Thursday, May 31, 2012

Trotting Speed Show

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

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

Those days are long gone.

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

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

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

And it is not even June 1st.

Last year, ManofManyMissions and Broad Bahn were winning in 1:55 at this time, en route to a Hambo that went in 1:53. That wasn't a stellar crop, but when a dozen colts and fillies have already gone much faster this year, it sure is different, isn't it?

The trotting speed show is either just beginning, and we'll see one or more of these colts (who frankly didn't really turn many heads last year at all late in the year) break 150, or it's the beginning of the end, and we'll just see lame horses in four months. I really don't know what's happening with the trotters, but from following them for every year since I was about 9 years old, I know I've never seen this kind of speed this early, ever.


Racing Can Learn A Lot From A Coffee Shop

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

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

Who wins? It's pretty obvious.

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

There is only one customer, and that's the end user.

Until racing wants more demanders, they must stop catering to only suppliers, to try and make that whole supply/demand thing work. But don't hold your breath.




Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Smart Move By New York

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

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

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

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

Out of competition testing has been a bit of a red herring, because it is so tough to catch things like a blood builder. You have to hit that within 72 hours of it given, and it's like finding a needle in a haystack. But again, they should be applauded for the testing.

Some horsemen complain about detention - pulling out every excuse in the book why they don't want to be in it -  but show me a trainer who isn't complaining about something. You rarely hear owners or bettors complain about a level playing field before raceday, however. This at the very least helps to do that.

Our horses have been in them before some races, and I know, as an owner, I like the detention barn. It gives you a feeling that you aren't up against it - even if you aren't -  and when a horse wins while under the microscope, it gives the event itself a winner with enhanced credentials.

We need more news like this in our sport, to help give people some confidence, and to give our athletes the respect they deserve. Other sports, like cycling, which has their own share of bad press, do such things for their big events, and have for some time; PR or not. The NYSRWB gets a big thumbs up from this fellow.




Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Two Sides of The Sport

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

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

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

On the other hand we have the rest of racing - from Scioto, to Northfield, Beulah to Golden Gate, Delaware to Suffolk. There is no common goal on medication, or takeout, or horsemen contracts, or slot deals. There are short fields with superstables winning at 2-5, resulting in a snorefest. There is no one working towards a common good, because people can't even agree on what the common good might be. You can't score a goal if you don't even know where the net is, and they are fiefdom, not fan and customer driven.

It's a chasm as wide as ten grand canyons.

Can every day racing be changed for the better? Can everyone get together like they have on our big days to improve the product and get the buzz going? Can we finally deal with rake, and short fields, and ADW contracts and new bets or exchanges, and medication reform? Can we make the rest of the year customer and fan driven instead of "get me the largest piece of the pie" driven? If we read the headlines it seems not only elusive, it seems impossible.

Right now our big days keep us smiling, and they keep our enjoyment in the sport at a zenith. If only the rest of the year we could do that too. Then we'll know we're really onto something.



Monday, May 28, 2012

We've Become a Sport of Enablers

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

Steve Haskin wrote a piece in the Bloodhorse, pretty much laying much of the blame on "bad press" on the California Horse Racing Board; even going so far as to question the size of the fine and suspension and how it was not good for racing:
  • But we do, however, question the timing of it and to some degree even the length of it. Knowing prior to the ruling that O’Neill did nothing intentional and did not milkshake the horse, the Board still went ahead and issued their ruling at this time, fully aware that they would be adding fuel to an already growing media fire. Yet another mind-boggling move for the good of racing, right? 
Doug O'Neill, according to Ray Paulick, has received 12 positive tests since 2005 - given to him in four separate states -  and the above was his fourth TCO2 overage. I, like Paulick, looked to find someone in North American racing who has ever received four TCO2 positives and I found none. As far as I can tell, Doug holds the record.

The only parallel I can find with that kind of track record was all the way back in 2004, with Canadian trainer Bill Robinson. After receiving his second TCO2 (and about his 8th violation overall) the hammer came down. He was suspended for five years and given a $100,000 fine by the ORC. He appealed, but a funny thing happened. The Woodbine Entertainment Group said he was not racing at their track while under appeal. They invoked private property rights and went to the wall - the Woodbine CEO David Willmott even said he'd go to the Supreme Court if he had to -  to stop him from entering. This was all done in the same year Robinson was awarded an O'Brien Award as Canada's leading trainer.

The apologists were out in full force then too: The penalty was too harsh, it puts a black eye on racing, he's "a nice guy", and on and on. But the authorities stood firm - seven or eight time offenders were not going to hold this sport hostage. It's now 2012, and Robinson has long served his time. He has still never had an entry at the Woodbine Entertainment Group racetracks, and likely never will.

I am sure a lot of you agree with Woodbine's stance back then, and don't have the foggiest why people like Haskin are more worried about bad press for a 45 day suspension than a repeat offender himself. I am sure you've been on twitter where some people are telling you that you're not a real fan of racing if you are not cheering for I'll Have Another in the Belmont. I am sure you've been told breakdowns at racetracks are Joe Drape's fault. I am sure you've been told that NYRA's problems are all the result of a bad state wagering board, that the TOC raising takeout was good for the game and they should get a pass, that slots tracks writing deals for purses only is "the way it is", and on and on and on.

Shut up and cheer. Shut up and buy horses. Shut up and bet.

