Monday, March 31, 2008

Weekend Happenings

Busy weekend out there! The weather is getting warmer; and so is the racing. Here are a few notes and random thoughts.

First up, Paul MacDonnell rolled out to Truro, Nova Scotia and trained Somebeachsomewhere in 2:05. He reports that the horse looks good, seems sound, and is ready to get things rolling. I am very, very excited to see him. We should be able to tell pretty quickly if his year will be one for the ages.

In thoroughbred action, how about Curlin? Not only does he win the world’s richest race, he absolutely cruises. The next time we hear an owner speak about retiring a horse early, we should all send them to this youtube video. I love watching great horses, I don’t care if they are standardbreds or thoroughbreds.

Big Brown is another we spoke about below. I loved his poise and attitude in shrugging off challengers in the Florida Derby like they were 10 claimers. Is he another Derby horse? He sure looks like it.

In other news, the Standardbred Wagering Conference is scheduled for this month. Standardbred Canada has been pushing it, as they should. If work can get put on hold, I would really like to go this year to see what the whole she-bang is about. Is it going to be a bunch of people sitting around telling each other that they can’t do things, or will there be talk of actually doing something? I sure hope it is the latter. Here is the schedule of events for the conference.

Bob Marks let’s his thoughts be known about listening to customers at this conference.
This part made me chuckle was his note below, as it is like a dad telling his son who never listens, to actually listen. The bizarre thing, is that he is telling a 130 year old business something they should have done for, oh, about 130 years.

Since the purpose is to ascertain just why and where the handle has gone, it is advisable to encourage any players in attendance to testify with total candor. Or don’t even bother. We may or may not be able to specifically address all the dialogue expressed but at least we’ll have some idea where we stand in the grandstand.

Of course there will be a tendency to dismiss much of the banter as mere rhetoric from disgruntled and/or degenerate gamblers. But that would be like the prevailing ostriches pompously dismissing colloquialisms as not credible when offered by acknowledged racketeers in a mob trial.

I find that funny, and very accurate: “Degenerate gamblers”. Calling a few people I know that, who bet millions with the precision of a doctor doing open heart surgery on the Queen, is like calling Tiger Woods a weekend hacker.

Last up, Darryl Kaplan has a nice little opinion piece on being a horse racing customer. Give it a read, you’ll enjoy it, because I know you are all that: customers. You’ll especially enjoy it if you are a Toronto Maple Leaf fan.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Slots Without a Plan

It's Saturday, just watching the UAE Derby this morning. The World's best thoroughbreds, Americans, Europeans, Mid East owners, the world's top jocks. All in one place for one day. Boy what harness racing could have done by using slots funding for something big, just like our old post on the Breeders Crown.

Speaking of that, well, Kentucky lost the political battle to get slots.

The demise of casino legislation comes six weeks after Beshear unveiled a complex plan for a dozen casinos, seven at racetracks and five free-standing ones, that he said could bring in $600 million a year for the state.

House leaders quickly chopped the proposal down to nine casinos, but were never able to agree whether racetracks should be guaranteed five casino licenses or simply given the opportunity to compete for five licenses.

As we spoke about in the Breeders Crown 2010 post above, the world is changing, and it is ALL politics. We blew growing the game with slots, and everyone noticed it. Do we really think governments will keep shoveling money into a business that proves it can not manage it properly? That was the crux of my post, that is, for Kentucky and elsewhere a new fresh plan for slots money must accompany asking for a handout. The Breeders Crown at Lexington, and marrying that to tourism and more was one way I thought would sway the legislators. There are other things we can do. What do we constantly offer government? We want more money for purses, that is all. We offer them nothing, so soon they will give us nothing.

I see similar is happening to Windsor raceway. Because of revenue decreases (the slots at Windsor have extremely low revenue) they have applied to drop some dates. The purse pool can not handle it. Anyone with a pulse knew that this was coming. Four or five years ago the slots revenue starting dropping. Betting handle, which pretty much means nothing in the slots world, did fairly well and to this day is not awful (when compared to other tracks), but with slots revenue sinking something had to be done. The writing was on the wall. Of course, the powers that be did nothing. The horseman organization fought for more racedates, like they usually do, and not thinking of the future. Windsor management, which has not gotten high marks in the industry, believe it or not actually had a plan: The plan was to purse pool slots revenue from the C tracks in their ownership, Dresden and Woodstock, and divert those funds to a high handle track like Windsor. The horseman poo-poo'd this of course, and the status quo ruled.

Now people are complaining. Get your head out of your butt folks, this problem was created by an industry that can't think about tomorrow, let alone next week. Mindless horseman drivel wants all money put into purses, want the tracks to pay for everything, and they want to do nothing. Tracks want profit. When those two opposing forces meet, we are left with nonsense; and that nonsense cripples the business.

That's my fun Saturday. I'd like to write something good on the slots topic, but seemingly everything I read is always the same. The same ol same ol rules harness racing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Guest Post Friday: HPI Website: It’s Busy!

I find it interesting when people change things up on the web. After all, it is perhaps the biggest change in business of our time, it is relatively new, and people are still learning. Some of the webpages and e-commerce sites out there look like they are designed by monkey’s. Others are flat out gold that we love to visit.

In Advance Deposit Wagering your website is your face, your storefront, your business. I love watching changes at, the ever changing Premier Turf Club and others. I have always felt WEG lagged far behind these two ADW’s in terms of fan-friendliness and usability. I always have felt when I entered their website(s), that I should get a piece of cheese if I found what I was looking for.

Well, they changed the old clunker that was a website to a new one. Horseplayerinteractive is born.

I will go through it at a later time, but two users give their take on the site. Let’s see what they have to say.

User 1: The Information Seeker

When a website is changed or upgraded, the newer version is usually intended to be superior to the old site, but when I visit the new Horseplayer Interactive site, I find myself longing for last week, when it was much less cluttered.

I am not a gambler, so the only reason I use HPI is to get programs for Woodbine or other tracks I might be covering for The Harness Edge. This used to be fairly straightforward, you’d login on the HPI site, get a list of options you could use, click the programs, click Woodbine or Mohawk, click the program you wanted, and you were done.

Now, I have to surf through an endless series of screens just to get to the program I want to view. Like I said, I’m not a gambler, and HPI made it very clear to me that due to my location (The United States), I wouldn’t be able to bet through them anyways.

So, I find myself asking what the point of all this unnecessary change is if I can’t use the site to bet, and I imagine I’m not the only one since WEG is very restrictive as to who they do and do not allow to use HPI to wager.

Also, good luck to you if you want to view some older programs in case you’re looking back to see an old race line or something, because that just takes you through another entire mess of screens that could have you pulling out your hair before you can view your program.

Just in the last few nights, some people I consider to be quite intelligent have had to ask questions on how to access parts of the site on the message board. If you’re in charge of a re-design, the last thing you should want is your visitors to need a tutorial or a road map just to figure out where they need to go.

WEG does a lot of good things with their web site and connected sites sometimes, like adding race replays, but occasionally, they do things like putting their video stream on full lock-down mode or this confusing site “upgrade” that leave me shaking my head.

User 2: The Gambler

I understand that they are trying to combine three sites into one, however,
I think its a good ole case of too much too soon.

The Good

Finally there are video streams for tracks that I want to bet but can't see. This
feature will definitely bring in more handle to the pools of smaller tracks and some of the US tracks that don't get coverage on the network

The little scrolling advertisement board of big payoffs. Instead of showing
payoffs that have already happened, why not post carryovers for the certain tracks in their p6 or p4. That would entice betting wouldn't it?

The Bad

Now with it all combined into one, having it log out after “x” amount of
time is not good. I want to leave webtote running and don't want to have to worry about logging in at 1 minute to post while I'm trying to get late bets in

I can only view one stream at a time. They need to make the streams available in
some other format that maybe pop up in internet explorer windows which in
turn can be made full screen.

Too many popup windows....even Bill Gates drew the line somewhere.

In a disclaimer they are hinting that they want to charge for replays...I won't pay for that..

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate they are trying to make things better...but
we went from slow motion to everything at once.

We Need More Jess Jackson's

There is a great story at about Jess Jackson, owner of Curlin. He is a bit of a maverick. Why? I know it sounds strange, but he is a maverick for racing Curlin, instead of breeding him.

Millions be damned, Jackson is racing Curlin as a 4-year-old in an effort to send the horse, worth an estimated $40 million, into a stratosphere with the all-time greats.

"I want to establish Curlin for what I think he is," Jackson said. "He's one of the horses of the century."

That’s a sportsman. That is what we all are deep-down I think. It is too bad that racing, and its fractured structure let’s the breeders, in large part, run our sport.

There's a simple reason most owners don't put their money where their mouth is. There's far too much money to lose.Gary West, a veteran horse-racing writer at the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, said the sport even encourages the early retirement of its stars, with its less lucrative payouts to older horses.

