Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is This DQ To Be Overturned on Appeal?

Last night there was quite a DQ at the Red Mile, and fans were buzzing.

Odds On Equelles, the heavy chalk and very talented horse trained by Robin Schadt and driven by John Campbell, moved to the lead off a super-slow first quarter. You can see after making the lead John snatched the horse up a little bit, going a third quarter in a respectable 28.4. Younger horses, sometimes unable to stop and start quickly, crumpled a little bit in the backfield. This triggered a ten minute inquiry, and the colt was pitched.

The result of the placing was formidable. There was a bridgejumper in the show pool which had his bankroll wiped out, and the race was for a purse of $85,800.

 I am never too concerned with calls as a bettor, simply because some will go with me, some will go against me. They are a perfect definition of racing's randomness. However, this DQ does not sit right with me (nor does it sit well with the youtube poster either).

"Slow quarters" are perhaps the most inconsistent call in all of racing. When horses get torched in a quarter it is common-sensical that the driver would want to get some sort of a rest. At times they need to be called but they are not. At times, like above, they are called when they probably should not.

 The circumstances in the above that make this a no call, in my opinion: 
  •  The first quarter (29) was incredibly slow and well below a 27 and change par time for this horse and class. First quarters tell the tale on how the rest of a race is going to go.
  • The second quarter was incredibly fast (27), which is about two seconds faster than par.
  • The third quarter was not slow. 28.4 is not slowing things down aggressively.
  • These are two year olds and some of them are very green. It can look worse than it probably is. 
  • It can be argued Brian Sears should've pulled his hot horse and caused the issue, not the leader.
  • In a phrase - this was a messed up race, and in no way representative
If we add up the circumstance, I believe this is a poor call, and I think it will be overturned on appeal.

That's okay,if so, for the connections and well-deserved. It doesn't help that bridge jumper that lost a pile of money though.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Racing Goes Monty Python

Yesterday New York State issued a 209 page report, detailing various problems that have existed this year at the state's racetracks. The report was fairly scathing, with the state's racing and wagering board, NYRA, trainers, vets and medications all taking a big fat swat for not protecting the horse enough, and for failed planning.

As the DRF reports, horsemanship and the administation of drugs on backstretches are an issue that isn't going away. 
  •  Although the report’s authors said there was no clear evidence that medication use contributed to breakdowns, the report raises serious questions about the state of horsemanship on the backstretches of New York racetracks and in the U.S. racing industry as a whole. Pointedly, the report states that trainers were in large part responsible for dictating the treatments horses received and that many of the treatments were administered without a veterinary diagnosis of a specific problem, in contradiction to both veterinary ethics and racing board requirements.

In the DRF, Dave Grening interviewed some trainers and their responses were, well, you judge.

Trainer David Jacobson, with regard to a proposal that says trainers should keep records on how and when horses are injected, said

“My biggest concern is the massive amount of paper work,” Jacobson said. “Who’s going to do this, the vets?”

Trainer Todd Pletcher when told about the time added regarding the use of clenbuterol said, using it would be a "waste of time"

And, Rick Dutrow is not impressed:

 “I don’t think backing up [the administration] of clenbuterol is going to stop horses from breaking down. “Whoever is thinking that, that’s how lost these people are in this game. That’s ridiculous."

There's something ridiculous in that alright: Rick Dutrow, who is appealing a 10 year suspension for breaking medication rules, is giving racing advice on medication rules.

Vet passports, keeping track of injections so that a new horse owner can see what vet work has been done (so he doesn't do vet work on top of vet work), is nothing new. It is not even close to ground-breaking . Europe does it, as does Ontario racing (since 2008). In fact, I know several trainers in Ontario that kept track of everything they give to a horse, whether it be supplements, herbs, vitamins, or vet work, before they were even mandated to. It helps them understand what works with their horse, what doesn't, and shows real horsemanship.

Heck, in Hong Kong your horse is in a holding barn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week where vets have to be checked in by the HKJC and every treatment has to be approved.

After the above story, Steve Crist weighed in on NYRA's role in the problems, titled "Even-handed Report Disappoints Chicken Littles". This title was formed, apparently in regard to the fact that NYRA was not single-handedly blamed in the report; like it is some sort of victory.  He goes on to praise the reports' findings, while letting NYRA critics know that they have not won the war, only some tangential battles. Of note, Mr. Crist might be considered, even on the surface, as having a conflict in any NYRA column. He was a part of the takeout story last year, where the NYRA CEO was eventually fired.

Ironically, the NY State report backed up a great deal of  the suppositions made this spring in the New York Times article by Walt Bogdanovich and Joe Drape; an article that Crist (and many others) assailed.

Whether it's our industry press trying to rally the base, protecting their friends and associates at organizations they carry water for, or our participants complaining they may have to do a little more paperwork before sticking a needle into an animal, it shows we've got a long way to go.

Racing is looking like the old skit in the movie  Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

In the classic scene with the Black Knight protecting a bridge, things aren't quite what they seem to this protector. After meeting King Arthur and getting his arm chopped off, he replies "it is but a scratch". After getting his leg chopped off, he replies "tis is but a flesh wound". While hopping on one leg and trying to ram King Arthur with his chest he says "ok, let's call it a draw".

No matter what you read in some of the mainstream racing press, or hear from participants, what racing is going through is not a "draw". Racing is getting its ass kicked; in the press, in state houses, with the general public, with governments in Ontario who have left it to die on a vine. 2012 will go down in history as a game-changer in this sport, perhaps more-so than any other year in its long and storied history.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Reinvestment Plan

It's clearly been a tough week for NYRA. We had the story on Monday that the politicos might be trying to get them out of managing the NY Racing franchise, the $250k art story, and today there's a not-so-flattering story about the early season breakdowns.

What I find, and I know many of you do too, is that this is not just a NYRA story. This is a story that happens virtually everywhere in our sport and has for a long, long time.

If you have a racetrack, or you are the head of a horsemen group, and you're getting a windfall through slot machines in say 2014, wouldn't you want to plan in 2012 in a different way?

Wouldn't you want to invest in, say, Trakus so it's ready for day one?

How about HD programming?

How about "on day one of the slots churn, purses will go up yes, but takeout will go down too, so our customers feel a part of this windfall and are not left out"

How about planning a marketing plan to be started day one, so it's off and running and each new entrant into the slots parlor learns about, or is given an introduction to horse racing?

All of those things do more than just invest in your customers, and your core product (betting), they give you a positive buzz, and positive word of mouth.

Racing just never seems to plan right, when these windfalls come about. NYRA's $250k spend on art in 2010 to be released in 2012, instead of spending $250k on a Trakus, for example, is nothing earth-shattering in our sport. It's just another example of the way things are done. It's a metaphor for our reinvestment, and priorities, not at NYRA but as an entire sport. 

Tracks aren't only to blame.

