Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quick Notes

The ever-interesting Prix D'Amerique went today in France. Ready Cash got the job done. What a spectacle that race is. The coverage is awesome, and seeing 20 harness horses thundering down the lane is exhilarating. The video is here. Of special note, stay through the end of the video. The dude who interviews the winning trainer looks like Bernie Madoff. Maybe it is...... hmmmmm.

Cangamble looks at fantasy horse racing. I'll draft Mickey Burke's stable first for all Meadowlands starts.If this keeps up I'll take Yannick Gingras second.

The O'Brien Award winners are all here. It's no shock who won Horse of the Year this year. He'll likely double up in the US.

I watched, kinda, the O'Brien Awards last night. The Woodbine stream didn't come on until about a half hour in via Ustream. Ironically, we missed seeing Woodbine win the excellence in broadcasting O'Brien.

I was on the digital marketing committee for the Breeders Cup and got to meet and chat with Peter Rotondo, their VP of Media and Marketing. Pete's a great guy who tries his butt off and he lent a hand to a Harness Racing Update piece on marketing harness racing here (pdf).

Hansen lost the Holy Bull today, but I can't read too much into that. It was a sloppy track and it looked like Ramon wanted to get the race done as quickly as possible.

The Meadowlands was over $3M in handle last night. It must have been the churn, because there were a ton of short shots. The Presidential was a great race, deservingly won by Golden Receiver.

Neat video of the NHC winner seeing his horse get up for him to win a cool million.

Enjoy your early part of the week everyone!

Horse Racing, by Definition, Invites Skepticism

There was quite the chat on twitter a couple of evenings ago regarding Rachel Alexandra and her new foal. Apparently, according to her caretakers, they were taken to the clinic but later proclaimed fine.

On the surface that all sounds normal.

But to some, with a lifelong history with horses and caring for them, there were holes in the story. They wanted to know more and they weren't taking this at face value.

Others thought the old horse racing line "it's their property and it's none of your business" should reign supreme. That was the crux of the twitter battle.

Not siding with anyone, or any side in this debate, and just speaking generally: Not taking things at face value in horse racing is pretty much what horse racing is. The culture of our sport - buying, selling and caring for horses - has a history that invites it.

If a house seller does not disclose the 1930 wiring that can result in a fire to a willing buyer, he may find himself waking up and starting his day by saying "good morning Mr. Madoff".

If you and I have a commercial business for sale and we don't disclose revenues or the lack thereof, we're also in big trouble.

Conversely, if you claim a horse with a broken knee after being told he's just fine, it's buyer beware. The trainer who sold the horse is considered "sharp".

If you give a horse up for retirement and he ends up on a van going to Canada, well, "these things happen".

If you don't disclose what's going on with a sire or horse for commercial gain, it's "part of the business".

Horse racing's culture makes us skeptical. If you are not skeptical, you are probably broke.

In many ways we're the old west or the rural east, just like the sport started and we intended it to be a century and a half ago.

It's true. Horses and horse racing in general are personal property and "none of anyone's business". But when something happens with horseflesh in our sport - whether it's innocent or not - we shouldn't expect people who've lived and breathed racing for decades to not have a healthy dose of skepticism.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Slot Purses Rise, Imagination Falls

I was on a call this week and the Horseplayers Association's Bob Dwyer mentioned that the slots issue in Illinois is "not really a customer issue" on the positive side because slots don't do much at all from a customers' perspective.

Not only that - which I think we'll all agree with - even sometimes for the business side it makes one scratch their noggin.

Never is that more telling than yesterday's news about Georgian Downs increasing the slots-fuelled purse of the Upper Canada Cup by $100,000, to a whopping $600,000.

The Upper Canada Cup is a sire stakes race, in a province full of sires stakes races. In Godin-speak it's not a purple cow, it's not even a cow. Last year, on a card that gave out about $800,000 in purses, the handle was $225,000. The customers yawned. They yawned so much that apparently it's a good idea to hike the purse even more.

Where is the imagination?

We all know if the purse for the Cup was $200,000 you'd get exactly the same horses in the race. It's not like they're going to take the week off and race at Western Fair for $10,000 in a nw100k OSS life. The handle wouldn't be much different either.

What could you do with the other $400,000?

How about partnering with the OSS for a 4YO series to encourage horse owners to race their horses at 4, i.e. juicing up the Masters Series?

What about changing they way things are done, like Greg on twitter pointed out, so you can up the Confederation Cup purse to a million?

What about a successive weekend series of some sort, with $100,000 of it into marketing the event to cottage country? Create the Little Brown Jug of the north?

I am sure, with some thought, consultation and a will, we could do something worthwhile and exciting. For goodness sakes, it's $600,000.

Instead, we have another $100,000 added for an OSS race that will be lucky to generate $225,000 of handle, and probably $15,000 of revenue for the racetrack when deductions are taken out.

