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Showing posts from August, 2012

Muddy Waters

I've often wondered: Who do you vote for if you are pro-horse racing? The answer, unlike many other factions which are fairly clear, is pretty muddy.

Today in the Las Vegas Review Journal it was revealed there is a plank in the Republican platform that wants to outlaw internet gaming. That's good for horse racing, because we have a near-monopoly on web betting.

In Ontario, of course, the Liberals (slightly left of the Dem's in the US) took $345 million a year out of horse racing. That's bad.

In New York, the takeover of NYRA is almost complete, done by Mr. Cuomo, who is a Dem. NYRA hasn't run NY racing like a well oiled machine, but I don't know too many that think this is a good thing.

One can conclude that banning online gambling, destroying an industry in Ontario and NYRA's takeover makes us all want to vote "R" or conservative, in whichever country you live in.

But not so fast.

In Arizona, the attack on betting on the net - which included ho…

Friday Notes

Yesterday there was an article confirming the frog juice positives in New Mexico. That wasn't big news in itself, split samples rarely don't show a difference. It was what was buried in the article that was eye-opening. 
 the harshest regulatory penalty the trainers face will be a one-year suspension, a $5,000 fine and forfeiture of the race purse. So, hypothetically, a trainer can use something that's 40X more powerful than morphine. He knows there is no test. He may have used to it score hundreds of thousands or millions of purses, because you are going to win races running horses on a pain killer like that. Because he wins, he gets more and more owners with big money, turning his small training business into a large one. He could, conceivably buy a beach house in Costa Rica and have a tax haven in the Caymans if he or she is good at business.

If he's caught he pays one purse back, along with $5,000. And, of course, he has to spend a year at the beachhouse, or on vac…

Deterrents Are More Important Than Positive Tests

We've all heard the line "the cheaters are always ahead of the authorities" and I think there is some merit to that statement. This goes for racing, with synthetic drugs for personal use or for doping in any other sport. There has been plenty of documentation in the matter. If one molecule is changed, the drug can be used with impunity, because they are testing for the old drug. It is a cat and mouse game, with millions of dollars at risk.

The authorities in some sports have changed their methods of late. Rather than look for a drug, they are looking at profile's of athletes. This is to not catch them with positive tests, but to change behavior..

At the Science of Sport Blog, the results since the introduction of a "blood passport" for cyclists, are eye-opening. The profile and the system around it, look for markers that suggest doping of some sort. The profile is compared to a normal one, statistics are applied and red flags show up, or don't show up. …

Wednesday Notes

Good morning everyone.

There were a few items that caught my eye today:

Bacon reported that trainer Chris Grove got a class I positive test in West Virginia recently.  The drug, as far as I know, has been tested for a long time, and it's not exotic, like the tree frog drug was. This strikes me as odd, and I feel a similar way whenever a positive test is handed down with blatantly tested for bad drugs with someone who should know better: Why would someone with so many starts, who is making a good living, knowingly use a drug that everyone knows is tested for? There's a lot of "one strike and your out" talk going on, and that's fine; we have a problem in racing. But, when the circumstances around it don't make sense, that's where the one strike rule breaks down. In these cases especially, the accused needs a day in court.

It's anyone's guess what happens in Ontario, but it appears Ted McMeekin (the Minister of Agriculture) is up for listening to the r…

Saving Us

Watching the racing industry in Ontario is tough, for many reasons.

Currently there seems to be some denial going on, as the industry is failing to plan for the future. It's not all their fault. The structure stinks with no leader, and there is a ton of hopium out there, looking for some sort of White Knight, or a government report to surface where slots are returned to racetracks.

Cangamble looked today at some items in the industry report, and looked at some things that may help, like holding the yearling sales later this year instead of this next month. We need to hear more of this.

Today, Woodbine poured some water on those who think the status-quo is still an option. They've deleted all Thursday cards for the rest of the year, hoping to save about $3 million dollars.

Our industry will never be the same. The status quo has left, never to return. And horse racing in Ontario is not the only industry that has been affected in this way. The line is long.

Seth Godin wrote a p…

The Body of Work & Dullahan

I watched a replay of the Pacific Classic last evening. Dullahan, in my opinion a remarkably talented horse, had a nice pace set up and rallied home huge, earning a 111 Beyer.