Over the last five or ten years racing (and horse owners) has been asked again and again to sock away some slots money for a rainy day slush fund, to be used to promote the sport, look at new technologies like betting exchanges - do some things we've never done to compete. The answer is always "don't touch my purses" and "no".

Google has earned great praise for its "20% rule". This rule allows google engineers to use 20% of their time (one day per week) for projects that interest them. It is a de-facto 20% reinvestment plan into their business.

A few years later over 50% of google's new products, including gmail, were the result of this policy.

Hundreds of millions of revenue, and hundreds of millions of dollars in share price are the result of reinvestment in some form.

Racing can choose to continue to spend money on murals, or propping up a stakes purse, or offering $30,000 purses for $10,000 claimers that throw the entire economic system of horse ownership on its head, as their slot plan.

Just don't expect to achieve any long term customer growth from the demand side if they do. What's even worse, if that windfall is suddenly taken away, you have nothing left to fall back on.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mural > Customer ?

In 2010, on taking too much rake from customers and not fixing it earlier:
  •  According to the interim report by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, internal emails at NYRA showed that some of its executives were well aware a law with a maximum takeout rate of 26% was about to sunset or expire, and that those 26% wagers would have to be recalculated at a 25% (or lower) charge beginning Sept. 15, 2010.
  • "Off the record, we have been working on this for some time. We originally had thought that we would announce this for Saratoga but political forces intervened. Since we are showing substantial losses in 2010 and 2011 and we have been smacked around by Cuomo (and he could check the SRWB from approving), we decided to wait.
Fast forward to today:
  •  Two years ago, the New York Racing Association's leaders commissioned a $250,000 mural that would immortalize them on the wall of the state's biggest thoroughbred track. Weighed down by lost OTB revenues and high employee and retiree benefit costs, NYRA has lost nearly $30 million in the past two years.
Unless I am reading that wrong, political forces (i.e. Cuomo) that would make NYRA look poor were in play with the takeout snafu. So, bettors were continued to be overcharged because of it.

At the same time, political forces and a blood-red P and L were not in play when commissioning a $250,000 mural?

Thursday Follies

Here we go.

Only in horse racing will you see a headline that involves someone going to a hearing about the venom of a South American tree frog. Ray the bacon man is live in New Orleans reporting about those Dermorphin positives. Ray's twitter feed is usually quite good and if you are interested in frogs, trees, venom, or what's going on in New Orleans, you should follow him.

Frank Stronach has juiced up on some energy drinks and he is live and in person in Austria, for his new political party.  The party platform says he wants to ditch the Euro and lower taxes. No word if he wants to install racing wizard machines in corner stores, stop exchange wagering, or what the over/under is on when his campaign manager is canned.

Speaking of tax, I don't have Bill Gates' bank account, not even close, but man do I hate capital gains taxes. You get taxed once when you earn the money, then if you invest a few bucks in Apple with your after tax money, they come after you again. What do I like to do to avoid them? I buy horses. Since there is no possible way I will make money owning racehorses, I will never get taxed. Bingo! Problem solved.

I've never been a huge Mark Verge fan, but at least he has a sense of humor. He lists a couple people in his Q and A in the NTRA notebook today that insiders may get a chuckle at.

Everyone needs a villain to move things their way. Flip on the tube and watch an ad: A guy who kept the Bush tax cuts is called a socialist and a moderate dude who got elected governor in a super-liberal state is called a right wing extremist. The villain in horse racing in New York is anyone not NYRA. It's similar in Ontario. Fascinating.

When an NFL ref makes a blown call the media, the players, the teams, talk radio and fans are upset like the dickens. When a steward or judge makes a bad call in racing, I rip up a ticket and turn the page to the next race with the sound of silence.

 I guess tracks in Ontario are good for something. The CTV series Flashpoint filmed at Georgian Downs recently and the episode airs tomorrow night. Georgian is one of the nicest little tracks around, bought and paid for by slot cash. If I were the Betfair folks I'd buy it and ask to get exchange wagering passed in Ontario. Without slots you'd get it for a song.

Slots are king. Pennsylvania horsemen announced a $1M bonus if you can win three trot races in the State. If you got the slots, flaunt em.

In other news, PA gets the Breeders Crown next year, at Pocono. There are really only few tracks with enough money to host these events, Pocono, Yonkers and WEG. Next year maybe it'll only be Pocono for the future, because I doubt anyone wants it to go to a half mile track and WEG might not be rolling in dough.

This week the Grand Circuit starts at the Red Mile, and thoroughbred racing has some excellent tilts as well. The Fall season is upon us.

Have a nice Thursday.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When People Stop Asking Racing to Solve Problems

I had an email exchange this morning with a long-time racing participant and advocate. He wrote one line that we've all heard before:

"Sorry for being cynical but I’ve been fighting the war much too long"

I think there's a line that's formed, behind and ahead of him in our sport.

A lot of people have a malaise in racing - good people -  because even when they try to move the simplest of things forward, they're usually met with a roadblock of some sort. After doing that ten, twelve or a hundred times, they simply stop caring.

Colin Powell, the retired general and former Joint Chief of Staff once said:

"Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them."

I think racing has a lot of soldiers with no one to call.

Conversely, look at what happens when there is a leader, willing to say "we've heard your problem, we've studied the problem, and we've solved the problem. Here is the new policy, and this is the way it is going to be."

That's what happened several years ago when the Ontario Racing Commission made changes to the whipping rule.

After hearing myriad complaints, and seeing the writing on the wall that how horses are treated is a big issue for the modern citizen (racegoer or not), they moved forward to change whipping in the Province.

The outcry from participants was expected, and ravenous. "Horse's will go slow, I don't know how to do it, it's unsafe, how dare they change my life, handle will fall, we should strike" and on and on.


Just this week, young 22 year old driver Scott Zeron was interviewed at the Little Brown Jug in Ohio, where he won with Michaels Power.

He was asked "How do you deal with that whipping rule up there?"

He replied that it's no problem because it's second nature. He said the horse's do not go slower, and it's safe to keep the hands in the box, and it's just the way he drives. The hottest participant issue of 2009 or 2010 was now a complete non-issue.

No matter how you feel about the whipping changes, or where you're at with whipping as a part of this sport in general, Scott is right. None of the bad things happened.  Even better, the new generation of drivers and jocks learn it from the beginning, and with it, the sport changes forever, in a positive way.

That one rule change occurred because one leader did not bow to the masses. They weathered the storm of criticism and yelling and complaining. They held firm and they lead.

That serves as an important lesson for racing, in my opinion. When an issue is brought to racing that makes sense that can help the sport, racing needs to think first about how it will lead to get something done.

No it won't be easy. It won't make everyone happy. It won't win you any popularity contests in some fiefdoms.

But what is much, much worse:  If you don't lead, people will stop asking you to, and when they stop asking, you've failed.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Red State Blue State

There was a classic set of sensationalistic Drudge Report  headlines yesterday regarding the changing lunch menu at US schools. A set of kids from Kansas took it upon themselves to create a youtube video highlighting the 650 calorie mandated max intake for lunches, saying they're still hungry.

