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Showing posts from July, 2015

The Ol Phantom Purse Hike. Kids Do Get Into Handicapping.

There's mucho consternation about the new-found $750,000 for a Haskell Stakes purse bump.
With the William Hill Haskell just four days away, Monmouth Park announced a $750,000 purse increase for their signature race. Hey, for that extra $750,000 I will enter my horse.

Hold it, entries are closed?

As Jessica pointed out, this seems to have been the case all along:
@BklynBckstretch@TimeformUSfigs@theyreoff@alanLATG Hasn't that been the aim all along? — Railbird (@railbird) July 30, 2015 I realize getting a Triple Crown champ to a track is a sausage making exercise, but this, in my view (and reading SM I am not alone), is not in the spirit of the sport.

Brian DiDonato was interviewed in this month's Horseplayer Monthly (read it here, it's free). Brian got into handicapping about 10 years ago, and is now the Racing Editor of the TDN. One answer, about tools of the trade, shows just how cool handicapping the horses is.


Dale Carnegie

Churchill Downs Inc. made some news yesterday, in a couple of quarters.

All New York State Off-Track Betting Corporations announced today that they have severed their relationship with Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), the owner of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, citing rate increases by CDI which result in losses for OTBs on every CDI race track. “The actions of CDI constitute nothing less than extortion,” said Western OTB President Michael Kane.   Second:
Churchill Downs Inc. which operates the eponymous track which hosts the famous Kentucky Derby, will reportedly continue to remove more of the vestiges of horse racing from its South-Florida Calder Race Course.The latest plans call for the demolition of the track’s grandstand.
It looks like the next meet will go on, but you will have to bet from tents. Tents. To ensure you didn't read that wrong, or I typed it wrong, that's tents.

When we look at last year's issues with Fairgrounds, the takeout hike at Church…

Watchmaker & Industry Suicide

Mike Watchmaker - unbeknownst to him I imagine - started a brouhaha of a semi-regular variety yesterday with this tweet.

This spawned the usual responses; those with circular logic, memes that we all need to get along and knit peace quilts, and that those who agree failed sharing in kindergarten. But, brass tacks n' all, Mike is about right.

As a dude who had a 15 horse or so stable, with a few yearlings and racehorses, you learn this pretty quickly. Upon dispersing stock, the horses were all purchased and raced, the feed men still had horses to feed, the vets had horses to treat, my trainer filled the lost stalls with new horses. Trainers and grooms for those horses got paid. Our leaving did not upset the ecosystem. That's what happens when you sell assets. If you have a lawn cutting business, there is someone there to buy the equipment, or buy your book, and it's the same in racing.

If I was betting $10M a year, at say Kentucky Downs, I am contributing about $500,000 to …

Lipstick on a Pig Ignores the Real Betting & Customer Issue

Darryl Kaplan wrote a piece at SC about the lack of organization in televising betting products at  OTB's. In this case, he speaks of the fact that at Woodbine, the televisions are all on higher bet simulcast products, instead of a Canadian product, and this hurts Canadian racing. This is not an uncommon thought; California Thoroughbreds often wring their hands about it, as does NYRA. Everyone wants you choosing their product.

But it's short sighted.

You could have every TV on the three tracks you want to push, it would make no difference in the long-run. No difference at all. The system, especially in Canada, is setup for failure.

Back in the 1990's. Ernie Dahlman was playing the races from New York, and scratching away a modest living. Higher and higher takeouts made the game harder and harder to beat, so he sought out and received a takeout break on his betting (in Vegas). Others followed and some sort of community emerged where you could beat the races, not only a race…

Culture, Part 19

There's a fascinating story on the Racing Biz, about a positive test for a horse in a grade I race, that no one seemed to know ever happened (don't worry, you didn't miss it. It was not reported).
Princess of Sylmar, the beaten 1-5 post time favorite in the July 12, 2014 running of the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap, came back with a post-race overage of the corticosteroid betamethasone, which under Delaware and Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules is permitted to a threshold of 10 picograms per milliliter of plasma.But after a year of legal wrangling, the state will drop the inquiry and release the purse funds, Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission (DTRC) executive director John Wayne said July 23, “based on the advice of the deputy attorney general." No one disputes the positive happened - a split sample confirmed it - but legal wrangling allowed it to be expunged. The owner gets the $150,000 for coming second, the horse owners and conn…

Without Emotional Star Attachment, Horse Racing Needs to Stay Event Driven

There was an article on the Golf Channel website yesterday.

"In golf, like those other individual sports, a player must give you a reason to care. Most athletes, even some of the most fantastic ones, just don't have that extra push, they just don’t quite enthrall us like that. We admire them, applaud them, even root for them. But they never quite grab us emotionally. We don’t quite love them."