When William Rhoden writes in the New York Times like he did today.....
  • Racing still lacks accountability. The problem that existed in 2008 exists today: racing is a sprawling, disjointed industry with no central leadership. It is untamed and will remain so until the federal government forces this renegade industry to establish a central governing body. Until then, the blood sport will continue to be the province of a handful of powerful people — others in the industry whom Porter calls self-appointed commissioners — who resist uniform, meaningful reform. 
..... he's only half right. Yes we need strong leadership and a governing body. But to have accountability in racing, we have to have this sports' fans and participants be there to hold people accountable.  When someone makes bad policy or does something wrong, we should fix it, not make excuses for it.

Putting lipstick on a pig, someone once said, you still have a pig. Pigs tend to get slaughtered.

We have a lot of problems in racing that need fixing. But we can't fix problems if people constantly apologize for them. We've become a sport of enablers, and that is likely our greatest downfall.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday, Pondering Slots

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

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

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

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

"I think slots have about ten more years. They're going to be saturated and younger people will get tired of losing all their money."

That stuck with me. On this Friday, when I see their proliferation, it makes me wonder. One day, not long from now will slot parlors be one big empty chasm? Where will governments go for easy money if it happens? What will the younger generations of slots players be playing instead if so?

It's why I have firmly believed that horseracing needs to carve out its niche - we need to have smart, dedicated people playing our sport, via every means possible: Futures markets, betfair, on-track, off-track, fixed odds, fractional wagering; the whole kitchen sink.

Young people do not want to learn racing, as racing is presented to them, so we need to be aggressive in presenting it to them in the way they want it presented. The more people we attract now to play via various mechanisms will be there when people get tired of slots. If they want to learn and come over, we need to ensure we're open for business, right now, not in the future.



Molson Pace Night

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

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

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

Good luck and enjoy your Friday everyone!




Thursday, May 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busted

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

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

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

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

What happens next is anyone's guess. However, the NYSRWB is not dumb, and I think they know that in the absence of a smoking gun (smoking guns are virtually impossible to find in racing, regardless), the 1,700 number that they released - coupled with his remarkable numbers -  will hit everyone with one big hammer. I bet dollars to donuts it'll work as planned.


Fig Overload

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

I don't blame anyone for being confused.

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

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

I think back to Rachel Alexandra's first tilt as a four year old. For those who just watched the race, and compared her to the previous year, it was a pretty bad effort. She had no separation at all at the 5/8's against a horse she is probably 10 lengths better than, and she got beat to boot. She went slower than she usually does, but the number came back okay, so people figured as a prep that was fine. It was like we had to wait for a godlike presence to come from the sky to tell us what we were watching was bad or good.

This further was exemplified with the granddaddy (or grandma, I guess) of all weird fig horses - Zenyatta. We were told constantly she was "slow". When she finally did run a nice 112 in the Classic, she was slow, but decent on her preferred surface. It didn't matter she won at Oaklawn by five while stopping for a snow cone and posing for a few pictures at the top of the stretch - she ran a slow fig, so it wasn't really very impressive. Finally, when she closed from the Duquion State Fair and almost nipped Blame in the "dirt" classic, earning a 111, she was crowned a fast racemare. 20 races, 19 wins, 13 Grade I's, a Classic win against colts, most against pace setups over 3+ seasons; and we have to wait for her to "earn" a 111 before we can call her a 'great' racemare?

This year's crop, I think so far, is quite good. I thought that before the Preakness, and I think it today. IHA and Bode are clearly some stock. Creative Cause has not progressed a ton, but he's no slouch. Dullahan looks like a horse that can race and win on three different surfaces in nice times. Union Rags, I still believe, has some major go. There are probably a few others that we have not remotely seen at their best that have some chops, and will possibly prove themselves in the months to come.

It's a long year, and like the Preakness shows, on any given day there are capable horses who can step up and win with a nice number.  The thing is, they were capable of it when they were running slower numbers, in March or April or in the Derby. There is more to horses, especially developing two or three year olds, or deep closers, than simply a number. Sometimes, in this day and age, I think we forget that.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Do We Love Racing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mario Guitierrez parties are in full swing at Hastings Park, last weekend bringing out 5,000 fans, so that's good.

According to the track head, none of them bet, so that's for sure bad.

With the Belmont Stakes coming, media from all over the world will be writing stories about racing, so that's good!

They might not be able to get credentialed, so that's surely bad.

Welcome to another weekend in Racetrack-ville.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Is It 2008 Again?

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

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

Hold it, is it 2008, or 2012?

The spotlight once again is on racing as a sport, and once again, we're failing to deliver. People can wax poetic as much as they want about this Triple Crown bid, but holy smokes: The public has seen this once, and now they're seeing it again only four years later. In 2008, all the lead up to the Triple Crown did was teach the public about steroids. It didn't help racing one bit. Now in 2012 they'll get told stories about milkshakes, like CBS did in its "cheat sheet", and what was seen on a CNN feature this evening. Someone clue me in: How is this supposed to help racing?


Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Really Nice Commercial & Stakes Season Heats Up

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

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

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

A lot of folks were waiting to see Sweet Lou debut, and he certainly didn't disappoint. If he was on your list as the top colt in racing before last night's race, he certainly is #1 after. He bounced out there, looking sound. I, like some of you, am a little worried about that stable keeping a horse going all year (they are known for being more a factory stable than a colt stable), but he showed no signs of anything but brilliance last evening.

The Molson Pace was interesting on Friday, despite Up the Credit throwing in that clunker. I think it's kind of wide open.

We spoke about how harness racing "fans" and not nearly as engaged as thoroughbred fans seem to be, on harness racing update.Bill picked up on a previous piece, asking for a real triple crown for harness racing, with, what I thought, was a good piece.

Last up, next week is the Elittlop in Sweden, and it should once again be a great race.Here's a 30 second spot that's currently running in that beautiful country for the race.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.




