Hambo Week & Other Notes

Good day horse racing fans. The big news today is that Scott Blasi has returned to the Asmussen stable. Twitter is reporting that we've so far seen no pictures of him hugging a horse. #fullstorytwitter.

Here are a few ramblings.

The Horseplayer Monthly is out. Too many stories to mention, but I liked Mike Dorr's article on Jackpot Wagers, and I think it's a must read. Lenny makes a great point on rake, and my pal Melissa talks about first crop sires, which I can use some work with.

CDI, with strong revs from Derby and Oaks days had a decent revenue bump this quarter. Imagine how they would've done if they just raised rakes for those two days instead of the whole meet? Probably much better. 

The big story this weekend is for harness fans - the Hambo card......

A free program is here. 

There are quite a few guaranteed pools and pick 4's etc, so check your local listings. Post time is noon.

Dominated by trots, one of the best pacing races of the day (or any Hambo Day) is the US Pacing Championship, highlighted by Sweet Lou. If there are some front end shenanigans, we might see a sub 147 mile. I think Thinking Out Loud is very sharp right now. If he can get a second or third over trip (i.e. his trip) he might surprise.

How good was the 2012 three year old crop? In last years USPC, seven entrants were four. This year two are. One has a shot (Captain T) and the other is 50-1 ML (Sunfire Blue Chip).

Not sure about the morning line at 4-5 on Bee a Magician in the Ima Lula. She ain't as fast as last year, and Classic Martine, with a better post, went by her last time like she was tied to the rail.

In the Cashman you know darn well there might be some brouhaha from Yannick (and maybe others) against the big chalk. He clearly thinks he can beat him. I am still of the belief the North American trotters want nothing to do with the big horse.

In the big one I think the ML on Father Patrick is heavy. Trixton is probably as good and he has a nice post. This race - probably not from a betting perspective, but from a spectating one - is a real dandy.

We can expect handle to be up this year, I think. Mainly due to the fact there are no eliminations.

Often the best race the Meadowlands offers out each year is the Lady Liberty. It looks to be another great race this year.

Although she was more relaxed last week I will be taking another swing against Mission Brief. A facemask, bright sun and a big crowd at 3-5 is not something I want to hammer.

Have a nice day everyone.

Monday Notes

The weekend - with plenty of action in both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred world - is done. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Bayern's last was eye-popping, with a solid figure, and one wondered if he would carry it through to the Haskell. He sure did. In some of his previous outings he looked a little nuts, but he has seasoned.

At the Meadowlands Saturday we saw mostly prep races for this week's big Hambo card. A few of the races were pretty ugly, with some no-try efforts. Archangel, who has been bottled up and wacky in the pocket of late, was rolled on the front end to a 1:50 score. Thinking Yannick is not the biggest Ake Svantstedt fan, the Cashman Final should be interesting. Sebastian K returned to the winners circle after slipping all over the track in the Maple Leaf Trot, where he was beaten.

The Equilottery is making some headlines. Here is what the horse lottery looks like from a horse racing bettor perspective (page 4, pdf

Hong Kong lasix study here. What I liked most is the quote that had not much to do about Lasix, or studies. 
  •   “For a lot of different reasons, the Hong Kong Jockey Club controls everything,” Preston said. “They have totally revamped the racing model and gotten into the mode of complete transparency. Every record that can influence a bettor’s decision to bet on Horse A versus Horse B is known to them, including their veterinary records. I think the model works because people feel very confident in their betting strategies because they have complete information.”

Something tells me that here across the pond, such a system would fail miserably. Case in point below.
Jimmy Takter got three days for his Scream and Shout drive a couple of weeks ago at the Big M. Seeing the circumstances that is probably not far off what he should've gotten, in my opinion. I hope others in his position rethink the clog move with a longshot from here on out.

Added fees suck. A 20 year old bettor learns about the nickel and diming done in Illinois regarding their ADW tax.  h/t to Racetrackandy

Sweet Lou is as good as ever; probably better than ever. The winter treated him well and he seems sound and happy. His back three quarters on Saturday in a US Pacing Championship prep were robotic, and he won so easily you'd think he went 49 flat. If he can somehow stay sharp and sound there is little question in my mind he will go 46 or 46.1. He would need a three quarters around 1:19 and change at Lexington, which is pretty hard to find. I guess I could temper that in one way: The Big M was rocket-fast on Saturday, so we need to take those final times with a grain of salt.