Jordan Spieth, the 21 year old golfer from Texas, has begun to do just that for the game of golf. Ratings for the Masters, US Open and British Open were all up.  Ratings for smaller tournaments he is partaking in, are also sky high. People want to watch him play, follow his young career and are emotionally attached to him. 

The above is not ground-breaking, or not much more than obvious, of course. It's like that in any individual sport and it's common sense.

I received an email recently from a student taking a horse racing program overseas. She asked about horse racing…

18 Feet

There are two massive stories in Thoroughbred horse racing this summer. One, the most obvious, is American Pharoah's Triple Crown win. The other, not as obvious, but (from insiders anyway) just as interesting and talked about, is the revolving story of California Chrome.

The two parallels are the best of times, the worst of times, the age of wisdom and of foolishness, where everything was before us, yet nothing was. And most of it hinged on 18 feet.

California Chrome - since tearing his hoof and two length loss in the Triple Crown - has been through a whirlwind. He, to maximize his net worth at stud, had to try turf, was shipped to Dubai, then shipped to the UK, then shipped back to Chicago, again to try turf. Then, after a bone bruise was discovered in an examination by a stud farm, was turned out. There have been public grievances between owners and trainers, and one of the owners has been bought out. To (once again) maximize his net worth in the shed, a new chapter might be wri…

Racing Has Fans. It's Never a Bad Thing. Even if They're Nuts

I remember being on a chat board many years ago now. A fan was voicing his opinion on a harness race, talking about what he thought was a bad drive. An insider (I think it was a trainer) came on, admonished the new fan with, "have you ever sat behind a horse? No? Then shut up."

Silly, yes, because that same trainer might be going to a sports bar that night to watch a hockey game. When a player missed an open net, he might say "what a goof. How did he miss that? It was an easy bury.". Unless the trainer was a high draft pick with NHL hockey experience, he should admonish himself.

Racing, heavily insider based, has a lot of trouble with fans. And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

California Chrome will hopefully be racing next year, and we all think that's great. There are many fans who hope he doesn't do a Dubai-Ascot double next year, there are some who want him in dirt classics, not turf. There are some who want turf, or Dubai, or hell, maybe even …

The "Big Question" Not Only For Racing, DFS Survey Results Show Trends

"Purses are at record levels, but participation has been falling. What do you think we need to do to get more people - especially younger people - to participate?"

That was a question this morning..... on Golf Channel, to Gary Player.

Golf, like horse racing, has seen good TV ratings for their big events. Sponsorships are excellent, purses are good. This week, 21 year old Jordan Spieth is trying to pull an American Pharoah by winning the British Open after winning the first two legs of the Grand Slam. The game is on the front pages.

But fewer people are playing the game. Golf courses - with ball and club technology - are becoming obsolete, and the vast cost of creating (or lengthening courses) doesn't make much sense. They're talking about big changes - playing nine instead of 18 to speed up the game, changing the ball so it doesn't fly as far, etc.

The discussion going on in golf is very horse racing. However, with a few cooks in the kitchen, that all seem to be…

Racing Summits

The USTA had a summit yesterday, where around 40 insiders shared their views about harness racing, and what can be done to improve it (in several areas). There were a great many takeaways from the meeting, but one thing struck me as very interesting - the summary, based on news outlet.

Read these in order - the summary via US Trotting and the summary via Harness Racing Update.

There's not only a chasm on getting people together to fix problems in racing, there's also a chasm on how the problems are even reported. In the US Trotting summary, Mark Ford (who made a solid point about why many of you stopped buying horses) is not even listed as being there.

Harness racing will never move forward unless the business is honest with itself. It doesn't need cheerleaders, it doesn't need decisions based on feel, or not wanting to hurt someone's feelings.

There's an old line in racing: When you don't want to make a decision, form a committee. I understand your frustra…

Wiggle it Jiggle it Better Than the Beach? JL Cruze, and Jeff Gural Is Up Against a Culture

Good morning racing fans!

The Meadowlands Pace eliminations were front and center last evening at the Big M, and they delivered one sparkling performance, and a few good ones.

The story of the night was Wiggle it Jiggle it, the division leader. After getting off sixth in 26.4, he came his last three-quarters in 120.2, with a back half of 52.3, and he had to do it overland, scoring in 48.4. Wakizachi Hanover is a pretty good horse in his own right, had a jump on the big horse, but still could not hold him off. Pretty remarkable.

