Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thursday Notes

Some interesting things out there this Thursday. As always, I found them interesting. You be the judge!

Can Dave get more Drives?

Below we looked at Meadows' regular driving king Dave Palone's November and said if he could only get more drives with a track nearby (maybe that new one opening soon near Pittsburgh) he might be able to turn the sports' driving records on its ear.

In scanning this young year's driving leaders this is pretty apparent. For January, Dave has compiled this so far, with one driving day to go in the month:

David M Palone 210 71 44 22 $ 465,187 0.489

210 drives and he is the second leading driver in wins in North America - and he is ranked 17th in drives. That is only 2420 drives extrapolated for the year - about half what Tetrick drove last year. Imagine what he could do with a few more drives? Stunning!

Ontario Owner Rules Reach an Audience

On here, an (large) owner speaks about the new rules. What is interesting is, he is not an Ontario owner. This is what policies like this can do by changing the way owners do business. Rules should be made that not only punish, but change behaviour. If this is what happens because of it, all I can say is well done.

I have spoken to my trainer(s) yesterday and I emailed the three vets we use in NJ, Fla and Louisiana that they need to email me any medications that are being administered to my horses. Thus far everyone has agreed to do this and maybe it is a wake-up call for me to be more involved in this end of the industry. I appreciate the responses by the majority of the people who I respect on this forum. As a horse lover as well as an owner I never want to see any of these animals abused so that the trainer can pad his win percentage which in turn gets more owners to gravitate to him. Thanks everyone for opening my eyes on this issue!

Breeders Crown 2010 = Dubai World Cup

In my post below Breeders Crown 2010, I spoke about with slots being introduced potentially in Lexington, we have an opportunity to have a year-end championship in harness racing at that venue. Most believe that is pie in the sky in this industry, mainly because of fractured interests. Of course, with the Breeders Crown not owned by the Red Mile, red tape is assured.

But, to look at what I propose as being doable all we have to do is look at the Dubai races this month. A government and a horse owner in Dubai have created what many argue is the true "World Thoroughbred Championships" - blowing away the Breeders Cup. In Horseplayer magazine this month, Bud Pettingill says:

.... In 2007, a one day six race event with an average payout of $3.5M played host to horses from 17 different nations, including 31 of the top 50 ranked thoroughbreds....

.... by contrast, the 2007 Breeders Cup gave away slightly more than $2M per race, a whopping 60% less than the DWC. More telling, the 2007 Breeders Cup [managed to] attract only 12 European entrants out of 117 starters and only 13 of the top 50 ranked thoroughbreds.

With slots money and a vision, something can be done in harness racing. In Ontario alone the business realizes from slots around $300M/year. Worldwide, the subsidy must be in the billions. Don't tell me we can not have a $10M purse day at some track. When a track with a few dollars for purses a half a world away without slots can do it, we damn well can.

WEGZ Visit

Well as you know I have not been betting the Meadowlands. But I will admit, I tried to at least get a program. Last night I headed out to WEGZ Sports Bar for a beer and wings and racing. Great place if you have not been there: golf simulators, video games, racing, sports, decent food. But when asking for a Meadowlands program, they were out. When I asked if I could get a photocopy, they could not. I can golf on a simulator and watch a 200 foot screen, but I can't get a program?

Someone up there must want me to not bet the Meadowlands, that's for sure. Maybe they saved me some money.

If you want to visit the website for WEGZ it is right here. A warning though, it's a splash page. Ugh.

Happy racing everyone. Go make some cash today.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alan Woods and us, the Horseplayers

Wednesday's wrap is usually about a lot of things, but since there is so much news about the life-blood of the sport, this Wednesday we focus on the player.

There is a long article on Alan Woods by Tony Wilson. If you have time, and are interested it is well worth reading. It shows and talks about how the computer was used (the formation of today's computer betting like jcapper) and how overlays were sought.

It does all come down to overlays, and it is the simplest (but hardest to find) thing about the game, or any game for that matter: If your probability of success is greater than board odds you win. In the article this simple law is touched on by the multi-billion dollar bettor:

Heaven's form guide has four important columns: the horse's number, its current odds, its computer-calculated probability of winning (expressed to three decimal places) and a figure Alan calls its 'Win Expectation'. Win Expectation, which is obtained by multiplying a horse's computer-calculated probability by its current odds, identifies the amount a team can expect to receive for each dollar bet on a particular horse. The formula goes:

E (return) = P (win) x current odds

If the Win Expectation is greater than one, the horse is an overlay - an attractive, potentially profit-making horse. If the Win Expectation is less than one, the horse is an underlay and should be avoided. If the Win Expectation is between 0.82 and 1, the horse is a small overlay but an unwise investment because of the Jockey's Club rake.

That is also a good primer for racetrack management: If your E(x) is 0.82 you can't beat the rake so you sit the race out. Up it to 0.90? Well then a whole lot more bets are made.

The article is filled with gems, and is in interesting look at an interesting man.

Alan Woods was a sharp computer player and speaking of that,here is a good look at one track's view on computer betting (thank you Equidaily for pointing us to this). As people who follow the blog know, we have proposed that pools are open to everyone, and tools used by players should be promoted. It is a market, and constricting the market makes people play other games. It is also said here that we need winners. If everyone is a loser, the sport is a loser. This article seems to think the same way. It is refreshing to read more and more of this. North American execs seem to do everything they can to kick people out of their pools and seem to have this visceral disdain for winners.

"a general belief in the pari-mutuel industry that high-volume players are taking money out of pools and making losers out of on-track patrons".

This was a question that vexed former Jockey Club chief executive Lawrence Wong Chi-kong when he first arrived at Sports Road more than a decade ago. And his remedy was as wrong then as it would be today, closing big accounts and making life tough on those who were succeeding.

Thankfully the new guard promoted winners and embraced them. And boy, did they grow.

We understand that Wong ultimately regretted these decisions and the new guard at the Jockey Club welcomes all customers, big and small, professional or recreational. After all, their only concern should be in creating turnover, assuming the money is from clean sources. And surely if someone is given the right to play, they should have the right win as well as to lose.

The US could save itself some pain and embrace the lessons Hong Kong learned the hard way. Or is American racing to become cynical like casino gambling, where losing heavily makes you a valued customer but using your intellect to win is considered an offence?

Using your intellect to win is the game of racing. It is pari-mutuel chess. Players know this, tracks seem not to understand it. Heck a pile of ADW's out there do not even let you track your ROI. Their focus should be on making them winners, I think they'd be happily surprised if they did.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Handicapping: Losing Streaks

If you ask anyone, even professionals who win at this game, they will tell you it is difficult. I personally think it is the toughest of all gambling games. It is a high takeout game, with a low hit rate. We are not playing poker with a $50 bankroll on a 5 cent/ten cent table, where we can play many, many hands with small bet size losses. We are not playing football games where we should hit one of every two bets over time.

One of the toughest parts of the game to deal with and figure out are losing streaks. We are not going to talk about the psychology of losing streaks here, or how to last one with your bankroll still breathing (we’ll do that later though, as it is important). Instead we will start with a building block. We’ll look at a simple calculation to learn about why and how they happen and why knowing your hit rate is important.

How many people do this: You head to the track with a $100 voucher, bet 3 bets – say $15 to win and a few exotics each race – then lose it all. Off to the ATM to try again, swearing to ourselves that we are a worse handicapper than a dyslexic chimp. Relax, we aren’t. It is very easy to lose many races in a row. I’ll show you why.

First, people have said for years that you have to keep track of wagers. I know it is tough to do and that it can be a pain, especially when you are losing (I’ve been there and done that!), but they are right. This gives us one fundamental to becoming a better player.

If you know your hit rate you can calculate your losing streaks. It also helps you learn about what bankroll size you would need to break the string of losing. Losing streaks kill us if we don’t play with proper bet size and bankroll size.

For simplicity, let’s say you bet every favorite – you are a chalk player. You have a 35% hit rate, or 35 in 100 bets are cashes. To calculate what would be a reasonable expectation for a losing streak (i.e. a normal occurrence) you do this with a handheld calculator:

So for a chalk player his potential losing streak is:

which equals 12.3.

That means by betting favorites only, you will have a 12 race losing streak in a normal distribution. Betting $20 a race with a $200 voucher? It is normal for you to be broke some nights after race 10. It is not difficult at all to be a very good handicapper and lose many races in a row.

My hit rate is 23% over a large sample. My normal losing streak is 21 races.

Like I mentioned, there is much more to this puzzle to make us better players, namely: Bet sizing, payout rates, frequency of bets and more. We’ll look at others later. But when you go to the track with $100 to spend, remember one thing: Unless you are betting $2 to win a race with incredible discipline, you can find yourself broke, through very little fault of your own.

This formula was relayed to me from another player on the web. Although I have not checked the math, I think it works perfectly. Dick Mitchell was apparently the first person to use it. Several of Dick’s books are out of print now, but I scan for them from time to time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Churn Baby Churn; and Barbaro

Here is an email I received from a smaller player trying to make it in this game.

I registered for a premium turf club (sic) account and I must say I am impressed. All they need now is free video and programs. I like the smaller tracks like Monticello and Northville... I even tried a place ticket on a 3-1 greyhound...... best yet.... I started with 100........ betting frivilously and stupid, I blew it all... but next day I had 23 dollars in my account.... and then last night.... I got the 23 all the way back up to 100 (I work on a different scale then you) and then blew it all again (I got to start reading your handicapping advice, especially on longshot betting... longshots can put a person in a tailspin).... but anyway I managed to bet about $700.... So now they throw 35 back in my account....... Thanks for playing!!......... Back to the slow grind

That folks, is churn.

