Happy New Year! Things I Would Like to See in 2014

Here are some things I would like to see happen in Horse Racing in 2014. I'm hoping you agree with a lot of them, because if I get voted in as the commissioner of horse racing (taking over from Alex Waldrop, Frank Stronach, Bob Evans, Joe Drape, ah, I have no idea who I am replacing), I will look to implement each and every one.

Here we go. 
  • Barry "the sheath" Irwin, after his colorful article in the TDN about Animal Kingdom being frisky before his UK clunker, is named Head Writer for all Stallion ads: This would make all those insufferable pop up ads watchable, with such Barry-like prose like, "As the mare entered the ring, Mizzen seductively raised his mast...."
  • Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs begin working together: The sport needs the two tracks to become friends, for the good of the sport. As a first salvo, I propose that Gulfstream announcer Larry Collmus starts using Richard Grunderisms in his calls, in an olive branch of sorts. In the Florida Derby, for example, the first and second place finishers will be "heads apart" even if the margin of victory is four or five lengths. When a horse goes gate to wire, he should be "rationed along beautifully under Angel Serpa", even when its ridden by Joel Rosario. He may call Stopshoppingmaria, Shopstompingtomconners, with impunity. This is needed.
  • On days Parx is cancelled for live racing due to unsafe track conditions, monster truck pulls are scheduled instead: Let's face it, these cancellations at Parx are really annoying for fans and horsemen alike. After all, what's more disappointing in the entertainment world than not being able to watch short fields battle in a bog of 30% takeouts on a grainy computer screen at Parx. But this sport needs to schedule something. Plus, there is a good chance there is some sort of crossover appeal between people who like monster truck pulls and those who pull a lever hoping to hit three cherries using no skill whatsoever. This can up purses, because as we all know, purses are not as high as they should be at the ever-powerful and appealing Philly Park.
  • Driver Dunk Tank: Horses who have been kicked by kicking drivers get their due. A soccer ball is set up near a dunk tank and horses take their shot dunking drivers.If the commissions won't fix the issue, we'll let our four-legged equine friends have a shot at them. All the proceeds will go to horse retirement and supplying free eye exams for harness racing judges.
  • Fashionista Peter Rotondo parlays the success of Horseplayers on Esquire Network into some new gigs: Let's hope the show takes off and we see Peter host shows like What Not to Wear at the Track, and What Not To Wear at the OTB and What Not to Wear when Sitting at Home Playing Twinspires.com, Brought to You By Twinspires.com. He deserves it, and it will help horse racing.
  • More Cross Promotion by the Big Dogs: It's always been a lost marketing opportunity. Churchill CEO Bob Evans should be selling breakfast sausages to infielders at the Kentucky Derby. I've always thought that Frank Stronach should create an energy drink of some sort, and promote it surrounded by pretty bikini-clad women, too.  Let's hope we see this in 2014.
  • Andy Asaro and Mike Pegram bury the hatchet: This is long overdue. Instead of lawsuits, we need love. Andy has to get out of that San Diego apartment where I am pretty sure he watches the races on a 27 inch Westinghouse and emails everyone on dial up. Mike invites him to live in his guest house, with Andy paying rent by doing yard and pool work. Each evening they sit and chat about their differences and work out a plan that benefits California racing. If it succeeds, it might even spawn a reality show. The episode where JERRY JAM visits would be must-see TV.
  •  TimeformUS hires some of my blogger and twitter buddies to work for them
  • The ABR live magic bus rights a wrong and hires Sid Fernando for the year: It was a tremendously bad oversight; some smarmy kid with a video projector over Sid. Beginning this month, Sid takes his rightful spot on the ABR bus, blogging, tweeting to his 1.4 million followers and reviewing craft beer via his various Apple products. This has to happen.
  • Paulick finally gives Cummings his due and renames the Paulick Report the Cummings Report: This has gone on long enough. Everyone knows that when he wasn't sending out spam emails asking for money for the Louisville GOP, Brad Cummings created the Paulick Report. Brad is no fifth Beatle.
  • Speaking of Beatle's, Michelle Beadle is named lead analyst on all Fox Sports 1 horse racing broadcasts: This should probably not happen, but we need some entertainment on twitter and this could supply it for, say, all of 2014. 
  • NYRA's Maggie Wolfendale starts using the vernacular: I know the proper wording is "long barrel" or "goose rump", or "strong chest", but we need to jazz this up. "Eric, you could bounce a quarter off that mares ass", or "the seven horse looks like that Fat Bastard character on Austin Powers and won't run an inch", or "Animal Kingdom unleashed his sword" (sorry that's Barry Irwin) will keep viewers glued.
  • Polarcritter Gets More Followers: Seriously, @Polarcritter is one of the best news dudes for horse racing, but he has like 200 followers. I bet Jeff Mullins would have more horseplayer followers if he was on there. Let's right this wrong.
  • NYRA Hidden Camera: A new show appears on HRTV. The New York Daily News' Jerry Bossert carries a hidden camera and microphone while following NYRA CEO Chris Kay, capturing reactions of Aqueduct second floor horseplayers when Kay calls them "guests". I am pretty sure most of this show may be censored, but even bleeps can be real side-splitters. 
  • Pennsylvania horse racing announces a horseplayer signal fee tax to fix things, but then drops purses 5 percent at Penn National: Whoops, this one already happened.
  • Gulfstream Park gets a new digital clock to time first quarters with constant run-up times, replacing their sundial and abacus: Although it's fun to see 26 first quarters followed by a 20 and three in a seven furlong race, we need to get this done. A new clock would probably - maybe not likely but probably - cost less than one of Todd Pletcher's ties. Let's roll.. 
  • Speaking of Pletcher, in 2014 he will win the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands (like Pizza Hut and KFC and a bunch of other restaurants) ®: I kid, I kid.
  •  Pull the Pocket Readership reaches a dozen per day: I feel it. After five or six years, I think I am finding my groove. In 2014, I will enter the lexicon of top horse racing destinations, like the Cummings Report. I will be eternally grateful. 
Thanks for reading this blog in 2013 everyone; putting up with my complaints, satire, bad jokes, stupid posts and all the rest. I truly had another good time conversing with everyone I've met in this maddening, hair-pulling, exasperating, wonderful business.

From my family to yours, may I wish you all a very happy new year.

NYRA Jobs Jerry Bossert Shouldn't Apply For

Yesterday we got some up close and personal views of Aqueduct Racetrack from the New York Daily News racing writer Jerry Bossert. This was summarized by the lovely and talented Sid Fernando on his blog right here, so give it a read if you need some background.

This got me thinking. With all the jobs being advertised at NYRA, here are a few that I think he has no shot at. It's just my opinion. If Jerry wants to apply, I would not discourage him. But I simply think they're not likely.

- "The New "CSO" - Chief Shilling Officer". Probably not a good fit for Jerry.

- "Weekly guest on At the Races With Steve Byk." Seriously, no shot Jerry.

- "Signal Fee Crane Operator". No way. Jerry likes variety, so going up all day will make him really, really mad.

- "Admission Booth Operator". There's a good chance Jerry will let every third person in free to protest the admission fee hike. Not a match.

- "Feel Good Press Release writer." This is doubtful, and that's sad, because it would be pretty cool to read the following in a release. "Belmont Stakes Purse Raised $500,000, But No Money For Toilets."