Presumably looking for more speed, they changed the shoes on the Captain on Saturday. He raced really well, but being a grinder he has a tough time against pure speed horses he is encountering this year. He has always gapped a little on the far turn, but he really gapped it on Saturday.  Regardless, both he and Thinking Out Loud showed they are in form and ready for a go this weekend.

Have a nice Monday everyone!

A Common Refrain No One Talks About Much

In HRU today, owner of the ill-fated Modern Family spoke about the state of horse racing (pdf page 4), in the article titled "Domback Wants Out". 
  •  Before his run of bad luck Dombeck was already disillusioned with the sport and he admitted that other issues have played into his decision to scale back. He says it's too hard to compete against the giant stables at the classier levels and that he feels that lower level races are
    dominated by drug cheats.
This is not an opinion you read in the press very often, but in grandstands and shedrows we've all heard it countless times.

Owning horses is not an investment vehicle and never really has been, as much as the powers that be try to make it one. It's about doing something with your money for entertainment, and like buying a lottery ticket because you might just get that home run horse.

Breakdowns, competing against 4 horse super stable entries, trying to claim a horse in that cess pool at some tracks is something that plagues horse racing - both Thoroughbred and harness - and has for some time.

People complain about falling foal crops, a lack of fans at the track, and a lack of new faces at horse sales. Nine times out of ten the complaint is that purses are not high enough. Purses do not have anywhere near the pull they are supposed to have; it's the structure of the game that has always been an issue. If you can't make money you need to be able to have fun. Right now for a lot of owners or potential owners, it's not much fun.

Controlling the Message

It was recently announced that there were several morphine positives in the UK. One of the horses who tested positive was the Queen's horse. Yes, that Queen.

This has made headlines, and most of them scream like the one in the above link does. Short version: Racing is crooked, even the Queen does it.

Morphine positives, and other obvious egregious drugs that find their way into positive tests, are often due to some sort of contamination. An easy way to tell if the positive test is a mistake of some sort, is by releasing the levels of the drug in the system. 1 parts per billion, which will test, could not performance enhance an ant, let alone a twelve hundred pound racehorse. If we see those levels we know darn well it's an error.

I understand why racing has to release tests like this to the public, but they need to have some sort of narrative to go along with them. It's one thing for the trainer in question say "there was only a small amount in the system and it probably came from the feed", and quite another for the authorities to say similar; the latter meaning a lot more than the former.

It's not apoligizing for horse racing, it's about doing the right thing. A trainer - especially with the Queen's horse - would have to be insane to use morphine because he or she knows it will test. It's a non-starter and should be treated as such.

There are bad trainers out there. There's pre-race in the shadows that "won't test"; there are bloodbuilders and other nefarious drugs. We know this to be true because some have been caught, signed, sealed and delivered, and some will be caught again. Whenever there's money involved you'll find corruption. But in the above, no corruption was likely, and racing needs to do a better job in such situations. The public just sees "crook" and that's helpful to no one.

Monday Notes

Good morning everyone.  Here are a few things that caught my eye over the weekend.

Sebastian K was beaten at Mohawk on Saturday, as most know. Intimidate, the always fast but sometimes not sharp and sound trotter, nailed him in the final stride. It's pretty clear the off track bothered Sebastian K, as it does with tons of horses at Mohawk. Shoeing is pretty important on those days and Sebastian, who is reported to race barefoot, probably slipped and slid his way around the oval. 

After the race Modern Family, the super-nice trotter of Daryl Bier's who finished fourth, passed away in the paddock. That's horrifying. He was a nice trotter. The first person to comment on the passing in the Sc story was Intimidate's owner. They have class.

In Las Vegas a redone and remodel superbook is planned at a Westgate Resorts casino in Vegas. One line caught my eye:

"The spokesperson echoed Siegel in saying the biggest change will be a move more toward sports betting, with two-thirds of the venue geared to that and one-third to horse racing."

In Vegas, with so much to bet, 4.5% juice on sports betting rules the day. Old timers still like the track it seems, but as we all know, 21% (and rising) takeouts make for an unpalatable wager oftentimes.

