Big Events: Triple Crown vs the Stanley Cup

Big event driven marketing and viewership is on the rise, generally.  Big money is spent for big events, and the networks push them like never before. The Golf Majors, World Cup, Olympics, it doesn't seem to matter the sport.

The Belmont Stakes as a search term, not surprisingly, does well when there is a Triple Crown try. It does not seem to matter the horse, the weather, the surrounding stories, the trainer or jockey, or what or what not is on the undercard. We're going to watch the Super Bowl if it's two lesser known teams, and the outside world will go nuts no matter who is in the World Cup. It's the way it is.

Here is a google trends snip for the Belmont, and notice the peaks for Triple Crown tries.


That's fine, but let's compare it to the searches for another big event in June, the Stanley Cup.
The Stanley Cup, like a lot of big events, has been growing in popularity as a search term; last year it walloped the Belmont Stakes as a popular search term. As you can see, the years there is a Triple Crown try, however, the Belmont Stakes wins out.

Will it happen again this year? If it does, the magic of an elusive Triple Crown is alive and well in sportsland with casual observers.



The Disconnect Between the Rank and File and the Alphabets

I, like many of you, have been following the Jug telecast brouhaha the past month. And I, like you do, find it fascinating. For those who might not be overly familiar with the story, the USTA was approached by Jeff Gural’s team about televising the Little Brown Jug this year. Jeff and his team were after some funding to bridge the gap. After a 13-1 vote at the USTA, it was decided the issue would be tabled until next year.

That decision did not sit well with the rank and file.

And they got to work. Jack Darling, with a simple blog at Standardbred Canada asked you, me and the fencepost, if some money might not be raised to fund – internally – this venture. Within a week there were thousands of dollars pledged.

Just this Monday Jack updated folks on his blog again regarding this outpouring of support. Murray Brown and Myron Bell, Yannick and Tim, White Birch Farm, Sugar Valley Farm, John Campbell, Linda Toscano and Bob McIntosh. All of those racing participants gave $500 or more to the project. Some like the Wishing Stone Syndicate ($2000), SBSW Syndicate/Hanover Shoe Farm ($5000), Bill Weaver ($5000), Diamond Creek Farm ($5000) and others gave even more. (If I listed all who gave, I would have to submit a column 3 times longer than I usually submit. Please go here to see for yourself who contributed).

“Kickstarter.com” is a website that funds hard to fund projects. The ballet community raised hundreds of thousands to produce a documentary showcasing their art, fans of the TV show Veronica Mars raised a million dollars in a number of hours to get a feature film produced; there are thousands of other examples. Jack created a kickstarter for harness racing, and it worked. Over $100,000 was raised. The big question is, “Why did he have to?”

Jack wrote: “I think the people in harness racing have made a statement. We are passionate about our sport, proud of it and we want to promote it to a wider audience to attract new fans. Hopefully this will inspire our industry leaders to continue with a fund like this where the money can be used to promote harness racing. A small percentage from each race would build up quickly into a substantial war chest that could be used for meaningful promotions.”

That’s where the disconnect between the rank and file and the alphabets in this sport rears its head. In large numbers, the people who buy the trucks and hay and feed, breed the horses, race night in and night out, pay the fees and supply purses through betting want one thing. But when it’s sent upstairs for approval to the people who represent them, things tend to die on a vine. This is not about the USTA (in fact, they had another meeting and agreed to fund some of Jeff’s venture), this is about the culture of the sport. It’s the way it works.

 In Ontario what Jack wrote above was proposed in 2009. Almost 3,000 people signed a petition to take a little bit out of purse money, to get a list of previously studied and agreed upon initiatives done, to hopefully grow the sport of harness racing. When it went “upstairs”, it died.

Back in 2008 I was presenting at the Standardbred Wagering Conference in Montreal. In one session everyone discussed uncashed ticket money. That’s the money from customers which is lost, or not cashed over a one year period. That money – totalling millions of dollars in North America – is never returned to its rightful owners, the people who lost it. Seeking an innovative way to do something for the customers, and to grow the bet and gain some goodwill, it was proposed that this uncashed ticket money be used to seed pools and market those days in which they are offered. We all see what carryover pools do in attracting money, and we all know this sport needs marketing money spent, so let’s fill the seats and get the pools up in a sport that is in dire need of it. I thought it was a great idea.