If he put his money in an ADW like or HPIbets he is broke after the first day. Instead, with daily takeout reductions given to him via an overnight rebate, he played the next day. Then after he lost again, he played the next day again. His betting volume was around $700, and he is still playing.

We must start to send people home with money when they go to the track. Vegas long ago learned that they could not send everyone home a loser - if they sent everyone home broke, they would be broke, because customers will not come back. Twenty years ago with racing the only game in town that might have been an option. It is not any longer.

This to me is a big reason why we bet $15B in 1990, and 17 years later with perhaps the most salient and potent technology to hit the wagering earth (the internet and in-home feeds), we still bet $15B. People seem to want to blame that on everything else but themselves in racing. Punters who might have grown this game by being regular customers have been tired of getting their head handed to them and have said no mas. Daily sizable rebates help them become long-term players, and get interested in racing.

Premier Turf Club is one place who seems to understand this. Please check if it is available in your place of residence. Rules do not allow them to be offered everywhere.

There is a plan to get a new statue up, in Central Park of Barbaro.

Before you say "that's nice," look again.

The Barbaro Memorial" will depict the thoroughbred champion in the winner's circle on his back with his number 8 saddle cloth draping his belly and hooves in the air, representing his inability to stand on his feet due to the debilitating laminitis which followed the shattered ankle he suffered in the 2006 Preakness Stakes.

"We feel Barbaro's Law is sympathetic to recent efforts in horse protection legislation," said gallery co-director, John Leo. Councilman Tony Avella drafted animal rights legislation that would ban New York's horse-drawn carriages when carriage horse Smoothie died from running into a tree after being spooked by a street musician's drum last September.

Oh my head.

At least the sculptor is mainstream. Yes, that is sarcastic.

Edwards's previous sculptures include a nude Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug, an interactive autopsy of Paris Hilton with removable organs, and a war dead Prince Harry clutching the cameo-locket of his late mother Princess Diana.

This is how like to remember Barbaro. It is his maiden win. And it's beautiful.

He was a beautiful horse.

Other Quick Notes:

Prairie Meadows sticks pretty much with the status quo. Anyone surprised? Good for them I guess.

The story below about Racing Under Siege has some interesting reaction from owner Alvin Stein. Thanks to the Harness Edge for that.

Donato Hanover won the Horse of the Year. No surprise there I guess. I want some of whatever the writers were smoking picking Dewey ahead of Snow White in that voting, though. I wonder if those folks actually watch the races. For my take you can read my post on the Horse of the Year here, if you haven't. Be prepared to gasp at the Snow White video. What a monster she is!

Alan Woods

An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most precious gifts of heaven, spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather. Washington Irving

Most would describe Alan Woods as the world’s most successful horse gambler. He died Saturday night at the age of 62.

He started as a math whiz, trying to win at games. He figured early on in life that counting cards gave him an edge, so he learned it. Later he figured that the pari-mutuel game was beatable, so he learned that. He thought the stock market was beatable, so he learned that. He was truly a remarkable guy.

He started playing Hong Kong in the mid-1980’s. Like most who start, he lost. But the wheels went in motion – there was a fixed number of horses who race meets there (around 1200), there was little funny stuff with drugs or form changes, very few trainer changes and no horses off claim. He thought that he could build a database of all those horses, get programming, build an odds line, and roll. That he did.

It is said he won over $150M in Hong Kong, and recently his handle was 2 or 3 percent of the entire Honk Kong pool. It is reported that his net worth at the time of his death was $600 million US.

I think no one can say he did not live life as he wanted to; and didn’t much care what people thought. From an article here:

,,,,,,it could have just as easily stemmed from his racing riches: $1.5 million, earned in a single session, is where Woods's idea of a good day begins.

He keeps himself holed up in an air-conditioned apartment where the view is sprawling, a pool table dominates the living room, and a downstairs TV spans 48 inches. "I don't leave this apartment during the day, except to go swimming in the rooftop pool, because it's too hot and humid. If I need something from the market, I get my maid or girlfriend to shop for me," says Woods, adding that he prefers to eat dinner in front of the television or computer and that his leisure time is fairly regimented. "I like going to the seedy girlie bars in Makati [an upscale neighborhood of Manila, where hookers are a main attraction for some Westerners]. I go out only a few nights per month, but on those nights, I tend to come home with two girls, or, usually, more."

He was helpful to other gamblers. He posted at the odd time. Jeff from jcapper who we talk about on the blog said “he taught me to work harder”, another said “he was one of us”. Personally, he taught me that winning was important, picking winners wasn’t.

His signature on is the start of this piece. It says it pretty nicely – it appeared he enjoyed life; and had it in perspective, which is difficult in the gambling lifestyle.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Damning Words from a Hall of Famer

I scanned today and noticed a link to an article where Jack Van Berg, Hall of Fame trainer and winner of more races and stakes races than any other living trainer, let's fly on the state of the game.

Hall of Fame horseman Jack Van Berg doesn't need a Mitchell Report to know that drugs are a scourge on the "sport of kings."

..... a new breed of so-called "super trainers" has been winning at percentages unheard of in the past.

Van Berg, from the old school, has seen enough. He finally decided to speak out against the rampant abuse of drugs. He says drugs ranging from legal medications like steroids and clenbuterol to prohibited substances like erythropoietin (EPO) are a blight on the game, punishing the owners who pay the bills, the bettors who play the races, and most of all, the horses themselves.

It is often said that racing likes to keep this out of the limelight. I don't know how true that is, but I for one applaud those who stand up and be counted. There is more:

"Just open your eyes and look around. You know how many trainers would still be winning races if they couldn't use medication? Some of them would starve to death.

"I think we should be racing with absolutely no medication whatsoever. Zero. Stop it all. If the horse ain't right, turn him out instead of running (him) until he breaks his leg off."

Then Jack gives his props to (gasp), the punters. For those of us who see a trainer winning at 10 or 12%, then overnight winning at 25%, we certainly can relate to what he has to say.

Walk down through the grandstand and listen to people. They know what's going on. You'll see a trainer going 90 miles an hour, win a lot of races, and then you find out he's had a couple of bad tests and (that's why he) hasn't done any good for two months.

I have always thought that the culture of racing will change from within. You can't get more inside that Jack Van Berg.

The article is lengthy and very well worth the read.


.... there was some kind of wicked speed at Woodbine last night. The temperature was minus 5C, the snow was flying. Well, Camifications won the Willowdale in 1:50, and the Free For All was won by Little Amos in 149.4. Several other races went super-fast, as well. I don't know why, but I simply do not believe the teletimer of last night's races....

.... Cangamble placed up some good thoughts on Hugh Mitchell's story in the Globe. Check it out....

..... Mr. Child, the poster from Australia below who mentioned zero rake Pick 4's downunder spurred my interest. I scanned the web and found out that not only do they have 0 rake pick 4's at times, they also have sales on perfecta's and daily double's. The 0 rake pick 4's at one track have had pick 4 pools reach $2 million. My trainer mentioned to me that he spoke with an insider a couple days ago. He told this person that "gamblers are screaming for lower takeouts", to which the insider replied "it won't make a difference." If I may, I respectfully suggest this insider do one of two things: read the paragraph above and educate himself to allow him to be part of the solution; or find a new job because frankly sir, you are killing us .....

For some information about how to web market a new bet, or a reduction of rake on a bet, try this: It is the Aussie ad for zero-rake pick 4's.

Last but not least: We'll pop up a post tomorrow about who I think may be the world's greatest horse gambler - Alan Woods. He passed away yesterday at the age of 62. I have read much about him over the years. He was an amazing gambler.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hugh Mitchell, 4 bucks for 10k, and More

Some news and notes from the world of racing that I found interesting.

Mitchell, who runs Western Fair Raceway and is a long-time horse exec, was interviewed by Bev Smith in Toronto's Globe and Mail. The story ran today. It was titled "Wagering Under Siege" and detailed most of what we know - that is, handle is in the toilet.

Canadian harness racing enjoyed its peak year in 2002. But the drop since then has been precipitous. Wagering on standardbreds in Canada is off 36 per cent in the past five years, 33 per cent in Ontario and 28 per cent at tracks run by the Woodbine Entertainment Group. That's a drop of about $310-million in Canada, $236-million in Ontario and almost $130-million at WEG.

Yes folks, that is an over one third wagering drop since 2002. When we speak here, and offer our opinion we have said how slow racing is to address issues of negative growth. With slots I think it is hard for it to change, simply because alternative cash is coming in.

Let's look at the difference between racing and the real business world. Last week the markets were weakened by signs the US economy is slowing. Notice I said slowing - they are still growing - but not as fast. Within the next 72 hours people started moving and got their butt's in gear like a sprinter out of a starting block. The gun sounded, and off they went: A large fiscal stimulus package was announced and a huge cut in the fed funds rate was achieved through an emergency meeting to handle the monetary side.

Now let me ask you, how can an entire country move into action within 72 hours of bad news, but we can't get our butts moving after 5 years of bad news?

Take a read of my Breeders Crown 2010 post below and the comments of "this can never happen" for reference on how we kill ourselves in racing.

