Pacemakers

Since Saturday's Sword Dancer, there has been a lot of talk about rabbits, both here on the blog and elsewhere. Frankly, you can't go to a story about the Sword Dancer and not read comments about the practice.

The World has a differing view on using a horse to set a pace (or kill off the speed), so another horse from the stable coming from off the pace has a better chance to win. Big stables in the UK, for example, want their well bred horses to win as many group one's as possible to increase the horse's worth in the breeding shed. This is one way to help.

This practice is technically against the rules in North America (and obviously not enforced), but it's not used often, and it's not particularly spelled out.

In places where it is accepted, it is spelled out, because, the betting public means something, of course. In the UK, pre-race, the horse being used as a rabbit is announced to bettors. This is why, as Sid Fernando put it today, Bullet Train, a very good horse in his own right, was 600-1 while being used as a rabbit for Frankel. I remember old Bullet Train 1000-1 at Betfair, where racegoers knew he was there as cannon fodder.

Places like Hong Kong, where you may think the Euro way would be followed, however, it's not. Rabbits are banned by the HKJC, and are not tolerated.

One quote from the Chief Steward for the HKJC caught my eye:
"Our rules don’t allow for pacemakers – we expect all runners in any race to employ tactics with the intention of winning or obtaining the best possible place in the field and that isn’t going to change," Kelly said. "And, if you are asking me for a personal opinion, the use of pacemakers in other jurisdictions is a blight on racing. Once you cross the line into allowing a horse to be ridden as a pacemaker for a better-fancied stablemate, you are allowing that horse to be run in a manner which may not be in its own best interests, and then I think you cross into very dangerous territory."
That last line, "cross into very dangerous territory" reads prescient after watching the Sword Dancer, doesn't it? Being a rabbit for Flintshire wasn't quite enough, the horse had to be used as an offensive lineman at the head of the lane.  A slippery slope indeed.

It's probably no surprise to frequent readers of the blog that I don't like gaming a race by using another horse to artificially inject pace. I love the pureness of the sport. I love 'my horse can beat your horse' spirit of it. I love the magic of a Zenyatta racing against glacial paces, and then seeing her overcome like the beast she was. I love seeing great horses proving they're great by winning races, not by winning races with help.

Horse racing is a beautiful sport when we let it unfold as it's intended.

Related - "Race Fixing for Me, But Not for Thee", via Crunk



A Tale of Two Worlds

I was going through a few statistics this morning, and something jumped out at me.

Yesterday's post regarding the Sword Dancer stakes had traffic I have not seen in some time. It was through the roof. I looked back to see if any other post I had rivaled that traffic number and one other popped up. It was the post on the Churchill Downs Jackpot Pick 6. That pick 6, if you recall, was cancelled after a storm hit, with a bettor holding a ticket with a chance at $700,000. The stewards decided not to turn over too many rocks to try and get the race in.

These two posts had a few things in common.

They were not linked by any industry sites, retweeted by heavy hitters, or showed up on some massively trafficked link farm. The traffic came from the grassroots.

Second, both posts challenged the industry to change - in the Sword Dancer case by not allowing the rules of racing to be simply "suggestions", and in the pick 6 case, by treating a customer with a $700,000 live ticket, like they'd treat a $700,000 stakes race for horsemen.

Third, no industry site talked about either story. It's like the events didn't even happen.

And last, both stories were chastised publicly by some racing insiders, for being naive, showing a lack of understanding of horse racing,  and for rocking a boat that should not be rocked. The 'shut up and bet' phenomenon.

Well for both posts, it seems the proletariat disagreed. Yesterday's post had 130 likes on Facebook, last I checked (where even Paulick Report stories can have barely a half dozen), and will likely be the most trafficked post on this blog for the last three years.  The Churchill Downs post (with a simple customer issue) had similar traffic, which was mind-boggling to me.

There is a silent group of people out there that did not like what they saw Saturday. They did not like the way a rabbit was flaunted on national TV, with no response from racing except, "oh whatever, we do that all the time." There's a large group of customers out there who did not like that Churchill cancelled a guy or gal's chance at a life changing score, without putting in an effort to get the race off, like they would for a Juddmonte, or Chad Brown, or Bob Baffert.

