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Showing posts from January, 2013

Horseplayer Meets the CHRB Redux

I got an email last night with an old link to a satirical video posted first on Xtranormal, then on youtube. It was a meeting between a horseplayer and the CHRB. The video, made in 2010 - about two and a half years ago - is fun to watch in today's context.

As most know, So Cal handle and that of Los Al has suffered quite a bit the past two years. I don't have a link, but I read somewhere it was off over $200 million in 2011. As well, and this may be the height of irony, it would've been off more if a "low takeout" pick 5 was not implemented in spring of 2011.

Anyway, give this a watch and think about what happened. It's kind of fascinating (to me anyway).

NYRA Takeover By Captain Cuomo Not a Bad Thing

Close to a year ago, when Governor Cuomo announced the state was going to 'direct' NYRA and in effect have control of slots money there was an uproar. It was like Al Gore was buying Fox News.

The takeover was surely going to hurt racing, and who likes to be told what to do anyway; especially with all this new found slot money.

In places like Indiana this week, where the government is looking at taking away the slot subsidy, it's probably a done deal. Politicos on each side seem to be saying like Governor Pence's press secretary, "there is a better way to use this money". In Ontario, as we all know, the villain was racing and its waste of its slot money. We need it for deficit reduction, was the hue and cry. Both governments use racing as a whipping boy for wasting all this money. It's all racings fault.

In New York, one year down the road, I think everyone should be happy with this state control; simply because when the state is making the decisions, the…

Double Error

It's rare to see. A politician admitting a mistake, but we had that today. Minister of Ag in Ontario Ted McMeekin said this to a Hamilton paper.
McMeekin admitted his government "dropped the ball" on horse racing and stated that he hoped that the Liberals would be "A little bit more collaborative then we’ve been. And that we’ll listen better than we have.  Now, for the first time, I think everyone agrees this was handled poorly. You can't throw an industry on a lagging breeding cycle under the bus in one year, no matter how broke your government is.

The second error comes from us, racing itself. This government study was published from stakeholders meetings since 2010. Items in it were talked about for well before that. It said:
The Slots at Racetracks Program limits OLG’s flexibility to locate gaming facilities near OLG customers. Furthermore, the formula restricts OLG’s ability to maximize revenues for key government priorities. As such, the Slots at Racetracks…

Stiff Jobs, Lame Duck Elections & Andymays

A new Ontario Premier was elected over the weekend, the left-leaning Kathleen Wynne assumes helm. She has had some nice things to say about horse racing, but (in my opinion anyway) this will not mean much. The wheels are in motion with transition and she's probably a lame duck anyway.

If anything this might be better for racing in the long-run, as being left of center she takes votes away from the left of left New Democrats. That likely helps the Conservatives more in the fall. As most know, the Conservatives were the authors of the slots at racetrack program in the late 1990's.

Racetrack Andy, who most know from sending emails out at a rapid pace (especially when he feels something is wonky in California, which is at least once a day) has joined twitter. He promises a "softer gentler" Andy:

@jerseytom @pullthepocket What's up guys?I'm trying to soften my image.In reality I'm a "Piece of Bread".
— Andrew Asaro (@racetrackandy) January 28, 2013

No Bull. What a Difference Competition Makes

The perceptions after a result, rather than a concentration on effort is part of the human condition. As we spoke about in our post on "Luck" it happens with human participants as well. Wins look sparkling, losses look like losses. People over-trumpet the former, and over-analyze the latter. In horse racing it's probably done more than in any other sport, though.

This was highlighted, in my opinion, yesterday in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.

The hype horse - Shanghai Bobby - was expected to do well, but a funny thing happened. He met a horse who is very talented, who raced his eyeballs out, setting a track record in the process. Shanghai Bobby came a game second.

Because Shanghai Bobby lost the race, the meme immediately surfaced the way it always does in cases like this. "The shine is off the rose, chuck him out of the Derby picture, he might be a good miler", and all the rest.

But what if a little bit of "Luck" happened instead?

What if It…

I've Got a CHRB Appointment For Ya

The CHRB lost Keith Brackpool this week to Magna, and it leaves a hole in the quasi-political organization. Who will the new Governor bring aboard? Who knows.

