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Showing posts from May, 2012

Trotting Speed Show

Remember in the long past - say, oh, a few years ago - where early in the year you'd be lucky to find even the best trotter in the division break 155 at the Meadowlands?

Do you remember Dewey being all out to hold off Kajan Kooker in 53 and change in his debut in late June? Donato Hanover all out, under a fierce stick to win in 154 and change in June? Glidemaster qualifying in 200.2 and coming second in his first prep in 157?

Those days are long gone.

Whether it's the equipment or the breed, or the tracks, or trainers being way too hard too early, or drivers going all out like Check Me Out today, winning by 11, there is something going on with the square gaiters.

Three fillies have won in lower than 154 - on a 5/8's track - and the hype horse of last year (Check Me Out) isn't even the fastest of those.

The colts are absolutely flying, and we're seeing 152 and change miles already on a 5/8's.

And it is not even June 1st.

Last year, ManofManyMissions and Broad B…

Racing Can Learn A Lot From A Coffee Shop

I read the morning headlines today and came across this gem. A ubiquitous Tim Horton's coffee shop - a franchise moneymaker for everyone who owns one - lost $260,000 last year at a Newfoundland hospital. How does that happen? Because by paying people $28/hr to pour coffee, and charging $1.94 for one cup, the math doesn't add up.

We've done pretty much the exact same thing in racing. We are supplying coffee to people who may want to drink it, but we're charging 22% margins. Meanwhile, we can buy a coffee at a card table, or sports betting place down the road and pay 5% margins.

Who wins? It's pretty obvious.

In the Tim Horton's case the public sector union (the supplier) is catered to, no matter how silly it is to pay someone $28 an hour to pour a coffee. To make it work at a profitable level (on paper), they'd have to charge $8 a cup. No one will pay $8 a cup, of course, so with no customers (the demander) there is no business; i.e. there is actually no pro…

A Smart Move By New York

It was announced today that the NYSRWB (that's a mouthful) has instituted a 72 + hour detention barn for this years Belmont Stakes. And they told everyone about it.

In Canadian racing, these barns are commonplace for big events. They add a sense of fairness to the proceedings, and they give the public some confidence (especially with all the pre-race headlines of late) that we're on the up and up.

Not that anyone in this field of horses for the third jewel would be doing it, but things like soda, drenches, bleeder shots, breather shots, shocking on raceday, and the scourge of venom all have to be done/given at an interval before 24 hours (venom, I hear before 6 hours) to be effective. This eliminates all of those illegal practices, whether they were likely to happen here, or not. This is not done, as people assert so often, only for show.

I applaud the NYSRWB for doing this and trumpeting it. It should also be no surprise, either, after the way they handled Lou Pena the last w…

The Two Sides of The Sport

Racing is fascinating; there's no two ways about it.

Races like Sunday in Sweden or yesterday in New York are fabulous. We have the Preakness where most of the participants and horses trended on twitter, more than even the American Idol contestants.

Our big days, through the passion for the sport, mediums like twitter and some investment from places like the Jockey Club are superb. They prove what can be done when passionate people get together for a common cause. They prove what can be done when everyone works towards one specific, attainable goal. One thing these days have in common: They are fan and customer driven.

On the other hand we have the rest of racing - from Scioto, to Northfield, Beulah to Golden Gate, Delaware to Suffolk. There is no common goal on medication, or takeout, or horsemen contracts, or slot deals. There are short fields with superstables winning at 2-5, resulting in a snorefest. There is no one working towards a common good, because people can't even…

We've Become a Sport of Enablers

I've been reading much of what has been written of late on the Doug O'Neill situation, and I am (as usual) confused.

