Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday Racing...... No More in '08

It's Sunday afternoon. The Gardner is packed. Turning left into Greenwood is a nightmare. Cops are out directing traffic. The Super 7 carryover is big. Tip sheet sellers are out at the Queen Street entrance, doing brisk business. The belly is full from a steak and egg breakfast at the Mecca, and the handicapping is done. You have to get there early to get a good seat upstairs, and watch warm-ups. The thoroughbred fans are already there playing Gulfstream. It is so busy inside, so upstairs in the grandstand is where it is at.

That was Sunday racing at Greenwood. Now Sunday afternoon racing is no more. It's gone, as Woodbine has cut it from the racedate menu.

Darryl Kaplan wrote an opinion piece in this months View coming in Trot Magazine. He makes some good points and it is a centrist, populist opinion that something had to be done to get stronger fields, but he is not sure if the way it has come about is correct. I tend to agree.

But here we don't have to take a centrist view. Here we can turn this business on its head and try and figure out what this sport could be, and should be. So let's wave our magic wand and go to it.

Our first task to grow the sport, and to get back Sunday as a day for promotion involves competing racetracks. So, we wave the magic wand and cap purses at Georgian at $10,000. WEG has to compete with several racetracks peeling off entries. It hurts. We see what Yonkers has done to the Meadowlands the last year. It has happened here for many years. Poof. We just upped entries by a solid 15-25%.

The next task is increasing handles. With horseman agreements tying hands in the real world it is tough to have a dynamic, fluid marketing and wagering growth strategy. We have a magic wand though, don't we. So to grow Sunday's and to race Sunday's and to promote the sport it is easy for us.

1. 5% is taken off every purse, and this money is placed in a marketing fund, just for Sunday's. Thoroughbred players rule afternoons, so we spend some of this money going after them. What will we be advertising? That's step 2 and beyond.

2. We introduce a new Sunday wager, and this wager is a blockbuster. A seeded superfecta pool in races 5, 8 and 11. This pool is guaranteed and it has a 4% rake. We advertise that to everyone, and we set the table beforehand so all wagering outlets can take it. No one will be shut out, and no one will not be able to bet it.

3. On track HPI reward points are tripled for people wagering the home track on Sunday's. Rebates to players are in effect made on par with the offshores. Just for that day. We are giving away money. We are playing people to play. We are being a casino. We are being a business.

4. Sunday is "Executives Work with Fans Day": They are handed hundreds of coupons for coffee, programs, racing forms. They walk around and talk to regulars, new people, whomever gets in their way. And they gladhand. Customers are appreciated on Sunday's. Sunday is Fun Day.

After the season, we do not bean count. We don't say "well, superfecta pools were $50,000 instead of $20,000, but with the low rake we made less." We have a magic wand, so we don't need to bean count, and to make the changes we did not have to call OHHA and 50 government agencies. We are only worrying about growing and branding.

In the end we might have branded Woodbine Sunday Standardbred racing. Every year people would know "Woodbine harness is on Sunday's and they have good bets that day". People with HPI accounts would know "boy if you bet live on Sunday's in the winter it is a great deal. Good rebate back; and I made enough points that day to get my wife a Woodbine sweatshirt to bring home". If handle does not go up after one Sunday, or two, or three, or ten we don't throw up our hands and say "well that did not work!" It took decades for us to lose harness handles. They won't come back in a week, or a month. It's hard work.

Hopefully we create buzz. Positive buzz. Perhaps growth.

That is the way we handle a Sunday racing problem at Pull the Pocket. If I am wrong, well so be it. I have a wand. And my mind is quantum leaping back to 1986 at Greenwood, so I might be waxing a touch too much nostalgic anyway.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Faves of 2007

Reflecting on the year in harness racing we had some good, some bad and some ugly. We'll forget the bad and the ugly for this post. We read enough of it.

So, let's go with the best of 2007. In my opinion, which ain't worth much.

Race of the Year: This is a tough one. The 3YO Breeders Crown Colt Pace certainly added spice. Brian Sears with Always a Virgin parked out Tell All in a scorching half. A bomber with George Brennan - Artist View - picked up the pieces. Snow White's race at Lexington was a jaw-dropper. World Record.

But I pick the 2007 Metro Stakes as my race of the year. The big guns were there - George Teague, Duane Marfisi, and others with powerful horses. Lo and behold a strapping son of Ontario sire Mach Three, owned by a few people from the booming metropolis of Truro Nova Scotia took home the prize. And take it home he did - in World record fashion. Somebeachsomewhere's Metro win is my race of the year.

Race Call of the Year: Every year it is the same for me. Old time harness racing. Small town harness racing. Grassroots harness racing. Vance Cameron at the Gold Cup and Saucer. The fireworks at the start almost had Mr. Cameron jumping out of the announcers booth. I loved it. It was infectious. I love the crowd too. We don't see that enough. You do out east though - every year.

Feel Good Story of the Year: Joe Canadian, a claimer at Sarnia's Hiawatha Horse Park had a nasty accident last year. The water truck and him didn't get along. He was badly beat up and I don't think too many would have thought putting him down wasn't a probable option. But don't tell 20 year old Britt Kennedy that. She nursed him back to health, and less than a year later he was racing for her again. And winning. It is a great story. Woodbine won a Hervey Award for it. Pats on the back all around. And to Ms. Kennedy: Well done!

Best Day at the Track: North America Cup night at Mohawk. It is about time they brought it there. It was fabulous. And the place was packed. A great night of racing which was enjoyable for the fans. We need more like that.

I hope we can top those in 2008. We just might. Snow White and Somebeachsomewhere might be able to rewrite record books. There were many good 2YO and 3YO trotters and pacers. The classics this year could be well worth the price of admission.

Happy new year everyone and all the best in 2008.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Racing is Strange. Strange but Cool

OK, so I am wondering tonight, just what this racing game is. Gosh, it has some weird stuff going on, and attracts some strange folks. People like me. Maybe even stranger people than me.

I went to the track tonight. I relayed to my playing partner a story about my last trip to Vegas. I go there to golf, and then usually play some racing. No other games. No poker, no blackjack. Nothing. At a gorgeous five star course the sun is beaming, I shoot a great front nine, I have a beer in my golf cart. Life is jim-dandy. On hole ten my playing partner pulls his shoulder out. Off to the hospital. No more golfing. Since I hate playing alone I decide to just do what other people do in Vegas. Except I am kind of lost. I don't want to see a magician. I don't want to enter a poker tourney. I don't want to stand beside a wax statue of Margaret Thatcher. I end up playing racing, from around 9AM til 10PM. After the second day of it, I get a call ironically from my horse trainer. Reception is bad so I go outside to see if I can hear him better. It dawns on me. I have not been outside for over 48 hours. I have just been playing racing.

So after relaying that story to my friend he says "wow, I did that too." Turns out he met a girl at the casino and she wanted to go swimming. One problem with that. The first from Aqueduct was ready to go off, so he said he would meet her later. Then around 5PM she asked him if he wanted to go to a club. But of course, the Meadowlands was on. He told her he would meet her later. Good idea, except Cal Expo goes late.

He didn't see much of her again. And he did not go outside either.

So I am thinking if you are a horseplayer you are just plain weird.

A virtual racehorse
just sold for over $7000. Real money. 7 large. $3500 win place. 7000 one dollar lotto tickets. 35,000 20 cent superfecta combos. I think I have to look into the world of virtual horse racing, like I'm Gil Grissom, because I do not have the foggiest idea why someone would pay $7000 for a virtual racehorse.

Ok, this is kinda weird too. The guy who runs equidaily went and did a story on his 1987 racing form. Well that is weird to people not like us. To us, it is pretty cool. It's cool like a 20 year old plate is cool to those folks on those antique shows. I read the whole story and then I got my old programs out and read them. I was up for over an hour doing it. It was neat to see the running lines on Tyler B again. And Fundamentalist. And Secret Service. And Niatross. And, well you get it.

If you are weird like me, my buddy and the equidaily guy, send me a scan of a cool program page you might have. If I can muster up some technical skill I will place it up and we can have a look at it. Old programs are cool. And frankly so are we. We are race fans. Nothing cooler than that......... in a strange sort of way.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rock Bottom

I thought, with the turning of the calendar, I would jot down some thoughts for harness racing in 2008. I'm optimistic. I have entitled it "rock bottom."

Huh? An optimistic piece entitled rock bottom?


Flip on an entertainment show and we might see a star du jour speaking of his trials with whatever it may be, and he will say "I had to hit rock bottom before I could change." I think 2008 in harness racing is the year we will hit rock bottom, change will occur, and the sport will place the wheels in motion to grow again.

I see a post on detailing that the Boxing Day handle for Woodbine hit an all time low. I see on the entry page for that handle for Canadian racing is down over $100M in 2007. I see tracks cutting some dates. I see tracks cutting stakes. All bad news and it does not seem to be getting any better.