Scott Rowe, who runs SHOP a group of owners concerned about the future of racing let's his thoughts be known on the new rules set-down by the ORC this week. I disagree with nothing he has to say. If you are a horse owner who wants to join SHOP, you can at their website here.

I was working and watching Woodbine Harness Thursday night. After the ninth race I saw the pick 7 actually went. This is a rare occurrence in the absence of a carry over. I wondered who hit that? Sure it was mostly favorites and it was hittable, but we see these almost always come in at 5 or 6 of 7.

Well, a poster on's discussion board hit it. He played..... are you ready....... a $4 ticket. It was structured like this: 17-4-27-8-6-1-6. Not bad for $10,000 cool ones, huh? Congrats! He posted an interesting tidbit throughout the last few days. Only two of 35 races were won by horses over 6-1 since Monday. It was a nice time to take a favorite pick 7!

Do you ever see a thoroughbred coming off a 500 day or more layoff, and get bet off the board due to his class drop? Maybe the horse was really good, had an injury and then comes back in the basement? Since he is even money people must be "in the know", correct?

Well no, not really. Jeff Platt from Jcapper ran a database of such starters and for the first start back they are pretty bad bets. What about second start back, when the horse adds fitness? No, bad bets there too. Courtesy of Jeff:

1st start off a one year layoff: W% - 6.7% and ROI is 0.39
2nd start: 8.7% and 0.47

They seem to get their legs in the 4th, 5th or 6th start back, where ROI approaches even. As always, this is not a blanket statement, and if you or I go bet something against a 1-5 shot off a 365 day layoff and lose, remember this is what happened overall, and is not necessarily an indication of things going forward. But having said that, I will chuck 1st start back off long layoffs and add that to my betting.

Let's boycott, says harness horsepeople at Freehold. I can't muster a thought.

A poster below asked for some other handicapping posts. First off thanks for reading and second: No worries, we'll get to them. I also want a friend who is a professional to write a thing or two up. I think people would find it interesting. Over the next while we will take a crack at several things, including money management, bankroll sizes, losing streaks, horizontal bet ticket structure and whatever else we can come up with.

Also, I am chatting with a few fellas who are playing at the National Handicapping Championship at Red Rock in Vegas. I hope to pop up some stories from them. I think it is an interesting tournament. Trot magazine did one up here for harness. They tried some things and made it (from what I saw) pretty cool. Let's hope that grows. If you are interested in joining the Trot contest for harness and live in Canada, keep your eyes peeled for it this coming year. Maybe soon I will put up some thoughts on what tweaks I think can be made to make it better for players and grow the contest to get some good buzz started. When I do, I would like to hear comments on what you'd like to see, and if you are thinking of playing in it this year.

OK, enough rambling. I have to go construct a $4 pick 7 ticket for tonight.

Note: We got a great comment in the Breeders Crown section on the low rake/no rake bets in Australia. I did a google search and found some interesting things. I think this is worth chatting about. For those tracks who read the blog (I know, you really like me :)), if Australia can offer ZERO takeout on a bet, why can't we offer something for 5% or 10%, or even 12%?

I love your ideas about the Breeders' Crown, particularly the part concerning reduced rake.

In Australia during November, the Victorian and NSW TABs reduced the rake on quaddies to 0%. Yes, that's zero per cent. Quaddies are what you in North America call a pick four. This was heavily promoted and made widely known.

The pools for the quaddie on the main Saturday Thoroughbred meeting were regularly over $1 million on both totes. The TABs in both states are part of the same corporation but the pools are separate. Roughly speaking, betting on quaddies doubled.

I think this bears out your suggestion that punters will respond to reduced rakes if the racing is top quality and the betting options are promoted well.

To grow betting on Racing,we need reduced rake all the time. Pari mutuel betting is a great gambling product which is being priced out of the market and out of business all over the world.

I hope to read more of your thoughts and see this type of thinking implemented by racing administrators.

William Child

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Breeders Crown 2010

The odd time I take a bit of time to write a post. Last night I took a break and typed what I thought the Breeders Crown could look like. What we might do in a slot world. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I welcome any comments, good or bad.

It’s a nice warm day and the red-clay track at Lexington is gleaming. The fans are plentiful and they are buzzing. In the next Breeders Crown race we have an amazing assortment of athletes for the Open Trot. Three superstars are from Europe, a Hambletonian Champion and four $2 million dollar winners are from North America. The others are some of the hardest hitting trotters this sport has to offer. The purse came in at a staggering $2 million.

The car starts and simulcast players have a birds-eye view from the cockpit – a cable network is televising the event and TVG has installed several cameras as well as microphones around the track. The tote board goes through final changes. The late money is huge as this event is simulcast around the world. Money from all over is in the pools and bettors are receiving value by betting the lowest takeouts in racing history. Thoroughbred players have been honing their harness racing skills and are active – after all we have promoted the event to them all year with our marketing budget.

Tom Durkin bellows: "They are off and trotting………."

Let’s face it, the Breeders Crown for harness racing has not become the showcase we have envisioned. Early on, with ESPN coverage and races from Pompano, it looked like it may be a success. As fans we got pumped for these races and our wagering reflected it. It did all come down to the Breeders Crown. Nowadays, it seems barely a blip on the radar. I don’t blame anyone. Blame is not what this piece is about. It is about a plan where we wave our magic wand, settle horseman and track disputes with a wave, put a captain in charge of the ship with a quick flick, grab a marketing budget with another wave, and try to turn this sport on its head.

So let's roll.

First we need a venue. This venue has to be liked by both horseman and fans and it has to sell harness racing on television. It should be a mile track to ensure racings greatest day is decided by skill, not luck. The Delaware County Fair is special because we only see it once a year. Let’s find a track like that. Also, the track must be slot-fuelled, so we can wave our wand and up purses for our big event. It must be owned by people who want to grow this event and this event only.

This spring, Kentucky is looking at slots at racetracks. It is a huge vote, in a racing friendly state. If it passes, and it should, they have a good hook. Currently the venue hosts some good events of Grand Circuit action, with a limited meet. With slots accumulating all year and helping purses, there is little doubt with a small planned meet, the Red Mile can host monster purses and great racing – if it is done right and we keep all the special interests from sticking their fingers in the pie.

Let’s wave a wand (we are being proactive here and projecting!) and say that slots at Lexington can bring in $40M a year for purses (this is probably low). Also, we might ask breeders to kick a few more bucks in on each foal born. Hey, I’ve seen $400K broodmare prices lately. They seem to be doing well, while the sport dwindles.

This slot revenue can be used in a number of ways. Increase racedates in a sport with many. Increase sires stakes purses to help breeders (been done all over with no real lasting effects on growing the end product via handle), or building piles of new infrastructure or new tracks (also been done before several times).

We throw one huge “X” on those ideas. We break the horrible cycle of try-fail-repeat.

The Red Mile is our venue. Fuelled by both handle and slot money, we create the best short racing meet in harness racing history, ending with the greatest Breeders Crown we have ever seen.


We plan to run a 21 day meet with plenty of racing action. Tracks love this because their slot revenue is not going to a long meet with high expenses. On the meets last Saturday evening, we end with the Breeders Crown. Purses are seeded from the slot money (remember the track saved mega-bucks by not running a long meet, so it’s payback time) and this creates record purses for the Crown. Even the elims go for big bucks, and since there are smaller stakes surrounding the Crown, horse owners are attracted to the meet and can make back all their expenses and more – even if they are shipping from Australia or Europe and miss the Crown final. We in effect create buzz, attract the best horses, and set the table to make this a true event that everyone in the World will watch, want to compete at, and bet on. The signal is distributed everywhere, and we offer the lowest takeouts racing has ever seen. Everyone wins. The horse owners, the fans, the bettors and the tracks all win. Most of all….. The sport wins.


From day one bridges are built. The Red Mile Breeders Cup team roars into action. Budgets are drawn up, the State house is called. Cross promotion with the tourism board is initiated. State governments love cash from the slots going into tourism. It’s a win-win and a good way to get politicians on our side. We have a business plan to make it work, rather than what we always seem to do - open the doors and hope people show up.

The marketing budget is spent on several areas. One, making sure horse owners all over the world aware of the purse structure of events for the meet, perhaps hitching fees that may be paid out to ensure everyone can make a few bucks. Two, we start advertising the meet and event world wide. Thoroughbred players are told about it in their magazines. The tourism board pushes things from their end. All tracks know that this will be big, so there is a strategy for every track and simulcast centre to advertise. Web marketing ensues to tap new markets. Information on the event, past races, the whole she-bang is on one website and this website is advertised to players and fans. Handicapping tools for the event are created. Information is power. Also, tracks are persuaded to not card their big events near this event, just like the thoroughbreds do. We need everyone on the same marketing page.

As for on-track promotions, we let the juices flow and allow the power of our marketing group figure out how to get fans in the seats. Marketing is trial and error and we experiment and see what works. Rome was not built in a day and neither were 21st century businesses like Ebay.

Distribution of the Signal and Television

The signal for the meet is given to everyone who wants it. HPI, any track, any OTB, any ADW. Australia and Europe are brought aboard. The Kentucky Derby this year had distribution problems and handle was down. We don’t let this happen because of petty squabbles in a fractured industry. Maybe even betting giant Betfair is approached to run a market, and those punters get free handicapping tools, and free video. This would be a first. Regardless, the product is there for everyone and it is the most distributed and promoted race day that harness racing has ever seen.

