Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2014

Churchill Meet: Takeout Up, Handle Down, Purses Down

Studies show that when you raise takeout, handle declines, and in the long-run - because fewer people are betting your product - purses eventually go down.

This played out about perfectly at Churchill Downs since they raised rakes in April. But amazingly, it did not take a year or two years for the purse component to take a hit.  According to the Bloodhorse, which looks like it reprinted a CDI press release, purses declined in only 36 race days, from $534,942 to $532,903. 

In April, CDI announced that they were so confident that the purses would increase with the takeout hike, they increased stakes by 2.7%.
Churchill, however, is counting on a net gain from the higher takeout even if betting declines. The track has already increased its stakes purses for the spring meet by 2.7 percent to $7.68 million for the 24 stakes races Horseplayers, just like any other betting consumer have spoken with their dollars, with handle for the meet down close to $50 million. This, during a month of Ma…

Random Harness Thoughts

Last evening the Stakes card at Pocono was raced, with the who's who in the sport. A few thoughts:

Sebastian K is some kind of trotter. The moment he stepped onto the track he looked sound and really happy to be out there. The eight year old went a mile for the ages - 1:49 flat. What was amazing about the effort, and what's amazing about him, is his (what thoroughbred handicappers call) tractability. He stormed the quarter in 26.2, immediately relaxed, backing down the half, then sped up again. That is so rare for a trotter. What an effort.

Sometimes trotters go bad when they go too fast. I worry about this with horses like Father Patrick and Trixton, mainly because of their age. With Sebastian it's tough to worry about it. He has a solid foundation, has already won a race in 50.2 without shoes and came back a week later and was even better.

Speaking of Father Patrick. How good is the Hambo potentially going to be this year with him, Trixton and Nuncio? Last year at this t…

Finley Makes a Strong Point on Lasix Use

In yesterday's TDN Bill Finley looked at the starts per year since the proliferation of lasix use. As most know, over 9 in 10 Thoroughbreds are on the drug. It clearly enhances performance, by helping stop fluid build up in the lungs, so it is well-used for that purpose. But does it hurt starts per year?

Harness horses at a high level, like thoroughbred's, are racing fewer and fewer times. But in harness the speed the horses are going can cause some issues, which probably mean fewer starts. Thoroughbreds have no such issue. Although sprint times have been fast, route races are not seeing increases in speed at all.

Bill makes a compelling case. Common sensically, how it is conducive to increasing starts/year when horses lose so much weight after each start with the drug?


New York horseman dude Rick Violette:

Where would you want to see that money [money for drug testing to catch cheaters] come from?

“I’d like to take some of it off the top of handle. We certainly need the investment. Handicappers, or handicapping groups, are the first ones to rail about catching cheaters."

Ya, that's it. Those handicappers and fans would benefit so they should be paying for it. The horses - that many claim to love - won't benefit. They might be injected with frog venom, or given blood builders, ruining them for life but they certainly won't be helped by catching the people doing it to them.

Or the fact that the game gets sullied with "cheaters" where PETA comes out against it, governments rail against it, and owners leave, stop investing in horseflesh,. because they don't want to play a mugs game against a juicer down the street. That costs trainers like Rick Violette, and breeders and hay men and feed men, and vets and Bob Evans and  eve…

Keeneland Says "Welcome To Horse Country"

I watched the Championship of Canadian Football  - the Grey Cup - like I usually do, because it is an interesting game and it is part of a culture. The game itself is unique, it's niche, it's different. But it's Canada and it has a history.

The CFL has had a resurgence the last half dozen years or so. TV ratings have skied (more people watch the Grey Cup in Canada than watch the Super Bowl now if you can believe it), attendance is up. This is very impressive for one reason, mainly: In the 1990's the niche league probably had a 30-70 chance of surviving.

If you think racing is "dead", it is probably much healthier today than the CFL was.

Numerous things occurred that helped pull the league from the doldrums, but there was one old axiom of marketing that led the charge: Be yourself because you can't market what you aren't.
Until a few years ago, the CFL existed apologetically. It wasn't the National Football League, wasn't American or glamorous. …

Saturday Harness Notes

As y'all know, last evening several eliminations for the Beal, Lynch, Hempt and Frankin were held at Pocono Downs.

Here are a few thoughts; my opinion only:

Jimmy Takter in harness racing update said that Father Patrick's vet bill was $50 last month and that was just to draw and test his blood. Normally we would think this hyperbole, but when you see him trot I think it ain't blowing smoke. I was loathe to call this horse the next Muscle Hill last year, because a lot of 2 year old trotters can slay unseasoned competition and look good doing it in the trot ranks, but this year I do not know how anyone can deny it. I believe he is trotting perfection and we might be looking at the next big thing in this sport.

