Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Melodrama

Paul Moran of ESPN writes today:
  •  The five Breeders' Cup races for 2-year-olds drew 52 pre-entered American-trained horses. Only one, Fortify, has not raced on Lasix. That amounts to 98.1 percent of the American-trained 2-year-olds running at Santa Anita coming off Lasix, a monumentally uncertain, potentially disastrous situation for horses, horsemen and handicappers.
Oh, please.

This reminds me of the Rachel Alexandra connections not going to the Breeders Cup at synthetic Santa Anita when they stated:
  • "These false tracks create potential for injury, a risk that I am not willing to take with Rachel."
Unless you've been living under a rock, or maybe work for the pro-dirt DRF, there is no one who believed such hyperbolic, biased nonsense.

The modern racehorse can and does race without lasix. They do in all parts of the world, they do in harness racing. I'm pretty sure Hidalgo didn't get a shot of the drug before his eight gazillion mile trek across the desert either.

Racing cannot and never will let go of the status-quo to become a more relevant sport unless we start looking towards the future, instead of running away from it. If you have a quarrel with the Breeders Cup anti-lasix stance, that's fine. But leave the melodrama in the shedrow, because if you don't, you're part of the problem, not the solution.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ontario Racing Plan Released

The long awaited OMAFRA report was released this afternoon. We now know slots are not part of the ongoing picture, in virtually any fashion, and that (although no numbers are given) some government investment will happen, with return on investment benchmarks, long seen in private business.

Bullets:
  • Racedates should be cut in half, with harness racing bearing the brunt of these cuts, according to the report
  • Purses should be cut by 45%
  • Very little will be "given" to racing. Highlighted by this line, where the panel expresses their dismay with the past "The customer received little attention from stakeholders during consultations"
Included in the report are some recommendations on how to conduct their business:
  • Field size needs to be ten horses per race
  • Purse pooling - long rejected in the Province by horsemen groups - will be implemented
  • Purses will come from betting
  • Marketing and race scheduling will be handled by a central organization
  • New games, bets and possible lotteries or instant racing will be explored
While reading the above recommendations, I know what you are saying. Industry watchers and bettors have been telling the business to do the above for years. Almost all of the marketing and revenue angles were in the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan. Now it is likely mandated as such, with hundreds of millions less for purses, and marketing and promotion.

No hard funding figures for the report were released. That's probably a smart thing to do, as the cost of the programs - and surely the internal industry infighting - cannot be reasonably broached.


Monday, October 29, 2012

US Election Betting, Update II

Breeders Cup draw? Breeders Crown recap? Storm chatter? Nah. On this strange day I'll have a look at election betting and some trends. I had a couple of email questions yesterday asking about what's happening on betfair - one from a huge O supporter, one from an equally big R supporter - so why not. A lot of people are betting the race to the finish, too.

The Race

Betfair has a 67.37% chance of an O victory. This is higher than Intrade, but lower than Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight blog. The discrepancy between Betfair and InTrade might be due to overseas money primarily working betfair, and more domestic cash at Intrade. I don't know for sure, but it is what it is.

The Fundamentals

Money has been swinging to O of late, despite a movement in the polls to Romney, where he leads by 0.9% at Real Clear Politics. You might be saying "if R is up by a point, why isn't he the favorite?"

Right now the polls themselves are not driving the price changes, the states are, primarily Ohio. The media narrative of "whomever wins Ohio wins the election" has caught on, and the Real Clear Politics average shows an Obama win in the Buckeye State. Bettors are laser-focused on Ohio.

So you might be saying "Pocket, why is Obama not closer to 80% or above with bettors like Nate Silver says, and do we have an edge?"

Answer: Because of biases, turnout battles and noise - a ton of noise.

This is one of the more confusing betting races I've watched since I have been betting them (in earnest since the year 2000).

The "Noise"

If you want to go long Romney for a nice score, you can hang your hat on a number of things.
  • He's ahead in the popular vote averages, as noted above, and the polls are usually right
  • The last two polls in Ohio have been "even" and R+2 via Rasmussen
  • Gallup, who is only one of two pollsters who has surveyed party loyalty, has R up 5 points. That would be a huge R win on election day.
  • States like Pennsylvania and Minnesota have closed, with one poll showing O+4 and O+3 respectively. If those solid blue states have closed, how in the heck can Romney lose?
  • R is killing with independents. The dude who wins I's wins the race, generally.
  • Voting models, which look at turnout, show R winning by five, like today's GWU battleground poll. This is a favorite of right wing blogs. They have a point.
If you want to go long Obama and take the 48 cents on the dollar, you have plenty of things to like too.
  •  In the swing states - CO, WI, OH, CO, VA, NC IA and FL - he is leading in most polls averages. He can't possibly lose if he leads in so many of these states can he?
  • The ground game: Left wing blogs especially have hung their hat on this one, and they have a point. This isn't a myth. In 2000 it worked like gangbusters, in 08 it was awesome. 
  • The R turnout numbers are too bullish. Signs in early voting in NV and elsewhere are looking fine.
  • R's momentum has stalled. He was trending upwards but now is not and things are moving the Prez's way. 
  • The odds say so. When the odds are like this - this late - the winner will be the chalk. Follow the money. 
  • The polls that have Romney way up - like Gallup and Rassmussen -  cannot be possibly right. 
 I wish I had some pearls of wisdom, or a valiant prediction. I can say that I think Betfair is close to accurate right now. Nate Silver is too bullish O (probably because of a lack of a Black Scholes component) and InTrade is too bullish R.

What can change the prices over the last week?

1. If the two latest OH polls show a trend, with one or two more falling into line with an R lead, batten down the hatches and load up on Romney. With a 1% RCP average in the general edge and an edge in OH, he is probably 60% or higher to win. It is important to note, when the R+2 OH poll was released this morning Betfair did not move one inch in the Ohio markets.It needs more numbers, and/or Nate Silver to show these polls in his models.

2. The Employment numbers: Economists are calling for a tick up in the unemployment rate on Friday. If they're right, it will hurt O. If the numbers are good like last time, R may be toast.

If you are betting this, and trying to trade, there's plenty for you to watch and analyze. If you are an R or O fan and interested in the race for that only, there is certainly a lot to hang your hat on. It feels like 2000 all over again, where both sides think they can win.

Of course this is simply the prelude to the real time action 8 days from now, where if it is close, there are sure to be some huge winners and losers on the exchanges.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Breeders Crown Saturday

Extra, extra! The program for the Breeders Crown on Saturday is out, and it's free. We've come a long way from the $2.50 charge for a ten cent pdf in horse racing. The restaurant is giving away the menu.

I won't bore you with horse by horse analysis. There's plenty of it on the web, and one thing we know about horseplayers is that they like to pick their own horses, and (hopefully) win with them. It's part of the draw of being a player. I will give a few notes, race by race, if anyone is interested. This should be a good evening of racing, and it is a much better card than last year.

Notes: 
  • The weather may be key, and we may want to watch the first couple of races to see how the track is playing. Windy Woodbine can sometimes result in a speed bias and that should be watched for.
  • I am fully convinced for elimination evening there was a closers bias. If they went stout fractions, the front end wilted. Some good horses were very tired at the end.
Race 1: Chalky? French Fries And Vinegar is a logical play. Panthaolops has longshot potential if they mix it up. The former wll be far too chalky for me, so I will look elsewhere.

