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Showing posts from March, 2014

More Money for Horse Racing & McIntosh Pulls No Punches

According to CTV News, an additional $100 million is being earmarked for horse racing. There's no indication if this is part of the slot rent, or something already announced and repackaged. We'll see, I guess.

Horse racing - minus the Adam Smith laissez faire thing where slot cash was dumped into purses like a drug - is not a terrible bet for a government. Similarly, horse racing, minus the Adam Smith laissez faire thing, has a shot with the government guiding it. $100 million could certainly help.

Interesting development.

Further tonight, hall of fame trainer and winningest trainer of Breeders Crown's, Bob McIntosh took a chance with a tweet.
I miss the 70's and 80's when drug trainers weren't around and horsemanship counted
— Robert McIntosh 52 (@Bob_Mcintosh52) March 30, 2014 It's always an interesting discussion in horse racing on social media, at the track or on chat boards. i.e. what was worse, the Ringers and rascals of the past, or modern under the …

Does Woodbine Want to Stand Out?

With the government, CPMA, racetracks and ninety four other alphabets under a quasi commissioners office umbrella with the new Ontario racing paradigm, one thinks change can come quickly. As we all know, historically change is stifled because faction A opposes something that factions B through F all want, and faction A wins. This is different now.

Does a place like Woodbine want to stand out?

Here's a chance. Today at the Dubai World Cup, you'd have thunk the skies opened when an inquiry was taking place. I've always looked at the glass as being half full with the government takeover of Ontario racing. Most think I'm cray. Prove me, or them, right or wrong. You have a chance. Opportunities like this can come each day.

Talk about transparency in racing: the live look into the Meydan stewards' hearing on objection lodged in running of Dubai Gold Cup— Tom Hall (@lordatwar) March 29, 2014Compare that Dubai inquiry to how things are handled in the US. It's embarras…

Admiration & Racing's Big Data

Sometimes you fall in love with a horse, just because.

To see Foiled Again in the paddock, hanging around in crossties, or in the post parade, it's a bit of a yawn. For those who have not, think of the movie Seabiscuit during the match race scene, when the strapping, tall, blue-blooded, powerful and beautiful War Admiral came out. Picture the opposite, and you have Foiled Again.

All that "ordinary looking brown horse" has done is race 200 times and is the top money winner in harness racing history. As a nine year old he was in the running for the horse of the year. Last week, in his ten year old debut, he won, beating four and five year olds. No problem.

What makes him so good? His heart. He’s not the biggest, he’s certainly not the fastest, but he knows exactly what he’s doing. Last week was the perfect example. I was loose-lining him until about halfway in the final turn. Then, he saw (Apprentice Hanover) coming and he swelled up. He knew it was time to go to work…

Old Boys Club

Connie has a neat post up today about working the backside.  It's filled with many interesting anecdotes, a snapshot into the culture we do not often see, and is a really nice read. Actually, that's not strong enough: It is a really important read.

One paragraph sums up a problem, in my opinion. Regarding finding something untoward, she writes:
I had no one to tell. I was completely clueless as what to do about it. I recently said as much to some horse racing folks and I was told I should have gone to the stewards. I thought about that, but here is where things get murky. For one, if you are a new hotwalker at the track, knowing no one, you have no idea if your whistleblowing is going to cause you to lose your position. Second, the stewards do not live in a vacuum. One steward was having a relationship with an assistant trainer backside and had a brother who was a trainer there, too.
She hit the "wall".

Judges/stewards who are pals with participants; that…

Can't Get Away

I figured I would wake up this morning, get prepared for a massive storm, talk a little with my friends about something non-PETA related, and get to work.

I did wake up, I made sure my snow blower has gas, and I already have done some work. It's the third one that was hard. All of my friends are talking about that PETA thing. It won't stop.

Last evening, on a call with a bunch of horseplayers - "the PETA thing"

Chatting with my pal Nolan - "the PETA thing"

Reading Jessica - who says "it made me feel real shame to be silent" when she saw bad things near her stable -  "the PETA thing".

Fellow Bruins fan, and someone I find is an all around good egg Mike MacAdam, writes a very well thought out editorial that pops in my timeline about........ "the PETA thing".

The smart, affable and usually non-frustrated and non-confrontational Ryan Goldberg pops up.
Here's a rough analogy: some activist joined Greg Anderson's gym and reco…


Andrew Cohen's piece in the Atlantic is getting a lot of play the past 24 hours. If you have not read it, it's here. In one section of his piece, he speaks about the mushy middle.
So it is from the third category of horsemen and horsewomen, the far-too-silent majority, the good people who see wrong but won't give their all to right it, where serious reform must come if the sport is to survive and thrive. This narrative has provoked discussion on social media, and elsewhere. There are a lot of non-zealot, mushy middle, well-meaning people who have taken this as a criticism; like they've done something wrong.

