Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strange Quotes & More Talk

Thanks to the Horseplayer Association of North America for this gem from a story in Horseplayer Magazine:

This is a true story. I was talking to a general manager of a racetrack and said "how about that 25% takeout on exactas?" And he said "I know! The state won't let us take any more than that!" I think he missed the point slightly.

That is frightening.

Looks like the Harness Tracks of America & Thoroughbred Racing Association's conference is off and pacing/running. Strong words from a HBPA member (not usually one to complain about too many race dates) regarding too much racing.

As for the number of the tracks in the United States, Higgins said it’s time to consolidate. He said he races at small tracks and likes many of them, but having so many in operation isn’t practical as field sizes shrink.

“I’d like to see at least half of them go out of business,”

“Please do me the courtesy of going out of business.”

And on slots subsidies, something we know all to well with some of our races at small tracks in Ontario.

Higgins said subsidies could disappear as state governments continue getting squeezed for money for programs that impact much larger segments of the population. He noted a $70,000 race at Presque Isle Downs & Casino attracted total handle of only $40,000, and suggested tracks start finding ways to generate more business from their core product.

“(Legislators) are going to look at this subsidy and say, ‘Why are we giving this money to these people?’ ” Higgins said.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Keeping the Comical Theme......

.... this recent post at Paceadvantage.com about horseplayers and rumour is laugh out loud funny (in my opinion anyway).

For the full thread click below. It is worth a read for a laugh.

I was at the track at Prairie Meadows yesterday, listening to some of the simulcast bettors complaining about this. To give you an idea of how naive some horseplayers can be, here was the conversation:

Man 1: Belmont cancelled today?

Man 2: It looks like it. Anybody know why?

Man 3: Something to do with the weather.

I decided to have some fun.

Me: The rain blew the fuse that runs the toteboard.

Man 2: Why can't they put another one in?

Me: They don't have any on hand, and the hardware stores don't carry the kind the toteboard needs, so they have to order some from Chicago.

Man 3: Well you think they'd be smart enough to have a few spares!

Man 2: I hope they're shipping those fuses overnight!

Man 4 (walking up): I hear Belmont canceled because of the rain.

Man 2: Nah, they're just making that up. The toteboard fuse blew out, and they were too stupid to keep any extras in stock.

Man 1: Yeah, they're using the rain as an excuse.

About two hours later, I came back to hear:

Man 5: What happened to Belmont?

Man 6: All of the fuses blew out when the rain hit the toteboard, and they don't have enough to get the track running again. The only company that makes the fuses is in Miami, so they're having FedEx send them some overnight.

Man 7: It wasn't Miami, Chet, it was St. Louis.

Man 1: I thought it was Chicago.

An hour later at a different table:

Man 8:: What happened to Belmont?

Man 3 (yes, one of the originals I spoke to): We don't know. They think it was attacked by some hoods.

Man 8: Hoods?

Man 3: Yeah, the hoods cut all the wires to the toteboard, and they can't get it fixed in time to race today.

Man 8: You'd think they'd have better security than that!

And a half-hour later:

Man 9: Didn't Belmont run today?

Man 10: No. Some terrorists blew up the toteboard. They might not race again this year.

Man 11: Belmont canceled racing today because of the rain.

Man 2 (one of the originals): Nah, that's their excuse. They don't want people to know that they don't keep any extra fuses on hand.

Man 10: What good would fuses do if the toteboard was blown up?

Man 2: The toteboard blew up? Who told you THAT story? It was because the fuses blew out!

Man 3: No, they cut all the wires.

Man 2: No they didn't. I heard it on the news. The fuses all blew out.

As I was getting ready to go home, I stopped by the tables again:

Me: What happened to Belmont today?

Man 12: Some terrorists bombed it, Tom.

Man 7: Were any horses hurt?

Man 12: Nope, They just blew up the grandstand.

Man 8: And the toteboard.

Man 5: I guess they'll move racing to Aqueduct.

At that point, an announcement came over the public address system:

"For your information, racing at Belmont was canceled due to the rain. All the rumors of bombings and attacks are untrue. Belmont will resume racing tomorrow."

Man 2: See, Mitch? I told you the terrorist bullsh*t was fake. All that happened was that the rain shorted the toteboard and blew out the fuses.

Man 12: Why didn't they put some new fuses in?

Man 3: They don't keep them in stock. They have to order them from San Francisco.

Man 1: Chicago.

Man 6: Miami.

Man 7: St. Louis!

To continue head over to Pace.

Quite Comical

This weeks Hambo Poll is out, signifying who is the best horse in Harness racing.

I said to myself last night "I wonder if finally Beach will take over as number one." Seeing that he just paced the fastest race in history, and lost his only career race in the second fastest race in history one would think so.

Nope, he is still number two.

It can only be described as comical. I stand by my original thought on this: I am sure that many voters simply do not watch the races.

Another thing that flies into the comical file is the fact that this horse will be retired in about two months. We have made our case here about lowering takeout and sending people home winners will help racing from the gambling end. We hear a lot of people with opinions on how to grow the game with 'fans'. Well how about that Beach news. He brings people out to the track; hell he brings people out to watch him train. He has had more mentions on the blogosphere and press than any other horse I remember. But he is gone.

Think about that for a moment. Mohawk went to great lengths this summer to bring new fans out on the days this horse raced. There were many people and families who had never really watched racing - and they found themselves applauding a horse, not in the winners circle, but when he passed by the grandstand in the post parade! In 2009 the people who flooded Mohawk will call the track wondering when they can see the Beach. The answer will be "you can't anymore." There response will of course be "ok, then I will find something else to do." We can market what we want, but we find ourselves marketing in a vacuum in this sport when horses like this go to stud. We should remember that the next time we head to a state house, or government for more money to save the sport. It is tough to save a sport that seemingly does nothing to save itself.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Video Evidence. Beach, Curlin and Z

Today we had a marvelously interesting harness race. On the runner side there were a couple of tilts that we have to follow too.

First, here is Somebeachsomewhere's world record.

According to harnessracing.com "When the three-quarter timer flashed 1:19.2 the crowd at The Red Mile rose as one with loud applause, which grew as the colt came down the stretch." That is what happens up here in Canuckland with this horse too. Speed knows no borders.

From one of our comments below, we hear this piece of Canadiana and it shows just what a great local horse can do for small communities:

I was lucky to be in Halifax, Nova Scotia this weekend. I went to the local teletheater to watch The Red Mile Card.

There was probably 150 people there. When SBSW got behind the gate everyone in the place was standing. When they hit the 3/4s in 1.19 people started cheering,and cheered him on through the stretch. When he hit the wire in 46.4 there was cheering, clapping and high fives. It was unbelievable. The hair on my arms is still standing. If you couldn't go to Lexington this was the next best place to be.

I really got to see what effect this horse has on the average fan. The best horse of my generation."

Second, is Curlin. This was a track which was fairly speed favoring today. I thought the horse would not win this while watching it. He has now won more money than Cigar.

Last, Zenyatta. Valerie mentioned her below and she deserves a spot in the video vault. She is a huge filly (notice the size difference with the second choice?). Z has been doing this all year. You get some goosebumps watching her.

Watching Curlin dig in to win was great. Watching the mare mow them down was fun. But nothing gets me like the Beach race. Hearing Sam McKee announce to the world down the backstretch (when Paul let the horse roll) that it was time to get excited was what set this apart for me. The three panels in 119 and we knew it was time to get up and cheer. Watching the last 200 yards waiting with anticipation of the final time was amazing. It is what sets harness racing apart. Speed. I had an absolute blast watching that World Record effort.

On this day when we watched a horse against the clock, we have to turn it back and pay homage to Falcon Seelster, by showing his mind-boggling world record at Delaware. What a race. It does not get better than that for our speed-driven sport.

And Curlin says.....

.... take that.

He is a monster.

Horses are not supposed to be this good after this type of year. And as we know, almost all of them have bad days. He has traveled more than a Presidential candidate.

But amazingly he just keeps winning.

Somebeachsomewhere - 146.4 World Mark

The double world champion is now a triple world champion.

Through splits of 26.4, 52.4, 119.2 the Beach sprinted home in 27.2 to set a new World Record for 3 year olds and tie the all age mark.

