Fitting the Horse Racing Odds Changes Narrative

Crunk and Bill Finley have been having a chat on twitter with respect to Bill's "rant" on late odds drops.


In some corners of horse racing late odds drops are a function of the prevaailing us versus them narrative - the one in which "computer players" are hammering the pools late, and they're only to blame for it happening. Again, in some quarters, the solution to this is simple - ban them.

Leaving aside the fact that horse racing is not in any position (most businesses aren't, of course) to tell bettors not to give them money, it's a reaction that, in my view, lacks nuance.

As Crunk duly notes, most of the money comes in late now - your money, my money, the "computer guy's" money. With so little bet early, it's inevitable late odds changes will happen. It is not an exchange or fixed odds, it's pari-mutuel.

If you banned "computer guy" you'd still have late odds changes. Maybe it won't be quite as much, or quite as noticeable, because they are clearly a large force in the changes, but it will still be there. A 4-1 horse who is 7-1 at one minute to post is still a 4-1 horse. It's just the way gambling works.

Down the horse racing grapevine, which may or may not be accurate, I heard the teams often switch tactics and instead of betting most of their cash late, they trickle in money at various points of the wagering. Has anyone noticed a difference in late odds changes, if that's true? I sure haven't.

Horse racing twitter - any twitter, really - is not a place to discuss nuance. It's about being on one side (big huge bettors!) versus the other side (the rest of us), and the labels it all brings.  In many cases - like this one - the sides don't matter, because the tribes are irrelevant.

Odds drops happen because the system lends itself for them to happen. And the system is not going to change any time soon. As silly as it all is, and how maddening it can be, bettors and customers need to learn that a 6-1 horse who's paying 3-1 in the doubles is going down to 3-1.

Have a great Monday everyone.


Inevitable Change is Inevitable

The Calgary Stampede is under way for yet another year, and looking at the record attendance numbers from day one - over the two weeks it attracts upwards of 1.5 million fans - it should be a well-attended event.

The Stampede, over the years, but especially in 2012 when 9 horses perished, has been the target of animal activists. In response, some changes were made.

Since that time:
  • Animal researchers have been given full access to all animals and data, and are allowed to publish, and make recommendations. 
  • The Calgary Humane Society and SPCA are given unfettered access to the grounds. 
  • Vet checks before and after competitions, days of rest, and other procedures for safety were put in place. 
  • All animals are chipped and the chip keeps track of all vet work and drug treatments; and are logged and stored, and made public. 
  • Rules have been changed - in fact, the sport of calf roping is completely changed now, and if the contestant competes the 'old way', they are disqualified. 
  • The Board of the event is comprised of people from the community, including SPCA volunteers. 
The above, naturally, has not satisfied the activists - nothing but a ban would. However, the general public has been on board, and most-importantly, so have the politicians who hold power over the event. The prevailing thought this year is that, no, the event in Calgary is not in jeopardy. 

Horse racing has reached a similar crossroads, and if we truly examine it, some good things have been done. 

But, the changes are nowhere near as comprehensive, quick, thoughtful and effective as the Stampede. 

In horse racing a simple whip change causes consternation that can last three social media lifetimes. A chip showing vet work planted in a horse for its welfare is considered an affront to "my property" and none of anyone's business. Changing the rules of the game like the Stampede has would be sent to horse racing committee hell, and might not resurface by Equestricon 2049. Unfettered university research, with a carte blanche to study our animals? Good luck. 

Calgary's libertarian, agrarian, cowboy culture has so far embraced the changes, and if they can get meaningful reform done, one might suspect horse racing would too. But so far, horse racing's infighting about lasix, a reluctance to change the game, and private property issues have seemed to won the day.

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Carryovers Provide Big Reach and an Immediate Return

Sinking marketing money directly into the horseplayer by seeding pools is effective, in both theory and practice
In Ontario and elsewhere, we’ve heard a lot of talk about marketing over the last several years. The discussion is certainly a valid one. According to a 2016 CMO Survey, US companies spend between 5% and 20% of general revenues on marketing. In the gambling space, casinos, bingos and lottery companies can spend as much as 25% of total revenue on marketing alone.
However, when the sport explores a marketing plan, it often involves spending money like a Barnes and Noble or Molson Breweries does; with commercials, giveaways, or event marketing. Most of these tactics have been tried, and although they have encouraged fans to visit Ontario racetracks, turning those visitors into long-term betting customers has been elusive.  
Perhaps this should not be surprising. In today’s world, marketing is less about the sizzle and more about the steak. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, told PBS’s Charlie Rose this in November:
"Before, if you were making a product, the right business strategy was to put 70% of your attention, energy, and dollars into shouting about a product, and 30% into making a great product.  The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies, the individual is empowered. If I build a great product or service, my customers will tell each other."
The theme that – in this new world – your product is your marketing was put a little more brusquely by venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who recently said, “marketing is for sucky products.”
You may be thinking that if the product truly is the marketing, then harness racing is a hard sell in the modern world. But if we look beyond the on-track sport and concentrate on the gambling product, there is some evidence that harness racing’s revenues can be improved, using something that can sell itself.
Enter the carryover.
Most everyone knows that a carryover is added money to a betting pool. But understanding how and why they work is a little more complex. Basically, there are two reasons carryovers are effective, and using a little simple betting math we’ll explore them. 
First, carryovers lower the takeout on a wager.
If a pick 4 pool has a 20% takeout and $10,000 is wagered, $2,000 is withheld by the industry for purses and profits, and $8,000 is returned to bettors. This happens each day, and we’re all very familiar with these bets. Now, let’s change the mix and add a $5,000 carryover to that same pick 4 pool. For simplicity we’ll hold constant the $10,000 the bet usually attracts.
With a simple formula (where we divide the money distributed to bettors by the total pool) we land on an effective takeout rate. In our example - with the new money added - the takeout is no longer 20%, but negative 30%. This means there’s 30 cents of extra value for each dollar wagered. In gambling parlance this is called a positive expectation pool and it’s the holy grail for wagering customers (for any game, not just horse racing).

When a carryover is offered, time and time again we see handle increases as bettors chase this value. 


Although carryovers and their efficacy is a relatively new concept here in North America, overseas they’ve been around for awhile. In Australia, for example, it was mandated by law that blended takeout rates could not exceed 16%, and any revenue over that level had to be returned to customers. To return the surplus betting cash they created a 0% takeout pick 4 called a “Fat Quaddie”. Australian pick 4 handle - usually in the $200,000 range – vaulted to well over $2 million in some Fat Quaddie pools. Australia is a more mature gambling market than North America’s, so taking advantage of positive expectation pools was old hat for customers.   
The reason the industry sees such massive inflows of betting capital with carryovers, but much lower volumes with guaranteed pools and jackpot carryovers, is precisely for this reason. Guarantees are often set below what a pool usually brings in, and jackpot bets (on non-mandatory payout days) have high takeout. In other words, carryovers have pool value, guaranteed pools and jackpot wagers do not.  
The second reason carryovers have cache in the horseplayer world has particular relevance to harness racing: carryovers increase pool size.
It’s no secret that unlike many Thoroughbred tracks, harness racing pools are smaller and less viable to bet into. It’s a problem talked about over and over again at conferences or in track boardrooms across North America. Why small pool size is an issue is, again, illustrated with a little bit of betting math.
Let’s examine a pick 3 pool at a medium sized harness track; one with a pool size of $4,000 ($3,000 after a 25% takeout). If you want three 20-1 longshots on your ticket, the parlay payoff for that $1 bet is $9,261. If you bet into a pick 3 pool with your three 20-1 shots - and are lucky enough to hit it as a single ticket - you are paid only $3,000. This is a ridiculous wager for anyone to make, and dedicated gamblers will not enter the fray.

