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Showing posts from April, 2013

Vyjack & The Case of the Flats

We read about cycles, third off layoff's, the "sheets" and everything else in angle and fitness lore in horse racing when we handicap, and more so come Derby time.

I spend, like many of you, hundreds of hours in a database researching layoff horses, 2nd off layoffs, 3rd off layoffs, sprints under belt after layoffs, bounces, time between starts, work patterns and a hundred other things to help figure out when a horse will fire, or regress. They are certainly important to us as every day horseplayers.

However, one thing that throws everything and everyone off in making hard and fast rules handicapping in such a way is when a horse races flat in a prep race for a major event. These are generally random occurrences and can not be modeled or predicted.

Horse's can race 'off' - with no punch, willingness or finish - for a number of extraneous reasons: Mainly they're sore, or they're sick.

We've seen it throughout racing history, and we see it each day …

It's Derby Week. 60 w/ Rosie & Levy Finals

Good morning racing fans.

It's Derby Week, which is fun in so many ways. Everyone (well maybe not everyone, Alan) is stoked.

Last night the week kicked off with a 60 Minutes interview (and profile) with Rosie Napravnik. I'm a bettor and I know and follow horses, and I know and follow statistics of trainers and riders, but forgive me: I don't have the foggiest about many of racing's personalities. She's one of them, so like most of North America, I got to see her first hand, for really the first time.

And boy did I like what I saw. She was professional and very sharp; just like she is on the racetrack. It's rare to see someone in sports - anyone - who's making serious coin at age 25, not come off as somewhat unpolished in interviews. She blew that stereotype out of the water. I don't know you Rosie, and probably never will, (and you probably don't care about my opinion either way) but I think you did the sport proud yesterday.

I had to chuckle at th…

What's Up With the Chalk, And Saturday Notes

The dog got me up early this morning, the poor fella isn't doing the best, but I see I was not the only one. There are works happening at Churchill and there's a buzz. Seven days to the Derby.

We were chatting on twitter yesterday, having a little fun with the fact that five or six of the first races run were won by the favorite. For players who fade the fave as much as possible (e.g. me) it makes for pretty paltry scoring, in the game of money we all play.

Going through my 2013 database, we see something that is somewhat unfamiliar. A plethora of chalk.

This is pretty astounding.

It's rare to see a 0.8455 ROI for chalk, but the place and show pool ROI's for the favorite is something I can't ever remember seeing at this stage of the year.

I have heard anecdotally (since last year) that computer players have been playing shorter prices because shorter prices are coming in more often, and with a rebate and a filter or two, it can be profitable. There is something hap…

A Fascinating Response To UK Steroid Positives

Reading in the Telegraph today (h/t to @sidfernando):
Godolphin founder Sheikh Mohammed has been vocal in his condemnation of the incident and locked down the Moulton Paddocks yard until full testing of every horse is undertaken. The BHA is due to start that testing on Monday, with chief executive Paul Bittar and Godolphin currently tackling the issue of who will oversee the training of horses at the yard. And.....
 Sheikh Mohammed have given use a commitment that they will cooperate fully with all of our requirements in terms of investigations. "We will be testing them from Monday, in which we will cover every horse in the stable that we have not yet tested. We will also be doing a review of their procedures in that stable and then providing them with a report of what needs to be done to get it up to speed."  This fascinates me, because both the owner of the stock and the regulator want to get to the bottom of this whole affair. They seem to be working hand…

The UK and America - Full Circle

Last week it was announced that one of the largest stables in the world received eleven steroid positives.

The reaction from across the pond was swift and unequivocal: It was shameful, it was a disgrace, and it was a black mark on a beautiful sport.  

In America the reaction was similar in some ways, but there was quite a bit of glee in some quarters. 'Those Brits who think they're so clean'. Aha, look at them now. Good on 'em. For those who think across the pond they act 'uppity' about their sport there, some of us one-upped them by acting not too dissimilar here.

Unfortunately for those involved in schadenfreude, this week the narrative changed again, brought about from the BHA, Sheik Mo and virtually everyone in British racing.

On April 9th out of competition testing (something some horsemen groups fight against here in North America) was started on the Goldophin barn.

Less than two weeks later, on April 22nd, the results were released, by both the BHA and…

The Kentucky Derby Cheese Provides Racing With a Worthwhile Lesson

I've read almost as many marketing books as ones on horse racing, and one anecdote from one of those books stood out. It was about cheese.