When we hit rock bottom in 2008 a few things will occur. Policies will finally be put in place that will encourage growth. These policies will not be piece-meal, nor pay lip service, like we seem to see all too often. They will be real, tough and they will change the sport as we know it.

Customers will be appreciated. They will be able to bet harness racing from anywhere in the World at an affordable price. New 5% takeout bets will be the norm, promoted with vigor and thoroughbred players will cross over to our sport for the value. Pools will be bigger. Excitement will reign.

New bets will be introduced. Legislation will be lobbied for to get these new bets into convenience stores, just like lotteries. The bets, and racing will be promoted on the Internet, on TV and in print. Someone will hit a $5M win in 2008 with these new bets, and the word-of-mouth will be deafening. Gambling chat boards on the Internet will talk about harness racing. They won't be talking about a boring sport whose days are numbered. They will be talking about a new harness bet that has the gambling world buzzing. And they will want to be a part of it.

New money from new owners will be attracted by promoting clean racing, and these new owners will be introduced to a sport that is not filled with infighting, or 2 year appeals from suspect trainers that make them scratch their heads and want to buy a stock instead - they will be attracted to the joy and exhilaration of owning a harness horse. These new owners will bring in a new culture of racing - racing for the sport of it - and it will be the main focus for this new breed of owner. It will catch fire.

Horseman's groups and tracks will negotiate new deals. When sitting down across each other at a table, they will both not concern themselves with protecting their dwindling slices and fighting. They will concentrate on one thing and one thing only: growing the sport by increasing handles.

A new breed of racetrack executive will be hired. He or she will focus on handles first and foremost. Live handles to be exact. Distribution channels will be turned on their head. The internet will be embraced. Costs will be cut, the game will change from a low volume high margin one with few bettors, to a high volume low margin one with many bettors. Any savings will be passed on to customers to achieve more growth through reinvestment, not put into profits and purses. The sport will change from one who looks for protection as a monopoly, to one who competes, fights, scratches and claws for every betting dollar out there. We will grow into a perfectly competitive business and start growing on our own two feet.

In the end, we will grow. And grow, and grow.

So yes, we will hit rock bottom in 2008. And when we do, we should all do one thing and one thing only: Smile. Smile because we know our sport can grow again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Harness Handicapping Software, on Boxing Day!

I am just killing some time handicapping tomorrow's cards for harness, and glancing at the thoroughbred cards.

Tomorrow is Boxing Day in the commonwealth countries. I like Boxing Day. The origin of it is disputed, but generally it tends to be a day for the "common folk" where leftover food was boxed up and eaten, or servants were given a gift of a coin from their employer (because they had to work Christmas Day) in a box they carried to work. Boxing Day to me is harness racing; we are the poorer cousins in racing aren't we? And for those who have gone time and time again to Greenwood (later Woodbine) for Boxing Day harness racing, they know it is time for harness racing!

The harness card capping has gone like it usually does: I check the program, glance at a replay or two, make a contender list. Then I generally just watch the betting, horses on the track and check for overlays to my odds line. I found two horses I like. After a bit more research I have found that I now have a grand total of one horse I like.

Let's flip over to thoroughbreds. I have thoroughbred handicapping software for that. Here's how that went. I downloaded a file from bris. I loaded it, and calculated my races. Out spits a list of horses with various figures: Pace, speed, contention numbers, workout numbers, and many more. I also get an odds line. And the piece de resistance: A model that I have preloaded based on my own handicapping, that works at all tracks. In two cards I have 11 horses that I think I may bet or look at.

My further research with the software goes like this: I check how a trainer has performed off the claim in a situation. I can check, for example how Scott Lake does when he has a horse he claims from a maiden claimer, which he moves up to a maiden special weight. I can check how early speed horses have done the last week at this track. I can check how closers have done in routes this meet. I can check how a trainer has done with horses off 45 days the last three months. Endless information.

In the end, I think I will bet 8 horses tomorrow in the thoroughbreds, and possibly one in harness. Not because I don't like betting harness, or because the pools are smaller, or because I can't find horses that might win. It is only because I have a tool which helps me uncover potential overlays at thoroughbreds and none with harness.

If I were (a hated) commissioner of harness racing, item number 1,243 I would do is work on getting comma delimited files out to everyone who wants them. Or perhaps I would write a database program to do powerful things, and offer it out at a fair price. I would advertise this software in the Daily Racing Form. I would try to spur interest in a data driven sport, to gamblers who are data driven bettors. Thoroughbred players expect data and software to play, harness racing has very little. As I mentioned below, over 80% of bettors in a survey question on mentioned they handicap harness "right off the program". This is pure incredulity to t-bred players.

Perhaps we are missing a whole new potential market by not having more data driven betting programs. Perhaps this is something we should push.

I chatted a bit with one player who makes his own pace figures for betting, via a database program. It is proprietary. He generally has a whole pile of plays that these figures generate, and he is ROI positive. We need more people doing that. It is a ton of work. If we make that work easier, perhaps we can make it so instead of myself having one play tomorrow I can have five. I might just bet 5 times as much. Multiply me by a factor of 50? Watch out.

If Boxing Day is for harness racing, why am I going to bet more thoroughbreds? That's not good. Maybe next year with a harness database, or a new commissioner I can bet more at our sport. That'd be nice. After all, Boxing Day is for harness racing.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Frank and Vic

Forgot to mention a couple of weeks ago, the Gulfstream Park news. They are cutting slots from 1200 machines to around 500. It appears the slot landscape is getting saturated. Also of note, they have changed some of their business plan to make GP a family destination, and have set up boxes for racing just for players with betting machines and access to Internet and phone wagering. They have also applied for a night club. It seems they are trying to be like Vegas. Vegas reinvented themselves too! One thing Vegas learned, though, that we are still waiting for? Churn. They have slot machines with low takeouts. When will racing address that? I fear they won't.

Regardless, Gulfstream is evolving and working hard. Maybe Frank gave them a couple of cases of his energy drink.

Below I mentioned the Donato Hanover story and the price of a share to breed to him. I said I did not like news of this nature as it only encourages horses to retire early. I said it should be a task given to a commissioners office, too. Vic Zast agrees saying "pity the fans" and made it a point in his best and worst of 2007 column. Hear, hear Vic. Keep the drum beat drumming!

The early retirement of stars reaches epidemic proportions. The only reason a sire-quality 3-year-old runs as a 4-year-old is because he is injured before he can optimize his stud price. Only ownership problems have delayed Curlin from joining the breeding ranks of Street Sense and Hard Spun. The situation has caused near extinction of handicap racing at a top level.

.....this is the type of dilemma that could be solved by an independently-operating national commissioner’s office. What a shame that racing’s own backward thinking emasculated the NTRA. Pity the fans who suffer from the myopic opinions of the breeding industry.

If I run a Best Buy store, my customer tells me what I do with my product and my prices, not my supplier. Racing needs a business lesson. And it needs it fast.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Roll Around Racing

I like to call it the squeeze. Toronto wants a bigger share of Woodbine slot revenue, 10% to be exact. If you follow Toronto politics, lately they are after more money. I think they like to spend there. Well, good luck. If the OLGC gives in to this, it opens the proverbial can of worms, and other municipalities can follow. The Ontario government is a fan of cash, too. I think the chances of them giving a local government more of their share are about equal to me flying to Mars for Christmas. Here we thought racings fingers-in-the-pie economics was only restricted to horse owners and tracks. Now it's the cities too!

Regardless, I think we should get used to things like the above. Remember Prairie Meadows? The slots there are doing well. Racing is not. It ran a 29.2M deficit in 2006. Something has to give, in my opinion, so things like the above I think we should get used to seeing. Unless racing fixes itself and grows handles, expect more fingers, and smaller pies.

On the betting front, two things caught my eye. One, remember our story below on betfair? Positive buzz is back at that place, with a story how a man bet a horse in-running at 999-1, and he walked away with a pile of Christmas money, enough so he can "pay off his mortgage." There have been similar stories in the past. When you see someone won by backing a horse in-running, you never hear about the guy who laid him out at those odds. Someone really got stung. We often hear at the track at the head of the lane "your horse has no hope in hell." The gentleman or lady who laid that bet might hold his/her tongue next time. After my next bad beat, I'll think of that.

Not sure if you heard, but Santa Anita is instituting the High Five wager or cincofecta - pick the top five finishers. Minimum is a buck. Message board and commentator buzz is not good. Rich Eng's take seems to sum it up. I don't know why there is so much doom and gloom. To me it is a good idea in a lot of respects. One thing that worries me, and it is only my opinion, is that we are heading to more and more "negative churn" bets in racing. Churn is our friend. A guy bets $100 to show, he has $140 or $160 back and he rebets. Sucking money into Pick 6 carryovers, or high five bets doesn't allow for churn, and it kills bankrolls. Jeremy Plonk, at did a feature on this phenomenon. Good read.