Owner Jerry Crawford had this to say:
People are going to insist that this is a synthetic horse because he has won three Grade Is on synthetic. But there’s no one else in the country that has won three Grade Is on any surface and placed in graded stakes on the turf and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. “I would respectfully submit that the question with Dullahan is not what surface can he run on, but what surface can’t he run on? I think that's a good quote.

Today careers are abbreviated and a horse cannot complete a body of work. If a horse fails at 10f once, he may be labelled distance challenged, and will never try it again, because he's off to stud four months later. If he wins a poly race in a Beyer slower than what he wins on dirt he can be labelled "not good on the fake stuff". It …

Saturday Notes

The Ontario news has been reverberating throughout the Province and elsewhere. Folks seem to be coming to grips with it and none are very pleased. The added uncertainty is killing the thoughts of having a good sale or two this year (blame in this, in my opinion, is squarely on the government):
Horse breeders in the province were totally deflated by the news. The thoroughbred industry is set to stage its yearling sales on Sept. 3, 4 and 8, while the standardbred game has its first auction (the Canadian yearling sale) Sept. 15-16. With no firm commitment about racing’s future, consignors to the sales were devastated with the news. There is wide speculation that many breeders will withdraw their horses from the Canadian yearling sale and then look to sell privately if a viable plan does come later in the fall. There is a dichotomy of opinion out there, as well. If you read the comments on my piece below, from owners, customers and bettors, there is a "they made their bed so they ha…

Ontario Government Closes the Door on Horse Racing

Today the interim report by three former cabinet ministers in Ontario was released. Although the industry pinned some high hopes on a recommendation that the Slots at Racetracks program would be reinstated, that was not the case.

The points made in the document should, in my opinion, be read very closely by those jurisdictions that still have slots. We all know what this report details is currently happening in those jurisdictions, and it must be turned around and changed to survive.

Some highlights/lowlights (these are direct quotes from the 53 page report):
 Without slots revenue or a new revenue stream, the horse racing industry in Ontario will cease to exist. Absent some other new revenue stream, no Ontario racetrack has a viable business plan to continue racing operations after March 31, 2013. The horse racing industry should be based on conducting races that appeal to horse players.Though it is outside our mandate to comment on the merits of the government’s decision to cancel S…

Why Isn't Racing Lobbying Against Online Sports Wagering?

A headline this morning screamed: "While Hollywood movies grossed just under $26 billion worldwide in 2011, the South American online gambling and betting market by itself generated over $124 billion in revenue that same year."

This is an industry that is technically "banned" in many locales. And it appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. Facebook and Zynga are talking more and more about social gaming. There are rumblings in Vegas about it, New Jersey and California are talking about it. The list grows longer each day. And with only 1% of current gaming happening via mobile, that is sure to explode too, as Cantor Gaming announced today.

Right now in North America, racing has as close to a monopoly on online wagering as we can imagine.

When we hear racing talking about online poker, or gaming, it is generally about getting a slice, not worrying about its threat to their pari-mutuel wagering monopoly, and the reduced flow of money to purses and profits it will…

If He (We) Only Knew

I bet Alpha in the Derby. Not as much as this guy, though, and well, if he read this Bloodhorse article this morning about Alpha and the Derby surely it didn't make him overly happy.
"We were very disappointed at Churchill Downs but we had so many reasons for his poor performance," McLaughlin said. "It was very hot that day, very humid, and he just lost it in the paddock. He was very upset and washy and dripping wet and stepped on himself and lost a shoe. You're at the track, you just bet $100,000 on a racehorse's nose, and he's having a conniption; throwing his shoe like I did at my cottage last weekend.

I was on twitter and I watched the track feed. I saw no mention of this. Maybe I missed it?

If not, this is kind of strange. Millions of people with their eyes on horses to bet the Derby and nary a mention on the airwaves? It's like it's 1932, and some bookie is still charging you -7 on Chicago, knowing the running back and quarterback are ou…

Racing Plan for Ontario Due Tomorrow

There's a lot of rumor and innuendo about the release of the Snobelen et al report tomorrow in Ontario. The hopes range from the crazy (they're going to give all the slots money back!) to the more sensible (a transition plan with more than $50M over three years, with some sort of structural industry blueprint to help it move forward).

I don't have the foggiest what's going to happen.