Let's analyze this.

Look at the history of the sport, at times. 
 Delahoussaye has a lengthy list of rulings in the Association of Racing Commissioners International database going back to 1984, when his license was revoked for a felony conviction. He was eligible for reinstatement in 1993. Since then, he has had at least two suspensions for possession of…

Throw Out the Life Preserver

Andrew Cohen of CBS/60 Minutes wrote an opinion piece at The Atlantic today regarding the events of the past week in horse racing. It remains to be seen if the jeers will outnumber the cheers because it is a very tough, no nonsense missive; but it is well-thought out and very well written.

This is certainly not 2013, where we saw a muted, often times apologetic reaction to the New York Times Joe Drape story on breakdowns. There - as Cohen calls them, even by name through linking in the piece - the apologists held a strong upper hand. Now, it's much more than that. As an industry person said last week "this has legs". He is looking to be correct.

One part of the Cohen piece that strikes to the core (for me at least) is his talk about the "middle". These are your average, every day folk who like working with animals, who do the right thing; who are just trying to make a living in a sport they truly enjoy. If something comes out of this episode, they will be the …

The "Video" Might Not Affect Horse Ownership

Barry Irwin's missive on the TDN is making the rounds. His three main points/arguments:
For racing to exist, the owner is the keyThe advent last week of PETA’s report on the operation of Steve Asmussen has our game in peril because for the first time there is video evidence for all to see of how sordid, uncaring, unethical and illegal the caretakers of our horses can be.Once a game is found to be covered in scuzz instead of quality, the desire for further participation by owners is going to evaporate. The above possesses a number of assumptions: Horse racing needs a person to buy a horse to survive. A video was released that will stop people, potentially, from buying horses. The video being public stops new people from buying horses.

I think he sounds good, but he is assuming something that I believe just is not true. He assumes horse owners are irrational.

As long as a purse exists, there will be horse owners. Social Inclusion has a potential $8 million or more in purses to race f…

Interesting Reactions From Casual Fans

The 'video' is certainly causing a lot of consternation in horse racing the past several days. It's been quite interesting to read.

This episode has one key difference from the "24 horses a week" New York Times meme from a year ago, in my opinion. At that time the reaction was "ya, at quarterhorse tracks in New Mexico, so what?". Now that can't be said. Many things on that video happen each day - getting a horse healthy enough to run.

The seasoned handicapper, owner, or racing insider can lie in two camps with this: One, those who want change, or federal oversight saying "things need to change". Two, the backstretch insider who says "they did nothing wrong, they were just getting a horse ready to race and its how the business works."

To many casual fans, however, this stuff is very new. And it's making those people - the mushy middle - think.

Sid Fernando and his "gifs" on this tumblr blog often uses the fictional &…

A Quagmire in An Industry that Can't Pivot

Other than the obvious, from a cold-hard business, corporate, political and PR perspective, this past couple of days has been interesting. We have a video showing what happens, at times, on a backstretch. That video has hit the mainstream, where people do not know what goes on in backstretches (at times), and you have a reaction.

It's anyone's guess as to what happens next.

Some businesses that work with animals get assailed like this, and pivot. For the last thirty years, the circus business has taken a ginormous hit. Me, like a lot of you, don't know what goes on behind the scenes with circus animals, but when that was exposed, changes were made. They went in two main directions: Standards were set, which caused a pivot, and a real business pivot happened.

The pivot to me is really interesting. In 1984, Cirque du Soliel was created, and in fewer than two decades it achieved revenues that Barnum and Bailey took a century to attain. One of the reasons its growth exploded w…

Hey, So There's This Video

I am not sure what was bigger news on the twitter last evening, planes kinda-possibly being found, or a video. Since I follow more horse racing people, I think the latter. If for some reason you have not heard about the video, or seen it, it's linked.

Here are some FAQ's that aren't really FAQ's (these are a bunch of things I saw on twitter), and I am not really answering questions (they'll be simply my opinion), but here goes.

Q: It's from PETA, did they make it all up?

A: It's from them. It's clearly not made up.

Q: It's agenda-driven, and is being used to manipulate me.