Race 2: L Dees Lioness should be coming from off the pace and be a better price. She was awful last weekend and is a better horse than she shows. I Luv The Nightlife is the best 2YO filly in racing. But can you bet her off a loss at a short price? the elimination winner was awesome last week. She coulda won by a football field.

Race 3: The spectating race of the night. If Commander Crowe is odds you can't help but bet him. He is better now than he was last year.

Race 4: I will be going off the board here. Shelliscape was lame last week, but has the uncanny ability to sound up pretty quickly. She is as fast, or faster than any horse in here when she's sound. The 12-1ML on Big McDeal is enticing as well. People might forget Rockaroundsue was a beast earlier in the year. She woke up huge last time. If the chalks win this race, so be it, but there is too much value to overlook for me.

Race 5: Six weeks ago To Dream On might be even money in futures for this race, but not anymore. There are at least two horses who can beat her easily, the rail horse and Bee A Magician. There are others who can too.

Race 6: Has Check Me Out tailed off, or did she just have a bad day last time?

Race 7: Before last week anyone who knows a lick about handicapping would want to bet against Captaintreacherous in this final. I don't know how you do after last week. That is the best the horse has ever looked in my opinion. His stablemate also raced like his tail was on fire. It's a shame this race is in the pick 4.

Race 8: The most overbet horse on the entire card should be Wheeling and Dealing. Any horse who has not been pushed to the 3/4's faster than 1:26.2 in this type of field can not see a dime from me. Bomb chances include Your So Vain and Caveat Emptor.

Race 9: By far this is the best betting race of the evening. Although we can't count on people overbetting Sweet Lou like they have all year, it should still provide value. Panther Hanover might be an overlay. He beat a bias I think, and was not a sexy second place finisher. Outside, Mel Mara may be overbet, because everyone saw him close. Pick a number, any number, because that's who can win this race. I will probably bet Escape the News.

Race 10: Rebeka Bayama is impossible for me to ignore, even from out there. I don't mind Krispy Apple for a bomb.

Race 11: This is a fantastic race. I usually like staying away from Lexington horses here, so  that leaves Intimidate & Knows Nothing. I might do something with them. I don't mind the rail horse as well.

Race 12: The Open. As per usual this year, anyone with a trip can be there. Foiled Again hates the lead, so excuse his last. Foreclosure is the sharpest older horse, perhaps, in racing. At 20-1 ML, that might be a steal.

Enjoy your BC day folks!




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Thoroughbred Fan's Guide to the Breeders Crown

This Saturday, beginning at 6:30PM, the $6M Breeders Crown begins at Woodbine.  12 races are on tap, and there are two $100k guaranteed pick 4's.

If you are a thoroughbred fan, with nothing to do on Saturday night, here's a guide, with hopefully some references that are understandable :)

The second race of the evening is the 2YO Filly Pace, which is like the Juvenile Fillies. I don't get too excited about the juvenile fillies quite frankly come Breeders Cup time, other than to spectate.

However, in harness racing it can be exciting. Filly pacers have form, and can get better and more seasoned at the end of the year. For example, Somewhereovrtherainbow has really come into her own. She's by Somebeachsomewhere out of Rainbow Blue. That won't mean anything to you, but think of it like a filly by Curlin out of Rachel Alexandra. if you like royally bred horseflesh, cheer for her.

Race three is an awesome race for older trotters. Chapter Seven is facing Commander Crowe. Chapter Seven is the best older trotter around these parts, the Commander is heading from overseas. Chapter Seven = Wise Dan. Commander Crowe = Excelebration. The Canadian entrant can make some noise here. His name is Mister Herbie. Good race.

The fourth race is for three year old fillies. There are quite a few good fillies in this race, but it may come down to American Jewel versus Economy Terror. This is like Questing against My Miss Aurelia.

The sixth race is for three year old filly trotters. There's a horse in here that could very well be horse of the year. Her name is Check Me Out. Check Me Out is just like Rachel Alexandra. She has had all the headlines, she has only beaten herself, and everyone and their brother thought she could win the Hambletonian if she entered. She is coming off a shocking defeat.

Race seven is for two year old colt pacers. This is a big race, and is tantamount to the Juvenile. There is a horse in here that is probably like a Favorite Trick and his name is Captain Treacherous. He is a son of one of the fastest horses ever who has become a top sire, and he has push button speed. He can make an Arazi type move and he might be voted Horse of the Year if he wins this by 5 and a half like Favorite Trick did. You want to watch this race if you like horse racing.

Race nine is kind of like a mini-Classic. It's a race for three year old colts. This is probably like a really, really good Travers. Instead of one headliner like Alpha, there are many. The three year olds in harness racing this year are competitive. This should be a fun race. Unlike thoroughbred racing, most of these horses have been knocking heads all year and are around at the end of it.

In race 12 we have a Royal Delta type horse taking on the older males. I think it's the first time it's ever happened. Her name is Put on a Show. She is against nine others, most of them multi millionaires. It caps off a fun evening. 

Free programs for the event should be out tomorrow and I'll twinky a link when I see one.


Monday, October 22, 2012

There's Life After Subsidies In Ontario, If We Change

The OMFRA final report is to be handed down in Ontario this week (perhaps, it was supposed to be last week), which will portend what Ontario racing may look like next year. It is almost certain that slot machines will no longer subsidize race purses, but there is hope for something new - an olive branch in the way of $100M or so dollars over a few years to try and stabilize an industry that will be decimated.

How that money will be spent is key. Will it be another subsidy to be spread around to ease the pain? Or will it be something new and fresh, to hopefully spur a new racing paradigm?

If it's the former, I don't hold out much hope.

I was reading on Real Clear Politics today about stimulus cash for the steel industry in eastern Ohio. This paragraph struck a chord with me.
  •  “There were so many things thrown at towns like ours, like stimulus dollars and bailouts, but the problem is deeper. No one running the town over the years ever prepared for what might happen if the steel or coal industries left,” she said. “Too much dependency, not enough independent thought.”
I feel that's what we may see happen in Ontario. No one was prepared for what would happen if slots were shut off, and no one has a plan for the stimulus money (i.e. transitional funding) either. How can it work if we just become dependent on a new source of income without independent thought and change?

It is not impossible to get the racing industry in Ontario through this rough patch, in my opinion. Empirically it has been done before.

In New Zealand in the 1980's farming subsidies were cut off, cold turkey. Everyone thought the industry would simply die, including the Finance Minister. But it didn't.
  • Farming today is 16.6 percent of total gross domestic product, up from 14.2 percent in the late 1980s, and in the year to April 2005 it racked up exports worth $12.7 billion, more than half of all New Zealand exports.The farmers have learned to diversify. During the subsidy era New Zealand had 72 million sheep — 18 for every human. By last year the number was just 39 million, but more efficient methods mean the islands still produce the same amount of meat, and meanwhile freed-up land is being turned over to growing grapes for wine and other exotic crops. There are even niche markets of deer, goats, ostriches and llamas.
The world is not over. I think racing can succeed in the Province. But make no mistake, just like an Eastern Ohio steel town, it will not survive without change, leadership, and a rock-solid, no holds-barred data-driven plan. 

The treasurer in Ohio said what her town needs:

 “We don't want a handout. We need a plan and a vision to build a better future, to function within our means and keep our community going.”

That's what horse racing in our Province should want, too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Breeders Crown Recap

Boat races, wild drives, interesting results ..... the Breeders Crown eliminations had it all last evening.