Horse racing long has been dominated by commercial breeders fixated on dollar signs. And the focus away from the track has contributed to the sport's sagging appeal.

West said the situation is tantamount to NFL announcers being paid more than the players, a move that would send the league's biggest names to the booth prematurely.

In Jackson, however, he sees a maverick shaking up the staus quo.

"Jess Jackson has come along and said something is wrong here. We're focusing on the sale ring rather than the racetrack, and in doing so we're compromising greatness," said West, who has covered roughly 60 Triple Crown races since 1982

Jackson says other factors influenced him to race Curlin this year. Among them are generating fan interest

Generating fans? God forbid, actually racing racehorses? Not letting the breeders rule this sport and its future?

Who does this guy think he is? I don’t know, but I am glad he owns racehorses.

Notes: Curlin goes Saturday in the Dubai World Cup. It is being covered on HPITV as well as the US networks I believe. I will be cheering for him. As Robby Albarado said in the Bloodhorse, “I think he means a lot to racing. Everyone needs a star, and it seems like whoever wins the (Kentucky) Derby is the star for the year. But if Curlin can continue this streak he’s on, he’s going to establish a fan base like no one’s had in years.”

Tomorrow we should have our Guest Post Saturday up. It’ll be a review of the new HPI site.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Good News for the Horses

The Ontario Racing Commission approved a filing today from the Ontario Adoption Society whereby 0.15% of purses paid out in the province will be set-aside for retired standardbreds.

This is long overdue. More and more horses are being bred to take advantage of slot purses, yet there was no mechanism in place to take care of many who need a home when retired. It was to me, yet another oversight with slots funding, where greed seems to rule the roost. This small amount will not house all horses, nor even the majority, but for those owners who want their horses cared for, there will be at least an option.

Congrats to the Society in getting this funding and I hope at least a few good old war horses have a home for life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday Wrap

Some Wednesday morning stuff that caught my eye.

WEG will support Earth Hour by turning off a bunch of lights on Saturday night to preserve the earth, or save electricity, or something like that.

"We encourage our fans and employees to consider how their actions effect the environment and challenge everyone to come up with ways of reducing the size of the ecological footprint they leave behind," added Holmes.

That's similar to the way I feel about my Takeout Free Hour. Here is my quote:

"I encourage WEG and tracks like them to consider how their actions affect the sport and challenge them to come up with ways of reducing prices so we can grow the sport they leave behind," added Pull the Pocket.

How would you like to be a guy, one guy, who can pull out a check for $415 million and buy a farm. That is simply beyond my comprehension.

In case you have not noticed, WEG has a new website for their ADW, We will have a few people reviewing it this week, who are players, and heavy users. Maybe Cangamble wants to on his site as well. Anyway, at first glance I will just say I find it "interesting".

Looking at some of the tops in the sport the other day. I am still amazed that Dave Palone is hanging in there with Tony Morgan for the leading driver by wins lead. He has 206 to Tony's 208. How does a guy with so few drives compared to the Morgan and Tetrick's of the world stay in the hunt? He doesn't, and he will not, but he is pretty darn close to being on pace to mirror Walter Case's 1067 win in 3000 drive season. He's currently on pace for around 1000 wins in 2700 drives.

Mr. Feelgood is the leading money winning horse. If we just had a bit less of a disconnect with astronomical stud deals it might make economic sense to race some of these horses, after all he's a good horse and has already made $250,000. If you recall, Mr Feelgood was retired after his 3YO season to stud, but came back.

Mr. McGrath, trainer of World Champ and NA Cup #1 contender Somebeachsomewhere, reports that the horse has been in 2:11, and barring something unforeseen, will start in the Ontario Sires Stakes in May, before going on to the big dances.

In thoroughbred racing, Magnificence returns to the races. Anyone who saw her maiden win wonders what she can do. She just explodes this filly does. Here is the Youtube video. It is a shame it is not better quality. This was one of the coolest (non-stake, or hyped) races I have ever seen.

Mohawk will open soon. It's light now at 7:30. Every year when it gets this way I think of Mohawk. The first couple races under no track lighting is a staple of Mohawk since its inception many, many years ago. We're getting close to spring weather, and it can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday ......

Nick Kling from the Troy Record, adds his opine on having a judge in the booth to protect the horseplayers interest. We have spoken about that before and I could not agree more. In what business does the employee, or the government, or whomever, trump the customer?

Only racing, that’s where. An excerpt:

Members of the NHC Tour and the Handicappers Coalition would be the ideal constituent group to select a players’ steward. As this group develops it should become the closest thing we have to a horseplayers' guild in America.

Thoroughbred racing needs a steward who would care about protecting bettors. A horse
players’ steward could gather information about new geldings, significant equipment changes like bar shoes, blinkers, and aluminum pads. He or she should have the authority to recommend to the State Steward that penalties be applied to horsemen who fail to provide required betting information.

Make no mistake. This is not a change which is likely to happen soon. The creation of such a position will only come, if ever, when racing officials finally understand that if their customers are not given more protection, racetracks will have no customers.

Equidaily pointed out a blogger who went to a Sports Illustrated website and found some gems. The site is an archive of Sports Illustrated covers, pictures and stories. I spent quite awhile on searching for some harness racing. Poke around if you are interested. A couple of the harness racing covers are classic.

Quick Notes: How about this picture of Southwind Tempo? Is that striding out or what? No blinkers, nuttin’ either. That is one class mare.

Have you seen a horse win a stakes final off a tougher trip than Artist View did Saturday at the Meadowlands lately? He might not be a world-beater, but he is tough as nails.

It seems the Somebeach sale is off.

We made our part-owned horse eligible to the Youthful Series this week at Woodbine. Why do horse owners get excited about this stuff? It is a small series, for maybe a $70,000 final. It is not exactly the Jug. Yet I am waiting to see the draw tomorrow and am looking forward to being a part of it.

Aspiring Horseplayer has his thoughts up on the World Cup this week, and Curlin. Gosh that is a nice blog. He does a great job.

Phil posts a link to the Belmont, in homage to the retirement of a wonderful filly.

Cangamble adds some local flavour, with thoughts on the Ontario Horse Improvement Program.

Lastly, this is a beautiful horse (click for video). His name is Big Brown and John Pricci has a story up on him The photo above is him, playing with a ball, obviously unaware that he kicks some serious ass.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Handicapping Sunday: Equipment

A poster in the comment section of the track bias post, posed a good question for us:

Thinking of this I would like to see a post on equipment changes and the effectiveness in predicting winners.

We see and hear about equipment changes all the time. “The horse was running out last time, so he changed the equipment and he should be better”. “The horse was not on the bit, so he went to blinkers”.

These are generally seen as positive developments by handicappers. They are considered many times to be green light bets. I believe that this is another in a long list of conventional thinking in handicapping that (in the big picture) is completely wrong.

First, the equipment change is made because the horse has a problem. Second, it is known by the general public because changes are announced. Third, half or perhaps even three quarters of the time, the switch does not fix the problem, because the problem was not the equipment in the first place.

In the end, if we choose to bet an equipment change we are betting:

1) A horse with a problem

2) A problem which might not be fixed

3) A potential fix that everyone else knows about

Does that sound like something we want to bet? Not me.

Database software for thoroughbreds is a neat thing. You can pretty much map out any contingency when handicapping, because you have cold, hard stats to back up your claims. For example, Jeff Platt of Jcapper has an article up on equipment changes in thoroughbreds. He looked at several years of data on blinkers. I don’t know how many times I have heard at the track “he is putting blinkers on, so he is a good bet”. Often times this occurs after a victory with the change as some sort of validation. Running the risk of pushing facts in the way of a good argument, here is the data:

190,676 horses raced with no equipment change. The win percentage of those horses, in over 23,000 races was 12.4%. Return on investment was 0.77.

During the same period, 6,875 equipment changes to Blinkers On occurred. 709 horses won. The win percentage was 10.3%, or around 20% lower than no changes, and the ROI was 0.71.

When the trainers changed back and the equipment change was blinkers off, the win percentage was back, this time to around 12.6%. ROI was higher. I guess the public does not think much about blinkers off.

I spent some time jotting down equipment changes in harness. I found pretty much similar, although my sample was small. After doing it, I came to the above conclusions and began the thought process of “why bet horses who need equipment changes; the game is hard enough as it is.”

When I see an equipment change I do use it for one thing. I like to see what the drivers intent might be. If you have a horse from the 9 post that has gone to blinkers, you can add the horse to the pace mix, as the driver might gun. I won’t bet the horse, but I may bet a closer, or look for my inside horse not to get an easy lead.

I think betting equipment changes is followed by the general public for the same reason driver changes are bet by the general public. It is human nature to look for a mystical, easy, or perceived positive way to bet a horse. It is also the unknown: “Boy this horse could be two seconds faster today, and I want to be a part of it”. We like to forget they are animals, pre-destined by genetics and form to run to a prescribed ability. We love to add a human element to make them go faster.

