Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2014

Tuesday Headlines

Hello racefans!

Churchill Downs wants dates that Kentucky Downs wants. I know, I know, this is like the Death Star against Alderaan (with the princess with that goofy hairdo), so when Paulick calls it a "battle", one must wonder. However, giving Kentucky Downs those dates makes sense. They are slowly but surely creating a brand in September. Where else has instant racing machine money worked better - big fields, horsemen love it, lower takeout (lowest in North America, according to HANA) for customers. Handle has increased by about 300%. What's not to like? Expand it and keep working hard.

Handle at Churchill Downs was down again, also noted on the Paulick Report.  In the spring, where handle was down quite a bit, Churchill talked about declining foal crops as a reason, and this fall they did too. A few years ago when tracks raised takeout, or did something anti-customer and lost business, they would talk about the bad economy. I think "foal crop size" is this …

Lasix, Handle, Fast Horses and Politics

Good day everyone.

Dr. Larry Bramlage's comments caused a bit of a stir on social media last evening.

He said:

“Let there be no doubt about what I am saying,” Bramlage said. “I believe furosemide is valuable to the horse when racing. But there are too many reasons we can’t keep it. The general public can’t understand it and the continual drumbeat of journalists, most of whom truly have no idea what they are talking about, will become a death knell if we don’t stop it. The connotation that has been created is unsavory to the general public because they can’t discriminate between furosemide and cocaine, they just read the headline ‘race-day medication’ and feel racing is proving itself ‘unsavory,’ if not ‘dishonest’ again."

There's a lot right and a lot wrong with that quote, in my opinion. The lasix narrative that it's a performing enhancing drug, allowing racehorses to compete which should not compete in the first place, is probably true. The incendiary prose t…

Saturday Notes

Good morning everyone.

A few thoughts:
Shared Belief did well enough yesterday to become a solid chalk for the Classic, winning the Awesome Again. For bettors (that's what we kinda do here), this was welcome news. The hype he will receive from his record and his connections should make him solidly overbet. The win pool at least, should lean towards us.The JCGC was marred by an incident to what seems to be a nice guy and a really nice horse - Rajiv Maragh and Wicked Strong. Word is they are both fine, thankfully. Those who liked Tonalist were worried we'd see an over the top reaction on being too close last time, by him being too far back, and early on that looked correct. He was, pinned and surrounded by bombs. We see that so often in horse racing. He won like a good horse should though.At the Red Mile, Artspeak won easily again, only under modest tip taps. He looks like he is still learning and is a very nice horse. He has not raced anyone; which is rare for this time of the y…

Harness Tries to Creep Out of the Dark Ages & World Class 4 Year Olds

There's quite a bit going on in harness racing this week. And a few of them are things that should've been done long ago.

It looks like there is more discussion on a marketing fund for harness racing in Ontario, from purses. Over the next few years the decision the sport in Ontario makes (outside Woodbine Thoroughbreds, which will last no matter what), will likely make or break harness racing in the province. Lotteries, better bets, more customer friendly wagers, and marketing and scheduling are vital to any long-term harness success.

In HRU today, Alan Leavitt, a Kentucky based long time breeder and owner, proposed a new set of kicking rules for the sport. The fines proposed are on a graded scale, where after a certain amount of repeat violations, up to a six month suspension can be handed out. Now if the USTA could penalize judges who look the other way when it happens (and it happens a lot), the sport would be getting somewhere.

Stories like Hollywood Bob's today in HRU…

Sebastian, Polls, & Wagering

Good Thursday everyone.

Sebastian K's off-track loss last weekend didn't budge him from atop the Hambletonian Poll this week. He still leads the venerable Sweet Lou and Father Patrick - two very good horses. I was happy to see that result, because Sebastian has been the story this season. He's probably the best older trotter to set foot on North American soil since Varenne, and could likely beat 99.8 out of 100 pacers week in and week out. He seems to get beaten by only himself, or his shoes, when the track gets soupy.

The Hambo Poll has been skewed to only wins and losses - a horse could get hit by a flying beer can, go offstride and lose, and lose votes - and I guess that makes some sense. However, when all the top horses have losses, it's pretty easy to ensure we have the best horse on top.

Similarly, yesterday was an odd day that started with a twitter conversation if Captaintreacherous was near as good as his sire, Somebeachsomewhere. Yes, you read that right. The…

Last Kentucky Downs Card Today, and Santa Anita Raises Takeout

Good day horse racing peeps!

Kentucky Downs puts on their last card today. As usual, there are some good betting races, and 113 drew in before scratches. It looks like the meet will be up for the third year in a row - and not by a tiny amount. Doug has a synopsis on their handle this meet here.

On the flipside, Santa Anita announced their betting menu for the upcoming meet and it includes a 2% takeout hike for their daily double pools from 18% to 20%.

