#Crown19 Thoughts

It's night two of the Crown at Woodbine/Mohawk Raceway Park (I think that's it).

Since two of the best people in harness racing - Ms. Fanning and Mr. Campbell - are involved in the Breeders' Crown, it is incumbent on me (and all people without hearts of coal) to publish some #Crown19 thoughts. As you know, millions dozens of people and thousands of Russian bots read this blog daily, so my reach to drive handle is formidable.

Let's go.

First pick 5 (15% juice, decent bet sometimes) -

Race 1 -

This overnight might be a tricky affair and I think going deep is the elixir. The evil deep state, or someone, was against me last time, because there is no other way I can describe the drive on my wager of Classic Pro. This horse is a project for the Lilly's who are tremendous at nursing back horses to good health. He has big time back class, will be a bomb price, and is very sharp. I'll use.

Race 2 - Mares Crown

Many will use Shartin as a single and there's a strong chance you'll be on to the next leg. However, after losing in Kentucky, the bloom is off the rose, and I'll try and beat her. One filly who is razor-sharp, better than ever, and will be longer than a #MAGA rally with Trump on full-crazy-riff is Kendall Seelster. I wagered on her at 1 trillion to one in the Milton, Sleepy Sylvain got her off 9th by a hundred, but she was absolutely on fire coming home. We have a driver switch and I think she can be heard from again. Others I'll look at are Caviart Ally and Youaremycandygirl, who seems to be learning how to race.

ITP as Hoosier Buddy
Race 3 - Mares Trot

Do we go deeper than the 80% or so expected win of Plunge and Manchego? Maybe if you have an Inside the Pylons bankroll, but for us normal people, it might be tough. I do like Custom Cantab as a bomb. She was not on the bit last time, and she usually is. If something wild happens I could see her storming home at big odds if she's back to being racy. The rail filly flashed some finish.

Race 4 - Filly Trot

Winndivie got the protypical Sears elimination drive last time, but overcame that nonsense to fire home faster than an Alberta oil worker made it to the voting station. She's my wager. When Doves Cry was flat last time, but you can't leave her out. Asiago and the Ice Dutchess are other obvious uses I suppose.

Race 5 - Filly Pace

Ubeaut will probably have to beat herself, correct? I mean I won at the track one time around last Christmas, and @gregreinhart tweeted something positive about one of the teams he cheers for last month, but I don't see it happening. It will allow us to go deep in the other legs, should we so choose.

Race 6 (start of the second pick 5, again at 15%)

The Open Pace is where we find PTP's Super-Secret #Crown19 Play, for Subscribers Only. OK, forget that last part.

Easy Lover Hanover has been nothing short of sensational of late. I know what you're saying: "This horse doesn't fit in here PTP, you're dumber than a bag of hammers". I won't argue with that, but I really think he has a chance to surprise.

Race 7 - Colt Trot

Greenshoe is a beast, and I think he just got syndicated for the GDP of Denmark. The forces of nature in racing (the breeders) all want him to crush. And he probably will. But I will use Gimpanzee, because that last drive was one for the ages, and the horse overcame more than a Parx horseplayer has to. We also have a tiny, weeny, small - and if I had a thesaurus handy, other words - shot to beat the Shoe. He has shipped from Lexington, and might not be as good.

If you want to go deep to beat Greenshoe, Don't Let Em has learned how to be a racehorse, and Soul Strong is crazy fast when he puts it all together. On the board, he'll be longer than the line for the penny slots when the races are over.

Race 8 - 3YO Colt Pace

One of the soundest, best gaited horse we'd ever want to see is Bettors Wish. And his connections are some of the best people this sport has to offer. I mean, they could tweet something negative about murderous communist oppressors, and the NBA wouldn't even mind.  I hope he wins, and he probably will. However, Dancin Lou will be my wager. Time after time, the sharpest horses win these end of year tilts, and although we don't see any reason to believe Bettors Wish is tired, this horse is a knife's edge. If the odds are good, I'm in.

If you like Southwind Ozzie, word is he's been scoping yukky (aka, horses I often wager) and they've fixed him up.