What I do hope happens, if this turns out rosier than anyone thought, is that the people who protect the status quo (yes, that would be the people who torpedoed the RDSP* in Ontario a couple of years ago), get off the reservation. The industry has to move forward, and hangers on, status quo protectors and people with their hands out have to go. They had a seat at the table. They had a shot to run the industry and they failed.

Regardless, for those of us with horses in the province, and more importantly for others who derive a livelihood from it, we hope it's good news.

* Racing Developm…

The Bygone Era

Dan over at Thorotrends has a neat piece up today. In it he looks at not only his family history, but a little bit about the history of bookmaking on horse racing.
In bygone times, Dan writes: One estimate I read suggested a betting volume seven times that bet legally at the racetrack. Today, when we read statistics that say 90% of handle is wagered off-track, maybe our reaction should be "Sure, but it has always been that way." I sent a link to the piece to a professional gambler friend of mine. He is into the history of betting. He sent me the following back this evening.

He wrote:
"I've got the 1948 edition of Win, Place, and Show by Robert Dowst.
" 1947 over $1,500,000,000 were poured through the mutuel windows in straight, place, show or daily double betting on thousands of horses in thousands of races. A reader of course should understand that for every dollar wagered legally in the machines at the tracks possibly $5 or $10 are wagered on th…

Finley Interviews Jeff Gural

There was a decent article today in HRU with an interview, conducted by Bill Finley, of Jeff Gural.

As usual, Gural pulls few punches.
Maybe the goal is to get the most money you can before the whole things collapses and disappears.
I know that I have to make changes and I have to hope that some people will be willing to help us. Bayonne has been a big disappointment.The governor told me I wasn’t getting slots and he kept that promise. On the other hand, I never envisioned that Revel would be a complete disaster.[On Buying Thoroughbreds] Yes, I bought two, one for $160,000 and another for $50,000. Bobby Ribaudo will train them. Does this have something to do with my worries about harness racing’s future? Yes. To read the full article it's here (pdf alert). 

Note: Standardbred Canada has walked back on their credit policy changes, due to backlash from members. For their sales, you no longer need to submit a credit app from your banker.

Ohio & New York Better Wake Up Fast

The battle from government and racetracks for slot machines has heated up dramatically the last year. Ontario, as most know, is going to lose $345 million of revenues starting next March. In New York, it looks fairly bleak as Alan details on his blog:
 At this particular one, conducted by the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law, industry types defended the tracks' share of racino revenue against the drumbeat of criticism from the Cuomo administration that has been starting to build; most recently a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (which I have not seen) which states that the money has not resulted in increases in attendance or handle.  
This is a stark reminder to everyone that the world we live in is not the world of late 1990. Then, if you build it they will come, ruled. Meaning if you stuff every buck into purses, people will come and we'll have slots for a long time for purses, with pretty much impunity.

Now, for whatever reason, the powers that be are lo…

A Personalized Betting App Would Be Helpful, But It'll Never Happen

I read with interest this morning, a Mashable piece on the new Golf Digest App, available at the App store for $19.99 per year.

What the app does is amazingly interesting (watch the short video below, it's neat). It allows the user to input his or her own statistics for courses (from a partnership with another company) and analyzes them against others. Then it does more than that. It finds out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and tailors content from the magazine for you, so you can better the game. The idea and work was spawned from the experiences of a golfer who happens to be a professor of statistics at Columbia University.

The advantages of an app like this are there, and there is value. It also helps a publisher - publishing revenue has dropped more than racing has - gain some much needed traction for their content.

If we flip it over to horse racing, the same principles apply. You'll often hear (I have written it here many times) that you need to know your streng…

Wednesday Notes

There was an announcement today that trainer Stew Firlotte has passed away. 

Mr. Firlotte brings back some memories for me. As a kid, getting first interested in racing, his pacing colt Ralph Hanover was one I followed. Later on, when I moved to Toronto to go to school, we'd chart his young colt's and fillies progress from Florida, and get ready to bet them when they made their first start at Greenwood. Year after year it seemed he'd pay 5-2 or 2-1 with horses ready to blow the doors off the competition.

His horses tended to race good and look good and some, like Digger Almahurst, looked pretty hard to train too. I guess my two favorites of his were Town Pro and Ralph. I always liked Rare Review. For making a couple of scores Happy Family was one that sticks out. I liked that little horse.