Thursday, May 17, 2012

On One Item There's Agreement

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

You'll likely get three answers.

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

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

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

Leaving all the Ness rumor aside (and that's what it all is, rumor), these trainers can really screw things up for bettors. 3-5 shots in a race, where the horse on paper does not look like a bet at even 2-1, but wins at a 55% clip, gets old really fast. 3-5 shots in a pile of races where you know you are probably not getting the best of it betting it, or betting against it, gets old really fast. 3-5 shots in a race make you, me and everyone else think about turning the page.

The tracks hate it, and players hate it.

Horsemen? Well, for once, we have a trifecta of agreement. You get your horse ready all month, and you have him primed to go. Your owners are excited and so are you. You can pay the feed man, the gas bill and have a nice meal with a win. Then you open up the entries to see who you're against. That win picture might have just turned into a second place check, and there's nothing you can do about it. It annoys you and your owners royally.

I'm not smart enough to know what to do with these issues, that's for sure. However, when three stakeholders are on the same page, maybe it's something that can be fixed, or improved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Booze and Bands Vs. The Player

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

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

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

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

The first hundred go to the track, and are schooled on betting superfectas, and pick 3's at 25% rake, by really good handicappers. Then they go bet, meet Mark Verge and start boozing, to get warmed up for Al-ask-a.

The second hundred are given nothing more than a fig (say a BRIS Prime Power number with 0.90 ROI), a piece of software like Bet Angel, and are taught by a bettor how to bet the low takeout exchange.

At the end of an eight week period, who do you think won the battle? How many of the bands and booze 100 return to play the races, and how many of the skill set 100 come back to play racing?

I think it's no comparison. The bands and booze folks are likely broke. Who can beat 25% takeout, short fields, and chalk tris, as a newbie? What's worse, you'll hear a word of mouth of something like this:

"The band was okay, but I lost all my money betting. It's too hard"

The low takeout folks at least have a possibility of grinding, just like low rake online poker did, where players could play, no matter what the skill level for months on an initial $100 deposit. You'd likely hear from at least some of them, the exact same thing we heard from newbie online poker players:

"I think this horse racing game might be beatable if I work at it."

The thing that racing has never tried is a low rake concept for newbies. They want bands, and advertising, and people like a snowboarder to tell everyone how great it is. They try Go Baby Go commercials. Some in the industry still think racings target audience are lottery players. All of that is what I like to call "let's throw it against a wall and hope it sticks" marketing. It makes us feel good, but if it worked, we'd be Kings of the Gambling world, because Lord knows we've done enough of it.

Unfortunately though, it's even worse, in my opinion: We have a low rake, conceptual exchange - which has brought people like Peter Webb into our sport as a newbie, as well as a younger demo - and we either don't want to approve it, or kill it by making takeout 15%.

Low rake can be used to bring new people in, as a loss leader, just like $1 beers, or rock bands. It's a marketing tool, because the people who are prequalified to like it, are racings potential market. And the best part? In ten years the 'beers and bands people' are off having kids and watching little league baseball - having been to the track only once or twice, or at best a couple of times a year. In contrast, some of the low rake newbies will still be watching, betting, and funding racing - because they came to the track to try and play the game to make money, not to drink cheap beer.

Related: "$500M is Hard For Racing to Fathom, From a Newbie"

ESPN & Twitter Forge A New, Old Idea

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

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

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

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

As I wrote a couple of years ago, I believe eyeballs are the most important metric for any sport in the connected age. The spin-offs are there. You need critical mass, however, and with racing we've done a bad job with critical mass.  It's one of the reasons why I get pretty charged when a track hikes takeout rates, bans their races from youtube, hides PP's behind a paywall, and employs the "jump through hoops, squeeze the lemon" economics that we seem to practice.

When you scare off eyeballs, you lose more and more of the critical mass that you need to do business. We then reach a tipping point, it accelerates and its difficult to get back to where we were.

Major pro sports (today it was announced that the LPGA is putting twitter handles on the backs of caddies), are finding more and more ways to be innovative, to drive eyeballs.

Racing needs to shore up its eyeball-base first, which maybe will allow us to do the same thing.




Monday, May 14, 2012

I Honestly Think It's Not Much Different

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

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

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

One of them raced a couple of times soonafter and was pretty bad. I don't know what was wrong with him, but boy he was a bad buy. He had a couple of weeks off, and we slid him into a race at the ultra-bottom, a conditioned 5 claimer. It turns out this race coincided with a trip that Vern was making from out east. He drove out to the farm, spent a couple of days with the horses - doing what owners get to do, which makes the game so much fun - and it was race time.

I was home in Toronto and I called him on his cell. He was pumped. We were a longshot, but you'd never have known it. He was super-stoked to see his first live race as an owner.

A funny thing happened. The horse won. He paid $32.

I immediately dialed his phone number. He's no kid, and he's been educated all over the world for engineering. He's a professional fella. But you wouldn't have known it when he picked up the line.

He was absolutely pumped. He told me that when the horse was coming down the lane he was running down the tarmac, jumping around, screaming like a child. He said there were two elderly ladies beside him, and he was sure he scared them half to death.

I thought of that today. I don't know how anyone in racing does not get excited when you win a race, whether it a 5 claimer or a stakes event. Since that time Vern and I as owners have won some more races (lost a lot too), and at each one, the reaction is very similar.

A lot of us will never know what it's like to win a Derby. But I bet dollars to donuts we can all relate to it.

Fast forward to 4:00 to see the Zayat's watching Bode.


