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Showing posts from March, 2012

Well, That Was Fun

There was an article last week in HRU (pdf) about the new direction in the LPGA. Falling on hard times, the new commissioner started a plan for 2012, called "Growth". Each letter corresponded to a strategy. The last letter, "H", meant have fun, because if you're having fun, fans at home and in the stands will have fun too.

I think it isn't a stretch to say that horse racing may be the most traditional, stodgy, almost funereal in its presentation, sports' in history. Often times you'll see customers complain on chat boards wondering if North American jocks or drivers care if they win or lose. Owners are rich for the most part, and seem detached. It's not a very good marketing avenue.

Well today, there was no doubt that someone cared. The jockey on Dubai World Cup winner Monterossa let go one of the coolest celebrations I have ever seen in horse racing. About 50 yards or so from the wire, in a can't lose spot, the horse slowed to a canter wit…

Weekend Racing

Well we had some protests, some New York Times stuff and plenty more this week. However, thank goodness for racing, because we can actually hang out tomorrow - from morning to evening - and watch some.

As a reminder, an event I tend to take for granted - the Dubai World Cup - starts bright and early in the morning. It's on TVG in the US and HPI up here. Scott has a look at some of the races, and there are a billion links/PPs on Goatzapper about it.

I went through it, and I may play a few races.

I think Lucky Chappy may run well in the UAE Derby, and might bet $5 if he's odds. The former Canadian horse, Maritimer, looks neat at a price.

In the Turf sprint, I've always been a Regally Ready fan. He seems like he has a shot.

Giant Ryan seems like a wise-guy play in the sprint. I might play him.

In the big one, there are a ton of possibles. People seem to be wanting to discount Royal Delta, but I'm not. If she's value (and she likely will be, she's 11-1 at Betfair)…

Jockey Club Steps Up To The Plate

Do you remember the Domino's Pizza video's of employees committing food violations that went viral on Youtube? It was a crisis for the pizza chain, and although slow to respond initially, their management strategy was very sound after that. They immediately issued arrest warrants for the offenders, they took responsibility, offered no denials or excuses and they worked hard to get their customers back. Marketing 101.

All week in horse racing we've been reading from industry pundits seemingly the exact opposite strategy after the Times article came out.

But tonight that changed.

The Jockey Club issued a statement as a direct response to the Times article.

They are proposing two main initiatives:
Raceday med banLifetime Bans for Repeat Medication Offenders The interesting thing, this time these have a shot.

Jim Gagliano has shown leadership on this and is really the first to do so. After the McKinsey Report, the Jockey Club has become, in my opinion, this sports de-facto comm…

Stuck in a Bog

The folks upset with methodology keep popping up with regards to the New York Times piece in last Sunday's paper. Today Steve Crist wrote about it in the DRF, wondering how some tracks breakdown rates in reality (as measured by the Jockey Club) are different from the Times.

He concludes:
 .... an error of this magnitude regarding the premier race meet in American racing calls the accuracy of the entire analytical undertaking into question. Maybe so.

But, let's pitch the New York Times stats and use the Jockey Club's stats instead, rounding the losses at 2.0 per 1000, okay? That number doesn't include quarterhorses, or eased, or horse's lost to getting bitten by spiders. It's "the number" everyone seems to agree with, from racing's industry organization.

With a field size of 8, for simplicity, that means that approximately one horse in every 60 races run will be put down due to a racetrack injury.

That's not Steve Crist's stats, or the Ne…

Budget Will Be Passed. What To Do Next?

It looks as if the budget in Ontario is a go, including the cut to the $345 million horse racing share of slots.

What's next?