- Toys R Us Greeter - Not sure why this job is listed, but I think it's a "no"

- "Manager of the replace "bettor" or "gambler" with "guest" in all NYRA literature department". Although Jerry is good with words and English and stuff (being a writer), this sounds monotonous.

As Sid wrote today: "His comments resonated on many levels. At a minimum, it’s somewhat shocking whenever racing journalists for major publications unload buckshot these days, mainly because jobs like Bossert’s are rare to begin with and kissing ass is de rigueur for keeping them", it makes me think Jerry is right where he belongs. He should probably get a raise.


Anyone Got a Spare $500,000?

Horse racing has some serious issues. Fans are leaving (according to the Jockey Club at least), handle is down billions in only a few short years, slots are being cut in some jurisdictions, takeout is too high, "source market fees" are permeating the landscape, kicking the living crap out of customers' bankrolls, and NYRA is under fire for raising admission prices because it appears they are broke, or something.

Racing needs a response; a swift, terse, formidable response to these scourges. Let's get in a room and figure this out.

I got it, let's raise the purse of the Belmont Stakes a half a million dollars!

This purse hike will surely up entries for the race. After all, what horse owner wants to win the Belmont Stakes when the purse is only a million dollars? "If only the Belmont purse was $1,500,000 instead of $1,000,000 I would take my shot at securing the Triple Crown", said no one ever.

I know, I know, the Preakness raised their purse so Belmont has to because.... oh I don't know, it's an appendage measuring contest I guess.

Seriously, many people could not care less what the slots portion of the money does purse-wise, but after seeing places like Parx raise the purse for the Cotillion by $250k and get four horses while introducing a source market fee on players, or before that, seeing Georgian Downs up the slots-fed purse for the Upper Canada Cup to $600,000 with $200,000 nightly handles, this starts to sound pretty ridiculous.

In the big scope of things it's a yawner, but it seems almost daily we see or hear something that just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense in this "broken" industry which is supposed to have no money. Slots have changed the business in more ways than one. It's an embarrassment of riches, polarized against the backdrop of an equally embarrassing shrinking fan base.

Boxing Day Madness At Old Greenwood

It's Boxing Day (in Canada and other countries like it. In the States I think it's the day after Christmas) and as per usual, the annual Boxing Day card is held at Woodbine Racetrack.

This card - like many others - has lost its luster in the world of simulcast but there was a time that the handle and attendance was one of the highest of the year. Back in the 1980's and 1990's at Greenwood the streetcars would be jammed from 11:30 or so onwards, and the Gardiner Expressway would be backed up usually before noon. It's just the way it was. Horse racing was popular the only place to gamble back then, Boxing Day sales were non-existent. Where else were you going but the track?

Boxing Day at old Greenwood will be forever etched in my mind. The guys walking around asking if anyone wants a piece of their super seven ticket, because a 12-1 shot won the second leg; the lineups, the massive time between races, the weather, the wind, and the usual characters.

On twitter last evening a few of the guys mentioned the Jamaican crew who attended (and still do) live racing. They were talking present day Woodbine and the runners, but in the winter they were at old Greenwood in force. They would sit right at the top of the grandstand, as far away from the finish line as one could imagine, and they'd be a colorful bunch. They'd yell and cheer and have their favorites and the whole grandstand would know they were there.
I remember, for example, there was a Michigan invader at the harness races named John Moody who tried the circuit for awhile and he was one of their personal go-to drivers. He'd come out in the post parade and you'd hear, in thick Jamaican accents, "There's John Moody, John Moody gonna win this one mon. Go John Moody". They'd bet, and if Moody was in contention at the head of the lane, oh my, you'd know about it. If he won, holy cow the cheering would be insane, filled with some major high fives because you knew they were cashing. (I use the term high in double context, as there was always a general aroma at the top of the grandstand most days too.)

Anyhow, if I was late to an afternoon weekend card in the winters (being a student I was out on the weekends having one too many beer at times), there was rarely nowhere to sit but as high up as possible. I would sit near these guys sometimes and got to know a couple of them. On Boxing Day, one year, my brother - who did not attend the track as much as I did, but like all customers would know the Jamaican area of the grandstand - was late, stuck on the Gardiner. I was late too and told him I would meet him at the gate.

We walked in, and with nowhere to sit, we headed up near the Jamaican contingent. My brother says "oh man we have to sit up here? These guys are going to be loud". As we get nearer to the rows, one of the Jamaican guys yells, "Hey Dean happy Christmas mon".  My brother shakes his head and says "you've obviously been coming here too much."

He still tells that story. Me and my Jamaican buddies. A staple at old Greenwood.

Greenwood - being a downtown track in a city of immigrants - had that flair. It had pockets of enthnicities, and types and classes of bettors. And it seems they'd be out in full force on Boxing Day. It's not the same anymore, but it's something I will always remember.

Enjoy the card if you are playing today everyone. And Happy Boxing Day.

It’s a Wonderful Customer Life


It all happened a few days before Christmas......

What Andy might look like
“Who is this from?” said horseplayer Andy Bailey from his San Diego condominium, in response to a letter he received at the door. 

It was a subpoena from Mike Potter (“Mr. Potter” to people who don’t know him) of the TOC Bank asking for some of Andy's correspondence over the years of being a horseplayer advocate.

“They even spelled my name wrong on the check,” said Andy.

It was nearing the last straw for young Andy. For years he, like many horseplayers, had to suffer through the nickel and diming, the takeout hikes, the parking and admission increases, the signal fee boosts, the tracknets, the troutnets, the judging, the ancient tote board, the Frank’s, the Daruty’s and the CDI’s.  Now he had to deal with this. 

He only had one choice. He needed to make the drive from his humble abode to the hills, where Mr. Potter (along with big movie stars like that guy who played Urkel) lived.  He had to speak face to face with him.

Potter's house
The Potter estate was a sprawling domicile that housed both Real Quiet and Bob Baffert memorabilia (including the toupee used by that actor in the Mine That Bird movie).  After passing security checks, which for the season included several guards dressed like Ronald McDonald toting AK 47’s, Andy was allowed to enter.

Then he saw him; the man with the subpoena’s.  He was sitting behind a large desk watching security cameras. He held a cane; a silver cane.

“Step forward” said Mike Potter. 

Andy was very scared. He blurted: “Mr. Potter, I am just a customer. I want racing to grow. I want my friends to like horse racing and support purses. I am just trying my best to make the game better. Why are you sending me these legal things?"

File photo of a McNugget
As Mr. Potter slowly dipped a fresh, glistening McNugget into a honey-mustard sauce, he said,

“Now, now Andy, you were protesting that takeout hike a couple of years ago. That episode almost made me and other massively rich horse owners take an 18% pay cut at the behest of you. A customer! A nobody. If I were a man bent on payback, I would say it's a dish that is best served cold. “

Andy scratched his head for a moment and said to himself that didn’t sound quite right, but he was not chancing a correction. 

“I was just trying to make things better Mr. Potter. The horse racing game has been going downhill for so long we need to do something to stop the slide and hiking prices could’ve never solved the problems.”, pleaded the former minor league baseball star and sociopathic emailer.  “Why would you be so mean?”

“Settle down dear boy, “ said Mr. Potter as he tapped his cane, while a scantily clad woman entered, offering Andy a McChicken.  “I will not put you through these subpoena things if you work with me. Let’s make a deal.”

