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Showing posts from February, 2012

New York Shows It Learned Nothing From Ontario and Pennsylvania

Today a press release from NYRA extolled the virtues of slots revenue.
Average daily purses up 44% for Belmont, 39% for SaratogaStakes purses up 26% at Belmont and 27% at Saratoga Not two minutes after this was announced, a tweet from the DRF's Dave Grening went up (h/t to GZ):

 No lower takeout announced, no fan-centric ways to get more butts in the seats announced. Even worse, we have an increase in concession prices.

I had a chat with someone close to the Ontario situation this past week. He said he was startled that "places like New York are making the same mistakes."

When this casino is announced, or when headlines like this, or this, come about in a few years, we can look back on the above and only blame ourselves.

Related: Slots: A Cautionary Tale

The Slots Bring "Rent a Horse" Economics

In the 1980's and 1990's, purse levels for claiming races were pretty normal. A $10,000 claimer would go for $5,000, a $20,000 claimer would go for $7,500 and so on. Claiming activity was also pretty normal, based mainly on if a trainer thought he could improve a horse enough to make it move up the ladder. Sometimes if they had problems they would be laid off, or given some paddock time. Sometimes even, a horse would be claimed "downtown" and brought to race in the top levels at the B's and be kept for a long time.

When slots were brought into Ontario, though, claiming purses grew and racing in the Province experienced the "rent a horse".

It was not uncommon to see a race at Woodbine with ten starters; eight of them switching barns. Horses would be claimed each week, some of the hot ones having "c's" beside every running line on the program. At this same time, vet bills were going through the roof for owners, because there was so much mo…

Monday Head Scratchers & Other Notes

A few random thoughts today, if you're interested to read:

Hulk Hogan has a reality show about little people who wrestle. How in heavens name can't horse racing get on TV?

Someone at Betfair wants to bet $5 at 29-1 on Algorithms to win the Derby. I think that $5 will be taken in about two minutes.

Union Rags goes to 4-1 on the exchange with limited volume.

Demonizing your opponent as a right wing nut (Bush), some sort of "foreigner" (Obama) or, shudders, a private equity guy (Romney) works well. Apparently it works well with horse racing too. The Ontario Liberal Party have started running ads demonizing horse racing.

Scott looks at the "it's a great idea if I get some of the money" part of our sport with betting exchanges.

The Speed figure came out for Union Rags' Fountain of Youth win today and some naysayers started forming a line. "Not fast enough". What would they like, a 121 like Quality Road ran a couple of years ago? Those horses ra…

That Felt Like More Than Just a Prep Day

To heck with Daytona, we had a fun Fountain of Youth.

Yes, it's early and yes he may have not beaten world beaters, and yes there are naysayers out like there are for every prep, but Union Rags was asked the question and he answered.

He wintered well. Darn well.

Mike Welsch in the DRF asks "what can Union Rags really do?". We don't know, but if today was any indication, it'll be fun to find out.

I am fairly sold on him. He has a trainer that knows what he's doing - knows that you don't leave it all on the track in February - and he seems really sound. He also looked fresh at the wire; like he wanted to keep racing. That's never a bad sign.

Anyway, twitter exploded, Larry Collmus exploded and the racing world found a horse to latch onto for a little while this afternoon.

Life seems pretty good.

For full links, twitter reaction and all the rest, check the Goatzapper. They had the new-media type links up fast today.

Condren Profiled & Other Notes

Ever since I was a kid going to the harness tracks in Ontario I knew the name Steve Condren. He was a guy that if you bet against him, you might be in trouble.

It seems betting against him in his current fight is similar.

Perry Lefko wrote an excellent update on Steve and his battle with cancer. It's definitely worth a read (pdf).

Further in HRU we look at the Strategic Wagering Initiative in a redux article (page 4). I have spoken to many in harness racing, and in fact, in the academic community, about the "It's Not My Job" phenomenon. In racing, if track 'A' or ADW 'B' benefits more than ADW 'A' or Track 'B', there is a constant resistance to do anything at all. The status-quo takes hold, and it never seems to relent. We just can't seem to get our mind focused on growing a signal or bet that one day becomes marketable to ADW's and others across North America and the World. If we have a marketable signal we can charge a higher…

The Bait Car Nabs a Trainer

I tend to work all hours, but I grudgingly admit, late Tuesday nights I work alongside my television with it tuned into Bait Car. The show is quite fascinating.

If you haven't seen it, bait cars are vehicles which are left with the keys in them, in the hopes of catching car thieves in the act, and prosecuting them. All of it is done in a controlled setting.

The TV show follows some of these police departments on their quest.

In North America law enforcement everywhere is using this as a way to combat crime. As the bad guys catch on, car theft goes down.