I hope I have not left the impression that equipment changes are useless as predictors. Of course horses can improve with them, and they do every day. But as a whole I do not believe they are worth my money. If everyone else is following them, I want no part of it.

There is an old story that comes to mind that I like to remember when thinking about potential positives in racing that the crowd is privy to. In 1929 Joe Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s father and Wall Street financeer) was checking into a New York hotel. During this time the stock market was booming and everyone seemed to think it would go up forever - after all it was the roaring 20’s. It turns out that while heading up to his room, the bell boy, while towing his bags, gave him a stock tip. Rumour has it that Joe sold out most of his holdings the next day, which was just before the stock market crashed. He believed that if the general public was onto something, it was time to sell. I am betting Joseph Kennedy would not have been a fan of betting equipment changes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Luc Gets Hot and so is Southwind Tempo

Well, just for my buddy Greg, who is pals with Luc, we have to place up a post on the 4 win night the star-sleeved driver had at Woodbine. Luc has not gotten four wins in a night probably since I picked my last successful triactor. It is something special.

Further in that vein, it was funny to read the masterful jousting between WEG regular Randy Waples and our pal Greg on It is nice to see a little fire once in awhile based on difference of opinion. If you want to sign up and have a read it is free and you can here.

Second, I am trying to judge Southwind Tempo. I watched her jog tonight in the Overbid Final and it was an effort that might be best described as a women against girls. She was stuck behind dead-cover yet still jogged. You can watch last night's tilt, here.

Anyway, where does she rank? Will she be a super-mare? I am not sure, but she sure looks the part. I for one think Rainbow Blue, Eternal Camnation and several others beat that group the way she did tonight - maybe even beat them much more impressively. However, what I like is the way she is finishing - she is full of pace. I think we will have a fun summer watching her and seeing if she develops into the next great dominant mare. I do not think we have seen the best of her yet. She might go 148 flat.

I think we will start a Road to the North America Cup update segment on Saturday's. Running the reports, I see that only one of our Top Ten (at the side of the page) has surfaced. Idle Hour qualified twice. The son of Dragon Again stepped off a 156.3 effort at Dover, then followed that up with a second place finish at the Meadowlands with a last quarter of 25.4. We'll see if he moves up or off of our list in the coming weeks.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Premier Turf Club & Betfair = 21st Century Growth

In a bloodhorse story today, the announcement that Premier Turf Club has signed up to offer Keeneland races was official. Of particular interest was the growth of this little start-up, who offers conditional wagering (a stop-loss bet), dutching, rebates and an interface for the 21st century.

Premier Turf Club has added Keeneland content to its list of track offerings, building on a business model that has allowed the North Dakota-based advance deposit wagering entity to realize four-fold growth in handle in the last few months.

The Keeneland signal, which will begin with the start of the spring meet April 4, brings the total number of tracks Premier Turf Club offers to 101, including 38 Thoroughbred tracks. Premier Turf Club, which offers cash rewards to customers utilizing its Internet and call-center wagering platforms, has been fully operational for less than a year.

“This is a milestone for us, and it’s only the beginning,” said Premier Turf Club senior partner Joe Riddell, who is also a Lexington-based liaison for horsemen’s relations. “We have been able to grow a company despite missing many premium signals, and that speaks volumes about what we are trying to accomplish.”

Yep, we read that right: 400% growth, despite getting constant roadblocks put up from people in racing that don't realize, or are just too damn stubborn to know, that price matters.

And yes, this money goes into pools, instead of going to an offshore bookmaker.

“The theory that I am operating under is that Premier Turf Club players contribute into (wagering) pools that they are comfortable with – the certainty that the pricing is in the pools,” Riddell said. “And that the maximum amount gets back to the bricks and mortar – the racetracks – and the horsemen.”

In other news in this vein, Betfair announced it was expanding their Tasmanian operations. For those who don't know, Tasmania a couple of years ago licensed betfair for their racing, much to the dismay of the 19th century thinkers. They were vilified. Well, Tasmania does not seem to mind now. More jobs, and increases in churn. In this latest story, Tasmanian racing is opened up to the UK bettors.

Betfair Australia's chief executive officer Anthony Klok says UK customers are already betting on Australian racing.

Mr Klok says Betfair will need to add to the 85 employees it already has in Tasmania.

"I think we're going to have bigger operations in Hobart through all of our natural growth," Mr Klok said.

"We've been looking at the numbers and we have 85 people in Tasmania at the moment I would think, if we're going to do some servicing of the UK we'd probably put on another 20 people in the next six months, so there's a good growth story there," he said.

We are watching the future right before our eyes, and for me - as I work in the internet - it is something I love watching.

The question remains however, will the old time thinkers join the party? Will places like Premier Turf Club and Betfair continue to be the monopolist's whipping boys? Will tracks like Woodbine and NYRA and Southern Cal racing join in the growth by allowing incentive wagering providers to offer their product, or will they stick to their high-priced guns and not offer price-sensitive customers low cost alternatives?

I guess we'll see. If they don't want to join the revolution, well so be it. There is a whole wide-world out there to gamble in. We don't need them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keeneland - How a Track Should Be Run

I noticed that the Keeneland Meet will be starting soon in the thoroughbreds. I enjoy the meet as a racing fan; they seem to do it up right there. So I decided to check out the website to see if they offered anything neat, peruse the web for some info on the meet and do some general due diligence.

What I found was surprising: They are what a racetrack should be.

First, check out the website. It is simple, navigable and nice to look at. Now click around. Here is what I found when I did:

1. Handicapping statistics, archived. Trainer stats, post position stats, trainer stats by horse age (important), ROI figures and more.

2. Free Video, yes free video. Some tracks lock their video up like it is Fort Knox, for some bizarre reason. Not Keeneland.

3. Race Replays, in a partnership with; and archived results.

I don't know about you guys, but if they consider the bettor a nuisance like some in racing seem to, they hide it pretty damn good.

Now, how about distribution of the signal? Well, Keeneland - one of the largest track's in the world, and perhaps the most respected, has signed with Premier Turf Club. If bettors want value, they can bet Keeneland. To think someone actually called Premier Turf Club a "rogue operator". Keeneland seems to disagree.

Lastly, do they respect us as bettors and offer us fair prices? They sure do. As Cangamble noted in his latest blog post, Keeneland has the lowest takeouts in North America.

There you have it: A great website with handicapping info, free video, free race replays, ability to bet through a rebate shop and finally, the lowest prices in North America.

I am playing Keeneland this year.

Oh and guess what? They continue to shatter handle records. Last year's fall meet was their best ever.

After doing the above research, I am not surprised.

Note: As we are chatting about below, meets in racing are a good thing for buzz. Wall-towall harness racing can not generate that. We do not take advantage of it, imo. Here is a video, on the Keeneland site about a meet, and people having fun. Can anyone see this happening for harness racing? Could you imagine a bar b que in the Woodbine parking lot? The city cops would be there telling you to move inside. The video is here, and this is something we do not do enough of. As with most things - we don't even seem to try.

Photo: Courtesy of the Keeneland website.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Integrity & Integrity

A couple of Wednesday notes from the world of racing.

A story on links to an opinion piece on the Bloodhorse written by US Representative Ed Whitfield. It is a piece on drugs in our game.

Congress first addressed drug use in the sport 27 years ago. U.S. Senator Mac Mathias and other leaders in Congress spearheaded efforts to enact legislation that would have banned a number of drugs from horse racing and established a clear, uniform rule to govern the sport in the United States.

State racing commissioners and industry leaders, however, quickly descended to thwart the senator’s efforts. They claimed federal intervention was unnecessary and pledged to crack down on the use of drugs.

Today, drug use in horse racing is worse than ever

As we have spoke about before on the blog - and this goes for many topics - if we do not fix our game, someone else will.

For nearly 30 years the industry has neglected to regulate drug use to the detriment of the horses, jockeys, fans, and the very integrity of American horse racing. The time has come for Congress to take the reins and find a way to eliminate drugs from horse racing.

The second story linked on Equidaily was about an inordinate amount of money bet on an Australian race at Betfair. What strikes me in the piece is not the race itself, I would think it is probably just an anomaly, but the fact that racing chatised betfair for allowing you to bet a horse to lose. In my opinion, it was simply a scare tactic, trying to make them the bogeyman. It is comical. Betfair has alerted the authorities to more funny betting patterns in five years than racing itself has in 55.

RACING Victoria stewards have launched an inquiry into the betting activities surrounding an unplaced odds-on favourite at Terang races on Tuesday after more than $360,000 was held by betting exchange Betfair.

The Ballarat-trained Ottens finished out of a place when starting a $1.30 favourite in the 0-68 Handicap at the Western District track.

The race was won by $4.20 second favorite Magic Brew with Ottens finishing fourth.

Chief steward at Terang Stephen Coombes yesterday said stewards would examine all aspects of betting on the race with an inquiry pending with a date to be fixed.