Saratoga's meet is off and running through opening weekend. Logic would dictate, with fewer races and a likely dip in field size, handle might be off this meet by 5% or so, but I must say opening weekend was enjoyable from a betting perspective. NYRA gets clipped on social media often, but I find they are much better than the left coast tracks in promoting and offering good bets. The effects of the admission increase, which I think they handled poorly, are still TBD, but I figure it won't mean much either way. Revenue streams from admission for big race meets is something racing has to explore.

I know people like Del Mar as well, and if you say anything bad about it sometimes the west coasters take it personally. I can't say much either way. I have not played California racing since the takeout hike in 2010. The buzz for the meet seems okay, though.

Trixton won easily at the Big M on Saturday, as did Nuncio. Let's hope and pray for an 11 horse or so Hambo, with no eliminations.

Trotters with some European flavor continue to impress in driving web traffic, and interest. Greg on twitter said he put up two races on Youtube this weekend, the Battle of Lake Erie from Northfield and the Maple Leaf trot. The former featured the richest horse in harness racing, Foiled Again, the latter Sebastian K. The Maple Leaf Trot's hits were about 7:1 the Battle's.

Have a good Monday everyone. 



Takter Reaction Shows How Hard it is to Run The Sport

In Harness Racing Update, driver/trainer Jim Takter was "steaming mad". As most of you who watched know, Takter, driving a longshot against two other of his stablemates, sat on the outside and did not advance, in a stakes final last weekend. This caused crawling fractions and a good old fashioned boat race. 
  •  “Why should I put pace into the race? I had no reason to do that. I was screwed no matter what I did; she couldn’t even keep up anyway. This whole thing is (expletive) bull (expletive).”
    Takter said
  •  “It’s upsetting because I’m a standup guy,” Takter said. “I do everything right in this sport. Go after these scumbags doing all this dirty garbage.”
 Jim doth protest too much. No one is calling him a crook. No one is saying he deliberately boxed in a challenger. All people are saying is he did not advance with a horse on the outside - which is against the rules of racing - and because he had two others in the race, including the leader who clearly benefited, the perception for the sport is tarnished.

Jim is so upset, he says if the rules are changed he will sue.

The above shows how hard it is to police the sport, for the benefit of the wagering public. In Major League Baseball, a guy taking a supplement that you and I can take can be booted out of baseball. He's not a drug addict, but it looks bad. A dude who smokes a joint - legal in some states - as an NFL player is treated differently than a guy on the corner. He's not a drug addict either, but it can cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in suspensions.

Jim is not a crook, he just did not advance on the outside with a horse, which causes an issue for the $5 million or so going through the betting windows on Saturday. He should be fined. And he should, along with anyone else in the same position, learn from that mistake.


Horse Racing's Data Bog & The Decisions It Makes

With most of us, at work in our jobs or while we are handicapping the races, we need data to make a decision. If we do "x" we need to know what happens to "y". Reading a couple of headlines it makes me wonder how racing does the same thing. I guess the short answer is, it probably doesn't.

As Alan at LATG talked about today in his Saratoga notes, NYRA has increased admission prices to the storied track, but they've also changed their policy on "spinners" who buy more than one admission for free stuff.
  • Excessive spinning will be limited to two extra vouchers at a time, in an attempt to prevent hoarding and to give more people a chance to get the items; and the extra vouchers sold will not count towards attendance.  So the phony crowd figures - to me one of the treasured traditions of Saratoga - will become a thing of the past. 
So, if racing tries to answer a question like "did a fairly large percentage admission fee increase hurt attendance?" they can't. The old data is bad, they changed two variables not one, and even worse, it's probably planned anyway. When attendance goes down it's because there "were no spinners", so of course it went down.

Ass covering, maybe. But worse, no one learns anything about proper policy or revenue generation.

It's even worse, like we see with Churchill Downs. Although the field size issue has been debunked dozens of times (Churchill's field size is down almost exactly what horse racing's is in 2014, yet their handle was down by 800% or 900% more than national handles), it still is thought of as "the issue". This is bad because the real problems and the real data points that need action, are overlooked. As Matt Hegarty tweeted the other day:
The Kentucky Commission, approved taking money away from drug testing to help CDI purses yesterday, probably due to the fact "that field size issue" is a real bear.