People love cheese. If you and I were a monopoly cheese maker we could make blocks of cheddar and we'd be rich. But if we wanted to be more rich, we'd create many more cheese's and we'd package them in many ways. Monteray Jack, singles, swiss, cheese strings, feta, pre-shredded, liquid for dipping and 1000 others if we could. We'd also have information websites and recipes with ways to use all these glorious cheeses.

Consumers want cheese, but they also want many flavors, sizes, and ways to use it. It's a world of cheese.

At the Horseplayers Association of North America, survey after survey have asked for better field size, better pool size and more information. The HANA Racetrack ratings make two of those components paramount to the fundamentals of wagering, and the racetrack rankings. It's all about cheese.

The K…

Bringing Racing Mainstream With Six Exciting New Games

Football has fantasy football. The Super Bowl has magic squares. The NCAA's have bracket madness. All of these spinoffs help their respective sports.

It got me to thinking. Can we create some racing "games" to help push the sport like those sports' do? I put my thinking cap on and came up with a few. I hope you like them, because I think they're the bomb.

1. The Todd Pletcher Derby Press Conference Game

It's Derby Time, so why not jazz it up a little bit with a drinking game? Each time Pletcher says a quote, we drink a shot of Jagr.

"He worked great, we're happy"


"I wouldn't want to be in anyone else's shoes"


"He's perfect right now"


You lose if you think he says something interesting, because you've had way too many shots.

A game like this can get you energized for the Derby, and it can keep you up to date on all of Todd's Derby stock that you probably aren't going to bet anyway. I th…

Racing on Television: Why Doesn't It Work Better?

Yesterday we wrote about the ratings numbers for the Kentucky Derby prep races on various networks, from the current NBC Sports Network and NBC to the previously tried ESPN and USA. It's no secret the ratings for live events like the Blue Grass or Wood Memorial have not been knocking it out of the park.

We know horse racing will never beat the NFL or other professional sports on a regular basis for a prep event in terms of TV ratings. But the question is, why aren't they doing better? Should the ratings be better? Can racing hope for more?

We'll start with a sharp fellow who likes this stuff, and enjoys numbers, social scientist Dan from Thorotrends:

@pullthepocket Non-Triple Crown racing on network TV can deliver about 1 million older viewers. That appears to be the ceiling.
— Dan Needham (@thorotrends) April 22, 2013
..... and we'll add Derek, who is a PR guy in a suit, who generally has a good opinion on such things:

@pullthepocket Great post. Preps are a tough sell…

Television is Not Trending Racing's Way

Televising live racing is something that this industry is a big fan of. We want to see the sport on the tube and share it with others. It simply sounds like the right thing to do. Churchill, the Jockey Club and others have been paying to have racing televised, with the hopes it catches on with the masses that matter - a new viewing audience.

So far, it looks like things are not going overly well.

As we talked about two weeks ago, the ratings for the Florida Derby on the NBC Sports Network were mediocre at best, with just over 160,000 viewers. This, fresh off the Road to the Kentucky Derby preview show which only had 19,000 viewers. Two weeks ago the Wood Memorial garnered about the same number of viewers as the Florida Derby.

On the main NBC network, the Blue Grass received a 0.7 rating, which put it near the ratings for the Speed Golf Championships and a monster truck show the same day. In 2002, this same telecast (also against the Masters, with Woods in contention) drew a 1.3 rating

Strange Saturday

Good morning racing fans!

Saturday has come and gone, and in my opinion (if you returned from a 40 year time warp), it was one strange Saturday.

Last evening at Charles Town, Game On Dude won the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic. The race, one of the richest in North America, drew six entrants. It was held in the middle of West Virginia, at a bull ring.

At Yonkers, the Levy Series continued, with $50k divisions and the best horses, trainers and drivers on the planet. It was held at a place with a low handle, about 350% lower than across the bridge, where they are racing $10,000 claiming finals on a Saturday. It produced, as usual, some of the worst betting races known to man.

Neither of those places are doing anything wrong. Charles Town has put on a good race, have slot cash, have lowered rakes, do good promotional work, and have turned a backwoods racetrack into a place people have begun to pay attention to. Yonkers has done less on the customer front, but why not attract good hors…

Slots, Breaking Bad and Some @Itsthejho & @keenegal

Good morning racing fans!