Race 9 - Open Trot

I love Bold Eagle came, and to see one of the greatest horses in harness racing history is a real bonus. Sadly, he won't be on my tickets.

I think Six Pack can get it done via the north end parking lot at a nice price, and he'll be a use for me. Atlanta apparently had the thumps in the International and could bounce back. Mission Accepted, Guardian Angel and even the very uneven Marion Maurader would be uses if I go deep. If Bold Eagle's odds are low, this race is a must play for me.

Race 10 (A Crown consolation of sorts) - 

I think a lot of people will use Fast n First and Cant Beach That, which is fine, but I'll lean on Hervey Hanover at a generous 8-1 morning line. He's sharp, and I don't think he loved the sticky track last time.

Good luck tonight everyone. And remember, all of the above picks were free. Please, no wagering.

Horses Run Around in a Circle

There was an interesting conversation on the twitter today after Ray Paulick tweeted a link to his piece about Woodbine deserving another Breeders' Cup. Most would think a world class venue like Woodbine's wouldn't cause much consternation in a topic of holding a world class event, but it does because Woodbine's "dirt" surface is tapeta.

The Breeders' Cup is for turf and "American dirt horses." Tradition kind of demands it, we hear.

Without getting into the usual (sometimes) nonsensical circular discussion about surfaces, the reliance on tradition or not wanting to change the game in many quarters, to me, can be lacking.

The backbone of a game is changed often; often by economics, and sometimes by the world evolving.

There are many football fans over a certain age who believe the game is not football anymore, because of the lack of hitting that defined the entire game.

But has the game's core changed? No, it was modified. It's still played on a rectangular field, the ball is thrown and caught, rushed with and spiked; you still get 6 for a TD, 3 for a FG. It's still watched, wagered on, and is growing. The game is fine. It's just evolving.

The core of the horse racing game, since forever and probably for forever, is pretty simple when we get right down to it: Who has the faster horse? Which of these horses racing in a circle or semi-circle will win? What will they pay if they win; what will I get as an owner if the horse wins?

What color the ground they raced on; if it's wet or dry, boggy or pristine; 87% sand and 12% beachball, doesn't really matter.

We always have to embrace change even if it flies into the face of tradition, because it can make the game better.

As an example, one of horse racing's great traditions (I kid, this one sucks) is unloading a lame horse on an unsuspecting owner, or racing a lame horse to get rid of it. Let's say there's a new technology that can cheaply bone scan a horse before it goes out to race, or before it's bought or sold, preventing fraud or breakdowns. Of course, that's not a threat to tradition, it's progress.

In this day and age we're pretty tribal, and horse racing seems to rely a lot on how things were done in the past, with change only happening when a lead shank is pried out of cold dead hands. I don't believe that's optimal.

Change can happen in horse racing, and when we enact it (hopefully with some proper analysis, although maybe that's a pipe dream), in my view we only really have to worry about the sport's true core being held constant: People buy horses, people train horses, people race horses and people bet on horses - Horses who run around in a circle.

Horse Racing Innovation, a Task None too Small

I read an interesting article by the Atlantic's Derek Thompson on Thomas Edison yesterday. The article, summarizing a book on the amazing man's life, touched on something we've been hearing about for some time - the incubation of innovation, or lack of it of late.

Back in the 1870's, Edison created a full blown lab for invention in Menlo Park. Working with others, invention (and innovation) was fostered through these unique interactions. The established business community, at times slower to move than its smaller counterparts, were critical of such a collaborative lab. The head of AT&T at the time said -

"It has never, is not now, and never will pay to keep an establishment of professional inventors."

Fortunately, that company acquiesced on that position, creating Bell Labs, which gave us the laser, transistor, and through others, rubber, nylon, the computer and the building blocks for the internet.

Lately, the corporate goals through innovation and invention have changed. Researchers at Duke University submitted a study that concludes these incubation labs have left most big businesses. Invention is left to others, like universities (or smaller companies), with businesses focusing on the end product.