One poster, and horseman on seems to think there's a chance to spend some of what's left to do something positive:
I am a former horse-person who spent most of my life in the business. The lightbulb came on for me a couple of years ago plus a little more, my reasoning was all the things that had gone astray in the business, it was no longer enjoyable, hard to make money, racing had generally become boring, things never seemed to change as no one wanted them to, and in fact were getting worse every year. Putting $10,000 vet bills into $6,000 claimers had become the norm and was a game I wouldn't, as well as couldn't play, I always said I got into the business as I loved horses, and I left for the exact same reason!I think this whole situation should be looked at as a positive, no one acted for so many years to impro…

Slash & Burn

Yesterday at 2PM the New Brunswick Budget was detailed. At 4PM the Ontario Budget followed.

Two Canadian budgets, two massive losses for horse racing.

In New Brunswick, 60% of the funding for purses was cut. In Ontario, the plan from a month or so ago, was all systems go:
There’s not going to be a horse industry as we know it,” Glenn Sikura, president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s Ontario division, said after the budget speech by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.“If their plan goes through, I think it could be the end of horse racing,” said Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association.
The plan itself was detailed on the Ontario government website.
Since 1998, $3.7 billion has been provided to the horseracing industry in Ontario, including $345 million in 2011–12. As part of OLG’s modernization process, the government reviewed this support for the horseracing industry, as outlined in the previous government’s 1998 letter of intent. In doi…

The New York Times Intervention

If you flip on A&E for their hit show Intervention, and give it a watch, a common theme emerges.

There's someone in trouble, they tend to not realize their problem is a big one, and they blame everyone else for their life. They usually resist help at all costs and react to anyone with anger.  They sometimes feel things will just get better on their own. Then, later, they finally come aboard that they have an issue, they get help, deal with it and hopefully get better.

I think we're seeing similar play out with the New York Times hit-piece on racing.

First we saw some anger. "How could Joe Drape do this?" was a common theme. Poor ol' Joe's twitter picture was popping up on dart boards in shedrows across the entire nation.

Then we saw some deflection. The meme, "this was really about quarterhorse's, not us, you know" resonated. It seemed to make people feel better that Quarterhorse racing had a higher breakdown rate than Thoroughbreds and i…

Polished Horse Ad

I am pretty sure in the 1970's, hamburger aficionado's who only had a deep, traditional love of the beef were upset that a burger joint could stoop so low as to have a floppy-shoed, red-haired mascot sell burgers.

The mascot and ad campaign that the deep, traditional horse racing fans love to hate is back, too. This time with a nicely polished ad to start the madness.

Sunday Notes

Some news that caught my eye the last day and a half.....

The elephant in the room for thoroughbred racing (and steeplechase) has been the frequency of breakdowns. It's a story we don't like to talk about. However, the New York Times broke that pretty wide open this weekend. It was front page news.

San Pail looked great last night in his 8 year old debut.

What makes the rent a horse and the current Aqueduct issues so perplexing, is that horses who are not racing well tend to need time off. See You At Peelers needed it, they gave it to her, and she came back very strong on Saturday. I was 70% sure she'd show no kick, and this race was not going in her favor down the back. But she did. Sparkling effort that we all hope continues.

Suspended horse Reibercrombie raced via a court injunction. And we wonder why racing can't attract more decent owners looking for an honest investment?

Horsemen groups have a ton of power. They are probably most responsible for the status quo. A…

A Friday Horse Racing Pop Quiz!!!!

I just got this via email. Let's see how you guys do (I got all answers correct, just so you know).

1. Alpha's First Derby Prep Race Was:

a) The Fountain of Youth
b) The Tampa Bay Derby
c) An Allowance Race at Fonner Park
d) The Withers, but to be sure, I want to see the tattoo evidence

2. The Recently Announced Aqueduct Breakdown Task Force Will:

a) Shake the foundations of racing and horse safety as we know it
b) We're not sure, but we hope there are plenty of free donuts
c) Blame Everything on Richard Dutrow
d) Conclude no one did anything wrong and that all racing is very safe

3. The Jockey Club Came Out with a Study today to Show that Synthetic Surfaces Are Safer. Racing Will:

a) Take these results, study them scientifically, and make conclusions based on horse safety and a bright future for our equine athletes
b) Look to fund further study
c) Switch some tracks to synthetic
d) Ask Bob Baffert what he wants, and act accordingly

4. Todd Pletchers Derby Chances are:

It's Hot

I remember when I was seventeen. I moved from my town in Northern Ontario to go to school in Toronto. I had never been to Toronto much in the winter before, only in the summer, and I knew it was warm and muggy. This was a far cry from my town, which was generally mild in the summers.