What happens if we add a modest $2,500 carryover to this pick 3 pool? As this chart below shows, the bet or don’t bet decision changes.


Any carryover pool should at the very least attract money to the 0% takeout level. In this case, that’s $10,000. Now the bettor’s 20-1 three horse parlay can pay 10,000-1, and he or she may choose to pull the trigger. Pool size and carryovers work together, and feed off themselves through this synergy.
At this point perhaps you’re saying, “that’s theory, but show me reality. Is handle being increased? Do carryovers work in Canada and the US for harness racing?”
With carryovers occurring with some frequency, we do have some data.
In February at the Meadowlands, a $25,000 pick 5 carryover brought in $171,000 of new money. A week later, over $200,000 in new money was bet into a $38,000 pick 5 carryover. Pick 5’s of this size are on par with what many large Thoroughbred tracks achieve.  
No doubt everyone in the harness racing industry is well aware of the super high five mandatory payout pools Woodbine has offered a few times a year. An almost $550,000 carryover produced over $1.4 million in new money, just last month.
Because Canadian harness racing houses several smaller tracks with modest handles (and they’re not going to have $30,000 carryovers, or $500,000 mandatory payouts), Pompano Park is probably a worthwhile empirical example.
This past January, a $3,400 carryover in Pompano’s 12% takeout pick 4 pool brought in $35,000 of new money. 
In February, a very small $1,500 carryover enticed a total betting pool of over $19,000 for a super high five wager.
In March, another super high five pool’s $3,900 carryover attracted over $32,000 in new money.
Overall, carryover amounts have averaged approximately $4,200 at Pompano this winter, and they’ve spurred an approximate $25,000 average pool size. This pool size is about 400% higher than their average in non-carryover pools.
“Regular customers know that carryover pools can create great value. We have experimented with our wagering menu the last few years, and some of our bets have produced carryovers. When we offer added money there’s a real action and buzz surrounding the card – both on social media and in the grandstand - and our customers respond with their dollars,” noted Gabe Prewitt, Pompano Park’s Director of Racing.
Pompano has been on a bit of a run of late. Handle has grown from $29 million to $61 million since 2014.  
“Our carryover pools have definitely been a part of our handle growth. We’re on more horseplayer’s radar,” Gabe added.
Beyond the obvious handle increase, there are additional accretive benefits to carryover pools. A study by Jeff Platt of the Horseplayers Association of North America recently looked at the benefits surrounding the promotion of the California Players Pick 5 at Santa Anita, with 14% takeout. Although not specifically carryover related, Jeff examined the races which comprised the pick 5 and noticed that with more eyeballs on that one value bet, all pools increased. At the now defunct Balmoral Park, they too noticed this phenomenon when they lowered takeout on their pick 4 pools.
In addition to attracting new money and adding handle across the races that make up the carryover pool, there are other positive benefits.
Ed DeRosa, Director of Marketing for Brisnet.com, notices strong interest across his company’s handicapping product division when a carryover is announced.
“Non-jackpot Carryovers are a marketers best friend. As someone who works for both racing information and wagering websites, I can attest that telling our customers about carryovers gets them to buy more information and wager more with it,” Ed noted via email.
Having more people involved and interested in all facets of the product is what marketing is supposed to do, isn’t it?
By now you may agree that carryovers can be a good marketing avenue, but how is one manufactured; they just happen sporadically, right? That’s true, carryovers do take some serendipity to occur, but they can be easily created, by seeding a pool.
Seeding pools – tried before with some success in Southern California – work exactly the same way as a carryover. A track, not the customer, supplies the $3,000 or $5,000 for the carryover and places it directly into the starting pool – whichever pool the track chooses. This creates an ‘instant carryover’.
Once the seed amount and pool are chosen (and this step is very important) this information then needs to be filtered through the usual carryover channels. For an added boost, the bet may be advertised via Woodbine’s HPI Bets hub, and through some American mediums, frequented by customers.
You now have a carryover. You have a viable betting product to promote.
This system will clearly take planning and foresight, a budget, and some testing. Without that, seeding can work sub-optimally, and without a doubt Grand River is not going to seed $1,000 in their pick 4 tomorrow and have it fly off the virtual betting shelves. The track, race, day of the week, seed size amount and pool will all need to be experimented with to see what works best. Field tests have to occur and all hands need to be on deck in a professional way. Success, if achieved, will likely take some time, but both the theory and empirical results are sound.
Perhaps the most exciting characteristic of this marketing spend for the industry itself is that it’s measurable and supplies an immediate return. As the chart below shows, for a $5,000 seed, revenue to bet takers and the track is break-even at the $25,000 inflection point. For the track alone, the break-even handle amount is higher ($62,500), but with benchmark setting and testing, this is probably attainable. 


We hear a great deal about marketing harness racing. Often times this involves thousands of dollars in giveaways, free parking, or radio and TV ads. Instead, why not create a pool of marketing money and use it to invest directly into customers. If the goal of marketing is expanding reach, getting more eyeballs on the Canadian harness racing product, encouraging the download of handicapping materials, and increasing handle (that provides a measurable return), seeding pools seems like an interesting and viable option. 

This article originally appeared in the Industry Issue of Trot Magazine via Standardbred Canada. 

NA Cup & Assorted Sunday Stuff

Happy Sunday!

Last night's North America Cup was a pretty neat affair, with Captain Crunch getting the job done in a super-fast 147.2. The strapping son of Captain T was the best horse on this night and he paid 7-2 after last week's shadow jump. We don't see that very often.

Although the tarmac didn't look crowded and the weather was not the best - as we've seen almost all year in the Northeast - bettors slammed $3.8 million through the windows. That's a good number.

On the curious side, Woodbine (as I understand it) pays TSN a few dollars a year to show some of their major stakes, including the Cup. At the scheduled time, the coverage was preempted by the CFL game going over (the race was joined after the post parade). What flummoxed me was TSN has five channels, and had the CFL game on three of them. I'm no TV exec, but it seems to me one of the channels could've shown the whole show? It feels like someone dropped the ball.

Woodbine (and Ontario) implemented some pretty draconian whip rules on June 3rd and it was bad for the chicken littles. No, handle didn't tank (it was up), no the horses didn't go slower (147.2 was a track record), and no, no one complained. Although the drivers probably have some work to do with the "wrist action", last night went off without a hitch.

There's a lonely place in horse racing - those of us who are mostly agnostic on the lasix debate.  Although I think looking at things in a more fatalistic manner like this often often opens up the forest and the trees, it's difficult to share this more opaque opinion. In all my years of writing I have only been (more or less) questioned for an opinion piece twice - once because I was too middling on the lasix topic because I focused on the positive arguments from each side. I don't think that's the way it should work. In the end, I doubt anyone comes to a meeting of the minds on this issue, but one thing I do know - whatever happens, horses will race and the game will go on.

I'm watching the U.S. Open this weekend, and I'm trying to figure out if my lack of interest in it is because most of my bets have sucked badly, or it's something else. I'm leaning to something else.

Branding means a lot for an event, or business, and the Open's branding is a brutal golf course with a score near par. Maybe that's unrealistic, and it does often result in some pretty goofy stuff, but it is on brand. This year the players love the set up - I hope so, the leader is at 11 under and the cut was +2 - but the rank and file fans are restless. When you are conditioned to see something and it doesn't happen, it sticks out.