Slots at Thistledown gets off to an inauspicious debut. Horsemen have blocked the signal, and hey, why not right?:
 Ohio horsemen don’t appear to be worried, since a new law grants them at least nine percent of revenue from the track’s slot machines if there is no agreement with the track on a set portion. The first condition book still contains purses which are an average of 65 percent higher than last year in anticipation of coming subsidies, and there are an average of 9.9 horses entered in the eight races on the opening card. I don't know how many customers have been lost over the years with signal blockages, but it's probably more than a few.

Speaking of slots, a bettor-type talks slots at the Meadowlands and what that can do for harness racing (pdf):
 Currently, even with many jurisdictions with slots, change and vision and reinvestment is not part of the picture. In Ontario we saw the Racing Development and Sustainability plan left unfund…

If Pittsburgh Phil Were Alive Today.....

The Colins Ghost blog is one of the more fascinating and interesting blogs in blogland. At times he not only writes snippets about the history of racing, the horses and the people who raced them, he writes about betting.

Today he detailed an excerpt from a book written about the legendary horseplayer Pittsburgh Phil (be sure to visit for a great picture of him). The quotes, taken at a time when governments, tracks and racings participants were beginning to bleed the customer dry with increased takeout, are telling.
 If Pittsburgh Phil were alive today he’d sooner match coins on the street corner than buck the deadly percentage of the pari-mutuel machines. Average takeouts were about 10% at that time, versus 22% today.

Back in 1900, Phil was pretty legendary. He watched works, timed races, kept his ear to the ground and he gambled. If he wanted to bet a horse with a 25% chance to win, he'd look for 7-2 and often he'd find it from a willing bookmaker. He'd bet his $100, or…

It Takes Time, But in Racing Things Do Change

About ten months ago the NYSRWB instituted a security barn for the Belmont Stakes. At that time the headlines said "Detention Barns Unwise Move" and "Belmont Stakes Trainers Bristle at Extra Security" and "Security Barns Irk Trainers"

Fast forwarding one year, the Derby, the Preakness, and presumably the Belmont again will add security protocols. This, on the heels of the Santa Anita Derby instituting their 72 hour surveillance initiatives. There's nary a peep from the usual suspects, who complain, sometimes only for the sake of complaining. It's likely you'll see more and more of these surveillance barns for years to come.

Change is hard in racing but sooner or later that change happens.

In 2004 or 2005 rebates were being given by offshores, much to (they had a point) racing's dismay. When bettors like me and you said "your customers are telling you your prices are too high - offer your own to compete and get them back", you we…

Slotsgone: Woodbine Harness Cuts Trakus, No Takeout Reductions

Woodbine, one of the few tracks that put at least a little bit of slots cash into the end product, has officially ended Trakus and they have not followed with a harness rake reduction like they have with the thoroughbreds.
 "We've taken a different approach on standardbred. We raised our guarantees starting [this past] Thursday night to $75,000," Martin told Trot Insider. "It has to do with the takeouts at other tracks. Thoroughbred is more competitive than standardbred with takeout, that's not a secret." The win rake reduction for thoroughbreds is not a bad idea. When you look at the lowest win takes on the HANA chart, Woodbine will pop up on top.

So far, slots being removed from the equation in Ontario - from an end user perspective - has resulted in a loss of Trakus and an end to the Score show, at Woodbine. On the flip side, we see a rake reduction and an increase in a pool guarantee.

Woodbine held a rally Monday to try and drum up some support for a c…

The Pace Puzzle Starring Blame & Zenyatta

Derek Simon wrote a neat article on pace recently where he looked at fast and slow half mile split times and their effect on the final time. He found, that over a large sample, a brisk to moderate pace results in the fastest final time. Too fast or too slow, and we don't see it quite as much.

Intuitively this doesn't make sense, but if we think about it a little more deeply, it does.

Like humans, a horses final time is a representation of their internal fractions, where even ones are relaxed and comfortable, stops and starts, fast and slow, are uncomfortable. Physics taught us that in high school. In general, in route races, the larger the variance between internal quarters, the less efficient the energy use. Horses - no matter what fractions the leader puts up - who "run their race" will have a better final time.

People have talked about it in idiomatic terms for a hundred years: "It's not how fast they run, it's how they run fast".