In my first year University I lived in a dorm that was built in something like 1850. In the winter it tended to keep the heat in nicely, but I anticipated it would get warm in the summers. The funny thing was, summer came quickly that year. In late March we had this massive heat wave. Studying for April exams was excruciating because it was literally 100F in the dorm.

I thought to myself, is this the way April was down here? Is it always this hot?

On Monday I took a break from sweltering studying and went to the track. I scored a nice ex in the second and hit a tri in the third. I made a few dollars.

Hmmm. How about an air conditioner? That would be sweet.

I walked to Honest Ed's (if you don't kn…

Wednesday News And Views

There is quite a bit happening in racing of late..... most of it making me grumbly.

Remember last year when trotting filly Crys Dream was suspended in Ontario for 90 days? Up until that point, any horse suspended in Ontario was suspended in other jurisdictions due to reciprocity. The Crys Dream folks challenged the ruling in the courts and they were granted a reprieve to race. Some race watchers felt this left the door open for other owners and trainers to say "screw you" to the Ontario Racing Commission and their bans. Well, that appears to have happened. Checking the entries for Yonkers this weekend, we see a Levy Pacing Series eligible named Reibercrombie in to go.

Guess what? That's the same Reibercrombie suspended for 90 days in Ontario last week for a positive.(h/t to posters on

***** UPDATE: Harness Racing .com Reports the horse has been scratched.

Reactive versus proactive. If you've been following the NYRA story the last few weeks on breakd…


It's no secret I've thought this Ontario Lottery and Gaming plan has been rolled out poorly. Almost everyone I speak with does not know what's happening, or if the plans for taking slot money away from racetracks is written in stone. It seems like there is no one captaining the ship.

Today do we see more evidence of this? is reporting that the Ontario Premier now says it's up to municipalities to approve any new casino's, not he and his government alone. This, in my opinion, is a far cry from the initial announcement where all of these "gaming zones" seemed to be carved out and decided.

I'm the first to admit - even by following this story from the start - I am no more sure of what's going to happen today, than I was on announcement day. But are we seeing some cracks in the original plan?

Why I Can't Be a Barber In Ontario Anymore

I’m a long-time barber and I’ve owned my shop for over 40 years. Not only do I love cutting hair, I was born into it, so it’s the only thing I know how to do.  I love being a barber.
Now, unfortunately, I have to announce I'm quitting. 
Here’s my story.
About 15 years ago I was happily cutting my customers’ hair. Some were going to the hot new salon in the suburbs, and business wasn’t what it used to be like, but I still had my core customers. 
I was making a living and I was happy. 
One day in the 1990’s a government man in a suit came into my shop and told me he had a new idea. 
“There’s a new hair product that’s been passed by the government for sale,” he told me. “I want to sell this product in your barber shop to your customers because the public doesn't want us to sell it to school kids. If you agree, I will give you 20% of whatever you sell.”
I had done similar before – I sometimes sold scissors and combs to my customers and took a commission - but this seemed differen…

Sunday Notes

The gloves came off in today's Harness Racing Update regarding the Jeff Gural-Joe Faraldo situation. As you know, the Meadowlands owner and New York Horsemen group head have been battling for years. It came to a head last week when Gural commissioned a poll of horsemen and owners in slots states and found well over 80% of them agreed with his vision. That vision - spending some of their purse money to grow the sport - is something that Faraldo disagrees with. The letters are running about 5 to 1 for Gural, so I suspect his poll was pretty accurate.