In horse racing parlance it's kind of like half of the sport's reaction to the Derby DQ. You expect to not see a DQ in the Derby, and when you do you're gonna hear about it.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

With Horses, We Can't Play Horse

Last evening the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship. This run has amazed me like no other, because the entire country has had basketball fever. Last night there were 59 "Jurassic Park" viewing parties from the tip of Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. This included one in my small northern hometown, where my high school roundball team could muster but 9 players, and we'd have to juggle hockey and basketball in the winter (and you know what came in second place).

When Vince Carter came to the Big Smoke it was a seminal moment for basketball. With his (and the teams') success, kids started playing more, and a dozen or so years later more and more NBA players were being drafted from Canada. This win feels similar. More and more kids will take up the sport, it will be marketable, and it's a real sea change. It's how a sport grows.

We saw this in a similar way with Mike Weir. There are four or five Canadians on tour, and most of those kids picked up a club because of his Masters' win. In fact, in today's U.S. Open, probably the entire rest of the field under the age of 25 picked up the game because of Tiger Woods.

This is what, I feel, many believed might happen if 'horse racing had a Triple Crown winner.' The column inches around such an event would be the catalyst for the sport to be more watched, expand, and grow.

We all know now that didn't happen.

When we're dealing with horses, sports marketing is different. They're animals, and the public is smart enough to know animals are winning the races, not the Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Lowery, doing the training or riding. We can't speak to horses, we can't be horses, and the sport can not resonate in any stretch the same way.

This game is a different, pardon the pun, animal. As much pushback we get for saying it - it's not really a sport. Racing is, as my friend Erik Poteck calls it, gambletainment.

Horse racing should not try to be like other human sports and hope for some sort of renaissance moment - a moment when an entire country stands up to take notice, changing it forever. It simply needs to try and improve incrementally, like a business does.

It needs to increase attendance by being a good business; improve the bet by doing things that increase the bet, not lower it, as is so prevalent the last dozen or so years. It needs to pay attention to the changing public view of animal welfare. It needs to dot its i's and cross its t's when it comes to governments.

Horse racing focusing on itself as an entertainment business first should always be the priority. There's simply no other way to exist.


Triple Crown Handle Thoughts

As reported by Matt, the handle for the three Triple Crown races this year was once again solid. The Belmont card was down precipitiously, but with no Triple Crown on the line that's expected. It was up around 9% from 2017, under similar circumstances.

We've spoken a lot about the handle on the bigger more promoted cards over the last decade. It's a topic that I find never uninteresting.

Population growth has assured there's a bigger pool of eyeballs on big events, and certainly horse racing has felt that. The attendance for the "party" might not be of current Jurassic Park levels (seriously, they were camping out yesterday to get in), but it's formidable.

In addition, with shorter fields, fewer good betting races and a contraction overall of the sport, the big days take on new meaning for bettors. Despite Saturday's Belmont card which I found kind of horrible to wager, it's better than your average Saturday. People are simply drawn to bigger pools and more potential value to make money on an opinion.

On the PR side, the big days are, I feel, important because politicians and others watch them closely. If you can shoot a cannon down the tarmac while giving away millions of dollars it resonates.

Having said that, I do wonder about just *how* good it's going when compared to a baseline.

First, the sport has added outlets over recent years. TSG is very aggressive with their product and overseas markets, I assume Twinspires and others are similar. Racetracks are exporting a signal like never before. A common metric for retail is same store sales. Without an increase in outlets, what's the handle?

Second, Twinspires and Xpressbet have been growing, but they do sink a ton of money into promoting their ADW's (as they should) during the season. The ROI on this spend is likely not fantastic. Is the sport spending a ton more to get handle for these days, where the marginal cost of the handle is too high?

Last up, more choice. I hate using the cheese analogy, but it fits so well. General Foods repackaged their cheese and presto, they sold more cheese. The tracks have added more bets (futures, cross day pick 6's, doubles, etc) and this brings in more money (to a point, of course).

I don't doubt that bigger days are bringing in more handle, and that handle is ROI positive for the entities. However, like with any number, it pays to dig deeper. What of the increase is due to an increase in the popularity of the Triple Crown races versus some of the items I've outlined above? It's something we will probably never know.

Have a nice Monday everyone.


The Pull of Risk Aversion Is Super-Strong

We've written about Prospect Theory here before. In general terms, it's a human element that involves putting a greater emphasis on not wanting to lose something, even when the decision making is not mathematically sound. It's the classic birds in the hand idiom, even though you can have more birds in your hand with a little bit of risk taking.

It's a powerful cognitive bias, and we see it in all walks of life - coaching decisions, betting decisions and elsewhere. In one of my favorite examples, professional golfers are more effective on putts of ten feet when saving par rather than making a birdie. Bogeying a hole is more painful, so apparently their subconscious grinds more.

I was reading about Jeopardy champ James Holzhauer today, and Prospect Theory rears its head in his run as well. Washington Post columnist Charles Lane is one of a number who believes Holzhauer is a "menace" because of the way he plays the game.

"I have nothing personal against James Holzhauer. What I am a little concerned by is the application of, kind of, database-probabilistic optimization to an innocent game show like Jeopardy."

Think about that for a second.

Charles Lane, a former Jeopardy contestant, is mad at James for playing the game right.

Holzhauer is not some sort of alchemist. He's betting optimally, choosing categories at a sequence that maximizes his chance to win, but he isn't doing it the way we would ...... he isn't doing it to minimize risk! That's the way everyone plays the game. They ease into categories, wager daily doubles with the thought of the pain of what happens when the question is missed, not gotten correct.

Even these smart Jeopardy folks use Prospect Theory, and it's so powerful that when someone doesn't use it, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The warm and cuddly Inside the Pylons - when analyzing ticket structure on twitter - often displays anti-prospect theory: Why use the favorite if you don't like them, because it's mathematically unsound; and other assorted principles. His view is James' - the pain of missing a 4-5 chalk and losing a bet is too much for a lot of people, and if he wants to win, and bet right, that's irrelevant.

It's a lesson we all have trouble with in wagering. But if we want to increase our bankrolls, it's something we have to get a hold of, no matter how hard it is.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

That's Why They've Been Loathe to Pitch a Derby Horse

The Preakness viewership numbers are in, and a surprise to probably no one, they were down by a lot

"Saturday’s race segment of the Preakness Stakes earned a 3.4 rating and 5.41 million viewers on NBC, down 29% in ratings and 31% in viewership from last year (4.8, 7.90M) and down 26% and 28% respectively from 2017 (4.6, 7.54M)."

We've heard quite a bit the last few weeks about, "letting the horses decide" versus "a foul is a foul is a foul" when it comes to big races like the Kentucky Derby.

Let's see what the latter choice involved --

  • $1.86 million in purse money changed hands
  • Syndication, stud value was changed because a "kind of Derby winner" isn't a Derby winner
  • Tens of millions were flipped around in the betting pools
  • The Preakness Stakes viewership was killed, and it's not small potatoes because that number could be used as leverage for future television rights negotiations, potentially costing the business a lot of money
This was decided by three people in the judges stand. 

This is probably why we see the Ferdinand's or Better Talk Now's or Goldikova's of the world get left up after murdering other horses - as maddening as that may be - while a "foul is a foul" at other tracks, for lesser races. 

The butterfly effect of a Derby pitch is not the same as your average Wednesday at Delta Downs.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

We Can Only Wager On What They Offer (& Sometimes It Kicks Your Style of Play in the Butt)

I was pinged today by Mike on the twitter website about a couple of bomb golfers he liked for this weekend's PGA. I replied offering two bombs I bet at huge odds - Scott Piercy and Pat Perez.