Steve Haskin wrote a piece in the Bloodhorse, pretty much laying much of the blame on "bad press" on the California Horse Racing Board; even going so far as to question the size of the fine and suspension and how it was not good for racing:
But we do, however, question the timing of it and to some degree even the length of it. Knowing prior to the ruling that O’Neill did nothing intentional and did not milkshake the horse, the Board still went ahead and issued their ruling at this time, fully aware that they would be adding fuel to an already growing media fire. Yet another mind-boggling move for the good of racing, right?  Doug O'Neill, according to Ray Paulick, has received 12 positive tests since 2005 - given to him in four separate states -  and the above was his fourth TCO2 overage. I, like Paulick, looked to find someone in North American…

Friday, Pondering Slots

It seems every time we open a news story on racing, it's about slots, or gaming. In Ontario, slots are being expanded without any help to racetracks - by the looks of it - and even full casinos will be coming online. In Ohio, a first racino is opening at Scioto Downs. In Illinois, the state house approved expanded slots gaming just this week.

A lot of people are excited about the positives of the above, but it got me thinking, how long can this last?

I was at a gaming conference a few years ago, presenting about new forms of wagering. On my panel was a professional player and the Managing Director of Betfair at the time, Mark Davies. Not long after we finished I had asked Mark if he could hang out and chat some horse racing, and how it was doing on betfair, etc. The professional player, Mark and I sat down and had a nice talk.

At one point, the pro - who works numbers constantly, is super-bright, and is generally right about a lot of things gambling related - said to us:

"I t…

Molson Pace Night

Tonight at 9:40EDT the $300,000 Molson Pace sets sail, with a pretty competitive group of horses. You can read about all the things Western Fair is trying to do with the event on Harness racing update (p3, pdf)

I am pretty certain this will be a cool race, unless one of the entry horses make the lead and let Foiled Again by. Even if it does happen, Doug McNair is not going back to last, so that should ensure some fractions and some activity. It's a really cool race on a half mile track, and I'll be playing.

The pick 4 was picked by players, through a survey, and at 15% takeout, it's a pretty solid play.

Good luck and enjoy your Friday everyone!

Is There A Better Place to Get a Positive Than California?

The CHRB handed Doug O'Neill a 45 day suspension for TCo2 today. According to the New York Times, it's his 4th TCo2 violation.

That was pretty astounding, for us as racers up here.

When you come from a place like Ontario, a class III (which TCo2 is), by itself as a first offence (mistakes can and do happen) is a minimum 60 days. For a fourth offence? Well, that's a minimum two years.

Although we don't know the full details of this case, it's not a whole lot different in New York it seems, as a two time offender recently got five years.

When you add O'Neill's other offences to the mix, I surmise the ORC up here would chuck him for at least three years. 

Horseplayers have long complained about the kids glove treatment in the golden state. When we look at it through the lens of 45 days for a fourth high TCo2, I think they might have a point.

Note: An Australian study shows the naturally occurring levels for TCo2 for those interested.


Super-trainer Lou Pena, through an investigation conducted by the NYSRWB and the New Jersey commission, was nabbed with 1700 violations, and his career looks over. Interestingly, and I'm sure we'll hear more on this, the drugs were not found in positive tests, but through vet records (the same thing they used in the Fusco case).

Pena, who was a 12% trainer with a 0% win percentage off the claim, came east and suddenly his numbers exploded, shocking virtually everyone. He became a target for many in the sport, wondering what in heavens name was occurring for this huge turnaround.

As with most of these cases, the bloodhounds came out, trying to answer exactly that question.

As with most of these cases as well, there is no smoking gun. There's no deep throat, or a positive test. Just like when the ATF broke down Ledford's door, this door was broken down with a paper trail, looking at several substances and withdrawal times.

What happens next is anyone's guess. However…

Fig Overload

There is plenty of chatter on the Interwebs about speed figures. For example, before the Preakness, we were told this may be a sub-par group of horses, but after (and after the nice Preakness fig), well, maybe not. Almost overnight this group of horses might be alright, historically.

I don't blame anyone for being confused.

I use speed figures all the time because, after all, the fastest horses win the races. With track's in 2012 being very, very confusing, a good fig, like say, puts out, is a big part of handicapping. It's also good to look at them and form an opinion on a horse historically, after the tack has long been hung up. They're predictive and they're pretty cool.