Andy did not like the sound of that. The last time he made a deal in California he got stuck having lunch with Vic Stauffer.  “Do you want fries with that.... YESSSSSS!!!!!!!”. Sheesh, Vic never stopped. Gosh, that was annoying.

But he decided to see what Mr. Potter had in mind.

 “Join forces with me. Myself, along with other members of the TOC are planning an all out assault on takeout rates in 2014”, continued Potter.  “We are proposing a 120% takeout rate on all three or more horse exotics. For example – and herein lies the genius - right now there is $250,000 bet into a trifecta pool at Santa Anita. At 20% we only make $50,000. If we increase the takeout to 120%, we can make $300,000! Poof, we make $50,000 more than is in the pool just by changing the percentage. I want you to have my back with your fellow horseplayers to make this a reality. “

“So you mean that if I am at Del Mar and hit a $100 trifecta, when I bring my ticket to the wicket to cash, I owe the teller twenty dollars?” asked an obviously confused Andy Bailey. 

“That’s exactly what I am saying. This is brilliant. That extra $20 per customer on that ticket will give us more big purses to spend on expensive vets” said Mr. Potter. 

“There are many of us in California,” continued Potter. “We suspend all rules of business or economics when we enter the sport. That’s why many of us pay these exorbitant bills and buy horses for hundreds of thousands of dollars which we don't even know could run faster than an overweight porcupine. You can be one of us too Andy. Join us. Join us Andy Bailey!”

Andy, shocked, stunned and bewildered – some might say like usual – gathered his thoughts. 

“I need to take some time Mr. Potter” 

“That’s fine,” said Mr. Potter. “Run along, and here's a hot apple pie for dessert.”

TVG's Todd Schrupp
While driving back to his home, Andy’s mind was racing. What to do, he asked himself over and over again. Suddenly he was passed by a car speeding rapidly. It looked like TVG’s Todd Schrupp behind the wheel, but it was actually actor Ed Helms. Helms cut him off, causing Andy to swerve. Unable to control the car like he could a soft grounder when he was a minor league baseball star, he stormed down an embankment and hit a tree. 

Dazed and confused he looked around and saw no one to help. 

Appearing out of nowhere was a ghostly looking figure who said “Andy come with me”. 

Andy stumbled out of his car with this apparition.
  
 “Andy, I know you’ve called me names time and time again on twitter or via email, but I admire your work. Without you I would sitting at my desk at the New York Times listening to non-denominational holiday music while people talk about yoga and sushi. Your emails make my day. They’re like a jolt of caffeine plunging through my veins after being injected into my neck. The world would be a worse place without you,” 
Real Joe Drape

The apparition was Joe Drape.

“Joe, didn’t you hear? My only choice was to join forces with the TOC. It’s the only way I can survive. I can’t do it because my days being a customer advocate would be over. I don’t know if I want to wake up.”

“Close your eyes and come with me” said Joe Drape.

When Andy opened his eyes he was at a party. Everyone was singing and dancing. Little did he know it was a wake - his wake. 

“I miss the emails,” said Ray Paulick. “That Andy was a total goof, but he was a good kind of goof, unlike Indian Charlie.”

That made Andy feel good.  

“My inbox is now only filled with emails from the DRF asking me to join DRF Plus, Plus, Plus over and over again,” said Tom LaMarra. “I miss that little rascal and those crazy emails.”

Removing the phone from his ear, “ANDY. I LOVE ANDY. ANDY ROCKS,” said Jerry Jamgotchian.

“He always moved like a winner” said Trevor Denman. 

“Who is this Andy? Is he a guest at one of our racetracks? I can tell him we raised signal fees; guests don’t have the foggiest clue what that means” asked Christopher Kay. 

“Great party, but just be glad it ain’t in Pennsylvania. We’d have to test the punch” said HANA’s President Jeff Platt. 

“No kidding, Plattser” said Penn National’s NYRA's Dan Silver.

“I feel bad for calling him a dipshit” said Dennis.

Some other hangers on were afoot:

Ed at breakfast
"I'm not sure what's going on here" asked Brisnet's Ed DeRosa while heading to the wing table. "but it looks like a lot of these people would like the new Unlimited Past Performance plan we have at Brisnet ®"

"There sure is some black type here" noted pedigree guru Sid Fernando.

Andy still smiled. Everyone was there for him - well almost everyone  -  even his arch enemies. 

Suddenly, entering the room with puffs of smoke and a trumpeter playing a “Call to the Post” was Andrew Beyer. 

“A toast to a great one. Without him there’d be no 14% takeout Players Pick 5!” said Beyer from a large lectern. 

“Hear hear!”, roared a gaggle of horseplayers. 

What Joe Drape might look like as a ghost
“See Andy,” said Joe Drape, “these people all miss you. Without you there would be no emails, no lower takeout bets, no one to watch over the CHRB and TOC and whomever else in California. Takeout might be 120%, the game would die. Bo Derek might have to go back playing B roles in movies like Tommy Boy.  An unemployed David Israel might be banished to his basement watching reruns on Hogan’s Heroes on continuous loop. Keith Brackpool might have to take a job with Frank Stronach. Hollywood Park might close. It would be devastating. ”

“To be true to yourself you have to fight the power. ”

Andy agreed.  He awoke. 

He was at a Christmas party and a bell was ringing. 

Paulick said, “every time a bell rings an angel shares a story from the Paulick Report”.  The DRF guys sneered. "Ya. With an extra-large synoposis," said Jessica Chapel.

Andy knew it was more than that of course. Joe Drape got his wings.  ‘Way to go Joe’, he thought.

Andy was now energized; just like he was when shagging flies in his backyard preparing for a storied minor league baseball career. 

He pulled out his blackberry iPhone and began typing. 

“No Deal, Potter...... And I’m eating a Whopper” was the subject line. 

He then hit “send all.”

Andy was back and all was right in the World.

To everyone in racing, may you have a Merry Christmas. 

And to customers and horseplayers who are working their butts of, trying to make the game of handicapping a better and more popular pursuit while keeping the power brokers in check: A hearty happy holidays and thanks from me, PTP. You are appreciated.


Where Did Everyone Go?

Raceday360 had a ton of bloggers in their feed. Chatboards were thriving something fierce. There was an energy that surrounded the sport of horse racing when it came to the interwebs. That was only four or five years ago.

Now chat boards seem very sleepy. At Harnessdriver.com, for example, someone can post a story on the Premier of Ontario, and even that fails to trigger much discussion. When I visit Raceday360, there seem to be many links (they are good links mind you) to ESPN stories, or what have you, but the blog feed too is snoozy.

Where is everyone?

There seems to be fewer people engaged in the sport from both a betting and fan perspective; those willing to write, or select, or to share their opinion anyway. The "passion quotient" has fallen considerably, as I see it.

Conversely, I was doing a little research this past week and came across the numbers for NHL.com, which usually has a dearth of traffic in November.
  •  This year, there was never a dry period. The traffic dipped in July and August and then shot right back up. The category saw a 53% month-over-month (MoM) increase in traffic—one of the fast moving categories of the month.
And Fantasy football via places like NFL.com are in the halcyon days. "The past two months have had record high traffic" and that's saying something.