Online Gambling's Threat To Racing Is Very Real

Gambling911.com is reporting MGM has created an online casino game, ready by June. Despite trouble federally, virtually everyone is saying that state by state these things are good to go, very soon. As we talked about a couple of months ago, Zynga, the creators of the massively popular social game "Farmville" is looking to do similar.

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

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

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

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

It's why I cannot find one person who can read this chart and think that we've done anything but a terrible job.

When rebating was first spoken about in the 1990's, racing wished it just went away. When customers and bettors and bloggers started talking about uniform rules, drug regulation and proper penalties, along with lower takeout the next decade, people seemed to hope that went away too. Ditto about slots and pouring all the money into purses (the raise purses and "hope" strategy), without regulation or a plan.

I'm sure racings response to the Zynga's and MGM's of the world will be similar, if there even is a response. But they, like our problems with takeout and medication, will not go away either. If we do the same thing we always have - fight and ignore the problem - this will, in my opinion become a massive issue for racing in the coming years. It's probably the biggest threat to racings revenues since land-based casinos.




Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Notes

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

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

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

To have a top colt in harness racing you need talent, luck and a whole lot of training skill to ensure your charge is fresh for the big ones. Virgil Morgan knows how to get a horse through a year (see Mr. Big for that, and his endurance building q's), and he is taking a nice, slow approach. If this horse has a nice year and is fresh for the Breeders Crown, I don't think anyone would be surprised.

In the Cutler, the cream rose to the top. I've always believed the "close the hole" mentality of some race fans lacks a little critical thinking. When you close the holes on everyone and leave them out, it can cause the front runners to have it easier, and add traffic for the back markers. That's what happened last evening. Fortunately, first over is not a terrible place with a slow half if you have a nice horse, and the top two horses finished one-two.

That was a pretty nice training job by Jeff Gillis, in my opinion. Although he (no doubt) schooled the horse in 54 or 55 a couple of times, and had him ready, being ready for race conditions off such a long time off is very difficult. Mister Herbie started getting good at the end of last season (his Super Final was jaw dropping), and in a weak division of older trotters, he looks to be the best, right now.

Anyone else catch Gural's comment with a shot at Horse of the Year San Pail? I chuckled. It was pretty clear Jeff tried to get them down to the race. I think the connections are a teeny bit worried about San Pail this season. He looks to me to have lost a couple of fifths, and at the top FFA level, that's an eternity.

Some horses who have talent can step right up and compete at four, as Mister Herbie and many others prove. For some others, it takes seasoning for them to come into form. Golden Receiver is that prototypical horse. Last evening, despite getting things his own way, he was super-impressive. Having Foiled Again first up and the Breeders Crown champ in the pocket through those fractions should've resulted in a very close finish. Nope. He romped away.

It's easy to throw superlatives around early in the harness season. Before the classic races everyone who has a fast qualifier or wins in a fast time gets called the next one, or one to watch.

Last night Pet Rock, Mister Herbie, and Golden Receiver, all look like horses that the superlatives fit. It's a long season of course, but if you're going to make money in those respective divisions, you'll likely have to deal with those three nice horses.

Have a great Sunday everyone.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Some Cheers, That Some Might Think Jeers

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

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

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

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

Gemologist was "dead lame" after the Derby and it was reported by the owner. Excuse or not - and horseplayers take these very warily, because we all know in the heat of battle, a bruised foot might not even be felt by the horse - it was refreshing. Horse's get lame, just like a hockey player gets a twisted ankle. To see it reported is a good thing. Cheers.

Cheers to Dullahan's connections for not running him in the Preakness. He's not built for it, so why bother.

Cheers to Shanklin for talking about the Balmoral takeout success. Early on we'd hear things like "Laurel cut takeout for a week and handle didn't explode, so it makes no difference". Now we are seeing more heady takeout talk on the Interwebs.

Cheers to Blanchard at Western Fair for asking horseplayers what they want to see in the Pick 4 for Molson Pace night. You can vote on the races you want, here. Guess what, whatever you choose will be used. How's that, eh?

Cheers for Jim Mulinax for qualifying his colt in 153. Rock n Roll Hanover qualified in 1:54 and in a week or two had a nice trip to go 150. A few weeks after that he won in 148, dropping six seconds off his Q; and he lasted the whole year at a high level. Ditto with horse's like Beach who qualified in 52. Are today's big Q's going to drop six seconds and race in 1:43 or 1:44? No. It's too damn fast.

Have a great day everyone, and enjoy your weekend!


No Need To Convince the Unconvincable

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

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

When I was a kid I went to University, and this school had a huge share of uber-lefties. Not regular left-of-center people who may vote a certain way, but really militant folks. I remember the first or second week I was there, the teaching assistants were on strike for more money, and this group of sympathizers was really upset. They picketed with them, brought them coffee, and did whatever they could to help. I worked at a mine throughout high school for $9 an hour to pay for school, and thought the $25/hr they were getting was pretty good, especially since it was a job that had line-ups through the quad to land. I didn't say so of course.

There were four or five such strikes during the year, and they worked for them all. After the people they were supporting got raises, tuition at the end of the year went up (because, of course, someone has to pay for higher wages). Then they started protesting the government because tuition went up. I wasn't in tune with these folks. They just didn't make much sense to me.

I had attended the track one afternoon and went to a party that night, off campus. I was chatting with a couple of friends and mentioned that I had missed an exotic, or that a trainer was winning with everything. Small talk. I was overheard by one of the really mean lefty women. And she had already consumed a few beers, or bongs, or whatever she was having.

She asked a couple of questions about where I was, then got about two inches from my face and said "You realize you are a part of a blood sport, don't you?"