If we look at …

Brand New Post Idea: A Derby List!

I was sitting around last week and wondered why there are no Kentucky Derby lists; y'know, like a top ten or top sixteen, or whatever. They have them for sports like the NFL, NHL; they even have a top ten for Miss America Pageants. Why not the Kentucky Derby? Boy is this sport backwards.

I figured I would create a new trend right here on the blog. I don't have the following of Seth, or Ray, or Steve (Go NYRA, Wooooo!), or even the very charming Andy Serling. But maybe, just maybe, this new idea of a Derby List can help me approach their immense popularity.

Here it is, the new, exciting, groundbreaking, Pocket's Derby List ®. If anyone tries to steal this and do their own top "X" list, please beware, I will need a licensing fee.

Special note: This is so new, and so unique, people like Sheik Mo and Sid Fernando will tweet this piece to millions of their followers,it will likely appear on ESPN, the DRF and the Bacon Report, too. You might experience slow load times.…

A Whirlwind Saturday

Good Sunday morning racing fans.

It's snowing here. Yes, snowing. Winter is not going to end until next winter, I am sure of it.

Yesterday's Kentucky Derby preps are in the books. Here are a few thoughts from a handicapping person.

 > Both preps were glacial, but you don't need fast times to generate excitement, in my opinion anyway. Both were entertaining affairs, and presented betting opportunities.

> If you have a horse coming into the Derby I am not sure you're happier than Ken McPeek. Java's War had one prep on dirt, where he closed nicely, and one on poly where he did the same. Discount the performance yesterday all you want by the teletimer, but he passed every horse, and he did not get a 46.2 half or anything either. I suspect what one might be worried about at the Derby is his break in a 20 horse field, as well as the fact the Churchill oval might be a runway like it was last year. Regardless, if you like to bet a horse who looks like he has a Derby …

What Will Racing Look Like in 2050, & Other Saturday Fun

Good morning racing fans! As we embark on an interesting Saturday of racing, I wonder what our sport would look like in 35 years........
"Racetracks and communities will hold events that will turn small town racing into a true tourist destination for days or weeks of the year. Revenues will flow through partnerships with corporations looking to leverage the love of the horse. Wagering handle will explode and betting exchanges will allow customers to bet horses online in a way that is responsive to their needs. Fans will come to the racetrack for the energy it provides, as it will be a tremendous social gathering in a society dominated by impersonal devices. The product will offer tremendous variety and be integrated into a lean and efficient entertainment offering rivalling the best shows available. The public’s relationship with horse racing will also become about their relationship with the animal and to agriculture – not a sterile spot to cheer for saddlecloth numbers and colo…

Woodbine Lowers Win Takeout, Derby Wars & Other Musings

Here's a take on some news, if y'all are interested.....

Woodbine lowered their win takeout to 14.95%, which is the lowest in North America. Perhaps they checked this handy ratings chart to see where they needed to go to do that. This is a good thing. As I wrote awhile back, looking at each bet type and rake that I thought made sense:
 When we eat at a restaurant we look at the prices and they can help us decide what to order. The tote board is racings restaurant menu. When you see a board with lower takeout, you are advertising value to the masses. This is very important to any sport or game. A football game with a -1+1, -150 line is not appealing, and when racing, for example, has a match race with two horses at 3-5 each it is not very appealing either. You don't have to be a mathematical genius to realize you are getting a coin flip bet, at terrible odds. A low rake tote board let's everyone know you are open for business, it allows bettors to churn more mon…

Desert Horse Shows Are Tough, A Track Trying & The Ratings

By now you've all read the Baconator (and others) story on So Cal racing. I feel there is little to comment on, as it is pretty new, and somewhat nebulous.

However, one comment in the (massive) comments section caught my eye:
"mexican redbull" is rumored to be used by some pennsylvania super trainers. Those goofy backstretch names (and rumors). I have never heard of it, so like a certain trainers connections, I googled it. I only found a mention of it on a Arizona Desert Show horse thingamajig
Here are a just a few common names of prohibited substances: Clenbuterol, Paylean, Caffeine, all of the Steroids and mixtures such as Mexican Red Bull, the red juice, the pink stuff, the orange stuff, the yellow juice, Nitrotain, Dexamethazone, Lasix, Bute, Banamine, DMSO, all  nerve blocking agents. So it appears "Mexican Red Bull" does exist (whatever it is).