The passion quotient seems to be growing in those sports and games. They trend on twitter and you can't walk across your office without hearing something about fantasy hockey or football.

I'm not privy to the numbers, but maybe everyone has left chat boards and blogging and headed for the DRF. Or the Paulick Report. Or twitter or facebook. Maybe.

But it sure doesn't feel like it.

It just feels blah.

Quite the New York Rake Increase Thread on Pace

Five or six pages of posts on the New York takeout er source market fee hike here.

"Only a delusional optimist would think that the other states will not follow suit with new source market fees and access restrictions. The player is already being squeezed with higher signal fees and increased takeout rates. The opportunity cost of staying engaged as a serious horseplayer keeps on increasing, make the game less and less palatable.

Many serious horseplayers are a lot like horsemen, breeders, and track owners. Our investment in the game is contingent on prevailing and projected business conditions. Although the industry would like to cultivate a generation of entertainment-focused fans willing to pay $80 admissions and wear Todd Pletcher or Bob Baffert jersey's, this type of thinking is pure fantasy. A cursory analysis of nearly every major enthusiast site reveals that nearly all players are after one elusive goal: becoming a long-term winning horseplayer. The 'Zenyatta Ladies' are fickle fans who rally around one or two horses, pay their $10 admittance fees and buy a few drinks, only to fade into oblivion.

 

Anyway, I am anticipating that within a year or two we will see the rest of the states follow suit, taking their cue from major states like Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and others. They will never succeed in bringing me back to the track, which I left in 1998. I constitute 'a recovered fan' in the sense that I would never have returned to the game if not for the easy access, technological innovation, and rewards (i.e. past performances, rebates, promotions) offered by ADW's. If I am representative of the younger fan (and I think I am in many ways), this game is doomed."

There's some other discussion that sheds quite a bit of light on what customers are up against regarding the new fees in New York, and elsewhere. I'm not sure what racing will run out of first, customers, or nails to nail into the coffin.


[For those who might not understand what hikes in source market fees do to customers, Jeff Platt explains it here (with an analogy) quite well]




Stats-Lies-Stats. A Few Ways to Tell the Difference

Jeff Platt - a full time horseplayer  - had this to say about Barry Meadow's recent article in Horseplayer Monthly (Page 1 here).

"That article by Barry Meadow should be required reading for anyone who does data mining."

I would agree, but I think even if you don't data mine, it's well worth reading too.

Oftentimes we are prey to the little bitty numbers at the bottom of the PP's or if we're looking at Trackmaster programs for clues on what to bet.  If we do a few things and use some common sense, we'll be much better off.

1. If we are datamining, Barry makes a few points about backfitting. Backfitting is simply looking to exclude horses out of a sample that makes your ROI or win percentage go up. This rarely holds moving forward. Why? Because we are excluding in a capricious fashion.

2. Use Common Sense: When we are trying to build something that will work for us - in harness or thoroughbred - our rules need to make sense.

For example, a case was giving on page two of the Horseplayer Monthly about maiden specials dropping to maiden claimers. Many handicapping books talk about horses having shown speed, dropping, as better bets and they are correct. This makes perfect sense. What about then using trainer stats to help us out even more.

MSW to MCL 14% over large sample, ROI $0.75
MSW to MCL w/ Horse showing top "E" number 25%, ROI $0.92
MSW to MCL w/ Top "E" number with a set of trainers who excel at the move 32% ROI $1.02

That progression of modeling follows a handicapping pattern.

3. We can still use our eyes. You see a trainer with a five year rate off the claim of 22-104. That's fair, but that's what the trainers win percentage is. What if, suddenly we see a run where the guy or gal goes 2 for 4? That's meaningless, too. Now, let's say out of those four, the horses raced unbelievably well - like I mean really well  - then we may be onto something with this trainer. New vet? Something sinister? It could be, and the stats don't tell us how they are off the claim until we see how the horses race. I like to use my eyes to ensure this trainer is worth watching off barn changes.

3. Subsets. Further, in both standardbred and thoroughbred racing, off claim moves happen regularly, and there is gold in them there hills. Subsetting off claim trainers by time off is one way that tends to work over time. For example, in harness there was a horse a few weeks ago who won off the claim at 9-2. The horses was a decent horse and it was not a shock, but a few things made this an interesting bet:
  • The horse was off 25 days
  • Lasix was added
  • Several equipment changes, including the hopples out an amazing 4.5 inches
  • The trainer won like this once or twice before
That's compelling, and not a one week wonder everyone and their brother is on board with (at a probable 4-5).

Similarly, in thoroughbred racing we see the same thing. With some trainers (if they don't like the horse) he is back in quickly. If they do see some potential, and they give the horse a little time, the horse will be good. Some trainers > 45 days but less than 60 days off the claim are tremendous.

You won't see that solely in the numbers, we have to use our eyes, like in number two.

Anyway, give Barry's article a read. It, and the rest of the magazine (it's free) had some interesting insight.

Have a great day.

That There's a Horseplayer

I had a chuckle today regarding a post on a chat board. It was a comment regarding the "Innovation Summit" that was held in Ontario yesterday, alluding to what is a horseplayer:

"It's vital that the game identifies a certain demographic and aggressively markets the game to those.
IMO, racing appeals to those that:
a)  Really, really like being right
b) Like problem solving/mental challenges
c) Fancy themselves as some sort of clairvoyants that can predict the future.
Short of trolling through asylums looking for these people...... "

Sometimes you'd think we do belong in asylums of some sort. Jeff Platt looks at what the average player goes through in terms of juice each betting day, just in the win pools

"Q. How many 'zeroes' do you have to add to a roulette wheel to turn roulette into the equivalent of what a newbie horse bettor faces? (Where random WPS selections produce long term net losses bordering on minus 25 percent?)

A. Believe it or not you have to add TEN ADDITIONAL ZEROES - until the layout itself has TWELVE ZEROES ON IT! – in order to turn roulette into the equivalent gamble (net losses of minus 25 percent) faced by a horse bettor making random WPS selections at 16 percent takeout!

TWELVE zeroes! (Mull that over for a few minutes until it sinks in.)

No one in their right mind is going to spend any serious amount of time immersed in study trying to develop a system to beat a roulette wheel with TWELVE freaking zeroes on it. (Can we at least agree on that much?)


Like any good gambling game, or business, it needs several types of bets for several types of customers. When I play something in Vegas, I check the interweb out for a place that pays well on poker machines. Some pay almost 100% back with perfect play. Then I go there, read the form or whatever, and play some poker, while having an ale or two. They cater to me, who is price sensitive.

They also have Keno, or parlay cards, or whatever else in a higher takeout variety for those who want to hit a jackpot.

Racing? It has jackpot bets and high takeout super exotics and all the rest. But they don't have any bet for the price sensitive guy or gal. In fact, when they finally did get something that was exactly that - betting exchanges - they did their best to shut them out. To this day, horsemen groups and other who are looking at Exchanges continually say "it needs to return a higher takeout before we approve it".

Talk about missing the point completely.

10% takeout on a betting exchange kills its edge. The ability to get a low cost bet on, or green up totally where a sharp player has a positive expectation bet is the exchanges edge!

When you bring in new demo's with, say, an exchange, maybe, just maybe, a few people playing the exchange like the sport and take a pick 6 for $324 and give you 25% of it in juice. Maybe they play some supers in the Derby, or watch the Hambletonian card and bet a couple thousand on the races. Y'know what I mean?