After the chuckle, it is apparent that a school in rural Kansas is much different than one in an inner city. Those kids have a couple of parents at home, and good food is fed, because when you work on a farm before going to school, you better get good food or you can't do your work. This policy probably doesn't fit them too well.

It got me thinking about when I was a kid. I moved from a smaller, blue collar rural town to a big city to go to University. People in the city were complaining about guns, or other big city problems. I didn't see any of those problems where I came from. My town had five guns per household, and in the city's 100+ year history there were no gun crimes on the books, robbery, murder or otherwise.

After living in the Big Smoke for awhile (and noticing a dude run out of a hotel toting a 45 caliber in my first year there, scaring me big time) I could see where the big city folks were coming from. I respected that opinion, while still holding respect for all my old friends at home that any restrictive national gun policy probably would be useless there.

In racing we have our very own red state, blue state phenomenon. Blanket policies, like putting all the cash into purses, might look good and smart for some people, while others who aren't cut of the same cloth, consider them insane. This causes a real issue inside the sport and its one that will likely never be solved.

This was, in my opinion, exemplified with the racing Town Hall Meeting a couple of weeks ago hosted as a Night School chat. Racings insiders, who were most of the invited presenters, had to play to the groups that control the sport, like breeders and horsemen, while somehow including the masses, who were watching, that were detailed in a poll run during the meeting that showed over 98% were "bettors".

One of the presenters invited was Jeff Platt of HANA. I'm biased because I know Jeff, but in my opinion, a more thoughtful person you will not find. He is soft spoken and truly wants to help the game by increasing betting on the sport of horse racing. He wrote a post about his experience that I thought was quite poignant.

His thesis was simple. The red staters (insiders) were talking about things the blue staters (bettors) did not want to talk about. They were answering questions about what have you, while the questions (and the polls during the meeting reflected it) were about takeout, drugs and a bad tote system. He surmised that it is tough to fix racing if we don't meet these issues head on in a forum like that.

In the comments section of Jeff's piece you can see that a racing insider (Steve Byk, the host of his own radio show) apparently took issue with Jeff's remarks, as is his right of course. But the blue staters were not impressed.

Like in any other business, racings customers do not care about internal purse struggles, lawsuits, tracks fighting tracks, ADW's fighting horsemen groups, the price of a broodmare, or any other internal issue.

As David Willmot noted in an old speech published earlier this week, talking about gamblers:

"Frankly, they don’t care if a horse is by Mr. Prospector or Santa Claus. "

Some might say that's short sighted, or that the "blue staters don't understand us and are a problem force that needs to be educated".

But just like in any business, it's not a customer's job to understand you, it is your job to understand them.

A customer doesn't care if the price of the car you produce went up by $5,000 because of a strike at your steel supplier, they just buy another car. If you raise your rake to 25% to pay for new purses or backstretch groom dental coverage or a new OTB on the turnpike with flashy TV's, it should be no surprise to anyone that they don't care either.

They just see a business that disrespects them and some take their business elsewhere, just like you'd do. It's how the world works.

Even more-so, some customers don't care about anything, quite frankly, as this Aussie paper spoke about.

"By the end he put it to one of the punters that his betting on a soulless internet exchange - which was not putting money back into racing - would eventually see the death of the thoroughbred business. "You'll be betting on frogs," The punter replied: "Then I'll find the fastest frog." Nothing illustrates racing's problem better. Some studies show as much as 95 per cent of thoroughbred betting is done by pure punters, five per cent by traditional horse lovers. And punters will bet where they get the best service and the best return on the dollar."

Some might be shocked by that, but purchasing power from consumers is not altruistic. People buy $200 pairs of sneakers everyday made in a sweat shop.  People bet horse racing who couldn't care less about the sport, too.

In the current Presidential election - and a lot of them in years past too -  the issues have taken a back seat. The winner will be the man who patches together a coalition of blue or red states enough to win. It's an election driven by focus groups and voter warfare. It's fine for them, it's how it's done.

But in business and in racing you can not pit the blue staters against the red staters and expect to win anything. The reason is simple: The blue staters are your customers who bet into your pools.

Right now the racing media, its policies, its vision and its focus are controlled by red staters, and all about red staters. It should not be a surprise to anyone that many of the blue staters have found another gambling game to patronize.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Rudderless

The big news today is the New York Post story on Governor Cuomo's potential plans for racing in New York State.
  • Gov. Cuomo, in a startling move, has decided to “privatize’’ the running of the famed Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks with a new management company that will replace the scandal-scarred New York Racing Association, The Post has learned.
  •  “The NYRA model won’t work. It’s flawed, and it’s unable to do the job. Privatizing makes the most sense,’’ said the source.
So, racing will move from a government-government type appointed partnership, to a state takeover, to a private enterprise (that will probably be a government appointed partnership). All in something like a year.

Meanwhile in Ontario, racing will move from a government-government type appointed partnership to a government led organization in some form (for most of racing), as they take away slots and give away $50 million or so over a few years.

Meanwhile, New Jersey moved from a government-casino-private-state partnership to a private enterprise when subsidies were taken away. Kind of like New York is doing, only kind of different.... I think.

Meanwhile, some tracks are a government-casino-racing partnership, because racinos supply most of the purses. That's why we see track names like "Harrah's Chester" and "Harrah's Louisiana Downs". Sometimes in these places the non-core business becomes a nuisance and is eliminated, like what's happening in Iowa with the dogs.

Racing seems to have models upon models, some of which have been tried before and failed, and are retried, based on what state or province you reside in.

I'm not smart enough to even remotely predict what will happen in New York State, or if it is good, bad or indifferent. Like most, I simply add it to the list of decisions made, and faced by the sport, the last ten or fifteen years. It's worse than a boat without a captain. The boat doesn't even seem to have a rudder.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Where Oh Where is the Parx Twitter Feed?

We had some serious fun yesterday (in a satirical type way) with Philadelphia Park on twitter. Early in the day Dan (@thorotrends) was looking for the Parx twitter feed. He found one:
That spawned some tweets like this:
The joke of course was that the feeds for the casino are very active, and have many followers (over 5,000). The twitter feed for the track has one tweet made on Mother's Day, and is about as dead as a new stimulus package for Solyndra.



It got me thinking. what if the Cotillion purse wasn't bumped by $250k and they used that for their twitter feed?

The $250k could've been spent on employing a twitter feed operator for four hours per day, six days a week at $25 an hour, for over 8 years. Not bad!

They say things are funny because they're true. We often hear that racinos only care about casinos and neglect the racing. That was an interesting example of it, fair or not.One way or another, it provided some chatter between races yesterday on twitter.

Notes:


I think both big stakes races at Philly might provide a lesson on why you have to not put too much stock in one race when judging whatever it is you may be judging about a horse's ability.