A spokesman for Betfair said it was a "high" amount of money to be wagered on such a lowly race with betting on Ottens fluctuating between $1.30 and $1.56.

Our pools, and this business is a multi-billion dollar one. I find it quite ironic that a vilified offshore wagering company is minding the store; and seemingly doing a good job doing it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Tuesday is here. Dreary in the East, no doubt nice in the West. I think it is always nice in the west.

I went to the ponies last night, watched our horse go (gosh, the lil guy did good again!), and generally hung around. It seems like there were a few people out last night, maybe the weather has something to do with it. In race two at Woodbine I am not certain, but I think it might be true - in watching about 100,000 races over my lifetime, I have not seen a debut like last night.

And the horse was a 5YO maiden.

Richard Norman trains a New Zealand horse named Tempest Anvil. He is a son of North America Cup winner Presidential Ball. The pace was soft, and he closed from China. Back half of 54.1. What makes it more impressive is that this was not a bad field of nw2's. There were some good horses in the race, and they were all winners (you can not start a 5YO in a maiden race at Woodbine).

We have seen similar before with older horses making a debut, or downunder horses coming up and scorching a start (the name escapes me, but Chris Ryder had one a few years ago pace 150.2 in a maiden at the M I believe); but time after time they seem to fizzle out. Maybe because the problems that plagued them in starting their careers so late catch up with them. Regardless, let us hope that this guy does not fizzle. He has a chance to be an absolutely tremendous racehorse, in my opinion. If you watched the stretch drive, he is the consummate example of a blink horse.

In other news, Nick Zito says "no fever baby" for War Pass.

I was sure there were a few other things that caught my eye, but I simply can not remember them. Hopefully tomorrow.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Fever, Some Dice, and No Takeout

What a weekend we had. Much warmer and it was sunny. Woodbine was smoking fast and some colts and fillies went quick times. In thoroughbred land the road to the Derby continued, and I received a couple of emails from readers with tidbits.

So, let’s get to it.

First up, in thoroughbred action, Kentucky Derby co-favourite War Pass, came last in the Tampa Bay Derby. Because the bulk of the massive show pool was bet on him, the show prices came back huge. The owner of War Pass had something interesting to say about the race.

"He wasn't himself today," LaPenta said. "We wanted to come out of the gate and take the lead around the first turn. ... War Pass had some fever this week and we thought he'd be OK. But obviously it wasn't his day."

This statement has sparked some horseplayer anger. Namely, why didn’t the public know beforehand that this horse might not be right? Someone popped his salary on the horse to show, perhaps. That is fine, and buyer beware, however how can our business be taken seriously and want to attract big bettors if we don’t give out information before the race is run? I have spoken about North American racing doing the Hong Kong thing: They publish vet reports and work reports before and after the race.

I believe that we should start giving the public more information. What I would do is pretty simple, upon entry, the trainer, or whomever enters the horse gives a report on his fitness. “He was a bit sick last start, but we gave him time and he is ready to go”, “We missed some training last week because the track was soupy. If he gets a poor post we might not be able to get into the thick of it this week”, “he had a quarter-crack and dull, but we worked on it and all systems are go.”

To me this is something that is simple, and respects the public.

Phil has some thoughts on this in a post here.

Another story, this one local, has drawn some horseplayer ire. On Saturday at Woodbine, in race 3, a trainer change on New Dice Please sparked a huge effort. To put it mildly, he won by a football field.

Now, just like the Zito story above, are bettors supposed to just shrug a 17 length trainer change victory off? Just turn the page and go to the next race? This is why this sport needs trainers to be held to a standard and report on changes made, or report on horses fitness. What did the trick with this horse? I am sure it could have been something simple, but the crowd thinks it is one huge cheatfest. These performances must be addressed.

Phil has his thoughts up on this, as well as a post from a commenter, not happy with harness racing. Phil asked below how to respond to that commenter. I am not going to discuss specifics about what he alludes to in his comment, but generally I feel some agreement. I have stated here more often than not, that we have to start respecting the public more – they work hard for their money and it demands respect. It seems when someone does something wrong in the sport, they are welcomed back with open arms. Like the Ledford story we have spoken about.

I do not blame anyone in the public who thinks that our game attracts, and never kicks out, the worst. We have to start taking care of this. As I said previously on the blog – if you commit something egregious in the sport, you should never be let back in the sport. Ever. A dealer who cheats a customer can never deal in a casino, ever. A cop on the take can never work as a cop again, ever. A judge who takes a bribe and throws a case can never sit on the bench, ever. A drunk driver can never drive a school bus again, ever. An embezzler can never work as a bank teller again, ever.

It is time for harness racing to follow the rest of the world.

Susan from Maine emailed me about a rally that is taking place there. It seems, and this is another thing we have spoken about here many times, that the legislature in Maine are thinking about changing the slots deal.

Horsemen Needed in Augusta on Tuesday!

The legislature is considering reducing the share of revenues from the racino that go to harness racing to fix their budget shortfall. The monies include purse monies, funds for the breeders races, funds for the fairs, funds for the commercial tracks and funds for the OTBs.

On Tuesday, March 18th, from 9 am to 1 pm, legislators will be meeting in Augusta as part of Agriculture Day. The event is at the Capitol Building on the Second and Third Floor.

We are urging you to come to Augusta and locate your State representatives to tell them harness racing is important to your livelihood and future!

Tell them we're fighting to keep the dedicated revenues for harness racing in harness racing!!!

Tell them the formula is working, purses are up, and harness racing is beginning to make a comeback!

Tell them we are working together to get it fixed, don't break it!!

I wish Susan good luck. I like her and I hope she and everyone succeeds.

Another reader, Doug, alerted me to a USTA opinion piece about a “takeout free race”.

The writer speaks about making one race a night takeout free, and making a fuss about it. Bells, whistles, the whole nine yards:

Here is a concept to assist our efforts at proving that horse racing is a good bet -- eliminate the dreaded takeout on pari-mutuel wagering for one race on each program. It is very important that which race will be takeout-free remains a mystery.

Follow me.

Racing patrons bet on race number one. All is normal. The race is run and the tote board flashes the payouts for the race. This scenario has happened for as long as pari-mutuel wagering has existed; the winners smile and the losers complain and blame their losing wager on everything from solar warming to illegal drugs to cheating personnel to the exchange ratio in China.

Here is the twist. Once each night, just prior to the tote board flashing the expected payoff, a loud siren will sound, lights will flash and the payoff will be recalculated. The siren and the flashing signify that this is the race where 100 percent of the wagered money will return to the winners. The payoff for the winners on this race will be much more than anticipated.

If the siren does not sound, the losers will be happy (well, a little happy) because they were, after all, losers. Since the siren did not sound, it is still available to go off when they are holding a winning ticket later in the program. Either way, siren or no siren, winners and losers have something to be happy about.

At this point it is possible that several gamblers are perking up. However, racetrack operators and state coffers are asking how this can help them. The answer is increased interest, which equals increased revenue.

You see, each time the siren does not sound, the odds of a future takeout-free race increase. If the siren has not been sounded by the seventh or eighth race, all the gamblers, whales and minnows, will start to realize they stand a good chance of having a very nice payoff if they can pick the winning race on this card that will be take-out free. By the ninth or tenth race without the siren, serious gamblers would be frantic to get a bet down. The last few races before the siren should be bet extremely heavily, enough to cover the lost takeout money on the single takeout-free race. This escalating tension is important in all forms of entertainment and sports.

This is interesting for one reason to me: That is, it puts rake and the reduction of it on the radar. It makes people cognizant of it, and makes them realize that the lotteries and everything else with 50% or more takeouts are not in their best interest. It is a promotional idea worth looking at, and I enjoyed the piece.

That’s it for this Monday.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Handicapping Sunday: Track Bias

“The front end looks bad tonight. They are closing. The front end is solid tonight. They are going wire to wire.”

I think we hear the same stuff said every day a race is held, at the same time. In handicapping we often look for things that are not there. I think this is natural. With high rakes and being a tough game to beat, we are programmed to think of the mysterious – we need reasons to explain the game (and losing) to keep us sane.

In thoroughbred racing, with poly surfaces, wet turf, and sandy dirt tracks, weather and track grooming can make a difference. Wind can make a difference. Track drainage can too. All you have to do is look at the “At a Glance” page at Bris to see what statistics different tracks yield. Charles Town Race Course one month might have 60% wire to wire winners in sprints less than 6f, while Turfway Park the same month, with the same weather might have 10% wire to wire winners. In thoroughbred racing, bias is alive and well, and a huge part of the handicapping puzzle.

In harness I am here to share my opinion on track bias. It might surprise you, or it might not. To me it is simple: 99% of the time there is no track bias in modern harness racing.

