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Showing posts from September, 2016

Messing Up a Monopoly

I have heard from dozens inside racing for a lot of years that "we wish we were like racing in France." Everything is sunshine and lollipops in France, apparently.

France, of course, has a monopoly on pari-mutuel betting, which probably makes an argument about how we wish we were them a fairy tale.

But, even with a monopoly, racing is racing, whether it's in France or anywhere else.  And, when some simple laws are applied, it's no different than any other business: When there are product substitutes, and the monopoly does not use its edge to take advantage of its position, it's sub-optimal, and it can break down.

Breaking down is what we've seen for some time now in the land of sunshine and lollipops. The PMU has been losing revenue and market share, as talked about in "Where Does France Go From Here", in today's Thoroughbred Commentary.

The 'solutions' listed in the article seem fine, but they miss one main point, and it's the eleph…

Purses n' Purses and Wednesday Notes

Good day everyone!

I took a glance at the chatter regarding Yonkers adding two $250,000 invites to their International Trot card in October, on twitter, facebook and elsewhere. One point made by many, had to do with $ generated per $1 of purse spend.

Yonkers, as you know, has soft handle (about $420,000 on Monday), so some were questioning using $250,000 for a race like that, where the handle drawn from it will not be very high.

Rob Key, the man who had to argue vociferously for that very $250,000 number for his digital marketing and promo campaign for a whole year, responded on Facebook.

You can sense the frustration in Rob's words.

No matter how you feel about promoting harness racing, seeing $250,000 of purse money doled out like it is, versus how hard it is to get $250,000 for other things, certainly doesn't sit well with most. $250,000 out of the $420 million in purses is 0.05% of revenue. Companies can spend upwards of 10% of revenue for such things.

Coincidentally, I re…

Horseplayers Haven't Lost Touch, Horse Racing Has

Back in the early 1960's there was a big battle in the National Football League.

Some owners - in large cities, where attendance drove big gate revenues - felt television would hurt their revenues because people would stay home and watch, rather than go to games themselves. In the end, of course, the NFL embraced television (it was made for it, really) and the rest - including multiple billion dollar TV deals - is history.

In Steve Haskin's blog yesterday, he touched on the fact that maybe folks who stay at home have lost "touch with the horse."
But what of that special, cathartic connection with the horses themselves? It used to be where the bettors would actually make it a point to see these horses close up in the paddock, post parade, and galloping to the post, and make their final determinations. They would line the walking ring 10-deep to get an intimate look at the horses, even if just to bet on the pretty one. The horses were flesh and blood creatures who…

The Reality of Regulation in Our Sport, Through Others

Yesterday we looked at the excellent interview from ITP on Dink's radio show. He and Dink examined some of the issues for customers, and bettors in horse racing. It was great, but I thought taking a look at the environment they were talking about was probably a decent idea.

In some states and cities it's pretty tough to be an interior designer. In Louisiana, for example, it's more difficult to be one, than to become an EMT. It can take years and thousands of dollars in "fees".

Now, to probably you, me and most everyone else, this sounds silly - if someone is a bad interior designer, he or she will go out of business; this is what Yelp is for - but the way things are working nowadays, this is the new normal.

What happens, is an industry group who wants to create a form of monopoly lobbies (sometimes with wild assumptions) to those in power wanting regulation. This regulation acts as a barrier to entry, and the said group (who are likely grandfathered from any regu…

A Constructive, Instructive Industry and Gambling Interview

Last evening Dink had "Inside the Pylons" as a guest on his radio show - Eye on Gaming.

The full interview is here.

This is a pretty good discussion, not just for gamblers, but for everyone in the industry to listen to. For no other reason, perhaps, because you simply don't hear interviews from people like this very often.

One part of the interview was particularly insightful, in my opinion.

From the betting side, you heard what you will hear sometimes (from this blog and elsewhere), but at times it's hard to get your head around - the game is not about picking winners.

It's worth hearing that, in person, from someone who lives it, who has never had a job to support the family, other than wagering. And as a bettor, it is a powerful message that is all-too-often discounted as some sort of strange betting voodoo.