For those who say elims should be run at 6PM, there was ample evidence of it in the first two tilts. The 3YO fillies was an old-fashioned boat race and sprint, with the quicker American Jewel getting the best of the pacesetter. With fractions of 28 and 57 I can not believe someone did not move early. If you are first up and close to the pace at least you have a shot. No one really did and we were left with a match race.

Ditto for the 3YO colt trotters in the third. Yannick Gingras made the lead, two left turns and rolled home like he was racing nw1s at Harrington.

Zzzzz.

Then the fun started. In race 4, Market Share was the huge chalk, but there was a nice colt who has been gingerly handled who came to play. In arguably the nicest late move of the night, Intimidate mowed the field down late, and looked great doing it. Can he upset in the Final? It would not surprise me one bit.

For the first 3YO colt pacing affair, we saw a really odd result, and that probably falls into the lap of driver Jody Jamieson. Warrawee Needy, probably the fastest horse right now in the division, was sent off as the 2-1 chalk. He left, but would not retake Panther Hanover in the second quarter, which was only 28.3. Panther Hanover, as you all know was 12-1 and he was off sick the last while, with only a schooler under his belt - the quintessential question mark horse. Jody was buried, and his charge came sixth, missing the final.

Jody summed up his drive on twitter after the races:
Escape the News was also buried with pace and made the Final, but we really can't take too much away from that odd race, I think.

Romantic Moment was the heavy chalk in her 3YOFP elim, and she didn't disappoint, in another boat race. As you know, I have been a huge fan of this filly, but I do not think she was that great last night. She was amazingly soft at the end and Gingras actually had to give her a nudge to win the race. It was very close.

There are those who say Gingras "shut her down" and that is probably true. However, this does not hold as much water as most think, in my opinion. Horses are not machines. They tend to know where the wire is, and when the race is over, because there are other horses pounding their hooves, and drivers whistling and whipping in their vicinity. That's why horses come home in 26.4 under a hold while being "shut down". This filly might be quirky and might be just fine, but if we're looking at a horse at 2-1 next week in the Final who was so soft at the end, our ROI is not going to be very good going long over a big sample.

Her main foe, Shelliscape, really looked ouchy. She's got a ton of heart. I wonder if Bob can get her feeling better for next week.

In the last 3YO Pacing Colt tilt I think we learned a few things; most of which we already knew if you follow this sport:
  •  Michaels Power is a good OSS horse, and a good half mile track horse, but he has big trouble with the best on the big track
  • Sweet Lou is not really very good right now. He gapped cover again and does not look comfortable. He might be the gamest horse in the sport, though.
  • Mel Mara might be the fastest horse in the final. Why he got off sixth is anyone's guess. He was awesome.
  • Having surgeries, no matter how minor like A Rock n Roll Dance received, is never good for a pari-mutuel punt.
For a look at what I think may be the most interesting race in next week's final, try harnessracingupdate.com, page three.

Notes:

The handle was a respectable $2M last evening.

Twitter notices hock kicks and can give out their awards. Last night Tim Tetrick won.

Speaking of twitter, there are some bettors on there, and it's worth watching. You can always tell the bettors from the fans because they're slugging away their hard-earned cash and always looking for an angle, especially to fade chalk. Sometimes it is very helpful.

I'm going to analyze next weeks races adding a little bit of a back end bias. We might be able to find some bombs in exotics to add, or some to leave out.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Trip Around the Betfair Markets & Black Monday

As the weather gets cooler, there are some interesting betting events on the horizon. You usually have a pretty good idea what's happening by watching punters on the exchange.

First up is Frankel. The market is extremely tight with a 1% takeout:

We've been hearing this is a stern test, and if the ground comes up very soft we may be in for a shocker, but at times it sounds like hyperbole. After all, he's Frankel. However, at 1.25 odds, the people who are putting their money where their mouth is tend to agree. Cirrus Des Aigles is taking some serious money. Good old Bullet Train is about 700-1. That horse needs to run in a race he can win, or maybe he needs a cuddle. He must be down on himself.

This market should be in the tens of millions one would think. There should be some movement with the weather and other factors, and everyone wants a punt.

The Breeders Cup markets are barely a blip. They will be more active, for sure, but right now we're in no-mans land.

For the Distaff the trading is formful, with Royal Delta at about 3-1, My Miss Aurelia 6-1, Awesome Feather 7-1 and Questing 7-1. If someone gets Questing at 10-1 I think that's a good bet. We'll see when this market tightens up.

The Classic is very similar - a loose market with only a smattering of trading.

Game on Dude is the favorite. Dullahan, Ron the Greek, Mucho Macho Man and Flat Out are all vying for second choice. There seems to be little buzz on the Classic side this season.

When it comes to other markets, politics are a fascinating study. Like when building a personal odds line, we as horseplayers sometimes think we're sharper than the wisdom of the crowd, but what a crowd does to a line is take every available bit of information and incorporate it into the price. For example, "I don't like this horse because of the negative jock change, I don't like him because he was lame last time" - that's why the horse is 9-2 instead of 7-2.

In political betting this exists of course, but there is a boatload of noise that doesn't seem to be seen in horse racing, or some other markets. This year there has been a real lag in the markets.

A week ago it looked like Mitt Romney was rolling ahead in Florida. President Obama was the chalk until just this week, then the betting moved solidly into Romney's column. He is now a strong favorite in that state, but it took awhile.

Ditto Virginia. Just the past day Romney has moved into the lead at Betfair, despite headline and poll after headline and poll showing this state leaning "R".

There is an edge in political betting, unlike any market I've seen.  For some reason the sharps are just not super-sharp when it comes to US politics.

Changing World

It's Black Monday today (well the Anniversary of it anyway, when the stock market plunged in 1987).

I remember the day well. I was in a calculus class at the University of Toronto and some rich kid that I sat with came in and told me the market was crashing. I had a really good union job throughout high school (I had been working summers since grade 8) and had a nest egg for my school fees. A portion of that was put into the stock market to use for second and third year tuitions.

When I heard the news I got pretty frightened. Several thousand dollars was at stake. I headed out of class and got my broker via a pay phone in the hall. He told me I was getting killed like everyone was. I stood pat, then went home and looked for any buying opportunities via the business paper the next day.

Now, 20 some odd years later, people are buying and selling Breeders Cup horses, and Presidential markets online, on that same type of exchange. And it certainly doesn't take a pay phone or a newspaper to do it.

Times have changed. Certainly for the better.

Have a great day everyone.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Different Sport, Different Breeding Business

In harness land things are pretty formful when it comes to horse's retiring to stud.

i) Well bred horse is bought for good money.
ii) He races at two and makes some money, then races at three, right until the end of the season. If he's good enough, he'll get a stud deal. If he isn't good enough he'll race at four.
iii) If he's a superstar he will go to a big farm and you'll make some megabucks.

For the rest of the three year olds there is not a huge probability you will go to stud, at least at three anyway. Usually the best of the best does, but not too many follow. They may race for a year or two, then call it quits and get a deal somewhere.

It's how it's done and it makes some sense. Sure we breed a lot of horses, but there is little chance that five or six or seven mediocre, or little raced colts, can retire year after year and you can still have a sound business.

I was reading an article this morning about thoroughbred studs called "Blame Breeders, Not Owners, for the Loss of Star Power"
  • Most people quickly condemn horse owners every time a horse is retired after their three-year-old season. Creative Cause ($15,000 stud fee) was retired this week, so was the once raced Maclean’s Music ($6,500). This comes on the heels of Gemologist (stud fee not yet announced) and Algorithms (no announced fee) being retired recently, as well as I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, Paynter, Hansen, and Union Rags retiring in the past few months.
Isn't that amazing harness peeps? Eight three year olds have retired to stud, before the end of the season. And of course, Dullahan and Alpha will certainly have a home somewhere at stud too, when they're done. How does a market handle all that horseflesh?