I was a bit concerned seeing that he was off a sickness and only had one reported fast work. Further, seeing Dewey come home slow under a lot of stick with that wind, I figured 47.3 or 47.4 might have been more realistic. But as usual he delivered.

If I had to make a guess, I would think that if the stars completely aligned, 46 flat would be easily hit by Beach.

Art Official bounced back. He cruised to the top easily and was pushed to the three quarters by John Campbell and Share the Delight. I expected someone to run at him off his three previous sub par efforts, but he rebuffed that this time, and came home in a tidy 26.3 under some decent stick.

Curlin & Beach. Same Day. (Updated)**

The greatest horse currently in thoroughbred racing goes today at Belmont in Race 10.

The greatest horse currently in standardbred racing goes today at the Red Mile in Race 14.

Belmont is currently a mud-bath. The Red Mile seems quick today. The weather is not scorching, but it appears to be alright should Beach get some sort of huge half and Paul wants to go for the record.

Regardless, it is a great day to be a fan of both breeds. Will Curlin romp and head to the BC Classic? Will Beach bounce back and scorch in 47 or 48? We'll find out soon.

Update: Greg Blanchard reports on HPITV that "today appears to be the day". He was speaking to Paul MacDonnell and it seems they will try for the record in race 14. The weather seems next week to be off, so it might be now or never.

Friday, September 26, 2008

PTP Changes Commish Vote

I was on the Jason Bourne for harness commissioner bandwagon since he is a super-duper ass kicker. But ever since Matt Damon started giving wacky interviews about dinosaurs, he is out.

My new choice for harness racing commissioner is FusionMan.

If a guy can jump out of a plane with a boomerang on his back and fly across the English Channel, he is a shoe-in to fix the whipping debate.

I have now thrown all my support behind this flying Swiss dude.

Speaking of the whipping debate, the drivers are speaking out. Jamieson and a few others met with the WEG judges yesterday. We'll try and find out what FusionMan thinks.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mike Hamilton

Knows some numbers.

I have said before it takes me only a few minutes to type a post. I don't think much while typing, which is probably apparent. Anyhoo, I think that post on the Jug took Mike more time than my last month's worth of posts.

I hope Willmott gives him a big fat raise.

NTRA Task Force - New Fans

Kudos to the NTRA task force for getting bloggers on board with their ideas. Kevin from Aspiring Horseplayer, Jessica and Dana, two other influential bloggers all played a part. Here is the story.

There is much to go through in the report and much of it is interesting. Most of it new. New ideas from passionate fans. It's a good thing.

The main difference with other groups, like The Horseplayers Association of North America, is that the NTRA task force works on newer fans, or the entertainment part of the game, while HANA tries to grow the gambling side. They do not focus on takeouts and such. I guess a simple way to put it is: They try and get fans to walk through the door and takeout groups like HANA try and keep them here when they do.

"New" fans generate about $30 of daily handle (if you look at casual fans on big days and track handles). Maybe they come twice a month. If the NTRA task force gets 1000 new fans with some new ideas (a good thing) it might result in $700k of handle.

Then what do we do with them? If 99% of them lose, a fair share will not come back. We know this to be true. Our game is hard, and it is not entertainment. If watching brown horses go around in a circle when you are on a 37 race losing streak is entertainment, then a root canal is a Sunday picnic.

I think the NYRA spent something like $25M marketing to these types of fans with the Go Baby Go campaign. It's tough to keep them as fans if they don't bring home some scratch.

That is where groups like HANA come in. In making the game more winnable, allowing for open access for all ADW and moving the game into the 21st century with both pricing and delivery, we have a chance to grow rapidly. For example there is one HANA member that has gone on record saying that he bet $30,000 per year before getting a lower price. After the lower price was given (through rebates) he then bet $1.3M a year. That is a $1,270,000 handle increase by one person.

Thankfully more progressive racing cultures have gone in this direction, so we don't even have to guess about this.

Australia, as we all know have 16% takeouts mandated by government, which is about 25% lower than North America's takeout. The per capita handle there is $430. In the USA it is $48, almost ten times smaller. If we could somehow get to a meager half of what Australia is, we could up handles by a huge amount.

In Hong Kong, getting new people out was important, but when push came to shove the braintrust there moved to lower prices to curb losses in handles. Rebates of 10% were given when the HKJC lobbied the government to take their tax off pools. Handle was up precipitously and the bleeding stopped. That one move of lowering takeout could result in 100's of billions of handle over the next decade for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

It is clear that new fans are important, but lest we forget our old ones, and our current ones. They are already prequalified to love racing. We don't have to teach em a thing, don't have to give them a cap, don't have to start a handicapping contest, run thousands or millions of TV ads, or get a mini-horse to come and make an appearance. We don't have to go find them because they are right under our noses. We just have to give them a chance to win. If we do, they will be back and spending money not on a ball on a roulette wheel; they'll spend it on the super at the Red Mile.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Somebeachsomewhere Works Out as Racing Watches

The Beach wowed them at Lexington this morning. Folks, this story from harnessracing.com (great work by the way Kathy & Gordon!) describes perfectly why we on the blog are so confused that this horse is not even ranked first in the Hambo poll. It's excitement, it is buzz. This horse is so interesting and looked at as royalty. He brings to mind people at Woodbine in 1973 sneaking out to watch Secretariat jog in the morning.

The paparazzi were out in force at The Red Mile Wednesday morning as cameras were clicking away as “The Beach”—Somebeachsomewhere—stepped foot on the historic racetrack for the first time for a training mile.

he effortlessly went a training mile in the range of 1:51-1:52 as stopwatches were also out in force by the dozens of onlookers.

Cameras were clicking away as MacGrath climbed into the sulky to take SBSW....

Horsemen lined the fence to watch SBSW and the grandstand apron had its share of onlookers too. As I said earlier, cameras and stop watches were aplenty. There was even one trainer working a horse in the infield that pulled out a camera and started clicking away as SBSW took to the track. The session even brought out track president Joe Costa, who stood beside the boss, Kathy Parker, and myself to watch royalty.

As soon as SBSW crossed the finish line the buzz began. “I got him in 1:51.1,” somebody yelled........ the consensus was that the first half was in about a minute and the mile came in that :51-:52 range.

52 back half? Ya, that sounds about right with a horse like this. He could do that, it seems, during Hurricane Ike carrying a fat man and a wagon full of lead. That is why he brings people out to watch a simple training mile. It is why he is the most star-studded horse that this sport has seen in a long, long time.

It should be an interesting Saturday. He is slated to go in race 14 at The Red Mile.

Thanks to Joseph Kyle and Harnessracing.com for the photo. For the full story (and it is a good story relaying Harness racing Americana), please visit harnessracing.com.

Like a Sledgehammer

Interesting blog post by business writer Seth Godin.

....lots of organizations end up hitting a wall with no warning.

He goes on to explain that each year, despite having a clean record, his car insurance went up. He believes that organizations do this quite often: Squeeze the lemon and if the lemon keeps producing juice, squeeze it a little more. He also believes we reach that point, the breaking point, and for a business this can be fatal.

Something in my relationship with the insurance company shattered. After all, it's not like they had done anything for me, not like I knew anyone there. It was just momentum. And the number was suddenly enough to make me take action.

19 minutes later, I was at Geico.

He is but one person, but during this time how can he be the only one?

When you hit the breaking point with one person, it might be 1,000 or 100,000 people who do the same thing at the same time. And you don't get a second chance. They're gone.

You can stretch a rubber band for a long time. But then it breaks.

That puts our 40% decline in wagering into a better perspective than I ever could.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kentucky Set to Ban Some Internet Sites?

The state of Kentucky wants to ban internet sites that are there for gambling.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said his administration has asked a Franklin County Circuit Court judge to give the state control of 141 gambling Web site domain names. Beshear said he's looking to restrict Kentuckians' access to Web sites with names that include some of the most popular gambling sites for U.S. players...

The head of the poker players alliance had a good quote:

"Poker has a proud heritage in Kentucky and simply because the game has evolved into the 21st Century, it should not be treated as suspect activity," Pappas said.

That's what it is all about, in my opinion (and part of what we spoke about below with the NFL): Gaining traction in a 21st century global market. The more time we spend trying to stop the inevitable, the more we lose market share.