Second, we pay people to televise it. We have slot money, so we can. Local cable networks, ESPN2, The Score in Canada, TVG, whomever. We get this thing on TV.

The Bettor

In the past 15 years with slot money we have seen a few things that are truisms. One, the horsemen fight for a slice. Two, the tracks fight with them. Three, the bettor gets the shaft.

Well not with the biggest day in harness racing. On this day, and for this meet, bettors are rewarded. The meet has the lowest takeouts racing has ever seen. This sparks buzz. Ask any thoroughbred player if they would play a harness program filled with superstars, in semi-big pools as it is today. More often than not the answer is no. Now tell them that they can play monster pools, with great horses, televised, with handicapping tools, and get the lowest rakes in the history of wagering, or get good rebates at their ADW’s. The answer I am sure will be different.

Our rakes are 15% across the board, except for pick 4’s (which we name something cool for promotion), which we charge at 5%. This might create a pick 4 pool of $150K. Players salivate over that size pool with a tiny rake. They would have to be nuts not to play it. Since we are selling to everyone, this gives the ADW’s a slice that they can rebate to help us promote to big players. We charge 5% for the signal. We don’t squabble. We are building a brand and building a sport.

The customer finally gets a slice.

If Meadowlands Pace night can achieve $7M handles, there is no reason that over time this event can not hope to double that.

The Events

With $40 million or more in slot revenue (almost solely used for this event, it’s mandated that way in the slot deal) we sure as heck can up purses. Each event is $1.25M minimum. Consolations are $200K. Eliminations are $200K.

We create a Breeders Crown Showdown. The purse is $2.5M. It’s an Open event for pacers.

We create a new event, the marathon for pacers. According to the editor of Harnessslink who emailed me back with some information on downunder races, he says that “a mile and a half race is perfect for our horses.” With hitching fees, an event of this proportion and a monster purse we could see a fabulous display of world horse racing talent in the World event. Plus we streamline rules on cross-continent shipping. We have the ear of government remember? Will there not be a television of a racing fan in Australia and New Zealand turned on for this event? Will North American fans be pulling for long distance champ Boulder Creek in carrying our flag?

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, European trotters are very good. They sometimes come to events in North America, but quarantine rules and one race and out events are costly and risky. Now with a huge purse and other races to try if they fail, they can make money and make the trip. We might get the Elitlopp field, plus a Glidemaster et al. How cool is that?

So there you have it. The greatest meet and the greatest day this sport has ever seen as an annual event. The money is there, the fans are there. It could be huge, and what many of us want the Breeders Crown to be. It might just put us on the map.

On the blog I have explained why I think like I do, which is different than most. Can all this be done? Can any of it? I doubt it. Without passion, a strong central organization and a will; it is a tough, tough sell. The red tape and politics would be huge. Heck it is a lot easier to just put on a few races and cash slot money. It’s less work.

In Colonialist times sailors would sail from Europe to the New World in search of the metaphorical shining house on the hill. When they reached the Caribbean waters, some would get stuck in the doldrums named the Horse Latitudes. There they would toss their horses overboard to lighten their load, to allow them to use what little wind they had to get to shore.

Harness racing is stuck in the same rut. We can make a choice like those sailors did. We can throw our horses overboard and give up, hoping to get back to port with a few slot dollars in our pockets. Or we can instead implement new ideas and a new way of doing things that allows us to race into port, proud that we are not giving up this great sport without a fight.

If we choose to fight for this sport, you never know - we might find ourselves reaching that shining house on the hill. If not, well at least we tried.

The photo above, is courtesy the Red Mile. It is a beautiful place, and if you are a harness fan who has not been there, put it on your list. For more information on the Red Mile, visit

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Boom! Ontario Passes Owner Responsibility

I was just jotting down a couple things for a Wednesday wrap (they are added below) and then I saw this from the ORC.

Entitled "Grand Scale Measures", it is a paper on new rules and regulations for Ontario racing. There are several things of interest, like safety vests, a horse health passport, and other measures. But the biggie? Hold on to your hats.....

Owner responsibility -Automatic suspension of a horse for 90 days for testing positive for any non-therapeutic drug.

For the first time I am aware of in all of racing, the owners will be penalized for a horse testing positive for a performance enhancer. This is long overdue.

When you go to buy a video game, cell phone, or anything else, you do your due diligence. When you trust your dog with a kennel while on vacation you do your due diligence to make sure he is safe and well cared for. When you own a horse, often times your due diligence consists of "this guy has high numbers, so he must be a good trainer. Let's go with him." Those days seem to be over. This makes owners treat their horses with respect they deserve. If you employ these people, you go down in flames with them. If you jump from trainer to trainer with questionable reputations you will pay right along with him.

If this is promoted and does what it is supposed to, the first question and comment from an owner will now be: Do you have any positives? Is there anything I should be worried about with you?

All I can say to that is, it's about time.

Other notes

I notice that whenever Seth at places up a story on slots he puts it under the “Slots as Saviour” heading – he is being sarcastic, of course. Well New Jersey racing yesterday sent out a press release indicating that Freehold is cutting purses and if nothing is done to help them, the Meadowlands will follow with purse cuts of as much as 45%.

Without a purse supplement, the Meadowlands‚ nightly purse distribution would drop from the current average level of $220,000 per program down to $90,000 nightly.

I don’t blame the powers that be, in going this cap in hand route with some sabre-rattling. Hey, after all it is a tried and true method. Plus, we all know we have severe problems at our flagship track and that something has to be done with smaller, lower handle tracks taking entries from the Meadowlands. But – and this is a big but – a lot of folks seemed to see this coming as early as 2006. My question is: Why was this not addressed earlier?

A news item on Equidaily a bit ago focused on Turftrax, a neat new innovation for overseas horse racing (why can I never seem to say innovation with North American horse racing?) where you can bet horses in-running. They want to get microchips inserted in all saddle pads so bookmakers can offer bets in-running.

While traditional gambling has been losing popularity as many older punters die out, in-play betting has been gaining a growing following on websites such as Betfair.
TurfTrax hopes to capitalise on this trend thanks its fully-automated system, which will make it easy for bookies to offer changing odds as a race develops.

I can’t comment if this would work or if it is a good idea or not. I have never tried it. But as long as people are thinking about innovation and flipping this sports’ traditional methods on its ear, I am all for it. It is probably a decent idea for turf marathons, but I would submit it would be tough in harness racing – there are not enough punters, and these ideas need volume.

Flamboro Downs is promoting its “Pocket Pony” which is a wagering guide for newbies. Initial reaction is good. Anything to get people interested is a good thing. It won’t change handles much I figure, but it does help set a table for growth. Slots players seem to be almost impossible to cross-promote to and it seems tracks have a tough time finding anything that sticks. Maybe this type stuff is a step in the right direction. Grand River Raceway tried this with their simplified program this past year. Small tracks are trying to innovate it seems.

Blair Tells All, Part Two

There is some interesting chatter below on the Blair Burgess Tell All story (here is our post if you have not read it.). For those who have not seen the race I thank Greg for pointing it out to me. You can watch it here. At the quarter you can see Sears is second and Jody J is fourth. Then the fireworks begin.

Edit: Now I see another reader helps us out. Here is a link to embedded video and the story on the race that sparked so much interest. Thanks Jeff!

It is nice to revisit it with video. Watching it again I can not believe Sears put the hammer down. It even looks more odd watching it again. Wow is all I can say.

My previous post was about the fact I searched for a long while to find it, and I could not. How difficult is it to have our championship races on a Breeders Crown website to promote the Crown?

I will have a post up soon on what I think the Crown should do to grow. The magic wand will be out again. I am interested to hear what people think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Can Someone lend me $900K?

There were some mind-boggling prices at the Meadowlands Mixed Sale this week. Former North America Cup winner Total Truth was bought back by Teague for $900,000. Sophomore colts Moon Beam and Duneside Perch brought at staggering $750,000 and $700,000 respectively. In a more reasonable price range, Artcotic was a buy back at $315,000 and Gold Dust Beach went for $280.000. Classy and iron-tough Boulder Creek went for $185,000.

I found some of those interesting. Teague’s buy back of Total Truth might look high, but he seems sound (George thinks so, so who are we to disagree) and he does have a possible stud career if he does some big racing this year, or sets a good mark. Both Moon Beam and Duneside Perch were very impressive last year; but those prices were hard for me to get my head around. Duneside had his year cut short by a fracture. Winning bidder Ross Croghan said this from the harnesslink article linked above:

“I thought he’d go for between $800,000 and a million,” Croghan said. “I went a little more than I wanted to, but I split the difference. Horses of this caliber entering their three-year-old season are not usually on the market for sale. Coming off his two-year-old season, he’s a possible major player, a major contender.

“There are not too many horses that do not have injuries somewhere along the line,” Croghan added.

It will be interesting to see who does well with these horses this year and which appear worth the price. And who may flop. This game is not for the thin-skinned. Those are monster prices for colts, though. Come to think of it, I am a part-owner of a couple 3YO colts. I don't want to sell them, but if I do I won't take less than one trillllllion dollars!

Hey, could be worse folks, I coulda said Alotta Fagina for my Austin Powers reference.

Pocket Notes

…… former multiple Trainer of the Year in Canada Bob McIntosh is having a good start to the Woodbine meet. He’s 4 for 5 with layoff horses. Zeron and Bob Young are others to watch, right off the Q.