It would be like Thinking Out Loud, Sweet Lou, Rock n Roll Dance, Hurrikane King Cole, Panther Hanover, Bettors Edge, Pet Rock and Mel Mara all hanging it up with a stud deal.

Not only would the Breeders Crown be a horrid race, finding mares to breed to all those horses would be troublesome - and harness racing has a lot of mares.

It would not, and does not happen in harness racing. If a good colt has a tendon injury or some problem that can be healed, he is 99% sure to at least try and return to the races. And as we all know the harness breeding business is not tiny. $5M to $10M deals happen each year. 

I am no breeding expert in either breed, but I do have a tiny bit of common sense. Having eight horses retire to stud in one year, from one crop, not only sucks for fans, it seems problematic for the industry in other ways as well.

If you have any insight on this flooding of the market, I wonder if you might enlighten me in the comments section?


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Breeders Crown Heats Up & Please Move the Deer Signs!

The Breeders Crown eliminations were drawn, and the fields are set. Elims go Friday and Saturday evening at Woodbine, with the finals to be raced next week.

The big news this year is that Put on a Show, the talented filly owned by Richard Young, will be racing the boys, rather than the girls. This filly is a bit of an enigma, because she throws in some serious clunkers. However, at her best she should account herself well.

In addition, Commander Crowe is entered, and ready. This, once again, makes the older open trot the most interesting race of the evening.

For those who have clamored for horses to race and not be retired at three, the evidence is right there. You're right. The younger divisions are barely getting a buzz blip - and this in a year where the depth of talent of the three year olds was at a crescendo.

Notes:

I watched the debate last night looking for some clue to see where the betting is going to go. I bet elections each cycle as I find there are opportunities in it. The betfair markets moved a little towards O, and stayed that way, only to bounce back this morning towards R. For the first time I can remember, I have no opinion how to play this from here on out.

Dalton McGuinty has resigned. Horse racing seems to be having some sort of cathartic schadenfreude reaction to it, but in reality this likely does not move the needle on inch in favor of horse racing.

There was some gambling talk on the new CBS show "Vegas" last week.

John Campbell, no Randy Waples, is on Thinking Out Loud this weekend for his Crown elim.

 Lance Armstrong has been dumped by Nike and has resigned from Livestrong. I guess you can only snow people for so long before they get wise to you.

There's still room for local entries for the Breeders Crown draft.

Today's Funny thanks to NJ Derek on twitter. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Local (Toronto) Handicappers....

"Last call for a shot at 100k" reads a Standardbred Canada headline.

There are a few spots remaining for a live draft, held at the SC offices in Mississauga. This is a decent edge, and a neat tourney.

If you are in the area and want a shot at some cash for the Breeders Crown, the info is on the link.




Seasoning

Sir Henry Cecil - the trainer of Frankel - commented this morning that his colt has been easier on himself.

"He's getting easier," the Newmarket trainer told BBC Look East. "He used to be difficult and used to pull a lot.
"He's growing and, like me, he is a late developer."

We all remember him early on being hot, sometimes uncontrollable, seemingly unable to rate or be even the slightest bit tractable. Not now. He's seasoned to become a complete racehorse. And as we all know, there is no horse (with the possible exception of Black Caviar) with as much current buzz.

It makes me wonder. If Frankel was not allowed to 'season' and become great with a long term vision, would he have been considered arguably the top horse of all time? If they hadn't had a three year racing window as a plan early, would we be talking about him the same way today?

Who knows.

It does make me wonder a little bit more, however. What if Frankel was an American dirt horse on the Triple Crown trail instead?

He would be that same hot horse. He'd be pushed in the spring at Gulfstream and he'd probably run a couple of huge Beyers.

It's not implausible the talk would then start.

'He can't win the Derby because he can't rate.'

'He's just a miler.'

The trainer, whomever it might be, would likely race him in all the preps anyway, because it's American racing's Super Bowl/lottery ticket, where the winner can get millions upon millions in the shed.

He'd or she'd race him in the Derby, where with 20 starters and big crowds and lots of noise, unrateable hot horses usually come last, or near it. 

'I told you so' would be the refrain from the handicapping class.

Arguably it would be a whole new ball of wax. Frankel would never have been allowed to season. To grow into himself. To become a great racehorse.

With the recent retirements of Ill Have Another, Hansen, Creative Cause, Algorithims, Bodemeister, and four or ten more that I am probably forgetting, it makes one wonder: What if?

What if those horses were allowed to season with a three-year plan at two instead of chasing the Crown? Would they have become great at some point?

We'll never know, I guess. But common sense says that there has been more than one great racehorse who has never been given the chance to show what he or she can do.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Generational

As the sport changes in Ontario, one must wonder what will happen to harness racing's record books.

On Saturday night, Luc Ouellette won his 8,500th race, near the twilight of his career. He told Standardbred Canada that his goal was always 10,000 wins, but he now considers that a bit of a longshot.

He's probably right.

During slotsville there were about 1,500 racedates a year, with say, 10 races per card. That's a lot of opportunity. Now we may see dates fewer than 500 - a whole lot less.

Add the fact that harness racing is an interesting sport, one where the driver does not matter as much as most think. If Dale Romans rode Dullahan in the Pacific Classic, he might have trouble beating Roger Bannister. In harness, trainers like Ray Schnittker can win in 151.3 with Check Me Out, and the next race the star catch driver will do about the same. In Ontario, with purses falling so rapidly, that 5% given up currently by some trainers to catch-drivers will be needed to pay stall rent and they probably won't be as eager to hand over the reins.

People like Luc - and many others - will struggle to get mounts, let alone win races. 

It illustrates where we are at as a sport, when extraneous outside factors can write and re-write record books. With thousands upon thousands of dates the past fifteen years in slotsville, both here in Canada and elsewhere, drivers and trainers can put up some big numbers. Those days look to be over. There is no way - not a snowballs chance - that some of these yearly records will ever be touched.

I guess it's like if football went to a 35 game season for 15 years. Some no-name QB would pass for more TD's in a year than any current or past star who played 14 or 16 games a year. The books would be pretty weird.

That wouldn't happen because football is a pure sport, built on foundational revenue. Harness racing - and horse racing in general - is built as a sport reliant on gaming and government. With it, these things happen.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday's Here

It's Sunday and it's raining for the International. Free PP's are here if anyone wants to do some betting. I might have to take a pass on the card to run a few errands, but I'll watch the race. It's on about 5:45ET.

Nick Kling shares his thoughts, which I thought were kind of funny.
Speaking of international racing, Frankel goes next week in the UK for the last time in his career. Europe has proclaimed him the world's best horse, without racing outside of Europe. He's no Goldikova, that's for sure. It's a shame really -  International racing, through things like the Breeders Cup, Canadian International, Dubai World Cup, or off-trips like Black Caviar made this year are what the sport should be about.

Who's the best trotter in the World?  Most would say Chapter Seven. But, unlike with Frankel, we in harness racing will get to find out. Commander Crowe is coming to the Breeders Crown. This makes the aged trotting event the must-see event again this year. As most remember, San Pail battled two of Europes best last year, to rave reviews. A field that includes Chapter Seven, Mister Herbie, Daylon Magician and Commander Crowe is pretty special.