Harness tracks tend to be stone-dust, very hard and very tight. When it rains the track gets scraped and the surface remains hard and tight. It is never a bog. Also, harness is a speed game. Whether you are at Western Fair on a bull ring, the Meadowlands, or Cal Expo, a speed horse wins a lot of the races. Statistics show this – on most tracks you need to be close to the pace to win with any regularity. When you want to win a harness race, and you have the best horse, go to the top and stay out of traffic. End of story.

Wind and rain and blowing snow or rain can have an affect, and I would have to say this is the only time it is worthwhile to look for a bias. If the wind is blowing 30 mph right into the horses face the one on the lead or horses near it have an advantage. To recognize this we do what we usually do: Look for patterns. If a chalk wins the first wire to wire, and the two hole horse came second, off a 58 half, so what? That is what should happen. If the horse’s who are 1,2,3,4 at the half, finish 1,2,3,4, after a solid pace and there is a bomb or two in that mix, well then it is something to look at. When looking for a bias of any sort, or anything in handicapping we must look for anomalies.

One of the factors to keep in mind with a bias, or perceived bias is the jockey’s or driver’s will believe what the bias is and drive or ride accordingly. Sometimes the trainer instructions are to drive a horse a certain way. We see this at Santa Anita lately. Front end speed, especially in sprints is awful. Now instead of 44 halfs in some sprints we are seeing the jocks strangle mounts and go 46. The human element changes the bias.

In harness this happened on Hambletonian Day. I remember watching the coverage and saw people spoke about a closing bias. Drivers said it, trainers said it. I almost fell out of my chair. What races were these people watching? By the middle of the card drivers were scared to go to the front. In the Hambletonian itself, Donato Hanover got a 58.2 half! 58.2! People we not only scared to tackle him, they were scared of this “bias”.

Tell me, how was there a closing bias on Hambo day? Where was this “tiring track”? Where did they come up with this fantasy? If we hear it said often we tend to believe things. What a colossal error! As handicappers we must be contrarian.

Here are the first few races on Hambo Day at the M last year:

Race 1 Claimer

Half went in 53. Par time for that half is around 54, so that should mean on a fair track closers are favoured. The front end came second, the horse that was second at the top of the lane won.

Race 2 Claimer

Half was 54, about par. The horse that took the lead just past the half, won. Horse that was pocketed came second.

Race 3 Low Condition Race

Half was 54.3. Pocket horse won. Horse on the lead came fifth by 2. He was used hard in a 26 and change second quarter though.

Race 4 Conditioned Race

Half was 54.1; about par. The closer won by a head. The horse who was second was the leader who was parked to the half in a bad trip and just missed. A little easier trip to the lead and he probably would have won.

Race 5 Low Conditioned Race

Half was a scorching 53.3. Par was about 1 second slower. First over horse won. The horse on the lead came 8th by 22. He must have bled or been sick. He would have stopped with a minute half.

After these few races, with fast halfs where all the winners came from not far out of it, or were on the lead or in the pocket, the track bias talk started. It was a joke. Overall on the card, horses that were 1,2,3 at the half did well. It was a fair track. And the track was smoking fast to boot. The fastest race mile paced in all of 2007 was set on Hambo Day – 147.2. Guess what? The horse won from the pocket in a mind-boggling 52 half, where the front could have easily crumpled, or certainly should have if there was a closing bias. So much for the tiring track eh?

Most of the times a bias is just that – it is pure fantasy. We must only look at those few times we see a weird track to explain something changing. Look for the inexplicable, and make sure your thought is validated by other races first. It does not happen often. We must learn to stop looking for something that is not there. It will make us better handicappers.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Few Friday Notes

First off, no guest post Friday. I forgot to ask. And no one emailed. So, here is something I would like to know. I would like it if someone who plays thoroughbreds and harness, or has left harness to play the thoroughbreds alone wants to let us know a few things. Namely, why they stopped playing harness and went to the runners, what is stopping them from playing harness and so on. Perhaps we can run it on successive weeks. Brock, Phil, Cangamble, anyone? I think it would be neat. Contact me at the email address under my profile if you want to.

Secondly, yesterday’s piece below I was more than a little harsh I know. The NJ horse folks are simply looking for a piece of the pie, of course. However, two things caught my eye today which makes me think my post was not too tough – it was reality.

Andrew Cohen in his Wire to Wire column today said pretty much the same thing: That was have to get off our asses and fix racing by fixing racing, not looking for handouts.

An excerpt:

The Associated Press is the world’s largest newswire service, which means that more people get their news via AP reports than from any other media organization. So when the AP writes a story about harness racing, and the AP writer asks why states have to subsidize racing, it is definitely not a good thing for our beloved sport. Exhibit A is a piece written out of Iowa by the AP’s David Witt. Here are the first three graphs:

“Day and night, gamblers crowd into the casino east of Des Moines and sit at thousands of slot machines and gaming tables--but the stands are largely empty at the complex's horse racing track. The scene at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino is repeated at many of the three dozen racetrack casinos…and the disparity in crowds and other factors have led more people to ask a question: Why do laws allowing these state-controlled casinos to operate require them to divert so much of their profits to subsidize money-losing horse tracks instead of the public programs they're also supposed to support?”

It’s a perfectly legitimate question and regular readers of this space know it’s one we’ve been grappling with for years. What’s significant about the AP story is that it’s reflective of Witt’s perception that “more” people than before are scratching their heads and wondering why racing needs and deserves “subsidies.” It’s another reason why the horse industry in New Jersey is living on borrowed time so long as these subsidies—no, let’s call them what they are: welfare — are required. In my experience, legislative change comes when enough of these AP stories get shared and absorbed by people in positions of power. We had better figure out the answers ourselves before it is too late.

The next thing brought to my attention today was something that I know annoys us. Mainly, that it is really not hard to generate excitement with bettors, although over and over again tracks tell us it is. Pure poppycock! Look what happened at The Meadowlands last night. They had a carry-over in the pick 4 from Sunday. it was not much really, a paltry $30,000, which makes a Santa Anita carryover look like lunch money. However, with just a teeny bit of work, they turned that carryover into an event. They sent out a press release saying they had a carryover, and they have a 15% rake which they promote hand in hand with it. Well guess what, people bet over $200,000 into that pool last night. Yes you read that right, $200K in a pick 4 pool, for a harness track on a Wednesday.

Memo to track execs and horseman groups: We as customers do not ask for much. Give us something like a carryover and a low price and we will bet. Offer us a deal, or something to get excited about that we might win at, we will bet. How bout a 5% superfecta? A zero rake pick 4 for a night, one night a week? Oh ya, I forgot - it can't be done.

You know what folks, we have received about $3B or more in slots cash in this business. This $30,000 carryover is a drop in the bucket compared to that. Of course we can do something. The funny thing is, half the time (as we have mentioned in speaking of lower rakes) the increase in volume can pay for it anyway! Last night bettors slugged in $200,000. The track at the 15% rake took home $30K of it. Ironically, $30,000 is what the carryover was. The carryover, even if the track seeded it themselves as a give-away (which they did not of course), paid for itself!

This is the type of thing the offshores do; and they do it every day in their businesses. That is why they are successful! Think folks; and experiment, don’t just lie down and do nothing.

Next time we see a protest in Washington or Ottawa asking for more handouts because “nothing can be done to grow racing”, tell them all that we can fix racing, we just do not try hard enough.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Will We Ever Fight for the Sport Again?

The Examiner story is out "Horseman Not Impressed with Subsidy"

Give it a read if interested.

Upper Freehold's Dr. David Meirs, the owner ofWalnridge Farm, a standardbred breeding facility, said $90 million is not an "impact amount" and not enough to do much good.

"If you're drowning and a little twoby four comes along, you're damn glad to see it," he said. "It keeps us from sinking completely. It leaves us treading water."

Blaso said racinos are the answer to the state's horseracing and debt situations.

"Without having to raise taxes, or eliminate entire departments like the Department of Agriculture, [racinos] would have been a steady flow of cash," he said

He said that by the time New Jerseybred foals mature and are ready to race, the supplement would be depleted.

"It would be back to the beggingAtlantic City for funding stage again," he said.

Boy, reading that article makes me think it's like we are standing in a bread line in 1928 Minsk.

This is different than what I see in harness racing for the participants in 2008:

Tim Tetrick made more money last year driving a horse than a top rated vascular surgeon.

There is a story out that Jerry Silva wants to buy a third of a horse for $2.5 million dollars.

A broodmare went for a half mil last year at Harrisburg.

Donato Hanover raced a whole 13 times, made a couple of mil and was syndicated for probably the annual gross domestic product of Madagascar.

The North America Cup will go for $1,500,000, which is less than Woodbine's average handle.

The 15th ranked driver in North America - Corey Callahan - has made over $50,000 in two months. That is about 300% more than a Wharton Business School graduate.

All of the above is currently happening in an industry with a fan base that is virtually non-existent.