I might be talking out of my hat, but that makes some sense qualitatively doesn't it? New, cutting edge ideas, like for example wunderkind Boyan Slat's Ocean Clean Up tech that is projected to solve the world's plastics problem by 2040 have popped up. This non-profit has been funded by Silicon Valley and individuals; a GE would not even touch it with a ten foot pole. There are countless other examples almost every day in the news.

When looking at horse racing, does anyone know what's put directly into research and development? I don't but I surmise it's very small. The innovation and invention is left to others, like back in 2002, with UK based Betfair. This disruption, however, was pretty short lived, frankly. When Betfair was bought out by super-large Paddy Power its appeared the innovation almost ceased - just as the researchers from Duke predicted it would.

When larger companies do not innovate, it's left to the Boyan Slats of the world. But in horse racing, that can't happen. We (and others like Superterrific and Crunk to name two) have talked about this for a long time. Have an idea about data? Equibase owns it. Have a great idea about wagering? It's constrained by the tote system and places like CDI and TSG control signals. How about something new, fun and vibrant with video? There's a place called Roberts that will shoot you down quicker than Dick Cheney on a hunting trip.

The obvious solution is to (oh god, don't go here PTP) take a slice of slot revenue, and create a Bell Labs for horse racing. But that too is handcuffed by the same shedrow shackles.

Perhaps the naysayers are correct - horse racing is here to harvest the revenue it has, until there is none left. But it sure would be nice if somehow, someway, the morass can be navigated to make something happen. This game, with thousands of bettable events, with millions of data points, in a world where a 16 year old kid can come with an idea to clean up oceans, can and should do better.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

The Business of Horse Racing's Zero Expectation

I saw a tweet last evening -
We've seen - since last spring - many tweets or articles or columns echoing much of the same from disparate areas of the public. It's certainly been rough.

Western society is generally pretty fair (if you don't use social media or political fringes as your yardstick). It tolerates quite a bit, quite frankly. We tolerate things that are bad for us because not being free to do them is considered worse. We tolerate automobile deaths, deaths by alcohol, guns, airplanes and many other things.

When it reaches a certain level it becomes more of a concern. But with all of those things that level is never zero.

Horse racing, in my view, is not in that same place.

Since the spring, to many, the "equine body count" is supposed to be zero. Even horse racing has talked about it - when Del Mar had no on track breakdowns during its last meet, it was trumpeted. That, I think, is shortsighted. Horse racing's zero expectation can never be met.

If this was deemed more of a problem several years ago and there was a plan to get it to an "acceptable" level, things would be better; the zero expectation would not exist. But, for whatever reason, it wasn't tackled with near the urgency it should have been.

I believe horse racing needs to do its best to flip the argument. The public and politicians realize horse racing is an athletic game with 1,000 pound animals carrying 100 pound jocks. They will accept a certain level of danger (and yes, death).

It's above my pay grade to offer a solution to a problem that has been ignored and gone on for so long. Plus, I'm a dude with a blog. But, showing improvement in the numbers and conditioning the public the number will never be zero could be wise. Playing the political expectation game might be all the sport has left.

Have a nice Wednesday folks.

California Racing Has Always Been an Island

By now everyone's read the Drape story about Triple Crown winner Justify receiving an alleged (no one has disputed it yet, so maybe they'll drop the alleged part soon) positive test for the drug scopolamine.

This drug is not new to horse racing, as over the years positives have resulted in trace amounts (through contamination) where trainers are held accountable. But, as the data has come in, it has been studied, and jurisdictions around the world have set limits on the amount of the drug that can, according to the science, be attributed to the environment.

In Louisiana, it's 75 ng/ml, Europe 30 ng/ml.

The International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities has the contamination limit at 60 ng/ml.

In Australia, it's 25 ng/ml. 

Justify's test, according to Drape, showed 300 ng/ml.

California seems - at least some protagonists do - to think 300 mg/ml can still be a contaminant.

This leads to a broader discussion about uniform rules on drugs and suspensions. Let's face it, that should've been done an epoch ago; uniform rules are directly proportional to fewer regulatory clown shows. But, for whatever reason, California racing does not seem to take heed. It does what it does.

I've always felt it's why the general public doesn't much understand horse racing.