At times the track is just not suited to certain horses, or they might have even had a bad day. Sometimes the results (and how the races were run) just feel "funky".

The filly race was a real barnburner. Heavily favored Questing was defeated by last years superstar My Miss Aurelia in a big sprint to the wire. What made the race confusing was the fractions. They crawled, but one wonders if they really crawled or not. The track looked deep and (as is usual at Philly Park) the outside was better than the inside. There was definitely something funky going on with that surface, in my opinion.

Later on in the PA Derby, Handsome Mike went slow as well, and held on nicely (he too in the four or five path). Alpha, who came on along the inside, seemed to be of one speed. No one else really made a move. It was a bit of a head scratcher, regardless. Was Handsome Mike the best horse in the race, or the best horse on that day?

I've always thought Handsome Mike is a horse with ability. If you watch the Spiral Stakes again, take a look at him in action. He has some talent. I'm glad he finally won something, because he has deserved to, regardless.

Of note: If the track was deep and tiring (I'm still not sure it was, it seemed so odd), how good was Trinniberg? Those fractions were huge and a deep closer won, with him coming a really nice second.

At night there were a few sires stakes at Mohawk, along with the Milton.

We've surmised that Warrawee Needy getting torched early, and them having to be careful with him, might pay off. Later in the year a good deal of the early 3YO stars get chewed and they're ripe for the taking. Last night Needy stormed home in 54.2 and looked like his old self to win in 148.4. If that was a Beyer figure, it would've been a big one - perhaps better than Sweet Lou's 147.4 earlier this year. The track was at least a second and a half slower last night. It was cool and the track looked dead.

In the Milton the stout fractions on a dead track killed the front end, with bombs lighting up the ticket. Rocklamation is a fantastic horse, and I cannot believe she was let go at 23-1 (not a redboard, I said so on twitter).

In New York, the Sires Stakes Night of Champions tool place, but I barely watched. Half mile track racing is too formful, or post driven for me. It's just kind of blah.

In Harness Racing Update Bill Finley looks at Tom Durkin's big win with his trotter (a beneficiary of Archangels break). Also in HRU, Dean Hoffman tells some stories about his pal, Mr. John Cashman.

Jennie Rees takes a look at the Illinois Derby, CDI story. There is something very unsettling in this episode. Churchill should re-look at this and do the right thing. In my opinion of course.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

John Cashman (1940-2012)

It was announced today that John Cashman passed away today in Florida, after a battle with cancer.

The industry press, like here at Standardbred Canada, will have a proper obituary for Mr. Cashman.

Personally, I met Mr. Cashman through Harnessracing.com's Kathy Parker. I was going to Lexington for the Keeneland meet and Kathy emailed, asking if myself, and a couple of other gamblers would meet her for dinner. She said she'd invited Mr. Cashman, who wanted ideas on how to grow wagering.

I immediately liked him, as my colleagues did. You could see his love of the sport, but more importantly you could tell he wanted to grow the game. He was focused on wagering and the customer, and he wanted to know what the industry could do to get some excitement back from horseplayers.

We discussed a few ideas, and he wanted to pursue a pick 6, at a low takeout at two tracks. And that bet would be seeded. The next year the bet was created and it drew some money, but with no carryover and folks who were a little antsy, it ended.

But it was not because of a lack of effort.

I got to speak with Mr. Cashman a few times since that meeting in Lexington, and I have fond memories of him. I know I am not the only one.

I always called him Mr. Cashman, because to me, it fit. He was a class gentleman, unafraid to ruffle feathers. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.


America's Best Racing: Doing What They Can

Several years ago the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan was floated up here in Canada. Part of the plan was to take a share of slot money and support some promotion for the sport, heavily focused on the customer. As I think most would agree, racing has several masters to tend to, and customers sometimes come pretty low on the totem pole. That plan would attack that oversight.

In the end it was not passed.

Not long after, the Jockey Club created a very similar plan. No, that plan was not about what it could not do - i.e. change crazy-high takeout rates, or pass legislation - it was a plan about what they could do. And that generally involved promotion of existing events, to create some buzz and gain column inches, and give racing a push.

Today in harness racing update, Stephen Panus and Penelope Miller were interviewed about what they and their group have done in season one (page 4, pdf file)

Give it a look if you are interested.


Who Dunnit?

I'm not sure who, but according to the New York Times today, it was the vet, in the library, with a candlestick filled with marked up Adequan.

Their in-depth look at some vet care on the backstretch's of America and Canada is pretty good, in my opinion.

One of the big expenses for horse owners has been vet work, and I believe those numbers have risen over the last 20+ years. At least they have for me.

There are some of usual criticisms about the story from some racing insiders. Trainer Charles Simon last night on twitter said,

"They continue to sensationalize things. While understanding that some guys do excessive work many don't."

I would think that's true. I know, and have had, plenty of trainers who do not get excessive vet work done.

But was the story about those people? No, I don't think so.

Like a Tour De France story about drugs, riders, and the doctors, you are not going to see an expose talk about the dude who is prescribing vitamins. Plus, the little rider from where ever, with the ivory clean doctor is likely not winning races.

Vet work, supplements, pre-race (and some things on the dark side) tend to help win races. Winning races is a big part of the sport, and it's a cycle. A high percentage trainer with huge vet bills gets press, people see that press and give them more and more horses. Soon you have super-stables, and the little guy gets crowded out. To compete, the little guy better find a new vet, or he's in trouble. I think that was the point of the story, and they made it well.

Regardless, it's a story I think you'll find interesting, and it's worth a read.

Enjoy your Saturday everyone.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Add A Quarter Million to a Purse, Get Four Horses

Gary West takes a look at the $1M Cotillion Stakes this weekend at Philadelphia Park.
  • When nobody, or nearly nobody, wants to race for a million mazumas, horsemen lack much more than good fillies. But there it is, Saturday's $1 million Cotillion at Parx Racing with a quartet of a field. 
A million bucks, 4 horses.

This year this race's purse was bumped by $250,000.

I guess if it was for $750,000 maybe they would've only got three entries. Who knows.

We've said it before, but bumping an already high stakes purse another incremental $100,000, or $200,000 (and make no mistake, these bumps are from slots money) does about as much for the gambling-sport from an ROI perspective as a Jeff Mullins poster giveaway.  Even worse, it shows no management imagination whatsoever.

Question: What can we do with an extra $250,000? Racings answer: "Let's make a purse for a stakes race bigger and get four horses"

With some imagination, how about $250,000 for seeded pools of some sort? As everyone knows, especially since Pete Denk highlighted it this past week, Pennsylvania tracks - who are awash with slots cash - charge 30% takeouts.  Out of the 68 tracks ranked by blended takeout score, Parx ranks 64th.

If that $250,000 brought in $1,000,000 of new betting, it could almost pay for itself at 25% takeout. Not to mention, it may actually give a reason for people like me and Denk to play that track once a year. It'd be $250k well (better) spent.

