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Showing posts from November, 2012

Gural Ups the Ante at the Meadowlands

Jeff Gural, multi-gazillionaire owner of the Meadowlands, has decided to turn the screws another time in pursuit of a good racing product. He's requiring a signed waiver which will allow a racing investigator to enter a barn and out of competition test. Testing - at his expense - will likely be done in Hong Kong, with supertests. If you want to race at the M, you sign, or you race somewhere else.

Some folks have said that this might hurt entries, and it's KGB-esque. They might be right.

One thing though: It is certainly not groundbreaking.

A few years ago Woodbine wanted a similar waiver, backed up by the ORC which does OOC testing. It's really the same playing field that Ontario currently races under. Interestingly enough, when Woodbine required this, it triggered a (very poorly attended) strike at Woodbine by the then horsemen group on record, the OHHA.

It seemed - despite the bluster - that the rank and file at Woodbine didn't have too much of a problem with it. Not…

The NFL And Horse Racing's Ecosystems

NFL Football is a $9.5 Billion dollar business. If you're like me, that sounds low. Racing, from feedmen to racetracks and venues, ADW companies, horses, farms and all the rest certainly has a lot more money than that invested into its sport, yet from the demand side it seems so small when we compare it to the NFL.

However, the NFL "Shadow Economy" one of betting, office pools, and fantasy football shows that the $9.5 Billion number is low.The spin off effects are dazzling.
The amount wagered in Vegas on NFL games: $1.34 BillionThe amount wagered offshore on NFL games: $380 BillionThe number of people playing fantasy football, a form of wagering: 33 millionThe number of people added to fantasy football each year: 2 millionThe amount of money spent on fantasy football: $800 millionThe amount of money changing hands for fantasy football leagues: $1.18 Billion Those numbers don't include the money spent on office pools each year either.

All in all this so-called "…

Leaky Funnel

Here's a good old fashioned sales funnel. You start with a swath of potential customers, and end up with a customer who buys something. Success.

Horse racing's sales funnel to turn a new visitor into an every day horseplayer is unlike many others I've encountered, especially in the Internet age. It's pretty leaky.

Your potential customer comes to the track has a nice time and you want him back. Maybe he saw an ad in the paper. Maybe he came with co-workers for a employee outing. He's the type of guy that comes to the track for the first time. He represents no real demographic.

He finds racing too complex. Leak.

He finds it too expensive: Parking, program, racing form, food, $6 beer. Leak.

He compares it to his time in a casino, or at that neat NFL game he went to last year. Leak.

That's enough for him to not come back, or come back once a year. Failure.

How about if we pre-qualify him? Like racing should be doing.

He's 40, he has money, he has no kids, h…

Nothing Proprietary, Debt And Three Year Olds

Gulfstream Park today announced a 10 cent pick 7 to be guaranteed with a mandatory payout for Claiming Crown day. Some peeps on twitter are asking if it's a new bet for the meet. I would imagine it is.

If it works, expect to see a 10 cent pick 7 coming to a track near you.

Racing wagering, unlike other entities or businesses has not much proprietary about it. If something works in the pari-mutuel pools, it will likely be copied next month by a bunch of other tracks.

When the Beulah Fortune 6 began there was some serious buzz. Little Beulah had a monster pool brewing and it drove some news, and some handle.  Some people might have actually learned where Beulah was.

After that success, Gulfstream added a "Rainbow 6" which was the same thing, and off they went. Little Beulah went back to being, well, little Beulah.

This stifles innovation in horse racing. If a smaller track, for example, spends hours and hours thinking up a great bet, spends money on it and it becomes a hi…

Racing Can Learn Something From the Grey Cup

Yesterday the Championship of Canadian Football  - the Grey Cup - took place in Toronto. It was the 100th edition.

I watched it, like I usually do, because it is an interesting game and it is part of a culture. The game itself is unique, it's niche, it's different. But it's Canada and it has a history.

The CFL has had a resurgence the last half dozen years or so. TV ratings are up, attendance is up. This is very impressive for one reason, mainly: In the 1990's the league probably had a 30-70 chance of surviving.

If you think racing is "dead", it is probably much healthier today than the CFL was.

Numerous things occurred that helped pull the league from the doldrums, but there was one old axiom of marketing that led the charge: Be yourself because you can't market what you aren't.
Until a few years ago, the CFL existed apologetically. It wasn't the National Football League, wasn't American or glamorous. That it also was neither profitable nor e…

Happy Sunday!

The cool air has returned in my part of the world, after a nice 13C/58F day yesterday. What's also returned is Harness Racing Update, after a storm related hiatus post-Harrisburg.