……. driver Tony Morgan is leading US drivers in ’08, and he appears poised to take a run at 1,000 wins for the second time in his career.

…... young driver Ty Buter has also had a good start.

…… at Woodbine, 37% of favourites have hit this year, which is higher than last year in January.

….. trainer Casie Coleman has a 0.66 ROI since November 1st.

…… $200 to win on each Joe Stutzman’s horses is the other side of the spectrum. If you had done that you'd be up over $2600.

Handicapping: Just Blink

In 1983 a gentleman brought a statue to a museum that he said was from 600 B.C. Of course, the museum took this claim with skepticism. The asking price was 10 million, and not one of these statues had surfaced in years. It was thought by experts and historians alike that they were all discovered. So, the science began. 14 months later, after a battery of scientific testing, the museum said the statue was real.

After it was purchased, when it was placed on display for experts to see, one watcher took one look at it and blurted out “I hope you didn’t pay much.” Another said, “there is something wrong here. I don’t know what it is, but there is something wrong.” All reported a subconscious, visceral reaction to the statue. They thought it was a fake, but they could not tell you why.

What did these historical experts see that 14 months of science didn’t? That is something Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink” discusses.His thesis states that, if you are unconsciously competent in something, it takes no more than 2 seconds for you to come up with an opinion – and much of the time, that opinion is 100% correct.

When you or I saw many champions as young horses in harness racing, we knew we were looking at a potential stakes horse. Why? He only went 1:56, he looked ok, but a 40 claimer might have beaten him – yes all true. But somewhow we just knew. It is something we do in handicapping often, but I think we do not follow through enough on this in our betting, giving it the respect it deserves. We get too bogged down in past performances, or other handicapping, just like the scientists did with the statue. I think we need our initial feelings validated, so as handicappers we look for ways to discredit these 'feelings' But we have to remember: We know what a race looks like and how they are usually run. We know how a horse tends to respond to adversity. We know how a race sets up, develops, how horses act and finish a race. We know how they are supposed to act based on their trip, pace or action. We know what is supposed to happen, because we are unconscious competent in racing, from many years of experience. When something sticks out, it has a wow factor and it should be paid attention to.

I remember a handicapping friend and I having a conversation with a trainer awhile back. It was after a stunning, somewhat unbelievable performance of a different trainer’s horse off the claim (something that had happened more than once). The trainer was like the scientists at the museum – he argued, rationalized and spoke about vet work, breathing help, shoeing, etcetera. That was all perfectly rational, of course. The handicapper on the other hand couldn’t really verbalize or relay what it is he saw; he just knew “something was not right with this trainer’s horses.” A year later the trainer was out of racing. He was suspended 10 years for using performance enhancing drugs.

As handicappers we are conditioned to see things as they are. When they are artificially different than reality, our subconscious gives us one heck of a 'blink'.

While gambling on our sport here is how I now handle my blink situations: When I see a horse do something he/she should not do, it is an automatic bet back.They should be bets next time no matter what class, what post, or who is against him. They are auto-bets and I don’t even think about why.

I tested this some time ago for a period and I found 36 “blink” horses. Out of those, 19 came back to win. It is something I am now aware of and have added to my handicapping, as it has been ROI positive for a long time for me. My bet size now goes up appreciably when I see one of these horses. Years ago I might play 2% on these horses, but now it is 5%. If I have a 15% edge, I should not be treading lightly with 2% bets, and neither should anyone. At the end of the year this added bet size can be the difference between and winning a losing season.

So the next time you say to yourself “how in the heck did that horse hang around?” Or, “how did that horse do that?”, think of how much your subconscious knows from years of experience and how you can capitalize on that.

I almost forgot, back to our 3000 year old statue: Yes, it was a fake. Upon further review because of expert skepticism, the curators went back and found numerous holes in the seller’s documents, as well as scientific evidence proving it was a sham. After the episode the Curator who made the mistake said “I always found scientific opinion more objective than esthetic judgments, but I was clearly wrong.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s book is available at here. It’s a decent read.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Burgess (really) Tells All

Nice article by a good writer, Carol Hodes, over at Harnesslink on Blair Burgess and pacer Tell All. She tends to ask good questions and her interviews and pieces are fairly lengthy and informative. You can read it here.

Most of us who watched the Breeders Crown Final for 3YO colt pacers were left scratching our head. Brian Sears, driver of Always a Virgin decided to put the hammer down around the 3/8’s pole when Tell All’s driver Jody Jamieson was trying to brush for the lead. I felt, and most did, that Sears made a huge mistake. Tell All had soundly beaten him in the past and most felt that if a speed duel developed Always a Virgin would never end up getting the better of Tell All.

Because our sport is not covered too much by the mainstream press, it was barely a blip on the radar, so we as fans did not know what happened, why Sears did what he did, what Blair thought, or anything along those lines. Now several months after the event Blair gives us some interesting quotes.

“The drivers lost their senses in that race,” said Burgess, frustration still obvious in his tone and comments. “My driver [Jody Jamieson] certainly wasn’t under instructions, but he certainly wasn’t thinking straight. That was not a typical Brian Sears drive [with Always A Virgin]. Something had to be in his head to drive like that. It was such a stupid, stupid race.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill “we are taking it one game at a time" set of quotes, that’s for sure.

“It wasn’t like they lost their minds the entire evening,” he said, referring to Jamieson and Sears. “It just happens that they did it with my horse and Always A Virgin that night, in that particular race. I don’t know where it came from or what was up. I’m not saying that Jody was blameless. They’re both at fault.”
Burgess let Jamieson, Sears and Always A Virgin’s trainer Joe Holloway know what he thought after the race.

I am a bit surprised that Blair lumped Jody in his thoughts. I thought he was making a move that 9 times out of 10 would work. Anyway, water under the bridge. But it is certainly nice to have some coverage on what many thought was the park out of the year. It made Tetrick's mind-numbing move in the Jugette look like a Sunday dinner at grandma's. Now if we could just get racings at-the-rail interviewers to ask those type questions after the race we'd really be getting somewhere.

Note: If you are a member of, pop over to the Eastern Canada topic. If not, sign up, it’s free. There is a topic called “Truro Bet” and they are discussing a small track and what should be done to try and raise handles. It is an interesting discussion. There seems to be an extra tax on wagering in Nova Scotia, where win rakes are around 27%. People are wondering if something should be done there to promote a lower take and get some folks to take betting on racing seriously.

Note 2: A gambling friend of mine had a baby boy on Friday. I have to buy a gift. I searched the web for a "Gambling for Babies" book, but I can not find one. For some reason people are telling me that idea for a gift stinks. I can't figure out why. If Tiger Woods can be the greatest golfer being weaned from birth, why not? I would be in better shape if someone bought me that present when I was a kid :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Harville, Longshots and Sunday Notes

NFL Championship Sunday today. I spoke with a client on Friday and he told me he was going to the game in Green Bay - he got tickets. I thought "wow, that is pretty cool!" Literally and figuratively I realized; I just watched a pre-game show and it is zero degrees F at Lambeau. Those folks better bundle up!

I watched a healthy dose of Woodbine last night. I have not been playing seriously for a bit, but I was fairly impressed. The fields were fairly deep and for winter racing the product was pretty good. I think I am going to start playing Saturday night harness at Woodbine regularly.

For our handicapping lesson we have to look at the sixth race last night. Arid N, a downunder invader for top trainer Casie Coleman was 25 cents on the dollar and ran out. The tri and ex was a bomber. A 30-1 onto a 26-1 onto a 75-1. The ex came back around $1000 and the tri? Only $2300. This shows that longshots simply do not pay what they should. If you are figuring out fair exactor odds you can use a Harville Formula. This formula helps you figure out a "union" in logic parlance - that is, if horse X comes first what are the odds Y comes second, and what should the exactor pay?

It goes like this: Pa / (1-Pb), where pa is the probability horse a comes first and Pb is the probability horse b comes first.

So with a 30-1 shot and a 26-1 shot we can figure out what that exactor should have paid.

pa = 0.03
pb = 0.035

0.03/(1-0.035) = 0.031

Now for the chances of the winner coming in and the 26-1 coming second we have to multiply the fair odds of the winner by the above.

0.03 X 0.031 = 0.00093

1/0.00093 = 1075 to 1

So that $1000 exactor should have paid around $2150. It paid less than half what it should.

I am either not smart enough, or am too lazy to do the fair tri odds, but you can bet your bottom dollar that with a 76-1 coming third, $2300 for that tri was nowhere near fair. I think it is smart for us horseplayers to realize that there is a sweet spot in your wagering - usually somewhere in the middle. Extreme longshots simply tend to be not worth our trouble from an overall ROI perspective.

From the funny file: On a harness chat board last night I was pointed to a poster that was keeping track of how much money Ledford was making since his return to driving. The posters running tally involves his revenue and subtracting gas and tolls. The people don't seem to be too sad that he had a negative ROI week. It's kind of funny what you can find on the Internet.

Further to that and integrity in racing, we have had some decent comments from horseplayers, trainers and fans on the New York Times post immediately below. One poster shared his thoughts:

As a passionate player of some 30 years, I could never envision not playing and betting Harness Races.

Having made several trips, over the years, to Meadowlands racetrack, specifically for betting purposes, I was very excited when common pool wagering started for that track.

Last week, however, I deleted all my database records for that track, (and I had myriads of data) and have vowed to never bet that track again, all because of the Ledford and Rucker fiasco's.