And that got me thinking.

Pat and Scott have, I think, sneaky good form, buttressed by a recent ability to go really low. But, when you think about it, are Scott and Pat likely major winners, qualitatively come Sunday? Absolutely not.

The mindset I have with this angle was borne from the tools I've always used to wager to scrape out some profit.

Playing Betfair from 2003 on, with their deep exchange where I could trade in real time, I didn't need a winner to make money. I needed overlooked bombs who can simply carry their play to the weekend. At that point, if I wished, I could start trading out and going green. It's not about winners, it's about betting a stable of players who are playing well that the public feels aren't potential winners.

That opens up a completely different gambling mindset. Without a tool like Betfair, I probably should not be playing Perez or Piercy outright. But it's a hard habit to break.

The lesson, however, for the growth of betting is not lost on me.

Match-ups, head to heads, group betting - a staple of the modern betting landscape - encourages more play as we see offshore each Derby season.

I might not love a horse in the Derby, but I sure like War of Will to beat Maximum Security (go cash!).

I love a certain pace scenario, and sure I'll bet supers because of it, but why not bet a closer over a front runner H2H to take advantage of it?

I certainly don't like Patch, but he's 100-1 in the markets, should make the Derby, so I'll play and I'll likely lay that off at 30-1 with an exchange right?

These are the exact same questions people have who bet other sports.

Garett Skiba, yesterday on Shapiro's Bet America podcast, noted a couple of head to heads he liked for the PGA this weekend. He didn't go through 10,000 data points or fancy math, he spoke of one factor he uses for head to heads, and it was very simple.

Answering these questions in horse racing does not take a massive learning curve, or a download of 1,000 different betting products, or microscoping a 20 horse field with 10,000 data points either. It just takes some gambling acumen, which, as we see with massive sports betting handles in Jersey and elsewhere of late, is not rocket science.

Churchill Downs - and others - have not embraced offering us this type of play and, in my view, they should be. You can't make a tent bigger if you don't pitch one.

In the end we all have our styles of play, but they key is, it's our style of play. It's troubling in this day and age that we may have to pivot from our styles because the powers that be won't offer us a chance to use them. That's on them.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. I'm off to cancel my Piercy and Perez bets.

Racing Should Probably Ensure Nobody Wanders Off

Working Tuesdays in the high school and university summers as a kid was fun. Tuesday was mine tour day and instead of a 12 hour shift of bad things, I'd be getting paid hardhat wages to be a junior guide. My main job during the tours -  according to the salty underground mine vet leading them - was pretty simple:

"Make sure no one wanders off."

The 3,200 foot level was older, wider and fairly nice (as far as gold mines go) for tour goers, but there were a couple red flags. At one point there was a hole in the drift wall with only a few four by eights blocking it. On the other side was a 1,300 drop to the 4,500 level. Later, there was a down drift that I'm pretty sure led to China. My job was to follow the group and "make sure no one wanders off". That was probably sound advice.

Of late we've seen horse racing more and more under the microscope and it's been big news; especially big for a sport so dependent on the public and governments for its funding. And I don't think I'm telling tales out of school to note that the responses have not been optimal. Whether on social media, through press conferences, or with media contacts, it feels like the sport is flying around in a hundred directions. Everyone is wandering off.

This issue is a microcosm in a sport with disparate factions. There are a vast number of fiefdoms, and some of these factions see crisis as a Rahm Emanuelesque opportunity (lasix anyone?). Horsepeople and others have their own issue of the day when something happens.

It's left to track management to steer the ship through the waters, and not only are they different from place to place, how are they supposed to handle something like this well?

Michael Beychok noted, not long after the Santa Anita story broke, that his firm - a crisis management joint - was available to help. He was confused by much of the strategy.

I saw seasoned observers like Jessica Chapel speak of the unfocused (and sometimes unavailable) social media response during the same period, and she made some good points.

Michael and Jessica were both right, in my view.

If a crisis situation happens in Louisiana, or New York, or California or Kentucky, the sport needs a playbook; it needs to ensure nobody is wandering off. I believe the sport needs someone who knows crisis management to craft this strategy before its needed, not after. It must follow a social media response playbook, so an employee stops wondering if he or she should ever hit send.

I don't know who'd pay for it, or run it, or what umbrella it'd fall under; I certainly don't want this to be yet another "we need a central office" thing. But there's clearly a better way than what we've been witnessing. Someone out there should be able to make it happen. I'm sure Mike and Jessica are easy to find.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.


5 Ways to Fix the Preakness

There's been a lot of hand wringing lately about the Preakness. People are worried about soft fields, trainers who need a small epoch to have their charges ready to run back, and other things.

Fortunately that's what I'm here for.

No, I'm not going to focus on moving the race out a week or two, that's first level stuff. You come here for deeper, heavy, high-brained thought and I'm going to deliver.

Here are my 5 ways we can bring the Preakness back to the glory it deserves.

1. Move the Race to Gulfstream - The Stronach Group owns both racetracks, so this is easy. Plus, it seems Gulfstream is so popular they needed to buy a western Gulfstream track so they can run even more $7,500 claimers.

The celebrities will be better in Florida with local residents like Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and the guy who overacted all his scenes on CSI Miami. All Baltimore has for famous residents, really, is Larry Collmus and he'll already be there.

Florida also has medication rules where you are pretty much encouraged to run on something, so there will be no bad press with positive tests. And they have a big ass statue of Pegasus, who is not really a horse, but most casual fans don't know that.

The time for change is now.

2. Major Suspensions for Kentucky Derby Winners Who Don't Come to Pimlico/Gulfstream - We all saw Country House this past weekend. His stirring stretch drive where he dug in to beat everyone except the winner was spine-tingling.

Bottom line - We want Country House - no we need Country House - in the gate at Gulfstream or Pimlico.

From now on, I propose that when a Derby winner (even a kinda winner) doesn't show up for leg two of the Crown, his or her trainer is suspended a month. And this is not one of those suspended a month where they were planning a family vacation, it's a real month. As well, paper trainers like Todd Fletcher or Dick Rutrow aren't accepted in their place.

3. Two words - Keg and Asus

4. Make the Races Easier to Handicap - I know what you're saying, "Keeneland has already done that", but let's unpack it a bit.

The races are on national TV, we're going for a new audience and we're selling our sport. For the love of Pete, take away the larger fields that are impossible to study, and all those complex bets no one can ever hope to figure out. We need fields with only a few possibles, racing roulette and some over/unders.

You know what they say, pole vaulting is hard, racing should not be.

5. Bring Back the Infield - One of the worst things the Preakness did was try and make the infield safer. I mean, seriously, these are kids who eat Tide Pods, they're not exactly doing calculus.

I'd go with cheaper booze and more urinals for them to jump. I'd go with $5 admission so they spend more on gambling and booze, just like we want them to. I'd even look at charging 50% juice on those infield machines. It's time to bring back the infield to its rightful glory.

Those are 5 very achievable, high brow ways to make the Preakness great again. I'm sure you have more ideas of your own, and if they're as good as mine, I'll post them here at a later time.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

The Reseller Betting Ecosystem

Reselling, affiliate selling, whatever you'd like to call it is alive and well in pretty much every free enterprise business. This was on display yesterday as Fox Sports inked a deal with an existing gambling company to provide a betting app under their huge name brand.
This, and other deals, are important to the underlying business - in this case, simply "sports betting" - because you have dozens and dozens of companies competing for the betting dollar. This means ads on Fox Sports' events and talk shows (targeted to specific states of course), TVG pushing the Fan Duel product, and your average every day online betting site pushing offers and enticements.