I am sure stagecoach operators wanted to ban paving roads in 1900. But of course we can not find that out for sure because they are a footnote in business history. Let's hope that racing does not follow the same path and become that same footnote.

Handicapping Auction Results

Standardbred Canada's handicapping auction was last night. 23 handicappers took part in a unique contest where each horse was auctioned off for a dollar amount. Each handicapper had $100 to spend on the potential 204 horses on two cards at Grand River and Mohawk. It cost $100 to enter and the winner received about $1600. The winner also got a free trip to the Nationals at Woodbine.

Pull the Pocket represented very well! Kicked some major butt.

Ok, not me Pull the Pocket. I came about 15th or worse. But that was to be expected. Two contributors at our blog here slayed it out and came one-two. The big hits were 25-1 shots at Grand River in race 5 and Mohawk in race 7. That set those two apart. Congrats Roy and Jame!

Jame did think he was going to win, and why not? One guy (Roy) had to hit a bomb, and J would have to be shut out. But bombs away when the Sudbury Slammer Mike Saftic scored in race 7. Roy will be celebrating all Croatian holidays now in homage to Mike Saftic. Dobro Mike!

I did have a good shot to make some noise. In race 4 I paid $6 for Mick Grant's horse who did show some talent. He was boxed until late but had some good pace to come 4th or 5th when free at 30-1. A horse I really liked and bought for $9 was Prescott Bay in the tenth. I bet him for real as well. He was 30-1 and was a big try. He went on one line at the head of the lane and finished poorly, but at least I was well meant.

All and all a good contest though, and quite fun. Nice to see 2/3's of Pocket people there at the finish :)

Thanks to all who commented via email and on the blog on my "We are What is Wrong With Racing" post below. I have received more feedback on that piece than many others. Horseplayers are extremely frustrated.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

We Are What is Wrong With Racing

When he took over in 1960, as a little known fallback choice of the league's owners after 23 rounds of voting, professional football was chickenfeed - an uninspiring hotchpotch cluster of local teams, local markets and purely local enthusiasms. By the time he retired, the NFL had outstripped major league baseball to become a national institution, the country's richest, best run and most widely followed sport.

That is from the official obit for NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

Does the fractured NFL/AFL of the 1960's sound a lot like us?

We have spoken a couple of times about what the NFL has done to grow. I won't go into another central organization or commissioner tirade, which I am sure you are happy to read, but it is interesting to look at that history. I was watching the NFL Network last evening and they had a decent show called "Top Ten" on. This shows topic was "Top Ten Innovations of the NFL". There was a common thread in these innovations, but primarily they were borne by a response to the customer (i.e. viewer).

One interesting one was rule changes. We are seeing how we handle rule changes in our sport now with whipping. It does not seem to go very smooth when you have upwards of 30 commissions and so forth. In contrast, the NFL adopted rule changes in 1978. Defense was ruling the game and fans were turned off with defensive football. What did the NFL do? Simple, they responded to fans and changed the rules. The result? Growth.

How about the AFL? When they were started there was suddenly a competitor to the NFL football monopoly. What did they do? Took the best ideas and teams from the NFL/AFL and changed their league. Oh, and of course, just for good measure this new-found partnership resulted in a little game called the Super Bowl.

The NFL embraced another thing, and that was television. They were one of the first sports to recognize this medium. There were some that wanted to ban televising games because they thought that people would not come to games if they could watch them on television and that would hurt the sport (sound familiar folks, who constantly comment on 'live racing'?). Luckily leadership ruled and the NFL took over television sports, like no sport ever has before. Now 2% of people who watch football attend games to do so. $5 billion dollar TV deals are the norm.

What did they do with the money? As we all know Rozelle (and anyone else with a clue) knew that each team had to share in the revenue to build the league.

In contrast we have not done as well listening to customer complaints, competition, technology or revenue sharing, have we?

What do we do when fans have complained about high takeout? We have raised takeout even higher.

What do we do when fans try and go offshore to get better prices and/or mediums because of a new entrant to the horse betting monopoly? We try and shut them down and do not recognize we have a problem on what we are delivering, not what others are.

What does racing do with new technology and high value added low marginal cost mediums like the Internet? Not much. A buddy of mine called from work wanting to watch the Little Brown Jug last week. Sorry pal, in the vernacular you are 'SOL'. In fact, there are rumblings that if there was not offtrack betting or TV betting that people would go to the track instead and all will be wine and roses. Oh my head. The NFL learned that was nonsense 48 years ago.

How about sharing that revenue? I would guess that there will be about $4B distributed to racing in some way, shape or form from slots in the next year or so. Did we do anything with it to grow handles? Let's see, it would cost no more than $50,000 to start up a harness racing website with all free video of all tracks a la TwinspiresTV. Is there one? No. I read a bit about starting up an ADW like Day at the Track or Premier Turf Club. We could have started an All Harness ADW with all kinds of bells and whistles. It's a revenue driver for sure. Cost? Let's say $1.5M. Do we have one? No.

For something as simple as a harness racing website with free programs and free video ($50,000 to create) it works out to 0.0013% of our slots revenue. To equate that to a lawyer making $200,000 (after taxes) that would be about $6.50, or a Big Mac meal.

When someone emails me and asks me what I think is wrong with racing I know how to answer it: We are what is wrong with racing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Somebeachsomewhere Ready to Roll

From Standardbred Canada's blog, Beach trainer Brent Macgrath posted that he "trained Beach today in 2:05, scoped clean immediately following the trip. His white blood cell count is down and everything seems positive. We plan to head to Kentucky at the first of the week."

I believe his first race is the Tattersalls on the 27th. Let's see if he can break the beam in 46 or lower. If I was a betting man, holy smokes I am, I would make it 3-5 that he goes faster than 46 in a race or TT.

I remember back as a kid. I was stoked because ESPN was covering the Hambletonian in 1985. Sure it was going to be fun to watch Prakas and a few other good trotters, but I, like everyone wanted to watch Nihilator go for the World Record. I remember after the half being on my feet. Then the three quarters came. I waited for the track announcer "It's Nihilator against the clock", with that pause for the final time..... it was so cool. I remember like it was yesterday.

If the same thing happens this time and you have a son or daughter that is a harness fan, make sure you watch that race with them. If they are anything like me, they might remember it forever.

I have that race on VHS and watch it from time to time. Now with Youtube it makes it easy. If you have not seen it, it's here.

HarnessLinkTV is Launched

The folks at Harnesslink.com have really tried new things and innovated the way racing is presented on the world wide web. I know what you are saying, innovated and racing in the same sentence? :)

They recently have compiled Youtube harness racing videos and have linked them in an easy to use, searchable way. They call it HarnessLinkTV.

* The ability to browse by racetrack - so if you only want to see videos from the Meadowlands that’s all you’ll get.
* The ability to browse by popular users/channels - we’ve been on YouTube for more then a year now, so we know the people that upload the best stuff on a regular basis.
* Smart search - try searching ‘little brown jug’ on YouTube and see what you come up with. The same search on Harnesslink TV will only give you relevant harness racing content.

Sometimes I find the pages slow loading at the Link, and it is a shame that my provider seems to have some trouble with it, because they have a wonderful site. This part of their site loads super-fast for me. Which is nice. Now I do not have to go to Youtube and search for video. It is all right there for me in one spot. A dandy bookmark!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Wrap-Up & Takeout Increases

Great post by Alan at Leftatthegate about the Jug and USTA bloggers. I read the transcript of the live blogging. Moira and Tim did great! I know Moira and she is awesome so my judgment might be clouded, but I think it is a great idea that worked well. Kudos.

Some nice comments on the aftermath of the Jug sniffed out by the Harness Edge. Of note, Dave Miller always had faith in the horse and that the hoof problem is not as bad as originally thought.

Courtesy the Equidaily headlines: Takeout is looked at increasing in Kentucky to "pay for stuff". When are they ever going to learn. Further, NYRA increases takeouts across the board.

What business in the U.S. treats its customers with more contempt than horse racing? Yesterday, an across-the-board increase of 1% was added to already onerous takeout on all wagers on NYRA races, making takeout in NY State one of highest in the nation.