To your average Joe or Jane, this reads fairly simple. It's a case of a 0.08 blood alcohol limit for drunk driving because everyone agrees that's proper. But in California, a guy who blew a 0.12 was let drive home because someone arbitrarily decided he's a big dude and he said he drank some mouthwash. It just doesn't compute.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Can We Beat the Computer Horse Betting Models? At Times, Sure We Can.

On a previous post I mentioned a book I read a couple of weeks ago called "Digital Marketing in an AI World" and promised a couple of thoughts on AI or big data models for horse racing.

If you're interested I'll share a few of those thoughts below.

First, I'm a believer in modeling for sports betting and racing, because with proper discipline, some smarts, and a malleable model we can make hay when the sun shines. Numbers remove bias, and they take away what we thought we knew, but really never knew out of a wager. A good model, even in horse racing's high rake environment, can work, and work pretty well.

When we analyze data in horse racing a few characteristics generally occur.

i) We learn pretty quickly how difficult the game is to beat. The angles we thought were great, aren't great at all (unless you like losing 15 or 20 cents of every dollar you bet). When you run a model on a subset of (statistically significant) data, the chances of it showing +EV are slim. When you parse or layer too much, you're chasing your tail with bad information.

ii) The horses a model may signal as plays are pure overlays, and some of these horses - on paper - will look gawd awful. We'll see an 0 for 11 horse, a bad jockey switch, terrible form - what we may call 'qualitative anti-angles' - that make us not want to wager on the animal (which is precisely why these wagers can approach 1.00 ROI).

iii) the price of the horse (or the bet type) is everything.

The teams we read so much about are doing much of the above religiously. Can we beat them? In my view, Fred's book tells us one way how.

Self driving cars are in the news, sometimes for terrible reasons. When an accident occurs, it sheds light on the problems with AI, and in-turn, some of racing's computer modeling.

This AI works on a three-step process - perceive, plan and execute. In Tempe, Arizona last year, this was on display, and not in a good way.

A woman was walking her bicycle across a four lane highway after dark and was struck and killed by a self driving car. The car's LIDAR perceived a human with a bicycle, but in the planning stage it computed it could not be a human with a bicycle because it's a 4 lane highway at night. In the execution stage the AI asked "what should we do?" and the answer was, "keep going."

Fred writes: "Machine learning systems can make mistakes, and it's possible to outflank the competition by capitalizing on them."

In racing, in my view, we see this often.

Several years ago I remember playing the Woodbine polytrack for the first day of the meet. Like other computer modelers I knew the poly is fast, and horses who make the lead are great bets. At times, even with bad trainers or riders, you could make a score. But, at least one modeler was slow to the draw.

At Woodbine, the fifth race had a horse who my model said would make the lead, and horses who made the lead were 4 for 4* already. It was a green light. But one bot, run on a model, didn't agree. Whether it was working with late pace numbers, didn't have a built-in bias, or what I do not know, but it just kept fading the animal. It was 6-1 on the board 14-1 on the exchange, then 16-1, then 17-1. I kept putting up cash, wondering what in the hell price this model was working on. It took the offers up to 25-1. The horse won easily and paid $18.

The above is not as isolated occurrence.

What other mistakes do we see?

In my view - lame horses. If you're an old school horse watcher, you can take these models to school, using the model itself - perceive, plan, execute. Did the horse look like this last time? No, then execute, because that model betting $1,400 on its nose likely has no clue.

I have seen horses head to the gate lame who were gate scratched that the models were on. They're losing money, so we have to be the one to beat them.

Overall, I am certainly no expert, but I love modeling and models, for horse racing or otherwise. They work. But, it doesn't mean they can't be exploited. Those are a couple of areas I think they can be had.

Have a really nice Friday everyone.

* My top pace figure (with a slight speed track modification) went 10 for 10 that day. It was a rare Let It Ride type day that keeps a lot of us coming back. 

The Tantalizing Touts

@bvalvsracing tweeted out a nice article last week about the touts. It talks a great deal about entertainment content versus hard-edged +EV predictions. Namely, it pays to tout for entertainment purposes, because it's sexier. That's why we see a lot of content presented like this -

“The wrong team is favored and I love this team as a home underdog. They are coming off extra rest and the defense has been impenetrable so far this season. I will be taking them on the money line and expect them to win the game.”