I wasn’t the only one. It was pretty much unanimous: “Let’s get this done,” everyone said. Trainers, owners, bettors, grooms, whomever was at this industry meeting were all in agreement. Even the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency said “bring it to us and we’ll get it done.” When I called about two months later to see how this initiative was going, and when we might see seeded pools and some marketing money spent, I was told that a group disagreed (they were getting a piece of the revenue from the uncashed ticket money) so it died.

Probably 95 out of 100 people in this sport want to see the Triple Crown reworked. It goes upstairs and dies. Probably an equal 95 out of 100 want to see some sort of stakes grading system created to promote the sport to the masses more. It goes upstairs to die.

When the rank and file at such a huge percentage want something done and it does not get done it breeds resentment, distrust and the worst characteristic of all: It makes everyone feel disenfranchised. When people feel that way they simply stop caring.

 I am not naive and neither are you. We are businessmen and women and we didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. We know things are difficult to get done. We know that the system of taking money from purses to try and grow wagering and fan demand is not easy. We know that Jeff Gural’s work and idea regarding funding the Jug telecast might’ve needed some tweaking. We know we can’t flip a switch and have a new Triple Crown or graded stakes racing. But what angers everyone most is when these things are proposed there is no counter. There’s very little, “this in principle is a good idea and in overwhelming numbers you want it. Give us two weeks to look at it and form a plan to get something done.” There’s almost no alternative offered. It’s just “no”, or “maybe we’ll look at it next year.”

 I think that’s the culture that needs to change in harness racing. It does not make sense to anyone that 90% or more of the people in shedrows, supplying feed, mucking stalls, shipping horses, breeding horses, betting horses and paying the bills can all want one thing, to have it sent upstairs and be voted down by 13 of 14 people. There’s just no way that’s a system anyone can think is working. The gap between the people who pay the bills each day and those who represent them needs to be bridged in the sport of harness racing. If that happens, perhaps ideas can flourish instead of being sent upstairs to die.

Getting Them to Bet

 I saw an email from a colleague this past weekend. She was at Arlington and was pretty impressed with the crowd. She was a little surprised, as some people have clearly withheld their wagering from Arlington as part of a CDI "boycott". She figured, certainly on this day, that it wasn't working very well.

When the final numbers were tallied, Arlington Park's handle year over year was down about 25%.

I saw a tweet on Sunday from Crunk.  "Easily 20k at MTH today. Lines for the food trucks, bathrooms & pony rides insane. Only place you won't find lines is at the mutual windows."

I see big crowds at places like Santa Anita and elsewhere, with few betting dollars.

I see Churchill Downs spending piles of money on a big board, and advertising and whatnot. Then I look at their handle numbers this meet for every day racing.


Racing spends a lot of money getting people in the door, and a lot of that money seems to be working. But these folks are not betting.

Going after people like this is a different story. Racing does not spend the necessary time, effort or policy driven change to cater to them.

Racing is selling people on-track with food trucks, and I guess that's ok if they are hungry for a falafel, or big fans of the Food Network. But at the present time, they aren't hungry to bet. The people who might be are continually ignored due to racing's systemic structure and wonderment at whom their true betting customers are.



A Fun Post From the 1940's

On the Derby Trail forum there was a neat post about long ago in horse racing land. 

In 1947 Mayor (of New York) William O'Dwyer jacked the takeout from 10% to 15%, then it went
to 20%, just because I guess. Less than a decade later, after seeing a "surprising handle drop", New York's tracks "were struggling to survive."

In another snip from the newspaper, Jersey tried increasing the takeout 2% to raise a projected five million dollars. Handle per week fell from over $10 million to around $7 million. It never materialized.

Here we are almost seventy years later. Churchill Downs increased the takeout to "raise more money for purses". Two years ago California raised rakes to "raise more money".

California's revenues fell by about $50 million.

Churchill's handle this meet is down over $20 million, and will likely be in the red in terms of revenues from takeout within two weeks.

Horse racing is not complicated. Instead of repeating what failed seventy years ago, try learning something from it.

Harness Racing Goes a Little ABR Live

Recently the USTA announced a partnership to try and bring harness racing a bit more to the masses. For thoroughbred fans, think America's Best Racing, but with sulkies. A part of the plan included a website that is wordpress based and quite welcoming, with various highlighted social media avenues.