Several years ago in Louisiana, one of the track guys was speaking to a horseman who was asking for slots money to fuel $2,000 claimers. The track dude said 'no one bets them. Why don't I, each week just show up at the track and give everyone with a $2,000 claimer a check not to race.'

I agree with that gentleman. If we're going to dole out slot money, just for the sake of doling out slot money, give it away. It's cheaper.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Billy Davis Isn't Afraid of Social Media

Since the beginning of time some customers have believed that the game is not on the level. "The participants want to cash a bet, there's reason to be skeptical of any driver, jock, trainer or vet". You know the drill.

Someone wants to change that, in his own small way. Driver Billy Davis, who's no slouch with over 400 wins last season, is one of the more refreshing, transparent and honest folks on twitter you'll ever see from racing. He'll tell his followers what horse's he likes today, what they did last time, and even what his strategy might be.

Here's a snip from yesterday via Twitter:

Racing at Flamboro this afternoon. 10 drives

In the 5th race I'm on St Lads Glamourgirl(3-1). This filly Is very green, she won last week in the front, I'd like to race her from behind

Hoosier King (3-1) in the 6th, was 2nd last week and surprised me on how much gate speed he has,I have the rail today,expect me on the front

In the 9th race Maes Rustler(2-1) has the 8 hole today which will make it tough, but he is really fast at the start, giddy up

It's what this business needs more of from our participants. I predict we'll see more and more people like Billy doing his or her thing on the micro-blogger and elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As the Data Turns

Do you want to be a major league sport? Perhaps it's time to open that Al Gorian "lock box" we have on our data.

Wolfram Alpha, a possible google competitor, is called a "computational knowledge engine", and the queries are top notch. In Search Engine Land yesterday, it was shown how free NFL statistics help fans and searchers learn more.
  • I am a long time admirer of Wolfram|Alpha and I’m happy to report that my admiration continues to grow, as you can now access NFL (National Football League) statistics using Wolfram|Alpha.
Here's the query for "Tom Brady versus Joe Flacco passing yards". In the words of CDP track announcer Vance Cameron, "Boom, just like that."

Now, let's check the results for "Triple Crown Winners" via a query here.

Ugh.

This afternoon on twitter, o_crunk noticed Tennis is getting its act together too.
I remember in about 1982 when my cousin, a sports bettor, needed to know the score for the Falcons-Dallas game at Fulton County, because he bet on it. He called information, got the phone number of the stadium, and called. A nice sounding southern woman said "oh, it's 21-13 for us, honey". It seems racing is still a lot closer to the 1982 NFL, than it is to 2012 tennis or football.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gural's Tough Talk on Rule Breakers

Jeff Gural at the SBOA banquet in Toronto:
  • Some individuals will always be one step ahead of any testing procedures,” he said,” but once a couple of people are taken away in handcuffs, that will be a big deterrent.” Gural emphasized that he’s prepared to use his newly-forged relationship with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office to make prosecution for illegal drug use in racing a stern reality.
There's always whispers on backstretches about the use of synthetic painkillers, blood builders and the like which are of course, illegal and dangerous. When caught with something undetectable, the suspensions are just that - time off - and there are rarely any other repercussions. If Gural has his way, "time off" will have a whole new meaning.

Read the full story here.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Slot Cuts on the Table in Ontario

It's not like we weren't warned.

Today in a special report in the Toronto Star, it was announced that the provincial (defacto) austerity czar, economist Don Drummond, has put slots at racetracks "on the table".
  • [He] recommends that Ontarians play slots at “alternative sites” to racetracks so they won’t have to hike out of town to play. 
Ontario, the last decade, has been Europe-lite.  The government has raised taxes, while spending like drunken sailors, racking up tremendous debt. Last month, Moody's put the province on credit watch.

Someone has to pay the piper, and where will the government go? Taking a bigger slice from racetracks and horsemen seems to be the logical first place. We'll see if this trail balloon survives.

In fiscal 2011, about $340 million went to purses and tracks, according to the OLG Annual Report.

Non-Handicapping Handicapping

Over the years what I've found is that the principles of being a good handicapper (and money-manager) in horse racing, overlap with many other disciplines.

Today in Harness Racing Update, one of the books on this list was used as an illustration with regards to how so, so many participants and gamblers view supertrainers. If you'd like to read that story, or sign up for Bill Finley's internet magazine, for free, you can here.

Here's a short list of books I have read that have made me better at betting, decision making on play/pass, odds board makeup, and understanding horse racing, in general.

1. Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell - Although on the surface this book is about "gut feel" it truly isn't. There are dozens of examples and illustrations in it, that hit home for us as handicappers. It reads like a magazine piece, as well, and you can finish it in one or two sittings.

2. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - Behavioral economics is the rage of late, and the author writes the Freakonomoics of that genre. Why do we make the decisions we do? What's our motive? Are we rational? Although several chapters of the book were more for marketers, there were plenty of gems for handicappers.

3. The Way of the Turtle by Curtis Faith - A stock trading book which tells the tale of taking newbies and turning them into successful traders. A number of the rules - the rights and the wrongs - completely parallel what we do as handicappers who have to manage a bankroll and read odds boards.