When integrity sinks to the lowest possible level, I just can't continue. Clearly its quite irrelevant what I bet or don't bet, but multiply my decision by all the others that might feel this way, and that just might be relevant.

Horseplayers are a passionate lot, and a dying breed. Usually you can kick us in the head and we get up, then kick us again and we get up again. But after some time, some find we don't have the will, or the strength to get up - and handle goes into the toilet. It's sad over the years that we have seen so many go on to other pursuits, or lose interest in this game. Not only horseplayers, but long time owners have also seemed to lose interest (like another poster in that topic). If we ever get our act together to make this great game great again, I hope both owners and bettors of this persuasion come back. We need them.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The New York Times

A Ledford piece reached the New York Times, in an article written by Bill Finley.

Some comments that cut to the chase:

Eric Ledford made his return to the Meadowlands on Thursday night, about 21 months after being arrested and charged with race fixing, about 21 months after the New Jersey State Police said it had “dealt a crushing blow to illegal activity in the sport of harness racing.”

How painfully ironic is that statement, huh?

Horseplayer thoughts - not news to us of course - that show how far we have to go in this business to gaining trust.

“I think all these guys are involved with that stuff,” said one of the bettors, Dom Stone.

David Philossoph, another bettor, had a different opinion.

“After what he did and what they found with his horses, I can’t believe he’s back,” he said.

As we have asked below, how hard is it for a racing commission to draft a simple rule, promote it and publicize it: If you are convicted of a crime related to racing, you are banned for life from racing.

Does anyone disagree? Will we ever get our sport back?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nope, my name is not Nick Kling

But I guess it could be when you read his column.

Today in a New York newspaper (thanks!), Nick speaks about the recent bloodhorse story that we chatted about here.

In a column titled "Clueless" he takes a look at racing.

Since a high of $15.2 billion in 2003, average annual handle has fallen by approximately $451 million.

When asked by The Blood-Horse magazine about why the decline, Alan Marzelli, President and CEO of the Jockey Club, which is a partner in Equibase, had a simple response. He didn't know.

Let me get this straight.

The chief executive of the organization which oversees all Thoroughbred racing and its records is telling us that in an era when technology allows us to watch a schoolboy in Tibet dance on You Tube, when you can buy a stock on the Asian market while sitting in Troy, and when you can Google a person's name and get their 50-year-old high school graduation picture, that the "experts" who govern racing can't conjure up the facts needed to manage the sport?

And we wonder why racing is a mess?

Mr Kling (no he is not me!) goes on to talk about what can be done to help racing. He details a few things, namely hiring competant people who know the Internet, fixing distribution channels, and curbing illegal drug use.

He also speaks about what we have been echoing here. That is, this can all go away.

Sooner or later, political leaders are going to figure out the revenue going to struggling racetracks might be better used for things like schools, medical care and a variety of social issues.

Anyhow, we need to keep these issues at the forefront, and we will keep doing that here. Me and Mr. Kling, and whomever else wants to jump aboard.

Note: I received an interesting email last night. A gentleman from eastern Canada has a plan for wagering out there. He calls it "The Grand Experiment". We are going to be looking at that soon. Thanks for the email, sir!

2010 Redux, Cheatin’, Claims and Changing Gears

Heck that sounds like a Keanu Reeves movie, or a country song. One of the two.

Anyhow, Cangamble did a “Woodbine 2010” post for what he thinks Woodbine thoroughbred racing should look like in 2010. Pop over and give it a read.

Quotes I found interesting?

Without winners, it is very hard to attract newbies to the track.

This is something we need to address. Racing fans always say “you can’t win at the races.” What a recipe for disaster. Change the culture of “can’t win” to “can win” and I think we grow. It strikes right to the heart of racing.

Now with multi-track betting, gamblers go broke earlier in the day, the churning happens a lot quicker than it used to when one could only bet on one track. Horse racing is now more comparable to blackjack or slots when it comes to amount of action one can have in an hour. If blackjack upped their house advantage even by half a percent the tables would be empty.

Again, that is well stated. Actually that is better than that. That is a brilliant point. Bang bang action screams low rake. 20 minutes between races is a different story.

In addition he makes some other points on drug use and the thought that a database of vet-work done on horses (thumbs up) is a good idea. To me this is a good idea for both the equine athletes and bettors. Have any of you ever gone to the Hong Kong Jockey Club page and checked vet reports? Well click here and now you have. Why not here? I know – I bet some shady owner might be saying “how can I race my horse with a blown knee if everyone can read the vet report?” My answer to that? Exactly.

One other neat point Cangamble makes is one I had thought of earlier and forgot about: 20 cent Pick 6 or 7’s. I know this hurts the carryovers, and big players like a buck minimum, but why not try something different?

We spoke about the claiming rule recently in our Racehorse Economics 101 post. Namely, that allowing horses to be plunged in class for slot-bumped purses off the claim hurts the form handicapper, and hurts handles. I notice a chat on today on that issue.

…….with these higher purses these trainers/owners are claiming horses and stuffing them down 1-2 levels, because the purses are still damn good at a lower level, it doesn’t matter if someone claims the horse away. And this is just another screw job to try to handicap, this once great game. It now has become a game of lottery numbers.

He is absolutely right – take form, or take pure handicapping out of the game we might as well all go play bingo. Those races are rightfully x-outs.

The odd time
I pop into the harnesslist at Yahoo. It’s a group of friends and associates who like to get together and talk harness racing. The talk this week has focused on Ledford (and Rucker) and his reinstatement; and the broad concept of cheating. There are some good quotes so check it out if you’d like. One I found quite funny. A poster talked about cheating in racing and said (I am paraphrasing) ‘cheating to win is different than stiffing a horse and cheating to lose’, which prompted a response from a poster which frankly, made me laugh out loud:

the next time i'm in the bellagio and i mark the ace of spades and get caught and arrested , i'm gonna just tell them, " what the hell are you whiners all upset about.... i was just cheating to win!!!"

Further, that same gentleman reflected what many seem to feel about racing integrity and why it is so important for us to be very vigilant.

and, of course that is the principal reason there are people in the casino and no people at the racetracks, namely in the casino, there is a reasonable expectation the game isn't fixed.

As for Mr. Ledford he had three drives Thursday at the Meadowlands. He didn’t get a check. He didn’t even make gas money. I must be tired because I can't even think of a comment for that.

I think
we might want to keep our eye on a filly who is now 2 for 2 at Woodbine. Changing Gears (Grinfromeartoear-Apopka Denise-Jennas Beach Boy) looks like she may be some stock. She’s slick gaited and seems to glide like good horses do. She broke her maiden last time with a 55.2 back half closing from China; and this week she won first over in the soup in 1:55. Believe it or not, I thought 1-2 was a more than fair price, but stayed away due to track condition. Gary Kingshott and crew might be having a few sleepless nights wondering just how good she could be. We wish them well. It’s a tough game and everyone deserves a nice horse once in awhile.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Handicapping: Driver Betting

I am trying to get through a few books late at night the past several weeks. I have a whole pile of them on my shelf that I have not read; some for work, some for racing.

I did a run-through with a friend of the Gamblers Book Shop website a few weeks ago. I make that shop a stop on my Vegas trips every time I go. When I go to the website I can't help myself. So about $500 later, the books piled up.

Then this past week I popped into the office where we have a library of business books. More often than not, the business books have a great deal to do with betting, or risk, so they tend to help with handicapping as well. Fortunately I can read quickly, so a few were finished. A couple of handicapping books had some decent stuff on betting the human element - trainers and drivers; and yourself, while one of the business books had a neat section on psychology.

I am a person who never looks at drivers when handicapping. Mark Cramer in his excellent series of handicapping books speaks frankly about jockeys in a context of handicapping and making money. To him, they hold little weight, other than for trainer intent. In turf racing, jockeys can play a role I think. Looking at some numbers and listening to people who model this data there appears to be a correlation in turf. Conversely, Jerry Bailey believes it is overblown and says so. Since he is regarded by many as the best turf jock ever, I wonder why we should not listen to him?

Which brings us to drivers. One early handicapping lesson I had was in charting and tracking drivers. It was a long time ago. Do you know what I discovered? I discovered it was a waste of time, and a waste of money. Recently I revisited it a little bit (I like numbers) and went through the Meadowlands driver colony to see if I could find some angles.

What I did was look at favorites, and their win percentage versus mean with different drivers. Since favorites win at around a 37 or 38% clip, I cross referenced. I thought I would see a difference (i.e. a variance) between the best, say Brain Sears, and someone not considered the best, say a Yannick Gingras or Cat Manzi.

Here is a snapshot.

With a minimum of 400 drives with chalk:

Brian Sears: Win Percentage 38%
Ron Pierce: Win Percentage 38%
Yannick Gingras: Win Percentage 37%
Cat Manzi: Win Percentage 39%
Andy Miller, Dave Miller, John Campbell, 37 or 35 or 36.

You get the picture.

So, why do fans bet drivers so much, if there is little favorite correlation and many impact studies done show no huge correlations? Why do trainers want Brian over Ron, or John over Yannick? Well it brings me to the next part of betting: Betting with oneself.