You got that right Ed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shadow Play Runs and Hides

Shadow Play won the Little Brown Jug easily today. It was a fine performance for a horse who has not gotten much respect. I have said a few times here that I thought the Confederation Cup was much tougher than the Cane Pace, and many other races, since this colt was a part of it. I think that is true. He is a good horse.

Phil made a comment after the elim that if Art Official is anywhere near favorite status in the final that he would be loading up the truck. He was right. I for one can not believe that Art Official was anywhere near 2-1. He would have had to improve by around 20 lengths to win that final. He had virtually no shot on paper.

When Art broke scoring down I took a sizeable shot on Santanna and pitched Art from the exotics. As well I bet Santanna to show, as Art had a full $50,000 on him to show. I can not believe that Sanatanna could not pace away there. He only paced 52.3, which for him is a terrible mile. Jeff Gillis posts on the Harnessdriver site from time to time, so maybe we can find out what was bugging him. Santanna is far too fine a horse to not be able to pace at least 51.

All in all a fine day of racing. I think we learned a few things today: 1) Somebeachsomewhere is a clear favorite for 3YO of the year (he should be a slam dunk for horse of the year too, but we are tired of trumpeting that) and 2) These are horses, not machines. Even horses like Art have a bad day.

As Phil mentioned in his comment that Art was flat in the Cane, we thought so too. I am actually not surprised he raced poorly today. I had a feeling that after the Cane something was not quite right. He is far too good a horse to be life and death to come home in 56 seconds like he did in the Cane.

Will Art and Beach meet? Let's hope so, and let's hope they are both at their best. In racing, especially in the 3YO division it is pure murder. These horses, week in week out go hard against each other and they have to withstand adversity. Very few do. Right now the Beach has, and believe me, we are watching history.

I am glad Shadow Play got to show what he can do, however. He is a nice horse, and in any other year he would probably be the horse. Just not this year.

Change is Coming

Three heaters? Whipping?

Change seems to be coming.

Today in the Jugette, a three heater was needed. If we show three heats on network TV I think that would earn us about, oh, no fans. "I can't believe those horses are raced three times in a day" would probably be said by more than one new viewer. It's not unlike the uneasy feeling that I get when I watch steeplechases. I close my eyes over almost every jump. Anyhow, back to reality - The Jug folks are letting it be known that going to one final for the Jug is open to them. Andrew Cohen explored this fact on his blog. We have spoken about this here before and there are numerous comments at Andrew's site.

Next up, the change banner is lifted by Hall of Famer John Campbell. He writes to the Harness Edge mailbox that changing the whipping rules is "... a responsible measure to ensure the human treatment of the horse."

Further, breeding expert Norman Hall replies on the Harness Edge to the Harness Horse Association release (which came out hard against changing the whipping rules) by saying "And the beat goes on - or so it seems with OHHA defending the right of drivers to beat the back off their horses. The safety issue is a red herring that stinks of self interest."

Whips banned in Kentucky?

Last up, Jeremy Rose who received a three month suspension for misusing the whip recently had this to say about his suspension (thanks to Equidaily for the link): “I still think it’s a big plus for the industry,” he said. “I think they have to make those strides to make it main stream. I think they’re doing the right things by changing the (whipping) sticks a little bit and being a little harder on us with hitting a horse too many times or too hard in the wrong areas.”

I have made my thoughts known on whipping. I don't think it is a be all and end all, but it does seem to be for another place and another time. I personally think we let the wink wink, nudge nudge of feet on the hocks and whips where the sun don't shine go on for far too long, and now I think we are paying for this. I do not know who is right and who is wrong in this argument, but I stand behind my original opinion: This is going to happen. It will change. It is not an argument anymore, it is a done deal. We move at snail like speed in racing so the chatter of various self-interests will probably deafen the landscape for a decade, but it's time to move on. The argument is over.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Aside: Political Betting

We spoke before about the Jug Future pool and how interesting future bets are, and how they have changed the betting landcscape. This is no more prevalent than in the betting in various forms of the US and Canadian elections that are scheduled within the next month or so. (Aside: this is a gambling post and no politics here are allowed, there are plenty of blogs that talk politics).

First off, you have to make sure that in your jurisdiction this betting is allowed. This post is not an encouragement to bet.

I have watched election betting on the web since about the year 2000. That year of course was the contested election. Volumes were large, and it was a precursor about what was to come. Election betting has captured the imagination of millions. Here are a few basic rules, if one wishes to watch and participate this year.

First, tight elections are the ones that generate the most volume. So far this election fits the bill. In 2004 we had a unique election where people (the mainstream) did not overly like either candidate. It could not break one way or the other because of that. This time, the exact opposite is happening with the same result. The favorability of both candidates is high and when we think about it, why would they not be? You have a guy who did not grow up in privilege who has a shot, a guy who is disliked by old-school politicians for wanting to change things too much, and then we add a woman who when asked about the price of milk at Walmart can actually answer the question because she shopped there last week. The middle do not dislike either of these sides this year and that makes for good betting.

Second, never pay attention to the blogs. These blogs are written (for the most part) by hard-core haters of one side or the other. They love hearing themselves speak, and they might think they are doing some good, but in the big picture they are inconsequential. They are preaching to the choir. What to watch for are two big factors: The independent vote and the favorability ratings. The middle sways elections, not the hard-core.

There was considerable evidence of this earlier this month, which sharp traders used to make some moola. The mushy middle moved about September 1st in favour of John McCain. The media chalked this up to a bounce, but traders knew otherwise. Slowly but surely, McCain went from dog to chalk. $1000 invested on McCain at Intrade.com made a sharp trader $140 in a week. I would suspect McCain is overbought right now and I think he will go back to underdog status in the coming days. But we'll see.

Third, traders are more right than the pollsters, more often than not. When people are putting up their hard earned cash to bet, it is not for a sympathy vote. This is evidenced by several of the markets, like Intrade and in Canada the University of British Columbia market.

Fourth, knee-jerk reactions do not make for quick trades. In a market like an in-running football game, the odds change tremendously if a team blocks a kick, or scores a touchdown. In political betting there is a lag. Will today's news stick? Traders tend to wait for direction and opinion.

Fifth, the pollsters who are good are many, but Rasmussen in my opinion is the one worth watching. He is top-notch and has been for many years.

Sixth, Intrade seems to lead Betfair. US/Euro differences? I don't know. But it seems so.

In Canada, the race is nowhere near as exciting. The UBC market is one to watch, that Canadians can play in. I think it will take some sort of shock to make this market really fly as the conservatives look like they are a lock. On election night there may be some opps here though. Maybe we will blog that night.

Anyhow, there is a primer about election betting that maybe some gamblers would find interesting. We'll be back to speak about the Jug later.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Top Five Horses of the Decade

It is time to have a little fun. Who are the top five horses in the 2000's? Well that is a question that anyone can answer. Opinions can be different, and I am sure they are here.

As I discussed below in the Hambo Poll voting, I think a lot of these votes are a popularity contest, or they are political. I always look at things from a different perspective in these things. I don’t care if a horse won $1M or more, or a few high purse races, because each year there are many in each division who can and do that. There is little doubt that a horse like Always A Virgin would not be making a whole lot of scratch this year against Art Official and the Beach for example. What I look for is extreme talent, horses that did something we rarely see, those who might be able to step out of their comfort zone to beat older, or horses of a different sex, or those who are mentioned with harness racing true greats. To illustrate, a horse like Artsplace would be on my all time list, not for what he necessarily made, but because when he was at his best he could give horses like Niatross, or the Beach a run. His 2YO Breeders Crown win for example, was one for the ages. If it was run tomorrow, he might win again.

It is those who capture my imagination. Anyhow, here goes!

1. Rainbow Blue (32-30-0-1 $1.6M) - Words can not describe this beast of a mare. Does anyone have any doubt that in the nine seasons of this millenium she would have beat any filly foaled? I don’t. In her Roses are Red elimination at Woodbine she won in a hand drive in 49.2. There is a chance she could have set the all age track record that evening. In the final, on a soupy track, she proved her meddle even more, going three high at the half, surging to the lead and winning with ease. This was the three year old year of horses like Metropolitan and Modern Art. Not only was she argued as being one of the best fillies in history, there were many observers who felt that she, if entered in the Pace or North America Cup would have won. That has not happened ever with a three year old filly that I remember. She is tops on my list.