Have you been noticing Santa Anita stakes races are going off really late on weekends? That's the plan, and Del Mar looks to follow.

How important is Trakus? Watch last night's 9th race to find out. What a fog the Rexdale oval had.

Full recaps of yesterday's stakes are all on Goatzapper.

It's a different world. When you hear someone in racing talking about less whipping, changing the game better in terms of safety and th…

Is Horse Racing in Ontario the Fall Guy For Government Mismanagement?

Recent announcements of slot closures and the introduction of online betting in Ontario has taken the horse racing industry by storm this week. The government, deep in the hole, has looked to gambling as a way out, and the old site licensing deals with racetracks look finished. One new item they want to monopolize, is online wagering.

But is the governments entire set of assumptions bad business because they're dressing up a bad model without getting to the crux of the problem?

Gambling experts seem to think so:
“If any U.S. casino had that kind of monopoly and customer base the revenues would be much better,” a casino manager from Nevada told me. He suggested that with 80 million* Ontario residents and the huge appetite for gambling in the province, OLG should be bringing in at least double that revenue Why are revenues so light? Just like in racing, experts seem to believe - "it's the odds, stupid"
The casino manager believes revenues aren’t higher because the …

Stopping the Insanity is a Good Place to Start

How do we help racing? There are a thousand answers from a thousand different factions. However, if we fix some of the simple things first - the most insane, asinine, make-no-sense to any rational person things - it would be a good place to start.

Frank Angst had a piece in the Thoroughbred Times today, looking at breakdowns and casino money in New York.

$7,500 claimers with a $40,000 purse ....veterinarians advised that purses should not exceed claiming prices by more than 50%. At the lowest claiming levels at the current Aqueduct meeting, purses are more than 500% higher than the tag—ten times over the 50% recommendation.  Horses worth $7,500 going for $40,000? To any rational person that's ridiculous. It makes no sense; none whatsoever. It's the commoditization of living, breathing animals that the public hates and it ensures a system that is not based on economics in any way shape or form. In addition, what rational person from a horsemen group can make a business case …

Horsemen Group Head Responds to Gural Slots Idea

Horsemen group head Joe Faraldo responded to Jeff Gural and the USTA poll regarding putting more money into the sport of horse racing from slots.

Here's some of the language. Yes folks, this is what our sport is about, and why nothing gets done.

was a malodorous “push-poll” worthy of a political campaigntime for the truth about the disingenuous wording As to the insinuation“push polls” never provide all the details

$lots World, Episode 12

We've been on this story for years. We've been to wagering conferences speaking of upping the bet from slot cash, we've written white papers on trying to bring exchange wagering to Canada so we can try and get a new demo involved in racing. I've probably argued with you on twitter about New York's most recent slot deal and how I think sticking all the cash into purses or site improvements like Ontario and Pennsylvania did is a sure-fire way to lose. We've been trying.

But I'm only a dumb bettor that owns a few horses.

Now we have someone smart who seems to be getting his message through.

Jeff Gural came out with a statement today on slots and racing. it was covered in virtually every trade - thoroughbred and harness so far.
In a statement released March 14, Gural said a poll of USTA members in Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania—states with racetrack gaming that supports racing—shows 84% favor using gaming revenue for enhanced equine drug-testing, and 8…

Fort Erie, Windsor & Hiawatha Slots to Close

That didn't take long.

Storied Fort Erie Racetrack, host of one of the jewels of the Canadian Triple Crown is reported to have their casino shut down within "months".

In addition, Windsor Raceway, home of the Provincial Cup and host to many harness racing greats over the years is likely to shut down as well.

Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia, is also reported to be on the list.

One day - three racetracks.

How many more? Likely quite a few.

Full report on CTV News.

Slots at Racetracks Program Ending in 2013

Some thought they might take a scalpel to the slots program in Ontario, but it appears they brought out the hacksaw.