The Forest City Yearling sale - usually a sale of some higher quality, was down 37% from last year, for day one. This is much better than the Canadian Classic was, but it's terrible. I was certain some signal from the government would've happened before the yearling sales to ensure some sort of "down but not out" narrative. That would've helped the sales, but none came. We'll see what happens, but those who bought quality Canadian stock might've gotten themselves a pretty decent deal. I can't see the OSS program being hugely different, and some sires, like Kadabra can compete on the world stage anyway. Still, I surmised the top end would be no worse than 30% off, but it appears 35% or so is more likely.

I have not seen the handle numbers yet, but Keeneland is really putting on a show this year, thus far. They've had some super cards, deep fields, quality racing, and even some carryovers. What I like about the Keeneland poly is that sometimes speed figures can be so horribly overbet, like in the last race yesterday. For handicappers willing to take a chance on a horse or two, you can find it at Keeneland.

Tote in the UK has raised their win takeout.  Two points with that: 1) It was done because at 13.5% overseas punters, who deal with higher than 13.5% takeouts, could not bet the signal. This is kind of like what happened when Keeneland wanted to drop the rake to 12% in early 2000. Other tracks said no. 2) It's not really a huge a deal like it would be here. At bookmakers and with exchanges, price conscious players can get 5% or less win takes. Regardless, if you go to the UK to do some betting, you want to look elsewhere in the win pools.

Speaking of mutuel pools, I often wonder why we in North America do not slice less of (especially) place and show pools. The handle in those pools across NA are anemic.

Mel Mara won the OSS gold final on Friday at Flamboro, beating Michaels Power. The former is starting to show a bit of the promise we all thought he would last year. Warrawee Needy was a mediocre third, but I discount his half mile track races. He, I believe, is pretty poor on four turn ovals.

Who are the disappointments and surprises of 2012? These were looked at in harnessracingupdate this past weekend (page two, pdf)

Hey, allegedly an Aussie jock bet a horse to win, one that he was racing against, but not riding. If you read the story, he did not lay his own horse on betfair, he just bet someone else.  Hmmmmm, you mean corruption can happen without a betting exchange? Go figure.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.


Friday, October 12, 2012

The Drug Problem Never Goes Away

This week Lance Armstrong was again in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. The US Doping Agency released a 200 page report, detailing testimony, cloudy tests, emails and other evidence that they say is a slam dunk case, proving the multiple classic cycling champion used illegal substances.

For several years cycling has always had a wink, wink, nudge, nudge aura about it with fans. When fans see a rider come out of the woodwork to climb a steep hill in record time, they discounted it to drugs. When they see virtually anyone dominate, they've said it was drugs.

The response from cycling was always the same: "Look at all our clean tests"

George Hincapie, one of the most respected riders in the game summed it up in the report:
  • “Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.”
"It was not possible to compete at the highest level without them"

So much for the no positive test meme.

Racings biggest issue with regards to drugs is exactly the same as cyclings, if not worse.
  • Bettors think what racing is telling them about drugs and testing is - in the words of Papa Joe Biden - malarky. There is a school of thought out there that bettors don't mind massive form reversals, or a trainer showing up who could not train a toilet to flush suddenly become the next big thing. But it goes to the heart of your game, and it is much more than that. No one wants to sit a poker table, unsure if the queen of hearts is sitting in someone's sleeve. Racing has a tough time going mainstream in the same way. 
  • Owners throw up their hands and do one of two things. i) if I can't beat them I'll join them or ii) I'm out. Racing needs to attract good people in horse ownership. If the people who join the dark side dominate, the game is on its way to being a playground for the unethical. It's on a fast track to being an historical footnote. 
  • As more and more bettors leave, purses fall. As more and more good owners leave, yearling prices fall. When that happens you see New York Times articles wondering about horse safety. You see headlines with governments wondering why public slot money is given to horse racing. 
If anyone has a high school child who likes cycling, would you encourage him or her to try and get to the top level, knowing what you know now? The day I'd want a child filling him or herself up with EPO at the risk of death just to be on a level playing field is a day that would never come. 

For a lot of people out there, horse racing is in a similar position. The direction needs to be changed, and the drug problem needs to be addressed; how, I do not know. What I do know is that press releases saying "99.54335% tests come back clean, look how great we are" simply aren't going to cut it.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gobbledygook

The news surrounding the DQ of Odds on Equuleus keeps getting stranger. According to Harnessracing.com John Campbell will not be 'sanctioned' because the horse was 50% at fault, and he was 50% at fault.

If you understand that, you're a better man than I. When things sound strange it usually means that they are. Sometimes it's best to correct a mistake rather than exacerbate it. In this case I think it's pretty clear the latter path was chosen.

Continuing with what I think is the ridiculous, Santa Anita is having a Doug O'Neill bobblehead day. That's not a mistype; it's actually happening. Was a Jeff Mullins bobblehead unavailable?

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Horse is a Finicky Beast

This weekend we saw some fireworks from stars in both sports, and it proves, once again, what we all go through when trying to handicap to win at this game.

In spring I fell in love with Dullahan. Off a layoff he flew home, happy as a clam, on the turf at Gulfstream Park. He looked like he loved the green stuff, and I could not wait to watch him later on that surface. Fast forward to Saturday,  where he was making a start on grass at Belmont. He didn't fly anything, but the coop. The horse had no fire whatsoever and looked like he'd rather be anywhere - on a tour of the Empire State Building, kicking back with a beer and a plate full of hay watching a football game, studying the Arc past performances, anywhere - other than where he was. Trainer Dale Romans reported today that he was spinning his wheels on the soft turf.

Maybe that's true. Maybe it was something else. But Dullahan certainly was not Dullahan. He's done this before, like in the Belmont where he was asked to run before the mile pole and he looked like he wanted to stop for a snow cone.

Yesterday at the Red Mile, Check Me Out - arguably the best filly we've seen since Snow White in 2007 -  was in the first heat of the Kentucky Futurity. She was 1-9 and was sure to be a slam dunk. I noted on twitter that she  looked a teeny bit off scoring down, but also said "she could race on three legs and win". She did race well, but she lost. She looked like she had no snap at the 3/8's pole, and could not run down the leader.

Later on Maven also lost, this time at 1-5. Not coincidentally, she was in that slugfest with Check Me Out last weekend. That might have taken just a wee bit out of her. She, like Check Me Out, raced well, but not quite at her best.

All it takes with horse's is one small thing. A little tweak of a tendon or ankle, some bad racing luck, a bad surface, or simply having a bad day.  It's why there is no such thing as a sure thing.

It's also why I hold horses like Black Caviar, Somebeachsomewhere and Zenyatta to such high esteem. To do what they did week in and week out or month in and month out, no matter what the competition, surface or where or what country or state the horse raced,  is truly magical. Our four hooved friends are a finicky beast and only the very special, reserved for the Hall of Fame's in this sport, don't let the capricious get in their way.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Pop Goes Keeneland

Today is opening day at Keeneland, and I, like many of you, are looking forward to the fall meet. Keeneland is simply one of those racetracks that everyone seems to like. They, in my opinion, are that way because what they do touches all the bases.
  • They're horse owner friendly. 
  • They're friendly to their on track fans
  • They're horseplayer friendly
  • They're buzz friendly
  • They're in the home of horse racing
Keeneland would still do well if only, say, three of those bullets were touched. That's what having a good brand does. However, brands can get killed over time and Keeneland keeps delivering.