How about $250,000 in marketing to get people to the track to fill some seats and build a better and bigger brand? That might bring back some ROI wouldn't it? More people would be there eating hot dogs, drinking beer, betting a little, or hitting the slot machines after the races. Maybe that $250k brings in some revenue, and brings in some new fans.

Sheesh, why not $250,000 in free betting vouchers if we're going to go all out. It'd be a wicked promotion with people, local TV and radio providing a ton of free buzz. If the people who get the free vouchers churn it five times, it bumps handle by $1.25 million, to boot. Heck, maybe a few of them actually come back next week.

Or, let's just take the easy way out and add another $250k to the purse. Horsemen won't mind, and it's a hell of a lot less work. If it brings in four horses, oh well, we tried.

Welcome to racing. The easy road is the safe road with slots money.

Related: NYRA Boosts Stake Race Purses From Slots
Georgian Ups Purse For Upper Canada Cup By $100,000

Notes: Allan has a full recap for the Little Brown Jug yesterday.

Dumb bettor chats the Jug in today's Harness Racing Update (pdf).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Notes

Dan Silver has moved on from NYRA to Penn.  I thought Dan did a pretty good job at NYRA and that is likely a good hire for Penn. Good luck Dan.

I have a harness racing blog and I had to check my ADW to see if the county fair was racing today at Delaware, Ohio. There is something wrong with that. I know when there's a big race in Australia, or when the Ascot meet starts and I follow UK or Aussie racing about 1/100,000,000 th that which I follow harness. In my opinion, Jug week is the most under-promoted big week in harness.

Last night there was a strangely exciting 5 horse race at Harrington in the Quillen Memorial. There were really only two horses in it, Foiled Again and Betterthancheddar. Normally that would be a snorefest, but Yannick Gingras knows his horse is a fighter and pulled him at the half. In the end he was justifiably defeated, but not for lack of effort. I thought BTC has been off his game, so I fully expected Foiled to win the race and was happy YG gave him a shot. It was not to be, though. Betterthancheddar raced well.

As for this years' Jug, it goes Thursday, with an update here. Usually Jug's are not super-interesting, because there tends to be one or two stand outs with nice posts. This year it is not like that - it's a whale of a race. We'll be stoked for it come Thursday.

There was some chatter yesterday regarding the most impressive performance of 2012 for the Thoroughbreds. I sided with the Questing Alabama, over the  Pacific Classic of Dullahan. What's yours in harness racing? Interestingly, for me one would probably be Sweet Lou's NA Cup elim where he was stung badly and still won easily. It's funny to say that now, as Lou has not come close to duplicating that effort.

Have a nice day everyone.







Monday, September 17, 2012

Run the Table, Monday Notes



I can't say too much more other than this quote from Jack McNiven on the passing of Run the Table.


"I lost the best buddy I ever had," a tearful Jack McNiven told Trot Insider on Sunday evening. "That horse and I were so close. Nobody ever had a horse quite like him. I've had a lot of horses go through my life, but he was special. He was special. He knew what I said to him. He and I lived together and whenever I left the farm I’d look into the paddock when I drove by and went right to his stall when I got home. He was my everything."

A crusty old horseman, eh? Most of them aren't when you are dealing with horse's like this.

I met Run the Table for the first and only time several years ago at Grand River. I don't work with horses every day - I don't know much about caring for them at all - but with him you just kind of knew he was a special horse. He seemed to know exactly what he was there for: To Be an ambassador for horse racing. That's a pic of him with a young fan years ago.

Rest in peace fella.

Notes:

Vote please!  Click this link for a story on a very special place that helps retired racehorses that is in the running for a Chase grant. It's amazing, they have a shot to get some really nice coin, and all it takes is you voting on Facebook.

Jug week is upon us and we'll have some notes as the week goes on.

There's talk of Takter's fine this past weekend for letting stablemate Little Brown Fox up the wood in the Canadian Trotting Classic. The fine was $200, the race was for $1,000,000. Several years ago driver Trond Smedshammer got 45 days for doing similar. That was a little better than $200, in my opinion.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yearling Sales & Six Audiences & the Trotting Classic

Leg one of the Canadian Classic yearling sale is complete and the numbers were poor. Last year the average for the two days was just over $14,000. This year we're stuck at about $8,200, with one day to go.

Despite the downturn, there were some glimmers of hope.

The Classic, or Open (or whatever we're calling it now) is a sale that does not have the cream of the crop normally. With slots being pulled from Ontario, the low end of the spectrum will be hit the most savagely. This appeared to occur. However, quality horse's still sold at not a great price, but not as bad as one may think.

As well, it's important to know that we're dealing with a sale who has the averages bounced around all over the place. In the last four years this sale has averaged between $8,000 to $16,000 with slots. It all depends on what good horses are being offered. As David Menary put it, who bought the $90k session topper, he 'didn't see a lot of quality'. Last year there were some regally bred Camlucks (one who went for $180k) and a couple of Kadabra's that really brought people out and upped the averages.

What will today bring? There are a couple of decent horses offered, so we'll see. But at this early stage - and even if you look at the lower numbers - there are some glimmers of hope that breeders will get a little bit of cash for their well bred colts and fillies.

Make no mistake though - not knowing what Gold Series or even grassroots will go for next year - things are really poor in Ontario.

Notes:

Seth Godin today looks at business and its "Six Audiences"

He says "you get what you focus on" and he's probably right. Places like Amazon and Walmart focus on sales. That is all they do. This goes for government as well as business. With teachers' strikes and the like government has to focus on labor strife, and this takes away from core education.  Everything is about choices.

The six core audiences Godin talks about are:
  • The sales force
  • the stock market
  • potential new customers
  • existing customers
  • employees or
  • the regulators.
 I submit horse racing can't focus on anything and conquer that group. We don't have a sales force, and even if we did, what are we selling? New customers? We don't do that very well, because our new customers are gained via price changes (like going after poker players with lower rakes etc). Existing customers? I guess we do focus on those, but we have not done a great job. Employees? We probably do focus on those. If the vendor is an employee this is horse ownership. The TOC runs racing in California, so they're surely focused on. The regulators? Yep, we focus on those it seems. Raceday drugs are looking to appease people like Whitfield.

In the end we are what we focus on, and right now we want to focus on everyone. It's probably a big reason why we're in the spot we're in with falling handles, and lower attendance.

Last evening Woodbine hosted what probably will be its last big card with the Peaceful Way, CTC and Wellwood. Over $2M in purses were handed out for the second time in three weeks. With kids back in school, weather returning to normal levels, and a post-Labor Day buzz fading, the attendance did not look overly large. It's like this every year. Putting races on at Mohawk after Labor Day does not have the same feel.

In the Classic, Market Share (perhaps the worst 3-5 chalk I have seen in a long time) tripped out to grab all the marbles in 52. This crop is primarily a trip crop, with no dominant horse. Market Share seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

If you read the blog you'd know we've been waiting for some time for Takter to take a shot with Guccio. You just can't win races from fourth over in racing anymore, and we know he has some gate speed. That he did last night, and he almost got the job done, losing by a half a length.