4. Supercrunchers by Ian Ayres - I guarantee there are thousands of handicappers heading to the races today with three hot "angle bets". I also guarantee that a majority of them are betting angles that may have worked at one time, but are costing them money now. This book explains how computers and data are shaping the way we make proper decisions.

5. Gambling Wizards by Richard Munchkin - How can you get that list of experts in one book and not learn anything? It includes an excellent interview with the late Alan Woods.

Those are a few of mine. Have you read any books outside horse handicapping that have helped you become a better player?

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Outstanding Racing Documentary

Horse racing has many stories to tell, and when they are told well they can make excellent motion pictures. Phar Lap, Seabiscuit and The Killing are but three examples. I have always believed that we tell the best stories in documentary format, however, because what we do each day, whether we bet, groom, shoe, train, drive or ride, is very interesting.

One such film, "Exhibition Drive", examines 9 days at Charlottetown for last years Gold Cup and Saucer. As you most know, the event is very unique - something we don't see in racing pretty much anywhere - and to have virtually an entire town and province stoked for one event (for the modest purse of $60,000) is fascinating. That it's in such an out of the way place, it even makes it more intriguing.

The filmmakers touched on a lot that I've seen from visiting: The horses and the people who care for them. The event, the parade, the two century history of racing on the Island. But it went beyond that. It captured the scenery, the race calls, the races themselves and the characters from all walks of life who play a part in the event; right down to the infamous folks who charge $3 to park in their front lawns, or the children climbing on rooftops for a glimpse of the race.

In addition, the narrative focused on the way of life and the horse in that part of the world - where people are happy for you when you win, and no one is worried about getting rich, or going broke from being with horses.

They'd say "How can one be considered broke if you are racing a horse?"

It was very well done. It's an event the world should see.

If you are a racing fan and love horses - thoroughbred or harness, it doesn't matter -  it's worth the one hour running time.



Exhibition Drive from Jeremy Larter on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let's Do Some Lobbying & Save Horse Racing!

Horse racing has lost its way. Sure we have slots, but slots are only a band-aid. We need more to save horse racing, and I have a solution. This is big.

The Presidential elections are upon us, and this fall, the US will be voting in a new dude, or sticking with the old dude. What happens in Washington is pretty interesting. Generally, when you look at who gives cash to whom, the decisions made at the top level tends to fall right into line. If you want to run the World Bank, make sure your school is number three on the list. If you want to stop the Internet Piracy Act, make sure you're an Internet company that's at least in the top ten.

It doesn't really matter if you're business is poor, your product sucks, or even if it doesn't make any sense. The Solyndra thing was probably poo-pooed as unrealistic by a seventh grade science fair winner in Duluth, Minnesota. It still got some nice cash.

It's time for horse racing to join the fray. Enough is enough. We need to buy some power.

My plan is simple: Let's take 3% out of purses, which is about $30 million, and sign it all over to Mitt Romney.  Why him? Well, horse owners tend to be loaded, so let's go with the capitalist. He also doesn't take cash from every Tom, Dick and Harry, so we're a nice change for him. Why answer only to bankers when he can answer to us? Let's forget for a moment he drove across Michigan with a dog on the roof of his car; he gets the cash.

That $30 million vaults us up the donor list - right to the top.

Currently if I give Mitt Romney a call I will get dead air.

"Hi, this is Pull the Pocket calling for Mitt"

"Who"

"Pull the Pocket, I have a horse racing blog"

"Bzzzzzzz"

Now, after 30 cool million has been deposited in his account, it's different.

"Hi, this is Pull the Pocket calling for Mitt"

"Who?"

"Pull the Pocket, I have a horse racing blog"

"Mumble, mumble..... horse racing..... mumble......"

"Hi, this is Mitt Romney, what can I do for you Mr. Pocket?"

Bingo!

That's for just me. Just think if someone important calls, like Mike Battaglia.