Captaintreacherous was defeated by the journeyman, but very fast Domethatagain last evening. In the open ranks the Captain has gone zero for two, after beating up on a really suspect crew of three year olds last season. Some are surprised, I know, but should anyone be?…

Move That Horse

A couple of high profile horses in both breeds are apparently moving barns. It's one of those "owner decisions" we see and hear so much about.

In harness, Finley reported Golden Receiver, the $2M plus winning nine year old, has been moved from Mark Harder to Jake Huff.

In Thoroughbred racing, Normandy Invasion is supposedly going from Chad Brown to Larry Jones.

NI's owner summed it up this way:

“I have moved Normandy Invasion over to Larry Jones. I consider Chad Brown a fine trainer and a personal friend, but we just haven’t had the right luck together with Normandy, and I need to try something new.”

Some might think this is blowing smoke, but I would wager it is 100% true.

When things are going poorly for a horse or a barn, the "move" often happens. The first move is to fire the pilot, and when that doesn't work (it almost never does), the CEO of the airline goes. It's rarely anything more than what it is on the surface - like Porter says let…

Bravo To the Breeders Cup ®

Each year as a dutiful Canadian boy I watch the Grey Cup. I've even attended a few. It's a Canadian football tradition, dating back a gazillion years, and will probably be here a gazillion more. 

There is something interesting with the Grey Cup, and football north of the 48th. It's unique.

Football late in the year can be played in several cities that we can describe as smaller, in terrible weather.  The Grey Cup could very well be staged each year devoid of weather (Toronto has a 6 million plus population to draw from and has a dome, for example, and Montreal played in a dome for years), and was for some time. But what it did was hurt the brand. The Grey Cup in Toronto was one of fifty or so events going on in the Big Smoke, and it did not stand out. And it was not played outside, in the possible wind and cold.

The CFL fixed that, and started to give the game more and more to western cities, including last year in Regina, Saskatchewan.

In these smaller cities the game i…

Pureness of Athletic Excellence, On-Track Numbers & Notes

The Baconator wrote an article today examining a rather libertarian view that performance enhancing drugs - if disclosed - might be allowed.
The late Charles Harris, a New York-based horse owner who for years fought for clean sport, once suggested the same thing as Gladwell, that all drugs should be permitted in racing, so long as they are disclosed. At least that would level the playing field, he said. As athletics, horse racing and veterinary and genetic science move forward, will Gladwell be proven right? Will that bright moral line separating doping from science or surgery become less defined?

Whether it's 2014 or 1914, sports of any kind are held in high regard. We don't want to watch robots playing a game, we want to watch pure athleticism. We want to watch athletes doing what they do best, without any enhancements. It's been like that forever, and probably will be like that forever. It might be naive or whimsical, but it's something that's always been t…

Big Saturday Notes

Last night the Pepsi North America Cup was raced at Mohawk. The weather was cooler, but it cooperated. It was a nice evening.

Garnet has a complete update of the results at HRN for those who did not watch the card. For those of you who did watch, here are a few thoughts.

Trixton won the Goodtimes and looks as good or better than his stablemate Father Patrick. Normally with trotters this time of year they are doing nothing special, but this horse is. Last night he trotted a second quarter in 26.4, cleared and trotted 27.4 down the back for a 54.3 middle. Normally horses (usually pacers, not trotters) get a little soft at the end.  With a 28.4 home he looked great. I worry what a mile like that will do to him for August, but he has cleared the bar each and every time.

A horse a lot of us were worried about was Bee a Magician. We could excuse her first loss, but when she ran in during the stretch of her second (like she did in start one) and got picked off by D'Orsay, it made a lot o…

Ontario Election Results: Racing Probably Has to Get Cracking

In the Ontario election last evening, the governing party won another go-round, this time with a majority government. As most know, both the Conservatives and NDP promised some sort of return of the slots at racetrack program, while the Lib's have implemented their four year plan, to try and get racing to be self-sufficient.

I have said before, and believed it most certainly, that whichever party won the election, not a lot would change in the short-term for horse racing. I think some form of the current partnership between the government and horse racing would continue. But that was before last night: No one honestly expected a majority government.

Ontario - an economic powerhouse for a century up until the early 2000's -  is pretty much broke. With a majority, the governing Liberal's can now do what they want, without any other party approval, and they certainly will have to make some tough decisions to at least look like they care about the massive debt Ontario has rac…

Racing's Big Days Continue to Roll

The Belmont Stakes handle is in the books and it was a record year for the storied race. Yes it was a Triple Crown year so we should expect handle to be appreciably higher, but it was even higher than it was in 2004, when Smarty Jones was going for the Triple. This year, according to the DRF figures, handle was over $90 million on the race itself.