Sorry to be crass, but when you see a business that we were all once extremely proud of turn into that article - especially, because never once do they speak of the customer, or growing the sport, they just speak (and have the gall to complain) of how much of the public's money they will be splitting - it can't help but annoy any fair-minded individual.

We lost our fight. We lost our pride. We don't try to grow our sport anymore; our efforts are all focused on growing our wallets with free money. And to me, that is truly sad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Couple of Neat Stories

A few neat things happening out there today, that I found interesting.

First up, Dave Palone won.... nine races. Nine! In one day, at one track. I don't think I have won nine of anything in my whole life. I see that he is one behind Anthony Morgan for the North American win lead. He is on pace for over 1000 wins in only 2800 drives. He is winning at 36%. I can not believe one guy could possibly be so dominant. links us to neat Beyer story at the Washington Post about his trip to South America. Do you think our rakes our bad? Theirs are worse. They can't seem to figure out why bettors are not flocking to the action. Is the Racing Commissioner Homer Simpson?

I loved this story. I am a sentimental fool. At Bay Meadows racetrack last weekend a horse named Autism Awareness stunned the crowd to win a Derby prep. He was 62-1, he cost $1000 as a yearling, and he is named for the owners son who suffers from autism.

This is what makes Thoroughbred racing such a great sport. On Saturday, in one corner of the country, the mighty Pyro, whose name and powerful stretch kick conjure up images of fires and explosions, once again crushed his foes, winning the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) in grand style.

On the same day, in the opposite corner of the country, a humbly-bred colt who sold for meager $1,000 as a yearling in Northern California and was given the unusual, but well-intentioned name of Autism Awareness, mowed down his field to win the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows.

Pyro was given his name to signify an unstoppable force of power. Autism Awareness was given his name to raise awareness for the disorder that the owner’s 8-year-old son was born with. Pyro is trained by super trainer Steve Asmussen, who commands a 300-horse stable and who won 488 races last year for a .21 win percentage. Autism Awareness is trained by Genaro Vallejo, who won 13 races last year for a .07 win percentage. Pyro went off as the 4-5 favorite in the Louisiana Derby. Autism Awareness went of as the longest price in the El Camino Real Derby at odds of 62-1.

Steve Haskin is right. It is what makes racing, racing.

Give me that story over 100 bells and whistles and little red cherries any day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's Jerry Silva's World......

...... and we just live in it.

Further to the note below I made regarding a possible sale of Somebeachsomewhere; it appears it is a reality.

Not to worry, the number isn't big - it is only pro-rated at 8 million. That's all.

The buyer, who else? Jerry Silva. I think Jerry wants to own every world champion known to man. Good for him frankly. If you have the money, and you enjoy the game, go to it!

The thing that sticks out to me about the story is it is here, at the Truro Daily News. Truro is a smaller town in central Nova Scotia. The owners of Somebeach are not Sheik Sheikadam, or some shipping magnate, or some weight loss guru. They are normal guys who bought a Mach Three colt at a sale. Now he is the highest priced horse in harness racing history. It is what sets us apart from our blue-blood cousins.

[PTP Note: Words from Jerry himself, just out at 2:30PM today]

[PTP Edit 2: For those that have not seen this horses career racelines, they are here. Beware that this link may be dead soon, though, as when the story is stale dated, the link usually goes away.]

I forgot to mention, Jerry's other acquisition, Southwind Tempo made her 4YO debut on Friday night at the M. She dusted a field of Open mares like they were 10 claimers.

Two things struck me 1) For about the 200th time a 4YO against older wins a FFA event. Yet I am sure next week we will hear the myth that a 4YO can not "handle the transition to the FFA ranks", when one loses. And 2) Was it ever nice to see John Campbell in the bike on this mare. She actually looked relaxed and unhurried. Last year she was partnered with Tim Tetrick, who drove her with about as much finesse as a one-legged fat man in a canoe. If she keeps getting treated like that and given some tidy steers by a cerebral driver, the sky is the limit for her and she might have a long career, in my opinion. She might be the next Eternal Camnation, because she is damn good.

Phil popped up a post on her with an old video, with a great call by Lederman in the Shady Daisy stakes.

As for other Jerry Silva news, we will have to wait. Maybe until next week; because it is his world, we are along for the ride.

It's Tuesday

A few notes on this Tuesday.

I watched the New Orleans Handicap on Saturday. The aspiring horseplayer blog placed a link to the youtube video (careful the audio is poor, so turn down your speakers!). It was a thrilling stretch duel between Circular Quay and Grasshopper. Some people say that racing is not exciting, maybe not as exciting as watching yourself get three bells or cherries on a slot machine. Watch that stretch drive. Frankly, those people are nuts.

Rumours are flying that World Champion, and our favourite in our Top Ten to the North America Cup, Somebeachsomewhere has been sold. Well, a portion of him has been sold. There are numbers being thrown about that are staggering. But then again, he is a staggering colt. We'll keep our eye out for news and pass it along.

I read the Trot piece on Keith Waples. For those who might be casual fans, Keith is a harness trainer and driver from yesteryear. And a class act. One thing he said struck me. He said today what he sees is that catch-drivers do not have loyalty to a horse. As soon as the horse gets beat, they jump off for another sharp one. This is true. I don't blame them one bit of course, but it is to me a sign that times have changed. It is one interesting tid bit in the story. Give it a read if you are interested.

I got two emails tonight on the Blackberry. One was early from a buddy who has a nice trotting filly foaled last week. The picture is above. The email was entitled "This is a View We Hope Other Fillies See", which I thought was cool. It is a cool picture too. Then I got another one about 10PM from the same person. A Cam's Card Shark colt we part-own won in 1:52.4, setting a new lifetime mark. It was an email we all like: One of congratulation. I hope to one day send a similar email when the filly above wins her first race. It is one tough game, and all winners on the racetrack were once that picture. I hope he gets a win like we had tonight, because it makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Interesting Discussions

I am not sure if you noticed, but there are some interesting discussions out there in harness land.

On this blog, Carol asked some good questions and gave some good opinion on the ‘Stagecoach’ and ‘What Tracks do’ columns below. Carol is a lover of the sport, has worked in it for so long, and understands her bailiwick is not betting. It is purely excusable. My bailiwick is not writing. We all have our experience in some areas of the game. At least she was honest. She took time out to listen to others.

On Cangamble’s blog, I see he was confronted by what he thinks was a racing exec. Who knows who it was, but I must say, he sure sounded like he might have been one. This to me is disconcerting. There was very little listening to a customer.

We all have our expertise in racing. Some bet, some train, some own. Some just come out for face painting for their kids. We are all a part of it. We are all different. What I don’t like is that people who don’t know a certain part of the game, sometimes do not listen. For example, if my trainer says he placed a Murphy blind on my horse I do not question it – I listen, learn and defer to his expertise. We don’t question a plumber when he is snaking a toilet either. Why is it that when a customer who bets millions makes a point, he is not listened to in this business? It seems it happens too often.

In my opinion, what has happened in racing for so, so long is that being a monopoly, they have not had to listen. It is like a disease that will not go away. Our track execs, and horseman execs need to do a whole lot more listening. They might learn, and they might find in the end that we can grow this business.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Racing Needs to Stop Building Stagecoaches

In the current blog vein of chatting about the recent article discussed below, where racing is asking government to shut down off shore wagering, I came across a story at a probability site. The whole article is good, as it details betting exchange economics, but one slice of it I found really interesting. It seems (seemed, as they did not do this. This article was written several years ago) that the government in the UK was thinking of taxing the betting exchanges at a higher rate, at the behest of the bookmakers. Of course this was not a good policy; and the writer wrote a nice parallel to show what happens to people when they stifle innovation. Have a read:

Horseless carriages (cars) were a neat invention. However despite the revolution that was going on they did not meet with universal approval. Horseless carriages were cumbersome contraptions and had been powered by steam engines as far back as the late 18th Century. They met great resistance based upon two key issues.

• Stagecoach owners were afraid that horseless carriages would mean the end of their business.
• The general public found that their horses were scared of the machines.
Rather than try to compete, stagecoach owners decided to cling to the existing state of affairs rather than identify that an irrevocable shift had occurred in transportation and their businesses.

Eventually, opponents to the horseless carriage succeeded in harassing experimenters and lobbying authorities and laws were passed forbidding the use of steam engines on roads. In England, stupidity triumphed when Parliament passed the Locomotive on Highways Act in 1865. Popularly referred to as the "Red Flag Law," it stipulated that all self-propelled vehicles on public highways be limited to a maximum speed of four miles per hour and be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag to warn oncoming horse-drawn vehicles. Although the law was amended in 1878, it still retained the speed limit and required two people to operate the vehicle and a third to go ahead at danger spots, like intersections, and give a warning. After eventually seeing sense the law was repealed in 1896 but not before other, more enterprising, countries had taken the advantage. Such laws were unknown in the United States and the rest as they say, is history.