In Surrey, for example, auto thefts are off 55%. since the Bait Car program started. The narrative "Car theft is serious and if you steal a car you are going to be caught" seems to be resonating.

Flipping over to racing, I think we have our own bait car. They're called Betting Exchanges.

Horse racing, just like stock trading or any other vocation with money involved, has their share of bad apples, looking to make a …

Big Carryover, Big Money, Low Takeout. Sweet!

I am getting down to handicapping the pick 5 at Balmoral tonight, which I failed to mention earlier. Tonight is the biggest carryover the track has had since 2009 and the pool is guaranteed at six figures.

Balmoral has been a real success story and they've taken some chances the last couple of years. It's worth supporting this track for that reason, and the obvious - that's a pool rarely seen in harness. has all the info. I am too lazy to type more and have to handicap! Good luck!

Tampa Bay Downs Provides Strong Lesson for Racetracks

Today in the Washington PostAndrew Beyer looked at Tampa Bay Downs' handle for this season. Handle is down about $500,000 per day, and Mr. Beyer mentions two main drivers of that: Field size and the presence of super-trainer Jamie Ness.

I agree those are two factors affecting handles. Studies show that field size is correlated to betting handle, and as we as players know when you have 3-5 shots that are beatable on paper, but seemingly unbeatable in reality, we tend to skip the race.

However, I think two other issues are at play. And I think racing better learn them and learn them quickly. Both involve trying to squeeze a dry lemon for more juice.

Rumor has it (and it was mentioned in cautionary terms by HANA in December before the meet started) that Tampa Bay raised their signal fees for this meet. This is a takeout increase on volume ADW players, which effects their bottom line. Time and time again we hear of aggressive racetracks wanting to "get more of the pie". Ther…

That's the Way to Do a Trainer Website

I was first introduced to Gai Waterhouse - the Australian trainer - while researching something or another on betting. I found she had a unique forward-looking grasp of some of the issues that affect the sport - especially from a growth and customer perspective - and it was very refreshing.

Tonight I stumbled upon her website, and what a website it is!

It's professional, welcoming, open, transparent and honest.

It is highly unlikely, or more accurately impossible, that I will buy and race a horse in Australia. But if by some chance I do, I hope she'll take my money.

Good Bergman Article on Have's and Have Not's

Jay Bergman wrote an article in the DRF about rewarding and cultivating bettors more, especially with slots cash.

In it he explored what the Meadowlands is doing versus what Yonkers is doing. Ironically, Yonkers is funded by slots and the Meadowlands is not. What's wrong with that picture? Well, that should be pretty obvious.
While horsemen's groups in New York and surrounding slot states remain aligned about a need to maintain revenue subsidies to support the industry, one group is continuously left out of the equation – the bettor. The argument we hear is how slots money has helped the horse businesses grow. Green space is preserved and will be devastated should any of this slots money disappear. Trainers will leave and owners will follow if purse money suffers any meaningful reduction.

But the only group that could prove to politicians that the slots-for-purses program has achieved real success is the horseplayer. The green space in horseplayers' pockets needs …

The Worm Turns on HBO's Luck?

We spoke a week or two ago that we thought the almost universal praise of HBO's Luck might see a 360. The show is not sunshine and lollipops and it does not praise our sport in a feel-good way. It doesn't "feel" like a commercial for the sport, like some people thought it may.

Last week we had Cot Campbell question it, and I received a letter to the editor on my thoughts on the series, politely saying I was nuts (I think it can do big things for racing). On twitter and elsewhere there has been some percolating anti-Luck thoughts from various quarters.

And, as we can see with this, for some it's coming full circle.

I think we see that often, and it filters right down to the way we market the sport. We love it, so everyone should, so we want to market and talk about what we like. This phenomenon is not just for racing, it's for many other sports and vocations that people love and are passionate about.

It rarely works, however, because marketing what existing …

The Good Old Fashioned Odds Board

Last evening Black Caviar went 19 for 19 in another sparkling effort. She paid about $2.40 to win.

Earlier in the week, paper after paper and capper after capper downunder were going on about her being beatable; that only 1 out of 140 horses turned back like this off a weeks rest and won, and on and on.

The funny thing was: She was about 15 cents on the dollar.

Top last out Beyer, top bris fig, weighted fig, dropping in claiming price by half, and virtually any other figure or angle can be predictive, but there is nothing that tells the tale like the odds board. It's been that way since the beginning of time, and has lasted through no past performances, and no workout information or qualifying info, right through to the super computer and database age. It's something that has always fascinated me as a bettor.

Goat has all the links today, including a replay.

Have a good Saturday everyone.