Here are a few things we'll see after we sign this check.
  •  New legislation mysteriously pops up that demands Beyer Speed Figures are to be printed on Captain Crunch cereal boxes.
  • The winner of the National Handicapping Championship will get invited to the White House and give handicapping tips to Bono.
  • Witholding tax on winnings? Poof! What withholding tax?
  • Quickly, and with little fanfare, a little something will be added to a Farm Bill, whereby horse owners can deduct 300% of their losses off their taxes. Where am I going, Disneyworld? No way baby - the Keeneland Sale, right before I go to Harrisburg.
  • The new White House twin cats will be named "Sunday" and "Silence"
  • Rapid Redux will be invited to the White House for a special Medal of Honor.
  • If someone at NYRA screws up, and the New York State Wagering Board wants to get them fired for it, they'll get a little phone call from our new friend Mitt.
  • There are now four people invited to the gaming summit on Capitol Hill: Steve Wynn and Donald Trump, as usual, with their new pals Mark & Nancy from Mountaineer.
  • Retired racehorse pony rides at Camp David!
  • New contract for air traffic control will be awarded to Trakus.
  • There's a new entry on Andy's California email blast list: Mitt@President.com.
  • Instead of filibustering, the Congress will have to partake in a big, kick-ass handicapping contest.
  • Tax breaks for new tech workers! NYRA, for free, can hire someone to finally type in scratches and changes into Equibase on time.
  • Frank Stronach will become an honorary American.
  • Mitt writes all internal cabinet memos in caps, paying respect to his new pal JERRY JAM
  • The Eclipse and Dan Patch Awards will be televised on CSPAN.
  • Derby Day will become a national holiday. Drinking laws suspended so everyone over 16 can drink Mint Juleps. For Little Brown Jug day, every hour is happy hour.
  • The First Family will all possess signed stuffed dolls of Kegasus that they proudly display for visiting dignitaries.
  • Bob Evans will no longer be considered only a restaurant
As you can see the possibilities are endless.

And it's all for the low price of $30 million, or 3% of purses.

Let's save horse racing! Who's with me?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Shot of Pop Culture

If you read virtually any book or white paper on marketing that studies brand change, or re-branding, it's often said the hardest brands to change are the ones who have something negative seeded in the minds of the general public.

Kate Hunter posted this pic from the Derby Wars iPhone horse racing game this morning on twitter.

Yes, just go behind the barn door Mr. or Mrs. iPhone user, take that little syringe, and light 'em up for the race!

Wow.

Other Twitter notes-

Frank Stronach joined Twitter. There's a fascinating conversation going on Twitter about lobbying for an Eclipse Award via the medium (some think people like Graham Motion got a leg up this year with Animal Kingdom because he is so well-liked on Twitter). Well, I wonder if Frank is lobbying for Exec of the Year?! As you know I am not a Frank basher. Not only do I believe it's not warranted for the most part, it's also the easiest pass into horse racing hipsterism. I hope people treat him well on the micro-blogger. I am sure he'll have some interesting things to say. I am disappointed he didn't use the Frank's Energy Drink picture as his avatar, though.

(alert! The plot thickens. Frank has shut down his twitter account, according to TBreport).

Further, Jeannine Edwards is wonderfully authentic on twitter. She got caught Tebowing at the Eclipse Awards. You can follow her here.

Have a great day folks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hambo Changes & Other Notes

It was announced today that the Hambletonian has changed formats, and the change is quite interesting:
  • "We think returning to heats will be exciting for the fans, particularly those onsite at The New Meadowlands facility on a day that is always the sport’s greatest showcase.” 
  • In 2014 a $400,000 Hambletonian Maturity for eligible four-year-old trotters will be implemented, in keeping with the effort to provide incentives races for owners who choose to race their horses after their sophomore year. The Maturity will be raced as a single dash at a mile and an eighth
It looks like we are back to our roots - harness heat racing - and we have a slight Europeanization of the sport. Big fields (up to 13 can race in the Hambo and 16 in the Maturity) and a push to seed purses for older horses is something rarely pushed in North America.

Chris Christie signs a sports betting bill.

I opened up Harness Racing Update on Sunday and saw a full page color ad from Valor Racing. Barry Irwin's partnership owned Derby winner Animal Kingdom. The benefits of owning harness horses are huge when we compare them to the thoroughbreds - we can race 30 times a year, purses are good, yearling prices lower. Why don't we see an ad in thoroughbred mags from our sport?

Standardbredgal found some excellent harness racing memorabilia and she wrote about it in a cool blog post.

Why do we hear exchange wagering is too complex for our fans to understand, so don't expect much? Matt Drudge ran this link today to the Intrade board for the US election. The general public gets it just fine. We don't need focus groups to ask what existing customers want, we need to expand our base. BTW, Romney is juicy odds for the November elections, in my opinion. I think the US folks opt for a CEO this time, rather than a visionary with little biz experience. I'm going long. But I'm rarely right on these things :)

There was a Hollywood Heyden sighting at harnessracing.com.

Ray Paulick  is doing a great job with the horse slaughter situation in Pennsylvania. Well done.

It was reported that Jerry Yang left Yahoo! just this minute, and the stock popped. I wonder what racing would be if it were a stock. Would our stock pop if the folks who control California racing handed the reins over to someone new?

The Meadowlands is going back on a couple of things with their wagering menu. The $1 supers are gone, and a couple of pick 3's have been added. Short term it's probably a good move. Long term I don't think getting rid of the dollar supers will help much. They provide the customer with choice.

Very few surprises in the US Eclipse voting last evening.