I guess belief and understanding of the free market are two diametrically opposed forces certainly where vested interests are at play. Suffice to say that the UK and its attitude put paid, or at best, delayed the adoption one of the most important innovations of the recent times. This in turn delayed increased productivity and commerce. The government also lost out on the basis of the fact that failure to spot his shift meant new commerce did not generate new profits which did not generate tax income.

Market forces could not be resisted and eventually the UK lost initiative, suppressed economic development but eventually embraced the horseless carriage when it was obvious that it was actually a good idea.

In betting exchanges the UK has become a global leader in this new and exciting industry. Exchanges are a new paradigm and demonstrate destructive capitalism at its best. Without these break points in economic development we would not be using computers for fear of decimation of the pen and paper would we? Inevitably these break points cause short term distruption to business and tax revenues as the market adjusts to the new state of affairs. By over-regulating or attempting to punish the success of exchanges it could be possible to de-rail this progress. Progress that could lead global dominance by the UK in a new industry and one that could generate significant opportunities for UK PLC.

Despite my best efforts I don't see many members of parliament currently using horses in London. But they do appear to use horseless carriages a lot. If they want to see the country prosper and develop they should learn to embrace and encourage new ventures rather than penalise them. Failure to do so should see all members of parliament adopt a drive to abandon the horseless carriage and move back to horses, to drop computers and adopt the pen and paper. If you fail to allow those things to progress and shape the world as they have done in the past you will fail to let the innovations of today shape tomorrow.

We could of course parallel that with racing here in North America. In the late 1990’s Betfair came to racing and said “this is what we do and we think you might want to partner up”. Racing did what they do, and continue to do to this day: They demonized them. They called them names, and said they were a threat to us.

What if instead, they said this: “This is interesting. Ebay is going crazy with people trading goods…… this is like an Ebay for gambling. We have to be a part of this.”

What if they said that.

What if they chose to embrace a new technology, convince government what it can do for them and racing, and what it can do for the North American gambling economy.

This is what our industry faces today. We have executives - from horseman groups and tracks - who are clinging to the obsolete realities of yesterday. They have not kept up with the times. Offshore wagering, online poker and betting exchanges are not going away, they are here to stay. As the writer above stated “market forces could not be resisted.”

Racing is the stagecoach operator who could have partnered and made cars, instead of trying to shut them down. They could have been a part of, and grown with the most significant invention of the century.

The Internet, and online gaming is this industry’s automobile. It is simply the most important invention that gambling has ever seen. We can choose to be a part of it, or we can choose to cling to the past.

If we choose the latter, we are clearly in serious trouble.

I hope someone, somewhere is listening. But I, like you, unfortunately believe that the lights are on, but no one is home.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Guest Post Friday: The North America Cup

It's Friday. I started my NA Cup Top Ten at the side of the blog - horses who I think are the favourites for the $1.5M showpiece at Mohawk in June. Greg Reinhart, who follows the sport closely, usually has some thoughts when we discuss these issues. So I asked him who he thought was looking good for the big race. He supplied us with some!

Thanks Greg.

Sustaining payments have to go out again on March 15th. But I would think that all these horses will be making that payment.

This year has the potential to be one of the greatest years for 3YO colt pacers in recent memory. I hope these horses come back good, and we get to see some great racing.

I was once again recruited this week to offer up some early thoughts on the three-year old pacing crop for 2008. I am on the record as stating this group has the potential to be the best since 2002, when names like Art Major, McArdle, Red River Hanover, Million Dollar Cam, Allamerican Ingot, and Royal Mattjesty were three-year olds.

I’ll offer up my top five to start, and then offer some thoughts on each one.

1-Somebeachsomewhere (6-1)

2-Moon Beam (10-1)

3-Dali (12-1)

4-Santanna Blue Chip (15-1)

5-Duneside Perch (20-1)

Somebeachsomewhere has to be considered the one to beat until someone shows that they can pace with him, let alone beat him. Everyone knows what kind of season and what kind of records he set as a two-year old. I am anxious to see what spending the winter in Truro , Nova Scotia , has done for him, when most horses of his caliber spend the winter in a warmer climate.

Moon Beam was second in both the Woodrow Wilson and in the Metro. He has an impeccable pedigree and a new barn, that being Ross Croghan’s, to race out of in 2008 after being purchased for $750,000 at the Meadowlands Mixed Sale. Croghan is not necessarily known as a three-year old pacing trainer, but his credentials make this horse hard to ignore.

For obvious reasons, I am rooting for Dali. I am friends with his driver and his connections. He is a wicked fast horse, who won the Woodrow Wilson in sparkling fashion over Moon Beam. He fought some allergies and sickness last fall, which seemed to take a bit of luster off his season, but I expect him to be a major threat. Dewey Marfisi, his trainer, was part of Monte Gelrod’s operation in the mid/late-90s when his horses were always a factor in big races, so he’s been there before.

Santanna Blue Chip won the Governors Cup and the Breeders Crown, and didn’t garner any year-end awards. He’s another very talented horse, but I was surprised by Carl Jamieson’s comments to Standardbred Canada about him coming back thin and not sounding like he was overly confident about him. We’ll see if he’s behind or Carl has outsmarted everyone.

Duneside Perch is the x-factor this year. He’s also been moved into the care of trainer Ross Croghan after a $700,000 purchase at the Meadowlands Mixed Sale. He was a superstar early on for trainer George Teague last year before getting injured. I have heard reports from Florida , where the horse is wintering, that he looks marvelous, and perhaps the time-off from the injury only helped him.

There are a bunch of other talented three-year olds out there that I didn’t put in the top five, but shouldn’t be ignored either. These include Deuce Seelster, an uber-talented son of Western Maverick who was the best two-year old in Ontario last year; Sand Shooter, who was second in the Breeders Crown final and beat Dali in Lexington; Dali’s stable-mate On The Brink, who went two sparkling miles in Lexington last fall, and a pair of Teague trainees, Idle Hour, who never ventured onto the Grand Circuit last year, but was the terror of Pennsylvania, and beat Dali at the Meadows in a Pennsylvania Sires Stakes division, and Lennon Blue Chip, who beat Deuce Seelster in a Gold final at Woodbine and finished fourth in the Governors Cup.

Like I always say though, there are no guarantees in harness racing, especially in the three-year old pacing game. Don’t forget, this time last year, Tell All was still in non-winners of one.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Racing Does to Bettors

I am amazed at the action on the site today regarding McLeod and Jane Holmes' comments about online gambling. It is a hot story, especially to people who live this every day by betting, and frankly, think they are both way off base.

I got to thinking, how can we explain in terms racing understands, what racing-pricing puts us through, and why customers are heading to the door. Since both are smart people, and Mr. McLeod certainly understands the stock market, I thought I would try that.

So here goes.

Joe Trader decides he wants to play the stock market. He puts $1000 in his stocktrade account. He begins to play.

He buys 500 shares of ACME at $1 a share. He sells it later that day for $1.20 a share. Nice day, huh? He made 20% on his stock trade. I bet he likes stock trading.

So, he bought 500 shares at $1 a share for $500 and he sold his 500 shares for $1.20 and he realized $600. Profit is $100.

But hold on. To make the trade he is charged a takeout of 25%, just like a triactor.

Now he has to pay $125 (25% of the $500 he spent) so his $100 profit is now a $25 loss.

Then he decides to make another trade. He does the same thing. This time he buys a stock for $10 and sells it for $10.10. Not a very good trade but still profitable.

But he owes a 25% commission for making the trade. So he loses money again.

He says to himself "I made two solid trades where I made money and sold a stock for more than I bought it for, yet I am broke!"

Joe Trader: Welcome to Racing's Business Model. This is how we are charged every time we make a $1 bet.

Now Ms. Holmes and Mr McLeod, do you understand? How would you like to buy a stock for $10, sell it later that day for $12 and lose money? Does that explain well enough to you why people go offshore? Does that explain that if you shut out offshore (just like we have seen in the US) handle does not go up?

Etrade, and Ameritrade and all the rest have exploded stock trading by offering $9.99 trades. If I spend $100,000 on a stock, I get charged $10. If I spend $10,000 on a bet to show, you charge me $1600.

What would happen if the above was true and our stock exchanges worked like racing? You are correct, our economy would implode because no one would be stupid enough to pay 20% of everything in commission. They would never make money.

That racing has imploded should be no surprise to these people - no surprise at all. When will they change their business model and realize their prices are too high?

Hand Wringing versus Opportunity

A story from the National Post and linked to by websites like the Harness Edge and Standardbred Canada tells the tale of the Great Canadian Gaming CEO lamenting about a native online casino, located in Quebec.

"These offshore operations just poach horse-racing and no one can do anything about it. They're parasites on the butt of Canada," said Ross McLeod, chief executive of Great Canadian Gaming, which owns four tracks in Canada.

The track owners have also suggested that governments force Internet service providers to block the sites from Canadian bandwidth. "I expect the government to do the right thing and protect our country's interests," Mr. McLeod said.

