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Showing posts from May, 2015

More Questions Than Answers

Good day racing fans.

Today it was announced another bill regarding the regulation of drugs in racing is being pushed in congress. "Bill Puts USADA in Charge of Drug Testing".

"USADA apparently would determine which medications, if any, can be used in racehorses on race day, including the commonly used anti-bleeding drug furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix. Horsemen's groups across the country vehemently oppose any efforts to ban furosemide on race day."

Horsemen groups don't like it, that's for sure, but this proposed legislation in effect, shuts them, and racing out, 6-5.

"There would be an 11-member board, five members of which would come from the racing industry."

This bill, like others we've seen, probably has some good and bad in them. They are not funded for one, and that's an obvious concern, since this industry rarely pays for things with slots, or fees on themselves, they add it to takeout. But no one can deny they are p…

The Culture, TV Audiences & the Opposite of Monopoly

Good day racing fans.

Lance Armstrong was interviewed recently about his love of golf, via Golf Digest:

"Cycling, when I was competing was the Wild West. Nobody considered doping cheating. Anything goes, and it was every man for himself. Golf is different from the culture of cycling. You might consider me the last guy to have anything to say about cheating but in golf I love adhering to the code of honor that we didn't have in cycling. If I moved the ball in the rough and got caught I just wouldn't regret it, I'd be heartbroken. When I think of reform in cycling, I think about golf."

Golf is not squeaky clean as a sport - just study what recently passed Charlie Sifford went through to play it - but the participants (in a recent poll, 92% of parents said they would be happy if their kid ended up a golfer, when compared to other sports) and the game itself are both generally beyond reproach. Tiger Woods, for example, didn't get skewered by tour pros and many ot…

Insiders on Twitter Who Are Engaging, Respectful and Relevant

Insiders in horse racing are prevalent on social media, as they should be. There are many different types of folks who work with and for the horses, or racetracks, just like there are different people in all walks of life. At times - and this is true for any business on social media - there is a fine line between being a shill for something, and supporting something, while doing it with aplomb. It's hard to do on social media, and in my view, it takes a lot of skill.

As well, horse racing has an odd customer view at times, being described as the lifeblood, vitally important, or a necessary nuisance. Falling into trap three can be real out there for some, and it can be swarming from those who think that way. 

Here's a list of a few insiders I see that converse with fans, bettors, or between themselves that I have been impressed with. This is by no means a complete list, of course; I am sure there are others that I am forgetting (I don't follow a ton of people, like the TVG…

If American Pharoah Wins It's a Disservice to Everyone to Shut Him Down

Triple Crown time usually brings story time. Often times it's about a trainers past, or an owner. Sometimes it's about the horse. A lot of times it's a whole lot of nothing. This time, a narrative is surfacing that I feel is actually a pretty important conversation to have. It's about the history of the game and what makes a great horse.

Today in the Beachwood Reporter, (h/t to Crunk on twitter) Tom Chambers cuts to the chase.

"The once-defeated colt's future has already been romance-arranged with the sale of his breeding rights to Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. Check your emotional investment at the door. Resist the hype run-up to the June 6 Test of Champions. When his connections announce a minor injury and retire him "for the good of the horse," you'll be left disappointed, at the very least, without answers."

The background to such an opinion is not new. It goes a little something like this.

In general terms (I have n…

Six Thoughts on the Excellent TDN Whipping Series

Today in the TDN several industry and media types looked at the whipping issue in Thoroughbred racing. This issue, primarily rekindled with Victor Espinoza's use of the whip in the Derby, is one that never seems to go away. It's this sport's elephant under the big top.

The series of articles, from different perspectives, is good and every one of the people who shared their opinion had some good points, in my view. I'll take a look at a few of them here:
1. It hurts the horse, so it's bad - I remember being at Woodbine one evening for the harness races.  A three year old colt stormed home nicely to come third. His gait seemed a little off but it was a stout effort. After the race, in the paddock, the horse collapsed and had to be put down. He had blown both front tendons during the race. I don't think whipping 'hurts' a horse at the time it is done, and the Aussie study by animal behavioural experts seems to convey that.  I suspect it may hurt later and …

Big Days, Mo Money and Poltics

Good day racing fans.