16% win take and 19% exotic take -making a max rake on any bet less than 20%- in this day and age is the bomb. And we all remember that in early 2000, Keeneland wanted to even go lower than those numbers, only to be rebuffed by other tracks reselling their signal.

HD coverage is the bomb.

Polycapping databases, horseplayer contests, Trakus, and on-site online wagering is the bomb.

Standing on the apron watching the horses with other fans, bettors and horse lovers is the bomb.

Keeneland is the bomb.

There is no other track that has touched so many of the items that are important to everyone. And they do it without slots.

Notes:

There was a really tough op ed penned in the Spectator this morning about racing in Ontario.

Ray Schnittker does not like heats.

The lower end got swatted at the Lexington Selected Sale last night. As we, and you in the comments section, surmised, the middle and lower end will feel the wrath of slot losses in places like Ontario. The high end will not  feel that wrath as much, because the high end can still buy the lottery ticket stud angle. Well-bred Ontario sired horses did not fare terribly at this sale.

There are plenty of Kentucky Breds racing overseas this weekend. 

Cost trumps everything. There was an article today on Facebook hitting 1 billion users. The head of AOL remembers back in 1985, when it cost $6 per hour to be connected to the Internet. In today's dollars that's about $12, or more than minimum wage. At $6 an hour, or $12, there would be no Facebook. Similarly, the internet has afforded economies of scale in gambling, whereby people can play poker at a 4% rake, just like at Casinos. If you wanted to kill online poker, bump up the rake to 25%. You'd have no one playing either. The majority in racing don't seem to realize it, but price means something in horse racing, too.

Hawthorne also opens today. If you want to look at a track to play while playing Keeneland, check out Hawthorne. They will likely be scheduling races in between the Keeneland post times, so you'll have time to handicap.




Thursday, October 4, 2012

We Can Learn a Lot About Horse Betting From Debates

Last evening there was a Presidential debate held in Denver, CO. The challenger, coming in with very low expectations set almost wholly by an effective campaign against him, was expected to do poorly. The incumbent was expected to do very well.

Earlier in the evening I contacted a good friend, a professional bettor and one of the sharper people you'd want to meet. He bets, and wins, at elections and has done so since the 1990's. We discussed the expectation angle and noted that the market might move because the challenger is no dummy and generally has a grasp of the issues. He might blow away expectations and come off some serious bad lines to overperform.

That ended up happening in virtually every market, and it did so in a fashion that has never before been seen. At betfair the challenger moved from 9-2 to 5-2. Even in Vegas it happened, as professional punter Steve Fezzik pointed out last night after he got home from not watching the debate.
Any sharp player at this point will probably ride out a few polls and then either close out a long position on Romney, or fade it, sometime near the next debate, because the expectations will be sort of flip-flopped. Romney won't be coming off "bad lines" then, he'll be coming off a good one.

This is similar to the way the stock market works, and you bet it's the way horse racing works.

Coming off a "bad line" in horse racing is usually a negative. Form cycles that are "Good, Good, Good" get a ton of play a the windows because casual bettors want to bet horses that have obvious positives. In other words, they're the people who'd be betting Obama going into last night's debate. 

Sharp bettors find value in horses off form, or off bad running lines, because there is more ROI upside.

One of the factors I look at in the jcapper system for horses is just that. Something called "PScore" is a number that expresses horses who the public may overlook. In a word, they look yukky.


Here is an extremely simple model with horses with a high pscore (a high ugliness rating, but horses who do have talent through their running lines), with a field size over 6, and a race which is not simple to handicap (e.g. it has some volatility to it.)

With no handicapping you have a flat bet profit. Presto.

It even gets better when you analyze horses that are really yukky.

Horses of the above sample, subset off of "Bad" lines, can yield even more fruit to the bankroll, with ROI's of 1.19 and 1.10, respectively.


 Flip on twitter or head to the simo-center. You'll hear phrases like "this horse can't lose", or "that horse has no chance". When you hear those words look at the horse's running lines. Chances are the "can't lose" horse has three stellar lines and looks great.

Those horses win, and they win frequently. But this game is not about picking winners, it's about making money, and if we bet horses like that, they don't win enough of the time to make us any money. If you fade the obvious and look for the non-obvious horse with darkened form, your bankroll (and debate betting bankroll) may improve.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bezos, Google & Innovation in Horse Racing



In 1998, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos made a trip to a Menlo Park, California garage.  In that garage, which was a make-shift office and workshop, sat two kids who were trying to sell a new way to search the Internet.  They were seeking seed money for their venture. 

Bezos almost immediately obliged. He invested $250,000 of his own money into the concept.

Those two kids were Sergey Brin and Larry Page and the concept they were working on was Google. This year, with Google’s stock hovering around $600 a share, that investment is worth about $2 billion.  Mr. Bezos, way back in 1998, paid 8 cents a share for his stock. 

Why did he do it? In his own words he said:

“There was no business plan, but they had a vision. It was a customer-focused point of view.”

He didn’t know what was going to happen with search. He didn’t know what his investment may be worth. He took a shot, because what they were building made sense.

That seed capital created a company; one who innovates and makes all of our lives a little more convenient, and at the same time opens doors for more innovation.

Harness racing, like seed capital investing, is for swashbucklers. It’s a sport that has always been for those rugged individualists who yearn for risk, with a probability for a huge reward.  We don’t ask for special treatment or to work an eight hour day with summers off and a cushy 401k. We’re different. 

We see it at every yearling sale on the planet. It happens with the Cancilliere brothers who swing for the fences on a brother to Donato for the price of a Massachusetts beach house.  It happens with a couple of bettors who decide to take their superfecta winnings from last week to buy that Shadow Play yearling out of a mare they made a score on in 2006. It happens with little guys like me, who showed up at a sale with no trainer, and saw a horse I witnessed race a couple of weeks earlier not drawing bids at $5,000, so I put my hand up and bought him, never seeing the horse or even knowing how I get him from the sale to a stall. It happens with you too, almost every day.
It’s how we’re built. It’s what we do. 

I had a recent discussion about the “Racing Development and Sustainability Plan” which was structured and tabled in Ontario a few years ago. The plan, which was created to buffer the loss of slots revenue should it be discontinued, asked for 5% of purses to be squirreled away and used for eight or ten previously studied and reviewed planks. These included items like new betting concepts, betting exchanges, pick 6 tickets in corner stores, and a few other pro-growth ideas that were new, fresh and innovative.  Each idea, like Google’s, was “customer-focused”.

I remember when it was constructed; I thought it would be a slam dunk. Almost all of these issues were complained about by those in the sport, and 5% of slots-fuelled purses seemed like a drop in the bucket. After all, if you nailed a 5th place at Grand River Raceway, instead of cashing a $250 purse check it would now be about $238. It didn’t seem like it was an earth-shattering ask, especially since that $5000 purse could be $500 if slots were killed.

In the end it was rejected by us, the participants. It was “too risky”, “too vague”, “there was no business plan”, “we don’t know how much each plank would cost” and various other gripes were put forth to kill it. 

Why do we have a love of risk, and hard work, and “taking a shot” when we throw $20,000 at an unraced weanling, but we can’t give up a paltry 5% of slot-purse money to do something planned to gain new customers and new markets?

I wish I knew, because I think it’s one of the biggest problems in horse racing.  

When we take a shot, we innovate, and when we innovate it opens doors. When we don’t innovate we stagnate and there are no doors to open.

I’ve often wondered of late: What if the RDSP in Ontario passed in 2010? 