In the first elim, in what might be a first, all horses came home in sub-26, the most sparkling of which was the race winner In the Arsenal and second place finisher Dealt a Winner (recently moved from Hart to Silva). I believe this crop has some pretty good horses, but with Wiggle It in the mix, it feels like they are simply a cut below. It's a horse race, they will all be gunning for the big prize next week, but it should take an off race, or traffic trou…

Hoarding Just About Everything, Takeout Notes, & a New World With Whip Rules

Good morning racing fans!

ESPN's strategy ongoing has been heavily focused on mobile, and sharing stories and media via various social media avenues and platforms. They are looking at leveraging top content the best they can, and have moved away from 'niche' content, including horse racing. Very interesting read.

I found one part that really rings true in horse racing:

"ESPN could follow the example of other legacy media companies and selfishly hoard their best content—video, audio, and text—while praying that younger audiences learn to watch and pay for ESPN just like their parents did. Instead, ESPN seems impressively open to learning how the digital generation clicks on and watches ESPN."

Hoarding signals (sometimes not selling them to everyone, which angers customers), charging for race replays, past performances, and "praying" the audience keeps paying high takeout to consume the sport the same way it did in 1960, seems to continue to b…

A Positive That's Not a Positive, Converting Customers (Like a Restaurant?)

The big news out of Golf the last day or two has been about Scott Stallings. The 30 year old tour pro was feeling a wee bit out of sorts last year, so his doctor prescribed a supplement for him. The drug contained something that was on the PGA Tour banned list, unbeknownst to him. He was tested, and the test came back clean. However, as he dug into things a little deeper, he noticed the drug was on the banned list, and called a drug positive on himself. The Tour gave him a three month suspension.

Golf pros are independent contractors, just like a horse trainer.

I am not hang 'em high, hang 'em higher when it comes to inadvertent positives and overages in horse racing. However, when a trainer does get an overage or make a mistake, it is a mistake that has consequences. Running to the press to say I didn't do anything wrong, or appealing endlessly when a mistake is made is the polar opposite of Scott Stallings.

As much of a problem some might have with this, the policy proba…

Dumbing Down TV Coverage, DFS Innovation, Inflation & Big Days

Good morning folks.

On Awful Announcing, columnist Matt Zemek tore a hide off ESPN for what he thinks is the dumbing down of tennis coverage. He also skewers the network for something very familiar to horse racing fans:

"Casual sports fans and TV viewers might not be able to appreciate this, which is perfectly understandable, but let it be known: The serious tennis fan wants to see the close, competitive match between journeymen or second-tier players over the lopsided (or just-beginning) match involving a superstar in week one of a tournament. Similarly, the serious tennis fan would much rather see live tennis — if live tennis is going on — instead of anchor-desk commentary."

Zemek praises the soccer coverage in the US since the 1990's for not talking down to the audience.

"A discussion of the televised coverage of tennis, or any other niche-sport product in the marketplace, is best advanced by pointing to the rapid growth and improvement in the coverage of soccer i…

Horse Ownership, Not Really a Business

Since the purse element has been spoken about so often of late, here's an article I wrote for HRU. 

“Horse racing is a business.” “If you want a pet buy a dog.”

 This line of thinking has permeated the sport. When we see partnerships or factory claiming stables, it’s always about making money in horse racing “as a business”. It’s been going on for some time now; probably since slots have dotted the landscape and one could buy a horse for $5,000 and race him next week for a purse of $8,000.

Although in theory it sounds good, it didn’t help horse ownership (in any tangible way that I see), and there is a strong argument that it might have hurt racing overall (the ORC in Ontario had to write rules to stop the “rent a horse” phenomenon, for example, several years ago to protect the horse).

 I don’t think horse racing ownership is a business; I don’t think it ever has been, and the numbers bear this out. It’s been estimated that in Thoroughbred and Harness racing, horse owners collec…

Slots Incentives, Handle Disincentives

The first week of slots play is in the books at Plainridge, just south of Boston, MA.

"Plainridge Park Casino, the state’s first casino, raked in $6.1 million in gambling revenue in its first week of operation, enough for the casino’s owners to declare themselves “pleased” with the results and for one industry specialist to call it “a great start.”

Of that $6.1 million last week, about 9% or $567,000 goes to horse racing (mostly to the track and purses). The racino is pegged to do over $200 million this year. The net to horse racing: Somewhere around $20 million.

Conversely, let's look at handle. Let's say Plainridge does $100,000 in handle per card. At a low signal fee, let's set revenue at 5% of that handle, which would mean the track and purses would drive  $5,000 per card in revenue.

If they race three cards a week, that's $15,000 in revenue.

$15,000 from racing, $567,000 from slots.

Let's say you and I have a plan to grow the bet, with giveaways, marke…