The Gulfstream Park Pick 6 jackpot thingy is not a jackpot thingy today. It's mandatory payout day, and should provide some good value. I'll throw the hat in the ring.

Charlie Haywardexamines "big days" in New York racing land.
If racetracks devoted the same time investment to researching the efficacy of their betting menus and estimating optimum takeout levels as they did planning “Big Days,” I believe the time spent analyzing wagering options would yield a higher return. Well-balanced race cards with good field sizes may not be as glamorous as “Big Days,” but I believe that they – combined with lower takeout to improve the economic return for customers, tracks, and horse owners, and more effective drug testing and stronger penalties for cheaters – would go much further in improving the future for Thoroughbred racing. The whole article is quite good. I agree with much more of it than I disagree with. Big days water down every other day, and …

Nice Ideas, but Not the Desired Results & Notes

Back in 2009, Evian Water's ad agency released a video on YouTube. The "Roller Babies" ad was quite successful, so successful in fact, it made the Guinness book of World Records as the most watched viral video for a brand of all time. With 50 million views in 2009 alone, all for the most part free advertising, it was quite the coup.

Or was it? In the same year, Evian sales went down by 25%. 
This is not uncommon. If your ad, or video, or the patrons you bring in to your establishment are not linked in some way to the product itself, the product's sales often do not follow. No link, or reminder, no sales.

This phenomenon was explored today in the TDN.  Will bands and food trucks convert into handle? Like water purchases, I just don't think so.

Flipping over to marketing the real product, Pompano Park set a handle record last night; with about 80% of the nightly betting on one race one bet.  The $202,000 Super High Five had a mandatory payout. With a negative 1.5% …

7 Reasons Why the Triple Crown Buzz Is Muted

We're less than three weeks away from American Pharoah entering the gate for a Triple Crown try. Maybe it's just me, or maybe I am wrong (no jokes about the frequency of that please), but it just doesn't really feel like it. The buzz feels muted.

Here are a few reasons why I think that may be.

1. Someone around the horse might be a dumbass partner, but they ain't a majority owner - Last year Steve Coburn was the figurehead for California Chrome. The man who could play the lead in a CBS remake of the Beverly Hillbillies was a part of the Triple Crown; maybe as much as the trainer and horse were. This drove some eyeballs for sure, because it was the ultimate fish out of water story. Hollywood has made blockbuster movies with that genre, so it's likely that worked for the Triple Crown buzz too.

2. The horse looks like Big Brown, might be as good or better than Big Brown, but right now he's no Big Brown - Big Brown won his preps like Pharoah did but the superhorse b…

Wanna Bet? Sure, if You Can Find a Way

Handle keeps going down, but sometimes I wonder how it isn't down even more.

Today it was announced that Churchill Downs is suing the Daily Racing Form because they took bets on the Derby. Why it is an alleged crime that a major, 100 plus year old business with an accredited ADW, powered by Xpressbet, can't take a bet on the major raceday in all of horse racing tells you about all you need to know about racing's handle growth, or lack of handle growth.

Eight years ago now Ellis Park with help from the late Cary Fotias, wanted to create some buzz for the sport with a 4% takeout pick 4. Unfortunately, bettors had to navigate the protectionist, bizarre minefield that is racing. Some major ADW's didn't accept it, the Woodbine hub in Canada didn't accept it, some tracks didn't accept it. After bouncing a ball on your nose like a trained seal, some bettors did find a way. Average handle for the bet was $42,000, up from a shade over $15,000 a year earlier. Mission…

Sunday Round Up, Racing Dichotomies

Saturday's Preakness is in the books and the usual racing divergence of opinion is out in full-force.


Depending on who you ask, American Pharoah's Preakness win was dominant, fast, slow, a joke, brilliant. There are probably ten or twelve more opinions I forgot. 