Even when they have data points that make sense - e.g field size down average, handle below average, so the takeout up is the only major factor left to attribute the losses to) - they don't use them.

Does raising admission fees at Saratoga matter? Who knows. NYRA has a built in excuse and it will be hard to measure its benefit or detriment to revenues either way. Internally they probably will, but if the policy looks like a dud it's unlikely they will broadcast it.

At Churchill, should they lower the takeout rate back to try and make more money, and get back customers they've lost? Who knows. Just take $125,000 out of drug testing to give them more for purses please. Purses did crappy last meet.

Horse racing is frustrating. It trudges along in a data bog, making decisions that either already fit a prescribed political agenda, represent the path of least resistance, or use the data in a way which makes little sense in the first place.


Doubles, Doubling Down, Expectations & Other Monday Notes

The "Del Mar Double Caper" was in full effect the last week. As you may know, double takeout was set at 18% for the Santa Anita and Los Al meets, and this was planned to be carried over the rest of the year. Now, after some negotiation with the horsemen and owners, double takeout is being set at 20%, a 2.68% reduction from last year, but a 2% increase from earlier this year at other So Cal tracks.

Chris, who has run racetracks for years, summed it up on twitter:
If you don't quite understand his point, maybe the head of the California Lottery can help. They lowered their takeout percentage on scratch tickets and ended up making more money:

"Increasing the prize payout percentage improves the product's value to the consumer, provides us with a powerful message that gets consumer attention, and gives us a tool to drive sales and profits. A relatively small increase in prize payout percentage can be leveraged into a much more significant increase in top-line sales.

Although the increase in prize payout percentage leaves a smaller percentage to be transferred to education, the total dollars going to our beneficiary goes up. And at the end of the day, you can spend a dollar, but you can't spend a percentage. So these changes have resulted in increased funding to education and that's what our constituents care most about and the reason the Lottery was created in 1984."

In horse racing, because it has lived with a pricing mechanism that is not only average cost priced, but worse than that, arbitrarily set at false levels, when a margin goes up, horsemen and others believe that they will make more money. When in fact, they are probably losing more money.

Chris's comment hit that right on the head.

There is a ton of talk about the Dumb Ass Partners doubling down with their requests for appearance fees for their horse, California Chrome. Although this is much ado about nothing, in my view, this is what a lot of people have been clamoring for in the business - more revenue outside purses and stud fees for the stars of the game.

Everything, also in my view, comes from the lack of structure in horse racing (or a structure built for another time). In the NFL, appearance fees and memorabilia etc from active players is run out of the players association. Some of the revenues go back to help the sport, and the players. In this case, the owners of the horse take the insurance and shipping risk, but the racetrack attendance benefits. Of course one can be altruistic about this, but if there was a proper system set up for appearances by star horses, I think everyone would be better off.

Speaking of systems, horse racing business is led by an act created in 1978 - the Interstate Horse Racing Act. Owners don't like it much because it gives too much power to trainers, and horseplayers don't like it much because it is a barrier to lowering takeout, or getting more customer centric things done for them. I agree, it has to be scrapped and something new has to replace it, like this opinion states. 

There was a letter to the editor to Harness Racing Update this week from a Pet Rock fan who didn't take kindly to the hype of Captaintreacherous last season.  The writer does make some good points, primarily, when you race a restricted crop, it depends on the year you're born a lot of the time. If Pet Rock was a three year old last season, or in other years with the lack of a deep crop, he'd probably have won a lot of races,  and been hyped himself. Conversely, if the Captain raced in the super deep Pet Rock year, the world's worst handicapper could tell you he wasn't going to win 90% of his races.

The owners of ILuvthenitelife felt similar last year, and I agreed with them. Their filly was a monster, but because the Captain was racing and winning races, she was an afterthought. When we look at this season, we see how things have worked out and look at it through a different lens. ILTN was beating up on Shebestingin and Somewhereovertherainbow like they were not in the same species. This year those two fillies have done well in the older division. It's likely, barring injury, she would be a four year old superstar against some tough older mares. She was a quality animal, like Pet Rock, but because she was overshadowed by a winning horse, she got little respect. It was not her fault, it was based solely on circumstance and the year she was born.

