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.

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