The NYRA board, the CHRB board, and various other boards in racing seem to have the usual mix of participants: A political pal, a guy from a University, a trainer maybe, and the other ubiquitous "stakeholders". It's a hodge podge of folks from various walks of life.

One person that is never on these boards is a guy who has a tie to the customer - the person who contributes billions upon billions in some form each year to racing.

That, to me, has always been a head-scratcher. With so many talented people out there who know the game inside and out from all perspectives, including gambling and betting and handicapping, why are they never appointed?

If I was someone that truly cared about the future of horse racing and I was looking for a board member, I'd look no further than a Barry Meadow.

A snip from a biograph…

Digging Into the Ontario Numbers & Flummoxed

There are a couple of articles in Harness Racing Update (pdf) today on the Ontario situation. The first, by Bill Finley quotes Jody Jamieson and Bill O'Donnell on handle numbers, dates and revenue from that. They don't think the numbers make sense.

The government has said that (apparently) purses will be driven by handle, while transition money will pay track expenses. If so, purses should be at or near the same level for two years. This does make some sense if you crunch the numbers, in the most basic way imaginable.

Harness Handle average $1.3 million.
Takeout (overall): 19%
Gross Revenue:  $247,000

Woodbine gives out about $200,000 in purses each evening.

The current set up with handle, I believe, is to give close to half the 19% rake (about 8.5%) to purses, and 8.5% to Woodbine for expenses. As well, purses get a portion of simulcast handle.

I have not heard what this "handle for purses" system entails. Is it all of live handle and a portion of offsite handle? …

Power Play

If you ever needed a reminder that racing and politics are inexorably linked, the last twenty-four hours did it.

In Ontario, the new regulator (OMAFRA) announced they struck a deal with Woodbine to house slot machines for at least two years. Presumably the deal involves rent and transition funding.

In addition, OLG, the lottery arm of government, announced they reached a deal with ten racetracks to house slot machines. One would think these are rent-only deals.

Woodbine has called a press conference for 10AM, so keep your eyes out for that.

In New York State, "have power, will legislate, even for the sake of legislating" seems to be the mantra. Liz O'Connell looked at how powerful governments are there yesterday in the Huffington Post. 

There are four bills of interest to horse racing being pushed:
One which bans lasixOne which allows tracks to offer rebates to customersOne which looks to up the minimum gambling age at racetracks to 21One which looks at installing VLT…


There is an always interesting conversation regarding the reduction in starts for thoroughbreds on the Interwebs today. Sid Fernando wrote a blog post which looked at a few numbers.

When a business goes through a sea-change in culture, demand and management, you can pretty much find a statistic to explain just about anything. They all have to be looked at in totality (with a good dose of common sense).

The way horses are raced seems to have changed a great deal since the 1950's, in both the thoroughbred and standardbred game. In harness, even in the 1980's the great Cam Fella raced and won 28 races in a row; all in top classes at dozens of racetracks across North America. Today the top three year olds might get behind the gate only 18 times.  As Tinkster's comment says on Sid's piece, the average lifetime start for a thoroughbred in the 1970's was 30, while now it's 11.

One area that stands out to me in this discussion is horsemanship, and the culture change …

Beat the Racetrack

There was an article tweeted this morning (h/t to @o_crunk) about cheating in casinos. The article mentioned a classic time for innovators - the "Thorp Age" - where the book "Beat the Dealer" was published. The 1962 book, based on optimal betting and card counting, professed that perfect play could result in a 1% edge playing blackjack. It flew off the shelves and changed the game of blackjack forever. Most people could not "Beat the Dealer" but it didn't stop them from trying. 
Beat the Dealer became an improbable bestseller, as thousands of gambling naifs imagined themselves proud owners of a genuine get-rich-quick scheme. Most overestimated their skill and determination, but flooded the casinos nonetheless. Suddenly blackjack became big business. Although casinos used countermeasures to combat Thorp's work, it can be argued that the book helped the casino business and Las Vegas more than it hurt it. Because people thought they could win, th…

Racedates, Synth, Stats & Lotteries

I saw a tweet from New York trainer Gary Contessa today as follows:
Looking at Fridays card at Aqueduct wouldn't now be a great time to switch to a four day week? Four five horse fields. One six, two sevens.
— Gary Contessa (@GaryContessa) January 21, 2013  NYRA has been reevaluating things of late and the talk of a four day raceweek has popped up. That's fine and what should be done if fields are short, and the horse population cannot support racing full cards. However, does it strike anyone else as odd from a common sense perspective? Here is a jurisdiction that just got slots. Purses are rising higher than a tsunami, and they are talking about reducing a raceweek?