You and I know the obvious - that information is already considered in the line, so it's kind of useless. But if that team performs well, then this tout is off to the races.

Meanwhile, for the +EV dude or gal, they're off in the tout wilderness with their analysis.

“Due to many factors and variables within the model, we have the home team priced at -9.75 with a current edge over the market price of x%, being our biggest edge even after regression back to the market price. Also, I see variations in price/spread from -6.5 -120 to -7 +105 and a few other prices across the screen so it will also depend on how much you value 7 in today’s NFL and what outs you have among other considerations.”


Horse racing represents this phenomenon a lot.

"Chad Brown wins with shippers from overseas in routes."

Thanks, that's why the horse is 6-5.

However, unlike in sports betting - where you do see the second kind of content - in horse racing there is very little. The HANA Horseplayer Magazine had some, you'll find a little on twitter now and again. But it's pretty much a dearth.

I think there are a couple of reasons for it - i) most profitable players keep their oddslines and angles a secret, and ii) there is almost no market for this analysis in horse racing; math players aren't trying to beat 20% juice in horse racing in some six horse field scattered almost minute by minute on any given day.

Another point that struck me while reading the article. The tantalizing touts, with angles, and all the rest can make hay in sports, because if they are not horrible people will win enough over a season to keep firing. You only have to beat 4.8% (or lower if you line shop) takeout. I think that's why we see so many of them. It's difficult to break even over a season (no offense to them, they are just doing their jobs) playing TVG host pick 4 tickets.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Gambling - Skill Game Success Must Be Achievable

I was reading the Atlantic's Derek Thompson's book Hitmakers this week. Thompson explores a lot when it comes to marketing, business and human psychology and I found it kind of interesting.

One section of the book is devoted to why some games catch on and some don't, where he introduced a concept called "MAYA".

To illustrate his point, he talked about Tetris, the best selling video game of all time, created in the 1980's by a Russian programmer, and Minecraft, the second biggest seller ever. Both games, the author contends, are pure puzzles not unlike lego or other childhood games and they have a few common themes.

"The level of play must be simple enough to execute, and the point of these games is neither to make players tear out their hair nor give  away the secret too easily," he writes. "... these [most successful] games are designed with what neurologist Judy Willis called an achievable challenge. People will take up a challenge if they think they can solve it - Most Advanced Yet Achievable : MAYA."

In terms of gambling games, this is pretty obvious isn't it?

Poker is a tough game to learn, but it's not overly daunting. And, with low juice you have a chance to win - MAYA.

Black Jack rose to prominence in the 1960's with the classic book, Beat the Dealer. You can beat blackjack, if you try, and someone is showing you how - MAYA.

Sports Betting has been around forever at about 5% juice. It's a tough game to beat, but it feels achievable to millions of people because the house edge is not usurious. MAYA.

When the misanthropes on twitter talk about grinding out in horse racing, jackpot bets kill the game, there are no low takeout bets to allow people to churn, and all the rest of those mean, nasty things, they aren't being misanthropic. They're just telling you that betting horse racing is not MAYA; succeeding at it is not achievable to the masses like those other games. And if the business would do more to make solving the puzzles (at potential profit) more achievable, the sport would be better off.

Have a great long weekend folks. And best wishes for a safe weekend to our friends in Florida and area.

Data Can Market Itself into Something Really Big

I finished a decent book recently - Digital Marketing in an AI World - about artificial intelligence in marketing, and big data.

Author Fred Vallaeys was one of the earliest google employees and he was involved in a lot of the big data (and systems) google has created over the years to enhance their marketing platform (which still makes up almost all of the company's revenue).

In the book Fred made a couple of interesting points that relates in some way to horse racing.

One of them - software, big teams, big data and wagering - I will cover later when I have some time. The one I'd like to share some thoughts relates to "the data"; a topic not unfamiliar to those in this sport.