I suspect it was pretty brilliant, simply because you don't see too many horses push hard in the off going like he did in the first quarter, try and grab a rest, start back up and dominate a race. Sure, maybe Tale of Verve is a "future 25 claimer", Dortmund and Firing Line had horrible outings, Divining Rod is just no damn good, and the rest of them aren't in the same league; ergo American Pharoah stumbled home in a slow time beating nothing. But I am having a little trouble believing all of it.

I don't have a problem with opinion like we've seen because that's what racing is - opinions. With the infrequency the horses race, along with the fact there are different distances a…

Rumor, Ringers, Rascals and Other Notes

Good day racing fans!

DeRosa wrote a blog post today about negative buzz with Kentucky Derby winner and likely 3-5 Preakness chalk American Pharoah.
"American Pharoah was working awfully hard out there” and “He looks worse here than he did Kentucky Derby week; He’s a different horse." This prompted a response from the connections. "AP best he's ever been".

Well, that's that, right?

No, not really.

I would submit a large majority in the game of horse racing lean towards Ed's "sources", and take the connections' word with a grain of salt. Not because they are lying, but because it's the way it is. Horse racing in the 1920's and 1930's was partially branded as the game of "ringers and rascals". We are conditioned to believe nothing, or very little that people close to a horse or barn tell us. Over the years we remember this branding whenever we see it ("International Star usually takes Thursday's off!"), an…

IRS Response Rates Show the Power of "It's Not My Job", Leadership, Malaise

A few weeks ago the NTRA began asking for signatures regarding a petition that would benefit the industry. The IRS withholding changes are long overdue and, in a word are vital in many ways. After all, they could add a half a billion dollars a year or more to handle. The margin directly to the industry from that money is tantamount to the yearly slot subsidy in some states.

The petition barely gained 2,000 signatures. This from an industry that supposedly employs 4.3 million people.

Horseplayer groups like HANA shared the link with a list and got a decent response rate. Steve Crist wrote a story that was no doubt well read. There were a few other links or mentions I saw, but really things were pretty muted. I expected the 100 or so harness racing and Thoroughbred racing racetracks to be running the link on simo screens on track, and adding the information to their racing programs and mailouts. I expected it on hour on the hour on TVG or HRTV. I expected anyone in the sport with a ma…

Monday Notes, What I Feel Disease, Carryovers & Rules

Good day racefans!

"It’s a big reason why other sports tend to be on the move. Whether it be the NFL with its myriad rules changes, the NHL with scheduling, the NBA partnerships with Fanduel, or push for legalized gambling, these sports study, survey, model and enact. They aren’t ruminating, or thinking off the cuff, they aren’t kicking the can down the road because they are hearing what too many ‘feel’ and think it’s more trouble than it’s worth, they aren’t “feeling” anything; these decisions are made with a business case."

In HRU, page 6 pdf. 

Little The Raceway at Western Fair (I think we're calling it that now), had a small carryover in their SH5 the other day. After all was said and done, $55,000 was bet into the Super High Five pool, in a race that generated $2,646 in the win pool. That's tantamount to a Super High Five pool of about $2 million at a big track with a big win pool.

Carryovers are a North American ideal of a low takeout or zero takeout pool. In o…

Whips and Lasix, Two Peas in Different Pods

There have been some fascinating discussions within the business itself, post-Derby, with the whipping of American Pharoah. This was not really outside led, there were no stories like this on activist websites, it's all come mostly internally.

Lasix, another favorite topic for the business, has been hotly debated. But it's hugely different. Lasix use, or the banning of it, has a number of pros and cons, as a pure business case. If Lasix is eliminated, field size may go down, some small tracks where our less than blue-blooded animals race could suffer. From a horse welfare perspective, no one denies that lasix works well in terms of what it is supposed to do - stop bleeding. From a pro-business case, if lasix is eliminated the horses may be healthier (less weight loss race to race), it brings the breed into line with everyone else, and from a PR perspective - certainly important for government support and purse strings - it's the right thing to do. Race day meds are about …

Friday's Horse Racing Chatter

Good day racing fans.