In today's edition,  the opine is looked at why giving an end of the year award to a sires stake pacer is not optimal. It's kind of simple really - if Heston Blue Chip & Michaels Power were sired in Jersey (or Maine, or Florida) they would've been forced into open events and won fewer races and less money. They would've had to compete every week in tough Open events. Then we'd see how they would've done. Giving awards to sires stake horses with good looking win loss records, who win a couple of open stakes, is not what the end of year awards are about, in my opinion, anyway.

The best article of the new issue, in my opinion, is not an article at all. It's a letter from long time owner Jerry Glantz, who talks about his horse (so cooly named) "Keemosabe". It's w…

Writers, Bettors, Sport, Game. All of the Above?

A few headines today show what racing is up against, and the juxtaposition it faces.

Belmont showed an increase in wagering of 11% from last year, while attendance got walloped 14%. This makes perfect sense. Slots allow for a few things: To increase the number of races (344 vs 334 last year), increase field size, and put on a slightly better betting product. As well, we had a takeout reduction year over year and we had a shift, with more bettors playing with NYRA rewards. A lot of these folks get a rebate to play, adding a little bit to churn. On track they get none. 

So: Handle Up.

Slots don't do much for on-track attendance, because, well, they don't. Unless there are some massive giveaways, giving the casual fan something to make the trip for, you'll likely not see much.

In addition, with tracks that have slots on-track (this would not pertain to Belmont as they don't have slots), there is a reverse cross over. Pari-mutuel wagering falls 21%, while horseplayers j…

Racing Knows Low Rake Matters. They Just Can't Do Anything About It

I did a quick scan of the twitter line and noticed Lenny Moon's post on takeout and transparency resulted in some interesting chatter. There are some industry insiders that believe takeout doesn't matter much, and use examples like Laurel's one meet takeout experiment years ago, or a promotion at a website, where changes to rake didn't make handle go through the roof. Others who play with lower take, or play daily and fight the rake vehemently disagree. It's fascinating.

On the outside, the industry trots out a company line on takeout, but I firmly believe actions speak louder than words. And data, of course, rules the day. Takeout matters a lot, but the industry doesn't have the foggiest how to do something about it to grow horse racing.

In the 1990's people like Ernie Dahlman and David Cuscuna were betting big dollars, but paying full boat. Then along came the low rake ADW's or phone services. Once they found low take, their betting exploded. More and…

Thursday Thanksgiving Post, Kind Of

Another Thanksgiving is upon us. This holiday is a weird one for me, like most of them. I work with US and Canadian companies. I don't seem to get the day off in two countries. Cry me a river.

What I do want to do, though, is wish all my US horse racing friends a very happy Thanksgiving. It truly is a wonderful holiday.

Off we go.......

- I am not sure horseplayers realize it a lot of the time, but we're dealing with horses, not a souped-up NASCAR. When a horse shows signs of not racing well, or is off form or worse, we think the trainer has all the answers. Sometimes we label the horse a slug because it runs a couple of bad races, or Beyer figs.

Al Stall mentioned this about Appealing's return win at Churchill:
 “That was the most nerve-wracking win I’ve had in two years, it seems like — the fact that something happened to her that we can’t figure out,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect." This happens more often than not. The conspiracy types - most who left h…

It Makes You Wonder

Our parents taught us at a young age to not judge people without knowing all the facts. I don't think we know them all in the Oliver betting case in Australia, where the jock bet a rival horse and today was suspended 10 months. But we do know enough where it makes you wonder.

You have a decent career, which can be a very short one. You have to do a lot to stay on top of the game and continue making money.  You know you can't bet another horse in the race because  you'll likely get caught. But you do it anyway.

All for a $10,000 bet on an even money shot.

This isn't Lance Armstrong where if you succeed in breaking a rule, you can make millions upon millions of dollars. This isn't Ben Johnson. This isn't even a trainer trying to break in, going to the dark side and building a career as the win percentage rises and the barn suddenly gets full with owners looking for the next print-money supertrainer.

I don't know. It just makes me wonder.

More wonderings.......

A Far East Salvo

I expected I'd hate it, but I didn't.

The half hour CCTV expose on horse racing in California was not overly sensationalistic. It was nothing like I expected. To those who have followed racing for a long time, nothing was overly surprising either. The funniest part of it, I guess, is that it came from a Chinese television show, not from anything this side of the pond.

From the California track vet who is retiring because the protective nature of the sport fills her with dismay and malaise, from the "deep throat" trainer who tells us what many already know, from the pageantry of racing on the front side, to what happens in the backside in some instances; all of it was interesting.