This is exactly what we've - and the wagering community - spoken about for a long time regarding the ADW space in racing as it has shrunk.

Crowding out ADW's have snuffed out advertising dollars, lower takeout and enticements.

Increasing signal fees or adding source market fees - something this sport loves to do - stops competition. And stops rebating for the small players (rest assured, the big players are okay!).

Other gambling companies know this, for the most part, and this system works as planned. It's one reason why they're winning customers, and racing continues to struggle.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

If it was a #PetaDerby It was No Way to Do It

Andy Beyer in the Post today went through the machinations stews normally go through when deciding if they're going to place a horse back. It was a piece talking about what regulars know all too well, but for newer race-watchers, it was pure gold.

One section caught my eye, and it's been alluded to a few times the past week --

"What purpose was served by disqualifying the winner? If it was to make a statement about the importance of safety in race-riding......."

There's been no secret that the Santa Anita situation has had reverberations. In fact, PETA showed up at a CDI shareholders meeting recently and had an audience with the gambling giant. It seems, of late, jurisdictions - certainly publicly - are walking on eggshells about these horse and horse safety issues, and don't want to step in it.

What Beyer alludes - the stews making a call based on a statement about safety - is pure speculation. But there is some evidence it could be true. If it was, and there was a bias to change something that looked dangerous that wasn't there last year, or 144 other years, I think they sure went about it the wrong way.

A regular business, or sports league, in my view, would do something like this (and I know this seems obvious) -

On Tuesday, at a Q and A, the track and commission said "the Derby is a roughly run race, and we'll be keeping a closer eye on things this year"

On Friday, at the jocks meeting they told them, "careful out there, because we're watching for interference."

If something like that did occur, the DQ on Saturday would not even be a story. The Wests would've expected it, just like everyone else would've. There'd be a shrug.

I think it does resonate, because horse racing is often reactive, rather than proactive. I don't know if it's the lack of a central office, proper and good PR, or what. But it's always in the back of our minds when something like this happens. I don't think that changes anytime soon; confidence appears to me to be lower than ever right now.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.



Change the Derby, the Crown. Sure, Be Nimble

On Saturday, Multiracewagers on twitter made a pretty neat point.

As we know, the Masters shocked us by moving up leader group tee times to 9:20 eastern, going off in threesomes, and throwing the entire tournament out of whack on a whim. This was to get the tournament in on Sunday for fans and players, in seamless fashion. The logistics of it must have been stout.

And this is supposed to be an event married to tradition, and everything else.

Meanwhile, the folks running the Derby saw the radar and shrugged.

Who knows, does Maximum Security get messed up if the track is fast which it would've been if they moved the race up?

Sloppy tracks, especially with twenty horses, can cause serious issues. We "love our horses" right?

Regardless, it wasn't even apparently discussed. Tradition, money, something.

Today we saw chatter (if you have these words blocked on twitter, I don't blame you) that the Triple Crown races should be changed.

In recent years, and again this year, with horses' connections talking about skipping the Preakness like it's a starter allowance at Canterbury, why not talk about it.

Moving back to old, traditional, never-change golf, the PGA Championship goes next week. The event, branded as "Glory's Last Shot" is held in August, and has been for a gazillion years...... until it wasn't. They moved the event up to have four golf majors on the calendar in four straight months. They think it will help the sport.

I love tradition. I'm all for tradition. But that doesn't mean we can't progress.

Running a Preakness when a full field of great horses can meet, moving a Derby from a 6:35 post time to 4:40 to ensure a better and safer race for fans, bettors and horsepeople, should not be simply be shrugged off.

Change, and being nimble is sometimes a good thing.


The Kentucky Stewards Have Some Splaining to Do

Hey, did you hear? There was a DQ in the Kentucky Derby...... of the winner. I feel like typing that again, because I am sure you were as shocked as I was.

In the vast history of the 145 year rough and tumble event - where you can find a foul probably four times a year if you look hard enough - there have been a grand total of five inquiries (not a typo). One was allowed (a fourth, placed fifth) and the rest were let stand, including a 1933 claim where the jockeys were trying to beat each other up down the lane.

Why has it always been like that?

I spoke with a newbie about it, where she asked "it was a foul right, so he had to come down?". I told her a simple story.

It's the last play of the Super Bowl, millions of dollars and glory are at stake; millions are watching on television. The Hail Mary occurs and the ball floats to the end zone.

I asked her, "is there pass interference?"

She said, "yes, really bad interference. It's laughable"

"And it's not called, because.... "

"They don't want to change the result."

In modern Thoroughbred racing, this occurs in a lot of big grade I races. My personal favorite was Goldikova in the '11 Mile, where she wiped out almost the entire field and was left up, but there are many, and I'm sure you have a favorite or two of your own. It's maddening because oftentimes it is dangerous, but they let the horses decide.

Much of this was covered in an excellent book called Scorecasting. It's just the way it is.

This year, the stewards, for some reason, decided to inject themselves into the outcome. And I, for one, am left wondering why.

Why did they do something they've never done for an in-race infraction, ever? That is, DQ a winner who was pretty clearly much the best?

Sports - with both participants and customers - is expectation.  We expect a mauling on Hail Marys, and we expect half the field to get mugged in the Kentucky Derby. When the officials call things differently, they enter the spotlight, and it's inevitable - they'll have a lot of explaining to do.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Pro Sports' Positioning is Never Unimportant & Racing is Learning that Lesson Now

Last night an NHL hockey game was being played, but a world-class diving competition broke out, when Stars' defencemen Esa Lindell dove not once, but three times in one span of play.



The memes on twitter were pretty hilarious, and hockey fans were none-too-impressed. One columnist wrote that Lindell should be suspended for his actions because this is worse for the sport than, say, a high stick, or boarding call.

That's not going to happen - especially since the Hockey Gods probably got him in the end when he fell rather easily on the game winning goal - but the writer doesn't make a bad point.

Jack Trout is a father of advertising, and his book Positioning is a long-time classic. In it, he describes how important it is to position your company or product in a consumers' mind. NHL hockey, like it or not, is positioned as a tough game in the consumers' mind, and it is their niche. It's always been that sport, and probably always will be. It's their position.

When a player turns into Flopsy McStagger, it eats away at that positioning. And that's no bueno from a marketing perspective. Make no mistake, the league 100% hated this event.

Racing, I feel, has this issue in droves. It's no secret that for years and years the safety of the horses was put on the backburner. No, it wasn't a plan, or wanted, and it was not condoned by the rank and file in the sport who truly love working with these majestic, wonderful animals, but it was reality. This sport was positioned as one which cared about purses, slots, government help, TV time, or a hundred other things.

This is why, when a PETA started making headlines, and racing (on social media especially) screamed "We love our horses, look!" it hasn't worked to move the needle one solitary inch. The sport is dealing from a position of weakness, because they never made horse welfare their position of strength.

In the coming years that will change. More and more we'll hear about safety and horse retirement and dozens of other pro-horse narratives because the public demands that in the modern world. Racing needs to position itself with that in mind and they don't need a Mckinsey to tell them what to do.


Fun With Masters Betting Probs, From the Olden Bear to Tiger

Last week Rob Pizzola did his yearly NHL playoff periscope, and one of the series he first looked at was Tampa-Columbus. He liked the dog; not because they were more likely to win, but because the odds were, he thought, too juicy on the dog.