The AP picked up on a harness racing story! Unfortunately it was a story about race-fixing. Something good about that? To me the good is that one of the charges the driver was convicted of was grand theft. I believe that is exactly what it is. If I went and took money from a person who buys my product, or stock, or house it is theft, and I possibly go to jail. It is good for our game if this is treated similarly, in my opinion.

I hate to end on a bad story, so let's find some good. Skill, talent, success. Spell that Brian Sears. I know drivers don't make horses go faster, and I know if I give him a bunch of 100-1 shot's he won't win at a good rate, but on converting his drives, having them in good spots, and knowing every inch of the Meadowlands racetrack, is there a better - or has there been ever - a better driver there? He is running away with the meet title so far. He is winning with long shots, chalk, trotters and pacers. I have said before that you can find a leading driver at a racetrack by looking at who drives the most chalk. Almost without fail that is the elixir to success. Well, get this: Brian Sears, with a 16 win lead has not driven the most chalk, Tim Tetrick has. Amazing stuff. We'll see if he can keep it up.

Until next time I will leave you with a column from ESPN's Jay Cronley. Some horseplayers sure are nice aren't they?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Revisiting Marketing

We went through a little bit of viral marketing below in this post. I promised we'd revisit it, so in between races at the Meadowlands, here we go!

I popped into my inbox and found a neat email. Susan from Scarborough Maine emailed to say she agrees that harness is a tough sell. She also believes that generic commercials that are used don't work too well either. She happens to be the one-woman marketing director for the Downs.

As far as I know Scarborough Downs is not Woodbine, nor is it the Meadowlands. It is a smaller track, with a small budget, so we can surmise that a commercial ain't gonna happen there, right? Don't tell Susan that. She tells me she "wrote, directed, produced and scripted a spot" all by herself. She says that she is proud of it. She should be. And we have it for you here!

Way to go Susan.

What else is happening out there in terms of racing ads? I judge ads different than most. I am a fan of writer Seth Godin, who wrote one of my favorite marketing books, Purple Cow. There are a whole lot of brown cows out there. They are kind of boring. According to Seth, it is all about being different, being memorable, and being remarkable - being a purple cow.

Anyhow, let's go through a few. Judge them for yourself. Are they purple cows?

California has a set of TV ads. They are trying to brand racing as a good, exciting alternative to Vegas. It seems to work actually. They are a bit different and somewhat edgy. Maybe half a purple cow? What do you think and think?

This is a little more like it. A TVG commercial to racing fans. About what we expect right?

The largest campaign I have ever seen is for the V75 in Sweden (the huge pooled sweep bet). Once again, cash is needed. This thing must have cost quite a few bucks. But of course, Sweden actually has an association who puts money back into the sport. Oh my head.

The commercial, 32 million years in the making, is a dandy, so have a look. That's a purple cow. To change a brand (like the Cadbury commercial in the post below) you have to allay fears that people have about your product. You have to be the opposite of what they think you are. That's the strategy anyway. To get the harness brand away from "old, tired, cheating, boring", that ad does the trick. Watch that and tell me if that makes harness racing look anything like the stereotype.

It is accompanied by a print ad campaign. "Two millimetres can be worth 20 million"
"Horsepower", "0-100000 in 118 seconds", "32 million."

Now, that's cool. Holy cow! Purple cow.

So there you have it. How do we brand racing? A few ideas for you. What do you think?

By the way, if we ever want to hire an agency for our off track betting facilities, here's the one I am picking. This ad for racing kicks some serious butt. With the speed the powers in racing move at it makes me think that this was produced last summer.

32 Fat-Cat Republicans and Other Things.

I have to go Christmas shopping. I have a few client calls. But the news catching my eye today in harness deserves a post. So the Playstation I have to buy and the rest can wait.

First, Art Modell owner of the Cleveland Browns (well, then he was) said the NFL owners were "32 fat cat republicans that vote socialist". What he was referring to was the NFL's policy of revenue sharing. This of course helped build the NFL into what it is today and allowed teams like the Green Bay Packers who reside in a town of about 50,000 people, to compete with the New York Giants, who reside in a town of many million.

How did it come about? How did the NFL kick the butt of every sports league known to man? Leadership, that's how.

It's not a new idea, but this sport sorely needs a commissioner. If I was commissioner (boy I think I would be hated) the first rule I may implement is that horses can not go to stud until they are 5 years old. We spoke about the disconnect in harness racing in a post below. Handles down, yet 200K+ yearlings and crazy stud happenings abound. Reading this morning on the Harness Edge I see that a share of Donato Hanover sold for $110,000. The owners seem positively giddy.

One person I had read once said, we used to breed to race, then we raced to breed. Now we breed to breed. I want our commissioner to stop the practice of retiring sound horses early. And I know I am not alone. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

11 trainers were cleared in Ontario for the Aminorex positives earlier this year. In a first for me, I have no opinion. I don't know what to think. I feel I have no facts to go on.

OHHA and Woodbine agree to a new contract. I know I could not stand another strike as a horse owner, so that is good news. In an interesting twist, hitching fees, or paying people for coming 6th thru 10th are now part of the deal. It's slots money for the most part I guess, so we can distribute it any way we want. I also completely understand the politics behind the move. We'll analyze field size and betting patterns in a few months to see just what this proposal did.

Tim Tetrick wins the rising star award. Hmm, am I the only one out there who finds this weird? In 2005 and 2006 the man averaged about 3400 drives, and made over $4M on average. I think he has over 21,000 lifetime drives and has been a professional catch-driver for many years. When I think of a rising star I think of a young guy who is just starting out and shows wins and promise. I would have picked a Ty Buter, who at a tender age and almost no experience will crack $2M in purse earnings this year. Or maybe a Cory Callahan, who will crack $3M in purses this year, after not long ago acquiring his license.

Anyhow, time to run. I have to spend $400 on a Playstation (heck that is $20 to win on a 20-1 shot!). Now I know how my folks felt when they splurged for my Atari.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Luc , Christmas and the People You Meet

You meet all kinds of folks in racing. I find most are pretty darn down to earth and thankful for what they have. Heading into the Woodbine paddock is fun, because you know you will see someone. Being on the web you get to meet new people, too.

One of them, Luc Ouellette, is simply put a nice guy. Professional and courteous and he has always given us a fair shot as bettors, and me personally as an owner. In quickly glancing the news I see he is at it again with his drivers challenge to raise money for the Toronto Star's Santa Claus fund. Joining him this year are other WEG regulars, recruited for the cause. The story is here. Great job fellas.

When starting the blog I had personally no idea what to do, or what becomes of it. I'm a fan first I guess, and also the science of gambling always interested me. I thought, what the heck, let's jot down a few ideas now and again and see what happens. Interestingly, emailed and asked if I would ever like to write something for their site. I thought I would. So I did. I see tonight they posted it up over at their site. I guess we harness fans have to all stick together. I took the opportunity when asked to ask some questions of my own. I had always wondered about harnesslink and what plans they had. I got some answers and will write it up in a post soon. Funny how these things happen.

Another person I met, was Vern. He was a handicapper and a good one. A year after meeting on a harness chat board (, we had a racing stable, led by a powerful steed who could trot a laser-like mile in around 2:02. We paid $6500, lost him for $3000, but boy it was fun. From there the stable expanded to a high of 13 horses. We are having a great time, despite how hard a game it is.

Nick Boyd is a young man I met first on the web, then at the track. He was a nice young guy, always joking around. He seemed smart, too. After getting to know him I learned he was completing a business degree at the University of Guelph in Ontario, but his heart was with harness racing. He wanted to become a successful trainer, after following the sport working with horses for several years with his family; along with his friend Paul MacDonnell and, trainers Paula Wellwood and Mike Keeling. He had only a couple horses at the time. My partners and I sent him one to give him a try. He did a great job. It took about three months, but the horse was doing well enough to win at Woodbine and take a lifetime mark. Nick has a couple more for us now and built a stable of 8 for himself. Recently, due to a suspension of a local trainer he gained several more horses. On the phone with him today he was happy with the way things are going, and feels very fortunate to have the opportunity.

I could go on for about a week, but you get the drift.

It's a community of many thousands, but it is tightly knit. Go to the Meadowlands and hit the clubhouse level. Say hi to Ken Warkentin or Sam McKee and ask them a question. Go to Woodbine and say hi to Ken Middleton or Mike Hamilton and fire off a query. Call Dresden up in the heat of summer and ask Gary "can I please listen to this race?". You'll always receive a friendly response.

The people you meet in harness racing. Good people.

Merry Christmas everyone.

It's Viral. No, Not a High White Count

There has been much talk of branding and/or doing more marketing of harness racing. That'd be nice, but marketing this game is one tough task. I believe brand awareness would really be helped by creating something that is viral in nature. Viral marketing is simply promoting the brand on the web through social networking (e.g. emails you might get of a funny commercial, or one you watch on youtube). We want young people to notice racing and we want to change our brand.