Within a half minute I was surrounded by a swarm of crazy lefties. A couple of the guys were harmless - I think they were pretend militants, trying to sleep with some of the girls - but these folks were pretty mad.

If you go to a Tea Party thing and try to place a rational thought about a social issue, you likely won't get anywhere. Well, with folks like this you won't either.

So,  I made up a pile of stuff about horse racing.

I told them that manure from horses was used to grow grass and prevent urban sprawl. That grooms and the people that worked with the horses got paid huge money. That they had a union. That horses had the government looking over them each day. Total BS.

It didn't work, but a couple of my friends had a laugh.

To this day they probably remember the dude at a party that was "in that bloodsport". They probably listened to NPR yesterday and said "I told you  racing was that bad!"

It's why I wonder why we even bother with PETA. PETA, in their platform, has a plank that animals should have the same rights people do. That's nonsensical. In 10,000 years if you encroach on a beaver dam on your property, you won't be in court being sued by a beaver. Judges, for as long as the Earth is still spinning, will never utter the words: "Will the plaintiff please paddle". It's crazy.

So why do we even engage them? It's a waste of time. They'll never be convinced.

Racing, I guess, has to worry about Joe Drape, or whomever. But time is much better spent doing something to move us forward: Take what Drape says that is correct, and do something about it. If so, maybe someday, somewhere, at a party at a left wing University, a kid who loves horses and all animals won't be getting called a fan of a "blood sport" for going to the racetrack.



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Want My TV, No Matter The Cost

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

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

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

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

A few years ago I wrote an article trumpeting the work Churchill was doing to attack a demographic that doesn't bet racing as much. Females make up about 20% of all TVG's ADW customers: They are underrepresented as bettors when compared to the total population. All you have to do is pop on twitter and see handicappers like Melissa Nolan or Dana Byerly to know this is not a gender issue. They're interested and they're betting. Bringing women into the mix for the Derby was not really that difficult. Kentucky Derby party's website, the Oaks, the event, the pageantry and all the rest - the things that hard core bettors despise (both women and men who love the game and the sport) on the air each year - surely helped do that.

Online poker did much the same thing early on - showing the pageantry and celebrity at the poker tables. Now we see many female players in a formerly male-dominated game. I bet dollars to donuts women will be the fastest growing demo for race betting over the next twenty years. If they first watched because Bobby Flay was on, a commercial on Bravo, or some women was interviewing someone on a red carpet, so what? Well done.

It appears Churchill's strategy has been working. I read recently that 51% of the viewers of the Derby were women. The cost per acquisition here is not tiny, but it certainly isn't huge either; and I am pretty comfortable with it, in the absence of hard numbers. As well, by attacking a demo that was not looking at you, that now are, we are not preaching to ourselves. It's probably cost effective.

Conversely, we have the Derby prep races. The narrative is easy to understand, and plays well to insiders who like the game: If we show a race before the Derby, people may watch it, and then watch the Derby. It sounds good, is an easy sell and it makes us feel good that the sport we love is on television. However, when you are spending finite marketing money, it's all about choices.

I read a few years ago that racing paid $200,000 to get the Spiral Stakes shown on television. The ratings showed there were 200,000 viewers. If so, that means we paid a whopping $1 per viewer. The way racing is presented on the airwaves is to talk to insiders, or to give human interest stories, and I know me, you and everyone else who watches via TVG or HRTV or via the web were probably tuned in. What percentage of those 200,000 viewers were new viewers? I would submit it was a very small number. For arguments sake, let's be conservative and say 10,000. Our cost per new viewer is now $20.

Out of those 10,000, just like our mortgage broker, we can find a conversion number. What percentage watch the Spiral and then watch the Derby (who've never watched it before or planned not to watch)? The cycle is six weeks, the way the product is presented is not overly fun, new viewers don't know the participants, the sport, or handicapping, and they likely couldn't even make a bet on the race even if they wanted to. I don't know about you, but our Derby prep race coverage isn't exactly new-viewer infectious. Just like you don't click every banner ad you see, a lot of the people who watched the Spiral for awhile won't tune in to the Derby in six weeks time either. If we convert 2%* in any meaningful way, I'd be shocked. We've now just spent $1,000 to get a brand new, never before watched Derby TV viewer, which lands us at a CPA of $1,000. The revenue from one viewer? Peanuts**.

Well, maybe a huge percentage of them will become bettors and we'll land long time customers? As Jared pointed out on HANA yesterday, that's not likely. There are probably 1,000 leaks from being a Derby watcher to a long time bettor. The conversion rate for those 200 viewers is microscopic. You could make my projections way off and say the money spent on prep races spawned 1,000 new viewers or 5,000. It'd still be microscopic.

Our CPA for a new long time bettor, with lifetime value, may be in the tens of thousands of dollars. In comparison, Online poker, for example, has signup CPA's in the $100-$150 range.

I would submit that we spent $200,000 for something that did virtually no good at all.

If someone says to you about marketing spend that "it has to be helping", it means it probably isn't helping very much, and they certainly can't measure it.  There are ways to track television attribution that are primarily in their infancy. There are ways to present the product on television that can attack new demos and gain new customers. Right now, with our TV coverage as prep races as it is, I see no way it can succeed, and unless we change it, modify it, tweak it and test it, it'll be wasted marketing spend.

* - 14M casual viewers saw Zenyatta one week before the Breeders Cup and TV ratings showed a bump, somewhere along the lines of a 2% conversion rate. 2% with a six week cycle and no Zenyatta is probably high. However, it probably can be used conservatively in some sort of empirical fashion.

** - In rudimentary terms, NBC paid $5 million to show the Derby to about 15 million people, so one Derby viewer with that basic measure is worth 33 cents.