Further in New York there was a very interesting conversation about synthetic surfaces at the Big A yesterday on twitter. Despite the obvious (most current fans and horsemen are against a big change for numerous reasons), the idea seems to have some merit; at the very least it is explorable. With synth the Aqueduc…

Outside the Box With Cloudy Tests

At times I find horse racing is plagued with bumper sticker policy on drugs. We test everything, spend millions doing it, and since we test and get so few positive tests, horse racing is clean. What a bunch of bunk.

Bumper sticker policy involves implementing a rule or rules that makes us feel good, but really does nothing. It happens everywhere else too at times and we've all seen it. Want crystal meth gone? Ban it and declare "war". Want to stop kids from getting fat? Ban a big gulp. Do you want to stop EPO in the Tour De France? Well we test for it on raceday. Take that!

It rarely works because the policy rarely addresses the root issues. It doesn't have a vision. It isn't based on sound policy. It is created on a reaction.

Today in Harness Racing Update Gary Machiz offered a new suggestion for drug testing. It involved looking at "cloudy" tests in pre-race drug testing.
 I suggest that all horses competing on a given race card arrive at the track, n…

Has the Horse Racing World Gone Mad?

Did you ever play that time capsule game when you were a kid? You'd put a skateboard, Electronic Quarterback and a pair of corduroys in some sort of tube and bury it. Then like 50 years later you'd open it and have a laugh.

If you were awakened from some sort of slumber and saw the headlines today, you'd think similar. It's like the horse racing world has been thrown on its head. And I don't think it's a bad thing.

We saw a trainer leave the game, after being suspended for 10 years. This is a sport where for years people would complain about positive after positive resulting on a slap on the wrist. Only ten years ago a class I in New Mexico or Louisiana would be worth seven months, now the class one (please no more frog jokes) can get you kicked out for a decade.

How about a New York track talking about going to synthetic to try and protect the horses. I thought even a meeting like that would be considered heresy in the Empire State. 

Today we saw Ray Paulick…

Dutrow On Oprah

Everyone has been talking about Lance Armstrong's mea culpa Oprah interview, but your cub reporter (me!) has found out the Oprah has already interviewed Rick Dutrow and it will be aired sometime in February.

As an added bonus, your cub reporter (me!) snuck into the interview posing as an electrician. I told Oprah that her lights were making her look like a cranky older woman on the View and she commandeered me to fix it. She didn't even ask for I.D., so away I went with my fake wrench, while she interviewed Rick.

I took notes because that's what cub reporters do. Here are some interview highlights.

OW: Hi Rick, thanks for coming onto the Oprah Winfrey show. Woot woot!

RD: Ya, woot. You're welcome Oprah.

OW: Rick, most know what you've been going through, but to refresh for my audience, you have been suspended ten years for violations in horse racing. You've appealed them to several courts, but it seems the end of the road may be near......

RD: Thanks for remin…

Luck II

On our post on Luck - bad beats and making things beyond your control affect your play - the Tinkster left a good comment:
This is one of the rare cases in which I don't agree with your conclusion. While I do agree with your basic premise, that “bad beats” are likely to eventually even out over time, I would argue that you may be missing the bigger picture.

The key to successful gambling is money management, and, to my mind, the most nuanced aspect of money management is an ability so uncommon that few successful gamblers are aware of it, let alone able to master it.

The skill to which I refer is the ability to identify both hot and cold streaks during their early stages, and adjust accordingly. This ability, when refined, can have a huge impact on the bottom-line.