I remember getting that message delivered years ago, with regards to my numbers betting superfectas. Superfectas were $1 minimum, and early on they were…

Canterbury Park Meet Analysis

The Canterbury Park meet just closed for the season, after the first year (hopefully) of them trying to attract more betting dollars to their smaller venue. One of the toughest - if not the toughest - job in racing is getting people to notice your small track. Canterbury Park sure gave that a college try.

Handle was up 5% for the year, and about 10% on a per horse basis. For a small track these numbers are good, considering neighbor tracks were down double digits this season, and small tracks are getting eaten alive by the bigger signals in 2016.

Crunk has an eye-opening and very heady analysis here (give it a read, he did a much better job than I can here between meetings), so there's no need to delve much more into it. But a few of his points are worth repeating and analyzing.

They had some terrible luck, with almost one full card consisting of four and three horse fields. This season 138 races (about 15 or so cards worth) had six or fewer horses. Last season that number was ab…

Releasing the Racing Hook that Hooks Ya

I read, like a lot of you, Lenny's post about giving up his passion as a horseplayer. If you have not read it, give it a look. It's informative.

Although Lenny touches on a lot of personal issues, his overarching theme regarding the handicapping and betting genre is pretty eye-opening and interesting. I don't think anyone can argue with him: This is one tough, expensive, frustrating, time-consuming game.

And sooner or later (for whatever the reason, but clearly it's related to utility maximization) a lot of people finally say "no more".

Back in about 2007, Bobby Chang who was (might still be, I don't know) the vice-president of wagering for the Hong Kong Jockey Club was presenting at the Asian Gaming conference. Hong Kong was going through handle losses (or stagnation) and Chang looked into what was going on. He concluded some long-time, dedicated players (not unlike Lenny) were leaving; some for other gambling avenues in Macau, some just leaving for the …

Saturday's Notes -- Big Cards in the Land of Maple Syrup, Traffic & Eye-Opening Racing Traffic

North of the border there's quite a bit of action this weekend.

Today there's quite the buzz for Tepin at the Woodbine Mile. This mare has been iron-tough, with a dazzling set of speed figures, and is probably the biggest headliner for this event (along with Wise Dan) perhaps ever. If you're a racefan, she's hard not to like. I have not gone through the card, and may not, but I will surely be watching her.

Meanwhile, after the Mile, about a half hour or so across the 401 (two hours with traffic!), Mohawk hosts a sparkling card of racing, with the highlight the Canadian Trotting Classic.

Actually, that's probably not right, the highlight is another mare - Hannelore Hanover - taking on the boys in the Maple Leaf Trot in race seven.

Well, take your pick really, there are five (for Thoroughbred fans) "Grade I" stakes tonight. Lots of highlights.

Here's a free program right here. 

While some of the twitter peeps get up close and personal with Toronto tra…

In 2016, Some Tracks and Institutions are Doing the Unexpected

2016 has been a year that the status quo and the establishment of establishments would probably like to forget. Brexit, and the rise of Trump and Sanders with their respective bases are two examples, but really, there have been others. The world seems to be a whole lot different.

In racing, where the status quo is a warm hay bed of safety, historically we have not seen much of this, despite falling handles for over a decade which seem ready-made for such anti-establishment thinking. Racing kind of keeps trudging along, as is, the same way it always has.

But, there are pockets of change, and in 2016 they continue to be interesting.

Kentucky Downs, a track which could charge 21% blended takeout by law, in 2012 asked for something rarely seen in the sport - to go below law and charge less than allowed. That little track finished their meet yesterday with another record handle
Already a record after Sunday's card, the final numbers reflect an increase of 33.92 percent over last year…

Harness Racing's Sad Trifecta

Harness racing sure is an odd duck.

On Saturday, after one of the best races you'll ever see, someone on social media brought up the fact that the driver of the winner kicked dropped his left foot repeatedly out of the stirrups down the lane. Upon review, yep, that's as plain as day. According to the harness racing rule book, anyway.

What happens in the sport at times like this - i.e. when an outsider points out an insider did something wrong - there's a circle the wagons thing that goes on, that, in better circumstances would be pretty magical.

"That wasn't kicking feet out of stirrups! You're blind". That's what I like to call the Trump defense; he says something that's on video, then denies saying it the next day hour.