We are interesting creatures. In doing a bit of reading regarding human behaviour in marketing, I came across a couple of things. One, if we are not confident in our abilities we tend to look for comfort. We want to study with someone smart. We want to go handicapping with someone who is better than us. We want to be on a golf team with the best player. I think it is the same with drivers. We want to feel comfortable, so why wouldn't we bet Ron Pierce? Also, if our handicapping is not good, and we can not judge horseflesh on merit, we go with the driver with the highest win percentage. It is a short cut for us to not do work and become a better player.

Two, I came across another concept. Generally: It is in our make-up, and our brain has simply been created this way. Skipping some of the weird animal kingdom examples, what we tend to do as humans is always look at people and their traits, but rarely look at the context. What that means is when an event happens, we as humans want to attribute that event to the person and his/her traits, not to the context of the event.

A quick example from a study done: A basketball shooter is shooting foul shots in a dark gym, another one is shooting in a lighted gym. People were asked to judge what was relevant and who was the better player. Everyone said the player in the lighted gym was the better player. Why? Because he made more shots. The correct answer of course is that we do not know who is the better player, because the context is not fair.

I think it is a lot like that with drivers. When Brian Sears wins four we often hear "we should bet Sears, he is putting on a clinic." In reality the context is that he had the best horse, he should have won some races, and in the long run, he will win around 38 of 100 times with favorites, like the stats show he and Cat Manzi or Yannick Gingras does. We want to attribute the win to Brian Sears, not to the context of the race - his horse, the contender who broke in front of him which gave him a second over trip - whatever. It's simply the way we are built as humans.

That's my salvo to perhaps explain two things: One, how our mind works and two, I read too many books and always seem to relate them to betting.

As a primer, perhaps you might want to try this: Run a dark marker through driver names the next time you handicap, and simply try to handicap the horse and pace scenario instead of the human element sitting in the sulky. I think it will make you a better handicapper.

But as always, it's just my opinion. Just like the rest of the blog. If I was right all the time, I would buy a racetrack, make handles $500 million a day and I would be rich.

That reminds me. My cell phone bill is overdue.

Note: Woodbine 2010 for harness was an interesting post in terms of comment. Woodbine 2010 - The Runners is on Cangamble's blog now. We'll throw up a post later on that. He has some interesting things to say and it is worth reading!

Wednesday Wrap

Well each day gives us news. News that tends, more often than not, to make ones head spin.

In the Bloodhorse today, there is the synopsis on wagering growth (shrinkage actually) in 2007. Handle was down in 2007, while purses were up. There seems to be some sort of mystery why. I don't think you have to be Columbo to figure out why, but some seem perplexed.

“I don’t know what to make of the (wagering) trends of the last few years,” Marzelli said. “Yes, they are flat. But the questions our industry can’t answer are: Why are they flat? Are we suffering leakage? Are people betting off-shore with bookmakers, or in other ways that are not permitted under U.S. laws? Are they turning to other sports because our sports are not competitive?

These questions were asked in about the year 2001 and even before then. They were answered in large part by an industry paid for study by Wil Cummings in 2004. Easy answer: Wagering is down because less people are playing racing. The offshore stuff I thought had died down due to the simple fact you can not bet offshore in the USA any longer.

How about some more of the same old? Here you go, brace yourself.

“Handle was steady in 2007, while auction sales also remained steady after an all-time record year in 2006. The robust growth in purses was clearly aided by revenue from racinos, but we are optimistic that increased purses will lead to increased handle as these higher purses translate into a more attractive racing product.”

Yes, the old 'increased purses will make people want to bet' argument, is still alive and well in 2007. Has this man been to Ontario?

I can't spend more time on that story, it hurts my head.

Andrew Cohen's
wire to wire is up today. It has some comments on the Ledford/Rucker situation. He is fairly in tune with our thoughts here - namely something must be done to respect our sport, and respect the customer in racing. He has some fan and owner reaction at the bottom of the piece. To me they accurately represent what I have heard from you on the blog, and on harness chat boards. A poster replied below to the blog noting that he does not much care, because he believes the sport is what it is, and he factors such things into his handicapping. I do not disagree with him at all actually. Many people do that. However, is this something we can use as a building block to grow? Is it something we should be proud of? Not me. Let's not settle for it. Let's fix it and make a better product for fans and new owners to feel good about.

The Meadowlands and New Jersey racing is falling on hard times. The story is somewhat ominous. People want a new subsidy to help New Jersey racing. There is some hand-wringing about tracks like Chester and Yonkers stealing Meadowlands horses and that we can not compete.

Wow, that's new news?

In the past, handicappers - me you and a pile of race watchers said that when Yonkers got slots, the Meadowlands would have to be in a position to change their model to compete - in business it is done every day: Read, recognize and respond. We also said this is a perfect job for a commissioner. That is, with the Meadowlands the flagship track for harness racing and the track that attracts the largest bettors and handles, it needs to have itself protected by the business - in a centralized, revenue maximizing way. That was said over a year ago. Now one year later we hear some sort of response, and the response of course is about more subsidies.

It is not dissimilar to my take, and others, in Ontario. Woodstock handles are anemic, so are Dresden Raceway's. But, last year there was a strike by horsemen for more race dates. More race dates at tracks that no one bets! Make sense to you? No, not to me either. Amazingly, try to bring up pooling slot money and distributing it from a central organization by diverting slots cash from lower handle tracks to higher ones. This allows for a consolidating business model to grow the game by increasing the bet. You will get looked at like you have six heads.

Funny, I started the day refreshed and happy. Reading some racing news changed that in a hurry.

Tomorrow, I promise..... an optimistic piece. I will find one somewhere to chat about. Really, I promise.

A Personal Note & Background

I am getting an email here and there about the blog. It is nice to hear comments. A couple questions have been asked - about the time it takes to do, and my interest in the business - things like that.

So, let's answer a few of those type questions.

First, the posts are easy-peasy to do. I have read a lot of racing books and theory, been a fan of harness racing since I was a child, and I have been a fan of betting and gambling theory for many years. I would think the interest in gambling stemmed from my interest in the stock market at a young age (I once bought and sold stocks between and during university classes during the 1987 stock market crash). If I could hazard a guess I would say I have about 50 racing & gambling books and about 20 books on stock trading and theory.

So, a lot of my thoughts are already 'upstairs' and somewhat second-nature. In general, I would say it takes sometimes ten, or sometimes twenty minutes to get a post like this up. Not long.

In early 2001, a friend and I became partners (me minor, him major) with an advertising idea, specializing in the Internet (no we don't do spam :)). A few years later that grew into a real business. We just had our 250th client a month or two ago and we have sold 20,000 or so books and guides on Internet business. We have ten people with us now and we're kind of proud how it has grown, in a humble way. We're certainly not special, we're fortunate; and we just try stuff to help folks with their business. I guess that explains why you see marketing references in several posts to racing. It's fun for me to talk about. I hope people like reading it.

Since I consult with many of these companies to help grow their business (our early company motto was "We do stuff, your company grows"), I think that explains my take on harness racing, as well, and why sometimes I am hard on the powers that be with my opinion. I get to see some awesome stuff working with people in myriad businesses. For example, one man who financed virtually his entire life on credit cards, started with less than nothing. Now he has a growing company and has been featured in several magazines as an unqualified success. He did it. He did not say, nor did he ever say "I can't". In another business, I worked with a fella who by himself had a small website and a passion. He did not know what to do with it, or where it could go. Three short years later - millions of hits and mega-business. He's a fantastic guy and I could not be happier for him. Another gentleman I got to work with was with a large company you all would know, but was simply an "employee" of that business. You would not know it, though. He worked, and worked and worked like it was his own business. Simply one of the best executives I have ever seen. He had a passion for a company that was not even his own.

I have noticed that these people have one thing in common: They are passionate, they are smart, they try things, work hard and last but not least - they never say never.

It is how I feel about racing. I want people in it who never say never. I want people who treat the business of racing like it is their own and will not settle for mediocrity. I want people, who when they hit a brick wall, they reach for the nearest sledge-hammer. We need a healthy dose of entrepreneurship in racing, like some of the people I am fortunate enough to work with every day. We have to work hard and take the word can't from our vocabulary. We have to take the shackles off. And let's roll.

So there you go. Nothing too interesting, but I hope that answers some questions.

I see the hits from you on the blog - from Sweden to Canada to the US to Australia - even one from Russia. Thank you all for reading and commenting and emailing, I really appreciate it.

Note: For another background piece; I did one for harnesslink. I notice that they ran that this evening. You can read it here if you'd like. It's a true story. The other person in the story that day is now self-employed as a professional gambler, and has been so successfully for years. Glad to see one of us learned how to bet :) The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tuesday Tidbits

Musings on some things on this gloomy Tuesday. Sometimes Tuesday is Bluesday.

I went to Woodbine last night and tried out their new betting machines. My review is pretty simple: They are great. For those who do not know, the old machines were a bit cumbersome and had deficiencies. Sometimes your card would not swipe, you could not get into one without a card by logging into your account, the interface was somewhat clunky, some screens were not very sensitive.

What you do is either enter your account number and pin, or simply tap your card by the reader. Then the interface comes up. It is user friendly. Also at many of the 13 inch (I think they are 13 inch) personal flat screens strewn about Woodbine, you can see live video. Oft times in the past when placing a bet I would forget which horse was which when taking exotics, pick 4's especially found yourself looking back and forth from your program/form. Not any longer: Names are right on your screen.

There are numerous other handy features as well. I wish I could show you some pictures of the machines, or a demo, but I went through WEG's website and can not find a thing on them. Argh.