This is why I feel it's imperative horses race longer. We get to see who is a great horse and who is a good horse. Restricted divisions can make some look like good horses who are actually great horses, and some look like great horses who are actually good horses.

Have a nice Monday everyone.


Meadowlands Pace Night: Different, But Good

Last night's Meadowlands Pace night is in the books. For the two big races, Sweet Lou took the Haughton and He's Watching - a $3,000 yearling purchase - joined Somebeachsomewhere as the fastest three year old in harness history with his Pace win.

Some notes, or things that caught my eye .......

This was not a Pace night of old, where most of the accompanying races were overnights, with ten horse fields of high conditioned horses or claimers battling heads. These races, a harness staple, have been long gone from Jersey as neighboring states have added slots. It's a shame, because those races had high handles and brought in the gamblers. Instead, we had a stakes card with several low priced winners. It wasn't bad, it was just different.

Trixton looked amazing to me..... losing. Father Patrick, after a brief scare from pocket sitting Nuncio, won fairly easily in this anticipated tilt. Early Hambletonian odds? How about Takter-Takter-Takter at 2-1, 5-2 and 7-1 for Trixton, Father Patrick and Nuncio.

In the fifth race we saw the worst harness racing has to offer: A boat race. A Takter horse on the lead, with a Takter horse blocking, with another Takter horse not wanting to go three high to get around the blocker. At PTP Downs, Jim is $5,000 lighter in the wallet for pulling a Refrigerator Perry. 

In the Mistletoe Shallee we saw Act Now act like Act Now. When you see a horse spit the bit after looking like he or she is cruising by like she does,  it usually means a terrible physical problem. But I wonder, could it be in her head? Strange, super fast, strange mare.

After his two year old Breeders Crown, Sweet Lou was the now horse. It didn't materialize, until perhaps now. I know the division got quite a bit easier with Pet Rock and A Rock n Roll Dance off to stud, but seriously, would it matter if they were still racing? Right now I don't think so. Congrats to Sweet Lou.

Speaking of Lou, I did quite well off his looks in the post parade, especially in the NA Cup a couple of years ago. He always paraded a little funky, but looked totally different that night than he had in his Pocono tilt to start the season. I thought I saw the same last night in the PP; just a Lou that looked a little bit more off than usual. Ummmm, apparently not.

Last year, here on the blog, or on twitter, several sharp bettors were wary of the hype of the Captain, and got in a lot of trouble for it from his fans. It was nothing personal, it was just exhibiting an opinion that when he did start to face decent raceway horses, he might not be winning those short margin races that he was winning last year. Horse racing sometimes is a game of smoke and mirrors. A lot of stud farms like the undefeated-type horse at two and three, and rarely want that exposed, which is what the four & five year old years can do. Even though the farms hate it, as a racing fan and a bit of a historian of the sport, I think it's good for racing to have that extra year. As for the Captain, he is a nice horse and he's always been a nice horse. He raced well last night (and has raced well his season, coming back sound and strong); just not as good as the hype from last year would have led you to believe.

Three year old crops can be hits (Somebeachsomewhere's year) or misses (Well Said or the Captain's year). This year, so far, it looks like a bit of a hit. He's Watching got the best trip of any contender, but he won like he did not need it.  A very very good performance. People like to use excuses when a horse loses, and if He's Watching lost on the big track they might say "he's a little horse who is at a disadvantage". They'd probably have a point. But this horse is so nice his size does not hurt him. Well done for a $3,000 purchase.

I don't know how many harness races I've watched - maybe 100k - and I have not seen a horse do what Always B Miki did last night. He was almost in the middle of the racetrack at the first turn, then got stuck three high the entire rest of the mile, until the head of the lane when he was four wide.  Normally that means an 8th place finish or worse (Sometimes Said had a similar trip and check his line). This night, with this horse, not a chance. He, despite running in during the stretch drive, came second and paced 147.1. I am so excited to see what this horse can do when he gets his head on straight and learns what he's out there for.  I so hope he stays sound.