Do these places offer bets on tracks and don’t pay to purses? Sure they do. But once again, we completely miss the boat on this issue by yelling and screaming and not looking deeper, or dare I say outside the monopoly. One person who has his barrel set in the right direction is Michael Lipton, a lawyer from Toronto:

…… Lipton, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in gaming law. He said the horse-racing industry has had a monopoly on gambling in Canada for years, with Woodbine Entertainment currently holding a lock on government-sanctioned online horse betting.
"I guess if I had a monopoly, I wouldn't want anyone to compete against me either," Mr. Lipton said.

Rather than attempting prohibition, Mr. Lipton said the government should bring the Kahnawake sites into the system and regulate them. He said this would protect the vulnerable, guard against money laundering, bring in tax revenue and provide a competitive edge in the gaming software market in terms of international trade.

He is more than right. We have to stop protecting a monopoly that DOES NOT exist any longer, and look at the massive opportunity this might afford us, with some 21st century thinking.

Here is my plan:

1) Ottawa is looking for a political way out of this mess. They do not want to anger a voting block, in a volatile part of the Country.

2) We go to the government and instead of saying “shut them down”, we say “let us compete”

3) We ask for a few things: Ability to use this internet betting hub as a port for Canadian racing. They pay a fee, just like a regular ADW does. This expands Canadian racing to a world-wide audience and brings in revenue. We offer them free video and free programs to the world-wide audience and expand our game, while allowing them to sell it for us.

4) We then ask for some tit for tat. We want to be able to compete by setting up our own site in the racing industry; as a free enterprise. That is, we begin to open up gaming markets for ourselves. This could be done for example, by a setting up a betting exchange, run by us, linked into betfair where we allow worldwide customers to bet our product and we own the rights to our product. Linking in with betfair provides us with instant liquidity.

5) When the US racing community sees this, they might begin to lobby to be a part of it. The technology and liquidity is there, because we have already set it up. The US tracks could simply join our service, or be an affiliate when the laws are changed a few years down the road.

In the end we might have set a plan in motion for Canadian racing to become a world wide leader in racing distribution, betting platforms and change racing for the good for generations to come.

Instead? We wring our hands and try to shut people down to protect our dwindling monopoly - something that is not even a monopoly anymore in the first place. Not to mention, these places are NOT going away. It is the future. We can be part of the future, or be the road-kill of the past. It's our choice.

Will this work? I don’t know. But when I see something like this I look at it as opportunity instead of a threat. I wish the racing industry would think the same way. I think we'd be a hell of a lot better off.

Note: Cangamble has updated his blog with new news, including a Toronto Star link, with commentary. He brings up some interesting points.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tuesday Amusement

Some things that either caught my eye, or amused me in some way today.

At Turfway Park, an executive there is charged with embezzling $70,000 and spending it at a casino. Too bad Ohio doesn't have slots or at least he could have spent it at Turfway.

What's with this sponging nonsense? Another horse was found to have been sponged at Gulfstream Park. In the old days it was heroin, so I guess this is better. But not much.

New Jersey got their subsidy increased. Don't worry folks, one day we will actually try to grow racing instead of subsidize it.

Speaking of that the Standardbred Canada Poll about using a percentage of purse money for marketing, it is still shameful. I had hoped a whole bunch of smart people woke up this morning and voted properly. I guess the no voters are hoping for marketing to be subsidized by someone. It is sad to see such a hard-working industry polluted by some with a welfare mindset.

Interesting discussion about how to improve the sport over at I especially like the liquor store example. It never ceases to amaze me how the customers of racing seem more passionate about keeping it going, and growing than the participants. It is a most interesting juxtaposition. Worthy of some sort of Psychology 201 paper, I'd say.

I went to Woodbine on Monday to watch our horse go, and cheer for a couple of Nick Boyd's charges who were in. What a mudbath. When our horse got off the track he was no longer bay, he was brown - mud brown. There were several breaks on the card, and some horses clearly had trouble with the going. But we must commend Woodbine for working that track. While many cancelled, they did not. The surface according to people that I spoke with was not bad at all. It was just one nasty night.

Speaking of Nick, he informs me that in the Score piece referenced below, that at the 2 minute or so mark in the video, the happy horse sticking his head out to look around is one of ours. I haven't seen him in awhile. It was nice to see him happy as a clam. I pop that up here because I know the stable partners will probably read it, and I am too lazy to email them to fill them in.

I came across a decent thoroughbred blog the other day. It's called the Aspiring Horseplayer. What I like about what this fan did was link youtube video of all the races he is following. Some neat races up there. Well done blog.

I had a chat with a professional gambling friend last night and we talked about software. I mentioned it on the blog before, but harness has very little. We charge an arm and a leg for fans to get data, and the data we can get is not up to snuff. I have never seen an industry that makes it so difficult to make a bet. If we were a casino I think we'd make a patron recite the Magna Carta while balancing a ball on his nose before we let him in to play blackjack. Anyway, we both agreed that if a software package was available, or an API, or free data, it could easily up handles by 30%. He estimates software upped his thoroughbred handle by a double. I don't even know why I bring this stuff up any longer, as this business is so far gone that new ideas seem to be simply frowned upon. But to me, if someone got off their duff and popped some cash into a free data and software service, they could raise handles and make their tracks money. There is no business in the land that gets 20% revenue on each dollar bet, regardless of how much they bet, so spending something to get someone to give you money is simple logic. Then again, average cost pricing is our problem, so maybe I should not encourage them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's a Girl, Young Trainers and Blog Readers

I am very happy to report that my pal who lost a foal that I wrote about on the blog earlier reported to me that at 6:30PM tonight, luck shone. It's a nice filly and mom and daughter are healthy. I will have some particulars in a later post. It's spring, eventhough it does not feel like spring outside!

Tonight on Race Night on the Score (for non-Canadian readers that is the channel that shows Woodbine Harness Racing once a week) one of our trainers, Nick Boyd, who we have spoken about before was featured in a piece. You can view it on Youtube here. I thought it was a good interview. It showed that Nick really loves the game, and wants to succeed at it. If anyone wants to contact Nick for training purposes, please email me and I will pass it along to him. I can not recommend him more highly. He is 100% professional in terms of owner interaction and updates, his bills are on time and without any question and he gives his all. Most of all he will treat your horse with respect.

I got a nice comment below on the Breeders Crown 2010 post. I thought I would post it up here. It is from a Swedish reader. It shows that 1) Passion for racing knows no nationality and 2) People want this game to flourish. We are not alone out there. Thanks for the comment Janne, and please let us know a little bit about Swedish racing whenever the topic comes up. I am not alone in saying I truly hope the trotting World grows and we get to see more and more North American trotters head over to the Elitlopp. I watch it every year and I love to see the fans out for a good time and a great race. Thanks again for contributing:

Just found your blog...great stuff! The Breeders Crown event you describe is just the thing that the sport needs. A worldwide event where the best horses from around the world go toe-to-toe with eachother and compete for the "Crown". As a Swede I always hope that we get to see he best trotters from around the world in the Elitlopp but for this to happen we would need to at least double the current purse. The winner will get about 400k this year.

As it is now the best French horses are matched to race on home soil during their winter meeting while the best Scandinavian horses will be concentrating on their own circuit during spring/summer. So the Breeders Crown event would need a really big purse to get the attention from the connections of the European horses. There's been some feeble attempts to get a worldwide trotting circuit going but most tracks compete for the same horses and there's not much cooperation between them. We need to work together to get this sport where it needs and belongs to be!

We would also need to create common betting pools for all countries involved. There are a lot of differences between bettors in Europe. I'm sure there are at least as many differences between North American and European bettors. Scandinavians like to bet on multiple race bets (as V5, V64 and V75) while the French tend to bet their money on single race bets. I'd like to see some sort of a special bet to the race that would appeal bettors from all over the world and that would create the biggest pool of all-time. Maybe some sort of superfecta bet? Although I'm not sure if this is popular bet in North America?

We need to get our fantastic sport out of the comfort zone and start truly competing world-wide. In a perfect world the Breeders Crown event could even be raced one year in North America and the next year in Europe?

Best regards,


Not on WEG's Christmas Card List

Our pal at Cangamble lets some thoughts be known on takeout and Woodbine in general. He touches many of the subjects that make us scratch our head as customers. He is not getting a Christmas card this year :)

Does Anyone Really Care?

In the "yes I am selfish" file, there is a web poll up on Standardbred Canada asking: "How much of a purse cut would you be willing to take if funds were directed to an independent body responsible for marketing, promotion and development?"

In what so far is a stunning, abhorrent vote, "none" has garnered the most support. Everyone wants marketing and publicity in this game; but only if someone else pays for it. It is completely close-minded and self-centered; and they should be ashamed of themselves for voting that way. This business owes us nothing and it is crumbling right in front of our eyes. We are the ones who must be the custodians of it while we have privilege to be in it.

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