Fred noted that back in 2005, google looked into the purchase of Urchin. Urchin was a system that collected data from various sources and allowed a business to see where pretty much every metric they could imagine was coming from. I used the system in my work, and it was a leg up. There was a lot of money being spent on developing these analytic packages at the time, but it truly was nascent.

Google being in the space scared a whole lot of folks:

"Many people were afraid that this was going to kill the analytics industry. Chills went up the spines of businesses and vendors who were installing tracking systems," Fred wrote.

When google announced this package - one they could charge a high price for; this is called Google Analytics today - was going to be free, it was even more concerning. It could be the end of many businesses, in a new space.

The result was the exact opposite:

"Because google made analytics plentiful and cheap, all of a sudden everyone was paying attention, and able to afford analytics. This turned out to be a huge boon for the industry. Businesses began to say "this is something we should do more with."

This freeing up of the data caused massive ripple effects, and it sure didn't kill an industry.

Back at a conference in about 2004 I hung around with these folks from Utah, all smiling and wearing green shirts. They had an awesome tracking and analytics company, but they were quite small. As demand for analytics grew, though, so did they. Four years later the small team were rich - Adobe acquired them for $1.8 billion.

Google freeing up data and making it all very mainstream no doubt helped them - and others; there were dozens of these companies, and many are still in business today - succeed. It created a massive ecosystem where each and every new entity - third party ads, internal ad spend (like Amazon) - and just about everyone else can enhance their sales process and grow their business.

Unlike web analytics which is still growing today, horse racing at the very best is stalled. Perhaps using institutional roadblocks and heavy regulation to keep others out is ROI positive in the long-term for the sport when it comes to data. However, when we look at where the growth is coming from in other industries, it makes one wonder. If Equibase invited participation and intra-sport growth through transactional-type economics, would the sport be better off? Perhaps it would.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Fixed Odds Betting Solutions Seem Simple, Because They Probably Are

You might've heard a lot about fixed odds betting over the last few months.

In horse racing, some quarters believe that fixed odds wagering would be welcomed, primarily due to the failings of the pari-mutuel system - namely, money dumps at 1 minute or closer to post, making the odds board look like barely a suggestion. I'm one of those people, in theory.

The gripes about fixed odds wagering frequently revolve around the immutable truth that, at times (especially if you have a clue what you're doing), your wager size will be limited, or the book will not even accept your bets - the "no sharps allowed" phenomenon.

This is not difficult to understand, of course. If someone is making 1% or 2% returns with lots of volume, your book can get killed in a hurry at $5,000 or $10,000 per bet. In a sport like horse racing, with billions wagered, the inside money, the sharps; it could be pretty hellish for those taking the bets.

What I find curious about this whole system is that the problems are completely obvious, but we've seen a solution that's already been vetted and works - a betting exchange.

If you wanted to bet $20k on a soccer game in the UK, it wasn't overly difficult with an exchange. Ditto if you wanted to get $1,000 down on a horse, or even an NFL game. There was usually someone there to match your price - there's sharp money on both sides after all - and if there wasn't, you'd hang your bid (or offer, if you prefer) at a more attractive price and would probably get matched.

The advantages of this system were pretty clear. There was little risk to the bookie and the consumer could place a bet of virtually any size, seamlessly, at takeout rates which encouraged volume and sticky LTV's. In addition, those who were "stuck" in a position, either personally or owning a book, could lay off action, or balance. It could be used as a clearing house.

Earlier this decade, though, the largest exchange - Betfair - went public, and then was swallowed up, as we often see in the current M&A century we live in. Perhaps the new owners needed more margin per customer and the book itself was better for that, or maybe there was another reason (or fifty); but for whatever reason, the exchanges were not marketed.

Despite this technology and its numerous advantages, it's not being used like it even was a decade ago. It's the cousin you forgot you had.

Meanwhile, markets have long taught us that when there's demand, there's going to be supply. In the Far East, unregulated betting exchanges and similar services have popped up. One exchange alone is rumored to be doing over $50B in matched markets - a good deal of it in horse racing. This excahnge was rumored to be bringing in close to 20% of Hong Kong racing's turnover, although that's probably high. There are several others, some in my view pretty scary, which are linked to money laundering and organized crime. 