There are people out there who don't like the way things are going; who feel marginalized. And they're yearning to read about it and share their opinion. Mostly the industry press ignores them, so at times, they end up here, and other places on the web, which choose to address these issues.

Taking time to make a post at lunchtime that I know will not be popular with insiders, or the elites, tends to be not pleasant. It's much easier to tow the line. But I am glad some of you feel like I do - that the sport has to change - and show up from time to time to read this little blog and share your opinion, whether you agree with everything or not. For that I am grateful.

It also gives me hope that maybe racing can change with the times, because there are so many of you -- silently yes, but a lot of you -- who realize it has to. I must say, looking at today's traffic reports, I don't know much, but I know one thing : you're out there.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Sword Dancer Shenanigans Proves the Public's Point

Ask any random person who has not watched a horse race, or maybe have seen one or three : "Is horse racing fixed?"

They'll probably say, sure it is; common knowledge.

At that point, racing folks get excited to defend their sport. 99% of the races are clean, there is too much money involved to fix races, etc etc. 

"Hurry, come on through!"
Then we have yesterday's Sword Dancer, where not one of us can blame anyone for thinking like they do about the sport.

It's probably bad enough that a "rabbit" was entered for an old-time form of race fixing, but that the horse was ridden like a quarterhorse made the optics look terrible. That another horse - Roman Approval - had to be physically restrained due to the cowboy style race riding of the horse sent to destroy him, is probably just as bad optically.

But that was just the beginning. The real story had just begun.

At the head of the lane, this rank, spent, heart-ripped out rabbit, needed to do even more work for the 1-9 shot. He had to move over, to let his stablemate through, to ensure his victory. In the process - safety and integrity be damned - he bumped the horse he dueled into submission.

For those who remember the Hambletonian about ten years ago now, your memory banks flood with what happened with driver Trond Smedshammer. He, like these connections, wanted to increase his chances of winning the race with his two horses. He moved over, let his stablemate through, who ended up coming third, picking up a nice slice of the purse.

Trond was suspended 45 days and given an $18,000 fine.

In thoroughbred racing, with these connections, with these owners, there is no way that's happening. Too big, too powerful.

 When you and I enter a horse to race, it is incumbent upon us, as owners and participants, in trust with the people who pay everyone's salaries - slot pullers and bettors, as well as fellow owners - to have one sole goal, and that's to try and win the race. When shenanigans like the above happen, it shows there are others who play by a different set of rules. That horse was not entered to win, he was there so another horse could.

I read a little on social media as this happened, right in front of our eyes on national television.

"It's horse racing"

"It's the way it is"

"It's gone on forever"

In case you haven't noticed, with foal crops down, handle down, and all economic racing indicators on life-support, forever isn't looking so good.

Yesterday's Sword Dancer was a travesty, and the people in charge of this sport should never allow it to happen again.



#Chrome

As most everyone knows, California Chrome had yet another smashing victory on Saturday in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Here are a few random thoughts on this lazy Monday morning.

With a slightly slow pace and Chrome getting things his own way, we read a few thoughts about how 'if' a rider did this, or 'if' someone did that, the result may have been different. I don't really get that. This horse was way too good for them on Saturday.

What's with the Dubai trip? The two best horses this season, certainly in the handicap division, are Frosted and California Chrome. The gazillion hour flight must freshen them up.

With big handles when he races, a lot of buzz, and his rightful place at the head of the class, California Chrome has proven to me that longevity means something in this sport. Chrome is entering Zenyatta territory in popularity, in my view, and those were and are the two most popular horses this century. American Pharoah, some thought a savior of sort when winning the elusive Triple Crown, drove column inches in a world where no one reads column inches anymore. Chrome and Zenyatta have a following, which is the result of frequent excellence over time.

The #Bringhomechrome facebook cult group might've had a point and we were all too dumb to listen. The Ascot trip seems like a distant memory. This horse's stud career is just fine. He's a five year old who is winning in dominant fashion and in good figures against nice dirt horses at home. He barely had to leave the barn.

Cj shows us a great career, and it's not over yet. I am happy he ran a nice figure on synth and turf so no one can say he was a surface specialist of some sort after only one or two tries.