Those were the only fireworks in the race, because it was a line-up affair, and the half would've been walked even more slowly (it was only 55.4) with Prestidigtator probably clogging up the flow.

We saw that in the Wellwood, with a 57.2 half and a 127.2 three quarters. It looked like a maiden race. 

All in all it was a very non-descript evening, but it tends to be that way with trotters.

This week: Little Brown Jug week is upon us. Only 14 horses have been entered, but there are some potential matchups for fans to get excited about. We'll look at it this week.





Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Betting Take On Camelot's Loss

Horse racing remains the best (in my opinion, of course) fundamental betting game on earth. When a horse loses, or wins, we can have dozens of opinions why, or why not.

This morning when Camelot lost his Triple Crown bid the early reaction was based on the ride itself. Most seemed to believe being tucked away in slower fractions, getting out with about a quarter to run, caused the loss.

That may be so.

Having not watched very much UK racing at all, and of course not seeing any fractions on my screen (a whole other lament of mine with UK racing), I defer to others on this opinion. I like to watch the money.

I decided to watch the race at Betfair, just like I usually do, because in-running betting is not only fascinating, it is an incredibly accurate predictor about what's happening during a race.  When people have a monetary stake, rather than a qualitative one, it means quite  a bit.

Despite the chatter about fractions and being "in a bad spot", the punters vehemently disagreed. Camelot, who opened at 1.50 (about 1-2), drifted downwards after the break and traded between 1.4 and 1.5. Punters continued to be not concerned at all, right to the head of the lane. They thought he was in a fine spot and simply needed a seam.

He traded down to 1.25 when he got out with about 3/8's to go.

The winner at that point opened up, and then, finally he drifted upwards. He ended up trading over $US6M.

The bettors themselves seemed to be saying that he had a fair shot, but the other horse was better.

Still unsure I telephoned a professional betfair player for his take. He confirmed the prevalent bettor opinion, believing that he was near enough to the winner, and he is a much better horse than the winner, to warrant a 1.3 or so long play at that stage.

Then he said he had been short the horse anyway, today. He noted that the horse looked poor at the end of the Irish Derby in his opinion, and nothing like he did in his previous win. He thought if Camelot was as good as he was three months or so ago, he'd have easily won the race.

Another punter told me similar before the race, via email. Noting: "I'm bearish on Camelot...I'm usually bearish against heavy chalks, but this one has been off for some time and is asked to go close to 2 miles against a field of decent horses with good recency."

So, the general opinion of "bad ride, no fractions" could very well be accurate. However, there is a cogent school of thought in betting and handicapping land that we were looking at a horse that was ripe for the taking, and the loss was just that; a loss.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Time Between Races, Changing Models & Friday Notes

Mike Repole, the brash New York owner of horse's like Uncle Mo, was back being interviewed, and ruffling some feathers. In an article today he relayed some gems like.
  • “I just know the old guard is running the sport, and the old guard doesn’t want to change. It’s almost like we’re football players still wearing leather helmets.”
  •  if this was a business, the sport would have been bankrupt five years ago,” 
Give the article a read, if you want some flavor.

One part that gets me all the time that I cannot figure out, and I believe it goes to the core of the problems in racing:
  • The sport has too many tracks and almost no organized entertainment for fans during the 30-minute gaps between races. Fans—and, more importantly, bettors—gravitate to sports with more rapid action, such as football.
We hear time between races is too long and we need "rapid fire action" like a slot machine very often, especially in harness racing. I think this is a complete red herring.

First, upwards of 90% of betting handle is bet off track. The time between races is no factor whatsoever for those people.

Second, rapid fire? Last Friday there were about 30 tracks going with a race off every three minutes. The betting aspect of this sport is as rapid fire as they come. If the 11% of people betting on track want rapid fire, step inside the grandstand and bet something on a TV monitor.

I understand that there should be more on-track entertainment "for fans", but don't make it sound like it's a major issue for the overall game. And certainly do not change the entire fabric of the game for bettors by trying to run a race every ten minutes to appease a small faction of on track fans.

Along these exact same lines HRU printed (page 3 PDF) "New Thinking For a New Paradigm". The article talks about setting benchmarks based on purses and handle, and carding races and cards for gamblers. It also states that measures that work from a return on investment perspective, not that "feel good" from an insider perspective must be set into place in the sport.
  • As a benchmark, for any track, at the very least: $1 of purses must generate $1 in handle. If Chester is giving away $2M on a big day, we're doing something very wrong if handle chimes in at $700,000. Ditto at all tracks where this happens. If you can't reach that simple measure, do something else, because what you are currently doing isn't working. 

Notes: It's Super Saturday at two tracks, Balmoral and Mohawk. Some great racing.

I heard yesterday that apparently Rideau Carelton in Ottawa lowered their pick 4 take to 15%. According to the ADW owner that told me that, "it seems they did not tell anyone". Has anyone seen anything on this?

Jeff Platt shares  his thoughts on the Night School "Executive edition".  A couple of horseplayers were involved in chatting with execs on Tuesday for those who do not know.

Enjoy your Friday everyone.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rating the Racetracks & What Makes the World Go Round



The Horseplayers Association of North America released their annual Thoroughbred  Racetrack Ratings a few months ago. Designed by a horseplayer and retired engineer (and a whiz with spreadsheets), data points that were directly correlated to betting handle were weighted, numbers were crunched and the tracks were rated from 1 to 69. For the fourth consecutive year, Keeneland was ranked number one. 

In the first year of those ratings there was plenty of chatter from fans, players and the industry itself. Everyone had their opinion on what tracks they liked and what tracks they didn’t. If Tampa was ranked 10th, a player would lament the 25.7% takeout on trifectas and disregard the rankings. When Hollywood Park was 14th, a player was sure to say how wrong that was, because the maybe he found food on the second floor was awful. When Keeneland was ranked first, polytrack haters were out in full force saying “Keeneland, how could you?”

Bill Weaver designed the ratings as they were, because there are determinants to handle that are both theoretically and empirically proven; and they are beyond reproach. We have spoken before about them in this column, but as a refresher, they include the types of bets, takeout rates, field size/race contentiousness, signal fee level, and pool size. 

Types of food, the rider colony, or quality of the horses played no bearing on the ratings for two reasons: Either they were non-measurable, or they had little meaningful correlation to betting handle.

This season - four years after it was first rated #1 - Keeneland set some handle and attendance records. The ratings are probably not too bad.

Currently HANA is looking to do similar with harness racing, with a racetrack rankings system complete hopefully soon. I imagine when the ratings are released, there will be similar grumbling from people in and outside the industry.  

It’s simple, really: What you may like in a racetrack will differ from others, and vice versa. 