Just three and a half weeks ago, Pimlico's Preakness Day numbers were very good, as well. Via the Bloodhorse: "Total pari-mutuel handle on this year's 13-race program was $83,786,363, up 2.2% from $81,939,228 last year for the same number of races."

And the Derby, the granddaddy of them all - maybe that's the Rose Bowl, but you get my drift - handle was large, too.

The Derby had terrible branding from not only a well publicized boycott, but also the litany of complaints from insiders. It was still good.

The Preakness card (sorry for being so blunt) was fairly awful. Shorter fields, some scratches, and a 'meh' …

Fantasy Sports Nut: It's Still About Making a Good Gamble

When peeps in the business talk about horse racing, you'll often hear about selling excitement or the jockeys or drivers, or the horses, or how good or bad a venue is or is not. Those all mean something sure, but the great draw of any game or event that you are going to spend hours and hours preparing for, invest the needed capital to buy tools to make your experience better, and want to be a part of long-term, is the draw of the good old fashioned Benjamins.

I spoke with an track dude many years ago now when we were nattering on about racing, giving customers good races to bet at a good price etc, and he said "you have a point, because it's amazing how much our customers bet when they win." He ntoticed that year's ago and you know this to be true. Having at least a chance to beat a game is the draw of the game itself. When it occurs you want to do it more and more and more.

In the Wall Street Journal this past weekend there was a story about 29 year old student …

Belmont Opines

Happy Monday. I figured I would write a quick post on some of the happenings on Saturday, just for kicks. It was a strange, fun, interesting day. Horse racing is never boring.

The board for the Belmont, both here and most of the day on Betfair, was close to what we all expected earlier in the week, except the eventual winner. Tonalist was 14-1 for quite awhile (about 11-1 at Betfair at one point). There are those who like to bet "early money" like people know something. If they followed that mantra, they were pretty disappointed because it signaled Tonalist stepped on a safety pin or something.

California Chrome broke a teeny bit awkwardly, but seemed to settle ok with an inside trip. When VE moved him near the head of the lane, the horse with multiple gears was stuck in second, looking more like a grinder. After the race it was revealed he had a nasty gash incurred in the race. In my view, that played little part in his loss (in the heat of battle horses get these gashes, l…

Steve Coburn's Comments Not New, But the Setting Sure Was

By now you've all heard California Chrome's owner on the TV, or the net, or read it in print.

With words like "cheaters" and "cowards" used, his comments did not go over well with many. Even Coburn's wife, a seemingly lovely woman, was forced to give "that look" to her life partner (thanks Racing Dudes).

I see the cowboy-hatted owner has been on the radio this morning and is not walking back his comments, either.

The Richard Shermanesque rant was, like old Rich, in the heat of the moment. But this time the rant was not from a guy schooled at Stanford, who has taken PR classes and who has millions in endorsements riding on his behavior. It was from a good old boy who shows up to work at a factory at 6AM each day. One of those people who, well, we might just expect a whole lotta cussing to go on after a disappointing loss.

And, of course, these comments:
“They need to change this sport to where those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby…

The Belmont Stakes Is Upon Us

I've been a little busy lately, so there has not been too much action here at the web log, but I come back with a post that is a) Really hard to find b) interesting and c) unlike anything you've seen before.....

..... A Belmont Stakes pick blog!

Ya, I don't normally do these, but what the hay, it's the Triple Crown after all.

From the rail out.

Medal Count: I think this horse is rapidly improving. He seems very sound and has some ability. He's worked well, his internal fractions show some sneaky talent. He handles dirt fine. Nothing not to like and I can't believe we'll get 20-1, even with Chrome overbet.

The Champ: Most likely winner, I feel. He has the most talent and is the fastest horse on paper. There are no holes with this horse. My fair odds are somewhere around 8-5, and since I will never get that, I can't bet him.

Matterhorn: He has a high mountain to climb.

Commanding Curve: This was my Derby bet (I would find the link on twitter but I am too …

The Skinny on the Churchill Numbers: Bettors Are Clearly Saying No

Back in April when Churchill raised takeout rates on an already teetering betting product, many industry watchers and horseplayers wondered what might happen. After 22 racedays, it looks like we have our answer.

Total handle, including the Oaks and Derby Days, are off $31.9 million.

As noted when the takeout increase was enacted - and the fact that Oaks and Derby Days will skew any numbers - it was the rest of the meet that mattered, via a hike in rates was sure to be detrimental to handle. This was a fairly common opinion in horse racing land at the time, shared by many:
Blind man can see Churchill wants more money on Derby day and doesn't care if the rest of the meet collapses.
— Pullthepocket (@Pullthepocket) April 10, 2014 Similarly, after the Derby, Tom LaMarra in the Bloodhorse wrote:

"The six-day Derby week total handle of $253.8 million dropped almost 2% from $258.5 million last year. HANA said it believes there were a number of bettors who didn't wager into the…