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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 e…

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.…

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…

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 e…

It’s a Wonderful Customer Life

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

“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.
The Potter e…

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 …

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. Th…

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 c…

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 yo…

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. …

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 b…

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…

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 cheerleade…

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…

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 Improvemen…

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 f…

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 …