2. Peaceful Way (52-33-3-2 $3.25M) - Another filly makes the list. She won $3M, all the while having several mishaps. She crushed male free for all superstars in the Maple Leaf Trot. She was constantly talked about as being able to possibly beat Mr. Muscleman. It will take many, many years to forget this mare and I don’t know if we’ll see another one like her. Some thought that Snow White might follow in her footsteps, but as is proven time and time again, fillies with tremendous speed have a hard time following through. During her heyday she was always compared to the greatest trotters ever, which happens only to the true greats. In some people’s books she would be number one of this list and I don’t think I could argue. For a race that sends chills up ones spine, remember her performance in the Classic Series at the Meadowlands. I have never seen brush like that in my life by any trotter, let alone a filly. She was marvelous. To relive that mind-boggling race, you can at youtube here. If you think that was an aberration, well she won from an impossible spot like that more than once. No filly this decade would even hit the board off those trips.

3. Somebeachsomewhere (16-15-1-0 $2.4M)
- Another one of “those” horses, the ones that transcend racing history. Just like Rainbow Blue, or Peaceful Way, each time he sets foot on a racetrack the fans know that something special can happen. Let’s try him in the Metro - world record, off a 54 half, and a virtual hand ride to the wire. Let’s pop him in the box off a foot bruise and no training? Hand ride to the wire. Let’s try heats? World record. How about entering him in the Canadian Pacing Derby this year if he was eligible? He'd be the favorite against Mr. Big and might beat him. He is probably the only horse in harness racing history where he wins on a dead track, on a cool night in 150, and everyone asked what was wrong with him. That’s why horses like this make this list.

4. Eternal Camnation (101-47-18-5 $4.2M) - She is here for many reasons, the most of which might be her longevity. I do not think she could have beaten Rainbow Blue, but boy could she have given her a tussle. I sincerely wish her Classic Series win at Dover was on Youtube. In it she proved she belongs on anyone’s list. She was in a no win spot and driver Eric Ledford had to tip her three wide extremely prematurely. That would have stopped virtually any horse, but not horses who make this list. She continued to surge, and surge and surge; and she won. She was another who broke down barriers and was mentioned as perhaps a starter in some races against the boys. She might have had a tough time beating the Free for Allers, but she would have tried her butt off, because that is who she was.

5. Art Major (49-32-7-2 $3.3M) - I had trouble with the five slot, but if there was a match race tomorrow between Art Major and Somebeachsomewhere, I believe that he would be 6 or 7 to 5. He is that good a pacer. During his three year old year I had the feeling that each win would be an open length one. It was not will he win, it was how much will he win by. A mark of greatness. His win over McArdle in the US Pacing Championship was breathless. I do not think that there are many horses alive who could have won that race off that trip.

That’s my list. I know there are many others that could have been considered. Horses like Windsongs Legacy, Donato, Gallo Blue Chip, Rock n Roll Hanover; and several others. But those five horses, I believe did things that any on a subjective list would have a tough time doing. In the end it came down to this: Is there a horse in their respective divisions alive in the 2000's who could beat these horses on a regular basis, when at their best? I don’t think there is. Each horse was in some way, generational, and the best horses in our sport must be held to that high a bar, to be considered one of the best we've seen.
Photo of Rainbow Blue, courtesy Ed Keys.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fair Odds and Becoming a Winning Player

It's probably a cool time to chat about fair and board odds. I have heard a few times today from people (after the fact) that we have to concern ourselves with picking winners, and we will be winning players. We know that is not the case; picking ROI positive winners is the only way to make money. But we had two examples of a lot of this chatter today: With Dewey in the CTC and Big Brown in the Monmouth turf.

Big Brown was sure to be overbet. There was no question he would because weekend bettors bet reputation, not fact. Fair 3-5 shots, or 1-5 shots, are reserved for open length winners, doing what they always do, with no question marks. They have to 1) Run their race, with a good post/pace scenario 2) Have no physical question marks and 3) Have beat similar fields handily, under similar conditions. Big Brown clearly had several question marks: He lost the Belmont while being pulled up and he won his last on dirt, by a smidgen under a heavy drive. He was changing surfaces, as well, and the turf course was wet, something he had never raced on. Every large player was looking to bet against Big Brown today, and suck up the public cash who would be going long on him for what the horse did in previous starts. He had less than 27% of the place pool and 30% of the show pool. Souvenir win tickets I guess. Cannon fodder for us.

For an analysis of what a handicapper does in this instance, have a look at this post here on Stanford Wong's Sharps Sports Betting site. This player has Big Brown's fair odds at 2-1. That is about right considering some of the question marks. Amateurs would call him nuts after the fact. The horse was 3-5 and won fairly easily. But whomever would say that is not a winning player, and never will be. Picking winners is inconsequential.

For evidence that this type of betting is the way to win, check the player (a man named Dunbar who is a long time player and does some work on Vegas radio for horse racing) in that posts' public record. He has about a 21% ROI from making public picks over the last seven years. With say a rebate of 5%, which he can get at many places, that pops him up to 26%. On betting $750,000 a year, which is not hard to do when you are winning (you can start with a $2,000 bankroll and do that easily with that ROI) he would be a winning professional player. His yearly tax free income at that rate would be $195,000 a year.

Anyone think he is dumb for betting against Big Brown, eventhough he lost?

Very similar happened with Dewey. He won: "Free money at 6-5" I read on a couple of chat boards. Well it was a terrible bet at those odds, and if you bet him, you have to rework your analysis because you do not want to pick winners, you want to pick ROI positive winners. Take this simple exercise to achieve some sort of value. Say you think with a fair post and a return to form he runs to his Hambo line when he beat Crazed by a half length, he is even money. Then add uncertainty for him bouncing back on that messy track, which should take you up to 2-1. Then add the trip and post factor (a 0.8 impact value for post ten), and the fact that he is planning to go off the pace, or possibly be hung, because drivers are not as scared of him this week. That moves you up to 3 or 4-1. Then add the whole odds line, giving two horses that have beat, or almost beat him some value because they are the ones with the best posts. You end up with 5 or 6-1 fair odds. When you look at that dispassionately you can easily see why betting this horse at 6-5 was as bad, or worse than betting Big Brown at 3-5. They both won, but as a bettor who cares? Betting against those horses are what we have to lick our chops over. Or we're shark feed for documented winning bettors like Dunbar.

I hope that is a good illustration on value, with two of the days big races; and how players who try and make a living at the game handle their betting decisions with those types of races.

I will continue with a few more of these thoughts in a future post. When I spoke last month about how I met a professional bettor at the Hambo conference I was in contact with him and he sent me his book. It relays many of these thoughts in a really neat way. It's a cool betting book and I will review it when I am done and have some time.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dewey Bounces Back in CTC; Shipps Solid

In a strange race (hey, Ray what about taking him off the pace :)) Dewey got the lead easily, sat a pocket and went on to win fairly easily in 153.2.

Posters here are speaking of "taking off the flip flops". If that is so, I would leave them flip flops off, as he had more fire tonight. Ray once again proves that he can drive with anyone, or maybe more accurately, anyone can drive with anyone if they have a good horse. That was a perfect drive on a speed favouring track.

Clerk Magistrate came second for me, but did not meet the threshold of 7-2, so no bet. I thought he raced well, and I don't think he grabbed that sloppy surface. The third quarter was pretty pedestrian, yet he could not hook Crazed. He is too good a trotter not to be able to head that horse in a slow quarter, after Crazed was stung hard in a 27.2 second panel.

I would make that Clerk bet again, as Crazed was overbet, and boy was Dewey ever overbet. 7-5 from the ten post? Wow. I bet in that situation your ROI would be less than 0.50.

In another horse that raced rather poorly to most last time out, Big Brown, the result this time was a nice victory on the Monmouth turf. It's a day of redemption for two good horses!

Next week, as we detailed below is the Jug. I think we'll be able to take a closer look at that race next week.

In the Nassagawaya tonight, Shipps Xpectancy stamped himself a brute of a 2YO. I took some supers last week with Well Said on top and missed it. This colt beat me. He looked to have some snap. This week he blew the doors off a solid field. I have a feeling that we'll be hearing a ton more about this 'lil guy. Jerry Silva will probably have them on speed dial. :)

Canadian Trotting Classic, Jug Draw, and Bets

The CTC is on tap for tonight. Rain is here, and it looks like it will continue. This makes for an even more interesting race, as if it is not interesting enough.