I read an Aussie report recently and it said:

As long as there have been races, people have found ways to beat the field and cheat the system.

Since the days when Gai Waterhouse's father, Tommy Smith, was one of many who built a career on anabolic steroids before they were banned, traine…

Lasix Games

There has been much chatter regarding the use of lasix in racing of late, spurred by the decision by the Breeders Cup to disallow the drug for their juvenile races.

Like most things in racing when it involves big change, arguments - often times tangential or hyperbolic - are brought through a special interest lens. This muddies the waters enough where detractors or supporters dislike the other side enough to ask for the status-quo as a reprieve. Then everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

It's generally what happens in a fractured sport, or business.

Paul Moran, writing on ESPN, uses Australia to make his point about lasix.
Everything is better over there. No Lasix. No bute. Nothing except hay, oats and water. They're just better than we are and, of course, no one colors outside the lines.  On the square, that is, except for the use of EPO-type hormones and other "go-fast" drugs, the widespread use of which has been alleged by a group of Australian trainers and vete…

Gotta See a Man About a Horse

I received an email this week asking if the stable wanted to up their slice of an Ontario sired yearling that we have. It seemed one of the other partners got some cold feet or something, so it was available. It was a modest number so we said "sure" and off we went.

With Ontario racing in such dire straits one might think buying or upping ownership in anything here is crazy. But we buy a horse to do hopefully one of three things - break even, win a race or two to have some fun, or to have a nicely bred horse that has a chance to be really good. We don't need an accountant to approve it.

This is old school and anachronistic and I realize that. It's not the way things should be done, apparently. It's just not being a modern horse owner. So people say.

Frankly, and respectfully, I think "those people" are the ones who have it a little bit backwards. Horse ownership was never meant to be a business for owners. It's meant to be a hobby, an aside, an es…

Where's the Edge?

Every customer needs an edge, every business needs an edge. An “edge”, or a margin that leads towards a profitable outcome, guides just about everything we do, as well as what happens around us.

There was an article today about Wal Mart workers planning to strike on Black Friday. Wal Mart is certainly not going to like that, nor will they stand for it. Not because they are evil vulture capitalists, but because if their prices move up even an inch, their edge is totally destroyed: The Dollar Store will buy up Wal Mart stores quicker than a Magna horse racing exec is shown the door. Prices guide Wal Mart, and they’re its edge. Destroy the edge, they have no business. This is why they fight any increase in costs.

Costco’s edge, similarly, is having tight margins, but with a volume component. If they can convince you that you need 874 boxes of Cherrios, they’ve won; they have their edge. If one day, you, me, and the dude down the street decide we don’t need all that product, they better c…

Breaking News: New Santa Anita CEO Named, Details Future Plans

It's official, a new Santa Anita CEO has been named.

"At about 8:15PM last evening, Frank Stronach called and we shot the breeze for a little while. We spoke about our love for Austrian flat taxes, strudel, and horses" said PTP. "Not long after, and before we both knew it, we shared a Frank's Energy Drink and toasted our new future together."

"He has a one year contract, that could be shortened to a week and a half, " said the auto parts magnate. "I see the team he's bringing in and I expect him to last many, many years, though".

The team, and new ideas announced are eye-opening. Here are a few of them.

The new liaison between the Thoroughbred Owners of California and management will be Ray Paulick.

"I'm happy to welcome Ray aboard. We get along famously, agree on almost everything; we're the proverbial two peas in a pod. Ray has been a big TOC backer in the past, and word is that they singlehandedly paid his entire Paul…

Horse Racing Modeling & Datacapping

There is a really interesting discussion going on in the World around us about datamodeling. The "geeks" are having a fun time extolling the virtues of modeling since the Presidential election returns came in. Those models, which many of us have been following since the 1990's, took a bit of a beating in the media in 2000 and 2004 (some were wrong with suspect polling data), but they were back with a vengeance this year. Most did really well - Sam Wang of Princeton and Nate Silver being the most popular - and if you aggregated the aggregators you got an even better result. For the record, the best result in terms of EV predictions for polling modeling was Drew Linzer of Emory University.  There's a sharp fellow.

Yes, the real clear politics polling average was correct for everything but Florida - which they had close to a tie -  so a guy with a grade 4 education and an internet connection could make a solid prediction, but the accuracy based on the excellent polling…

Churchill Making Some Online Moves?

With a near monopoly on online gambling in the US the last five or six years, we've often wondered why horse racing has seemed to not capitalize, or position themselves in it very well.

No matter what you think of the ideas, Churchill Downs Inc has begun to at least try.