A lot of people said the Meadowlands Pace was a drivers race, but the rodeo we saw was anything but. Harness stakes races are a race of circumstance, nowadays. Today, speed is paramount and if you are trapped along the rail you can't take advantage of a Meadowlands shuffle, you just find yourself in an impossible spot along the wood. Because of that, everyone stayed on the outside and drivers David Miller and Cory Callahan got royally screwed. He's Watching, who had the three, benefited from that, because Sears with the two ended up in the only spot he could've the way the race went. I saw a lot of people blaming CC and DM last night, but if you watch the race they had no other choice. In races like the M Pace, others dictate what trip you may or may not get, by forcing your hand.

While I think the Captain has come back good at four, I think last year's Horse of the Year, Bee a Magician, is still not near her best. She won last evening in 151.3, which was good, but when she was reeling off similar times off worse trips last year, it's still concerning. She is not as fluid or sound on the track, in my opinion. She should be sprinting away from 50-1 horses coming off her back, not under the stick to hold them off.

Handle last evening, per race, was higher than last year by a decent margin. I am not sure if the early start happened last year or not (which is generally worse for handles) but the results were good. The wagering on the Pace itself was lower than I expected, and only a deviation or two above the others, which is curious, but does show something about harness racing: In terms of betting handle, a deep field of good conditioned horses can hold their own against a stakes field.

Those are my thoughts. All my opinion, of course.

Have a really nice Sunday everyone.




Meadowlands Pace Card Analysis

For harness bettors there are a few cards each year that are must-bets. The Meadowlands Pace card is certainly one of those. There are pool guarantees, an extra pick 4 and usually some excellent opportunities to make a little bit of money.

If you can read a harness program you can see the obvious contenders, but I'll look at a few horses I will be including on my tickets that are not so obvious.

Race One, $100k Sires Stakes Trot: True Blue Stride is a nice trotter who missed a week, which is not uncommon for a Harder student. He is 8-1 ML and up against some horses who will show speed, but if he looks good on the track I will take his inflated price. 

Race Three: 3YO Open: I think Unlocked is one of the fastest three year olds out there if he can put it all together. Tyler Smith's mount will take a beating and is a likely winner, so this colt's odds will be high. I dislike betting horses who break for no reason, but he's a use for me.

Race Six, Misteltoe Shallee: At 10-1 ML, Weeper will be a use. She had a no chance trip in her last with the speed in that race. This week, off a week off, she should be ready to roll. She'll be higher odds than Gallee By the Beach, and she really should not be.

Race Eight, Haughton: This is an interesting race to go shopping, I think. The Captain has been overbet based on reputation and is two for his last six parimutuel starts, burning some cash. Sweet Lou is the standout, but last week's race was very tough; off a tough mile like that he might not be 100% on Saturday (remember his NA Cup as a three year old). This division is amazing because whomever gets a good trip can be there somewhere, and with those two taking a beating at the windows, there may be good value on the board. Ultra bomb Captive Audience is a nice horse who is very sharp. He has had no chance trips in his last few and was really live at the wire last time. I'll use him. I did not like State Treasurer's Gold Cup, but it was off a week after a tough race in London. He can win the race, I believe.

Race 9: Meadowlands Pace: What you see is what you get here, in my view. Whatever contender trips it out will probably win. I think Luckbewithyou will race better this week, and longshot Jet Airway might luck out and hit the ticket. I think the morning line is about right in this race, in terms of chances of each entrant. I'll watch the tote to try and find the neglected contender, more than likely.

Good luck tomorrow everyone. Enjoy the card.


Racing's Lack of Understanding Numbers & the Need For Real Research

From the Bloodhorse:

"The higher takeouts took effect Jan. 1, 2011, amid howls of protest and calls to boycott California racing. Fortunately for California, the decision has proved to be a good one. Nearly $146.5 million in total purses were paid during FY13, which is up 13.7% from the total purses paid in FY11. Handle on California races dipped slightly from $2.9 billion to $2.88 billion for FY12—the first full year following the takeout increase—but total handle has completely recovered. Total all-sources wagering on California races reached just shy of $3.04 billion for FY13."

It's numbers displayed like this which makes it hard to develop sound policy in horse racing.

Success?

FY 2011 wagering, where the handle fell precipitously the six months following, and after a takeout hike in 2010 at Los Al, which also lost wagering, was over $3.4B. Now it's 3.04B. There's much more to the story, like Lenny spoke about here.  