"C'mon there are bigger problems than that, like cobalt!" That's what I like to call the single mom with two kids can deal with 77 problems in a 24 hour period, but harness racing as a billion dollar business c…

Running Racing is Difficult, but it isn't Hard

Dick Downey posted the Kentucky Downs 2016 handle numbers yesterday on twitter.

That's a pretty good meet. With one day left.

Kentucky Downs has had good weather in the Nashville region, and they had a carryover, so the fundamentals have been solid, but with, say, a $4M handle on Thursday, they will break $22 million this year. In 2011 they did $4.5M for the whole meet. That's big.

They've clearly had some good fortune with gaming money and the like (and using it smartly) but a lot of tracks have gaming money and good fortune. It's been more than that and some of the things would be considered pretty minor to the movers and shakers in the business. 

Remember the Churchill Downs "storm" back in June? A fellow had a chance at scoring $750,000 in a pick 6, but after the storm was set to begin, they quickly scrapped the card? The same thing happened at Kentucky Downs on Saturday. However, in this case  they waited out the storm, saw it passed, saw no lightning …


At a recent panel, a professor of International Business discussed the topic of the "Innovators Curse." He spoke of several businesses which innovated, and in some cases discovered something new,  who now are gone, or relegated to just surviving - assembly lines, personal computers are two prime examples.

Why this happened, he believes, is that they innovated, but failed to be open to change, as new technologies were coming into the mix.

For Canadian business aficionados this might remind you of Blackberry, the company who created the world's first push email - an incredible edge; but an edge lost over (very short) time. 

Another presenter agreed with this sentiment and is cognizant of it. In response, his company is structured quite differently.
At his company, they use change to keep themselves dynamic, looking beyond their own industry to find new technologies and business models that will shake up how they operate. “We are changing every day and that makes us inn…

Kentucky Downs' Niche and the Modern Gambler

The Kentucky Downs meet continues today after a very good opener on Saturday.

This suburban Nashville track (don't hate, Kentuckians, we know it's in Kentucky!) has seen handle grow precipitously the last several years - from about $900,000 per day to well over $3 million. It truly is a little success story.

Although the reasons are obvious -- a nice use of gaming purses attracting decent stock, deep fields and lower takeout - the overarching reason is simple, in my view. This track, this set of races each day, hit the modern gambler right between the eyes.

For value seekers in the sport, there are really few tracks to play. North American (primarily) dirt racing is short fields with a 2-1 shot, and two 5-2 shots. It's parimutuel checkers. It's improbable to win at the end of the year betting an odds board that is most likely fair, at 20% boat, with upwards of 45% chalk.

Although it's fun to grab winners in fields like that, and on any given day we can make money b…

One US Track, Once a Week, Ten Races. What's the Handle?

Pat Cummings is fun to follow and a pretty decent sod on the twitter.

Pat works for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and often, when they're racing, he will pop up the handle figures for the day. He doesn't do it to stick a knife in we North American racing fans (he's too nice a guy for that nonsense), but he shares the score that he and his fellow employees strive towards.

Last week Pat mentioned that the total amount wagered on the opener was about $160M in US greenbacks, for a pretty solid day. In comparison, Derby Day does around $180M, for the biggest day in racing here. Hong Kong usually does somewhere around $110 million US for an eight race card. Higher for stakes cards. It's surely a behemoth.

This chatter promoted DeRosa to chime in with a question: "What would handle be on a 10 race single card in the US?"

For handle geeks (I wear it proudly!) it's a neat question.

What do ten races - likely a lot of stakes, at a place like Saratoga, only racing onc…

Horse Racing Circular References

I've had a fun few days chatting with people about horse racing; some who I have not chatted with in some time.

Although much of the chatter started with the Sword Dancer, it always seemed to end up in the same place - with proclamations about breakdowns and breeding to breakdown.

"The Sword Dancer showed how important it is for the industry to win big races so horses can look good for stud. Happens all the time."

"If horses lose a race, they have to race more, and the sport wants to retire horses as quickly as possible, with as easy a schedule as possible."

"What happens is that horses who may be unsound, with sesamoid issues, bleeding or bad stifles are raced few times (because they can't physically race more at a high level) then retired, bred, and pass it on."

"Their offspring then break down more often, and the sport is in a whole heap of trouble."

And the kicker, which I heard from a few people now, "If we have another breakdo…