Thumbs up for the most part.

Eric Ledford got a drive Thursday.

The NJSEA issued a statement on Ledford. Thumbs up for addressing fan concern; thumbs down for not telling us they are working on changing rules to make sure when people are convicted of something in racing, that they can never return. Although they are in, and/or have put themselves in, a spot (whichever way your point of view slants) we need to hear more from our regulators and racetracks on how they will be - or are - addressing fans concerns. Let's open the lines of communication, and improve this game.

I encourage and welcome anyone in racetrack management, racing commissions, or pari-mutuel agencies to respond, or email me with communication on some of our posts here. Communication is important, so let's get to it! A link to my email is under "view my complete profile"

Keystone Waylon breaks maiden at Woodbine. He was 0 for 46, now he is 1 for 47. Often times we hear fans (mostly unfairly) say trainers and drivers "milk" non-winner classes and that is bad for the game. We can not say that about this guy. I bet in his 47 starts he tried like the dickens in about 40 of them. He just could never get there first. But last night he did!

A jock in Britain recently misjudged the number of laps in a race and was suspended 14 days. You know from previous posts on the blog that we like it when interference; or mistakes that are made by drivers are taken seriously. But this time I give it a pass. The embarrassment was punishment enough. Last year when Standardbred Canada ran its Extreme Racing Day at Georgian which experimented at different distances, a local driver raised his whip in victory with one lap remaining. It was hilarious. I am glad they did not fine him. If he had a dollar for every other driver comment that day, I'm sure he'd be a rich man.

Of note: From the 'lil guys who ride on horses backs side of the business, Jennifer Morrison, who most people know, linked to our Woodbine 2010 post and reprinted it on her blog here. I believe those of us who are interested in racing, no matter what breed, should stick together when we have ideas that might help the business. Jennifer (and Cangamble) are two thoroughbred people who are passionate about racing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mr. Stronach has a link to a Baltimore Sun feature on Frank Stronach and Magna. It is a very interesting piece on an interesting self-made man.

In our post immediately below on Woodbine, several comments were critical of Woodbine in several areas. I thought all were constructive comments, however, from people who enjoy the game and want to see it grow. Woodbine, based on what can be done in this racing environment has done some good things., wireless betting at the track, rewards programs which are pretty good when looked at from an overall perspective and much more. There is some good being done, and I think the people there do love the game.

Frank and Magna are similar in that they seem to be an easy target for horseplayer criticism. When reading that story it struck me: Frank Stronach is good for racing and he loves the game. Most, if not all critical commentary in that piece and elsewhere, relates to his love of horse racing - almost without fail, in my opinion.

This brings us to our theme on this blog: Frank Stronach made a multi-billion dollar auto-parts company from the ground up, as an immigrant with very little net worth. In racing, his company has stumbled; with the same person running it! That to me says more about racing than it does about Frank. Racing and its rules, pricing mechanism, business model and revenue drivers must change to a perfectly competitive business model, so businessmen can help the game grow. Ron Geary, another excellent businessman, seems to be having trouble with running a racetrack in several areas as well, due to no fault of his own.

If Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos or the gang at betfair walked into a business and all failed, or did poorly we would have to believe they aren't the problem, the business is. I think this is similar.

How can we change the game for the better, by changing rules, models and all the rest, so successful people who run businesses outside racing, don't seem to look like fish-out-of water in it? I don't know, but we'll keep working to try and find an answer.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Woodbine 2010

A poster below asked "what should Woodbine/Mohawk racing look like in 2010?"

I don't know what it will look like in 2010, but here are some thoughts as to what might be put into place to improve its product.

As I mentioned before, WEG and most of harness racing in Ontario, is held to horseman agreements, CPMA rules, ORC rules and more. In effect, when Wal Mart wants to have a sale, they have a sale. When they want to change product lines, they change product lines. When they want to fire someone who hurts their business, they fire them. It is what makes the free enterprise system work - namely a quick response to the customer and the business. WEG's business model in terms of product and price is not very malleable.

As in other posts though, we have a magic wand. Here at Pull the Pocket Downs, we can make changes. Regardless, this post will look at what might or can be done to improve the Woodbine product in 2010.

I would do the following ten things (notice there is a change, then promotion with that change..... they would go hand-in-hand):

1. The Super 7 - er Pick 7 - would be scrapped. I would immediately lower pick 4 takeout back to 2003 levels, which I think was 14.75%. Why they raised prices in a falling handle landscape in the first place is beyond me. We immediately right this wrong. This lower takeout would then be advertised. "We have the lowest win 4 rake in North America" is our tagline. If this grows, I would seed this pool on Saturday nights to a big number and hope to get new money into the pool. The racing secretary would make sure all pick 4 races are 9 or 10 horse fields. There will never be a trap race in a pick 4 again - i.e. a race with a seven horse field with a 1-5 shot.

2. With WEG currently at 4 nights a week for harness, there is absolutely no excuse to card races with fields less than 9 - with some work. Entries have been in the 160 range, for 110 spots the past while. The horse population is there. After a few weeks of tweaking the condition sheet, we should be able to see full fields in most races. Once full fields are established, promotion begins: "Woodbine Harness Racing has the Fullest Fields in North America" is our tagline.

3. The high end of the condition sheet - FFA's etc, will now be full fields with FFA/JrFFA Handicaps. The purse for this event will be made $60,000 from $45,000. It will be a feature race every week and press releases about this race will be sent out - it is our draw. It will be a field of ten. The FFA's we currently see seem to be 5 or 6 or 7 horse fields and are generally snorefests. The promotion: "WEG Harness has the richest and deepest Handicap division of Open pacers in North America" We might even attract some new horses from the Meadowlands.

4. We own a night. Trots are raced on Thursdays, perhaps with some sort of bet promo. Young horses are raced, say Fridays. We own Saturdays: The best fields are assembled, the pick 4 is seeded, HPI rewards points are doubled, purses are upped to attract the best horses we can (while diverting purses from other nights), 13 or 14 high quality races are carded, the pre-game show with Mike and the boys is promoted and they work on camera most if not all night - no dead air, we also take the Saturday show up to Champions where interaction with customers can occur and we can create some buzz up there, all simulcast races have volumes turned down - on track stuff is key and it is the focus. On track giveaways, slots stuff to hopefully cross people over - virtually everything is done for that night. Promotion: "Saturday at Woodbine is Harness Night In Canada"

5. Claiming races are written, and written and written - every week until they fill. If purses need to be diverted to these races, and taken away from some others, so be it. Make it happen.

6. Rewards programs are increased immediately. I read a "Harness Tracks of America" conference transcript several years ago where WEG's exec said "we won't pay people to play" with regards to rewards. How is that working out? Well we pay people to play in WEG 2010 - every gambling business does it, and has for literally centuries.

7. Day of the week promotions, whether that be a seeded superfecta pool, a cincofecta, a low takeout pick 3 night - whatever, are established and promoted.

8. The signal is now available to anyone who wants it. Mountaineer Racetrack went from a backwoods place who races 5 claimers at night, to a high handle track within a few years. Their philosophy was to sell their signal to resellers and let them do what they want with it. There is a new sheriff at WEG in 2010, and he exports the signal. This increases gross handles and gets us to hopefully compete, and within a few years beat Saturday Meadowlands racing; making Woodbine Saturday harness the destination for harness fans. If a small track in West Virginia can own night thoroughbred racing, we sure as hell can do better.

9. In the corporate offices a new employee incentive program is announced. It is based on handle. If handle goes up, your bonus goes up. This program is established for everyone - right down to a program seller.

10. Judges rulings are explained on air, by the judges. The racing product itself is scrutinized. Uniform calls are made, as we illustrated here below. In addition, no hock kicks, no illegal whipping - these are fined heavily - $500 for a first offense, and up $1000 for each offense after that. These guys are making $200K a year, $100 fines don't cut it. After three infractions you are suspended for 30 days - no appeal. If a hole is given; it is for a strategic purpose. If not, fines are given. $1000 for the 1st offense, and increases of $1000 from there on out. That will stop this stuff in about a week, once and for all. A jockey in Hong Kong just got two months for not riding a horse hard enough for second place, which will probably cost him $50K, so please, no one tell me this is too penal. It's time we joined the rest of the world and show our bettors we mean business.

That's it in a nutshell. In summary: We become a racetrack who pulls out all the stops. For horseman, they get a night with great racing and big purses. For the customer they get a wonderful on track experience. For the bettor, they get quality, deep fields, lower rakes, a competitive rewards program and respect for their hard-earned dollars from judges and horseman. For employees, they get a chance to be part of something, and are given incentives to achieve the goal of becoming the best harness track in the World.

Most of all: These changes are tried for a long period of time and each change is promoted. The first time someone comes into the office with a "bean counting" thought, they are shown the door. We don't bean count. Jeff Bezos, when no one was coming into in 1995 and buying books, did not say "whoops, didn't work, let's close up shop. This Internet thing won't catch on!" Neither did Ebay, or Paypal, or Careerbuilder. It is the 21st century - things are different now.

That's my thought on WEG racing in 2010.

Please comment below if you wish. I would like to hear what people think.

PS: Of note, I have made the above suggestions based on the landscape of Ontario racing and its rules. Of course I would want lower rakes for all (in the 7-10% range as many wagering economists have said it should be.... and it has to be across the industry, not just one track) and do much more, but with the landscape as it is, without change, the above is doable, imo.

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