I -- like a bunch of you -- have always thought that American Pharoah was the faster horse at virtually any distance, but we might have to rethink that, don't we? This horse seems faster than ever right now, and his speed figures are very comparable to the Triple Crown winner's.

"When they ask about Chrome's legacy, I'm just hoping everybody can put everything in perspective," majority owner Perry Martin said, referencing runs the horse has made in which he lost ground. "If we were running him differently, he would own several records and people would think of him a little differently."

The more I read Perry Martin quotes, the more I realize I have no idea what he's talking about. His horse is number one in the NTRA poll, has won a $10M race, finished up a Triple Crown season with a spirited run in the Belmont with a bad wheel, has won on three surfaces at many tracks, has raced for years, while being in training for virtually his entire life. He's considered one of the fastest, saltiest, toughest dirt horses this century. Everyone loves him. If people thought of him "differently" they'd have to think he sucked.

Odds that the Kegasus Cup gets raced and Chrome is the favorite as a six year old? I wouldn't put it past him to be sound, racing, and the chalk.

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

The Tale of Two Marketing Strategies Speaks Volumes

Racing, gambling game or sport? That question really doesn't matter much, although everyone seems to love wringing their hands over it.

Football is a sport, racing is a sport, but gambling happens on both.

The resellers of each product in the betting space are as a betting game only, but they sure have different strategies.

Pinnaclesports is an online sportsbook that's been around forever, and its been extremely successful.

Here's a snapshot of their marketing on the web.




Meanwhile, over at Xpressbet, a horse betting medium ....

Pinnacle knows exactly who it is and what it does. They market accordingly. 

Racing has an identity crisis, along with the simple fact that with high juice it has trouble attracting the same clientele Pinnacle attracts.  

I certainly am not picking on Xpressbet, or any other reseller. They're trying to attract eyeballs in a gambling game with fewer and fewer of them and are using any means necessary. It is what it is.

Is horse racing a gambling game or sport?  If you look at the marketing, I don't think anyone knows. 

A Quizzically Odd Hambletonian Day

An interesting Hambo Day is in the books. The more I think about it, the more I scratch my head. It was a pretty wild day.

The 16 race smorgasbord wasn't quite as well-received by bettors with preliminary handle down about 8% or so, after factoring in last year's Super High Five carryover. This was a little bit strange, because it looked like a fairly good card, to my eyes.

The track was a bit quizzical, too, and maybe this played into the handle.

I don't think there was a strong bias, but I think it played odd - almost "fair", which we don't see in harness racing much as a speed game. If you went 54 and came home in 56, closers did well, like you'd think they're supposed to, while if you went 56 and came home in 55, the front end was fine, like it's supposed to be. The only wire to wire effort that bucked the trend was probably Darlinonthebeach, who was stung in 53.2 and came home in 56 to hold on. It was 1985 again.

Adding to the quizzical nature of the track, some horses performed oddly, making the whole day (and the track), increasingly hard to decipher.

Leaders like Polak A in the first stunk off stiff fractions, and was chalk (the two hole horse was second at 17-1), Snowstorm Hanover was awful (the two hole horse won) and Wings of Royalty was horrid, off a 56 half (the three hole horse won).  Those were horses who raced bad, having nothing to do with the track. I'm really glad I bet those last two hard, by the way.

Southwind Frank was two fingers and sound last week, yet this week, in his elim, he was rammy and went way too fast, caught late by the eventual winner. Then he was steppy in the final; an odd two races for him. Two races we have not seen from him this season. By the way, Yannick is quite the driver. I am not sure how he kept that horse trotting his last quarter, to almost win the whole thing.

Bar Hopping looked incredible in his heat, taking things gate to wire. He gets the same trip as the heavy chalk in the final, and stops. I bet Tim and Jimmy are scratching their heads just like we are.

In an interview driver Scott Zeron was asked what he was thinking at the head of the lane with Marion Marauder and he said "I was confident, and I thought 'I hope he isn't sick'".I think that was prophetic for a lot of horses yesterday.

Always B Miki didn't train last week according to his trainer, and I think it showed just how hard it is to go 1:47 off time off. He was stung, challenged hard by a quality animal, and came a decent fourth. It spawned a set of nice show prices, (like in race two, in a continuation of the odd day). The other horse off a stale date - Freaky Feet Pete - didn't really seem like himself either.