Monday, May 7, 2012

An Ominous Harbinger

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



Ratings Are In: Focusing on Television Red Herring

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

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

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

This juxtaposition certainly doesn't fit the racing narrative.

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

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

I believe racing is built to market itself in the 21st century. It is not mass, in a non-mass, niche world. It has active participants of all flavors, "tribes", a multivariable fan base, a double pronged market (the fan and the horseplayer/gambler), loud and proud fans on social media and elsewhere, a foothold with the over 55 demographic with plenty of time and money on their hands, events that almost everyone knows, and much more.

It is not like football or baseball, because those sports' do not make money when we play them. Racing makes money when we play it (e.g. when we buy a horse or bet a horse)......
spending scarce funds on the conduit of television, in my opinion, is putting the cart before the horse. We need to find a way to present racing that sticks with new viewers, and gets them to participate in the racing conversation, in some way, with us.

I think we are seeing that work right before our eyes, and it really didn't cost us very much at all.

This week on social media, the Derby was everywhere. There were people participating in the conversation. There were free past performances, there were good bets and deep fields, there were free replays on youtube of preps (remember when we used to hide those so often due to "copyright", like anyone cared?).

What about ADW's? If you read the mainstream horsemen press you'd think they are the devil. I counted several promoting the hell out of the race, offering most of their share of the rake to players as cash back. It's a shame Churchill Downs Inc seems to be in protection mode with some of these by not filtering out their signal to all.

There was a buzz about the Derby - virtually everywhere - and it was infectious. You couldn't help but join in.

Via Social Mention yesterday, even after the Derby was complete, here were some numbers.

 
The passion and sentiment numbers are superb - greater than NHL hockey - and the reach numbers are on par with major sporting events.

That represents a 633% year over year growth.

Mentions were up, buzz was up, handle was up, attendance was up, news items were up, searches on the web (with preliminary numbers) were up.

......but TV ratings were down.

I didn't think TV was the strategic answer for this sport for a long while. And I sure don't think so now, as I see these numbers. I believe we can pivot strategy easily with our scarce dollars, and I think we should.

Related: Social Media Stats for the 2012 Kentucky Derby (h/t to Thorotrends)


Sunday, May 6, 2012

We Need a Glow Pad & Sunday Notes


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

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

We really have to do something about this, in my opinion. Trakus, using a glow puck superimposed on the screen? Isolated cameras on all horses via the web so people at home can flick that on if they want? All horses don't look like Hansen and the people who we're trying to interest in our sport, do not know what we know.

If casual fans cannot even follow the horses at home that they bet, how can they get interested in what they bet, the sport, or the intricacies of the race itself?

A few thoughts on a Sunday:

The track seemed to be speed favoring yesterday with fast times and pace horses winning most of the races. Mike Maloney on the Derby conference call noted that this often happens early in the card, then with the 90 minutes to the Derby, the track crew can and has made the track more fair. Do I think that's what happened yesterday? I don't know. The Derby had super-fast splits, they came home in 26 and change, and the field didn't really engulf anyone. I think that was a pretty fast track.

We had a lot of chatter this week about how "post one was death" and that a horse that hasn't raced as a two year old hasn't won the Derby. If you watch the Derby start, the cleanest may have gone to Daddy Long Legs. As for Bodemeister, the curse is intact, but something tells me he did just fine.

Since 1990 or so, when preracing started becoming the rage with some trainers, you could start handicapping trainers to some extent in bigger races. With detention and security barns, day race pre-racing could not be done as aggressively. It was, and is, a pretty good handicapping tool and in some horizontals it spawned life changing scores. For those who did that this year with Doug, the winner sure kicked you in the butt. At those odds from post 19, I could never, and will probably never play a horse like him, so my Derby losses are not stinging me much, unlike some other years.

Just like I would not have bet a penny on the winner under 25-1, I had similar odds on Gemologist. One out of two aint bad I guess. The horse I was unsure of was Union Rags. Sure he had that trip in Florida where an excuse of crowding could work out, but I think that's proven to be poppycock. I was on the fence and used him about half as much because of it. I think now there is no doubt - not even a bit - that the horse has regressed. 

"He can't handle the dirt". I read that quite a few times the last two weeks about Dullahan. We need to give credence to a horses best surface, just like we have to give credence to a horses best distance. But the absolute and "no shot" semantics (you will never hear a real gambler use the words "no shot") are rarely accurate. Dullahan is a very, very good horse. Sure he will run a better number on turf and synth, but it doesn't stop him from running a nice number on dirt too.

Trinniberg was a pretty good absolute for the absolute types. He came home poorly, and a clue that he might do just that was from Molly Jo and Bruno at Grade One Racing. They noted this week in their notes the mile gallops he was doing, trying to build stamina. That's like trying to rush a final exam prep with word association. 

One observation I made, that may or may not be accurate, was that Bodemeister was a beast yesterday. Trinniberg, who can go 21,43 easily because he is so fast, found himself gasping at the 5/8's chasing Bode. Maybe he was wound up, maybe he had a bad day, and maybe it was simply the way it would have went 100 times out of 100. But for a sprinter to be gasping chasing a horse who almost wins the Derby in 2:01, adds some chops to Bode, in my opinion.

Bode ended up a slight favorite over Union Rags. I was wrong on that. I noticed he was second choice almost the whole way, and about 3 minutes to post Jerry and the crew mentioned how great he looked and how not washed out he was. I wonder if that added some late money, just like Shackleford moved in the opposite direction last year in the Preakness. Whatever the reason, no matter how much you try and over-analyze this race, the crowd got it right. Bodemeister was the best horse in Derby 138.