However, where I think they internally fail is in judging horseflesh before all is said and done.

I think back to Rachel Alexandra's first tilt as a four year old. For those who just watched the race, and compared her to the previous year, it was a pretty bad effort. She ha…

Why Do We Love Racing?

..... because it's breathlessly bizarre. It's tough to make heads or tails of just about anything in our business.

Preakness handle was up this year, which I guess is good.

Preakness viewership on the tube was down, so I guess that's bad.

We have a horse going for the Triple Crown, so that has to be good.

But the horse who is going for it is trained by a dude who keeps getting asked questions about Milkshakes - not the variety I got yesterday at DQ, but another kind - so I guess that's bad.

NYRA seemed like a mess, so maybe some new blood will be good?

The new blood are political appointees in one of the most strangely run States in the Union, so that's gotta be bad.

Betfair got ransacked in the Courts in Australia for paying for purses on gross profits, so that's supposedly good, right?

To pay for the new fees, they raised their takeout and are encouraging people not to trade. Customers are pissed; so fewer customers enjoying the sport is surely bad.

Mario Gu…

Is It 2008 Again?

This years Triple Crown chase moves to Belmont in three weeks, and the chatter has already reached a fever pitch. Will we see a TC winner - the first since "Night Fever" topped the charts? Or will it be a letdown, once again.

The funny thing this year, however, is the protagonists. We have a trainer who is very polarizing. If you visit a chat board, or an industry site, you'll see literally hundreds of posts laced with some serious vitriol about the dude. He's been cited for medication violations, and is appealing some of them in court. We also have an owner who seems to have rubbed some people the wrong way ......

Hold it, is it 2008, or 2012?

The spotlight once again is on racing as a sport, and once again, we're failing to deliver. People can wax poetic as much as they want about this Triple Crown bid, but holy smokes: The public has seen this once, and now they're seeing it again only four years later. In 2008, all the lead up to the Triple Crown did was …

A Really Nice Commercial & Stakes Season Heats Up

There's quite a bit happening in Thoroughbred racing - a lot of it polarizing - and it is sure to be a fascinating few weeks. But there's some major items going on in the harness game, and it's getting pretty exciting.

Last night the Upper Canada Cup eliminations were held, without Warrawee Needy. He was scratched sick, and will not, of course, make the final. For folks who watched Up the Credit race on Friday, it makes sense that a virus might be going through that barn. This opens up the event, and perhaps the most special winner was the very talented Mel Mara. I'm not sold on him yet, but that was a really nice effort, in my opinion.

At the Meadowlands, several colts made their debuts, or showed some mettle. A Rock n Roll Dance was super impressive, winning in 50. Time to Roll defeated Pet Rock and Hurrikane King Cole, and I was really impressed with the latter. He hasn't seemed to have grown a lot, but he was really professional. I loved the way he looked.Simpl…

On One Item There's Agreement

Exercise: Put a horseman group dude, a track exec and a horseplayer together on a sunny day and ask them "how's the weather".

You'll likely get three answers.

One issue where I find complete agreement is on the super, duper, holy smokes this is impossible, trainers.

Tampa Bay Downs today announced they had a handle drop - the first one I can remember in over a decade. That track is one of the true success stories, going from short fields and crazy-high takeout, to one of the better tracks for players in the country. This season they did have Gulfstream against them, and TVG wasn't carrying any water. There was a signal fee hike apparently as well.

However, for anyone who played Tampa, there was a presence in the races that was virtually unbeatable, trainer Jamie Ness. (He is alluded to in the first comment in the DRF story).

Leaving all the Ness rumor aside (and that's what it all is, rumor), these trainers can really screw things up for bettors. 3-5 shots in…

Booze and Bands Vs. The Player

There was a spirited (yet respectful) conversation on twitter today, primarily pitting Caroline Betts - economics geek - against Gary Mandella from HRTV. The debate centered around Santa Anita's new CEO trying to get more party types to the track, as a turnaround mechanism.

