible four-year-old trotters will be implemented, in keeping with the effort to provide incentives races for owners who choose to race their horses after their sophomore year. The Maturity will be raced as a single dash at a mile and an eighth It looks like we are back to our roots - harness heat racing - and we have a slight Europeanization of the sport. Big fields (up to 13 can race in the Hambo and 16 in the Maturity) and a push to seed purses for older horses is something rarely pushed in North America.

Chris Christie signs a sports betting bill.

I opened up Harness Racing Update on Sunday and saw a full page color ad from Valor Racing. Barry Irwin…

The Whales & Takeout

Tom LaMarra wrote a terrific piece in the Bloodhorse on high volume bettors. This business is slowly learning about takeout, and its machinations.
Interesting statistics came out of the forum. Roughly $2 billion a year, or just less than 20% of total pari-mutuel handle, is said to come from high-volume shops. One of them—Elite Turf Club, which has only 11 customers—accounts for 10% of handle nationwide each year. These shops work as a low margin-high volume business. In effect, they work like online poker does. With razor thin margins they are able to lower the takeout for their customers. With low takeout, betting handle explodes.The 20% number above represents only these shops. When we factor in a dozen or so ADW's with patrons who wager good money at lower rake, I would estimate the total handle to be somewhere around 40% or more.
The high-volume service operators didn’t reveal rebate numbers, but they sought to dispel a common belief in the industry that their players win …

A Little More on the Harness Triple Crown

Last week in HRU (pdf) we looked at the Harness Triple Crown and how it does not seem very effective in bringing in revenues, new fans, or buzz. The argument put forth was that the new Triple Crown should be the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace and Little Brown Jug.

I've had a few comments and questions about it, from Kate (a former USTA employee) and others.

First let's look at the positives.
Buzz - With a triple crown, we gain some buzz, and news mentions for the three events could go up by 100% or more, if we have a good story to tell.  Ability to grow a new brand, built for this century - We have a lot of tradition in harness and that's preserved. We can tweak this new triple crown to fit a new market, with some new marketing.Immediate ROI - If the three tracks chosen create and implement a marketing plan - say by pitching in $250,000 for the three races - we will get immediate ROI. If, for example, the three race cards have handles go up by only a modest $1M through…

Common Sense, Timely Decision Making & A Culture of Excellence

This weekend the NFL playoffs continue. So far a couple of the games were exciting and this weekend the tilts look have more potential for the thrills fans are used to from the NFL.

But there is a controversy.

Apparently for last weekend's game against the Steelers, Coach Fox of the Broncos started three players that were not on the roster. The NFL was not notified, the fans didn't know and Las Vegas didn't know. They just fielded three players that no one knew about, and they won.

......... No, it didn't happen. It could never happen. The NFL would never let it happen.

In racing last month, a horse raced as a first time gelding, and won, paying $56. That's fair enough, these things happen, as gelding a horse can change his attitude and make him race better.

But no one told anyone. The trainer didn't tell the program sellers, the track, the commission, the fans - no one in power to report it properly.

It supposedly has happened 50 some-odd times since 2007. The…

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Happy Monday everyone!

There was quite a bit of chatter last evening on Twitter about the Jonathan Roberts 90 day suspension for "lack of effort" with his drive at Dover Downs. I have watched the race on youtube a half dozen times and I can't see any problem with that ruling. Greg on twitter informs us that the horse stayed eligible to a lower class by not winning that race. The next time he suited up for battle he was an easy wire to wire winner - with Mr. Roberts in the bike.

Hat tip to (a new harness aggregator) for that story.

Writing about a new Triple Crown on HRU this weekend (pdf) it dawned on me how often I heard you (and me) the fan speak of it over the years. Remember the "unofficial" Canadian Triple Crown? The Queen City (now NA Cup), the Prix d'ete at Blue Bonnets, and the Confederation Cup at Flammy. I am going to wrte more about it this week. Give the article a look if it's something you've thought about in harness rac…

in 2012, Word Gets Around

I found it interesting that I did not know the Meadowlands raised superfecta takeouts for this meet. I am usually on top of these things. However, people do know. Here's a post on a thoroughbred chat board.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” - Intuit's Scott Cook

Indeed it is.

I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt as they get on their feet (and because of their history of being more pro-player than any harness track out there), but many customers, I feel, are not so understanding.

Big M Opens & Some Funny Stuff by Davidowitz

The Big M opened last evening with a pretty decent card. It was not a card like the old days (it's almost impossible now with two slot tracks nearby) but it was decent nonetheless.

Some notes:

The chatter about closing holes and pulling and moving was not just chatter. The drivers seemed to take this seriously. I am not overly concerned about tucks (I think a tuck encourages the outside horses to leave, rather than pulling back because they can't get a hole), but it was nice to see drivers move and not sit there.

Gural on the pre-game show - 'I'll look at criminally prosecuting trainers who use illegal drugs here' (paraphrasing).

The 15% superfecta takeout is now 20% and done without mentioning it anywhere I saw. Not a good way to gain buzz. I was completely unaware of this.

The 10 cent super pools, unsurprisingly, were much greater than the $1 pools. To build up those we're going to need more eyeballs from rebate players. From "Robin"

Apparently Ri…

Thursday Notes

The Meadowlands opens tomorrow and I went through the card. It's not too bad at all, although 'capping early meet cards - whether thoroughbred or harness - are generally difficult.

Alan reported a Gural article which spoke of several of the items complained about by you the harness bettor about the driving style at the M.
“We are meeting with the drivers and judges in hopes of going back in time to the driving style that used to exist here,” said Gural of his current agenda. “I heard many complaints from customers about the courtesy tucks” – drivers allowing other horses to settle in along the pylons rather than race on the outside – “and half-in, half-out tactics” – drivers who race just off the pylons to prevent other horses from making forward progress on the outside.  We can hope this meet is better than the last in this regard. We've always firmly believed that leadership and the customer-centric culture borne from that leadership is lacking in harness racing (…

Racing Can Learn a Thing or Two from Rick Santorum

Last evening, little known Republican candidate Rick Santorum - languishing at 4 or 5% in the polls - made a stunning run, almost topping flush-with-cash Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

His 25% share of the vote gives us (as marketers) a real lesson; one that I think racing should pay heed to.

He did what other businesses have done to grow this century in our compartmentalized, target marketing world - he targeted a niche, and expanded.  By staking out ground with evangelicals, speaking their language, and adding a new narrative of addressing the need to expand the manufacturing job base (something neither party or any candidate has spoken about), he built a social conservative coalition. He didn't need or try to be everything to everyone, he just tried to be something to someone.

That coalition drove his vote, and he is now squarely on the national stage.

The other party tries to do this at times with their fringe candidates - sometimes you wonder if some democratic hopefuls sl…