You can take a look at it here. 

I won't wax on too much what I think of it, but for some thoughts there is an article in Harness Racing Update this morning regarding it. You can read that on page 6 (pdf).

Accompanying the website is a nicely shot video about harness racing, which if you are already a fan is sure to please.


If you are a fan of harness racing and on social media you can be a Harness Racing Ambassador and help spread the word. There's a link on the website instructing you on how to get that done.

Notes: 

Fresh of a smarting loss where an overtime winner went off a Montreal player's chin to down the Rangers of New York City, Left at the Gate should've been cranky, and I guess he is. He is no fan of the CDI megolith. 

I had a hoot today seeing some traffic come from Small Dead Animals, linking my piece on California Chrome. Small Dead Animals is not a horse racing site, but the site's owner Kate McMillan is a bit of a fan of the sport (I see she follows Paulick on twitter, for example). It's the number one conservative blog in Canada (yes folks there are those up here), and I don't think there's another one close in terms of readership, so it's wild to see the web traffic explode from a place not named Equidaily or Paulick from time to time. Thanks Kate. 

Fascinating battle of the PP providers on social media this past week. DRF.com is down, so they have not been sending out PP's. In response, TimeformUS offered a special deal to new subscribers. Twinspires said "hey we have free PP's for our ADW patrons". Then the DRF responded by offering free PP's for (I think it was) yesterday and today. As I mentioned to Seth Rosenfeld on the twitter, I am partial to TimeformUS. Sure I have a couple of acquaintances there that I like (I like Jeremy and Ed at Bris/TS, too, FYI), but I have gotten used to those past performances now and I do recommend giving them a try if you have not.

Have a super day everyone and to my US friends, have a great long weekend.


The Wacky Next Two Weeks & the Benjamins

As y'all know, a colt, many of whom would not mistake for the prototypical grand looking blue-blooded type, is roaring towards a Triple Crown. The only thing standing in his way is, oh about nine horses, history and just about everything else that can go wrong. But what a Triple Crown try brings, as Matt Gardner wrote today, is silly season in horse racing.

Silly season, I believe, is not something to gripe about. It's something to revel in.

This cool little horse will be profiled at some point over the next two weeks i) eating ii) sleeping iii) playing with a ball iv) having a mint v) taking off a New York Times reporter's hat with his teeth (possibly Joe Drape's) and myriad other things.

Celebrities in New York - say for example that woman that plays the Good Wife - will be asked to handicap the Belmont. She, among most, will like California Chrome; this despite her probably knowing Wicked Strong is in the race too. Penelope Miller from America's Best Racing will be interviewing visitors in Times Square asking who they like in the race, and I am pretty sure someone will say Spectacular Bid.

Art Sherman will be on the Today show and someone will ask him about Swaps. That Coburn dude will be on local TV telling everyone how NYRA has treated he and his family better than Churchill Downs.

There will be talk about how you can't bring a six inch or more lens into Belmont on Belmont Day (because research shows the terrorists like longer lenses). Someone will be making Belmont bathroom jokes. Another will be mad that a beer costs like fifty bucks. NYRA CEO Chris Kay will learn that the people in the grandstand on Belmont day aren't really "guests".

We'll see hundreds of pictures posted to Facebook and Twitter. "Here's a shot of California Chrome's ass" will be common, because we know on a crowded day how difficult it is to shoot a horse in motion. Some newbie might snap a shot of Ray Paulick and tweet it, saying they saw Kevin Bacon.

Yes, it's silly season. We'll see a lot of silly things. But this is what we watch horse racing for, so sit back and enjoy the grandest silliness the sport provides.
_________________________________________________________________________

It's been an interesting 24 hours for folks who have been following the takeout snafu at Churchill (I now feel comfortable calling this a snafu). HANA reported that handle is down over $19 million since the start of the meet, and the story was reported in the mainstream press by Frank Angst at the Bloodhorse.

It appears, if present trends continue, that purses will probably have to be cut, as the money earned from the increased takeout will not be only below projections, but negative.