If you decided before the Derby to box horsemen who know what they're doing, with some decent pedigree and figs, you would have likely taken a superfecta box that contained Bode, Dullahan, Went the Day Well and Creative Cause. They ran 2,3,4,5.

People on twitter were wondering how Little Mike got such easy fractions in the Turf, especially with a race on paper that had so much speed. I would submit he got those fractions because he carried everyone out five paths, and anyone near him or behind him didn't push, because they couldn't. People may have been mad at Steward Pocket, but I would've chucked him. The first fraction sets up a second, and sets up a race. If every speed horse carried others out, or raced erratically scaring riders behind him, we'd see many cheap fraction races, in my opinion.

 If you notice something with Derby's, the ones with the stiffest fractions often make traffic less formidable. Yesterday there were gaps everywhere, and although there were a few checks, nothing really happened of note.

I had a decent day betting early-on yesterday, hitting several pick 3's and an okay pick 4 culminating with the game Shackleford, but the latter part of the card really kicked my butt. I don't think I ended up losing this much since, well, since last year's Derby.

If you hit something yesterday, or if not and you had a great day, please have another one this Sunday.



Saturday, May 5, 2012

Derby Day Handicapping

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

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

Last evening I was on the HANA Derby call (audio here) and it was great to hear good gamblers talk about strategies. We do not get that too much, in my opinion, because everyone seems to be about picking winners. If you are a bettor that wants to learn something about gambling the derby as well as handicapping it, I wholeheartedly recommend listening. Mike Maloney is a world class player who earns his living at the game, as does John Doyle. Bob Gregory is retired I believe, but he is quite simply one of the best tournament players alive. Jeff's no slouch either. Even gambling geeks will learn something.

It was interesting to hear Mike's betting strategy for the Derby, and he makes an amazing point. The Derby (and most gambling) is not about being "right", it's about getting paid. He's not out there trying to look like a genius by saying this horse has "no shot", or I am against this or that.

For example, he is not sure he's right or wrong about Bodemeister. He could go out, crush the speed and be something special, so he is taking supers with that in mind. He also, because he thinks the pace will be hot and that Bode could crumble if he's not something special, looking at closers like Daddy Nose Best. He will construct a second set of tickets with him in the top two slots.

As well, there was no talk of a chalk, spread, chalk, spread, horizontal. On Derby Day if you want to cash a ticket it's there for you. On Derby Day if you want to get paid you have to go against the conventional, because you can make a score. Making scores, if you are an exotics player, is the only way you can keep your head above water. If you're betting what everyone else is, the takeout will kill you. John Doyle did a great job on this during this call.

Anyway, I'm ready for Derby Day and once again, just like every year I am hoping to find something people don't like that I can make some money on.

Not that you asked, and opinions on the races are a dime a dozen, here are a few that I am using as pick 3 and 4 separator horses, and superfecta horses,to hopefully make some scores.

Race 2 I will lean on #6. If that starts off the pick 4, it could pay something.

Race 4 I am leaning to 5, but the boys on the call liked him as well. If you watch the replay I think you'd fall in love with him. 4, 7 and 12 are all prices horses that may have a shot, in my opinion. This super could pay and it is one of the best betting races of the day. (note I just see this race is off the turf). Crap.

Race 5 I may lean on Thermal Cat in horizontals because of the morning line. He will not be 6-1 or even close to it on the board, I think.

Race 6 I did like the way the two raced after being bothered, and is 8-1 ML. I will probably go deep here though. The ten was a monster last time.

Race 7 I'm going deep. I think Shack may win this, but he won't pay. 5 and 7 are bombs with a shot, in my opinion.

Race 8 I am living and dying with the 9 and 10. If one of those horses lose, my horizontals won't be pretty.

Race 9 3,5,6,7,9 - spread race for me.

Race 10 9 and 10 are my separators. There is no way Brilliant Speed should be that morning line, in my opinion. Al Khali could not have kicked home nicer last time.

Race 11, The Derby - There are a lot of horses who can win, so I am down with trying to figure out which one will allow me to cash a big ticket. That horse for me will be Alpha. I have never seen a horse off sixty days who uncorks a nice figure be so discounted by so many. He's all the way up to 21-1 and I'll take that. I'll likely use him with Union Rags, peppered with some alls in all superfecta slots. I almost made my life-changing score with Closing Argument in 2005 off this type profile with this trainer, and I think this horse is much more likely and brought to the race in a similar fashion.

Mike had some neat thoughts on the last race, and I may have a look at that since he mentioned it. Maybe I will start some pick 3's with the Derby landing on his action horses - 1,3,5

Anyway, that's all from me.

If none of the above longer ones win, I'll have a very bad day. But I know I'll certainly feel alive.

Good luck everyone. Enjoy your day.




Thursday, May 3, 2012

Some Derby "Anti-Branding" From Churchill

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

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

Via a post on the Betfair chat board:
  • We regret to notify you that as of now we will no longer be offering exchange markets on racing from the all Churchill Downs-controlled US tracks due to contractual limitations placed on our US affiliate, TVG, by Churchill Downs. The impacted US tracks are:  Arlington Park, Calder Race Course, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Hoosier Park, Oaklawn Park and The Meadows.  The 2012 KY Derby Ante Post market will be carried to its fruition, but no day of race market will be offered. 
About four or five years ago I wrote a white paper on exchange wagering for Canadian racing. For the paper I spoke to a player who plays at Betfair professionally.

This player was a huge racing fan and bettor in the 1990's, but after discovering poker, he left the game and did not play a cent in our game. Poker's takeouts, as you all know, allowed him to make money, and you can leave being a bettor of a game pretty quickly when something else is a better bet.