The Debate in Ontario is Getting Framed

It's highly doubtful, if not totally specious, that raising taxes on people - rich or not - can help an economy. It's highly doubtful if you don't like a terrorist act that inhibits your freedoms that you are "Un-American" either. But the way the debate is framed can make these things sound pretty good, or pretty bad, depending on your perspective.

Currently in Ontario that debate is being framed at this moment with regards to slots at racetracks. What's winning is the narrative: It's subsidy and why are we subsidizing it anymore?

Framing it as a subsidy helps, because even in super-liberal places like Toronto, people don't much care for giving cash away.

I'll leave the questions and answers and semantics of 'subsidy or not a subsidy' for smart people to argue about. It matters little to me.

What seems to be happening in Ontario now, and what is soon to probably happen in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere with slots for racetracks, is a…

The Ontario Government's Out of Cash & Coming After Horse Racing

In today's Globe and Mail "Ontario Liberals talk racetrack closures to pull on the reins"
At present, 20 per cent of the revenue from those machines is used to keep the horses running; Mr. Duncan strongly hinted that he intends for the province to keep it instead. In effect, he’s saying that 17 racetracks is more than Ontario needs, so he’s prepared for many of them to just become gaming sites (or shut down altogether and stop drawing slot-machine customers away from nearby casinos). It's not that we didn't see this coming, but it's still surprising because the Ontario government likes spending other people's money more than I like my beagle.

Of course, they didn't suddenly find a religion of good fiscal management; they simply found an easy target.

About $345M in the province goes to racing. We may expect that number to drop by a third or more when they're through, in my opinion.

Gural - Take 5% Now for Later. Abby's Take on Luck

Good Monday morning everyone.

Jeff Gural to "rounds of applause" last evening at the Dan Patch said this: 
“We need someone to step up. We are getting $500 million in slots revenue and I would be so disappointed if we couldn’t take just 5 percent of that money and put it into a national marketing campaign.” So many want to do the right thing, but there's so little in the way of results. Regardless, kudos to Jeff. Full story at HRU (pdf).

One of the items we've been on here is in a similar vein. The Strategic Wagering Initiative has been a success, but we need, in my opinion to give it a push. For a full look at some ideas and thoughts on boosting handle with it, please see this (as well in a pdf).

Goats can play horses. There's a new aggregator updating links pretty constantly (new media mostly, not old) on the hunt from a fan and horseplayer perspective. Cute goat. You can see it at 

The Goat linked this story on car racing and casinos. I think it d…

Say What?!

Today's laugh comes to me from @socaltbrescue on twitter.

It's a picture of the horse who played Seabiscuit in the movie.

Or maybe not.

Friday notes:

Pennsylvania horsepeople are getting ready for a fight in PA over slots cash.

Big Jim's book is full. I hope he does well. He was a cool racehorse.

Thoroughbred aftercare alliance formed.

This weekend in HRU - "Seeding pools and the Strategic Wagering Initiative". To sign up for HRU in your inbox, you can here.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

Jersey Time!

The exchange wagering meetings went on today in California, and it looks like exchange wagering is finished in California.

There are too many factions to please, too many cooks in the kitchen, and just like most things in California racing, it gets stuck in a bog, and the status quo rules.

The horsemen group (not shocking, I know): Against it

Scott Daruty, protecting the Stronach slice: Against it

So, I think it's Jersey Time. If New Jersey wants to attract some new bettors, and bring a new way of playing the races to the Garden State, and elsewhere, they now have a shot to be first; and first gives you a tremendous advantage.

Run with it Jersey boys and girls - it's 2012, not 1912. California's dysfunction is giving you a huge gift. Take it.

Exchange Related: 
Juice the eyeballs, grow the sport 
6 Reasons Why Racing Cannot Run an Exchange
Betfair is like Chocolate Ice Cream

Someone Call the CFD; Balmoral Handle's on Fire

I got a note this morning from Balmoral Park regarding their year over year handle numbers. To say they're impressive would be an understatement (click to enlarge):

Yep, that's their total handle, up 54%.

What happened? It seems a number of things. The track promoted their pick 4 takeout decrease in 2009/2010 to a willing audience, they worked hard to get noticed and up the bet, churn took over in some pools via that, and they joined the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative which guaranteed some pools. 

Most of all, in my opinion, it took time.

I remember back in late 2009 or early 2010 when Balmoral slashed their pick 4 takeout rate. They were doing about $7000 pick 4 pools at that time, and a month or two afterwards the pools were up to around $10,000 - by any measure it would seem to be successful at that early stage. But some thought not. They were multiplying the revenue gained from 25% of $7,000 and 15% of $10,000 and deeming it a failure.

Short term thinking at its fines…

NTRA & Gulfstream Park: Social Media Juxtaposition

This morning we got a nice contrast on what racing should be doing, and what it shouldn't, when it comes to social media.