What I enjoy about Jeff Platt, quoted in the above article, is that he is not pie in the sky, nor is he anti-business and anti-profit. He's completely sensible. He noted that CDI - and other tracks with huge days - might be able to charge more for those days as a way to make a little more cash for the meet, but doing it everyday and grinding down horseplayers is not going to work long term - for anyone. Racing needs imagination. It needs to carry a scalpel to increase revenues, not a blunt stick.

It was also reported in the New Orleans Advocate, that the braintrust at CDI wants to look at raising takeouts at the Fair Grounds too. You can't make this up.
____________________________________________________________________________

A few tweets from yesterday regarding the CDI handle news I found interesting and funny; some from insiders who usually are on the tracks' side in such matters.




Enjoy your day everyone.


"First Start Back" As a Four Year Old, A Good One For Queen B

Whether thoroughbred or standardbred in North America, the first start back as a four year old for the sophomore superstars is always an interesting time. After a tough three year old season chasing dreams and money, a horse can winter well, soothe the aches and pains of being an athlete, or come back pretty soft, very rarely recovering.

People might tell you that only one start is not enough to judge, but I think, most times, that's wrong. You can tell a lot from a first start back.

Last evening Horse of the Year on both sides of the border was making her four year old debut. She was handily beaten in one morning session by Market Share, in a ridiculously fast mile. In her second morning try she won in 155.2 with a nice last quarter. Trainer Richard Norman is not the type to have a horse ready to go big off a qualifier; especially a horse like Bee a Magician. In fact, he and many others expected her to get beat.

But how would she look doing it? Judge for yourself.


This wasn't a Heston Blue Chip or Rachel Alexandra debut, where the three year old flash was not there visually. This was an Artsplace, or Rainbow Blue or Market Share four year old debut.

I, like most of you are looking forward to see what this mare can do. I posted on twitter last year in May or June that I think she can beat 1:50. I know some of you laughed at that, but I truly believe we'll see it; maybe very soon.

I'm ecstatic she came back good. Harness racing needs horse's like this.

Enjoy your day everyone.


The Churchill Downs Inc. Properties: Spot the Trend

I won't rehash the bad press of late regarding Churchill Downs Inc - I only have a short time to post this and it would take too long anyway - but for the business of racing, we now see a trend.

Earlier this year handle at the Fair Grounds was reported down 12%. The previous year's handle to that was about $2.9 million, which when compared to this year is off about 20%.

As we all know, handle at the flagship track is also getting walloped. For non-branded Derby and Oaks days, you're looking at about a 23% drop in handle.

Today, it was reported that Arlington handle is also on the ropes, too. For Preakness weekend last year to this year, handle is off 33.15%. Mother's Day weekend to Mother's Day weekend, handle is off 27.6%.

Meanwhile, other tracks are holding their own, like Belmont, who despite massive lower field size issues (worse than Churchill's or Arlington's) has handles only down about 2%. Pimlico's handle is slightly up.

These Churchill numbers aren't small numbers. When Keeneland was off about 7% with real field size trouble, it was surprising and the industry was in a bit of a tizzy. But Keeneland just set a handle record last year and the numbers are explicable. They made sense and in no way were a trend.

However, the CDI tracks are just continuing a trend - and appear to be getting worse. It, like the link above surmises, is likely being exacerbated due to the player boycott of CDI properties.

This is not a Kentucky story, or a Florida story, or a Louisiana story or an Illinois story. This looks like a Churchill Downs story. The tracks they are running are getting the crap kicked out of them, and right now, with hiked takeout angering customers and terrible headlines angering fans and horse owners, it does not look to get better soon.


Big Days Continue to Roll

Field size is brutal, Churchill Downs handle continues to get killed, horse racing is horse racing. But on big days, it's all different.

Yesterday's Preakness card yielded over $83 million in handle, up 2.20%. Attendance was up as well. And they weren't the only ones.

Woodbine harness, with a carryover and mandatory payout of their High Five, saw over $3.3 million bet, which is more than a North America Cup card.

At the Meadowlands, the Cutler had over $500,000 bet on the race, with international flavor and a large field. It was also earlier in the card which, in my view, is a better spot for it.

The problem with the above is there can be only so many big days, which is why the industry has to be smart about it. As you know, I think one of the silliest decisions made this year was the development of a Belmont Stakes super card (you can read my view here on that). Why card all those purses on the same day that i) there is already a stakes race that everyone knows, bets and shows up for and ii) there is a strong chance you will see a horse going for the Triple Crown, where you could race maiden five claimers, have an overfilled crowd and get big money bet all day.