Several horses seemed to break, for no apparent reason. Windowshopper, sitting in a gapped fifth, ran as the now horse in the Oaks. Honor and Serve, and several others all broke. A bunch of horses did not look comfortable at all on that track.

A horse we've been trying to hit for awhile - Katie Said - broke in the Lady Liberty, got off last and somehow came third. The Ron Adams horse won again, from the 12, a post some think is poison.

The set of results, I think, were the oddest I've seen in some time. Whether it was the surface, sickness, allergies, or some horses just not right after racing tough miles all summer, I don't know, but it was pretty darn strange. I don't even know who to bet back.

As for the big winner - Marion Marauder - it was well-deserved. Those connections have let that horse tell them what he wanted to do, not made to do what they wanted him to do, and they were rewarded for it. I don't think you'd see a more polished, sounder looking trotter on the racetrack. That was a great training and driving job.

No matter the result, no matter the track, or racing luck, or horses stopped by allergies, or sickness, or whatever it may be, Hambo Day is still a remarkable day for harness fans. I'm glad it happens each year, and I hope it lasts forever.

Have a great rest of the weekend everyone.



Happy Hambletonian Day - Notes, Links

It's here, welcome to Hambo Day.

It's 16 races; trots, paces, mixed distances, short fields, big fields. And some are very interesting.

As most know, heavy doses of chalk can and do happen on days like this often in harness. And make no mistake, there are some very good looking favorites. But this card feels a little different to me. I think some of these chalk - even of the heavy variety - have a chance to go down. I always like watching Hambo Day - from start to finish. But this one really intrigues me from a betting perspective.

Anyhoo, some links:

Thoughts on why Hambo Day is a great day, a column. 

Free program link.

Free video link in HD.

Selections from VFTG.

Selections and thoughts at Betfair; including trading horses like Southwind Frank.

Selections from those "expert" folks. I suck at being an expert, but there you go.

Hashtag is #Hambo16 for you people who twitter, like Donald Trump; or someone who works for him, if they recently took his password away. 

Have a great day everyone.


Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

New York passed a daily fantasy sports bill this week, but it was a little more than that. It also, at the behest of one legislator (at likely the behest of you know who - old time racing), eliminated horse racing contest players
  •  "I could see a horseplayer going to a fantasy site and playing there because they're real horses, real jockeys, real tracks, and doing whatever handicapping they're going to do there. It would take away from the pari-mutuel handle."
The studies cited by this pol, showing that this happens and was the correct move, are absent. Because they don't exist.

But, using a little common sense, or actually  talking to customers, you can learn something.

Contest play is a staple for some, just like exchange play is for others. More conduits you have - more ways to play the sport - the more people you have looking at your product. And when people are looking at your product, it's a gateway to lifetime revenue.

This past weekend there was a "contest" at Del Mar. It attracted 140 or so players, all there for one reason - to win the contest, and to get invited to another contest, the Breeders Cup Betting Challenge. One of my friends flew in from Seattle for it. Another from half way across the country.

The bankroll for this event - to be bet into the pools - was $5,000. So, at Del Mar, $700,000 of bankroll on a Saturday and Sunday were churned right into the pools, because of a contest. If each player rolled the bankroll over three times, over $2 million was bet, at 21% boat. Del Mar got back about $400,000 of revenue.

If this "contest" wasn't around, some of these players might've taken the day off. They might be long gone from betting horse racing, because they found something better to do with their time. Instead, they were engaged, handicapping, betting, and promoting the sport to others.

Contests - big or small, online or real money - are an important ecosystem for horse racing. At a very small cost. 

I don't have a clue why this sport thinks that eliminating people from engaging and playing your product is a good policy. Seriously, what business that is dependent on high volume and velocity  - or any business really - has grown with fewer customers? But time and time again, whether it be with takeout hikes, blocking signals, or trying to shut down games or sites which promote the sport and keep people engaged, they continually lean on this policy.

With handle down 40% or 50% in real terms, you'd think they'd try something new, wouldn't you?

Enjoy your Friday everyone.


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