Regardless, this show is tough because in one of the following paragraphs, they ain't taking no guff:
We d…

Anticipating Disruptive Changes & Rolling With the Punches

Changes in markets, demographics, delivery systems and the like have long been known as market disruption. The car disrupted the horse and buggy, the mall disrupted the mom and pop store on the downtown strip, Ebay disrupted the auction market, electronic mail disrupted the US Postal service, and on and on and on.

Some disruptions can be planned for, and business model's modified to attack the changes, and those have occurred as well. If one told you thirty years ago that state after state and province after province will have billion dollar casino's, slot parlors, sports betting, lotteries and everything that goes with them, you might think Vegas would be a ghost town, but it is not. They modified what they were.

I read a pile of white papers each week, and one that I did read was the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Review. I figured that if they were coming for all of racing's slot money in Ontario I might as well understand why the consultants they hired told them to do it.…

Beating the Chalk

Each time I go to Vegas I stop by the Gambler's Book Shop (which I think might be no more) to see what they have in stock that's racing related. Some of what they carry is out of date, which, as far as I am concerned is all the better. Just like we don't want to bet what others are betting, we don't want to be using angles that others are using, too.

I once picked up a book, which shall remain nameless, and I ran all their hot "angles" through a database. All the angles - not some, but all - were ROI negative, despite having the expected good impact values.  Some were of an angle variety which we all love and yearn for: Here's how you beat the chalk.

It's great to beat the chalk. Not only are you getting a great payoff, but it feels good. We outsmarted the crowd! Unfortunately, it is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult things to do in horse racing, in an ROI positive fashion.

When you try and subset data to beat the chalk, it shows ju…

D-Barn Eggs with Some Crist Bacon

Last week Paulick wrote a little bit about detention (or security, or retention, or surveillance depending on where you live it seems) barns at the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby. He likened the whole experience to the intrusive TSA background checks, along with the narrative that if a little inconvenience is necessary to ensure an honestly run race, it's a small price to pay. In the end, both the Wood and the Santa Anita Derby went off without a hitch.

While not mentioning him by name, Steve Crist let his opposite thoughts to the Baconater known on security barns, with the following. 
 Some supporters have likened the measures to extra security at airports, inconvenient but benign. This selective implementation, however, is more like increasing airport security only for first-class passengers on flights to expensive resorts. Looking at both articles and applying some Pocket logic (beware, sometimes it's not good logic), I have to side with the Bacon man on this one.


.44 Magnum's, Slots Talk & Some Florida Derby TV Rating Numbers

Good morning racing fans. Here are a few thoughts on what caught my eye this morning.

Techcrunch had an article up about start-ups and the need for them to be disruptive to succeed in a big way. 
 Time and again I see pitches from companies that want to create, what in effect is a widget. An application. Something which simply extends an existing ecosystem, or tinkers around the edges. For instance, if I have to see another startup which wants to ‘aggregate travel experiences’ I will gnaw my right leg off. [What you need to do is] You build the biggest handgun you can (in the real world this would equate to a .44 Magnum). You then hold it to the metaphorical head of the largest industry you can find (telecoms, music, media). You then say: “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Major disruptions that have occurred in gambling - like betting exchanges and online poker - were a .44. In racing, this is pretty impossible to do, mainly because (in my opinion) not only does it not think like a st…

Super Saturday

Good Sunday morning racing fans!

Yesterday was quite the day. Here are a few thoughts.
Verazzano Verrazano won the Wood and earned a 95 Beyer in the process. I won't bet a Pletcher horse in the Derby unless something odd happens (almost never in the Breeders Cup either, despite it costing me a pick 6 last year), but this horse does not look like the prototypical Pletcher horse that I like to fade. He is green, big and strong, but doesn't look like a keyed up monster. It's a little odd he had to be scrubbed on at the 3/4's, but maybe he was just a little flat, or a little green. He finished well and looked really good, I thought. Flashback : Derby Horse as Pocket : Flowery Blog Writing. Normandy Invasion looks like a perfect wise guy horse, if it was 1984, when people couldn't watch replays. This horse will take a ton of money in a month, methinks. I think I ran the 100 metres in high school in maybe 13 seconds. If I ran it at Santa Anita, I'd have a chance to b…