The Preakness card was pretty dreadful. Races were off the turf, there were a gazillion scratches, a couple of the races were almost unbettable. But there you go: Handle was up 2.2%. It doesn't really matter.

Horse racing is compelling on big days with big events, whether those events are of the carryover variety for bettors, or for Triple Crown races, state Derbies, Hambletonian's or Breeders Crowns. But instead of resting on them, or piling races on top of them, racing needs to think outside the box with them. Make more of them, make them better and more interesting; drive people to the stands and the windows. Short sighted thinking, or resting on them can only last so long.

Along those lines, please allow me a quick note on the consternation regarding NBC not showing undercard races. It's exactly my point above. Casual fans want to watch the main event and that's what they tune in for. Showing horses and races the public knows nothing about, they don't care about and will likely never care about is wasted airtime. NBC knows this and acts accordingly. Undercard races are for us, and racing already has us. We can watch them at our ADW while we're betting them, and that's just what we do.

When some fan says "I watched the Belmont Stakes and wasn't going to go back, but boy that Met Mile makes me want to become a regular fan and bettor" that might change. But right now that's not happening and that's why they don't - and probably shouldn't - worry about it much.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Price & Product; Some Hikes Are Different Than Others

Yesterday we had a look at Jennifer Owen's presentation to the Asian Gaming Summit. We mostly focused on field size as a correlated factor to betting handle, as below:

Today we'll take a quick look at price. 

In her presentation she spoke about what we speak of here: Raising a price in a business which has falling revenues and increased competition does not make much sense. She used this past year in Australia as an example:


Australia had a law (they have a central office) whereby blended takeout could not go over 16%. If less than 84% was returned to customers, a track or tote would have to give back the excess through low takeout or no takeout bets. Their "Fat Quaddie" bet - a zero percent rake pick 4 - would generate millions in handles.

Lately, with the bet mix much different there is no such law. Exotic bets are made in "pari-mutuel" and they have a higher rake, while fixed odds and win betting has a much lower takeout (about 8%).  As well, racing after more money wanted to tax bookmakers and exchanges more.

Despite the above, handle is firm at around $14B AUS, but it appears to be leveling off. With the increase in prices, there is a chance it will be lower in 2014 than 2013, which would be something new for Australia. But it's not all bad. If you are price sensitive, bet the exchange or fixed odds. If you are a whale, head to the TAB, get a rebate and bet exotics. If you don't care about price, there are plenty of bets for you too.

Their system is working fairly well, because there is something for everyone. 

Overall, their current blended takeout, before rebate, is about 13.5%.

In North America, the average takeout is near 22%, before rebate. There is no fix odds wagering with 5-8% takeouts, nor is there any exchange wagering with 6% takeouts to spur on that market.

So, Australia has field size approaching ten horses per race. They have a blended takeout of 13.5%. They have fixed odds, so odds do not change after the bell. They have a betting exchange where punters can trade their positions and receive lower takeout.

In the US we have eight horses per race, a blended takeout of 21.5%, and no outlets to support racing other than a tote system that is not markedly different than the 1980's.

Things are not perfect in Australia, or Hong Kong - not even close; racing horses around in circles is not a massive growth industry -  but they do certainly have an edge with their tighter controlled, central system. It's more customer focused; with price, distribution and the overall betting product prime components in decision making.


North America's Racing Disarray

There were some interesting points made in Jennifer Owen's presentation to the Asian racing summit yesterday. Her power point was posted, and I'll share a couple of snippets here.

Here's handle. It has fallen in the USA more than anywhere else in the world.


We've often heard that racing must contract in the US to grow. I agree with that, despite how Buckley's medicine tasting that may be. Reality is reality. The parade of 5 horse fields at major racetracks is not a function of too little purse money, it's completely structural. Here's Jennifer's world field size graph.


France, Australia and Hong Kong have focused on field size as a rule. Japan has new issues regarding competition they are dealing with, however they seem to card bettable affairs. Hong Kong went through a small lull and concentrated on bettable races. The UK has carded more and more poor betting races, but no country has a worse betting product than here in North America.

As horse owners we all know the only thing we like better than a five horse field is a four horse field, but as data from places like the Horseplayers Association racetrack ratings show, it's killing the game.