I was hanging out last night, working and checking out some industry websites regarding Internet advertising. I came across some positive buzz about an ad campaign. It is the new campaign for Burger King. It is done with real people in an entertaining way. It is a perfect example of a campaign that does what it is supposed to do. The 30 second spot on TV is one thing, web chatter is another. The ads are now on Youtube and getting plenty of watches. Believe it or not, I actually went to the Burger King website and watched an 8 minute ad for the Whopper! It's ingenious and it is a good example of viral marketing. Link below. Give it a watch if you have a moment.

Getting the word out in a unique way is hard to manufacture, and has to be done correctly and ingeniously. In the UK, the Cadbury brand for chocolate was not getting good buzz. They hired a group to do a commercial. The commercial was a success. It is an ad about frankly, nothing. It has received monster play on youtube, generated great buzz and helped the Cadbury brand. If you have not seen it, it's below.

Of course, a good ad pays over and over again. Spoofs appear, and they "remarket" for you. One of the Cadbury spoofs is linked below. Very cool stuff.

What can harness racing do? Other than getting a central organization that is funded together, I don't know. I am not that smart. One thing, in my opinion that it should not do, is be what is expected. A picture of horses going around in a circle with a couple of fans screaming has been done forever. We leave the watcher with "why would I not just go to thoroughbred racing instead", whenever these appear, in my opinion.

I hope someone in power, whenever we do get a branding strategy in place dares to say "let's be different". Different wins, same-old-same-old loses. I would rank an idea of Randy Waples in a speedo playing cards with Real Desire higher than Randy Waples in a driving suit behind a horse ten out of ten times, for a memorable campaign that can do something, as ridiculous as that sounds.

If I have a bit of time later today or tomorrow, we'll have a look at some racing campaigns that have been tried and see what they are accomplishing. We'll then ask the question "How would you brand harness racing" and see if anyone in cyberland has some ideas.

Cadbury Ad: Right here

Cadbury Ad Spoof: Here

Burger King Video: Here

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Grassroots Movements from Players

It has been tried before, Rich Bauer of did it with Magna. It's horseplayers standing up for issues important to them.

John Pricci at horseraceinsder is trying to stir the pot. In his blog this week he is trying to organize something - anything - to get the tracks to notice the player again. His ideas? Organize a boycott, bus trips, demonstrations, or anything else horseplayers can think of to get a few things noticed. In general, some of the issues bandied about so far are:

1. Reduced Takeouts. Players out there have been complaining that the business charges too much. 30% rakes at some tracks, for some bets. Poker, sports betting, betting exchanges and all the rest charge much less. Vegas charges much less. Racing has been charging ostensibly the same prices since pari mutuel wagering was invented well over 100 years ago.

2. Medication Reform. Players know all too well some of the problems we see on a daily basis with regards to performance enhancing drugs. Time and time again we hear comments like "throw the past performances out the window and just bet trainers". Time and time again we see infractions by these type trainers, and nothing seems to happen. They slide their stock to an assistant, or are back training after a little holiday. Players want to see their hard-earned money respected. They are getting tired of it.

3. ADW Reform. Too many internet sites. Residency requirements. Tracks and/or governments charging "extra" for common pooling. Outdated regulations. The list seems almost endless. Players are not happy in having to possess several accounts because all tracks are not carried simply for the privilege to give them money . This issue had some serious play at in August. It got some attention for its "procott" which helped raise handles at a couple of tracks. One of which, ALB, had off track wagering go up by 78.6% due to their efforts.

Mr. Pricci is calling on players of all stripes. Whales, $2 bettors, fans. It doesn't seem to matter.

With his media connections and his passion, I would not bet against him in getting something done. If I were the tracks and industry leaders, I would not ignore this man. Why they would not be working their collective butts off to clear up these issues is beyond me in the first place. I have worked and consulted with hundreds of companies. Every shred of my work focuses solely on attracting and pleasing customers. It's second nature and I believe racing should have addressed these issues decades ago.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this, if anything. Regardless, he has my support. This sport can not grow to compete with other gambling games unless its pricing and salient player-centric issues like the above are addressed. It's time.

Past Posting

Mike Maloney was sure something was amuck. He kept seeing odds drops, like we all do, so he has been trying an experiment: Betting after the gate opens. At the Arizona Symposium on Racing and gaming, he told everyone who would listen that he achieved what he had tried. In a race at the Fair Grounds he could bet until 57 seconds after the race had started.

Maloney is no disgruntled gambler. In a recent post on, one of the nations biggest bettors, Ernie Dahlman said in all his times on panels at the Arizona conference he has "never met anyone who impressed me more than he did". Bill Finley at ESPN gives his take on Mr. Maloney and past posting in his column today.

So, what is happening? Well, they are looking into it. I guess they should.

What would the stock market be like if we could buy a stock at 50 cents, which 57 seconds later we know will be 60 cents?

What would poker be like if someone knew what the flop was before he made his first bet?

In case A the capital markets would probably be crushed. In case B, poker would probably not be on television.

Think about it. If you are betting a 7-5 shot at the Meadowlands and he gets an easy lead in a 57 half, and the second choice at 5-2 is stuck behind a breaker, the chances of the horse on top winning might be 85%, or lower than 1-5 fair odds. You might even be able to bet the 1-2 exactor at that point, and it could be paying $40. In theory, this is a huge problem.

So far I am glad to see Mr. Maloney's words are being taken seriously. Without integrity in a wagering pool, you do not have a wagering pool.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Racehorse Economics 101

We often hear commentators say "horse racing should be run like a business", and that it is not. There are myriad topics we can go to for that, but one: Racehorse value, is perhaps interesting from an economics perspective.

If you own a lemonade stand and generate $5000 of income, your asset is priced at X. If suddenly a shock comes, and your business is not perfectly competitive and earning power is allowed to rise, your asset will be priced higher, at X+.

With slots being introduced, purses rose across all classes, from the Open to lowest level claimers. In racing the higher level horses - conditioned ones or stakes horses - had their capital cost appreciate as it should be. Try buying a decent maiden horse now who looks good, or a horse like Big Business through a sale. It acts like a lemonade stand, and asset price rises.

The disconnect comes in claiming, because the asset always stays priced the same, regardless of earnings power. If a 5 claimer in 1960 races for $700, his price is $5000. If, with slots, the horse might now race for $8000, he is still priced at $5000. This encouraged "quick hit"claiming, more popularly known as "rent-a-horse" where you claim and then drop and still make money. It dramatically changed the economics of horse racing, and did so artificially.

Thoroughbred racing, in the best interest of the horse and the sport, instituted jail time in claiming long ago, to combat this economic disconnect. In Ontario, we too have this rule and in most circles it is accepted as a good one, which helps horses stay longer with one stable, and allow them to last longer and race more starts. You must either sit out to race in the same class, or are forced to raise the horse in class to race next week. In effect we are artificially suppressing demand and trying to shuffle capital to another area. This is of course a worthwhile pursuit, since claimers are like stocks and why stock selling and buying are not included in GDP calculations. That is, selling them and buying them just exchanges money, it does not add new money.

Is the rule restrictive like it sounds, or much ado about nothing? Well, one thing we know for sure, stats are hard to come by in this business. But fortunately with the Internet we sometimes find some gems. One poster on and long-time horse owner did a little study on claiming, through his old racing programs from the 1980's. He scoured them for claims, and then logged what the trainer and owner did with those claims, with the absence of any rule whatsoever. The result: Out of 169 claims on an A track, 135 of them were raised in class while the other 34 were dropped, or let race in the same class. These numbers are not a whole lot different to what happens today!

It is not often in racing where we can say that a piece of legislation does exactly what it was prescribed to do. But in this case we can. It has bridged an economic disconnect caused by an outward shock (slots) and made it how it used to be. It's flat out amazing how well it has worked!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Data for an Affordable Price

Looking for a good Christmas present?

Standardbred Canada has recently made new pricing for its TrackIt service. $20 a year for SC members is all it takes. The service is impressive, letting you query 125 times a month, to find out what horse raced with what trainer, how a horse did at what track, who is racing who and where, and countless other queries. It is a handicapper and horse owners lifeline to the sport.

I can't think of a more worthwhile gift to the racing fan.

It's Monday

Monday mornings are never fun, but when I read what Equidaily's headlines are, it always seems to kick start the day. He (or she) really scours for racing news and is passionate about the game. It shows.

Some of the recent news around the racing world which made me think today:

Handle down at Philadelphia Park this year. Handle was down 9% so far this year while purses were up over 100% from $30M to $63M. The piece states that slots were supposed to help horse racing, not hurt it. This is one thing that I never understood by the deal makers who wrote slots deals. Because a feed man, or a driver/rider, vet, or a trainer or an owner makes more in purses we are supposed to measure that as a success. How in heavens name can we say slots expanded racing simply because a feed man or a vet made more money? That is not expanding racing, that is income redistribution. That's what we hang our hat on in racing, and that is truly sad.

article in an Aussie newspaper about Hong Kong, with some quotes and messages I have never read. I was pretty amazed at how much cash goes through the windows, and how they have kept the game so clean. When money is available, one thing we know throughout World history - there will be people to try and get it by nefarious or criminal means. The culture there seems to demand that this element is taken seriously. And anything else is simply not tolerated.