If the plan passed ‘go’, one of the main items – a betting exchange – might be up and running, with the participants of harness racing as its owner. It might be helping with the bottom line, but it could be doing more than that. 

As everyone knows, all slots revenue is being (tentatively, there is a final report due next month) removed from Ontario racetracks in March of next year. The government has been looking for ways to appease racing, because the new gaming policy has pulled the rug right out from under it. Right now there is really no conduit for them to fund racing with some sort of bridge financing or restitution, as there are very few avenues that make sense. Currently, what’s being batted around is a $50M severance package to be paid over three years. 

However, as a part of this new gaming policy, the government itself has laid the foundation to pass sports betting in the Province, which could be a huge business for them.

If a harness betting exchange was now running, with an existing fan base patronizing it, it is probable, or at least somewhat likely, that Ontario racing could ask the government this simple question today:

“Since you took slots away, how about allowing us to offer sports betting on our exchange?”

To allow for some pay back, or to allow the government to save face, a right of first refusal, or exclusivity may have been granted for sports betting via the medium. This would be a boon for the sport in Ontario. If others came in and tried to offer sports betting the same way, they’d likely have to go through racing. As Betfair has proven, betting games on an exchange brings in plenty of dollars, too. Those dollars could run into the many millions per year, and they could be used for harness racing purses.  The Ontario Sires Stakes may be funded by this exchange each year alone, instead of everyone wondering what a sires stake purse will even look like in three years. 

The above is purely hypothetical of course, and it may have never occurred even if the RDSP was passed. But it shows that racing could be another example illustrating what many other businesses prove each day: If you are innovating and trying new things, it can spawn growth and uncover new comparative advantages and revenues; sometimes from unexpected places. 

This maxim could be applied to all other ideas, like a V75 type bet in corner stores, new bets in new markets, scheduling, the list is almost endless. 

In my opinion, racing needs to look at all ideas. It needs to fund working committees of professionals to bring these ideas to the fore. It needs to bring our swashbuckling nature from the yearling sales floor to the boardrooms to shake up the business and destroy the status-quo.  If so, we will at the very least be trying things that can help us learn and move the sport forward. 

What we are currently doing, and our culture of saying ‘no’ to any change, is simply not working.

This article is copyright via Harness Racing Update


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

3 Easy Ways To Help The Betting ROI

No handicapping angles here. No fancy workout reports. Just three ways to improve ROI, from a dude who's tried to do that since he was about 8. Scratch that, 18. Betting horses at 8 years of age would be illegal.

Remember, this is advice from a blogger, and as always do your research before taking any advice from bloggers, politicians, or a doctor who graduated from a school in a country you've never heard of.
  1. Don't Bet Short Fields: If you are betting a five horse field at Turf Paradise with a 20% win takeout, there is no possible way you can win. If Pittsburg Phil and Bill Benter had a baby, that kid would probably be a good horseplayer, but he or she could not win. That Long Island Medium lady could not win. Nostradamus would play for a week and become a painter. Takeout is pronounced and the odds board is super-tight with no edge. There are like 40 tracks going off next Saturday afternoon; pick another race with 8 horses and up your ROI. 
  2. Don't Take Goofy Pick 3 and 4 Tickets: A goofy pick 4 ticket is a bankroll killer. Making the 2-1, 5-2 and 3-1 horses "A" horses in each leg might make you feel like you're "covered" but all they do is find your wallet and extinguish the cash in it. If you are going to take a ticket, take one keying your best shot in the sequence as a separator horse and then spread. Take a stand against a couple of weak chalk's and spread, but don't spread everywhere. Let your buddy or the public handicapper take a $64 ticket and hit that $72 pick 4. They can buy a hamburger with the winnings. You spend $36, get the one that pays $1800 and start building a betting bankroll.
  3. Get Yourself a Rebate: The biggest misconception out there is that all professional horse bettors are great handicappers. What they have in common is that they bet volume, and get some money back. There are player reward cards at tracks, dozens of ADW's will offer you something back for your play. You can get something back if you play $2 a race or $1000 a race. Run, don't walk, get these free and easy benefits and immediately up your ROI.
 I'd write a disclaimer for the above, but I'm too lazy. Good luck at the windows.

Gaming Conference Yields Some Quotes

This from Joe Brennan Junior, Chairman of the Interactive Media and Gaming Association:
  • What the racing industry has decided to do is to stand up and thwart history," Brennan said. "The public has spoken. This disruption has already happened (despite a difficult political and economic environment). To try to stand in front of the disruption when it has already happened is counterproductive."
  • "You should be leading this (effort)," Brennan said, noting horse racing current exclusivity with legal online wagering. "I've asked this question many times: Why aren't you leading this? The Internet didn't happen last year. You've had six years. What are you waiting for?
As we've spoke about before, and many of you who've followed gambling, are gamblers, or are interested in it, have echoed it in the comments section, he's pretty much right on. Racing has had a near monopoly on betting over the internet (well, in at least 38 states anyway), and it seems to still be behind.

Could you imagine if in 1960 congress passed a law that stated only NHL Hockey - and no other sport - could be shown on television? One would expect hockey to thrive. 

I had a chat last week with an industry person who is more than upset with what racing has done with things like takeout. He said (paraphrasing), "if racing took over casino gambling, they'd raise takeouts to 30% like superfectas, and then when within six months when no one comes to casinos, they'd conclude people don't like casino gambling anymore."

It's kind of the same way with online horse betting. People love to gamble online, and have for 15 years. It's a huge industry, yet racing (although we have seen growth, it can be argued most of it internal growth) has not capitalized.

The reason, in my opinion, is because we have not offered a product people want to consume, and have not diversified, or tried to with new forms of betting, or new betting on other avenues.

For evidence of that I submit the year that the Internet gaming act was passed which banned funding online gaming accounts. And further, the ban of online poker sites on "Black Friday". Those in racing thought banning online competition that was illegal would be helpful to racing. After all, if you're the only game in town now, you'd have to peel off some gamblers, no? It didn't happen.

For whatever reason, probably a combination of price, convenience and state interference, racing is behind, and will remain behind the eight ball. It is not offering an online product that people have grown accustomed to. 
______________________
Notes:

Yesterday it was confirmed that the Odds On folks will be appealing the decision at the Red Mile Saturday. I hope they win, they deserve to. That little colt, in my opinion, will be the best three year old in harness racing next year. 

I read yesterday that the OMFRA committee that is tasked with recommending a restructuring of horse racing in Ontario wants more time. No kidding. "Let's completely dismantle a multi-billion dollar industry, let's change the slots landscape by relocating and renegotiating slots deals across a province with 13 million people that is about six times the size of New York State, let's change 17 racetracks..... and let's do it in twelve months. The timelines were what we expect from government nowadays - messed up.

Riding on the coattails: Woodbine's pick 4 pool last night was over $100,000. The pick 4 has become, thanks to the Meadowlands, a staple in harness racing. Almost every track offers a cheap rake and pushes the wager. Woodbine has coasted along, getting positive buzz. I bet people think they're getting a good rake deal, just like all the other tracks, but they aren't. Woodbine's pick 4 rake is huge.

What a difference a dozen years make. In NM and LA, frog juice positive trainers (a class I) have been suspended years upon years. In 1998 (or 1999) one of these trainers who received a class I at that time got seven months.