Penelope Miller, the new NTRA social media person, was interviewed today and had some good social media answers.  

She spoke of how tracks should get involved to promote, engage and give out fun and worthwhile information via the web.

Conversely, in my twitter feed this morning, I saw this line from a horseplayer tweeted to Gulfstream Park:
"I don't follow you for slots results" Investigating, I see that Gulfstream Park - one of the highest handle tracks in the nation - uses their twitter feed for this:

 and this::

I have no problem with a track promoting their casino side, but when the track uses the main twitter feed for slot machine news?

Slot revenue will not save us, and it appears there is no one in charge, or someone with a will, to use this revenue for something to grow the demand side of the game (sorry to sound like a broken record o…

Sometimes We're Left Speechless

Although it is very difficult to do, sometimes headlines render me close to speechless.

Someone at a meeting this past few months in Jersey said "wouldn't it be a good idea to bring back the diving horse?". And someone said "Ya, great idea".
As part of a revitalization effort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the owners of the city’s historic Steel Pier have announced that they will bring back the horse diving show by Memorial Day of this year. In the diving horse show, a horse jumps off of a tower that is approximately 40 feet high. In some versions of the act, a rider climbs on to the horse at the top of the tower and rides the horse as it plummets into the 12-foot pool below. In other versions of the act, the horse dives solo. What, were there no little people available for a midget toss?

I doubt this idea ever gets off the ground, no pun intended. It's so glaringly bad and offensive, someone, somewhere with the IQ above a bowl of breakfast cereal will…

Someday We'll Look Back & Cringe

For horse lovers, the recent headline in the Toronto Star about a bistro bringing horsemeat back to the menu, was cringeworthy.

Sometimes things make no sense. In America where "all men are created equal", there was slavery and separate water fountains. Women, apparently because being born with a different chromosome made them unable to walk to a polling station, could not vote in our country. When we look back at it, it's embarrassing that any sane person could've thought that way.

Horses are much more than just domesticated animals. They've helped us settle our respective nations. They fought side by side with us in wars against oppression. They were a means of transport when we had none. They delivered mail, worked fields so we could eat, and became our friends. They are not, nor have they ever been considered a non-domesticated food source like a cow or pig.
Who knows what the world would be like today were it not for the existence and domestication of the …

Will Luck Do For Racing What Rounders Did for Poker?

In 1998, the poker movie Rounders, starring Matt Damon, was released. It did not do very well at the box office, but the film has become a cult classic in the world of poker.  It’s credited by some for giving a big boost to poker, worldwide, and young card pros like Dutch Boyd and Gavin Griffin have publicly stated the movie first got them interested in hold ‘em.  Anecdotally, according to players, if you sit at a table in Vegas, it’s common for lingo with a Russian accent (after John Malkovich’s character in the movie) to pop up after a bad beat or two. The movie clearly did enter the poker culture.

Will Luck help horse racing in a similar way?  

To read the whole article, please see this weekends HRU. 

Note: If you are interested in Luck and racing and want to chat about it, our old pal Dan is co-hosting a Luck chat on twitter Monday evenings. Follow @thorotrends for more.

Saturday Notes

Here are a few things catching my eye this Saturday.

When I started in the 'net business in around 2000, I was always amazed and interested by the freemium model, lifetime customer values, start-up spend and new business marketing. It shocked me that offshore gaming, for example, knew exactly what to offer a new customer to land him/her, to steal him away from somewhere else. Things like bet $100 get $100, or get 50 bets for referring a friend were common in 1998 or 1999.

Outside gambling this was alive and well too. Online stock brokers offered free software, 50 or 100 free trades, you first month trading free, and so on. Having worked with an online stock broker at that time on their online marketing, I always loved their passion for trying things new.

Racing never seemed to follow suit.  The last several years we've seen more of it, but it seemed like an exercise, not real marketing, and quite honestly it was disconcerting, because it's just math.

Twinspires this year t…

Wednesday's Here

It's snowing in this part of the world today, pretty hard. I watched "House Hunters" last evening and saw houses listed at $250k in Arizona that were palatial. I want to move to Arizona.

Anyhoo, here are some things that caught my eye today.

Fantastic piece linked by Scott Ferguson (I saw it on Dan's twitter feed) about Betfair. The betting business is a business and needs to be treated as such, or we'll be racing for ribbons. It's nice to see someone speak plainly about it.

A few snips. 

On traditional bookies and old racing trying to get them to pay more than them (with a narrative that really isn't valid, like we see often in North America with ADW's):
Betfair has revolutionised betting but its effect on the on-course market has squeezed margins – good for punters but bad for racing, with its income based on gross profits. Do you have any sympathy with the view that Betfair should pay more to UK racing?
There is no evidence that margins have been a…