The connection to your post is that when you speak of "luck", you do so in a dry, academic manner. That is understandable, but it fails to take into account that in horse racing, every participant (e.g. …


Continuing on the betting meme this week I thought we'd touch on Luck; not the HBO was-show, but the 'holy moly I just got hit by a piece of Skylab'' kind.

I was reading an article yesterday about close NFL games and the fact that statistically they're fairly random. They as compiled and studied by football's version of Bill James shows:

"that teams that win at least 75 percent of games decided by a touchdown or less regress to winning 50.7 percent of games decided by the same margin the following season. Similarly, teams that win less than 25 percent of those games win 45.9 percent of them the following year."

This helps, according to the author, explain the concept of clutch.

He explains that Eli Manning, quarterback of the Giants, is considered "clutch" because in the playoffs he won those close games. However, how he won them comes down to "luck".

"To give you a point of reference, a quarterback who has been especial…

The Ability to Fade the Obvious

I am a losing win bettor at horse racing, just like everyone. I am tearing up almost 8 in 10 tickets and throwing them on the ground. Virtual scoopers love me. Only on two of ten bets I can smile and say, "I won".

It doesn't mean I lose at betting in the win pools at the end of the year, but when you lose that many bets it can feel like it.

In behavioral economics, "Prospect Theory" explains the fact that we as human beings value wins and losses differently. We derive more pain from losing, than joy from winning, as illustrated in this graph:

You can see this in gambling by simply having a chat at the simo-center or popping on twitter or a chat board. If a horse is hyped, you are told you have to be crazy to bet against them. If a football team is a favorite and scores on their first series you have to be nuts to fade it. Not only will you probably look stupid, you will lose your bet. All those people who are telling you you're stupid add to your grief.


Are You a Good Gambler?

@o_crunk tweeted out a good piece today. For those of you who gamble it's second-nature. For those who bet it might be worthwhile to have a look at.

Here are a couple of snapshots, with some comments. 

"The model I like—to sort of simplify the notion of what goes on in a market for common stocks—is the pari-mutuel system at the racetrack. Any damn fool can see that a horse carrying a light weight with a wonderful win rate and a good post position etc., etc. is way more likely to win than a horse with a terrible record and extra weight and so on and so on. But if you look at the odds, the bad horse pays 100 to 1, whereas the good horse pays 3 to 2. Then it’s not clear which is statistically the best bet using the mathematics of Fermat and Pascal."

- This is the "don't pick winners, pick winners that are going to win at a higher rate than the odds board probability says they will" line. e.g. bet a horse at 5-2 that will win greater than 28% of the time…

The 5% On-Track Rewards Card & A Big Super High 5

It's a cliche, but racing has been "inside the box" for a long time. It's clung to the status-quo and can't seem to shake it.

Sure we've seen some ideas, like the "Beulah Fortune Six" or some good on track promo's, but none seem to grow the pie.

Recently California racing decided to try a 20% on track bonus for their pick 6. You have to bet your ticket at the track to get the bonus. That might help things a bit, so kudos for trying.

There is a recent push to help on-track wagering and the thinking is sound. The more that's bet on-track the more of the pie the track gets and the purses receive. There's nothing wrong with trying to increase on-track wagering.

However, most ideas (like the bonus for the pick 6) seem to be inside the box.

Here's an idea that's outside of it. The 5% on-track bet card.

Any customer who wants one gets one. There are some in existence today and this is nothing new, but this one has a twist. The…

Ontario Situation is Quite Perplexing

I got a call yesterday from an Ontario kinda-insider about the political landscape in Ontario regarding the slots-at-racetracks program. We got to talking and he asked me what I thought would happen.

My answer was "I have no idea." It's the same answer I had about a year ago.

This is not a simple question, and questions that aren't simple rarely have a simple answer. 

The problem we're having now has to do with the political landscape, and who wants what.

The OLG hired Paul Godfrey in 2009 to change the struggling franchise.  Godfrey ran the Toronto Blue Jays and Metro Council and he is a Conservative insider. He was hired by the Liberals, with tacit approval from the minority NDP party. All three parties seem to like him.