The program, which pours about $345M into purses, will be ended by March of 2013.

What replaces it is unclear. As we surmised earlier, it seems Woodbine will, or should, be okay. Many of the other tracks are in serious jeopardy of closing, or having a smattering of fair type racedates.

Racing was never the same when slots came to the industry in 1998. It'll never be the same post-2013 either, by the looks of it.


Reaction from Horsepeople
CTV story
Valueformoney Website

Help Me Understand Please

Today in HRU Bill Finley (pdf alert) looked at the reinstatement in Pennsylvania of a trainer, calling it a "disgrace".
In 2001, he was caught injecting a horse with an illegal substance, which caused the horse’s death. In 2007, his license was revoked after he was charged by the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office with conspiracy over his involvement in the trafficking of EPO and snake venom. These are not trivial issues, they are serious matters involving the death of an animal and then involvement with notorious drugs that are a plague to the sport. In a sane and rational world, Mosher would never be allowed to have anything to do with harness racing again.  I don't know much about this trainer, only having bet a few of Sarita's horses now and again. But it begs the question, how much is too much?

The Paulick Report did a story awhile back on a thoroughbred trainer who was also licensed.
..... in 1998 he was banned by the Ohio Racing Commission fo…

Handle Wars: The Bottom May Be Here, For Awhile At Least

One of the things we've noticed this year in U.S, thoroughbred racing, is that handles seemed to have bottomed. Wagering is up so far in 2012, and we finished the year a little better than we did in 2010.

Harness racing, perhaps the leading indicator for all of racing, seemed to hit bottom about a year ago. The average mutuel pool for example, has been up for quite some time, and total handle in 2011 saw the first green number since about 2003.

So far this year, harness racing has seen a resurgence. Where the only metrics are kept - Canada - handles are up over 18% in 2012.

Harness racing did a number of things that thoroughbred racing seems to have done, but they did it earlier. In 2009 and 2010 they started paying attention to the customer with lower takeout and guaranteed pools. They also consolidated: They carded better, deeper field races. Long gone were the 5 horse fields that no one bets.

In the thoroughbreds a similar thing started to appear in late 2010. Tracks began low…

Mystery Voucher Giveaway Spurs 2012 NYRA Handle

(Pocketville NY- March 8, 2012) - It was announced today on twitter that the New York Racing Association handles have been trending higher. February saw an over 7% increase in average daily betting at NYRA's current track: Aqueduct. This has occurred with no apparent increase in field size or racing quality.

Many in the industry are pointing to the weather, baseball not starting up,  Rick Santorum, and the results of the Russian elections for much of the increase. As well, track handicapper Sandy Merling says people are betting more because "I rock".

However, NYRA's CEO has an easy answer.

"It's our mystery voucher program," said NYRA boss Chuck Maynard.

"What we're doing this year is giving vouchers out to our patrons. These vouchers are used to bet for free. It's what casino's do with free play on slot machines. Last year we did not have that program. " added Chuck.

"About 1% of every dollar paid out each day is now given …

There Are "Three Masters"

I found today's short but sweet Godin piece interesting. Called "Three Masters" it looked at the three facets that your industry can be guided by and serve.

Master One is your existing customer base. He says you should keep your promises to them and find ways to organically grow that space.

Master Two is the people who aren't looking at you. To attract these people the author believes you must "make a different or bigger promise" to land them.

Last is Master Three: "Serving your muse, on making the song in your head real, regardless of who wants to hear it."

In our sport, Master One is the current horseplayer. They want (according to a recent HANA survey) a cleaner game, and better payouts so they can last longer as bettors, and enjoy the sport more, and more often.

Master Two is the poker player, or online skill game player who is part of a $500B or so market and, perhaps, the non-racing sports fan. To have a chance to land some of that poker a…


Did anyone ever watch the "Rumble in the Jungle", where Ali employed the rope-a-dope against Big George Foreman?