A jockey quote: "It's probably not my position to comment on it too much but those things happen in life. Wherever there's money there's always going to be that temptation or whatever. Here, it's only complicated if you make it complicated. "You can just breeze through and enjoy it, take it in your stride, be professional and ride consistently. If you want to be successful, it's not hard. You've just got to do it right.''

Just have to "do it right". What a novel concept.

Randy Moss explores the Fallon trial in the UK, on his NYRA blog. His take I think goes hand in hand nicely with the Hong Kong story. Giving a suspension for a ride, or a positive test is one thing, proving it in a court of law is another. I can't comment a whole lot on the trial, as I have only followed it through the news, but I can not disagree that after the "big evidence" of the ride on Ballinger Ridge, the case seemed to test my credulity. Racing does have a pile of cash bet on it, and we have to make sure people's hard-earned money is protected (as well as fellow owners), so in principle I agree that criminal trials should be an option for those who harm it. But I would hope they are carried out a bit better than this one was. People's reputations are at stake. We can't prosecute people on the sole thought that doing something is better than doing nothing.

I finished this month's Trot Magazine (a Canadian harness racing magazine put out by Standardbred Canada.) It was one of the better issues I have read in awhile. Interesting stories.

One: Aaron Waxman, a 28 year old businessman from Brampton, Ontario, and part-owner of Wilson winner Dali, had some great thoughts on racing. It's not a new idea, but his thought about taking money out of slots and placing them in a slush fund needs to be heard more of. I think we'll do a piece on that soon. They partially do it in Alberta now. We need it all over.

Two: Concussion, a harness racing star in the late 1980's, found a new life being a show horse, and the beautifully written story was wonderful to read. The care some people go to for their horses is always a good read. Especially near Christmas time.

In a moment of levity, the picture on page 4 of the Trot for Kids section was classic. An 8 or 9 year old girl playing with her cat, dog and horse (Armbro Vermont), all decked out in Christmas cheer brought a smile to my face. That picture is harness racing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The B Track Blueprint III - The Fan

It was a nice August holiday. I decided to head out and visit a few of our stables’ horses just north of Mohawk near Campbellville, and thought a trip to Grand River Raceway was in order to watch the Battle of Waterloo.

Ronald Reagan used to repeat the famous line “there is nothing better for the outside of a man, than the inside of a horse” – and that is readily apparent, whenever I make a trip like this. I wish I could do it more. It's nice to be around horses.

Reaching Grand River, the joint was jumping. Entertainment, beer (a personal favourite of mine), hot dogs and harness fans. No floppy hats, compacts, or mint juleps. Too many parents tending to face painting for their kids for that.

After a few steps, I run into Norm. I say to Norm “making any money?” He shrugs, “Just got here, so nope. My wife and I were at a fair track today. No betting, but great racing and we had a fantastic time”.

Who in this day and age go to a track, in the middle of almost nowhere where there is no betting, then speed off to Grand River to watch another B track? Norm does, that’s who. He is a fan. Not a customer of Ian’s at Premier Turf Club below, not a guy who wears a suit to the Queen’s Plate, not a guy who yells and screams when his horse gets beat – just a fan who enjoys the sport of racing, and loves it in the B track setting. In fact, I barely spoke to him that day as he and his wife had to head out to get their picture taken with Run the Table, whose owners trucked him to Grand River for the day. Norm liked Run the Table.

“I love the B track atmosphere”, he says. “At the fairs for instance, there is no money for the horseman, no money for the bettor – nothing but the sport. It is old time harness racing. Ever since slots came in I miss that. It is hard to find now.”

“There are some tracks that are trying to capture that now in Ontario – like Grand River and Hanover. You feel a bit that those two tracks have some of the mom and pop stables who are racing more for the love of the game, with the money being secondary. Places like Woodstock I do not understand. The money there is outrageous. Last year Casie Coleman (WEG’s leading trainer) took Gus Q from Mohawk to go to Woodstock to race for $1000 more! These tracks are set up to be only for the wallet and nothing more. There is nothing for the patrons and it is very sad.”

I, like Norm, have been to all the B tracks in the province, so I naturally wondered what his favourite was and why. “Clinton Raceway was my favourite track”, he says. “They used to advertise themselves as Ontario’s family track. They would have a swimming pool and playground right on track grounds. Kids could be kids there. That bugs me nowadays with some tracks. Kids should be allowed to be kids. I have got hounded with my daughter at some tracks – not for betting or anything, she can’t, but for rules on being alone by age. And the rules seem to change. One day 13 and the next week 15. The B tracks are for families and they should treat families better.”

For the most part, Norm believes that racing is a good bet at the B’s too. He believes the racing is clean and despite biases against our racing in that respect, he thinks the judges and horseman do a good job. “If the B tracks marketed themselves and were on HPI TV at the right times, I would watch and play. You really have to work hard to keep us as customers, both live and on the net.”

Norm and others seem to like the fact that they can get close to the horses on the B’s, and bet in a relaxed atmosphere. Thinking about all my trips to the A tracks, I must say he has a point. I, like Norm, never seem to feel comfortable at Woodbine, compared to them.

If you read this story, I would hope it might enlighten us a little bit about why the three largest attended days in harness racing are not the North America Cup at Woodbine, or the Breeders Crown. They are the Hambletonian, the Gold Cup and Saucer, and the Little Brown Jug. The Hambletonian: Families out for the day. Gold Cup and Saucer: Harness fans, some of who travel from all over to be there. The Jug: All of the above.

The B track atmosphere captures a guy like Norm, and he and his friends attend our grassroots events. If you go to any of these events, and if you know Norm you may understand. He is the target market. I always wondered why harness tracks try to market to people who are thoroughbred players. We can not be all things to all people. They are not our market. We fight who we are in harness, trying to be who we are not and that bothers me. As a marketing consultant I would be advising to do the opposite of what we are doing. We need to go after the Norm’s of the world, and in my opinion, you’d be best to listen to them too. Who better to ask than a guy who drives five hours from B track to B track on a holiday Monday in Ontario?

Live racing in the B track setting has an edge on many forms of 2007 entertainment. Norm and his friends might just end up saving them, if they are listened and marketed to.

Addendum: Perhaps you are wondering about the picture at the top. That is a picture taken by Iron Horse Photo at Industry Day at Grand River. The horse is Run the Table. I don't know who the little fella is, but I think, like my pal Norm, he likes Run the Table too. Could you see a fan like that getting a picture done with a top thoroughbred sire like that? I don't think so. The sire would probably be guarded like Fort Knox.

And that is what makes harness racing great.

For a complete look at all the pictures from Industry Day at Grand River Raceway, click right here. If you are in the area next August, I encourage the trip to Grand River for the day. You won't be disappointed.

Poly Want a Trotter?

It is interesting when you ask someone about harness racing, particularly a thoroughbred player, they will often say that our sport has some wacky things going on with it. Namely, drugs, "stiffing", reversals of form, breaking trotters and other nasty things. That apparently can keep them away from our game. Do the above happen? Sure. One scan of the USTA or SC fines and suspensions tell us so. But is our game really that tough to figure out compared to thoroughbreds?

Recently Jeff Platt from Jcapper posted his stats from all Polytrack racetracks in his database.

It was astounding.

Races: 4301
Wins by Chalk: 1290
ROI: 0.78
Win %: 29.99

So, on artificial surfaces (poly, tapeta etc) the favourite won at 29.99%. In all races the favourites win at a 34.61% clip.

In 100 years of racing, through wars, through recessions, through muddy tracks, through snowstorms, through ringers and rascals, from Citation to Street Sense, through all of it - post time favourites have won nearly at the same rate. One surface change has changed the game dramatically. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

What about harness racing? Surely there must be something goofy happening in our game similar to that. People tell us our game is hard to figure out. Surely those nasty breaking trotters are bad bets as chalk. They must be. Conventional wisdom tells us so.

Think again.

In a sample of over 7000 harness races, the chalk won at a 37.07% clip.

In that sample of over 4500 races, pacers won as chalk 36.5% of the time.

Those nasty hard-to-figure-out trotters won at a 38.3% clip.

Next time someone says "betting trotters is worse than betting Polytrack", you can correct them. Don't be afraid to bet the chalk in trot races. They win, just like pacers do.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pick 7......... again.

Well tonight's pick 7 at Woodbine, with the monster carryover looks much better to me. If Just the Begrinning and/or Silent Swing win, it goes for certain, in my opinion.

But, these are hard to hit. 7 even money shots in a row is still an under 1% hit rate. So let's try and figure out a ticket.

910-3-47-34-2356710-1359-246 = 576 bets for $576

Running that through with probabilities, that gives us a nice little edge bet. Namely, that ticket blankets a couple of races heavily, with high hit rate probability.