One track is going the right way; the other hopes you don't notice.

The two largest entities in racing which own the most tracks are Magna and CDI. Both have shown a willingness to increase takeout, or offer pools that are egregious to betting bankrolls, like the Rainbow Six. Although my Frank-love for some of his proactive measures on horse welfare and medication is documented (I might even change my twitter avatar to my favorite Austrian-Canadian auto magnate again), we sure see some short-sightedness on all-important pricing.


Improving Handle is Not as Difficult as it Seems

In this falling demand environment, handle increases are looked at like some sort of unattainable goal. In reality, a good old fashioned asset allocation model, from your average every day financial planner, can help quite a bit.

I was not surprised this week when I saw the Los Al handle numbers. About $400,000 per race was bet on this new meet, while last season - at the Fairs - only $265,000 was bet per race. The Cal Racing Fairs are a meet that simply - no matter what they do, really - could never drive serious handle. By allocating dates to a place people (somewhat) like, more handle was driven.

In Ontario over the last 15 years, slots changed the landscape appreciably. With 17 harness tracks - all with slot machines - the short-sighted legislation (and even shorter-sighted alphabets) demanded that the money from slots was doled out at said track, with no real organization. A lot of the tracks did not simulcast, didn't spend a lot of money on live cards, and were nothing more …

An Attitudinal Sea-Change on Marketing & Racing Under Saddle

I watched an SC clip with interest this week. The questioner asked dozens of trainers and participants "What Percentage of the Purse Pool Should Be Taken Out For Marketing"

This question was asked 5 years ago - before slots were taken away - through the development of the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan. At that time, I did feel there was grassroots support, but this was none echoed by the alphabets that represented them. The plan was never passed, and was placed in the dustbin; where plans tend to go in horse racing.

This last week, I was a little surprised at some of the numbers thrown around. From the 1% or 2%, to the "25%" or "as much as we need to give."

This is a sea-change, quite frankly (the original RDSP called for 5%, most of it out of slot dollars).

Here's the clip

We're probably seeing similar with Racing Under Saddle. The old guard is wary of using purse money for this type of racing (despite it being the same horse populat…

Jug Day in the Books, Captain T Looks Done for a Career, & Yodeling

Yesterday's Jug is complete. It was another Jug day, that is just like other Jug days. Tons of people,  too much food, too much libation, a gazillion races, and what it means to enjoy the sport of harness racing. For a full recap, bullet by bullet, head to for a column by a bettor, and a picture of beagles.

Also in Harness Racing Update, Captain T head Myron Bell says his career might be done. He's been sick since his Preferred race at Mohawk, and, according to Bell, there looks to be no use bringing him back. As most know, the Captain was syndicated for $12M, and they have to 'protect that investment'.  American Ideal, owned by the same crew, had a bone bruise early as a four year old and was also shut down in similar fashion. This is nothing new with four year olds, or even three year olds who get bought early for stud.

Buying live racehorses before their careers are done is a relatively new phenomenon. Before, they were purchased after, or n…

Trixton & Great Horses

Hambo Champ Trixton broke Saturday evening at the Canadian Trotting Classic, and his future is in doubt. He might have re-injured the ankle he had surgery on last year. In HRU, Takter noted that this horse, off that surgery, has had to be babied a little bit. It's "one of the reasons I drive him", he said. Catch drivers can be incredibly hard on horses - the aggressive drivers win more races - and with a horse like that, Takter (wisely, imo) took matters into his own hands.

I was reading a book recently (A Few Seconds of Panic) about being inside the NFL.  It was a good tome that touched on the fans and media, and their proclivity to bumper sticker the intricacies of the game. Often in the stands or in the media, a guy is a dummy for throwing a pass or missing a block, but we have no idea what happened behind the scenes. With zone blocking, 150 plays a game, dozens of schemes and reads each play, players in the book said the breakdown often occurs with a player or mistak…

Don't Jurisdictions Ever Talk?

A whack of years ago the continent was surely not as connected. If a business in New York tried something new, and it worked, California businesses might learn about it in a magazine article or through some sort of word of mouth at a meeting (a meeting you drive to, at a physical location, with muffins). If an innovation is worthwhile, its diffusion happens, but it takes awhile.

Today things are much different. The World is connected, and innovations and improvements - or any experiment really - moves through a business or community like wildfire.

A business that isn't horse racing, I guess.

I am perplexed watching the California debate about their whip changes. The criticisms and arguments against are the exact same arguments Ontario went through in 2008, the UK went through, Hong Kong went through, and probably a few more jurisdictions I am forgetting. It's like this debate is brand new, and California is doing something ground breaking. I've got an idea: Call Ontario a…

Saturday Round Up - Trixton, Kentucky Downs and a Little More

Good morning racing friends.