Handicapping is a great game. But it's been messed up by people who don't have the foggiest idea how great a game it once was, or could be.

Fooled By Randomness

I was watching a harness race at Woodbine a few weeks ago and noticed something we see happen very often - a jockeying for position early off the wings. Most times this jockeying for early positon is somewhat random, other times not, but in general a driver is at the mercy of what others are doing.

In this instance, the outside driver (Jody Jamieson) really, really wanted to be in the gaping four hole, but for some reason the horse was no cooperating. Chris Jr, was trying to give it to him, but no dice. Since the horse in the three hole was 5-2, one might think Jody wanted to be second over, who knows.

Then the random happened. Chris, in a better position pulled, but the guy in the three hole sat. Chris was first over, Jody was second over and Jody caught Chris by a head because he got a better trip.

I saw twitter saying "what a great drive to get second over by Jody".

We often, according to Fooled By Randomness author Nassim Taleb, apply causality when none really exists. Things just shake out as they shake out and that's that.

A lot of times, randomness creates a "narrative fallacy" and that sticks with a horse, an athlete, whomever, and it's based what happened in the random, not what truly exists.

We saw this on twitter when the Cowpokes lost the Packers game, in part, due to a couple Tony Romo INT's last evening. One interception, called back, was off a sure handed receivers hands, the other due to a wrong route. One was a matter of inches away from a touchdown, stymied by a good defensive play. This happens time after time as a circumstance play (it's a statistical certainty as pass attempts rise), but since it happened late, it's a choke. The narrative is what it is and it can be changed based on an inch or two i.e. if that play to Miles Austin goes for a TD, Romo is a clutch football God in Dallas, not a goat). (for an excellent anaylsis of last night's game read this)

Eli Manning has two super bowl rings. One from a truly random circus catch and one from a missed open receiver by Tom Brady, which is a freak occurrence for the most part (along with a completely random turnover grazing off a leg in the NFC Championship game). Those are random plays, that with any player, or any sets of players could go the other way, just like a coin flip. If they do, Eli is 0-2 in Super Bowls and a "choker like his brother", which is a whole other cray cray narrative in the first place.

In racing, I always remember Calvin Borel on Street Sense. He hugged the rail and was lauded as a brilliant tactition - almost like all the other jockey's in the race were substandard in his presence. If you watch that race on the turn, he is one random stopping horse, or fraction of a second, being hopelessly boxed in, and he probably never wins the Derby. When he won he was given too much credit, if he was stopped in the gap with a live horse in such an important race, there is a chance the connections would be so upset he might've been replaced, which would've been over the top in the opposite direction.

I don't use the above to say Tony Romo is the best quarterback ever who never makes a mistake, or Eli Manning is not good enough to win playoff games without luck, or that Calvin Borel is not a good rider. It's just to illustrate that the final outcome rarely tells the whole story.

We as handicappers, or humans, place way too much emphasis on the random. We make decisions based on it-  "false narratives" - that are, or can be, completely off base. We need to see the whole story if we want to make money.

Trying to look for causes based on what would've been likely to happen, rather than overanalyzing what did happen to fit into a neat box, is a trait I concentrate on while handicapping.  Each race is a random event, and I need to handicap with that in mind while searching for value.

I like to fade horses who get a perfect trip. I have for years. The randomness of the way the race went, was in his or her favor and this time perhaps it will or it won't. But I am pretty sure the sparkling, visually impressive chartline is going to cause an overbet.

I like to bet against driver changes for the most part (if they are somewhat lateral). The horse was second over with Dan Dube and lost. Why would I bet him with John Campbell at a lower price? How much of a better trip will John get him, especially when trips themselves have a ton of variability?

I especially like to bet against bigger driver changes, if the horse comes off a speed try. If he lost off nice fractions, off a speed try, what's the other guy going to do, yell at the horse louder?

I love to fade horses who find themselves off a chartline that was the result of a good bias. What are the chances he or she will find themselves in the right spot, in the right field, with the right pace scenario to get that benefit again to run that big number? Not good.

Races, football games, whatever, are a collection of events. Some of those events are totally random and there is no need to explain them, or try to explain them. Understanding what's random and what's not helps me handicap and be a much better bettor than I used to be.


It's Not About "Paying for Something" It's About A Story and Service

 If you don’t genuinely like your customers, chances are they won’t buy. - Thomas Watson, former CEO IBM

This past week or so we've heard a lot about the NYRA admission (and proposed parking) hike. It's almost never-ending. People seem very, very upset about this increase in fees, which only amounts to a couple of dollars, or barely the price of a coffee. Meme's have surfaced that it's all about the money and people are not going to like paying for more of anything.

My brother in law is one of those dudes who likes to stop in small towns and browse around, looking to see if he can find anything interesting to buy. Last weekend he was on a back-road in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia and came across a sign in a yard that seemed to say something about "tree art".

He stopped and a young girl ran up and said "I will get him, one minute."

A couple of minutes later out walked a man with a slow step and hands and skin that looked like he'd been a hard-worker his whole life. He might've been in his mid-fifties but looked older. He went on to tell Steve a story that he'd had a contractors' job in the area, but had to quit because of his health problems.

He said "working with wood helps me get through the boredom, and helps me rehabilitate myself after my illness".

After conversing a little more, the man took Steve on a trip to the old barns (that were falling apart, just like the house was) and showed him his work. He made some cool looking "Christmas trees out of Christmas trees" and a bunch of other smaller items that were constructed with craftsman precision. Steve thought they looked great and asked to purchase two large items and two small ones.

The fellow said, "let me show you some other things I've been working on" without a hint of salesmanship.

He then took him on a further tour of another barn which had wood items that can only be described as a type of folk art that, too, looked pretty neat. All the while telling his story. Steve was impressed with this fellow and immediately liked him.

When heading back to the driveway, Steve asked the man "Can I have your phone number, because I'd love to bring my wife back with me and look at some of those items again"

The fellow sheepishly replied that he had no phone. Times were tough. He said he would give him the neighbors' number and they would come and find him if he called.

Back at the car, Steve took his four items and expected to pay over $100 for them. When he asked the price the man asked "would you pay $50?"

Steve said, "No way, let me give you at least $75". The man would not take it, but Steve insisted. When Steve was not taking no for an answer, the man ran back into the back barn and came out with four other smaller items and said "take these, and then we'll do $75"

Steve paid him. When he goes back to look at the other art with my sister, he will likely overpay for those to give this talented, hard-working fellow what he deserves for them.

Steve said he was a "great guy that was so friendly and passionate." That he was "having a rough go and you respected what he'd been through". He was a guy you want to pay more money to, "because he is likely giving you way too good a deal because that's the way he is."

Unfortunately in business it rarely is that way, unless that business is exceptional. NYRA is not exceptional. Players have seen hiked takeouts, complain about customer service and everything else. I have not even mentioned the fact that unlike this fellow who has fallen on viciously hard times who does not even have a phone, slot machines are churning out millions and millions of dollars for purses and profits in New York.

Customers aren't greedy. "No one likes to pay more for anything" is not at all an accurate statement. They just want to be appreciated for being good customers, and be treated well for spending their money at your establishment.

I think we can all learn a lot from a down-on-his-luck man in the backwoods of Nova Scotia.