But it is still showing only a 5.74% chance to hit.

If I go 0 for 7 with some of these horses, I think I should stick to all-all daily doubles.

Good luck to anyone who plays.

Notes on a Stormy Saturday

My friend and part time weather man tells me we are in for some nasty weather here in the northeast. Good I guess, since I am able to kill some time this morning looking at the news.

I see someone from Cangamble dropped by. Us Canadian racing fans have to stick together I guess (and thanks for the plug!). Seeing that, I noticed Cangamble has updated his blog. This week he has an interesting link on Casino size. I was floored to find out that two of the top ten casinos in terms of surface area are in Canada. Go figure.

Cangamble has a link up to this Bloodhorse story on a vet getting suspended for possessing lidocaine. This is interesting. The story sounds ominous. In harness racing, Mickey Burke had a horse test positive for the drug way back last December and to my knowledge it has not been settled. Hold it, while waiting for that one, he had another one in April of 2007. In other news: Mickey Burke is the leading trainer in harness racing in 2007. What's wrong with this picture?

Last night's pick 7 at WEG went unsolved. I am pleased to announce that out of my last two pick 7's I got 3 winners. 3 out of 14. I recently read a book called "Your Marketing Sucks". I am planning to write a book called "My Handicapping Sucks".

On the software for harness front, I have always been fairly amazed at the lack of it. I know the game is different than thoroughbreds, but most players of the runners use software, or proprietary figures for contender selection. In harness we do not seem to. There is a poll at currently asking "how do you handicap harness races?" and "right off the program" is running away with the win. I think I may write something on this in the future. I have a sneaky feeling thoroughbred software increases handles. I wonder if harness software would too? Any feelings on that out there in cyberland?

Last year, watching the yearling sales it dawned on me that everything looks so rosy in that area of the business. People are spending $200K+ on first crop sires. Broodmares were up. There seemed to be an exuberance at the sales. I said to myself "why so much glee? Aren't things, with slots down in some jurisdictions and handle hurting all over, poor, and why are these people spending money so freely?" Well, in what I think may be a harbinger Monticello cuts stakes. That is about $1.7M less to race for in 2008. I can not see some of the other tracks following suit somewhere down the line. Handles are too anemic, in my opinion, to sustain several of these races.

Is it just me, or do Woodbine's harness races seem very watered down in terms of talent and depth? I know they are having some trouble filling Sunday night cards and to combat that they have added cheap claimers to the condition sheets. It feels like these races are working to card fuller fields, and fill the box, but I am having a tough time with them. Overall I feel the field quality has really taken a hit at the flagship Canadian harness track. I found last nights pick 7 to be almost unhandicappable.

Anyway, good luck to everyone playing this weekend. We might place another pick 7 ticket up today. Maybe even invite a few friends to place theirs up. I can't do any worse.

Friday, December 14, 2007

50K Pick 7 carryover is now ..........

.......... and I can't even form a respectable ticket. I think I would have to spend about $34,524 - and I still might miss it.

Here are my thoughts.

Race 3: Looks like someone can steal this on the front end. Margie Seelster is the talent, though. So let's try 23 and 7

Race 4: 3,4 and 6 look like logical contenders.

Race 5: Joyous Occasion and Sugar Park might both be live tonight. I am going to make a stand here. You have to somewhere.

Race 6: Liberty Skiberty, if ready might be a solid key. Lady DM and Zena look like contenders.

Race 7: Smooth Muscles seems to have had some problems, but might be a logical key. If right, he can crush. 1,2 and 4 are others.

Race 8: Can I use all? Maybe if I was Bill Gates. 1,3,11 I guess.

Race 9: 3,5,7,8 in a brutal-to-handicap race.

Well, maybe I will take 237-346-36-4-234-1311-3578 = $648

Now, according to my calculator, which allows me to punch in fair odds of my contenders, shows just how much of a chance I have to hit this ticket.


"The Probability of this 648 combination ticket is 0.84%"

At fair odds of around 110-1, that means I would have to cash about $70,000 to take this bet. Since there will probably be only $60,000 in the pool, before rake, I think I will pass.

Good luck to all who are taking a stab at hitting some riches.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pick Six, er I mean Pick 7.

Why does Woodbine have a Pick 7?

I did two things today that makes me ask that question.

One, I went to the track. There was a carryover in the Meadowlands pick 4, and a carryover for the Woodbine Pick 7, so I thought I would go, have some chow and a beer, converse with a couple of friends and see if we could hit one. One of my playing partners said: "Pick 7. What's with a pick 7 anyway? People bet pick 6's not pick 7's. I think if I took a trip on my rocket ship, took a left turn at some nebula and found a racetrack, they might offer a pick 7. Everyone else...... Pick 6's!"

I think that point wasn't lost on me. Earlier in the day I downloaded a free trial of a calculator for multi-leg wagers at This neat little calculator let's you construct "caveman tickets" for your pick 6, or pick 4 or pick 3. In general, it allows you to maximize your spread and weight your tickets. It is something most players do, but it is time consuming. Anyhow, I took the free trial, and I hoped to use this software for my pick 7 tickets at Woodbine.

One problem: The software does not even carry a pick 7. Only pick 6's. I can't really blame them, as I think Woodbine is the only track who even offers a pick 7.

Time to kill the Pick 7. Let's make it a pick 6 and see if we can not get more people interested that way.

For the record, my Meadowlands tickets were good. I made 16 tickets for 204 combinations and was alive on 5 horses in the last leg. But, I lost. Ron Pierce won with a nifty steer on a logical horse we did not use.

My pick 7 ticket was sooo much better, though (yep, sarcasm there). 3 of 7 on one ticket, and 2 of 7 on another. I was about as close to hitting that as hitting a Roger Clemens fastball.

On to tomorrow. As much as I would like to see a pick 6, a 50K carryover is something I can not pass up.

Good luck to everyone who takes a stab tomorrow, and good racing!

Call a Vet & Charles Dickens

Cot Campbell, President of Dogwood Stables said something today in a Bloodhorse commentary piece that isn't lost on those of us close to the game.

Interesting observation: Dogwood has one trainer who is 78 years of age, another who is 70 years of age, one who is a middle-aged European, and three who are relatively young. The vet bills of the first three are light and very reasonable. The bills of the latter three—who came up in an age when trainers were more reliant on veterinary care—are often out of sight.

Which ones have the soundest horses? They’re all about the same.

With slots money adding amazing amounts of Benjamins to purse pools, why can't owners make more money? Drivers are doing well. Brian Sears might pocket $600,000 in driving checks this year with less than 2000 drives. Vets? I don't see too many crying poor. Vet suppliers? Have you seen the price of medication for our equine friends? Someone is making money.

In the old days, like 1990, horses seemed to race more, be sounder, be tougher, and cost less - much less - to care for. Trainers had an art and could make a horse sound, by some foreign concept known as horsemanship.

Cot has it right. We need less pharmacists and more trainers in this business. I hope our young trainers remember this the next time they call the vet. If they don't, they might find that there is no one left to pay the vet bill.

Chester adds dates, up to 140 from 95. And purses are rolling. The Open will go for $42,500. Good news........ I guess. More money for purses tends to be a good thing, but for handles, I doubt it. In fact, it will probably end up hurting us more than helping us. Chester takes horses away from the flagship track in the sport - the Meadowlands. Less horses there, less handle. Less handle there and our sport loses fans. I know of no one who plays Chester and I can't see them starting. But I know several who have cut their betting back at the Meadowlands due to shorter fields.

There is a massive disconnect in harness racing. What looks to be doing well actually isn't. Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities starts "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". He could have written it about harness racing.

On the flip side of that, with 45 more dates it means some drivers will make some serious coin. There was a chat recently, an interesting one at It was submitted that some driver, in the very near future might actually drive 5000 races in one year. With Chester adding dates, this becomes closer to reality.

This might explain why this week's standardbredcanada poll, "Which is the greatest on track moment of 2007", Tetrick's record is barely holding on to second place. People seem to realize 1000+ wins in harness racing is expected, not special now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

B Track Blueprint II - The Wagering Company

In part II of the Blueprint we contacted Ian Meyers of Premier Turf Club to see what his players want, were doing, and how they play B tracks. PTC is a 100% legal and onshore advanced deposit wagering company. Ian's business model was to fight for the customers who were using offshore companies for their wagering, and win them back. It was a very interesting conversation from a guy in tune with players.

When I emailed Ian Meyers of Premier Turf Club to ask him if he’d answer a question or two, the response was the same as it always is: “What can I do to help?”