The past year when handle numbers are/were published in North America, showing handle down and racedates down, you'll hear or read that with dates down X% and handle down an equal X%, things really aren't that bad. It's the 2013 and 14 version of "it's the economy." As the above results show, it's also incorrect.

Australia went through a lull in dates in 2008 and gross handle was up, as per race handle skied. Similar occurred in France. If you concentrate on pricing and products, the pie can grow with fewer dates.


Ah, the betting exchange. In 2002, when betfair came to racing here, looking to partner and forward this new way of betting, it was like an ogre showed up to date your daughter. "They're pirates". Even in 2014 here in North America we still hear they don't pay enough and they forward corruption whenever they're brought up. What they offered racing 12 years ago was a path to the future.

The bubble to the left (above) are the people that racing has lost since the year 2000 in large numbers; the every day bettor. This new form of fixed odds betting was a conduit to help keep them interested in the sport of horse racing. It plugged a hole that low rake poker, or online sports betting was filling. Exchanges now have 60-70% of the sophisticated betting market, while racing in the US twiddles its thumbs, or in worst cases, like with Magna or CDI, have taken their tracks off the exchange.

In the end, Ms. Owen's presentation said that racing needs to do a few things for the demand for wagering side of the ledger.

She says racing needs to offer value >>>>> Choice, higher field size/better product, and lower prices while competition comes forward

What does the US offer of late?

Higher field size? No, it's lower.

Betting Choice? No, unless you consider a 52% takeout Rainbow Six a choice.

Lower prices? Who are we kidding. ADW's - the only growth segment in North America - have been taxed by horsemen led initiatives in Pennsylvania and New York (two slots states) just the past six months, which raises takeouts on customers. Meanwhile, as we all know, Churchill Downs just increased prices about 12% by raising takeout (while putting out a short-field product).

In other words, the graphs above should be no surprise to anyone in racing in North America. When you do the opposite of what needs to be done to grow handle, handle will fall. Racing needs to put out a better product that customers can enjoy through improved systems, at more competitive prices.


The Derby Funnel Illustrates Racing's Number One Customer Issue

The above is a simple marketing funnel, courtesy here.

The concept is simple: You dump people in the funnel, and each step of it represents a drag. For a restaurant having a big promotion this might be people who saw your ad; they represent the leads. When they get to your eatery, they look in the window at your menu, see that they don't like anything, and leak out of the funnel - etc, based on whatever business it is.

From the Churchill Downs press release of Derby Week:
  • Attendance for those five days [Derby Week card's] was up 5 percent to 348,530 from 331,922 in 2013.
So,  16,608 more people entered the funnel, as we've seen a lot of late. That's good.

But......
  • All-sources handle for Opening Night, Saturday, April 26, through Derby Day, Saturday, May 3, 2014, was $253.8 million, down 2 percent from 2013's $258.5 million
Those 16,608 increase in attendees, like others before them with record attendance, don't seem to bet very much money.

How does such a big increase in bodies of late result in less overall betting handle? That's a massive funnel leak.

Racing has seen this for awhile. Attendance has been up for big events, as has TV viewership for really big events like the Derby. It's been going on for two years. That's great, and I think America's Best Racing's initiatives have helped. 

But not only are those people not becoming return betting customers (the lifeblood of the sport), they are barely even becoming one time customers.

Big screens, ABR Live buses, Tony Danza and TV coverage can only take you so far. This sport needs betting customers, and right now customer service, price and distribution issues are its downfall.

Racing is spending money to get people to the restaurant, people are coming to the restaurant, but they aren't opening their wallet to buy a meal. No eatery can grow, or even survive long-term like that, and neither will horse racing.

How do you plug the holes in the funnel? Make the customer experience better: Better pricing, better data, better distribution, ease of use and general ease of usability. That's where racing needs to improve.

Hiking the price by reducing churn, and in micro-economic terms reducing customer utility by making it more difficult to enjoy the sport - as seems to be happening as we speak - doesn't plug a funnel leak, it makes it bigger.


Derby Day a Strange One For Me

Derby Day is done. A horse who I thought looked too small and too untractable to win a race like the Derby, won the Derby. Egg, face, all that stuff.