Paulick was at the frog juice hearings and noted there was something interesting about lawyered up trainers, versus those who were not being represented. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, October 1, 2012

America's Best Racing & The Little Brown Jug

Many of us have been to Jug Week and we love it. What might very well be the most storied and interesting race that harness racing displays, is a staple for Ohio, and the sport itself. 50,000 or more fans enter the turnstiles for the Jug and Jugette and its on-track presence is unparalleled in our game.

However, I was on twitter this week and asked if there was simulcasting for Monday. I didn’t know if there was, or even if a Monday card was taking place. On twitter I received no response. It’s like no one even knew what the Jug week schedule was. 

Not long after that, I received a note from a long-time fan of the sport and he said “the Jug is the most underutilized harness racing property there is.”

I think I agree with that sentiment.  The buzz is simply not there. 

As this graph below shows, web searches for this jewel have been falling, year over year, to almost half of what it was in the middle of the 2000 decade. Outside the racetrack, the Jug’s pull is nothing like it is inside of it.



I am not sure you noticed, but in thoroughbred racing there is a push for almost every big event of late, whether it’s the Woodbine Mile, the Alabama, the Haskell or the Triple Crown races. You may have heard of the “Uno Mas Mario” campaign before the Triple Crown try for the Belmont, or maybe you walked by a courtesy tent at Saratoga, seen “America’s Best Racing’s” website or twitter feed, or noticed more and more mainstream media coverage of the sport.  

I have. There’s a buzz, and it’s palpable.

Those things were not done by accident; they were planned. One organization has stepped up to the plate, to lead all the other alphabets, and to try and give the sport a much needed push.

Last year, the Jockey Club commissioned the folks at the consulting firm McKinsey and Company to give a state of the union report on racing. They wanted to know what could be done to stem the slide of thoroughbred racing on the national stage. Like harness racing, thoroughbred handles have been decimated, and the sport is nothing like it once was on television and in newspapers either. 

McKinsey offered a number of suggestions, one of which involved trying to re-brand racing, hoping to interest both the general public, and casual fans again. This would take some organization and some funding, but the Jockey Club, along with their partners in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association began that journey last year.

“It’s a partnership approach with tracks, bloggers and the media, and others” said Stephen B. Panus, Vice-President, communications for NTRA/America’s Best Racing, when I contacted him this week.

Under the “America’s Best Racing” banner, it certainly is a multi-pronged approach, and through planning (and obvious trial and error and tweaking) they’ve been honing the approach this season.
One area they’ve changed is how the media has been accommodated by the sport. 

 “We used to get calls from media for, say, D. Wayne Lukas’s number so someone could write a story about him. Now we’re being more proactive. We push stories to the mainstream media, based on their specific interests. It’s like we’re farmers, because we are planting the seeds with writers for stories”, noted Panus.

This, in a way, was shown earlier this summer. Sportswriter Pat Forde was interviewing Michael Phelps at the Olympics and he wrote a story about what the swimmer may do after his career is over. At one point, the multiple gold medal winner mentioned his interest in owning a thoroughbred racehorse. Forde, who was an acquaintance of Panus’s, was contacted, as was Phelps. This new potential horse owner was directed to resources that would help him learn more about ownership, and become an owner. 

Not long after, a post popped up on the America’s Best Racing website titled “An Open Letter To Michael Phelps” It invited him to become a part of the sport and let him know that others with his background have become owners (like Kobe Bryant, Drew Brees and Wes Welker). 

This letter was then picked up by a couple mainstream media outlets, like The Bleacher Report, giving racing some much needed buzz. 

“That story had legs for two weeks,” said Panus.

Another area tackled, revolves around fan interest.  As we all know, thoroughbred racing (even more-so than harness racing) is extremely difficult to learn, and the knowledge of existing fans can dwarf that of the new fan. Like a kid in grade four who is reticent to put up his hand to ask a question, new fans can feel the same way.

“Museums learned that people new to art may be intimidated attending their exhibits because they wouldn’t know a Monet from a Renoir,” said Panus. “What they did was develop a system with headsets that explained the art and educated their customer base during tours. We are trying to do the same thing with our Fan Hub”

The Fan Hub is a partnership between America’s Best Racing and the racetracks, where a trackside tent that acts as a fan education center is constructed. New fans are invited to come over, ask questions and learn about the sport of horse racing. At times, jockeys and trainers are a part of it, as are handicappers. At Monmouth earlier this summer, a teller window was included and the track noticed a bump in wagering from these newbies.

“In the McKinsey Report they noted that 46% of current fans would not recommend the sport to a new fan and that was troubling. The Fan Hub tent does racing 101. We teach, engage and empower them to help become an active participant in the sport. We try and create fans from the experience”, said Panus.

Social media perhaps best illustrates the goal of the new organization. As most racing insiders and fans know, there is not much of a true (outwardly promoted) season in either sport - both harness and thoroughbred events are staggered, disparate, and tend to have no real flow to them.  Sometimes it’s common to see two Grade I races going off at the same time. 

What America’s Best Racing tries to do via the medium is bring some sort of structure to this rudderless ship. They promote races and racing based on a few tangible factors. 

 “At America’s Best Racing, we try to focus on the races that have year-end implications in order to help fans understand that horse racing, like all major sports, has a season to it. Therefore in the spring, we focus on featuring races with Triple Crown implications and in the summer and fall we highlight the races that lead to the Breeders' Cup. Furthermore, there's a festival atmosphere at each of the events that I try to share with fans so that they can get to know the whole social scene surrounding each individual race,” said Penelope Miller, the Social Media Manager for the NTRA and America’s Best Racing.

This focus appears to be working. Last season it was very uncommon to see a horse name trend on twitter after he or she won a promoted stakes race. This year it happens almost every weekend. 

As with most of racing, without a set commissioner’s office like the NFL, it can be tricky to cross promote or lead in the promotion of an event, because tracks have to be aboard with a goal in mind. There needs to be a partnership. Fortunately, thus far, what may have been a stumbling block in past years has not been noticed.

“Tracks have been amazingly helpful, doing everything from providing the ABR team access to all areas and personalities of the tracks to sharing photos and videos with us that we can feature on the site and in our social media. Racetracks have recognized that our goal, which is to introduce the sport of horse racing to as many new fans as possible, is one that benefits everyone in the industry and have been incredibly accommodating. “ added Miller.

Recently Darryl Kaplan, editor of Trot Magazine and the Business Development head of Standardbred Canada, penned an editorial titled “It’s Not That Simple”. He wrote that we hear that nasty phrase all too often in racing when we ask for change and use it as an excuse to do nothing. It’s very true that a lot of change in racing is very difficult. Takeout changes, which are obviously needed, are tough in a fractious sport. Asking for exchange wagering (as California is currently showing) is like asking for a cure for an infectious disease with horsemen groups fighting racetracks. The list is long.

However, making a plan and leading in areas of the sport that “are that simple” to change is possible. What makes it possible is replacing the “it’s not my job phenomenon” that plagues horse racing. It is not Santa Anita’s job, or Keeneland’s, or anyone else’s to lead. In harness racing it is not the USTA’s job, or Standardbred Canada’s, or Jeff Gural’s either.  

But now in thoroughbred racing it actually is someone’s job.

Will harness racing follow the Jockey Club’s lead? Can harness racing put together and fund such a venture? The answer, in my opinion, should be yes, especially with slots churning out millions each month. As America’s Best Racing is proving, it’s not that difficult to lead and move a sport forward.

This article recently appeared in Harness Racing Update, Bill Finley's free newsletter. You can sign up for Harness Racing Update at the link.