As well, all three parties need money if they form a government. Ontario has some of the worst debt of any entity in the world. It's a mess. With the wheels in motion can any party stop the ball from rolling; a ball that has already been r…

Incentive To Cheat

There are some interesting articles about Lance Armstrong filtering around the interwebs of late. One from Toronto's The Globe and Mail talks about 1999, when the sport was trying to clean itself up.
One year after the huge doping scandal in 1998 that involved police raids, arrests and a rider strike, everybody was nervous. French law treats doping as a criminal offence and numerous accounts later written about the 1999 Tour de France paint a picture of a sport terrified of being caught. But not everyone got the memo. In his book The Secret Race, former Armstrong team-mate Tyler Hamilton described the elaborate subterfuges used to get EPO, the drug of choice, to the team’s riders. And analysis of 1999-era urine samples done years later, after an EPO test was developed, supports his claims.The tests, which Mr. Armstrong has disputed, showed the drug in 40 per cent of his samples. Among the other riders tested, the drug was present in only 8.6 per cent of samples. The disp…


It was announced this week that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong will appear on Oprah.

Expect a hard hitting interview with meme's of everyone does it, and I had no choice, if it even gets to that. Followed by some tears and a warm hug, of course.

We're not the only one.
We have made Lance Armstrong 1/4 to admit to doping on Oprah, 7/4 to cry and 20/1 to jump up and down on a sofa!
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) January 9, 2013 No one is ever at fault on Oprah. A man shoots his coworker at a McDonald's and the problem will be low paying job stress, combined with high fat foods and the fact that as a child he owned a red ryder carbine action air rifle that he wanted after watching A Christmas Story. 

Oprah provides cover. It's why so many want to go on her show.  She makes for a convenient excuse.

I think she's entered horse racing, too.

I read Steve Crist's article about the tax problem in the US, whereby horseplayers are taxed on winnings, and som…

Open Wallet, Extract Money

The OLG's casino expansion in Ontario is soon to hit high gear - one would expect - unless something drastic happens.

From the Guelph Mercury:
Clarke said Grand River Raceway is following the lead of some other small tracks in the province, looking at working out an agreement with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to continue operating its slot machines. There are 240 at the Elora raceway.
That revenue would be a fraction of what the track and community currently make.
“It’s on the agenda, but not imminent,” Clarke said.
Elora is also in one of 29 zones the province has selected that can apply to host possible full casinos down the road, but the timetable for that selection process and when they would be up and running is another unknown As we've discussed before I think this is the "…

Positive-Negative & a Nice Betting Score

Call it buzz, or branding, or a "good vibe" but it means a lot.

The Meadowlands, this meet, has got that "good vibe" going and it's continuing.  Handle was up 31% year over year yesterday and they've got another sure handle night tonight with a pick 5 pool that should broach $100,000.

Someone with a psychology degree might be able to explain it, but in racing "agglomeration" is infectious. You want to be where people want to be - Del Mar, Saratoga, Keeneland. And it's the same with betting. You want to bet the pick 5 at a place where others are, you want to support the Meadowlands.

On the flipside, remember Santa Anita's opener in 2010? That was post takeout hike (bad buzz) but the internal buzz was all about the "return to dirt". There were many who thought that would result in a huge meet and the press was complicit in that. Of course, that did not happen. The buzz about the "Giants and Dodgers" and the anti-customer …

Hey, Racing Demo's Could Be Worse

I got an email from my pal who posts on the blog as Walleye Fisherman. Not so strangely enough, he is a fisherman. Anyway, he sends me a couple of links on fishing demographics. It turns out that in 1990 the average age of a fisherman in Canada was 39. Now, in 2012 that number has risen to 50.

Fishing is "dying off" it appears and young people just aren't fishing anymore. He tells me "Young people don't fish. I have kids who come to the cottage who won't leave their laptop"

Fishing is one of those things that takes time. You have to buy equipment, have a place to go, spend some money on licenses, all that kind of stuff. You can't just turn on the TV and go fishing

I read similar recently on the Wall Street Journal. Apparently deer are eating all the crops in Japan because there are not enough hunters. Hunters are "dying off" so the locals say, and the government puts their average age at over 60. It's so bad they think they may introd…