A couple of weeks ago in Harness Racing Update I wrote about Balmoral Park, and its explosion onto the scene, to land with the big boys like the Meadowlands and Woodbine. They’ve done so by carding good betting races, distributing their signal and doing it at a decent price. This spawned a letter to the editor from a gentleman that disputed Balmoral’s status, because of the driver colony and horse population.  Those are characteristics that are clearly important to him in a racetrack. 

The bottom line, though, is that betting customers are saying something completely different about the driver colony and horse population at Balmoral, and they’re saying it loud and clear: “We don’t really care”

Case in point, last Saturday night, Balmoral Park carded their usual array of Saturday races – a maiden, a nw2, an Invite, a couple of $4000 claimers, among others. For the entire card they gave away $99,100 in purses. 

A thousand or so miles away, another track was carding their Saturday races. Yonkers had the Levy Final and the Matchmaker Final, with several other solid tilts. They had Foiled Again and See You At Peelers battling solid foes, and the best drivers on the planet behind nice horses each race. They gave out over $1.1 million in purses.
A lot may have really liked the Yonkers card to watch (I did). However, what pays the bills in our sport, betting handle or me watching on TV?

Yonkers, with all those purses and top horses and top drivers, handled $1,191,000.

Balmoral Park, with no huge purses or big-name drivers, handled $1,332,000.

This prompted a comment on my blog this week from a long-time horseplayer, Eric Poteck. 

“Wow, horseplayers are talking. Is anyone listening?”

This is not a Yonkers phenomenon only - they don’t do a terrible job with a very predictive oval, and a lot of it is out of their control - we see this at other venues as well. A year or two ago, Chester Downs was hosting a huge stakes card. If memory serves (it is almost impossible to get handle statistics in harness racing, which is curious, as it is how we keep score), they gave away about $2.4 million in purses, and handled less than $400,000 at the windows.  

Balmoral proves that survey’s like the Horseplayers Association’s are probably correct, and indeed horseplayers are talking. The determinants of betting handle are the most important thing for us as a gambling business, and everything else is noise. Until we get paid millions by television networks to show our sport, or we start selling Foiled Again t-shirts and Brian Sears helmets for big money, we have to rely on customers betting our races for purse revenue.

From the owning side of the business it’s probably not bad either. The more people who bet the races are watching the races. The more people watching the races are visiting racetracks. The more people who visit racetracks and get exposed to the sport, can be likely horse buyers. 

The key question for this sport is the following, in my opinion: How do we marry what Balmoral is doing, (and has done) for the bettor, with other tracks who are carding better quality races for fans? How do we make our product both better to watch and a better bet? If we answer that question properly (and market it) we might just be on our way.

This article was orginally published in Harness Racing Update, Bill Finley's newsletter. To access it for free, you can sign up here. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Fascinating Look at Integrity Downunder

A jockey and owner in Australia have each been suspended a year for not trying to win a race, and profiting from it.

The jock is appealing, while the owner pled guilty to betting against his horse and giving misleading statements. He is pleading not guilty to conspiring with the jock to lose the race.

The owner's story (as a stand-alone story, without the accompanying video evidence of the ride) is believable. He noted that he had bet $5,500 to win on his maiden at a bookie, but when he arrived on course the track was a bog. He wanted to relieve himself of some risk - he tells investigators - so he laid some of it back on betfair.

Betfair, as they do in all instances like this, worked with the commission. That bet was outed. There is nothing in the story that corroborates his story that he was heavily long his horse.

The reaction seems to be mixed, which is what we often see in racing. On one side, the Racing B*tch noted:
Lately we have seen evidence of race tampering in Australia, and at times in Britain. In North America we rarely see it. Is it because it does not happen here?

Likley not. In other countries where punting is taken seriously, these things tend to be uncovered, because they want to uncover them and they have the means to uncover them. In North America we see some in knee-jerk fashion blame a place like betfair for causing the problem, when all it does is bring the problem to everyone's attention.

This is  not unlike, for example, a track who has no blood testing. They won't have any positive tests, but it doesn't make them better off than a place that can call a tree frog positive because they do test.  If you're honest, where do you want to race your horses and bet?

I continually marvel at Hong Kong and Australia. In those countries punters are treated with a ton of respect, just like stock market investors are here in North America. Their hard-earned betting dollars mean something.
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Notes: I followed the Night School executive chat yesterday. There seemed to be a ton of backslapping about what racing has done good of late. I don't belittle it. There are some areas we have done well - like the use of social media and twitter helped along by the America's Best Racing initiative. However, we have done very poorly on many fundamental issues and those were nary mentioned. It seems like everyone wanted to appease every faction. It probably was not the venue to talk turkey about any group, but I find that happens behind closed doors as well. We in racing look at the path of least resistance when we deal with our problems, in my opinion. These problems are too large to do that. To fix racing's problems there will be winners and losers, because changing the status quo makes that assured. We seem to want to change, while not offending anyone. That makes real change impossible.

Alan over a LATG looks at New York's delays on getting anything done. I have to chuckle because Ontario takes that to the nth degree. We're still sitting here with yearling sales going off without the foggiest bit of knowledge what next year will look like.

Detour Hanover, the highest price harness yearling in history, debuted yesterday. He held on to win by a head in a slow time. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Notes

Illinois announced a super-test got 26 trace-positive tests for a corticosteroid from 11 trainers. I don't know what that is for sure, but it's probable it's something for allergies and breathing. Feel free to use the comment section to fill me in.

It does go to show the reliance, in my opinion, on treatments between races. A lot of trainers nowadays treat each race like a Super Bowl. It keeps their average up and it is not horrible for the bettors, because you know the horse is likely there to win. The downside of course is that vet bills skyrocket. I don't know one trainer who doesn't want the best stuff they can find to help horses between starts. You can probably spend $5,000 a month on highly marked up treatments if you want to. This, again in my opinion, is why we don't see horse buying like we should when purses double in slotsville. The costs eat up the slot money purses.

We've been speaking about it for some time here on the blog, but it's coming closer and closer to reality. Zynga looks at mobile and online gaming. If that passes and catches on, horse racing handles online (our only growth spot) will likely get massacred. The industry is not even talking about it; nary a peep, other than maybe trying to get some sort of slice. Racings business model seems to be built upon getting a slice of someone elses business instead of worrying about and developing its own.

Finally someone is asking for certainty on something before the yearling sales. Too late? Probably.

First year sires like Big Jim are an example of just how tough the slots decision was. Imagine, you shell out a few million for a sire, with your forward sales hinged upon the best state bred program and overnight program in the world. Then you wake up to find your investment had the goalposts moved. Governments seem to do this often, and it is a scourge to free-market types like me, and many of you. I guess that's what happens when you get into bed with politicians.

Will Bolt the Duer come to the Jug and not race in a second heat? If so, I agree with Alan. If you are not planning on going two heats, why bother coming?