Then along came Betfair, and he began dabbling in racing again. If a race was on the site, he would look at it and play it. He also began betting in the pools again, re-following the sport, and watching it on television, because he had a rekindled interest in the sport.

I asked this player: "If Betfair stopped carrying tracks, how much would you bet into the pools?"

His answer: "Nothing"

Not "I would cut down my play", it was "nothing".

There seems to be a belief in the executive halls of racing that if you offer something like betfair, people will leave the pools and it will hurt handles. There is never (that I've seen) anything said to the opposite effect.

I spoke to him this week and asked who he liked in the Derby. After finding out the markets can't be traded, he won't even download the card. He'll catch the race on TV later.

No pick 6 tickets, no superfectas, nothing. If he can't play the markets, he won't spend precious gambling time on the race.

The Kentucky Derby market at Betfair is one big billboard for the race. It's an advertisement to fans all over the world. Millions of dollars will switch hands and be traded. Stories on how the horses are doing will be read by many people. It's a branding mechanism that any TV commercial cannot buy.

In my opinion, when you eliminate it, like they have this year over contractual ilk, the brand suffers.

Our big days are great. Racing needs every avenue to promote itself. When you shut one down I believe you will not get bigger, you'll get smaller.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Horseplayer Bible? I Think That's Long Gone

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

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

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

But there were some outs. Seth at Equidaily usually reports news without a slant, Paulick tends to dislike anything horseplayer if it interferes with horsemen issues and was no HANA fan at all, but he'd probably at least report on it, Frank Angst at the Thoroughbred Times is a straight shooter, and social media - filled with long suffering horseplayers - would certainly spread the word. Pricci and Fotias have been huge horseplayer supporters for many years.

As for the big one, the Daily Racing Form? The "Bible for Horseplayers"? The paper that in the 1930's and 40's would take any customer issue to the wall? Well, one may think they'd be an easy sell to help spread the word, but it was thought there was no way they would touch it. They were selling PP's from California racing, and they were now an ADW. Promoting to their customers that someone was telling them to protest a takeout hike that would make them not download PP's and not bet the races in California?

As time went on those assertions proved pretty accurate.

Seth at Equidaily probably linked dozen or more stories about it, as is. Like he usually does.

Paulick was Paulick, but he certainly didn't ignore it. How could he? Handle was falling no matter what spin he was getting from the tracks and the TOC. Despite early on writing some tangential things about HANA's President, he did ask some tough questions to the powers that be in California near the end of the Santa Anita meet.

Frank at the Times was solid. Reporting both the track spin and horseplayer replies as straight as an arrow. He was no lap dog for anyone.

What was interesting was getting blindsided by the reporting of the Bloodhorse. They not only told the story sans spin, people like Lenny Shulman on his video show talked about how stupid raising prices was at a time like this. There were a dozen or more stories or comments on the Boycott. I gained a huge respect for that organization as a fan, horse owner and bettor; and found fondness for its writers like Jack and Tom. They played it almost 100% down the middle, and never tried to bury anything. It was all that anyone who loves this sport could ask for from a trade press publication.

The DRF. Well, the thoughts were about right on. There was nary a peep. They might have not liked the idea, or the people involved, or whatever. But who knows? It wasn't even reported on in any meaningful way, for debate, or discussion.

No one can deny it wasn't at least horseplayer focused news, worth reporting, can they?

Sour grapes? Maybe, but in my defense I will say no, because I think it's a pattern, not an isolated instance.

Of late we've seen stories on race-day Lasix with an insider slant in the DRF (with, as Paulick pointed out, a completely dichotomous conclusion). We've seen the recent explosion of negative press from the Crist and Hayward discussion (most of the negative comments are now wiped clean under the piece I see). The stories and opinion on the New York Times expose, and the worshipping of dirt only, add to the status-quo, don't rock the boat, narrative of late.

We don't see a horseplayer bible any longer. We're seeing, in my opinion, an industry megaphone. And that's everything the Daily Racing Form editorially never was.

Sid Fernando on twitter recently said along this topic line (paraphrasing), 'yesterday's revolutionaries are today's establishment'.

I think that's exactly what we're seeing with the Form. And I wonder if its cutting edge, customer-centric journalism is gone forever from its pages.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Today's Derbyspeak

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

But, hell, it's Derby week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm going with Calvin" - This is a phrase used by people who don't know any of the horses in the race, or don't follow racing. It will be said many times before post time. (note, people who watched Derby coverage on major media the last several years might replace Calvin with "Bo-Rail" to show some Derby chops)

"That's the wise guy horse" - The wise guy horse is a capable under the radar horse that was picked before the internet was invented. This year it appears to be Daddy Nose Best.

"The horse doesn't like dirt" - Said after Dullahan comes third, while getting bumped four times, coming home in 22 flat, while scoping sick afterwards.

"That horse has no shot" - This phrase is used mainly by non-gamblers. Ever since Mine That Bird won, it's been less frequently used.

"I knew he'd win, he went 1,543 thousand feet further than Hansen in the Juvenile" - Union Rags fans who follow Trakus

"I'm glad he won, I was getting tired of hearing how Union Rags went 1,543 thousand feet further than we did in the Juvenile" - Dr. Hansen

"I'm going to win the Triple Crown" - Dr. Hansen

"I'm naming Kegasus to ride in the Preakness" - Dr. Hansen

"@#*$" - Ramon Dominguez after Alpha wins by seven

"Geez, if only he got a better trip" - Thousands of us after the 20 horse dash that is the Kentucky Derby


Have a nice day everyone!