Question: What lasts longer, a strawberry left out in the sun or a sophomore thoroughbred? Answer: Let me think about it. Bodemeister is off to Rood and Riddle for an undisclosed illness.…

Kentucky Has Expensive Milk

It looks like there's an international incident brewing in Bellingham, Washington.  Some residents are quite annoyed that Canadian's are overflowing their local Costco looking for cheap milk, and gas. Canada, as most know, has a high sales tax, a high gas tax and milk is not subsidized. So it makes sense to make the trip to Washington and spend, spend spend. A facebook page popped up asking Costco to get rid of those damn maple syrup, back bacon eating Canucks.

Similarly, Jennie Rees wrote a story on the troubles at Turfway Park. Stakes races are being canceled, purses per day are microscopic, and places like Mountaineer, Indiana Downs and Penn National are taking all their horses. Turfway does not have alternative gaming to subsidize purses, so horsemen and fans are buying their milk in places that do.

Washington has cheap milk and gets tons of business. Kentucky has expensive milk and has no business. I guess it's economics 101 in action, but it sure doesn't make Ken…

Taking a Leap of Faith

Awhile back, I, like many of you, opened up the email to find the Battle Royale between Jeff Gural and Joe Faraldo.

Gural, as we all know, wants a portion of purse money (some of it to be matched by tracks) to be used to grow the sport, and he commissioned a poll showing over 80% of responders agreed. Faraldo generally believes the participants have done enough.
It seems, like most things in racing, we have the dreaded status-quo stalemate.
It’s no secret where I stand. I believe all of us have a stake in harness racing, whether we train, own, drive, groom or bet. So I am certainly biased towards Mr. Gural’s point of view.
However, I think it’s more than just a bias. I think its good business.
In late 2010 the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was severely on the ropes. Television ratings were down, sponsorship money was fading, and tournaments – which were already at an all-time low number - were being canceled for 2011. LPGA players, upset with the direction of the Tour, …

Kentucky Downs Gets the Model Right

Corey Johnson at Kentucky Downs announced their takeout rates, purse structure and stakes program for their boutique meet this past week. The highlights: 
Takeout rates are cut. They are the lowest in North America, below both Keeneland and Churchill.Purses will be a stout $409,000 per day.Stakes races are added, now totalling seven, including the Gr III Kentucky Cup What we see here is a model that makes sense, and some promotion that fits like a glove.

We have a track that is subsidized by instant racing, but instead of stuffing all the cash into purses, there is a mix. The takeout reduction this year, and maybe next and next, might result in a small loss of revenue, but by using some of the instant racing money for lower takeout, and adding it as a marketing vehicle, it's telling players everywhere they are open for business. Hopefully, like Balmoral Park has shown, handle will grow and players will notice over time.

In addition, Kentucky Downs exemplifies what makes thoroughb…

Harness Ownership Compares Favorably to Thoroughbreds

About a year ago Bill Finley wrote this on US
“Just about everyone in the harness industry has an acquaintance or two or three who owns Thoroughbreds. Do the game a favor: Pick up the phone, call your friends and tell them they are in the wrong business.”
Over the past several years I have worked with the Thoroughbred industry from Keeneland to Socal, with the Jockey Club to vets. Although for the most part the discussions were focused on horseplayer issues, as we all know, betting issues overlap with everything else. This is a sport, but it’s a gambling sport, and the economics of the supply side meet the demand side not as a matter of convenience, but as a matter of survival.
What I’ve learned, is that Bill’s column was right then, and it’s right now.
Let’s look at some of the problems and characteristics facing the Thoroughbred’s of late and juxtapose them with harness racing. 
Did you know 99% of thoroughbreds are on lasix? If you didn’t, you’ve likely been living under a…

Wednesday Notes

With apologies to our pal Tom LaMarra, this made us go hmmmm.