Form reversal? No, but a no try, try effort. That's what Thinking Out Loud did in his most recent start at Mohawk (right to the back, home in 25.3 as a 2-5 chalk) versus his to the top in 53 Red Mile start. This is commonplace in harness racing, and it is about time we did something about it, in my opinion.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fun Stuff on the "Dying" Chatter

Colin's Ghost talks a little "racing is dying" today on his blog, noting that racing has been written off for some time now. He is generally correct. For as long as I can remember we've been watching racing "die", but it's still here.

Like most meme's with such a dire conclusion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As I noted before, I feel racing is never going to be dead, because somewhere, somehow a man or woman will want to race a horse against someones to see who is faster.  Arguing that something is "dead" or "not dead" is strawmanism (and I am pretty sure I just made that word up). It's all a matter of degree.

I think most would say Rodeo is a dying sport. It's not on TV much, revenues are down. But it is not "dead"; it is just a whole lot smaller than it was.

Take a look at this article about Rodeo in 2012: "Rodeo Attendance, Revenue Up 25%".
  •  "Rodeos in general are up all across the nation," Roberts said. "Not to brag or anything, but I think Deadwood's is up just because we have a darn good rodeo. People want to come and figure out how the heck we keep on winning. They keep coming to see how we do it. Pat said that the sheer numbers of contestants entered up in this year's Days of '76 Rodeo were up to 698 from 613 last year.
    "We had a very successful Days and the cowboys loved it. They absolutely love our rodeo," Pat said. "It's the setting, the stock, the committee. It's our largest ever and a lot has to do with the added money we do. The word's out that the Deadwood rodeo is the place to be.”
I can't help but think that sounds a whole lot like a current horse racing press release alluding to how great things are at [insert track name here].

Racing, like rodeo, will always have good days, but it is getting smaller. According to wikipedia, in 1939 Rodeo's attracted twice as many spectators as auto racing and baseball combined.  Now, despite that glowing press release, or big attendance at the Calgary Stampede, it's generally a footnote.

In 1948 it was estimated that betting volume nationwide on horse racing (including bookmakers) was about $10B. If we would have simply stagnated (i.e. grew at the rate of inflation) that number today would be about $100 billion. Instead we'll come in at around $11 billion.

TV viewership (or radio for before TV was invented), per capita, shows similar trends, as thorotrends has delved into many times. Even on big days our present is a shadow of our past.

Racing is not "dead". It will likely never be "dead". As a business (primarily driven by betting) it's simply probably about 15% to 25% the size it was 50 or 60 years ago.

Related: Real Clear Sports "Top Ten Diminished Sporting Events"
Related: Thorotrends, Looking at Kentucky Derby Viewers

More Peeks Into the Ontario Sales

Earlier this week the CTHS sales at Woodbine were off, but not by as much as expected by some. This weekend, the open session had a very poor result.

A couple of trends may be developing, which a lot thought would happen.

One, lower quality horses are having trouble finding homes, and two, buybacks simply aren't happening. In 2011, 73 horses were not sold. In 2012 that number plunged to 38.

In Ontario for the harness sales there are two major classes of horses. Ontario has a strong sire base, and those horses can, and do, win open events North America wide. Like other strong jurisdictions there are the lower end horses, made for OSS grassroots action. Those will have to take a hit, in my opinion.

Although rumors abound on what may happen with slots at racetracks and a transitional fund, there really is not much certainty out there. In fact, there is just as much uncertainty this month as there was last month. We seem to be getting nowhere.
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Darryl Kaplan writes a good piece in the View about the words "it's not that simple". Those words plague racing, although I have always thought "we can't" trump those (e.g. we can't lower takeout, we can't change slots deals, we can't....). When you have a bunch of people sitting around a table that can fall back on those words, you have an industry that never moves forward. It makes for a great excuse to do nothing.

There are some sites out there with a lot of money and a lot of backing. One of them without a lot of either does the best job on the web with weekend wrapups, and that's Hello Race Fans. If you are a thoroughbred fan and you missed any action at all, visit their page for videos and updates. It's great work.

Kentucky Downs slashed their rake and got some good publicity out of it. This weekend they had a huge opener, even when comparing apples to apples. None of the press releases even mentioned the rake, that I saw. If you have the lowest rake in North America, you should mention it. Tioga does in harness racing, and although it's a small track, sooner or later that branding helps. Why KD doesn't is beyond me.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Some Tweaks & Some Sunday Notes

Kentucky Downs handle was up droves yesterday. A push in purses helped drive some horsemen to the box, and of course Kentucky Downs now has the lowest blended takeout in North America, after reducing it large this past year. It's a neat meet; one which is different from most others. Racing does well when they do some new neat things, rather than just "tweak". We've tweaked for generations, while generational change in other sports, or businesses have changed rapidly, and fundamentally.

Speaking of tweaking, Seth Godin today writes:
  •  I think for most businesses that want to grow, it's way too soon to act like a direct marketer and pick a single number to obsess about. The reason is that these numbers demand that you start tweaking. You can tweak a website or tweak an accounts payable policy and make numbers go up, which is great, but it's not going to fundamentally change your business.
When Vegas went huge in the 1990's they didn't tweak, they changed their model to become a destination. When Apple went huge in the early 2000's it wasn't a tweak of their home computer, it was a generational change on handheld music devices. Online poker wasn't a tweak, it was new. Betfair was not a tweak on betting with a bookie, you could become your own bookie. Greece tried tweaking years ago, but they've imploded. Tweaks don't work much anymore when you are struggling.
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It pays to look at pool size. Check out this chart from the Yorkton Fair last night. That's a $109 winner, with no place money, keying a $7 quinella and $79 exactor. Win place betting ruled the roost there.

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That was some night at Mohawk last evening, and it shows when the US drivers come north, you get some solid racing. There are very few holes and each driver has to work to get a trip.

The first race was a headscratcher. Driver Sylvain Filion with Moreau's horse (coming off a horrid line) was leading by five in the lane, well on his way to a monster victory. It seemed to me he did not want to win by too much, maybe because form reversals like that peak the interest of Bruce Murray, as they should. He snatched the horse up, and was almost nipped at the wire. The ORC judges did the right thing (he veered over into Randy at the wire) and pitched  him.

My "what if" of the evening was in the Nassagaweya. Last week in the Metro I used a couple of horses for bombs: Fool Me Once and Captive Audience. Last evening they ran first and fourth. I ended up betting and keying Gingras' colt who came second by a head. The other colt in the super was 1-5. I could not put that together this week to make anything. The super paid $21k for 20 cents. 

Next weeks Canadian Trotting Classic should be good, despite the absence of superstars in the division. Guccio, after looking more than ordinary his last couple, must have had some vet work done, because he stormed home like a sound horse. He'll probably take some money. Market Share was good, as was Little Brown Fox. Gym Tan Laundry is definitely a speed threat. This may be the last Canadian Trotting Classic - for anywhere near that purse anyway.
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Have a nice Sunday everyone.