Gary found it a decent strategy (probably in the "let's try anything" at this stage school), Caroline found it pure hokey. She believes that short fields and 20% rakes will never make any of these new people a new fan, or bettor.

Clearly (shocker alert), I side with Caroline. The best way to illustrate why I do, is with a little hypothetical test with 200 new fans.

The first hundred will be brought to the track by the advertising of Flo-rida, (or I-o-wa, or whatever his name is) playing, and $1 beers. The second hundred will be brought there by a new betting mechanism, say an exchange, with 2.5% takeout. The first is advertised to on the radio, the second is advertised on online poker sites, and …

ESPN & Twitter Forge A New, Old Idea

I remember back in the 1990's when I started to play most of my racing at home. Sharing handicapping and racing stories as the race went on was not like other sports (a lot of folks were using early non-html chat sites for sports back then), and it was a lonely pursuit. One day I found a racing chat board, and lo and behold, over time, there was a critical mass of people doing the same thing I did.

12 or 15 years later, twitter does the same thing that those chat boards did, but there are simply more eyeballs.

Today, ESPN and Twitter announced their branded sports partnership, centered around "#GameFace" for the NBA playoffs.

This is an old idea, that's a new idea.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, I believe eyeballs are the most important metric for any sport in the connected age. The spin-offs are there. You need critical mass, however, and with racing we've done a bad job with critical mass.  It's one of the reasons why I get pretty charged when a track hik…

I Honestly Think It's Not Much Different

DeRosa put up a piece today on the Zayat boys watching Bodemeister in the Derby. He concludes that they'd trade the $400k for a win, and I wholeheartedly agree. Watching them watch the race was infectious.

And I think everyone who has ever had a horse in a race - no matter what class of horse - can relate to it.

It brought me back many years ago now, when a friend who had never owned a horse before jumped aboard with me. He had been a huge fan and bettor since he was a kid and never once owned a horse. I went to a sale in Ontario without him (he lives on the east coast), and we split the cost of two colts.

One of them raced a couple of times soonafter and was pretty bad. I don't know what was wrong with him, but boy he was a bad buy. He had a couple of weeks off, and we slid him into a race at the ultra-bottom, a conditioned 5 claimer. It turns out this race coincided with a trip that Vern was making from out east. He drove out to the farm, spent a couple of days with the hors…

Online Gambling's Threat To Racing Is Very Real is reporting MGM has created an online casino game, ready by June. Despite trouble federally, virtually everyone is saying that state by state these things are good to go, very soon. As we talked about a couple of months ago, Zynga, the creators of the massively popular social game "Farmville" is looking to do similar.

There is very little talk about this in racing circles. In fact, I have not heard one person from a position of power chat about this likelihood, and its threat to racing revenues.

Right now, at the present time, racing has a de-facto monopoly on online gaming.

Right now, at the present time, we stink at having a monopoly on online gaming.

Infighting, the Interstate Horse Racing Act, "home market areas" controlled by horsemen groups, groups like the TOC with so much power. It breeds inefficiency and sub-optimal performance. We don't have professionals making professional decisions, we have alphabet groups with no expertise on gami…

Sunday Notes

Harness racing has entered its stakes season - we're always, by design, behind the runners -  and a few horses stepped up last night to show their mettle at the Meadowlands. It was fun to watch.

In race two, the highly regarded Pet Rock showed he belongs in any conversation, when talking about three year old colts. Brian Sears, under barn instructions no doubt, wanted to give the horse an easy one, but he had to move sooner or later, and scored in a fast time, with an uncovered journey. He did it the way Sears wanted though and it's probably why Brian is so sought after as a driver.

I used to spend 60-80 hours a week on harness for many years when I was slinging super-seriously at the sport, and I was trained to watch horses come back to the winners circle. If you saw something off, you could pitch out a 4-5 shot next time and make your month. It's what I still do because my brain won't let me do anything else. Pet Rock looked like he was having fun, and he was on his …

Some Cheers, That Some Might Think Jeers

On a Friday afternoon a few things lit up my day.