He, after a long career as a stock trader (and a horseplayer since his teens) had a dream. It was to own his own ADW, or advance deposit wagering company (like Horseplayer Interactive up here). After toiling for a couple of years he finally got it off the ground. The company’s slogan: “By Players – For Players” is not lost on anyone who is a member. The betting platform is second to none. The features of the site are always changing and improving based on what his players are telling him. You want to dutch your bets? You can. How about conditionally wager, where you can put your bet in as limit order to make sure at one minute to post the odds have not dropped too much? You can. How about track your wins and losses by type of bet to improve your play? You can. How about player rewards? You bet. What about handicapping tools to make you a better player? He has them. Most if not all of these innovations happened after he was established. It is this type of innovation this business needs, and most if not all he does, concentrates on helping players win and become long-term horseplayers, with larger bankrolls, and growing handles. So he was a perfect person to ask about our topic.

Currently he has a wide array of harness tracks, ranging from places like the Meadowlands, to the B track scene with less than $200K handles per day. My questions to him focused on these small tracks. He had some good answers that should help us wade through the B track experience.

We know from experience that pool size is a factor to attract or dissuade play. Woodbine recently has mentioned that they are worried about sub $1M handles, because when they drop below a million, handle losses can snowball. Ian agrees that small handles are the biggest stumbling block to his players playing those tracks. “I know its chicken / egg. If pools are small it’s hard to get people to play, and if they don’t play pools are small.” he said. Surprisingly though, it is not as much the product. He says the product placed on the track matters “only to some extent”.

He believes that some of his larger players will play smaller tracks for a few reasons. Mainly these are as follows:

1) Signal availability: If they can watch it, they will play

2) Cost to Wager: If they can get rebates, they will play

3) Availabilty on the Betting Menu : Goes without saying

Offering rebates to smaller players is something he believes is of paramount importance, but finds there is some reticence in small tracks joining his service, simply because he is rebating. On the surface I would have to agree with him. Since getting handle up is the greatest challenge for B tracks (the chicken/egg above), why should it matter to them what resellers are doing? “Rebates to my players are absolutely essential [in getting them to play B tracks], and you’d be amazed at how many small tracks at least dissuade you from offering them if they don’t try to ban them altogether. If you’re a track operator I never understood why YOU care what I do with MY profits.” He feels B tracks that he carries can get a leg up on some other higher-priced tracks with larger players. “We have a couple of players that wager $150k-$200k a month on almost all small tracks. One of them just killed Northlands this summer. We are finding a gradual shift away from some of the high profile (i.e. TrackNet) tracks as signal fees are pushed to unsupportable levels.”

What can or should small tracks do to get bigger players interested, then? Noticing last year that Buffalo Raceway planned to offer their signal out for a 1% fee, I asked if that was the right approach. “Yes, absolutely. Now there is only so much handle you can get on a small track regardless of the rebate offered (again a pool size issue) but an affordable signal fee is very important. Look at the difference in financial performance of the small tracks that are ball-busters in terms of price and access. Gigantic fall-offs in handle. Remington was down 25% this meet because TrackNet wouldn’t distribute the signal.”

So, it seems there is some room for B tracks, like those in Ontario to be part of the picture. If the distribution problems in the US, and the infighting continues, perhaps there is some opportunity.

Also, it seems that when a track signs up with a reseller (ADW) they leave it at that, and they do not continue to fight and claw for more business. I have always found this strange. If I had “Pull the Pocket Downs” with a reseller I would try and make sure I distributed free video, programs, or anything else I could to encourage play. So I asked, what can a track with you do to increase wagering? Is there anything you can do to push a product working hand in hand with your tracks? He seemed almost apoplectic with this question:

“That is a terrific question that no track has ever asked me. You know we sponsored a contest on this year, put up prize money out of our own pocket. More than half the tracks we contacted balked at providing t-shirts, hats, etc. One track actually threatened to cut us off or raise our rates because we have conditional wagering. Tracks look at me as a parasite, but while I might not produce the product I am much better at distribution than they are. They should try looking at us like partners. We would be happy to develop a targeted campaign with a track or two that maybe included free handicapping analysis, t-shirt giveaways, special rebates for certain nights/pools, etc. Not one track has contacted us in the year we’ve been in business (phone or e-mail) other than for settlements. We’d love to do something creative with them.”

This is an extremely important point to me. The current market of tracks distributing signals, and resellers pushing them is a fine system. It is a system that is seen in business every day. Your resellers advertise for you. They work for you. They are in touch with their customers on a daily basis – customers that may never even be customers in the first place. It makes more sense for you to offer out something at price “A” where it encourages distributors to increase their profit by increasing gross handles.

I was happy Ian pulled no punches. When people are passionate about something, you tend to get their true feelings. From my conversation with him, I have concluded the following in terms of step one of the B track question: “What can B tracks do to raise handles?”

One, distribute their product far and wide. Offer it out for as low a price as possible, to get to as many people as possible. If the pool size grows, handle can grow at a faster and faster rate.

Two, work hand in hand with your distributor. Make it easy for them to push your product. If you have a back door to video on your site, let them have access. If you offer free past performances, let him offer them out to his customers too. If you have an on track handicapper, offer out his or her thoughts with those past performances. If you have hats, a handicapping contest, shirts, or want to design a promotional day with a special rebate offer, ask. If you have cross promotional ideas, go to it.

It seems we have barely scratched the surface on what may be possible.

Many thanks to Ian at Premier Turf Club and we wish success in the New Year to him and everyone at PTC. If you are eligible to join his wagering company (residency and age requirements are on his website), I encourage you to do so. A simple email to Ian is all it takes. He is there for the player and you can be sure he will answer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NASCAR & Harness Racing

I work in marketing. It is one tough business. Jack Trout, one of the foremost marketing gurus, is one of my favourite writers. His book, Differentiate or Die, is one of the best, in my opinion, marketing books ever written. In it, the general thesis is, if you have a product that is different, you are ahead of the game and you should market those differences.

The people who run NASCAR have read that book. They are different. They are not Formula One - and they do not try to be. In many ways, they are harness racing.

Greg Reinhart of wrote an interesting opinion column on NASCAR and harness racing. He is a fan of both. He's under 30, too. Right in our theme lately. His thoughts are reprinted below.

I could not agree with him more:

In this month’s Trot Magazine, editor Darryl Kaplan writes a letter stating that harness racing, specifically Canadian harness racing, can compete with stock car racing if it is given a chance to.

Being a fan of both of harness racing and NASCAR, I thought we could take a look and see if Kaplan’s hypothesis really is valid and what would need to happen.

NASCAR is full of marketing geniuses, something that harness racing sorely lacks. Think about it folks, NASCAR was able to go from a regional venture, in this case the Southeastern United States, to a world-wide mega-power.

What has NASCAR done well? First, they market their stars well. Top guys like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are the faces of national advertising campaigns and the reason companies put up multi-million dollar sponsorship packages to be connected with them. They are professional, well-spoken, and rarely embarrass themselves, the companies they represent, or the sport.

In harness racing, Tom Haughton tried to put together a package with harness drivers and SSG driving gloves. One of my friends was part of this deal, and the only thing I ever heard about it was an owner complaining to me that he wasn’t getting paid for the driver wearing a patch while driving his horse. Yikes.

Furthermore, far too often, interviews with harness drivers are exactly the opposite of NASCAR drivers. Many harness drivers don’t take the time to explain to the public why a horse they bet last week may not have been any good, or changes they made, and how they helped, etc. This is especially glaring at Woodbine or Mohawk, where some drivers seem more concerned with self-promotion.

Harness racing doesn’t do an adequate job of marketing its equine stars either. Outside of a big name like Admirals Express, you don’t hear much about these horses, and if you do, it’s a situation where a horse like Donato Hanover is retiring and not coming back to race. A horse like Sea King, who won six races in a row after coming back from a serious suspensory injury, is a perfect story for someone to pick up on, yet only The Harness Edge has even touched it.

That’s not to say NASCAR is squeaky clean. They had have several instances where crew chiefs, who are in charge of setting up the race car for the drivers, have been caught cheating. Just this year, the crew chiefs for Johnson, Gordon, and Earnhardt, Jr. were all suspended for several races.

Now, a big problem NASCAR has there, is that they don’t limit communication between the suspended crew chief and their team. The suspended guy can even be on the grounds, maybe in the grandstands, instant messaging his team with suggestions and set-up tips. That would be akin to letting a suspended harness racing trainer claim horses, train them and then just enter them with another trainer.

There are plenty of similarities between the two sports, though. NASCAR has owners, crew chiefs, and drivers, and harness racing has owners, trainers, and drivers, and they all share similar roles and responsibilities.

The racing is actually sort of similar as well. NASCAR has the “draft,” where a car gets right in behind another one, which takes the flow of air off the trailing car, enabling it to go faster. It’s the same principle with a horse getting a pocket-trip or a second-over trip.

Now, what can harness racing do to maybe get a surge like NASCAR did?

First, I would take a portion of the slots revenue and put it directly into a marketing fund and then hit up every newspaper, internet site, radio, etc with commercials. Show people that harness racing is just like NASCAR. It’s fun, exciting, and takes a heck of a lot less time than 500 laps.

Second, I would make trainers and drivers take at least one class in how to give a proper interview, maybe when they first apply for a license.