After getting a few messages about how dumb he was to "like the dog" against the mighty Lightning, he simply said, 'if you don't understand I'm betting Columbus not because I think they're more likely to win, but because if I bet them 1,000 times I think I'd make money, you're on the wrong periscope.'

The dog is doing quite well, and could possibly be up 3-0 tonight. Even if they were losing 3-0, however, it was probably a good bet. Tampa was just way too big a favorite.

Liking someone, versus liking to bet someone, or some team, is always a bit of a mind-bender for the non-betting public.

Today, Tiger Woods won the Masters. The major media and casual fans are focusing on his win from a narrative perspective and that's understandable, but to bettors, this win isn't super-surprising.

Before the tournament started, Tiger had about a 3%, or 4% chance to win - it's a short field, he has course knowledge, and he's been playing well. Golfers each and every week win tournaments who start the week with a 3% chance; this is simply another of those. If you took under 25-1 on Woods, you probably made a bad bet, but congrats. It's nice to cash.

What was surprising to me, however - and I could not really get my head around it - was the Saturday night price on Tiger. His approximate +300 price felt just plain off.

But, when we think of it, we've seen this for a long time haven't we? For the last 40 Majors Tiger Woods' price has been off, and betting against him has been a cottage industry. He's always overbet (and he'll be even more overbet for next month's PGA at Bethpage).

Looking back, you know who else was overbet?

Jack Nicklaus, in what's considered the greatest Masters of all time in 1986 (I still vividly remember it; yep, I watched the Masters when I was in high school), came into the tournament with some calling him the "Olden Bear". He wasn't overly serious about golf any longer, and his first couple of rounds of 74 and 71 didn't make too many think. After shooting 69 on moving day, though, he was sitting in a tie for 9th, four shots off the lead. But it was with a stacked leaderboard that included Tom Kite, Greg Norman and Seve.

Before he started his round on Sunday, Jack's odds were, what, +800? +1000?

No, I've read he was offered out at +300. That number was worse than Tiger's - he was only a couple off, tied with Tony Finau who has never won anything of merit. It truly was a bizarre number.

We all know what happened. Jack shot 65, with a six under back nine to take home his 6th Jacket. The +333 folks were pure golden (Bear).

Over the years I've noticed a lot of bets like this in golf; bets that don't really make a lot of sense.

I remember one of my betting friends playing the Els Open way back when on Betfair. Ernie had a little two and a half foot curler to win, and there was tens of thousands offered out at 1.01. He took a pile of it and lost - Ernie made it - but that was a good bet. There's no way Ernie makes that 98 or 99% of the time.

Golf is a hell of a fun sport to bet, but it's a bet just like any bet - there's a probability of something happening, and a resulting price. When it comes to the stars of the sport - in 1986 or 2019 - I think there's still some meat on the bone.

Golf TV for Bettors has Aways to Go

For the non-betting public, we saw the probability angle bastardized in its own special way today.

Brooks Koepka was the only guy who could catch Tiger, and CBS stuck with a camera on Tiger putting on his lip balm on the 17 tee while Brooks was taking his approach. BK drilled it to around ten feet and probably had about a 10%-12% chance to be only one back (if Brooks could putt average, which as you all saw, wasn't the case this weekend). With 18 playing tough, the tournament was far from over. You'd never have known it watching the teevee. They were convinced the winner was settled. If golf TV wants to talk to the golf betting public, they have a ways to go. Maybe they need to hire a geeky analytics person.



Racing & Tech Investment, "There's No Money In It"

I'm, as I am most years, taking a little time off work to watch the Masters.

This tournament creates a lot of buzz in the golf world, and one of the more unique things about their brand is that they don't really look at short term revenue. Some examples of that include their non-maximized TV deals, and the Masters food prices that people talk so much about.

One thing they do that doesn't get enough attention, in my view, is their investment into tech. That's on display more than ever this year. They have created a virtual on-demand viewer experience.

On Masters.org I wanted to watch favorite Rory McIlroy, so I clicked his name. Up popped up his "TV channel" -



That's pretty neat, but even neater, if you mouse click the shot itself, up pops up video of the shot itself.


Now, they clearly don't have to do this. The 'proper' way would be to sell digital rights to Fox or CBS and let them do it, but they've taken it upon themselves to invest in the best golf experience they can muster. And this investment is made for four days a year. 

This new on-demand by player feature is but a small part of the overall digital brand, of course. As we know, we can watch almost everything, including live play before the television coverage, absolutely free.

Horse racing, on the other hand, doesn't think at all like this when it comes to data or tech in terms of solely building a brand. We see it with data, or tech investment, or freemium modeling; there's always a reason not to do something, rather than do something. And this sport races races almost 24/7, 365 days a year.

The Masters has grown like a weed in the sport of golf, and has become more and more noticed all around the world. Their investments today are made to ensure it never stops growing. So far it's been working.


Horse Racing's Common Sense Gene

We've seen a great deal of hand-wringing of late from people on the social media machine. Some of the critiques are fair, some surely unfair, but after Senator Dianne Feinstein's letter to the CHRB, imploring Santa Anita to not reopen this week, it's reached a fever pitch.

Leaving the reactions and solutions aside, I think much of the consternation, and real worry, stems from the fact that this business has never really known what it is. Is it a sport? Are horses livestock? Is it a gambling game? If horse racing had a leader, we could ask him or her for an opinion, but fat chance.

What I think has troubled me most about "horse racing" (and really, I don't even know what that term means), is that even with simple proclamations like horse safety or high takeout, there's never any direction.

Everyone wants horse safety right? Fake tracks were safer, at the very least, and we all know that; it's why they were brought in. What do we hear often about them when they are brought up, however? That they cause other injuries.

I can't remember where I read it, but in World War I they developed helmets for the first time. After they were introduced, something funny happened -- Medics were reporting a massive spike in head injuries. This occurred, of course, because soldiers received life-saving treatments because they did not die.

In some quarters in this sport, I fear this would be considered a bad thing, and they'd want the helmets banned.

We've read study after study, economist after economist, gambling expert after gambling expert say that horse racing's takeout is not optimal at these high rates. This is seemingly an immutable truth.

If so, why in the hell did the entire horse racing brain trust in California stand up and applaud at a CHRB meeting when it was raised in 2010? Why do other tracks follow them?

I am fairly agnostic about whips, but I do know one thing -- if they are banned, the sport will survive just fine. We'd put horses in a gate, and at the end of the race there will be a winner and several losers. If the price of a bet is right, people will bet, and that betting volume will not remotely correlated to how many welts the horse has on his behind.

In the infamous words of a gambler to Woodbine chief Dave Wilmott's question, "What if horse racing went away, you'd be betting on frogs, what would you do then?"

"Find the fastest frog."

There are factions who seem to deem a removal of a whip the death of the sport. but think about it; in 2019 with all the massive horse welfare and safety issues, an argument being made is that the industry needs to hit an animal more.

Those of us who love the sport can't do much. We're just pawns in the game. But it doesn't make it any less frustrating that whenever we raise our heads from the sales catalog pages, or the third at Gulfstream, we see such little common sense.

If this industry loves their animals, it has to prove it. If it believes takeout is too high, it has to do something about it.

When you do the opposite people are noticing now more than ever. And folks, that's not a good thing.


"Breaking Down" the Horse Racing Public

There's been a lot of chatter - rightfully so - about the Santa Anita issues. There are myriad topics to discuss, and it doesn't look like these conversations are going to end any time soon.