This is the response from sports' leagues in their lawsuit against New Jersey wanting to offer sports betting:
“Gambling on amateur and professional sports threatens the integrity of those sports and is fundamentally at odds with the principle… that the outcome of collegiate and professional athletic contests must be determined, and must be perceived by the public as being determined, solely on the basis of honest athletic competition,” the suit states. “Amateur and professional sports are an integral part of American culture, particularly among the country’s youth who often look up to athletes as role models. That response would be fine, I guess, if states like Nevada didn't already have sports betting.  I see what they're doing (trying to stop a proliferation of sports betting) but it reads like the worst kind of outrage, in my opinion, the selective kind. Sports betting in some states is inevitable; it&…

Sportsmanship Is Alive and Well In Horse Racing

Let's say you and me own a racetrack. It's a long, long way away geographically from any racing epicenter. In that racing hotbed interstate after interstate away from us, slots churn, resulting in purses for $30,000 or $50,000 a race for any decent horse. There is probably a stakes race or two there, too, with not fantastic competition for $100,000. The race won't even have eliminations, and it's in their own backyard.

Our track has $1000 purses, but you and I grab some sponsors, and we get a purse for $60,000 for one race a year, with eliminations the week before for $20,000. It's on a half mile track so getting the eight post can wipe out any chance for a horse owner to even make the final. With our track 500-1000 miles away, it's probably a tough sell, but we're trying.

But a funny thing happens. We look at the entries and we see:

Real Nice: Top class pacer in New York, who has made more than $1 million.

Mystician: A horse who may make $2 million, and w…

Sunday Notes

Yesterday at around 5:30PM things were a little dicey.

I was getting ready for the $275k New Jersey Classic at the Meadowlands and realized I had to watch Hansen at Mountaineer. I flipped over and caught the last half. Then I immediately flipped over and watched the Whitney at Saratoga; I caught that one just past the quarter. Then I watched almost the whole New Jersey Classic. Three stakes races, all run at the same time. Wow.

In other news, handle was down 7% in July and racing is again pretty much evens for 2012.

I thought the handle for the Hambo was up when I was scanning the pools yesterday, and it turns out it was. There was a 9% bump from 2011.

I wonder what Somebeachsomewhere paces if he was given Panther Hanover's trip?

For thoughts on Hambo Day and the performances, please see HRU, page 8, PDF.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Mansion's and Hambo's

There has been a lot of chatter on the interwebs about Churchill Downs' $9M expansion (or upgrade if you will) called the "Mansion". Some find the project a little bit anachronistic, or worse, looking back a the history of the south.
Pick the adjective that would best describe Churchill Down’s notion that this particular image is a coveted entertainment experience. Arrogant? Insensitive? Tone-deaf? They can appeal to the rich all they want, and probably successfully, but surely, there are better exemplars of contemporary luxury than one that recalls an era that we should overcome, not replicate. I'm less introspective than that, so it flies a little over my head.

What I think Churchill is doing is being loyal to its brand, and that's what they should be doing, in my opinion.

Writing for Harness Racing Update today (pdf), a similar notion was put forth about the success of the Hambletonian:
 The Hambletonian has never, ever run away from its history. It has n…

Willmot Retirement & Racing's Chasm

This week former Woodbine Entertainment CEO and current Chairman David Willmot called it quits. A man who dearly loved the "OJC", Ontario racing and racing in general certainly deserves to enjoy his retirement, and everyone involved in Canadian racing wishes him good health.

When we look at what Mr. Willmot did for Canadian racing, the list is very long.

Along with offering and promoting our big races with verve, Woodbine has heavily invested in racing, totalling over $385 since slots were introduced. Compare this to some slots tracks who are purely balance sheet driven. There is no comparison.

When you sit in the finish line bar, head upstairs to Champions, or visit the paddock, or turn on your television to watch racing, you see what Woodbine has invested.

Harness racing participants are some of the most conspiracy minded folks you'll ever see, and with David Willmot running the show (and being a thoroughbred guy), this was shown again and again. But when you looked a…

The Badminton Federation is Hired

Last evening a few teams, for rather complex reasons, decided to tank their badminton matches at the Olympics. If you watch the video of the event, it's comical and a little perturbing, because the Olympics is supposed to be all about the passion of athletics. The crowd was pretty upset and it really put a black mark on their sport.

What happened next was eye-opening, however. The Badminton Federation let them have it, booting the teams out of the Olympics.

On Wednesday, the Badminton World Federation ejected eight doubles players from China, South Korea, and Indonesia for trying to lose on purpose. The federation charged them under sections 4.5 and 4.16 of the organization’s Players’ Code of Conduct: “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”

"You cannot allow a player to abuse the tournament like that, and not take firm action,” Craig Reedie, International Olympic Committee vic…