A Cut in Pay? Quite the Brouhahaha

One trial balloon floated out at the meeting of racing secretaries recently was that drivers should take less than the 5% fee for each drive. People seem to be quite perplexed this could even be floated.

On a number of fronts this does make sense, and has for some time, in my opinion. It's hardly a cash grab or power play.

A few thoughts that I have read over the years (this is not a new idea since slots money has perverted the economics of the sport). These are thoughts that are rarely published much - the media and others can be very sycophantic when it comes to this topic - so they aren't front and center in the trades. But they are spoken. If you disagree, by the way, don't shoot the messenger; go yell on twitter or something :)

"It's a trainers game" - We know this to be true. Put Yannick Gingras on five obscure trainers who race 40-1 longshots every night and he probably won't make a car payment. Put Aaron Merriman on the Burke stock at Chester and the Meadowlands and he is likely leading driver in both places. I remember hearing a story about one of the top trainers (now long gone for infractions) saying "I can make anyone a leading driver anywhere". He did, a few meets. Let him pay 3% if he wants to - the line will be a hundred miles long with drivers wanting the account.

"It's not Cuba" - Capitalism is here to stay. There are drivers willing to break in the business who are very capable who will work for less. Let trainers pay them less.We hear it often: The top ten (or twelve or 15, or whatever) are "interchangeable". That's probably true. Wayne Gretzky is not interchangeable with Dave Semenko and they arent paid the same rate. A 15% guy with good stock can be replaced with another guy and he'll be 15% with the same stock too.

"Slots Have Made Catch Drivers Rich" - Has there been another group that so benefitted from slot machines? Seriously, the leading driver in 1993 at Greenwood and Mohawk would bring home $60k. In 2011 or 2012, a journeyman could bring home double that, while driving at B Tracks like Flamboro and Georgian Downs. The CPI is only up 1.6 during this time, too. Trainers have had vet bills gone through the roof (paid for by owners). Horse prices have gone up over the years as purses rose. The cost of doing business as a horse owner in slotsville is well above any CPI number.  In 2013? Boots is going to pull down $1M in revenue, or double the salary of a vascular surgeon. That might make sense if the sport was popular and brought in huge revenue, but it isn't - it runs on slots and government help. As the kids say "that's cray cray".

There's the scoop on some old time, long time arguments on this matter. Nothing usually comes of this when its mentioned, and I doubt it will this time either.

Have a great Tuesday everyone.

Tomlin, Pacer of the Year & Bad Math

A couple of notes from HRU this weekend:

Mike Tomlin's fine was looked at from a racing perspective (pdf)
  • The NFL does not even rely on gambling for their number one source of revenue, yet they are responsive to it. Racing relies on gambling for survival and it amazes me that in many instances its customers are treated like nothing more than a nuisance. Racing, whether they want to realize it or not, has been saying to the customers who pay the bills, “If you don’t like it, go play poker. “ Bettors have taken their advice. 
Also, Garnet took Foiled Again's side on the Pacer of the Year argument (momentum seems to be building for him to be named Pacer of the Year) over an argument for Captaintreacherous. You can read that here.


Math & Fooled By Randomness

Mike Dorr often talks about how the media, and general public is "math challenged". One example, I thought, that showed this yesterday was in the 49ers-Seattle game. The stats showed (not by a small margin) that letting the 49ers score quickly near the end of the game was the proper play. In the general media, this is not even questioned.

"Memes" seem to rule the day when it comes to the media. It's ridiculous in the first place to talk about one man on one 60 member team to be solely responsible for wins and losses, but the media takes it to the nth degree. Did you know Tony Romo sucks in December? How could you not. You'll hear it on ESPN tonight I am sure or on NFL radio shows, or whereever else the math and randomness challenged reside. Casual bettors might bet against "Romo" tonight just because of that meme. Doesn't anyone check the real stats? He has a 106.3 passer rating in December, with 27 TD's and only 5 interceptions. His team might not have a super record in December, but it ain't because of him.

Manning sucks in under 32 degree weather, I am sure you've heard, oh 8 gazillion times. Well, he has played a couple of playoff games away from home, as a dog, with a top rated defense keying on stopping him and only him, so he had a couple of subpar games (subpar for him). One of the games the media counts as a loss was a last week mean-nothing game against the Bills when he left in the first quarter (tied 7 to 7; the Colts then lost by a pile, so the media memes give him the "L"). He's also had a couple of good games too. But because of the weather? How did he go off for 400 yesterday with 4TD's (and two other drops)? In his presser he said he didn't pay much attention to the meme because it was stupid (my words not his). He's right.

Rarely if ever does bad math happen with bettors though. For example, while television commentators are scratching their head on a call like Belichick taking the wind on that MNF game a couple of weeks ago, Betfair immediately shows you what's a good or a bad call. After that coin toss, the chances for New England having a better chance to win resulted in a line move of 12 or 15 basis points. 

You'll see it on a 4th down call, or when a team goes for two. Bettors anticipate the coach making the proper math call. When he does not, the odds change. It's fascinating.

This is seen in horse racing, but even more so (there is much less dumb money in horse racing nowadays). Watch a driver or jockey change of a huge variety. The on track crowd, which represents a lot more cavalier money, might have the change horse at even money, while its fair odds may be 5-2. The horse will always go up as the math money comes in. Ditto at Betfair. A horse might be at 4-5 until one minute to post on the tote, while he or she doesnt budge off 5-2 at Betfair for the entire trading session.

More Notes:

Handle was reported down for this past weekend's Claiming Crown at Gulfstream. That's what racing a meet that goes on and on tends to do.

Races that went away in 2013 - a lot of them due to the loss of slot revenue in Ontario.


 Have a great day everyone.

Friday Notes

Happy Friday everyone.

Today I plan to write a post that climbs every mountain, because my fingers are alive with the sound of typing. Ya, I actually watched that musical last evening. I grew up in a town that had two channels, "3" and "6". I am pretty sure the Sound of Music movie was telecast for like every holiday, but I can't remember seeing it. Ever.

Speaking of Austria, Frank came out against raceday meds today. I think more big breeders and stalwarts who do not depend on every day racing, say like a stable of 25 at Mountaineer does, will follow over the next year or two or four.

Dan Silver is now employed by NYRA once again, after a stint at Penn National. I wonder why he left?

There's a good article for casual gamblers on Twinspires.com via Derek Simon. Almost each day at the track we see the gambler's fallacy preached, as well as a heavy reliance on a lack of understanding of randomness. Fun read.

The press needs to "stop being cheerleaders" and "what most people want are an accurate representation of events". That was said by Geoff Ogilvy with regards to the Tiger Woods bullying saga regarding a commentator that said something nasty about him.

This is not a good story. The clerk of scales at Woodbine's hearing began this week. Not good at all. Despite the obvious, this is a gambling game, with a lot of money bet on it. Rules are there for a reason.

Steve Crist, some may think surprisingly, says he doesn't much like the NYRA admission hikes.

With social media added to the fact that customers have felt so left out and are tired of what they think is being treated like a "necessary evil", tracks need to be very wary of doing things like this. It's not 1960 anymore.

Hong Kong has a big weekend of racing coming up. Wednesday night, on a night that hosted a middle of the road racecard at Happy Valley, the handle was more than the handle of the Kentucky Derby. 15,000 people showed up to bet.