Like many of you, I am not sure if we're looking at a really good horse, or we're looking at a 2:03 and change 10f horse who beat up on what possibly might've been the most nondescript Derby field we've ever seen. Regardless, I was cheering for him. It's a good story and he's obviously a trier, who has some go. I will be pulling for him in the Preakness, and if pedigree guru Sid Fernando tells me he can win the Belmont, there too.

Derby Day is normally my second biggest handle day of the year and this year my handle was zero. I just could not get up for it, and as you know I support lower rakes and only play into lower rakes when I can. I still did have some fun, and learned a thing or two.

The Derby, no matter what is done to it, in the short term, will always draw money. It's just the way it is and unless the brand is tarnished for several years, it won't be hurt. Churchill, despite my lack of love for the company, has done a good job with the event, and I have said that here many times before. Over time brands change behavior and I think that's what we see on Derby Day.

From the betting side a case in point: $1 supers. Lack of ten cent supers is long a bone of contention for players, but over time, you see the handle on $1 supers sky. This year super wagering was higher than last year, and that was higher than the year before. In big fields, with $1 mins, you have a monster edge with supers. In the past they've taken up probably 75% of my Derby handle because that edge is something you have to take advantage of. When I saw super handle up again this year I knew: The really big boys being rebated (with about a 1.25% reduction in rebates), were hammering, as usual.

What also struck me from watching the wagering was the casual money in the pools. WPS wagering has a certain progression from win through show. At the Derby this is rarely in effect and place and show pools are huge. There are still a lot of people out there betting $5, $10, $20 pyramids on Derby Day.

What you also might've noticed today was something pretty new: the dreaded post drag. For harness heads who play Northfield Park, this tweet may have given you a chuckle:
Why do they do this? Because it works. They make more money, and its not horrible for fans either. Line ups are long. This is the first year they've done it this long and I suspect that handle was up a few points because of it. It's powerful.

Speaking of handle, it looks to me that they'll be up a little bit (despite numbers I received earlier, which may be correct), and that should not be shocking. Sure there were people like me not betting, but it was perfect weather and good racing on a jewel of a day. Last year was rainy and there were fewer horses on the card.

What probably most maddens me about this situation is that it did not have to be this way. Bettors understand big days. They understand that the scoop six in the UK is 25% rake because it's deep and hard to hit. They understand the larger the field the higher the optimal rake. Why didn't CD just do something for the Derby, like raise host fees for the event? Last year when the ADW bill was going through, ask for changes for special rates for Derby Day?

We'd all understand that, because we're smart and we're reasonable. In fact, with the Breeders Cup going to Kentucky soon - more than likely - Keeneland might even have to look at something similar, but I bet dollars to donuts they won't go to the commission and ask for a rake change all year. They'll do something with imagination that won't anger customers. That's the way they roll.

Anyhow, I hope y'all enjoyed your day. I'll be back to the grind next week, like a lot of you, trying to beat the toughest gambling game in the world.

Note: CD press release said attendance Derby week increased, as handle fell.

Top Nine Things to Do On Oaks Day

To all the folks who aren't good enough horseplayers at Churchill Downs over the last five or so seasons to beat a 12% or so increase in rakes, this is not a good time. To all the folks who think racing is a mess with high prices and want to take a stand, this is not a good time either. What to do? Choose to bet and lose more money, or choose not to bet and not watch the Oaks?

It's a toughie.

Fortunately for you, Pocket has your back.

Here are nine things to do on Oaks Day that does not involve helping out a Churchill Executive's stock option exercisiment.... or exercisation, or exorcism. Whatever. These ten things also might help you keep your sanity; along with a few more dollars in the wallet.

Here we go!

1. Work (fr. "travalle"): This dog showed up yesterday and was going to for sure - not almost sure, but sure - get hit by a car. A young gal stopped her car, got out and saved the little man, who later I found out was blind. I took him in and spent most of the day trying to find his owner, trying to explain to my very confused beagle that this dog was not taking his spot on the couch for good, and feeding him processed cheese. Although the lovely little fella did get reunited with his family, my work day was shot.  I stayed up until 2AM working, but my day was still shot. So today we all work. Work is good and we make money doing it. So, let's all go to work.