Cheers for Steve Davidowitz today talking about NYRA's Charlie Hayward. As a blogging dude I have had a supremely difficult time with the NYRA situation. I want to lambaste them, but I simply can't get my heart into it. I liked Hayward and I think he's getting a bad rap here, no matter what he did, or didn't do. I'm waiting to see what happens.

Cheers for the DRF's Dave Grening. I let the DRF have it last week because I think they've forgotten who their readership is. This is the kind of stuff I love about the publication. No one would've even been talking about the pick 6 at Belmont situation, if not for Dave Grening.

Cheers for NYRA for doing the scratches and changes for Equibase in a timely manner. I've lit them up a few times over the last several years for not having them up promptly. They fixed it.

Gemologist was "dead lame" after the Derby and it was reported by the owner. Excuse or…

No Need To Convince the Unconvincable

Joe Drape seems to be on some sort of radio tour, talking about his piece in the New York Times. Yesterday he entered the friendly (to him) confines of the NPR studio to chat. My reaction to that was "bleh", he is speaking to an audience that likely isn't with racing in the first place. A non-starter.

There's a whole lot of chatter currently in our sport, with those trying to convince people that things really are not that bad. The problem as I see it, is that we're wasting time with public relations, trying to convince people who are not convincable.

When I was a kid I went to University, and this school had a huge share of uber-lefties. Not regular left-of-center people who may vote a certain way, but really militant folks. I remember the first or second week I was there, the teaching assistants were on strike for more money, and this group of sympathizers was really upset. They picketed with them, brought them coffee, and did whatever they could to help. I wo…

I Want My TV, No Matter The Cost

We were chatting about television spend on twitter recently - primarily the Derby prep race spend - and I uttered the words "the CPA was horrid". CPA, or cost per acquisition, is how much it costs you, or any business, to land a new customer.

Marketing spend is not really that complicated; although the people who do it (e.g me) would like you to think it is.

Let's say you spend $1,000 on a billboard and 100 customers come in for your "Free Mortgage Pre-Approval" and told you they saw your billboard. Out of those 100, one signs up for a mortgage, and you make $2000 off that sale. Your ROI is $2, and you find that is a profitable avenue. Time to put up more billboards!

With racing marketing spend, this becomes much more complex, however the principles are the same.

A few years ago I wrote an article trumpeting the work Churchill was doing to attack a demographic that doesn't bet racing as much. Females make up about 20% of all TVG's ADW customers: They ar…

An Ominous Harbinger

I was watching a video today via Youtube on the situation in Ontario. The video was well-presented and interesting, and it's worth a watch. Ads on youtube (at the top on the right hand side beside the video) are populated based on content of the video itself. One has to wonder - the ways things are going in Ontario -  if this a harbinger. (click to enlarge)

Ratings Are In: Focusing on Television Red Herring

The overnight ratings are in, and the Derby was down 13% since 2010, and viewership hit a six year low.

In other news, attendance records were set this season and the handle was up 13.2% setting another record.

How can this be? I thought television was bringing in fans, which is why our industry wrings their hands over mainstream TV time so often? We spent money on preps, so that money should've translated to TV viewers for the Big Day in big numbers, shouldn't it have?

This juxtaposition certainly doesn't fit the racing narrative.

I believe this is nothing new. It's 2012.

I wrote this last year wondering about the push on TV from racing:

I believe racing is built to market itself in the 21st century. It is not mass, in a non-mass, niche world. It has active participants of all flavors, "tribes", a multivariable fan base, a double pronged market (the fan and the horseplayer/gambler), loud and proud fans on social media and elsewhere, a foothold with the …

We Need a Glow Pad & Sunday Notes

In the 1990's NHL fans were annoyed with the "glow puck" from Fox. As hockey fans we all knew how to follow hockey (especially us Canadian kids whose first present for Xmas you can remember was a hockey stick), so we don't need-no-stinking-glow-puck. However, it wasn't for us, it was for the fans who don't know hockey, and I think the idea had some merit.