Even despite that chart - which any fortune 500 company would find heads rolling for, not praise from the media - the presumptions are specious.

Since the takeout hike in 2010 purse gains came from the TOC negotiating a larger percentage of takeout; not from a price change. In other words, even if the takeout rate was not hiked, purses would've gone up, making this a self fulfilling prophecy.

What is even more comical, to combat massive losses of wagering during the first four months of 2011, a lower takeout 14% Pick 5 was created, with again the TOC taking a higher percentage of takeout for purses. A rebate program for large wagers was created. This season, 18% doubles were brought aboard to try and get some money back.

In part, lower takeout bets, and systems, helped stem the tide of massive handle losses that were caused by higher takeout. Only in horse racing would people not find that laughable.

During this so called 'success', track revenue has fallen 28.23%. That's what happens when you rob Peter to pay Paul.



When someone reads the above they might conclude California should raise rakes again and make so much more money. Nonsensical. If that ever happened, it would not only be the horseplayers protesting, they would be arm and arm with the racetracks -  who were brutalized by the change in splits - and anyone else who cares about the amenities needed to house the sport (with revenues overall down over $50 million+ since 2010, there are a lot of people suffering cutbacks). 

Racing policy is almost always created on the anecdotal. Steve Wynn doesn't do that with the number of slot machines, table games and how much to charge for each. The lottery system does not rely on anecdotal to jockey their takeout rates. No business does. But racing, seemingly happily, goes about things much differently, while handle circles the drain in charts like the above.

The Jockey Club, or others, need to fund a pari-mutuel research center with smart people doing the research that a multi-billion dollar industry deserves. It needs to stop the madness, because if it doesn't, articles like the above can change minds. That happened in Italy when year over year they jacked takeout to 41% and slowly imploded; now there is virtually no more horse racing there. It's happened with other games that are now defunct. Horse racing in North America cannot follow that same path. It's begging for someone to step up to the plate, someone to lead. It can't come soon enough.


The Euros & Lottery's

This tweet showed up on my timeline yesterday:
That's trotter Your So Vain last year (above) and this year (below).

It's a little weird to post it, because when you do it looks like you're taking a shot at Brad Maxwell (last year's trainer). I'm not. Brad is an excellent trainer and Your So Vain was very good last season.

What it does show is the difference, I feel, between Euro trainers and North American trainers with trotters. The rush to get a trotter right to make money at two and three has a modern domestic trainer reaching for the equipment shelf.  If he won't trot straight, add a head pole, if he won't trot, add trotting hopples. The list with finicky trotters can be endless, which in my view is why you see so many dressed like Robocop.

A good many of the times, again in my view (although I have spoken with good trot trainers about this before for years), the trotter is just not right. He's immature, something is bugging him or what have you. He likely does not need equipment or injections, he needs some TLC and some good old fashioned horsemanship. When the trotter is sounded up, or given time, he or she can come back with minimal equipment, be free and happy and trot sound and straight. Not all the time, but a lot of the time.

Ake and other Euro trainers espouse this view. If you watch an Elittlopp for example, you'll notice free swinging trotters, happy and sound and bouncing around like a ball, with almost no equipment.

Old time pacing trainers do similar. Bob McIntosh comes to mind. Some of his horses need no check, and wear only a small shadow roll, or a small blind (horseplayers often note that his horses like Ponder and Staying Together hold their head low. True, but only because he never cranked them up). His horses are free moving. Compare that to some of the modern pacing trainers with high percentages. Hoods or blinkers with cups are common. Knee boots and other equipment are common too. Send them down the road, keep them straight, and try and make money seems to be the method of operation.

Horse racing is amazing - especially so in harness racing where training techniques and equipment use means so much more than thoroughbred racing. I find it amazing because there are trainers out there who know horses so well, they can let them use their natural gait, give them time needed to show what they can do. Ake is one of those, and he is an excellent addition to the North American training ranks.

I love watching his trotters go. They move like a metronome. Just like the horse gods intended.

Lotto Mania

We'll have more on this soon, but Brad Cummings (formerly of the Paulick Report) has a new venture up and running called Equilottery. If this can get done, through massive red tape, infighting and more alphabets than a can of children's soup, it's a game changer. A big one.