A: Yes. PETA does not make videos as a journalistic enterprise. It's PETA, not 60 Minutes. It's incendiary, clipped together, and made to get the most bang for the buck.

Q: They made a big deal about injections and vet work. Like, really?

A: Yes, that part sounds like it was added to inflame, but most of it was non-sensical. My beagle went to the vet last week and got a …

Reaching a Handle Critical Mass

Most everything (there are exceptions of course) needs some sort of level of interaction, size, or mass to succeed. Facebook with thirty seven people IPO's for a Big Mac, cell phone service never gets off the ground with sixty seven people. Cable bills would be $40,000 a month with few subscribers.

In harness racing, one of the biggest detriments to handle growth has been pool size.

Pool size matters because of value. Betting into a $50 double pool, especially with money coming in late is a game for fools. Betting $20 to win, where the bet knocks your 9-5 shot to 2-5 is not much fun. Playing a pick 6 into a pool with $1,500 is probably a dumber bet than a 96% rake lottery in Minsk.

When the harness racing industry was beginning to be restructured in Ontario, a couple of things occurred. i) there was a decrease in supply of races and ii) takeout rates were lowered. These two things caused something rational to happen: With fewer races to bet, horseplayers' action was concentra…

Spending Money on Stakes? Make Sure You get Depth

I saw a tweet yesterday from a DRF tweeter mentioning that the Wood Memorial at the Big A is planning to pay out to last place. This, hopefully, allows the race to have a few more entrants than planned.

Industry types will often say it just adds traffic to the field, and another entry who can't compete is not good for anything. Sure, if the horse is 300-1 fair odds I suspect they are right, but if it attracts even one or two more capable horses, it will add to handle.

Back in 2008, when the HANA racetrack ratings were introduced, field size was a main component. Emprically, and theoretically, adding a horse to a field adds choice and more combinations, and when choices are added for customers, more money is bet. This is why we see a Kentucky Derby handle be "X" with twenty horses, and "<X" when its scratched down to 19 horses. Frankly, you could run a ten horse Derby with Spectacular Bid, Affirmed, Secretariat, Big Brown and six other past superstars, and th…

Sunday Notes - Joe Bongiorno, Mandates Aren't Strong & Do Away With Claiming

A few items catching my eye this Sunday.

We'll have more on the Joe Bongiorno story later this week maybe, but right now if you want to get caught up it's in Harness Racing Update, page one (pdf).

It's an interesting situation that boils down to what the public needs and should know. There is also a dichotomy of sorts with regards to judging: How is it a sport can reprimand a kid for telling the truth, but look away when a star driver takes a horse to the back at three to five odds, messing around with the betting public? This sport has a long, long way to go before it gets things right.

For an early analysis about this situation (that I tend to agree with), from someone who i) bets money ii) is quite smart and iii) is my stable partner, so don't hold that against him, it's here.

Also in HRU today, a not-very-popular-with-the-industry article about "Getting Rid of Claiming Races" with references to slots, the NYRA issues last year, and the fact that cla…

No Tries Breed Some Consequence

Tonight at the Big M:
Joe Bongiorno taken off drives on Code Word and Shoebees Place following comments on @TheMeadowlands pregame that he would not be out to win
— Racing Beard (@RacingBeard) March 16, 2014 Two schools of thought, I suppose. 
 It encourages "Driver speak" where they are not trying to win but don't tell anyone. or....
 It's a gentle reminder that this is a $2B betting business, and the actions on the track have a meaningful monetary influence with the people who pay for purses - the bettors. Since bettors are not treated very well in this sport and participants often forget the latter, I think in this case two trumps one.

Social Media Stats Illustrate the Cheltenham Buzzfest

Yesterday we spoke about how racing in the UK had to mature to an effective marketing and betting industry much faster than here across the pond. It's sink or swim and has been that way since virtually inception.

Because of that the culture and racing's willingness to fight for market share (spending more time on the product than, for example, adding alternative gaming) some of their big events are not only big, they're huge. It didn't happen by accident.

Case in point, the Cheltenham Festival.

Via Social Mention, these stats (to the left) are quite good.  The racing is over right now, but we are seeing one mention each minute. The passion level of 49% is a good number. You can see tweets by searching for the hashtag #cheltenhamfestival.

Next up, we look at sentiment a little deeper in the following couple of graphs. 

Most of the tweets are scatter-plotted around differing sentiments. These sentiments range from "Excited" to "Happy" to "Pleasa…

"We're Not Down as Much as They Are"

If you get into a discussion about handle at a track the last dozen years or so, inevitably, someone will probably say "we're not down as much as they are."  They'll show their numbers, say, down 38%, and then show another track or jurisdiction, that's down 44%.