2. Penn National Breeding Seminar With World Famous Breeding Expert Sid Fernando: Penn National goes tomorrow evening and overlaps with some Oaks races. At 6PM join me on twitter peppering pedigree expert Sid Fernando with questions on twitter. "Hi Sid, do you think the seven can handle the mile and 70 yards?" "In this next five claimer do you think the Jamie Ness off the claim horse can outrun the lack of stamina of his second dam?" "With all that slots money, why is the picture so crappy?" We can have fun like that all night. Join us!

3. Northlands Park Pick 5: Where's Northlands Park? It doesn't matter. If you want to be a bettor and not one of those goofy people who doesn't care if they lose money at the track, all you need to know is it has a 10% rake pick 5 and it starts at 8:30PM in race one. It even has a free program. If we can't beat a 10% takeout pick 5 none of us should be let near a past performance page ever again. If you don't play this bet and you're seen on twitter complaining about takeout rates, Andy Serling will block you, and he will be justified in doing so.

4. Play With the Kids: After you're finished betting the Northlands Pick 5, take the rest of the night off and play with the kids. If you don't have kids, go rent some for the night. Throw a ball, take them to soccer practice, watch a good kids movie with them like Let it Ride or Phar Lap. Just keep them away from the Oaks.

5. Call Up Ron Turcotte and Chat: In case you haven't heard, he ain't going to Churchill. He'll be home and he'll probably be bored. Give him a ring and you'll get to chat with a legend.

6. Get On an Email List With Churchill Downs Handle Updates: So I'm sitting here Tuesday and all of a sudden "ping!", another email. I figure it's a real email but no, it's like six dudes who are watching Churchill Downs handle, hoping it fades faster than a CDI Exec's approval rating. It's fun. If Oaks handle is really good they won't email you, so in that case, go play with your rented kids or something.

Real track execs hang on the apron
7. Play Some Harness Racing: Like really, the Big M has probably been one of the more player friendly tracks on the planet. The track owner is a swashbuckler who dresses like we do, the GM is a good dude who likes customers, @itsthejho works there, and even that Zocalli kid is getting nicer on twitter. Spend some money there; it doesn't feel like you are supporting the Death Star and you won't need a shower afterwards.

8. Find Tom LaMarra and Bet What He's Betting: Knowing LaMarra he'll be at some dive betting b-track horses off an obscure trainer angle. It's truly good to go back to our roots sometimes. Follow the man, you'll have a good time.


9. There Are Other Tracks To Bet, Honest: Horseplaying is the hardest betting vocation, bar none. It's the most maddening, hardest to win at, hardest to enjoy and most difficult to understand. What makes it great? When we figure out the puzzle and cash. Winning money is what we are here for and when more is taken from us through decreased payout prices, we're dead. That's not even negotiable. We're done. To help cure that, find another track today. That track might not have a lot of flashy ties or fascinators. It won't have an ABR bus out front, nor will it have bands, Grey Goose Vodka, or rich executives eating foie gras. But if it has a good gamble, you're home; it's where you need to be if you want to beat this game, and enjoy it forever. If you truly want to win and not just wish you won, it can start today. You just have to let it happen.

Have a great day everyone.

If I Were Pablo Del Monte's Owners.....

From Novak:
Well, this is interesting.

 A 19 horse field instead of a 20 horse field can cost a couple of million in handle. 2 million in handle at 20% boat is $400,000. If the Derby has turned into a corporate nickel and dime fest, where an owner can't get an extra seat or two, why not let these owners have a little fun.

"We the owners of Pablo Del Monte will enter the Derby, if you pay us $395,000"

Churchill might say "that's bananas Del Monte!", but I bet they'd come back with a counteroffer. It's how they roll.

Trainers Are Even Supporting Customers Now W/ Churchill Downs Boycott

It'd take me all afternoon to link everything (the Uncle Sigh Bloodhorse column would be more than enough), but this article "Trainer Supports Churchill Downs Betting Boycott" took the cake (language alert).
Asked why a boycott of the classic Kentucky track with the famous twin spires is a great idea, the 60-year-old Stein didn't mince words in giving his opinion about the powers that be that run Churchill Downs.
"These greedy fucks are ruining our game," Stein declared.
I glanced and saw the handle is down this meet, which is what's been hoped for by many. But after reading more and more stories and more and more columns it truly makes me wonder: What could anyone possibly be thinking in supporting this place?

Have a good Thursday everyone.


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