I made a fair odds line. I would like to make a play according to it, by trying to hit something with my $1000 betting bankroll. I do believe Clerk Magistrate will be tonight's overlay. I will bet $30 to win on him, at anything over 3-1. Dewey will have to deal with traffic, no doubt, and I have his fair odds at 6-1. I am interested to see if he comes off the pace tonight, though. He was fabulous off the pace last year. Crazed I fear will be overbet. I do however have him as my most likely winner at 3-1 fair odds.

The Jug draw is out. There are three elims. My two plays in the future pool, the Field (which includes Art Official) drew the rail. He should be able to control this race. Then he probably has to hope that two speedballs do not draw one and two in the final. My other play, Santanna Blue Chip (13-1) has drawn the two post against AO. Not a great spot for my bet (he probably will have to hope for a post draw in the final). I was hoping he drew a softer elim, win and be able to have a shot at the rail. His Simcoe win was a marvelous prep. I have no doubt this horse can pace 50 over DEL.

Current bets:

$20 win on The Field at 5-1
$8 win on Santanna Blue Chip at 13-1

$30 win on Clerk Magistrate at 7-2 or over

Previous Bets:

Starting bankroll: $1000
NA Cup Bet:
$7 to win on Sand Shooter if over 16-1- Accepted. Result: 5th.
$60 on Somebeachsomewhere if over 4-5 - No bet. Result: Won
Overall Result -$7
Bankroll: $993

Meadowlands Pace Bets:
$8 to win on Share the Delight if over 15-1. Accepted: Result: 3rd
$8 to win on Art Official if over 16-1. No bet. Result: Won
Overall Result: - $8
Current Bankroll: $985

Friday, September 12, 2008

Handicapping: Pick 4's, 6's and More

Multi-leg bets are wagers that require you to pick the winners of multiple races. The usual bets are the Daily Double, Pick 3, Win 4, Pick 6, and Super 7. These wagers typically have a higher takeout than normal win betting. So, the question that you have to ask yourself is why make the bet instead of a regular win bet?
The answer is that you gain an edge with the multiple bet against making a parlay in the win pool. The takeout on the WEG circuit for Win is 16.95%, Daily Double 20.5%, Pick 3 26.3%, Win 4 25%, and Super 7 26.3%. Taking the Daily Double as an example, every $1 wagered returns 79.5 cents. If you took $1 and wagered it in the Win pool under the expectation that you would receive an average payout of your wager minus the track take and then parlayed the following race, you would have $1x.8305x.8305= 69 cents. Your Double bet gains 15.2% over the win bets. The corresponding numbers for the other bets are Pick 3 73.7 cents versus 57.3 cents (28.6% gain), Win 4 75 cents versus 47.6 cents (57.6%), and Super 7 73.7 cents versus 27.3 cents (170% gain).

So, theoretically you do better on the multi bets instead of win betting. But, it is not quite as simple as that. You are obviously not content to lose money at a lower rate. You want to make money. The horses that you put in your multis need to be horses that you feel will beat the takeout in comparison to their odds. For the Daily Double, having a horse that beats a 10.8% takeout in each leg would return a positive bet. This number is figured out by multiplying that takeout over 2 races. This would produce the 20.5% Double takeout. This assumes that the public bets the Double in the same proportions as the Win market, although that may not necessarily be the case. The corresponding percentages for the other bets are 9.7% for the Pick 3, 7% for the Win 4, and 4.3% for the Super 7.

Another reason to make a multi-bet wager is when you believe the odds that you will receive on a horse will be much larger than what will be reflected in the Win market. For example, in the early Daily Double at Woodbine on March 13, 2008, the first leg was won in a fortunate manner by 0.90-1 shot Duchessofnorthyork. In the second race, Escaping Beauty was the fifth choice in the morning line at 6-1 but was sent off as a solid second choice at 2.9-1 and got the win. A $2 win parlay would have paid $14.82, but the Double was a generous $29.90. Double bettors who could recognize the value in Escaping Beauty received a much better price than the Win backers.

A final note that multi-leg bettors should be aware of is to be aware of the pool sizes, especially when backing longshots. It would be great to have 3 consecutive 20-1 shots win in a Pick 3 on the WEG circuit, but unfortunately the pools usually only contain approximately $4000, leaving around $3000 after takeout. A $1 Win parlay of 3 20-1 shots would pay $9261, but hitting that pays you at most $3000, and less if someone else has also hit it. Making a Pick 3 wager with horses going off at 13.45-1 or more in each leg is a mathematically poor bet. This effect is most pronounced in Super 7 wagering. When the pool has a $10000 guaranteed payout, 7 horses of 2.75-1 or more creates a parlay that would pay more than the $10000 that you would receive. For a $50000 carryover pool, the odds only increase to 3.7-1. For a $250000 carryover, it is 4.9-1. The lesson to be learned is that you should probably only bet the Super 7 when you have some very solid low price horses that you are comfortable keying.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Whip Around Racing

Some interesting tidbits in the sport for Thursday.

Thanks to The Paulick Report, we see a potential claiming out of spite story in the soap opera that is Dick Dutrow. We all know Dutrow had some brave words for Contessa earlier this summer. When the claim box opened for a recent race which had Dutrow's "favourite horse", Contessa went and claimed him. As the Trainer Turns.

Equidaily had a neat link on a history of racing blog relating to the 1913 opening of Belmont. It is amazing that there was no wagering back then. The masses who ran racing seemed to think that they could run brown horses in a circle, ignore betting and the sport would grow. Some might say that almost 100 years later things have not changed much.

The Jug is near and WEG's Mike Hamilton is making the trip. he has a funny post about it up at WEG's columnist site.

We have spoken a few times about blogging and how it is changing things in this sport, and elsewhere. It is an amazing phenomenon. On political blogs, I think it might have to be regulated one day. We will have to have an entry page where a person has to answer an IQ test question to get in. This is no more apparent than in the Presidential race in the states. Matt Damon said this a couple of days ago: "I need to know if she really thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago. That's important.. I want to know that, I really do. Because she's going to have the nuclear codes. I want to know if she thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago." It turns out that the quote about dinosaurs that the VP candidate apparently said, was made up by a blogger. The full fake quote that got Matt's underwear in a bunch is this: "God made dinosaurs 4,000 years ago as ultimately flawed creatures, lizards of Satan really, so when they died and became petroleum products we, made in his perfect image, could use them in our pickup trucks, snow machines and fishing boats."

I guess it found Matt's inbox, somehow, and he actually believed someone could have said that. We clearly have to either regulate blogging, or not let celebrities speak of anything other than where the hot parties are in LA. It's too bad, because I had much more faith in Matt after watching him slay those mean-ass mathematical Harvardites in Good Will Hunting.

The poll is out and most folks (so far) think that Dewey will bounce back in the CTC. With rake added, he is about 3-5 odds from the ten hole, against a horse with the three post who beat him last time. This is a good illustration that value can be had from time to time in racing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Information II

In our last post on Inside Information, we discussed that racing could and should let people know when and if a horse was sick or lame or had his air shut off or didn't like a racing surface, and how he is tonight. These bits of information are huge. With 20% takeouts, the game is hard enough trying to beat it off form, let alone factors we do not know. Hong Kong does this already, and with the internet a laser-fast medium, it is doable in some form.

We got to see this Monday. Brent MacGrath, trainer of Beach has a Standardbred Canada Blog. We all watched the Simcoe on Saturday and it was clear that something was not quite right. But what? It turns out that the Beach scoped sick and his blood was done and his white count was high. A virus. This is great news to handicappers, and to fans of the sport. Usually we only hear such things as backstretch whispers.

Interestingly, a bit of harness racing fact comes out in this. On chat boards and in a few other areas, this is looked at as an excuse; and there are some out there who do not believe MacGrath that the horse scoped sick. We tend to eat our young in racing, for some bizarre reason. I guess the good side is, when you are getting kicked in the ass by people, it is because you are in front of them.

For the record, one of our trainers, the young feller, was there for the scoping. He said it was pretty ugly and he was amazed the horse could have actually won with that much mucous.