Give the story a read here.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Monday Musings On Handle and the Big Days

TimeformUS has their usual interesting (and more in-depth than anywhere you'll see) take on handle numbers in Thoroughbred racing for the second quarter up on their blog. June, where handle ticked up slightly, was a good month for racing, with decreased field sizes. Of course, this was skewed by a Triple Crown try, where not only Belmont, but pretty much everyone had a good weekend. But even leaving that out, I think the numbers are good.

Loss of race dates means handle will be off as a rule, yes, but it does not have to be a death knell. There are people who want to bet races, if the races are good enough, and a lot of them are waiting in the wings for opportunities. As is often said, give us 7 tens instead of 10 sevens. That racing did this with ten sevens is a positive.

Hong Kong, which prescribes to the seven tens theory, saw a record handle this year of US$13.1B. Only six or seven short years ago handle in HK was around US$8B. They've grown and despite hiccups, have held their brand. They are the World's number one destination for horse racing gamblers.

Timeform also looks at favorites percentage and ROI by field size. This is something that some powers in racing do not understand about us as gamblers. When you card short fields, sure it hurts exotic wagering because of the lack of combinations, but it is more than that. In short fields high takeout becomes not only impossible to beat, but impossible to hold gambler interest. If your game is impossible to beat it is not a game at all, but a place where people congregate to buy fare at food trucks.

Another thing the TF figures show is that average field size is about what Churchill Downs had last meet for field size. In other words, the track fed logic that field sizes were the big reason for their decline has more holes in it than a bucket at a New Hampshire shooting range.

Belmont etc

People constantly talk (it's much less now than several years ago as people understand gambling more and more) about what a Triple Crown winner would do for horse racing. I think it's obvious that we saw in June is its more important to have a Triple Crown try in racing. Belmont TV viewership was about what it was for the Derby. Their card was beefed up and did big handles, (although I am sure you could've carded five claimers and got a huge boost too).

On Belmont Day they promoted their 4th of July weekend card, and it did well ($18 million according to Alan here). Big Days are where its at. The Met Mile card and their $16M-$20M handle went poof when they moved those stakes to Belmont Day, so it's one less big race day to promote and I think that's no damn good long term, but at least Belmont and NYRA are trying some things to promote the sport and get people to wager by carding bigger fields.

This TC try was good for the here and now, but I wonder about next time. With the issues during and especially immediately after the races were over, the branding had to take a hit. Will the thousands of people who suffered the assorted issues come back? Is this negative branding long term?

Queens Plate

Yesterdays Queen's Plate card was very good, with a lot of bettable races. Handle looks to be quite good again this year.

I remember being on a panel at the Canadian Gaming summit in 2008 and I asked "why don't you [Woodbine] promote wagering more when you are on TV?" It's always been something that bothered me. There's a big race and we see feature after feature about a feed man while there's some betting going on. The answer bordered on promoting wagering being a gray area on the airwaves.

Lately that changed. Yesterday on TSN the Super High Five mandatory payout was promoted heavily. With a million dollar pool, there's a chance someone could win a million for twenty cents. I think they can even do better next year at promoting it. I believe a pool like this, done right, can achieve monster handles on QP Day, if they stick with it and make it part of the Queen's Plate brand.

Big M

Speaking of big cards, the Big M ran the Pace elims on Saturday night and the field is set for next Saturday's big day. It's a 6:30 post. We'll have more on that this week.


It's Not That Difficult to Be Honest

Several stories reported the handle decline at Churchill Downs this week. They were fine stories, but they pussyfooted around the real issue, as Brandon said on twitter.
If, after a much publicized price increase, your local lemonade stand had their sales crater 25% this summer, we would not have to hire Columbo to figure out why. The business would not say it's been a little too humid for foot traffic, The World Cup was on, or demand was really, really high, but they ran out of lemons.

Racing, an insular business, has been run with increasing rates of takeout for so long it's become a way of life. Insiders do not want to talk about it, nor do they want to have it publicized that a policy initiative was a mistake. This is why something as simple as a price going up and having people consume less of it seems like a foreign concept; something that happens to "other businesses".

Churchill Downs' handle went down this meet because the price of a wager was increased and as a result people bet less than they did last year.  It's not that difficult to be honest about a fact that is so obvious.

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