Third, you need to market the game as clean. NASCAR does this well by immediately suspending or fining owners, crew chiefs, and drivers, and if they appeal, it’s heard right away, not dragged on for years.

Fourth, you need to treat your betting customer with way more respect than they get now. Like Dana Parham said, harness racing is the only venture which treats its best customer worse than its worst customer.

Now, one final thing NASCAR does exceedingly well and quite deceptively, is market the violent nature of their business, whether it’s wrecks, fights between drivers, and the like. This is something harness racing probably can’t do, nor should they, but if they market the game as clean, fan friendly, and bettor friendly, maybe the future will be a little bit brighter for the game we all love.

People Love War Horses

When Darryl Kaplan wrote this in his Letter to the North Pole, he was so right.

Remember in ’99 when you brought me Admirals Express? Any chance you have one more of those in your Santa bag? Once again, I’m looking for a lovable gelding with the courage of Ares and the strength of Thor, to delight fans year after year. Please work on it.

Fans want to see old, great horses race. They can identify with them. We know how difficult it is to keep a horse sound and happy to race in his advanced years. When he succeeds we cheer.

On the weekend, 9YO (almost 10!) Evening Attire won the Queen's County Handicap at AQU. The blogosphere and industry websites are buzzing. Steve Crist said "was there a racing fan with a heartbeat not rooting for Evening Attire to get up?"

There is tons of reaction on the page at He sums up the reaction better than I can, so give it a look. In block letters he exclaims "Inspiring". The owners are respected. They turned down big money for him several years ago. They even retired him to give him a home, but he wanted to get back training. The story is a good one from start to finish.

I read the press as a morning ritual. Curlin, Street Sense, or any other horse for that matter did not have fans buzzing like this one. People love horses. And they love old horses who don't know how old they are. There is a little bit of every one of us in these animals. We don't want to grow old either.

For video of the "grand old man" beating the young pups, click right here. Be inspired.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quick Notes from the World of Racing

...... some interesting news items, or maybe not. Well I thought they were.

We've all heard trainer-speak. This one took the cake. Dylan Thomas got wiped in Hong Kong because he was too fat. ".... he was way overweight" said trainer O'Brien.

I watched the Harrisburg sale and said "boy, those guys are nuts to spend that money on Big Business". Good call, Big Business wins Matron.

Us players are really dopes sometimes for playing this game. It seems to be so stacked against us. The Pick 4 at Delta Downs culminated in a thrilling finish. 39-1 shot Turf War (man that is a great name) dead-heated with the 3-2 chalk Z Humor. With pick 4 dead heat rules, both tickets paid the same - a whopping $127.60. Steve Byk, let's his thoughts be known on this in his column/blog.

Woodbine thoroughbred wagering is up. Glad something is. I buy the Form some Wednesday's and notice the nice ad for Woodbine Wednesday's. Wednesday Night Lights I think they call it. Flashy ad. Well done. I wish I could find some "Sunday Night Lights" ads somewhere for harness. But I can't.

Darryl Kaplan has a nice piece just up on Standardbred Canada, A Letter to the North Pole. Required reading for Canadian harness fans.

In hearing some complaints by us with the quality of our harness signals on the web, and lack thereof, or perhaps a gripe or two about TVG or HPI TV, there was one gripe that made me laugh recently. Turns out Turfway Park's video feed was not working too well yesterday on This prompted Jeff Platt, creator of jcapper software to reply in a paceadvantage post:

"It's funny, when I watch a race I tend to watch the horses on the lead... their action... the action of the riders... how much the rider thinks he has left when they turn for home...

The lead "horse" didn't have a rider... and going around the 1st turn neither did the second one... I was like WTF... it took me a few seconds but it finally dawned on me... they were GREYHOUNDS not horses!!!

Next time I see a grainy feed from one of the B tracks in Ontario, I have to remind myself it could be worse.

B Track Blueprint I: The Horseplayer

If you have not read the post below B Track Blueprint, give it a whirl. We are going to try and find out, by asking the people directly involved in B tracks, just what makes them tick. The player, the live fan, and a distributor. First off, let's tackle the player. The stay-at-home fan who supports this sport.

Lou, or the Whip to his friends, has been watching harness racing since the age of 5, primarily cutting his teeth on the B tracks in South Western Ontario. He lives in Windsor with his wife and young son Cam. We’re not sure if he named his son after super-horse Cam Fella. We think so, but we won’t let his wife know.

Although much of his handle goes towards big tracks like the Meadowlands and Woodbine/Mohawk, he still to this day spends the bulk of his time playing small tracks.

To someone like me, it seems counter-productive, because small pool tracks have so many things working against you as a player (late odds changes of monster proportions, betting against yourself with small pools etc). But to Whip, and a few others who play B tracks regularly, it can be a great place to play. That is what is great about racing, and what I feel the game does not maximize – it is a skill game, and there are many ways, and many places to play. No one is right or wrong.

“Can you make money on the B tracks?” I asked.

“You bet you can”, he replies. “I thrive on the B tracks. You have to pick your spots, but there is money to be made. Mainly you have to have a plan, and do some work. It is not easy. You have to have the tote loaded and look for overlays in all pools and you have to make sure you bet size properly. There are overlays in exactor and double pools every day.”

A common theme is bet sizing, whenever speaking about small pool tracks. It is quite obvious that betting into a $1000 win pool is different than a $5000 pool, which is different than a $50,000 one. Professional players operate on something called, or something like, the Kelly Criterion developed by a Bell Labs scientist in the 1950’s. This system helps you avoid gamblers ruin. In general, on a 10% or so edge bet, you would not want to bet more than 1% pool size. In a $500 pool, this would equate to a $5 win bet. Big players do not want to spend their limited time betting $5 to win. The exotics are a whole different matter of course.

In speaking of bet size in win pools, Whip is not unlike other players. “It is tough to bet more than $50 at some tracks like Grand River or Western Fair. There is just not enough cash in the pools. Flamboro you can go a little higher. Betting a horse $50 or $100 to win makes the horse 1-9. If I worked at figuring out the horse is a good bet, I just alerted everyone and it depresses exotics prices, too.”

According to Whip, the edge can lie in the exotics, and the best bets at the B’s can vary from track to track. “I believe there is good value at Georgian Downs in the super pools. Often you can grab a pool shot with a 20 center. Western Fair does not get my super money on the other hand. Sometimes the tri pays more than the super, so I stick to triactors there. The pick 4’s at Western Fair are not for me either. The pools are just not big enough.” He believes two things help B track handles, and help give him incentive to play them "the 20 cent tickets are a good thing. I bet more because they are offered. I sometimes wish super races were more spread out, but in my opinion they help handles. The other thing you must watch for is signal distribution. When HPI TV takes a signal it is when you want to play the track. This is something I think B tracks should be most concerned with. Schedule on off times if you have to, just get the races on TV for us. If not, there is a good chance I will ignore your track.”

Since thoroughbred betting is so heavily skewed to statistics and betting software, I wondered what handicapping tools he uses, and what factors he looks for at the B’s. “Drivers are important, because the pool is not deep. There are some drivers you can toss out immediately. Replays are not overly important. Trainers, in my opinion, are the most important handicapping factor. Some of them are A track sendoff’s and they clean up. You can get a feel for them on how they are doing at a given interval. If you can sense a 0.500 guy will not have a good day or week, you can use that.”

In terms of player rewards and rebates I wondered if they meant as much to him, as a B Track player, as they do to a big whale on A tracks. Would he go to the track more often with perks, like free dinners? “I don’t know about that. If every track had a plug for my computer, with WiFi and a nice spot to play I could think about that. But since I bet seriously, the noise level is something that bothers me. Also, any track I have been to, the area you might be able to do this is tucked away. I would want to have this area for me to be in full-view of the track”.

What about rebates? Are they important to him as a player, even on B tracks? “If I was offered rebates on ANY track I would bet more. To me it is only common sense. Sometimes I could easily burn and churn $2000 or $3000 on a Georgian or Flamboro card. If I was rewarded with money in my account the next day, it would only lead to me to bet more.”

So in this part of the B track Blueprint we have testimony from a larger B track player. In summary, it appears that a few things are important to him:

1) Distribution of the Signal: If the races are not readily available for him and others to see, they will simply ignore the product. Pool size is too small.

2) Pool Size: If win pools are $500 or so, they are not worth playing into.

3) Bet Type by Track: Try to find overlays in some pools that are big enough to take a shot at. Know your track, and tracks should concentrate on playing to their strengths. Watering down pools with many, many bets may be counter-productive.

4) Rebates: Important to him, even with the smaller bet volume.

Thanks to Whip for taking time to give us some pointers, and his thoughts. If you want to join Whip and others handicapping harness racing, join them in the handicapping section of It’s a free chat board and the moderators do a great job in making it a pleasant place to post. If you want to discuss this topic with like-minded race watchers, and participants, you can do that there, too!

We’ll return next with Ian Meyers from an Advanced Deposit Wagering Company, to see what he thinks about the B track scene.

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