As well, new unregulated full service betting companies are doing what we describe above - using the exchange as a clearing house. I won't link the site, but I noticed one betting service scours the web for your price, and if your price is not available, it will automatically place your bid for you on the exchanges. With some regulation it would be pretty much the perfect betting ecosystem. It's exactly how this is all supposed to work.

What if racing - with its near monopoly, regulatory capture and $500M or more in subsidy - created a system like this for the sport a dozen years ago? Perhaps in 2019, Draft Kings and other books, now happily taking sports bets, would be a forgotten cousin to the racing exchange.

Fixed odds betting is fantastic for horse racing. Placing a bet at 5-2 when you like the horse at 5-2 and getting 5-2 is the way things should work. However, it's simply not the way it is, or it appears it's ever going to be. For that we should not blame fixed odds, we should blame the system the power brokers have created.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

The Change Train Needs More Than a Conductor

I caught a quick story in the Financial Post today about what companies do when things aren't going well, and they need a paradigm shift. The author focused on how one company - Best Buy - turned things around.

I found two planks kind of interesting. One plank,  is about a reorg -

"Putting a plan into action also requires the right people in the right places. Who gets brought in depends on whether the culture of the organization needs to be completely gutted or if a few tweaks will suffice. For example, in a situation of a complete reorganization, it may be better to change out entire teams under divisional leaders, especially if there is complacency and little buy-in. "

This strikes me, as I read this tweet this morning about Del Mar.
As most know, we've seen a couple things happen at Del Mar the last decade. They (along with others in California) raised juice, making payouts to customers worse; they replaced polytrack surfaces with dirt, which raised favorite win percentage, and resulted in (both in theory and practice) more breakdowns.

Now, let's say, like Best Buy, the culture was changed at the top.

Instead of switching surfaces, this new management said, we want fewer breakdowns, bigger fields, less chalk, and a better betting menu, and we'll reverse all those decisions.

I wish them luck. The existing stakeholders would want nothing of it.

Which brings me to the second plank, according to the author.

"A restructuring gives the company the opportunity to replace those shareholders who are not willing to support the company’s refocus. It is an important process to go through as capital partners need to be aligned with management and the plan about to be implemented."

The people who are giving you money need to buy-in as well. It's a house of cards without them.

In racing I find we often ask for change at the top; that management is bad; that they don't know what they're doing. Leaving aside if that's accurate or not, I'd contend it doesn't matter much. If someone was put in charge that demanded change, I highly suspect he or she would be run out of Dodge in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

When Handicapping is Irrelevant

There are things that happen from time to time that reminds us that gambling is a gambling game.

This weekend we saw something during the Barracuda golf tournament that doesn't happen very often - the scoreboards across the interwebs failed to update. If you happened to watch the TV coverage (and kept track of what a birdie or eagle meant) you were better than most, but if you were watching on your phone or computer, it was pre-Pony Express.

With that, the big bookmakers were caught in the crosshairs, and the gamblers could find gambles.

Golfer John Chin, who played a few holes well and was in the mix, was offered at 80-1; he should've probably been 15-1. Collin Morikawa, a kid who looks all-world, was near tied, and instead of being +300 or +350, sat at over +700 at some places.

After about a half hour, the books pulled everything off the board.

Come Sunday, Morikawa got the job done, Chin was top three, with top four each/way bets cashing at 20-1.

This had nothing to do with handicapping. It was just a gambler being presented with a good price and having to take it.

In horse racing this too happens (albeit rarely). And it pays to be ready if it does.

Garnet wrote about the "mad bomber" at Northfield Park a couple of weeks ago. With the smaller pools, any large across the board bets will add pool value, and someone betting large was messing things up royally. Gamblers like King of Yonkers Bucky Swope didn't even have a program, but were there in the pools, trying to catch a place price 6X what it should've paid.

Although these are extreme examples, I think it still provides a lesson to those of us who play the game. Sure it's important to try and figure out who is going to win, but when you're betting, the odds offered to us is the great pass/fail question.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

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.


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