Bill Shanklin (rarely a bad read)ruminates about how hard it is to win the Triple Crown. It's an interesting hypothesis. Winning this series of races has gotten more difficult; I do not think there is much question about it. In a way I think it helps the series (with the general public), rather than hurts it. Winning the Triple Crown seems elusive and it draws people into the story. When a horse has a chance to win you tune in to watch history, rather than something that can happen with regularity.

Lots of chatter about whipping, and Victor Espinoza's 32 cracks on American Pharoah. I don't know why we make things so difficult in horse racing. 32 is excessive by any measure. That's against a rule, thus you penalize him. Next year, if you don't want to see the same thing on national TV, you pass, or alter the rule beforehand and let the jocks know in the room that excessive use will result in a 14 day suspension. That would not allow the jock to r…

Vets Standing Up For Horses, Not as Easy as it Seems & Other Racing Notes

I remember many years ago now we had a horse in to go, and when visiting him in the paddock an hour or two before race time, the trainer was a little concerned about his right front. There was no pain, he walked and jogged fine, but he thought he felt a little bit of heat. He called over a couple of old time horsemen and the track vet. Nobody thought anything was amiss and nothing was. The horse raced well, coming a bang up third, and won his next start. I looked up the horse recently and noticed he is happily racing at age 12.

When the trainer did mention he thought something might be amiss I said the words "well, if he is off in any way, just scratch him". But I remember how hard it was to say them. People were out to the track to see him go, he had a shot to win, he had been racing well. He had trucked a couple of hours and been prepped. It's easy to do the proper thing from afar, but up close it's different.

This race was a $15,000 non winners of two. I can only …

Post Derby Chatter Different Than Many Expected

A week ago if someone told you that American Pharoah won the Derby, you'd expect the hype would reach fever pitch to the power of nine. Pre-Derby, we all saw the quotes about him being the next great one, the best mover since so and so. And he had to beat Dortmund, who himself was being talked about in similar terms. If he won, one might expect that those opinions would be justified and away we go.

Margin of victory and final times (or figures) are still a benchmark used by the business in terms of buzz and greatness. American Pharoah won the race, but he won it by a small margin, after a relatively good trip. He did so with a relatively short Beyer and he was all-out to do that. He just beat Firing Line, who was not even Dortmund. Flying late was Frosted, who was far back in par fractions, making up ground - "if only he had pace to chase!". Materiality had a terrible trip and some people think he might've won the race with a good one.

In effect this is nothing new…

Racing, the Kentucky Derby & the Strange Case of the DisappearingGambling Dollar

The Kentucky Derby has been growing. As the sports' premiere event, it has a built in cachet that other events (outside the Triple Crown, certainly) do not have. In a word, it's Americana. Saturday's raceday possessed what should end up being a record $194 million handle, and the TV ratings were the best since 1992.  In addition, let's not forget Friday's Oaks day, which is a success and has been for a number of years now.

It's easy to say this is expected, and that it would take a lot to screw up a Derby or Oaks (just like it would take a lot to mess up other niche events like the Indy 500), but I think that's very unfair. Remember the Oaks on Bravo? Special coverage, Derby draws? Johnny Weir and Tara Lapinsky? Hats, suits, red carpets? Some of those things were met with consternation inside the industry. What they do, are doing, and have done is present the event to a new audience in new ways, hoping the people come back each year to watch, one day come …

The Odds Board Rules in the Kentucky Derby

I won't wax too much about the race racing fans, because, primarily, there isn't much to wax on about. The Derby is in the books, and I better drop my "I'm never betting a chalk again" after betting Mr. Frisky mantra, because the odds board is getting good. Way good. This baby was formful.

There will be a lot of talk about times and figures, but the top four finishers, to me, looked like quality stock who would've hit the super in 46 or 48, 110 or 113. I think they're good, deserving horses and they performed while others did not. It's not like horses had to close into a 49 back half (it was 51 and change), nor did a lot of them have huge excuses. It was what it was.

Watching the replay I did see Keen Ice - a laughing stock pick to many on the twitter - come home nicely. I also saw Materiality have what looked like some trouble and fire home fresh and fast. Maybe if he raced before Christmas he would not have gotten jammed up. Just kidding.

Upstart wa…