Scotty Zeron (or if you are south of the border, I guess that's pronounced "Zeerron") has not been getting any live drives at the Meadowlands. I guess that's expected, but that should change. Very good tactical driver, who uses power when he has it, and generally leaves you something left to take back to the barn. Statistics are for the most part meaningless when it comes to drivers. The best driver to ever drive a horse would have a less than 2% win percentage if his average odds are over 30-1. Scotty needs some power.

Horse of the Year in harness racing (and I suppose Thoroughbred racing too) has probably been decided. But Pacer of the Year is up for grabs. Who wins it? The good three year old, or the nine year old who won a few big races and defied expectations? It's a really interesting discussion. I may have a look at it sometime soon.

Over at VFTRG, Joe asks if both Captaintreacherous and Iluvthenitelife faced poor competition, and he declares they did. I think that's true in the colt's case, but I don't think that's anything near correct in the filly's case. Historically there tends to be one, or maybe two fillies with talent to go huge speed at three. It's a division that is rarely deep. This year there are several fillies with chops. Not only that, several of them lasted the entire season without missing a beat.

If you watched the Lady Maud, you saw Charisma Hanover who is probably the third ranked filly of 2013 race and win easily in 51.4. A race later you saw Ronny Bugatti win the Messenger with similar fractions and time. That rarely happens. In Ronny's (a horse who had not done a thing in 2013) wake was Lucan Hanover, the horse we're supposed to believe is 'almost as good as Captaintreacherous' after his narrow lost first over to him a couple of weeks later.

This filly group is solid. Not only does it have the fastest time of anyone (colts or fillies) in 2013, it also has some iron tough mares who can rough it.

Have a nice Friday everyone. And remember, a doe is a female deer.

Raising Prices on the Casuals

There's a lot of debate about raising admission and parking prices of late.

Some think raising a price on a product in such little demand the last ten or so years (other than for big events, boutique meets etc) is a bad move at anytime. Others think racing is under-priced and can move prices up without seeing a large attendance decrease.


A few points:

* "Free" works in many new businesses as a way to trap new people to use your product. Chris Anderson wrote about this in his excellent book several years ago, and much of it applies today. In effect, a woman buys a tablet from Amazon and she uses Amazon Prime to buy goods and rent movies, the margins on the recurring item purchases are good, so margins can be zero percent on the tablet. The two are inexoribly linked, and projections are done on a sliding scale.

Principally, the same applies to racing, however, unlike Amazon, there are strong barriers to becoming a racing customer. If I buy a tablet that works at Amazon, I am likely to patronize it. If I enter a racetrack for a days outing, it does not mean I will be playing every day. My state may not allow me to signup to play on the Internet. etc etc.

We as marketers, or businessmen, have a formula we need to calculate to figure out our fair price for entry in anything. The "lifetime value" of a customer is included in any marketing spend. For example, a one-off purchase might have to have a return on ad spend of $8 to be a wise strategy, while a lifetime customer, like an online poker player, or cable or cell phone subscriber can have less than a dollar for dollar ROAS.

Racing's lifetime value of a new track visitor (people always think this number is higher than it is) is very low.

* If "Free" worked, Woodbine would be King. Woodbine has had free admission since slots. It's not like handle is breaking records at Woodbine, or throughout Canada who has free admission and parking.

* Why take betting money out of people's pockets? If someone spends $20 to get in somewhere, it is twenty dollars less to bet. Very true. This is why casino's do not charge admission.

* Enhancing the experience. If I were a track exec dude (Heaven help us all, that would be comical) I would say "I am planning to raise admission to $20. I need ten ideas next week telling me how I can enhance racing's viewing and customer experience so the patrons want to pay $20 to get in". If I work with good people they will probably come up with forty ideas to try.

The movie market had to deal with disruptive technology with home rentals, home theater systems, blue ray discs and all the rest. Movie ticket sales are not close to horrible and average ticket sales have kept up with the rate of inflation. They have also expanded their markets to other countries with modern theaters to make more and more money.

They did that by enhancing the experience and marketing that: Imax, 3D, better sound, and on and on. In 2010, despite all the disruptions and new ways to watch movies, hundreds of channels, netflix, hulu and all the rest, ticket sales for live viewing was more in terms of revenue than watching movies from home.

Think about that for a second. Racing has had internet betting, at home wagering, satellite facilities and new competition. On track handle and attendance has fallen precipitously, and at the same time if it held the rate of inflation it would probably cost well over $100 to enter the racetrack. All we hear is "we can't compete!" The movie industry has had similar competition, and shocks, but it is holding its own (some would say thriving), especially with ticket sales.

* Comps. Charge $20 to get in, give money back to your best customers to gain goodwill and buzz. It costs like $150 to see Shania Twain at some casino and small gamblers and others pay that, but if you have enough points on your slot card you get to see her for free. If points cards and reward programs didn't work, Capital One would not have Alec Baldwin Samuel L. Jackson hawking their cards.

You can't comp if you don't charge. 

There are clearly pros and cons to raising prices. If raising prices worked, everyone would be doing it in their business and inflation would be through the roof. However, if you raise prices and find a way to offer new forms of value, convenience or whatever micro-economic go-to-concept you want to use, it can and does work.

Can racing do that? Probably not. Changing takes investment, time, innovation, risk, marketing and the resulting analysis, and about a hundred other things we don't seem to do very well. But it can, in my opinion, be (theoretically) done.


NYRA's Messaging Takes A Hit

Messaging and framing the message can be good, indifferent or bad. The news regarding NYRA's price hike for admission (and supposedly parking) has probably been the latter.

In most news reports the narrative that has held sway is that the increase has to be done to make more money (just in case VLT revenues go kaput) and that the fee increases to customers has been "modest".

A 60% increase is not modest and customers don't care if you are raising prices because someday you might not have slot machines anymore. This messaging was destined to fail badly, in my opinion. Stories like this are not only noticed, they will likely be commonplace.

I wonder what would've happened if this was planned for in a slightly different way. Say a release with this fictional messaging (the details aren't the point, just the overall tone and policy is illustrated for comparison):

PTP Racecourse Raises Admission Prices, Parking. Creates Brand new Loyalty Program, Other Improvements

"Today we are announcing a new customer loyalty program for on track patrons of PTP Racecourse as well as new investments in our live viewing experience.

We plan on installing HD televisions throughout the grandstand. In addition, our current regulars who support purses on a daily basis will not be left out. We have created a new customer loyalty program for you that will not only supply you with discounted admission, food and drink items and much more, based on your attendance, it will also allow you to accumulate points on track, to be turned into merchandise or free betting vouchers.

"Ensuring we have the revenue needed to enhance our positioning in a crowded gambling and entertainment market we regretfully have asked for an increase in admission", said PTP Racecourse head Chris Pocket. "We want to ensure our loyal fans, who have supported us over the years are taken care of, however, and we feel our new rewards program will leave them better off than they were in previous years. VLT revenue has been invested in our loyal horsemen, so we needed to create a new customer focused rewards program that is second to none in North America. We've achieved that and we think it will enhance PTP Racecourse for years to come"

People certainly would see "admission prices raised" and not be super duper happy, but I don't think the vitriol we've seen would be quite so bad. Tourists and others are not going to care if they have to pay a few dollars - they are not in the least price sensitive either - and are not going to create bad buzz. Your loyal customers are the ones who are going to do that. If the policy of raising admission prices is sound, it has to be softened with something, I think. At the very least for messaging.