Have a great evening everyone.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Whales & Takeout

Tom LaMarra wrote a terrific piece in the Bloodhorse on high volume bettors. This business is slowly learning about takeout, and its machinations.
  • Interesting statistics came out of the forum. Roughly $2 billion a year, or just less than 20% of total pari-mutuel handle, is said to come from high-volume shops. One of them—Elite Turf Club, which has only 11 customers—accounts for 10% of handle nationwide each year.
These shops work as a low margin-high volume business. In effect, they work like online poker does. With razor thin margins they are able to lower the takeout for their customers. With low takeout, betting handle explodes.The 20% number above represents only these shops. When we factor in a dozen or so ADW's with patrons who wager good money at lower rake, I would estimate the total handle to be somewhere around 40% or more.
  • The high-volume service operators didn’t reveal rebate numbers, but they sought to dispel a common belief in the industry that their players win “straight up,” or without the discount. Terry of RGS, which has about 90 customers, said that in 2011 they lost about 6% when rebates aren’t factored into the equation.
What we have above is our long-time contention on this blog, and what has been put forth by places like HANA: Lower takeout makes people believe they have a shot to win. When you think you can beat a game, you work at it, you study it, and you patronize it each day. It's not dissimilar to a college kid locked down in his room for three hours a day to play online poker. He does it because he thinks he can make money.

It's been disconcerting to chat at conferences or read the industry trade press where some respond over and over again "takeout doesn't matter". Of course it matters. These players are betting 3.0B to $4.0 billion a year, solely because they can get low takeout.

The key is where we go now with the above, and, in my opinion, we have two choices:

1) We expand the rebate base. We bring more people into the tent like this bettor I have talked about at conferences:
  • I was using pinnacle offshore until the debacle. Because of the rebate I found a way to make place bets profitable. I wound up with a 3.2% loss, but a rebate of 7%. It actually was a rebate of 6.2% as they did not give a rebate on 2.20 horses.

    Now the kicker is, I went from betting about 30k to 50k to 1.3 million that year.It made the churn factor possible. If takeout is lowered it may have the same affect. I now have changed my play where place betting is profitable, but it is so small that I have stopped. I would definitely go back if takeout is lowered significantly.
or 2) We lower rakes across the board. The whales keep betting, because their needle does not move, but we expand, through cultivation, a new narrative that horse racing is a game that can be beat.

Right now it appears we won't be trying either option. The tracks want to see $1M bet before you get a rebate. They're using chicken or egg economics. The players who are betting $30k a year might be million dollar players (like the quote above) so there needs to be a plan to cultivate them. But the tracks have not been on board this train - it's left to micro ADW's for the most part.

We're clearly not getting the second option either. Places like California have raised takeout "to make more money". That strategy has been tried for sixty or more years and our handle has been decimated. All it tends to do (unless they raise their signal fee too high) is to increase a rebate to a few people, and we simply tread water.

Sooner or later, just as we've preached about with lower takeout through rebate that you are seeing today, it will come. One of those two roads must be taken. It might take five more years, but trust me, it will come.

Saturday note: A Slots track that puts their cash into more than purses can gain an edge, and Western Fair is proving it. It was looked at today in HRU (pdf).

Have a good Saturday everyone.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Little More on the Harness Triple Crown

Last week in HRU (pdf) we looked at the Harness Triple Crown and how it does not seem very effective in bringing in revenues, new fans, or buzz. The argument put forth was that the new Triple Crown should be the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace and Little Brown Jug.

I've had a few comments and questions about it, from Kate (a former USTA employee) and others.

First let's look at the positives.
  • Buzz - With a triple crown, we gain some buzz, and news mentions for the three events could go up by 100% or more, if we have a good story to tell. 
  • Ability to grow a new brand, built for this century - We have a lot of tradition in harness and that's preserved. We can tweak this new triple crown to fit a new market, with some new marketing.
  • Immediate ROI - If the three tracks chosen create and implement a marketing plan - say by pitching in $250,000 for the three races - we will get immediate ROI. If, for example, the three race cards have handles go up by only a modest $1M through this marketing program, at 25% takeouts, we get $250,000 back in year one.
  • Marketing ideas and angles can grow with a three race sequence - How about giving 10 people a "horse" to own through the series on Cup night and whomever wins gets a free trip to the next race? If the horse wins the Triple Crown the fan gets a bonus? How about letting the fan visit the colt at his home and document the visit for TV coverage? How about a "Let it Ride Parlay" where ten people get to bet $100 on each NA Cup starter, and the winnings are rebet at the M? And then rebet again at the Jug? The possibilities with a three race, linked series are virtually endless.
Now, let's look at the cons, and they mainly lie with the Jug.
  • Kate wrote "There is a tremendous amount of prestige in winning the Thoroughbred Triple Crown. That alone provides incentive for trainers to participate...it is the pinnacle of achievement for them and what they dream about, much like a young hockey player dreams of winning the Stanley Cup.  The harness racing Crowns don't have that, and I'm not sure how you create that synthetically [without a bonus, and who is going to pay a bonus]"
  • Jug specific concerns - the Little Brown Jug can be a crapshoot with post positions making a huge difference, and racing and winning two races in one day are avoided by some horsemen (it can take a lot out of a horse).
  •  Getting everyone on the same page
I agree with those concerns.