A lot happened yesterday.

In harness, Father Patrick won the Canadian Trotting Classic, with Trixton appearing to be injured, or at least sore.( has a really good synopsis of all the festivities. ) That made the CTC one of the more anticipated races of the year, to just another race. The trotting field, outside Takter's big three, is not very deep. They just can't go with them.

Trixton is a wonderful horse, and we can only hope he's fine. Whatever may happen, he sure does have a stud career ahead of him. The owners, and him, will be clearly okay.

The sad part about matchups in horse racing is that we rarely get to see them. I am not convinced that Father Patrick is the better horse, and I know some of you aren't either. He's handier, flashier, and he makes his own race - if you bet Trixton against him on a half mile track demand odds - but I really don't know. Trixton has never had a two hole trip ag…

Churchill Downs Withholds Signal & The Meadowlands Super High Five

Good morning everyone!

I am getting emails from players informing me that Churchill Downs Inc has withheld their signal to (at least one) ADW. I will dig a little deeper into this to see what's been happening (edit - just got a note saying "CDI might not be the bogeyman here").

Churchill is in a unique position of owning or controlling several racetracks as well as a national ADW (Twinspires).

Players have long-complained that they need more than one ADW account to play all tracks, and this is another example of that. Churchill, its tracks and properties, have been under a boycott by the Horseplayers Association of North America, since spring, when they raised takeout. That boycott continues. For more information, you can visit 

On the flipside of the coin, the Gural-owned Meadowlands has bowed to demand and created a new Super High Five. Rather than go with the egregious 50%+ effective rake route like many have with jackpot bets, they start with a s…

Odds Changes Are Just Silly & a Little Twitter Gambling Talk

Well, we've all seen it:
4-1 turning for home in the 1st at Remington, win, get $5.60...tough game.
— Craig Milkowski (@TimeformUSfigs) September 11, 2014 It's annoying. But part of the game, so they tell us.

The problem is, it strikes right at the heart of what a true gambler needs to do to survive.

 CJ is (presumably) betting a TimeformUS horse he likes at 4-1. At 4-1 he is making his play on the assumption that this horse will win more than 20% of the time; probably thinking he will win 25% of the time, so it's a green light. Instead at 8-5, his horse - to break even - has to win 38% of the time. In other words, he made an absolutely terrible bet.

This is like betting a 4 point line on a football game and realizing you have just bet an eight point line. "Hold it, I like the other team at 8 points!"

Several years ago Mike Maloney lobbied to have the odds shut off at one minute before post, so the real odds could be shown with that late money. This would h…

Wednesday Notes - Those Dreaded Customer Conversions, Free Publicity and Hogtown

Jarod Dinkin has a really good article up on the HANA Blog about Summer Meets and the barriers to entry. Racing has tremendous issues converting customers and I believe it's a systemic issue caused by a moribund industry that was raised on not having to ever convert customers. There is no easy fix and it will take some time, and very much effort to shake this mindset.

The bottom line is, if you spend $10,000 to get 1,000 people in your door, 90% of them don't bet, 98% don't repeat and only 10% of the remainder open up a betting account you just paid $5,000 to land one customer. With a cost per acquisition that high, you better be able to have them play for years to break even, and at 22% takeout, good luck with that.

Speaking of shaking a mindset, there is much talk in Jersey about sports betting. Mention sports betting or poker in racing and the powers that be perk up. I have no idea why. Would the only car lot in town be happy when three other car lots move beside them…

Back in the Fold

After a week or so with no posts (no applause please) I'm back in the fold. I hope everyone is enjoying the extended summer here in the north east. It sure is nice considering August was in the dumper for most of us.

Anyhow, here's a quick recap........

I decided I needed a little break from wagering and working the last week so I traveled around a little bit. We truly are fortunate to live in such a nice set of countries. Working through Maine I was struck by its reserved beauty, 75 mile per hour speed limits south of Houlton, and its laid back people. I didn't make it to a racetrack (Scarborough Downs) but did see the casino. I guess nowadays we all see casinos instead of racetracks.

People in Maine probably have little time to bet horses. I figure half of them hunt, fish and camp (judging by the license plates) or shop. In fact, I think outlet malls have taken over the Earth. One of them, in a place called Freeport, was quite nice, except for a non-shopper like me it w…

Kentucky Downs Opens & Some Excellent Handicapping Literature

Kentucky Downs, one of the most unique and bettor friendly tracks in North America, opens today. Most of my friends who enjoy the art of handicapping are stoked. I am hoping to play some today as well.

Speaking of handicapping I was really impressed with the New edition of the Horseplayer Monthly. As someone said on twitter, "I can't believe it's free."  I didn't have anything to do with putting it together this month, so great job folks. Enjoyable.

Have a nice weekend everyone.