As for racing, may I honestly ask you: Can any casual fan follow what horse is where in the Derby on NBC? I bet Alpha and I had trouble spotting him. I was looking for Dullahan too but I think I found him because I know his silks well. Union Rags? Thank god his saddle pad was close to the rail.

We really have to do something about this, in my opinion. Trakus, using a glow puck superimposed on the screen? Isolated cameras on all horses via the web so people at home can flick that on if they want? All horses don't look like Hansen and the people who we're trying to interest in our sport, do no…

Derby Day Handicapping

"The capacity to enjoy: so few people have it. A gambler may have as many periods of frustration as he does exhilaration, but at least he knows he's alive." - Andrew Beyer

Well today's the day. Handicappers from everywhere are making their bets for the Derby and I'm no exception. It truly is the Day where life changing scores are sure to be made, and for gambling geeks like me and many of you, it's exhilarating.

Last evening I was on the HANA Derby call (audio here) and it was great to hear good gamblers talk about strategies. We do not get that too much, in my opinion, because everyone seems to be about picking winners. If you are a bettor that wants to learn something about gambling the derby as well as handicapping it, I wholeheartedly recommend listening. Mike Maloney is a world class player who earns his living at the game, as does John Doyle. Bob Gregory is retired I believe, but he is quite simply one of the best tournament players alive. Jeff's …

Some Derby "Anti-Branding" From Churchill

It's been no secret I am a huge proponent of making sure our biggest days are promoted as best they can be. And it's also no secret I am impressed with organizations like the Breeders Cup and Churchill Downs Inc for what they've done with them. Our brand on big days is so very important, and even with handle getting killed the last ten years, these days still bring in customers. They've all done a pretty good job.

However, one move that Churchill made this past couple of weeks, I believe, is taking a step backwards.

Via a post on the Betfair chat board:
We regret to notify you that as of now we will no longer be offering exchange markets on racing from the all Churchill Downs-controlled US tracks due to contractual limitations placed on our US affiliate, TVG, by Churchill Downs. The impacted US tracks are:  Arlington Park, Calder Race Course, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Hoosier Park, Oaklawn Park and The Meadows.  The 2012 KY Derby Ante Post market will be carr…

Horseplayer Bible? I Think That's Long Gone

I remember when we were chatting about the HANA boycott of California racing. Was it the right thing to do? Did the members support such an initiative? Would the all-volunteer organization have enough time to put into it? Could a horseplayer group get the industry press to notice it?

After chatting about it for a long time, it was decided - after a member survey where the vast majority said "yes", and the crew that would have to work their asses off said "let's follow the members" - that it would be spearheaded.

In terms of the industry press, it was felt HANA would be up against it. Steve Byk's show? Not a chance. The Bloodhorse, despite excellent journalists like Jack Shinar and Tom LaMarra, get their shoes shined with industry advertising. That was a likely non-starter.

But there were some outs. Seth at Equidaily usually reports news without a slant, Paulick tends to dislike anything horseplayer if it interferes with horsemen issues and was no HANA fa…

Today's Derbyspeak

Yes NYRA looks to be imploding. Steve Crist is getting slammed on chat boards, as is the DRF.

But, hell, it's Derby week.

In case you missed it, here are some things that have been said, or are likely to be said in the coming days.

"He was perfect today" - Popularized in modern times by Todd Pletcher, this phrase is now used by upwards of 15 entrants connections. The other five often go with "We're pleased".

"This is the best chance I've had" - For owners, trainers and jocks who have had previous Derby starters and lost, this is a good buzzphrase.  It inspires confidence.

"That's my Derby horse!" - For people who watch works, this phrase enters the lexicon on a daily basis, when a horse looks like he has a nice move.

"I knew he wouldn't win from post one" - Ed DeRosa

"I told you post one was gold!" - Derek Simon

"I'm going with Calvin" - This is a phrase used by people who don't know any…