As for the prestige question, and the fact that fewer and fewer horsemen are entering the Jug, we can try and change the Jug, and the funding system.

We can ask horsemen and horse owners what they want to make the event great again, and would they be willing to help?

Do they want an elim the week before? Do we want to change the Jug final to a points based Triple Crown system?

Can we find a new way to fund a bonus?

Can we, at stakes payments time ask for an extra $X for a Triple Crown bonus? Can we add a bonus from a small fee from pacing horses that are foaled each year? Can we bring corporate sponsors in? The money all goes into a pot for a Triple Crown winner. If we don't have a Triple Crown winner in year one, the money is collected again the following year, but last year's money carries over. If it carries over for five or ten years without a Triple Crown winner, we have a jackpot, just like a pick 6 jackpot.

Again, it seems workable.

As for the crapshoot of the Jug angle, it is what it is. We can choose another race, or work with what we have. If the series did get bigger and we had TV time, a big crowd like the Jug has might outweigh the crapshoot post positions angle.

As for working together to do something, yes, what else is new. We have an issue in racing when it comes to working together. But maybe this is a start.

Thanks to Kate and others for sharing their thoughts.

Have a nice day everyone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Common Sense, Timely Decision Making & A Culture of Excellence

This weekend the NFL playoffs continue. So far a couple of the games were exciting and this weekend the tilts look have more potential for the thrills fans are used to from the NFL.

But there is a controversy.

Apparently for last weekend's game against the Steelers, Coach Fox of the Broncos started three players that were not on the roster. The NFL was not notified, the fans didn't know and Las Vegas didn't know. They just fielded three players that no one knew about, and they won.

......... No, it didn't happen. It could never happen. The NFL would never let it happen.

In racing last month, a horse raced as a first time gelding, and won, paying $56. That's fair enough, these things happen, as gelding a horse can change his attitude and make him race better.

But no one told anyone. The trainer didn't tell the program sellers, the track, the commission, the fans - no one in power to report it properly.

It supposedly has happened 50 some-odd times since 2007. There's been a few meetings now about this in California and it appears to be quite a difficult question to answer.

How hard is this? How could it happen 50 or more times before someone makes a common sense decision that a horse can't run that day? How has this practice gone on for so long?

We have no culture of excellence in racing, because we tend to not care what the end user (the fans) go through. The trainers train, and reporting something like this seems cumbersome, or not needed. The commissions are herding cats, and appear not to think it much of an issue, too.

It's the culture of racing that's the problem, and it always has been.

The NFL has no such issue. They would never allow something similar to happen, and if it did, heads would likely roll. It certainly wouldn't happen more than one time, let alone more than fifty times. It would not take committee's and emails and meetings to figure out a solution either.

The NFL expects and demands excellence from their participants, executives, and Board's of Governors. It's built right into their culture.

Racing's culture needs changing; from one of mediocrity and scraping by, to one of excellence.

Note: A group of horseplayers (while asking other horseplayers what they'd do) sent the following to the CHRB on this issue:

Proposed Rules Change for Failure to Report Horse as Gelded

Our position on how best to handle horses that have been gelded since the most recent start but not reported as gelded by the horse’s human connections on race day is as follows:

The wagering public must be notified of horses that have been gelded since the most recent start. Such notification must take place no later than 30 minutes prior to post time for the first race of the day.

In the event the wagering public cannot be notified by 30 minutes to post time for race one: Horses where failure to report has occurred will be ordered scratched by the stewards.

Mike, we believe the above proposed rules change is preferable from a revenue generating standpoint compared to the alternative of ordering such horses to run for purse money only. Here’s why:

When a horse is ordered scratched by the stewards for failure to report the track loses that horse as a betting interest. The track also loses that horse as a betting interest when ordered to run for purse money only.

There is a key difference between the two alternatives. When a horse runs for purse money only, the horse will likely be unable to race again for several weeks. However, when a horse is ordered scratched for failure to report, it becomes probable that the horse’s human connections will find another race for that horse within a few days. Ordering such horses scratched rather than the alternative of allowing such horses to run for purse money only results in a greater number of betting interests (starters) per meet.

Mike, if the above proposed rules change is adopted we are ok with reducing the fine or doing away with it entirely. (Based on the meeting package from the last CHRB Meeting, the current $1,000.00 fine does not appear to have been effective as a deterrent.) We are not seeking to punish horsemen for failure to report. We understand that mistakes can and do happen.

The rules change we are proposing is designed to: 1. Protect the wagering public from instances of failure to report. 2. Enable the CHRB to demonstrate leadership to the wagering public (on a national level) that it is working to improve the integrity of the game. 3. Stop the current practice of rewarding those who fail to report with purse money. 4. Offer an alternative to running for purse money only that does not punish tracks economically. (Under our proposal, tracks have a chance to get horses ordered scratched due to failure to report back into a race ASAP.)


Thanks in advance for any consideration you might be able to give the above proposed rules change.