Last night I wondered just what, if anything, we're seeing overall with the headlines.

Using google trends, there's been a stout recent spike on searches for "horse deaths".  This should not be surprising. (note - I'll let these pictures go into the margin, which allows you to read them without clicking the picture).




When we look at the states and breakout searches, again it's not eye-opening. The horse racing epicenter is clearly paying attention.


If we scan the historical searches for Santa Anita Park, we do see at least something interesting; something that's standardized. News searches for "Santa Anita" -


Through Breeders' Cups, Triple Crown winners, stakes racing, and all the rest, the biggest news to come out of Santa Anita Park the last five years are the breakdowns.

But, what's this story in the grand scheme of things in terms of the general public? Maybe not as big as we think. Here's California Chrome versus Santa Anita searches, on the same graph and scale.


Make no mistake, this is a huge story (just search google news last night after the breakdown was reported). And the story has massive political risk to horse racing in California, and elsewhere. But, perhaps, the public is desensitized to issues like this, and those who are interested are more of the rubbernecker variety.

Have a nice Monday everyone.



Florida Derby Fun

Yesterday's Florida Derby card was a whopper, with almost $50 million pouring through the windows. I don't know what it is about the prep races, but they constantly amaze -- the Pegasus World Cup card, with lots of good racing, can't seem to hold much of a candle to some of them.

The two main stories - Maximum Security and Hidden Scroll - caused quite a reaction in horse racing land.

Sometimes I wonder the conversations trainers have with owners.

"Your colt doesn't seem like much, so we'll start him in a maiden $16k claimer."

Whoops.

Sure, Maximum Security strolled through pedestrian splits, but he did storm home like a decent horse should, and deserved the chocolates. Twitter was slightly impressed, but once again, the race's chatter was more about the trainer, than the horse. This fellow is a lightning rod, as most bazillion percent trainers are.

Adding a little conspiracy and fuel to the fire, Servis's interviews, prerace, about two of his charges (including Maximum Security) mysteriously seemed to disappear.

Frankly, I didn't have much of a problem with his comments about his Florida Derby entrant. He didn't know how his horse would do, and saw early pace in the race that might result in his charge laying just off it. That seems common sense. And, we have to remember, this is the trainer who debuted the Florida Derby winner in in a 16 claimer.

In terms of storyline, I find Hidden Scroll much more interesting. And I think it exhibits the worst characteristic of Derby season - namely, sometimes odd things occur when there's a bouquet of roses at the end of the very abbreviated road.

Yesterday, Hidden Scroll's team used a $1M race to try and teach him to rate. I feel like typing that again, because it sounds so bizarre to me. We all saw his Fountain of Youth where he was mercilessly run at by a 140,000-1 shot, and he needed to for seasoning, yes, but in a prep race trying to get Derby points?

I like Hidden Scroll. I think he has a giant motor, but rushing him to make a Derby with a fragile mind doesn't seem optimal to me. Knowing full well I am judging this without "walking a mile in another's shoes" because I've never had a Derby type horse, it still feels creepy to me. When the Derby is involved, people, in my view, do some strange things with their horses; things they'd otherwise not do.

Hidden Scroll was terrible yesterday - he was all done after 7/8's - so he wasn't winning even if they used his speed like they should have, in my view. And in the grand scheme of things where Derby horses get chewed every year, it might just be another example of the Derby's Medusa. But with this talented guy, I hope he's given some time to get his head on straight and is allowed to become a racehorse on his own terms.

That's my 2 cents...... typed with full realization that's probably all it's worth.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Complaints About ADW Splits Miss One Big Thing

When a business or industry is losing revenue, I often find there's a pretty huge blame game that goes on; especially in the age of disruption of traditional business models. Many times these can miss the mark. When something changes there is some pain involved, and that pain is usually not solved. You can never really go back.

Today, Apple announced a new initiative called "Apple News +". One of the features of the offering (it includes magazines and the L.A. Times as well) is a subscription to the Wall Street Journal.

"It [partnering with a tech company] will enable us to get our journalism in front of millions of people who have never paid for journalism before." said WSJ's publisher.

There is risk - the WSJ monthly subscription, of which they have 1.7 million subscribers, goes for $39 a month. The Apple deal is nowhere near that - it's $9.99 a month for a host of publishers - so the potential revenue cut is real. Also, rumor has it that Apple will retain 50% of the revenue, as a reseller.

The WSJ believes the value lies in broadening the tent in readership, so they have a chance at a vibrant future, in an ever-changing landscape. This has been a tough week for journalism, but it's pretty good news that in response to the new partner, the WSJ has hired fifty new editors and writers.

When we compare their strategy to racing's in the age of ADW's it's pretty much a 180.

ADW's don't take near 50% of the revenue to put your races in front of their customers, but we often hear how they're pirates, and the model is broken. Every fiber of the industry wants more of a cut. It's a constant complaint.

We often hear about racetracks not selling their signals to ADW's because they want these existing customers for themselves.

We hear about racetrack ADW's being better for the sport, because there is an off-chance more revenue will come from existing customers.

We hear about cannibalization of existing customers when or if someone wants to offer a new service.

Notice the difference?

The Wall Street Journal is talking about getting their product in front of "millions of new people" in a quest for growth, and is willing to partner and take less of a share as risk. All racing seems to be  worried about is existing customers (I used that adjective three times above), and that they get too little of the pie.

There's a difference between the current state of racing and publishing, that's certain. However, the broad point I believe is strong. When you are trying to expand a tent in the new gambling and technological age, you won't do it efficiently by yourself. If you try to do it alone, everyone is left fighting for the same customer, and your product, your R&D and offering struggles.

Asking for 50% of a falling revenue number every year still results in falling revenue. It's especially a problem when you have no real hope of growing.

Have a nice evening folks.

Internal Horse Racing Data & Industry Metrics .... Pffft

There was a neat article today on Marketing Dive, talking about big companies and their new approach to consumer data in a rapidly changing consumer landscape.

"Speakers admitted that solving these problems will not be a quick-hit fix, but instead done over time and through deeper collaboration, both internally and across the industry. For a category that's notoriously competitive and protective of its first-party data, that could take some serious adjustments." Rather than be protective, give everyone in the organization all the data," she <Mars Wrigley's VP> said. "It's all content without context — which is what we provide. Connecting the dots is the power."

In effect, across many mediums and products, the industry (and specific companies) themselves must be nimble with consumer insights data. One way Pepsi is going about this, is by empowering its employees, as well as academics and others, to be able to access data.

"In a few weeks, PepsiCo will roll out a new insights and content communication suite. "Historically, we try to solve problems ourselves and we think our problems are unique," Warner said, echoing Gansle. Pepsi has spent time talking to thought leaders, including CPG marketers, academics, experts, people from start-ups and technology solutions, pooling resources in an open source way. "We're all trying to solve same thing," Warner said. "Being totally secretive is not going to work."

This interests me in a racing context, because the industry is "totally secretive". When I want global racing data in North America, I often email o_crunk. And sadly, when the industry wants global data, they do that too. Sometimes he even has enough data to answer their questions, somehow.

I don't expect Churchill or Magna to share betting behavior data, even if it meant a stronger more prosperous industry; they are who they are. But in an industry that so often copies each other - jackpot bets anyone - it might be a good idea.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Horse Racing's Action Bias Is Not Healthy

Action bias is a powerful thing, especially in an outrage biased world. When something happens, it's still very much preferred to be doing something, rather than calmly examining the facts at hand, and, formulating a plan; a plan that could easily involve doing nothing at all.