Take that.

Thomas Edison said, "We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb." That's a pretty poignant quote about innovation. Successes come from failures, and if you never have a failure, you will likely never have a success either.

The culture of "we're not down as much as they are" is as innovation stifling as a Communist regime. It's throttling; it's an albatross to the sport. It's an out when the numbers go bad.

Today in Thoroughbred commentary, the different culture in the UK was examined. As you all know, things are a little different over there. Since the 14th century or sooner, betting was happening and people were trying to find ways to make mo…

Round Down

A little bit of news filtered around the sport yesterday regarding ADW wagering and "the button". Amwest is giving horseplayers the option to donate whatever amount they want from their accounts to Thoroughbred horse retirement.

Good idea.  But I would like a choice too. The choice to round down.

I hate seeing $349.39 in my account. It makes me long for the old days where if I bet $40 to win on a $6 winner, I got $120. Not $120.11, but $120; six crisp twenty-spots.

Now with ten cent superfecta's, twin super-quadrefecta's or whatever they were called (I forgot, that Stronach idea didn't pass muster) we get those "micropayoffs". I can't stand them.

I would like Twinspires, HPI or the Expressbet people - and whomever else - to allow me to "round down". Any time my account has 49 or less as the last two significant digits - after any time I cash a ticket - take those pennies away. Stuff them in a little Al-Gorian lock box. Put them in the top…

Probable Success at the Big A, Lawsuits & A Little More

Alan over at LATG made a strong point today, using something I like - a little irreverent comedy.
And there was some really good news.  As reported by the News: The death rate at NYRA tracks is now 1.5 per 1,000 starters, the lowest in the country.

Wow, that's excellent, and an impressive turnaround from when the 21 horse deaths in the winter of 2012 sparked enough outrage to get the indifferent governor involved.  Now, we should probably look at sample size and other statsy things that smart people use in their daily work and betting lives. But, fundamentally, rent a horse, jams, wheelbacks and the like in slotsville, with high purses (many higher than the claiming price), are probably not good for the horses. That's what happened last season to not a tiny degree. This season? The participants have been mindful of what they're sending out, the stews and vets are vigilant, the purses have been restructured. Things that should work were tried.

I think it's safe to say …

Creating Compelling Racing Content

No, this is not a seminar about SEO, or something marketing-geeky.

Yesterday we wrote about television, and racing big events, in the context of the big past weekend in racing. It's clearly not enough for racing to just be on TV.

Case in point, this tweet a couple of minutes ago:

Before ESPN coverage, NCAA tournament action was chump change.Many games not shown or on tape delay.Bookies used to take vacations in March!
— Roxy Roxborough (@RoxyLasVegas) March 10, 2014
It's not enough to have something interesting - like a college basketball tournament. It has to be interesting, in a whole different context.

NFL games are fun and have always been. The fact we can bet them, pick office pools, or field fantasty football teams makes them compelling.

The World Junior Hockey Championships are a huge success in Canada. It went from a tournament no one watches - most never even heard of - to a Holiday winter TV staple with millions upon millions of viewers. TSN (Canada's ESPN) made i…

The Racing Box Office Continues to Thrive

Good morning everyone!

Or, good morning when we all got teleported to an episode of the Xfiles, where we all wonder why it's 9AM instead of 8AM, and where we were for an hour.

Yesterday it was a "big day" in horse racing. There were a few cards which generated excitement within the community - at Gulfstream, Tampa, and of course, Santa Anita. The latter card was stacked, and with the addition of east coast invaders Will Take Charge and Mucho Macho Man, it was a compelling event from an entertainment standpoint. We all want to watch horses we like and we know, knock heads.

Santa Anita, and the group there, have always been excellent at promoting live events. Whether it's been Zenyatta or a Big Cap, or the Santa Anita Derby, they know what they're doing, and have for years. They can pack them in.  The crowd at Tampa, from what I saw was big too. Racing, despite it shortcomings, does really well on big days.

Conversely, the TV numbers are not in from Fox Sports 1…

An Important Article on Horse Racing Juice

Dan Needham wrote an article that I hope you all read. It's on the Thoroughbred Commentary website, and it's about takeout.

The whole article is quite good, but there are a few things I particularly liked.

The pricing set by racing in 2014, is not set by science, but "are a byzantine product of statutory taxes and a myriad of fees. They have increased artificially rather than through any kind of data-driven knowledge." We've stressed this before here and elsewhere. It's the house of cards; not the Netflix kind.