Sincerely,

Jeff Platt

President, HANA (The Horseplayers Association of North America)


 


Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Happy Monday everyone!

There was quite a bit of chatter last evening on Twitter about the Jonathan Roberts 90 day suspension for "lack of effort" with his drive at Dover Downs. I have watched the race on youtube a half dozen times and I can't see any problem with that ruling. Greg on twitter informs us that the horse stayed eligible to a lower class by not winning that race. The next time he suited up for battle he was an easy wire to wire winner - with Mr. Roberts in the bike.

Hat tip to Racingbeard.com (a new harness aggregator) for that story.

Writing about a new Triple Crown on HRU this weekend (pdf) it dawned on me how often I heard you (and me) the fan speak of it over the years. Remember the "unofficial" Canadian Triple Crown? The Queen City (now NA Cup), the Prix d'ete at Blue Bonnets, and the Confederation Cup at Flammy. I am going to wrte more about it this week. Give the article a look if it's something you've thought about in harness racing.

Standardbred found left at Wal-Mart. No you can't make this stuff up.

Did anyone catch So Cal Thoroughbred Rescue's Caroline Betts on HRTV this weekend? Someone hire this woman to devise and run a new national horse retirement strategy please.

Yesterday was a fascinating example of why we like competitive sports. The Broncos-Steelers playoff game was entertaining and interesting and had more storylines than any novel I've read. Driving the storyline was, of course, Broncos QB Tim Tebow. On paper he seems to have little throwing talent, but somehow he throws for 316, rushes for 50 and is a fantasy players dream. Oh, and he helped his team win.

The striking part of it all are quotes like this:
  • Tebow said he "tried to go out there and play hard, play fast and be aggressive and trust my teammates and trust the line, trust the receivers and give them opportunities, and they make me look a lot better than I really am."
That, in itself, makes him stand out in the professional sports world - he's a Purple Cow. And every sport or business needs a Purple Cow.

We wrote an article on Tim Tebow and Zenyatta last month, looking at both phenomenons from a business perspective. It's here on page 8 if you hadn't seen it.

Enjoy the day everyone!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

in 2012, Word Gets Around

I found it interesting that I did not know the Meadowlands raised superfecta takeouts for this meet. I am usually on top of these things. However, people do know. Here's a post on a thoroughbred chat board.



“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” - Intuit's Scott Cook

Indeed it is.

I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt as they get on their feet (and because of their history of being more pro-player than any harness track out there), but many customers, I feel, are not so understanding.



Big M Opens & Some Funny Stuff by Davidowitz

The Big M opened last evening with a pretty decent card. It was not a card like the old days (it's almost impossible now with two slot tracks nearby) but it was decent nonetheless.

Some notes:

The chatter about closing holes and pulling and moving was not just chatter. The drivers seemed to take this seriously. I am not overly concerned about tucks (I think a tuck encourages the outside horses to leave, rather than pulling back because they can't get a hole), but it was nice to see drivers move and not sit there.

Gural on the pre-game show - 'I'll look at criminally prosecuting trainers who use illegal drugs here' (paraphrasing).

The 15% superfecta takeout is now 20% and done without mentioning it anywhere I saw. Not a good way to gain buzz. I was completely unaware of this.

The 10 cent super pools, unsurprisingly, were much greater than the $1 pools. To build up those we're going to need more eyeballs from rebate players. From "Robin"



Apparently Rich Banca is one of those banned from the Meadowlands, as reported by Harness Racing Update.

Further in Harness Racing Update, Brian Sears commits to the M.

Card number two of the meet goes tonight.

Sometimes we read articles in racing with a humorous slant. I guess there is a "it's funny because it's true" angle in a lot of them that does resonate, because our business is pretty messed up. Steve Davidowitz did not disappoint at Grade One Racing.

Looking at some of his 2012 predictions we got these gems:

  • The NYRA finds out that it has been overcharging for hot dogs and beer by 18 percent due to “computer error” and  a track official  says they will try to hunt down as many who paid for them and give each .36 cents to compensate
  • A first time starter trained by Todd Pletcher wins a Saratoga maiden sprint in 1:09.33 flat and immediately is compared to Seattle Slew by the New York press corp
  • the California Horse Racing Board approves a new raise in the pari mutual takeout rate---to 28.33 percent for the Pick Six. While Jerry Jam'Gotcha' is busy trying to find his yellow crayon and fix a broken laptop, the CHRB explains: “The move will boost purses and bring more horses into our pick six races. After all,” he continues, “we have to compete with baseball which is starting up again.”
Enjoy your Saturday everyone!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thursday Notes

The Meadowlands opens tomorrow and I went through the card. It's not too bad at all, although 'capping early meet cards - whether thoroughbred or harness - are generally difficult.