Racing is getting rope-a-doped right now, but I fear the outcome may be different.

In the last several months:
Pennsylvania has cut some slots funding and purses are trending lowerZynga Games (i.e. "Farmville") announces they want to get into gamblingOntario is looking to siphon off many millions from slots fundingCanada is looking to legalize one game sports betting And today: New Jersey is looking to pass online gaming, with no help for horse racing.

For healthy industry's these shocks can be withstood, via pivoting and changing a model. Racing has not been very healthy, stating the obvious, so one has to wonder how much more of this we can take.

Note: Harness Fans, there is a huge carryover and $100k guaranteed pick 4 pool at Balmoral tomorrow evening. 

Single Game Wagering To Ontario Racetracks?

A bill has passed that has amended the Criminal Code (I always laugh when I write that; betting the Cowboys with your buddy who's a Giant fan is criminal) where single sports wagering may become a reality. Currently, only parlay wagering is available in provinces.
It will enable Ontario casinos to open “sports books” to attract people keen to bet on individual games instead of just the existing Pro-Line that requires gamblers to wager on a minimum of three games simultaneously. It's not too much of a stretch to believe that any existing slot parlors in racetracks would also be hubs for sports wagering. Because of the recent headlines, this might be a bone to throw racetracks, in return for some of the slots cash. To say Woodbine would be jammed on Sunday morning in football season would be an understatement.

Of course, this is another drag on pari-mutuel wagering, though. As racing handles fall from the pressures a new competitor, we'll likely be in a similar spot in the…

The Red Blood Cell Count & More Sunday Notes

For handicappers a horse blood test doesn't mean much, but it should. When a lot of handicappers see a horse race poorly they try and chalk it up to a bad ride or drive, a "bounce", the track surface, the pace or distance or any number of other issues. Often times the horse is simply a little under the weather.

Today in Harness Racing Update, a horse owner uploaded a pdf of his horse's blood test (it's in the letters section on page 6). It's always neat to get familiar with some of these items; for example "GGT" was a liver level that Uncle Mo had that they could not get down.

One level - the red blood cell count - is what the letter writer focus's on. This count, which can be elevated due to illegal blood builders like EPO/DPO and Aranesp, is generally a scourge and has felled several super-duper trainers before. The writer believes that elevated counts signal wrongdoing and we should start pitching people for high counts.

As it has been explai…

"We Can't"

I saw a tweet tonight from someone (who shall remain nameless) who has been around the business forever.

It said:
I love horse racing, but the industry blows.
I think that dude is onto something. For me it all stems from the word "can't".

That word seems to be our rallying cry, from both the industry itself, and those who enable it.  I don't know how many discussions or meetings I've sat in on in this strange business where something was "impossible", only to see it implemented at some point in the future.

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of that word. Probably 90% of the things that we apparently "can't" do, we can.

People tell us that we can't do anything with slots money because it's "mandated". Complete and utter nonsense. Of course we can. We get together and set some slot revenue aside from non-mandated spend, and we spend it on something to grow the sport. If we spend one penny of it on marketing…

There's Racing's Next Competitor

Casino's, slots, online poker, bingo, scratch cards and lotteries - they've all been considered a threat to horse racing's betting revenues; and they have been. But it may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Get ready for Zynga betting.

Yesterday, Mark Pincus of Zynga Games, the company that has in's with Facebook and others and runs the popular social game "Farmville", said the company is looking into online gaming.

"I think it's a good natural fit. I think, philosophically, the part people haven't noticed yet, real money gaming is the perfect with virtual goods and social games."

Zynga already runs "Zynga Poker", which has 30 million users.

While we've been fighting over slices and betting to lose with betfair and exchanges, and have spent time talking about 30% takeout central internet betting platforms, our positioning in this market has eroded. Right now there are companies offering real money fantasy sports challenges, an…