And to change those rates, or test them, you have to guide yourself through a regulatory, fiefdom-led minefield.

The reason those two points are so important, is because they defy all logic, and when your pricing mechanism defies logic, you are in serious trouble.

Go to a horsemen group, or track, and say "you should lower your takeout because it's too high".

The answer might be "we can't afford to, because we will lose money.&…

"People Don't Resist Change, They Resist Being Changed"

Human nature is summed up by the quote above. It's from lecturer Peter Senge.

In places like Ontario, or a slots state near you, there is change happening. It's change that cannot be stopped; if it hasn't happened yet it will, and if it's happening already, you see what consternation, and in many cases hardship, it brings. As Seth Godin once wrote, "Every revolution destroys the average middle first and most savagely."

What has occurred from a nuts and bolts standpoint with slots in Ontario has been discussed quite a bit. There is no need to rehash it. However, there is the quote above that struck me in regards to this situation.

What's happened beyond the obvious, is that the people who were used to steering the boat, no longer are in the Captain's chair. The fiefdoms, the alphabets, those who controlled strikes for racedates, or the purse strings on capital improvements, or what have you, have been relegated to the back seat. They're passengers.…

Why Do I Need Four Betting Accounts?

Distribution of the betting product has, for a long time now, been a customer gripe.

"I need four accounts to bet the tracks I want; Why can't I play racing in one ADW?" and other such complaints are as common as a Kentucky Derby trainer saying "we're happy with the work"

Why does this occur? Why is a licensed ADW - licensed to sell and distribute a betting signal - not allowed to have all signals? Why do some tracks and corporations limit their availability, and is it good for the game?

The reasons a signal is not distributed are pretty obvious: It is important for some tracks and ADW's to crush any competition, and make more money. It's important for some in the business to keep you - the betting customer - betting into full boat takeout. It's no secret the business has a long-held belief that high prices mean more money. And by gum, no matter what the evidence, they're sticking to it.

Is it good for horse racing they are able to do this?

The Immutable Law of Betting Value

I found it a little hard to believe that the lower-than-usual juice Players Pick 5 in California started out with a $100,000 pool.  The bet - one of the hottest bets in horse racing - now takes in much, much more money than that four years later.  But, as Caroline Betts (she's a doctor but she doesn't make you call her that because she's cool), horse rescue lady and economics professor would tell us, these things take time.

After all, if the government told everyone that the price of gas is going to $10 a gallon and staying there for three years, guys and gals with an SUV aren't buying a Smart car tomorrow morning. They will, when and if they find they are no longer getting value. I think it's a microeconomic law of some sort, but I was at the track for most of those classes.

Racing secretaries and some in the business don't embrace the concept of betting value, and it truly is, in my opinion, a detriment to the business.  There are several immutable laws of ho…

The Ontario Funding Model, Coming to a Slots Track Near You?

The "new" funding model for horse racing in Ontario is being tweaked, and  pretty much finalized. 

In a nutshell:

$72 million per year is earmarked for purses at larger handle racetracks.

$8 million per year is earmarked for "regional" smaller circuit racetracks.

"Sharing the commission keeps horse people’s revenue from purses tied to the market and keeps everyone’s focus on the customer." Handle revenue is split 50/50 between tracks and purses

"Telephone account betting (TAB) will be operated within a single, province-wide home market area by a sole operator." So, no more "home market fees" that barely made any sense in the first place. America, take note.

Lastly, it appears that decisions will not be made on who yells the loudest or who has the best lobby.

"Growth of the industry – for all stakeholders – will come from performing well in the marketplace and expanding the fan base (particularly the horse players). The Plan enco…

Back In the Groove on a Monday

Good morning everyone!

I got back into the groove on Saturday and played the races for the first time seriously since December. I'd like to think I am responsible for the Meadowlands going over $4M in handle for the first time since 2009, but it might have been more than just me :). Great work by the crew there for doing many of the right things. Work to do, but it's a good accomplishment any way you want to slice it.

Harpoon was the most overbet horse on the planet this Saturday in the Gotham Stakes - Sid Fernando liked him, said so on twitter, and I didn't think he had that much pull, but apparently he does.  Strangely enough, he was the most impressive horse in that race for me, from a Derby-type perspective. He looked beat, but didn't get tired. He kind of kept right on going.

I used TimeformUS on Saturday, along with my jcapper sheets. I was impressed with the changes they've made since the last time I did a deep dive with them.

Leslie Joyce has an interestin…