Regardless, despite the rumblings of a few people who might not believe them, prodding trainers to say 'why bother', I hope that this trend of letting us know what happened in a race in terms of a horses fitness is only the beginning. Football would not be bet without an injury report, or having to guess if players are in the line-up this week, and harness racing is not much different. People need to know these things to encourage them to bet. And not to mention hearing "the horses air was shut off and that was the reason for the 19 length loss" is much needed ammo to those who think 'the horse was stiffed'. I believe things like the MacGrath blog help racing in myriad ways, so I hope it continues. And I sincerely hope a few people who want to try and ruin it for the rest of us who want to know these things are taken for what they are, and ignored.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Why I Never Pay Attention to the Top Ten

For years I have wondered if some of the people who vote in the Hambo/BC Top Ten even watch races. I think it really came to a crescendo when a superstar like Rainbow Blue was second to Windsongs Legacy. Well this year, they have outdone themselves.

This week, Dewey is still on top, with 23 first place votes to the Beach's 11. After getting beat last week, and winning his last two races by a half, and three quarters of a length, under Mike Lachance-like stick, it is astounding.

Of course there is the obvious, Beach has won every start but one (and he was second in it, in world record time, after being parked the half), has made the most money, has set the most world records, has beaten the most world record holders; but it is more than that. Voters do not seem to realize that 151 trotters like Dewey who win the bulk of their starts are seen almost each year. In contrast, horses like the Beach who win by daylight in track record and world record shattering times against possibly the toughest group of 3YO's in ages, are lucky to be seen each decade.

There is a debate right now in harness racing grandstands everywhere, with grassroots racing fans. It goes something like this: "Is Somebeachsomewhere better than Niatross?" I'd say it is about 50/50, those who argue for and against that. The absolutely mind boggling thing is that the voters don't even think this is the best horse this year.

Note: To show how handicappers think (I personally know two people that were betting Crazed on Saturday), check out Middleton's column here. He publicly picked against Dewey. So did many others (Crazed was 3-1 from a bad post). Beach on the other hand had someone bet $25,000, not to show (there was no show betting) but to win on Saturday. That is why people were more shocked with Beach's poor last quarter than Dewey getting beat on Saturday. And why it was the biggest story. Handicappers do not expect Beach to show even a sliver of invincibility, many thought Dewey getting beat was inevitable.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Little Brown Jug

It's time for the magic wand again. You know, the one where we use slots cash and bring the biz together to do something neat.....

The Little Brown Jug is not broken. But it could use a slight resurfacing. A little blush on the cheeks; just so we can bring it into the new century and use it for what it is: Harness racing Americana.

First, some housekeeping.

* Heat racing is abolished. Harness racing is a hard sell. Telling a 21st century public that a horse can race again in a couple of hours makes them cringe. We can explain to each other, or to other insiders that everything is hunky-dorey with heats, but we are not the audience.

* The Jug takes a stand - no one handed whipping. It is often said that the Masters in golf can make rule changes if they want, because they are a beacon of the sport. They have specific rules, like amateur champs playing, and world wide exemptions for other tours. It works. The Jug should use its race to make racing better (for the record, I am not sold on no whipping, or a no whipping activist, but I agree with most - it will be gone soon. So let's make a decision, get some buzz for racing, and get moving)

* Get that purse up. $1M. How, I don't know, but I have a wand. A million is easy.

* Get together with Woodbine and the Meadowlands, and anyone else, preferably who has a little bit of slots money. Combine forces and brand a Triple Crown. Trademark it. The North America Cup's purse is lowered to $1M US. This way the Harness Racing Crown is now the North America Cup, The Meadowlands Pace, and the grand daddy - The Little Brown Jug, all at one million each. This would be a formidable test. Three sized tracks, over four months. A true beast would be the only colt to win this test. And that colt can be measured throughout history, long after we all have left this earth.

* The Jug Final is a nine horse race. Each previous Triple Crown race winner gets a bye, but the rest are determined by a racing series. This series includes races like the Confederation Cup, Jug Preview, the Adios and the Battle of Brandywine, in addition to on the board finish points for the first two legs. Each horse gets points for 1st, 2nd or 3rd and the nine best are invited, granted that they have paid up.

How does that sound? Well if we are not sold, let's look at what the above would have accomplished this year. First Somebeach would be there. There would be no talk of going to Lexington. He would be at the Jug. Art Official would be there. No horse is not going to pay for the $1M third leg of the Triple Crown are they?

From the rail out it might look like this:

Race 11 - The Little Brown Jug. Purse: $1,000,000

1. Shadow Play (Adios winner)
2. Somebeachsomewhere (bye)
3. Art Official (bye)
4. Badlands Nitro (Battle of Brandywine)
5. Santanna Blue Chip (on points)
6. The Mohegan Pan (on points)
7. Dali (on points)
8. Mystery Chase (points)
9. Major General (points)

Doable? Probably not. But I do have that damn wand, y'know?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dewey Beat, Somebeach Sick?

In a very interesting evening at Mohawk tonight, Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatemnhowe were both on the card.

First up, Crazed ran down Dewey late with relative ease. Dewey did not look himself - he seemed to have no fight - but he has been all out the last two, so saying that was a surprise is probably not true. Handicappers on the blog have spoken about that recently. Not to mention, Crazed is a nice horse. Dewey drew the 10 next week. We will probably see 4-1 or more on him, maybe more fair odds. When was the last time we have seen an undefeated horse who is 1-5 each week go to 4-1 or so the next? Never.

A couple of things that I am happy about though: 1) Ray can not be blamed for this defeat, and 2) In a showing of respect for his animal, when Ray saw that he was beat, he put that whip away. I gained more respect for Ray tonight than I might have through all his years of training. I hope the big colt bounces back.

There is a man named Glen that I know. He is a good man, always has his best wishes for you, and when he calls you a name, well he does not mean it. He has been screaming for the track record to be beaten at Mohawk for about four years. Well Glen: Paul MacDonnell and Brent MacGrath tried. Oh boy did they try.

Paul took the big horse through time trial type fractions, 53.2 and 120.2, looking for one thing - a big mile, maybe even a world record. But a funny thing happened. Beach was empty. For the first time in his career, he was empty.

Empty or not, he did what superstars do, though. He won.

In the post race interview, the trainer was understandably confused about the state of the champ. He alluded that he would be scoped to see if there is a problem. No doubt a blood will be taken tomorrow. Let's hope all goes well.

It is a handicapping truism in harness racing though that sometimes we lose sight of. We saw it with Art Official winning the Cane on 'e', as well. When a horse is all out and he should not be all out, something is not quite right. And next week they are generally bad bets. If Beach was in next week, which I am sure he will not, we would bet against him. Horses tell you how they feel by how they race. Sometimes we spend too much time looking at noise. As cappers we have to learn to throw noise right out the window.

An interesting night of racing tonight, regardless. Whomever says harness racing is boring, clearly has not watched enough harness racing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Less Demand and More Supply

In the wake of the massive drop in wagering here in Canada and elsewhere, and the recent news of handle drops in thoroughbred racing (Del Mar off, rumours of another overall down quarter like the first), it looks like we are a long way away from seeing growth. As this drop in demand occurs, we seem to see more and more supply. Once again, as Andrew Beyer put it in a recent column, the racing business seems to be one that thinks the principles of business do not apply to it.

Just to illustrate how much racing there is, and how we can now pick and choose what we want to play, and when, consider this:

Twenty years ago I would go to Greenwood Raceway. If the card was bad, the weather was bad, the track was off, the wind was messing things up, I would still play. Hey, there was nothing else to do. You bet Greenwood, or went home.

Today what I do is completely different, and we all do this. If it is raining at the Meadowlands and three horses break in the first, we turn off the M and head to Woodbine and bet there, where it is sunny. If at the Meadowlands there is a massive run of supertrainers winning everything off the claim at 2-5 prices, we can change the channel.

It struck me recently. I play a little bit of Mohawk and some Mountaineer at night. Mohawk racing seems to have been fair and worth putting a couple of dollars on. Mountaineer has for most of the year had a decent speed bias, where in my pace figures, the #1 rated first call horse has a 1.04 ROI. It was pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. The past several weeks the track has played fairly fair. I quit betting Mountaineer, because I don't want fair, I want to have an edge. Similar happened this year at Del Mar. I could not figure that place out. And I did not care that I could not. Why, because I could play Monmouth where speed was ruling, or Turfway where outside late pace was winning.