In behavioral economics I thought this was best explained through soccer goalkeepers. It's been proven that the action that gives goalies the best chance to stop a penalty shot is by standing directly in the middle and doing, well, nothing. This doesn't happen, and if it did, the goalie would likely be looking for a new job after his or her first loss. "I can't believe he just stood there, he has to go!" So much for following math.

In horse racing this is so very prevalent.

When people call for lasix to be banned, it, in my view, has plenty of action bias. When's the last time in the response to a crisis have you heard, "let's have a look at this and come up with a smart phase-out plan for lasix over five or ten years, and reexamine the results for efficacy and business interests." That doesn't make cable news.

In 1920, 1940, 1965, 1970, 1990 and 2010 when horse racing had takeout hikes to make more immediate money (and in some cases appease money-hungry governments), it represented the ultimate action bias. Have you ever heard anyone put a multi-year, multi-jurisdictional pricing plan together to examine efficacy? The flip side is even worse when it comes to using numbers and data and patience - just ask Canterbury Park.

Even synthetic tracks, which science has been very kind to in terms of their reduction of fatal breakdowns, was a mess. Dead horses in California made for "immediate action" of ripping out every track and replacing it with poly or pro-ride. Then, after complaints, many of which had more action bias than a political speech from a total wacko, they ripped 'em up again. Nice use of science, folks. Gold stars.

The very odd time racing looks at things long-term, there tends to be some good done more often than not. Take for example NTRA accreditation and the EID database. Your average, every day action bias guy or gal doesn't think much of them, but the data they've allowed for, and the PR (at times) is pretty darn effective. If your track is not a part of it, why the hell not?

One of horse racing's biggest issues is that they're married to the status quo, and this doesn't bring about change. This is valid. However, an often overlooked criticism is that when they actually do do something it's filled with action bias. I think this might be as important as the former.

Have a nice Monday folks.


Questions Abound (Well, for me Anyway) for Santa Anita and TSG

During this whole troubling spectacle - summarized and updated, story by story here by Jessica Chapel - I've had a devil of a time figuring out a lot of things. Leaving aside jokes about my lack of brain power please, here are some basic kind of questions that you may or may not be able to answer.

I've heard over and over again from people in power that "The Track is Safe!". This has been trumpeted a lot the past while, and it may well be true.

The experts like Mick Peterson are in charge, and they tell us its "safe". What I'd like to ask them is, what do you mean by safe? Is it that there are no glaring problems; no holes, base issues, slabs or otherwise bad material causing noticeable issues; is that the meaning of safe?

What I'd like to know, for instance, is if the just noticeable difference is wide as a chasm or pinpoint. Meaning, if Santa Anita dirt is a historical 2.51 deaths per thousand, would the experts, and their instruments know if it's now a 4.22 per 1000 or a 5.02 per thousand (doubly less safe) racetrack? No one has asked, that I have seen.

Speaking of fewer people asking questions, I'd like to know what happened to Jeremy Balan. It's none of my business what private businesses do with private employees, and this is not a reality show, but the now-apparently-unemployed recent Eclipse winner is gone. I can't help but wonder why, and if the reason is something that all of us who like the sport should find troubling, or not.

I'd like to know how in Heaven's name PETA quotes made it into a press release from a huge racetrack. I sure hope it wasn't, "I'll put your name in it and you'll never bug us again right?" I find this confusing, and am pretty perplexed.

I'd like to know why the horse racing media haven't asked why these big spikes in dirt breakdowns never seem to happen on artificial surfaces.

I'd like know if there's a causal relationship between breakdowns and lasix use. If not, this new policy kind of feels like asking your plumber to perform your appendectomy.

If the track is safe as reported, and all's well with the new protocols (like the ones NYRA initiated years ago that seemed to work well), why wouldn't Santa Anita and TSG just wait this out? The randomness should die down, and hopefully all would be well.

Anyhow, those are my dumb questions. If you want to keep following the story, Jessica's micro-site is a pretty good resource.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Horse Racing's Tasty Steak....... With No Sizzle

Yesterday a few of us were chatting about the Racing Ideas report on Equibase, and data. It's ground a lot of people have covered before, but I thought the paper was well written, and interesting.

In the end, the "ask" on 'racing' is generally like it is with a lot of other things. Raise some money for innovation, invest, and hope it expands the game.

Racing, in its current state, makes this a hard sell. There's might be some steak, but there's no sizzle.

I remember back when I was 27 or so. I was working in the small cap space in Toronto, and the street was pretty dead; heavy industry wasn't doing anything, the economy was a bit soft, and I wasn't making too much scratch.

One day the phone rang and it was an entrepreneurial dude I'd done some work for (who, coincidentally, hit it big a decade or so later, and he put some of it into a string at Woodbine). He was getting into bed with a company that created some new technology for fleet management. He asked if I'd help them raise money. I'd get paid a half warrant (that may or - more likely - may not be exercised in a year or two), and I wasn't exactly flush so I jumped at it.

The company was pretty neat, and this was a new, new thing, so I thought it (Zenin Industrial, I think was the original name) would be a fairly easy sell. The .com stuff was kind of happening, as well.

It wasn't. Crickets. "There's PTP, let's run!"

Maybe six months later we tried again, but this time it was different. They changed their name to "Zenin.com" and the stock was up to around $1. They priced the flow-through at around $1.15.

"Oh, it's a .com? Let me have a look at this!" was the usual response. No one ran when they saw me. We raised something like $4M in three weeks.

The stock did fairly well for awhile, and it was up to about $2, so they were going for another round. They were producing more and more product and it was a good product, but it wasn't a .com, it was more about wireless. And at this time, the buzz in the markets was all about "wireless". They changed the name again to (if memory serves me) Zenin Dispatch Wireless.com.

This turned out to be sizzle on steroids. The stock got great buzz and boom just like that, the financing went. After a few years the stock hit $28. Like most bubble stocks in those days it came back to earth, and someone - it might've been Motorola - bought them.

I'll always remember that episode.

Meanwhile, sports betting, and sports betting data has its Zenin Wireless.com sizzle going on right now. Just yesterday I saw the VP of the PGA Tour talking about having shotlink data integrated into overseas betting markets by 2020. There's a good chance that for next year's British Open, you will be sitting in a pub in England and betting via your phone what quadrant of the green the next player will hit; how long this player will hit his drive; you'll get +2700 that he hits his next ball in the water.

There's buzz for the sport, mostly via data. There's some blue sky. Private and sports league partnership is nascent, but electric.

There has been no similar story with horse racing, and frankly, there should've been. Its .com was its monopoly on internet wagering. Its big data age was equibase. Do you remember any excitement? I don't.

As we've spoken about before, Derby Wars did something pretty neat in this DFS world - in fact, they modeled themselves after FanDuel before most even heard about FanDuel. All it took was a little success and the U.S.S, Magna flooded the torpedo bays and fired.

When the Thoroughbred Idea folks ask for racing's data company to change, or for it to take a chance, we're not dealing in the same lexicon as other businesses. There's pretty good steak - it's a great betting game, it's data driven and smart, with myriad possibilities - but the sports infrastructure makes it a non-starter for a lot of people, and companies. Racing is Zenin Industrial.

For them, and others who seek change, my two cents is simple - pilot projects, testing and incremental change is probably the way forward. It's just the way the business is.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

No One Knows What Sports Betting is Going to Look Like, But it Ain't Going Anywhere

I was digging through some old electronics recently and came across my  Slingbox . For those who don't know, a Slingbox attached to your...

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