Last month they announced "Luckity" a completely goofy game that is played online, (goofy, if you're a horseplayer, but people love dumb games).  Time will tell if it works or not, and if it is legal or not, but at the very least they are trying to explore this edge that horse racing has. Online gaming is a gazillion dollar business as we all know.

Yesterday Greg Hall dug up a note alluding that Churchill Downs is looking at exchange wagering.

It is difficult to innovate by funding new initiatives in horse racing, and it is fairly easy to see why. If a company like Churchill does something, funds it, and it works, down the line everyone and their brother (horsemen groups, government) wants some of t…

Election Betting Recap

A wild and wacky election betting night is complete.

I say that because the betting, the odds, and the angles were surely wild and wacky, even though the election ended up being perfectly formful based on polling. This was not 2000 when it closed up dramatically, 2004 when at 6PM everyone was calling the President "Kerry", when bookies were left scratching their heads, exit polls were freaking everyone out, and modelers were wondering what was going on.

For bettors you don't particularly need a close election to try and make some money. Last night there were several opportunities, and most of all, there were several opportunities to learn some new tactics for next time.

First, a tough lesson for me was on display early. At 6PM you can get a sharp gauge on how things are going in a closely polled election. Suburban counties are the mom's and pop's with middle class jobs who usually decide elections. They voted for Bush, they voted for Clinton, they voted for Obam…

Election Betting Final - Waiting For Returns

Well, the long and sometimes very annoying election cycle is winding down to a number of hours. I figured we'd have a look at some betting strategy. As we've talked about before, election betting can be lucrative and fun. With millions matched on betfair, the world outside America is captured by it as well. When there are liquid markets (pay attention harness racing!) people will come.

I wish I had a valiant prediction, but at the present moment I don't. I won't be making a move until the numbers start to come in and I will tell you why:

In 2004 George W Bush was ahead in the polls by about 1.5%. He was ahead in the states by similar margins - FL 1%, OH 1.5% ...... NM, CO, NV, IA all ahead. He was also very close behind in places like PA and MN. He looked like a formidable chalk.

At Betfair his price was about 1.50, or 1-2. 

In this election we have the President ahead by about 0.4% in the national polls - which is well below where Bush was - but like President Bush, s…

The Big L

The Daily Racing Form reports that three horses, via scope or otherwise, have reported to have bled in the Breeders Cup:
Trainer John Sadler said both Capo Bastone and Monument, third and last, respectively, in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, bled. Trainer Mark Casse said that Spring in the Air, who finished fifth in Friday’s Juvenile Fillies, also bled. If that's correct, that means 3 out of about, what, fifty horses showed blood?

One wonders how 98% of horses get on the drug if only 6% showed blood in a non-lasix event. However, that's probably hyperbolic and not reality.

The reality is a lot of horses may bleed (or show specs of blood via endoscopy) at some point, so North American racing has used Lasix as a cultural phenomenon. A catch all. A preventive measure. The thing we "just do".

Removing it makes it the thing to not "just do", of course. Change the goalpost, change the culture. Other measures, just like in Europe or Australia, will be used …

Breeders Cup Recap, Live From Daytona

In 2009, visiting a chat board before the Breeders Cup you'd hear some laments about the event being held at Santa Anita.

"The Classic is boring. We have Euro's and turf horses and Zenyatta, but it is not our Classic because of the fake stuff"

"There are some jockey races here, because you have to be tactical"

"It's not dirt, I am not betting"

Yesterday you got what you wished for. The Santa Anita track played like Daytona Speedway. If you wanted to ride tactically, or had a closer, you should've never even showed up.

Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man played ring around the rosie. It was 7 lengths back to third.

The Juvy was a barnburner. 22 and 45, with splits of 23, 24 and 27, with a cavalry charge that never materialized. 144.58, with horses looking so tired it looked like the Marathon, not a mile and a sixteenth.

A Dirt Mile with the speed of the speed winning easily at 15-1. If you expected a closer here, the best you got was an even i…

Thursday Notes

Some news that caught my eye today:

Jack Darling, writing on Standardbred Canada, spoke about this week's OMAFRA report, which highlighted some plans to help the business transition, post slots:
 I didn't like the tone of this report. Instead of an independent, open minded panel working with our industry to develop ways to save and even improve the horse racing business, they sounded like unfriendly government representatives dictating to us. I have also read meme's that talk about "we need to negotiate better", "we can't be spoken to this way" and things like that. I honestly don't understand it. Racing has nothing to negotiate. That OHRIA and others have gotten racing to this point - the point where the government actually wants to transition better - is a victory. They achieved it without a leg to stand on.

The Breeders Cup has lacked serious buzz this year. There is no Zenyatta, no Derby winner, no horse on a streak, no super-outstanding …