As for the increase in host fees, well I think that's insanity. I don't think a press release can ever fix that mess of a decision.

Questions I Would Have to NYRA, If I Had the Juice

It was announced yesterday that the New York Racing Association is raising their prices in various forms.

It appears, admission will go up around 60%, parking fees are hiked, and host fees will be raised. It's kind of a triple whammy.

If I had the juice - was some sort of political guy or newspaper reporter or had a popular insider blog - I think I would want to know a few things. 
  •  Attendance was off last season, which some found surprising, considering the money spent for a heavy marketing push for the 150th anniversary at Toga. What are the projections for attendance being off in 2014 with these price hikes? When a baseball team hikes prices, or when Toys R Us tries to increase margins, these questions are answered by bespectacled dude or dudettes who like to use Microsoft Excel. How much does NYRA think attendance will fall in 2014?
  • With fewer dollars in the wallet when a fan enters a track, along with decreased attendance, what are the projections for losses of live handle for 2014?
  • Price hikes for signal fees for ADW's will decrease handle. Rebates will go down, people will pay more. Places like California a couple of years ago didn't think this would make a difference, but anyone with a modicum of gambling economics chops knows it has an affect, and it did. What are simulcast partners saying? What are the small ADW's saying? What's your distribution network saying? All we have heard from the NYRA CEO reported on this is "They may not like it". What's the projections in 2014 for handle losses?
  • What's the plan for the negative buzz? NYRA and the state, through slots subsidies are getting piles of money placed in the coffers. It's like Christmas all year round. Taxpayers hated when companies got subsidies, while some executive was caught buying $200 bottles of wine at dinner. A guy named Joe from Queen's who is working his ass off at the fruit warehouse sees prices being raised on him, and it's not a stretch for him to feel the same way. How are they asking Joe to pay a 60% increase with all this slots money? Do they have a marketing plan to combat the negative buzz from this?
  • What do they think of Dan's comment? Will these people repeat visits or say once (or zero times) a year is enough?
The "Decline Stage of a Product" is racing's current stage. During that stage a few things are likely:
  •  During the decline phase, the firm generally has three options: Maintain the product in hopes that competitors will exit. Reduce costs and find new uses for the product. Harvest it, reducing marketing support and coasting along until no more profit can be made.
Is this where NYRA feels they are?

If the answer is yes, then why are they raising all these prices? A business, or anyone at that stage would likely be lowering prices and fire-saleing to get people in the door instead.

I'm just a dumb bettor with a blog. But those are a few questions I would have.

Enjoy your day everyone.


Watchmaker, Will Take Charge, The Captain, Pet Rock and Various Other Musings

After a pretty interesting weekend, here are a few things that had me thinking, or caught my eye.

Nice job by Watchmaker talking about the weekend stakes, while injecting a thought on race riding. I think I bet three races this past weekend where I used my pace figures (which are good) and confirmed it with the Timeform Pace Projector to bet the early projected leader. Three times I was strangled to about 7th for no apparent reason.

Ditto happens in harness like Tetrick's reversal of form drives on Market Share, the winner of the TVG, this past two sessions.

Seth from Equidaily (he has a section on the TVG Pace, so I am sure harness racing thanks you Seth) has a link up today to a story about a jockey in Hong Kong, conversely, who got a 16 day ban for not race riding properly.  Hong Kong racing handle is up from about $8B to over $12B (US Dollars) since 2007, so they must be doing something right. 

Rock n Roll Heaven was a world class pacer. I probably rank him as high as a Rock n Roll Hanover or Art Major and I don't think too many would argue with that. Some might even have him second behind the Beach this century. He stood for $12,000 out of the box. To make the valuation of $12M work for Captainteacherous, he'd have to stand for over double that (unless my math is wrong). Before the TVG you could probably sell that sizzle, but after the TVG, a $25,000 stud fee is some pretty pricey steak. 

Allan touches on similar in the Timeform blog regarding Will Take Charge - a colt who earlier this year was pretty much forgotten (or was considered "one of those Lukas horses who kinda races like one of those Lukas horses").  The big fella has made a name for himself. The three year old year does not end in June.

What's in five years? Quite a bit. Five years ago pacers and trotters were flashing nowhere near the speeds they are today. The UFO bikes and others, aggressive catch driving putting up huge fractions and all the rest are probably the reason. Last evening, the nice pacer Sunshine Beach won the Progress Pace in 150.3, with a last quarter of 28, while the others toiled 4 lengths or so back in a battle for second. Five years ago, the Beach was scratched out of the Progress with sickness. He added that race back on his calendar, trying to become something remarkable: Retiring a World record holder on all three sized tracks as a three year old. He probably would've done it, because Dali won the Progress in 148.2, a then world record. No offense to Dali, but he was not within five lengths of Somebeachsomewhere. The 2008 crop was very, very fast and went good speed when it wasn't sheik to do so.

Along the same lines, almost each year, a hot three year old appears and people start comparing them to the Beach. It was like this for several years after Niatross in the 1980's (with Nihilator, Jate Lobell etc). What I think we found with Niatross and what I think we'll find with the Beach - it's going to be awhile before someone worthy enough to be mentioned beside them appears.

From an observer trackside at the Meadowlands on Saturday who handicaps better than most. "You could tell Pet Rock was no good going into the first turn". I think that's right. I watched him parade and he was on one line. Pet Rock is never a good parader (I know because I pitched him out twice because of it and he roasted my bankroll by winning), but that carried on into the race. Watch when he is first over - his head is turned to the right. He clearly had an off night.

I watched the Captain closely for clues about his effort, but I didn't see anything. He went a little funky gaited on the first turn, but he is not the smoothest horse to begin with. Unlike his clunker against Dedi's Dragon, he seemed to be engaged as well, keeping up under no urging behind that 53 half. I have spoken to a few people and they see nothing either, nor have they heard anything regarding an excuse as to why the colt could not pick up a check.  It is what it is, so far.

Racing Beard shares his thoughts on the Captain race, along with other tidbits here.

Bergman says why do we need four year olds to race when we have Foiled Again? Strangely enough, there are a few geldings this year whom will race for awhile - Lucan Hanover, Vegas Vacation - but we'll have to see if they are good enough to contend against the Foiled Again's of the world. I think the argument is a silly one anyway. Keeping more horses on track do a few things: Obviously you get more column inches and more buzz, however it's much more than that for me. Breeding has always been a bit of a shell game. A three year old races in restricted races and wins a pile of money. He is said to be the "next big thing" and retired with a stud fee over $10,000 without ever having to prove himself at four or five. Then that money is reinvested to try and find another one or three in the fall sales. I realize its the ecosystem and "the way we do things" but I still think (as a fan of the sport) it's nothing more than a form of three card monte. We read stallion ad after stallion ad telling us how great a horse is, with them rarely having to prove it.

I guess the sad thing is, is that the ecosystem is so far entrenched, when a horse does race well at four, and proves his mettle, he does not get a pot of gold. A Rock n Roll Dance and Pet Rock are world class animals who will stand in 2014 for modest stud fees. A hot three year old that couldn't hold either of those horses bridle on the racetrack can stand for double that each year.

Have a great day everyone. Thanks for reading.

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