Alan reported a Gural article which spoke of several of the items complained about by you the harness bettor about the driving style at the M.
  • “We are meeting with the drivers and judges in hopes of going back in time to the driving style that used to exist here,” said Gural of his current agenda. “I heard many complaints from customers about the courtesy tucks” – drivers allowing other horses to settle in along the pylons rather than race on the outside – “and half-in, half-out tactics” – drivers who race just off the pylons to prevent other horses from making forward progress on the outside. 
We can hope this meet is better than the last in this regard. We've always firmly believed that leadership and the customer-centric culture borne from that leadership is lacking in harness racing (in all racing really). This is showing some leadership and that should be applauded.

As we've noted before, Santa Anita should be showing some gains this season, because last season was abysmal with people completely turned off their product. With a 15% pick 5, takeout is down too. In 2010 opening day was down about 22%, so the 10% bump off that is still terrible in the big picture, but allows for some good spin. The racing press seems to rarely challenge our racing numbers, so I'd expect a critical look at their stats (and the numbers of all racetracks, for that matter) will not enter the discussion.

Woodbine's harness handles were up in 2011 buoyed mainly by US distribution. 

The music industry wanted to get rid of disruptive technologies early in the 2000's because the margins and gross revenues on a boxed CD were much higher than single song downloads. But you can't stop progress - I am looking for a $900 52 inch flatscreen now, after growing up with a $900 27" tube in 1975. It usually takes awhile, but everything settles, if it's done right. In 2011, music sales are up, mainly because of digital downloads:
  • According to figures from Nielsen SoundScan, sales of physical CDs dropped six percent last year, but a 20 percent increase in the sales of digital album downloads to a record 103.1 million made up for the losses and then some.
We often hear about ADW's taking away from on-track handle. In the end they will probably end up saving horse racing. This century, technology has allowed for higher volumes and lower margins in virtually everything we do. It would not surprise me to see 90% of our handle coming from devices in 20 years.

Some of you are like me, and rarely pay attention to the yearly Awards in racing. I didn't even know there was a special Eclipse. If you want to know more about the US Thoroughbred Awards and how they came about, you can read about it at HRF here.

Have a nice Thursday everyone!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Racing Can Learn a Thing or Two from Rick Santorum

Last evening, little known Republican candidate Rick Santorum - languishing at 4 or 5% in the polls - made a stunning run, almost topping flush-with-cash Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

His 25% share of the vote gives us (as marketers) a real lesson; one that I think racing should pay heed to.

He did what other businesses have done to grow this century in our compartmentalized, target marketing world - he targeted a niche, and expanded.  By staking out ground with evangelicals, speaking their language, and adding a new narrative of addressing the need to expand the manufacturing job base (something neither party or any candidate has spoken about), he built a social conservative coalition. He didn't need or try to be everything to everyone, he just tried to be something to someone.

That coalition drove his vote, and he is now squarely on the national stage.

The other party tries to do this at times with their fringe candidates - sometimes you wonder if some democratic hopefuls sleep with a Marx-Engels dictionary to win primaries in left wing activist places like D.C. - but no one has been near as effective as Santorum. He proves it can be done.

Santorum didn't need a mass market to grow his brand; he just needed a slice of it.

Clearly we often hear racing needs that mass market. We need TV. We need to be on cereal boxes to compete with the "Dodgers and the Lakers". We need to be on ESPN, on billboards on the expressway.

I say phooey.

It is estimated (in Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes) that it can take six years and $60 million to mass market brand or re-brand, with no guarantee of it being successful. We are not the Dodgers and the Lakers, nor are we Proctor and Gamble.

Racing needs to stop worrying about competing with industries, games, or products we have no shot to beat. We need to target a niche and expand.

As we wrote here in one of the most popular blog pieces (in terms of web-hits) we've written:
  • I think the time has come for a repositioning of racing. Marketing to the mass-market is a concept that should be shelved. I believe the NTRA and others should work on an industry wide marketing program that filters from the top, all the way down to each track and organization. It will have one simple message: Horse racing is a game ....... and you will have the time of your life playing it.
Racing needs to think less like Mitt Romney, and more like Rick Santorum.

In 2012, it works.

Notes:

The Meadowlands opens Friday with almost 200 entries. Is this sustainable? One can hope so. By eliminating some questionable trainers, and inviting everyone to come race and have a shot, it has to help handles. If you love harness racing, start handicapping and bet this meet.

I got a picture sent to me from Cape Breton Island, where a couple of the yearlings are being trained down. It's a different world out this way, where harness racing (and life) is slow. And it's quite beautiful.

From the Eclipse ballots I see, it seems the logical choice will win HOY in the US - Havre de Grace. Sometimes we really over-think things, or try and look contrarian, but not this time.

Claire Novak goes A to Z in racing in 2011.

Dk in Trot, on simo signals, marketing and more.

Rapid Redux goes for another win today.

Yonkers scraps 1 1/16th mile racing and goes back to a mile.

Just a note via email - the new wagering menu at the M includes some races with $1 minimum superfectas (something that larger bankrolled players love). I don't know if there is a carryover provision or not, but I would hope so, since early on some may carry and it could build some super good excitement race to race.

Enjoy your day everyone!