Times have changed and we all know that; and there is choice. That is a good thing and we all do not deny that either, but when the pools are so watered down and we are betting against ourselves in many instances, well then it is a problem.

What should we do? We all know that there is far too much racing, but entrenched interests, alternative gaming that fund purses, government intervention and funding - many of those things that have existed in some form for 100 years or more, make it almost impossible to change. In a dream we would have four or five tracks, with meets, big purses, great crowds and a real buzz; and a smaller circuit for lesser competitors. We could follow these tracks, get to know all the horses, and move from bias to bias, meet to meet, and play in bigger pools. Not likely, but hey we can dream right?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Beach Balls, Handicapping and Flexi Bets

The balls are being throw at the Beach. Not the beach at Amherst Shore near Truro, Nova Scotia, but the Beach as in Somebeach. Everyone, well virtually everyone, wants this horse to go to the Jug. The chat boards, letters to the Harness Edge, and the grandstand is buzzing about this and it will not let up. Will it happen? It might. Remember, this horse was not slated to go to the Confederation Cup either, but he did.

I understand that the Jug is a bit of an anachronism, but it is our anachronism, so I fully expect people to be asking Brent to take the horse there. On the flipside, this is their horse, and they do not have millions in the bank that they have made time and again in this game, or elsewhere. We are not talking Jess Jackson here. So they have to plan out the best way to make their horse money, and make the horse last the year. I understand both sides of the argument, and respect both sides too. Is there an easy answer? I don't think so. If he does go to the Jug and jogs, well that will certainly quiet the masses. But we do have to wonder just how bulletproof he is. If he goes there it would be a full eight races in about 6 weeks. We're talking 1980's durability if he withstands that. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

In a rather unique new handicapping challenge, SC has created a contest to be held at Mohawk on September 22nd. With only 30 max entries this can be lucrative, and since you are bidding on horses, rather than just betting who you want, there is a strategy involved. Interesting to say the least. I think I am going to enter this and give it a shot.

Flexi bets have made Hong Kong. Hong Kong continues to be on the cutting edge and refuses to lose handle without a fight. Remember this is the place that gave some monster rebates to increase churn, and have offered all kinds of unique bets that have caught fire like the Triple Trio. This bet was discussed at the Standardbred Wagering Conference's new bets section and I thought it was a winner, for various reasons. In effect, if you want a 1000 combo pick 7 ticket, you can specify an amount you want to spend, then the flexi calculates what the dollar base is. Want that ticket and only spend $100? Well you can. Your payoff will be based on a 10 cent hit, rather than a dollar one. I think some are trying to get this going here. It is an easy promotional bet, and the track/jurisdiction who gets it first might win.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blogs & Stuff. Revisted.

We spoke before on blogs, and social media taking hold in 2007 in several posts that I am too lazy to link. We wanted harness racing to get rolling on that. Harnesslink wrote an excellent article on it.

We are really seeing this idea stoked the past while. Outside of racing, in politics, there were some blog posts stating that Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's down syndrome child, was actually her daughters'. This was the sad side of social media - it was hogwash and a terrible abuse of blogging. But it took hold. A couple of news organizations and some influential political columnists reported it. This despite the fact that there were pictures of Palin for anyone to see with a simple google images search, pregnant with a child dated 2008. It has become the story this past week, and the word 'blogging' has been used on network TV a heck of a lot more times than I have seen. That kind of stuff annoys people who are out there speaking opinion on any subject, and why I at least try to make sure most of the opinions here are linked, in at least some way, but it is representative that this is a medium that is one to be listened to.

Back in reality, we see pressure on Somebeachsomewhere's owners to enter the Jug. Andrew Cohen threw it down, a la Easy Goer and Sunday Silence today.

Is it right that fans should have an opinion? Youbetcha. Is it right to pressure people to enter their horse in an event? Yes, surely it is. It shows the sport has heart, and has fans. The next time Tom Coughlin calls a play action on fourth and one and it fails, he will hear it. God knows, being in New York, he'll hear it with some profanity. But that is passion, that is sport.

For the record, and after Art won yesterday by a diminishing neck, beating a challenger Beach beat by two football fields in their meetings, I do not think Joe Seekman will have Andrew on the holiday card list :)

Regardless, this is only the beginning. Some might not like it, some will. But know one thing: Smart companies and businesses will embrace and exploit it. And good bloggers, people like Alan and Valerie et al we link, respect their place in this game.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Art Official Wins the Cane

Art won the Cane in 51.1, in a somewhat flat effort. He held of pocket sitter Badlands Nitro by maybe a half length.

Off that effort I am not sure my 5-1 price for the Jug is that good. I think Santanna can beat him if he races similarly. 13-1 on him is a nice price, I think.

New Harness TV Show & Old Warhorses

Putting their cash where their mouth is - kinda like me when I bet, although I hope it is more successful than that - the Hambletonian Society and several harness stakeholders have started to run a show on TVG. The show will be hosted by Gary Seibel. For information on the show, you can visit trotterspacers.com.

In the scratch your head file, Artist Stena, a former Adios winner and sire was brought back to the races recently, winning a 6 claimer at age 13. Let me type that again, yes Artist Stena was brought back to the races in a 6 claimer. There are some things in this game that make you wonder. I know one thing, if I ever have an Adios winner, I can guarantee at age 13 he will be on a farm, eating carrots, with a picture of his Adios win hanging over his stall.

Breeders Crown, Metro in the Books

I went to Mohawk last night for the festivities. I did not cash a ticket, but had a good time.

Some thoughts and observations.

The crowd was large and it was a great day in the area, but cooled off at night. I think the times were a little bit slow, as it was cooling all night.

Handle was a fairly solid $2.6M, which we do not see too often any longer. For contrast, North America Cup night handle is usually $3M.

Corleone Kosmos beat the Mohawk jinx finally and won a big one there. He seems to have trouble up here as Greg alluded to in his post. I played Digital Image in that one and I thought I might catch, but no dice. Good entertaining race.

I walked around the grandstand and a couple of sharp cappers liked Straight Shooting in the Metro consolation. In another sign that sharp handicappers are some of the only ones left playing racing he opened up at 2-5, despite being third choice in the pick 3's. He jogged and paid $4.50.

There were no Rainbow Blue's in the She's a Great Lady stakes. The time was relatively slow, but it was a good race.

The $1M Metro lacked superstar power (nothing against the field of course, it just was not like previous years). I think Ron Pierce's colt was the best in there. He tried a bull rush move that turned out to be over-aggressive. He lost by two, but the colt was awesome. He paced a 54 and change middle under severe pressure and did not fold his tent until late.

Greg's pick, Brigham Dream, raced well in the Mare Trot. Luc won two with trotters and as someone said to me last night 'he has a good set of hands with them'. I think that is true. Rarely does an aggressive driver do well with trotters, but Luc is more than that. He has driven them well for a few years now I think.

My Little Dragon must be a bit headstrong, or something, as her D barn record has not been overly good. Or maybe it is just a coincidence. Regardless, it did not bother her a bit in the Mares Pace. She won easily.

Other than Somebeach, I do not think there is a better horse in training than Mr. Big. He was sensational again. He does not miss a beat, this horse. What a buy for what 225k a couple of years ago? He was a late bloomer as a 3YO and he carried it now for two seasons.

I was surprised to see fans filing out after the Mare race. I think we have become desensitized to horses that we see often, like Mr. Big. I think the future will have less big races at same tracks. Let's face it, purse money is not what it was, and some stakes have been scaled back. That will probably keep fans around.

The Breeders Crown folks do it up right, though. Great trophies, and all of the Society show up and treat the races with the respect they deserve. I saw a very capable (and friendly!) Society member carrying the trophies with cloth gloves and brushing them up before the big races. A good deal of harness racing's who's who were there too, including several big owners, breeders and insiders.

Dewey did not disappoint at Duquoin, but you know what, the others are catching up to him. We see it every year come September when fickle trotters get their legs. Vivid Photo met Strong Yankee late, Donato met Arch Madness late. The list is a long one. In his last two Grand Circuit races, Dewey has won by a half length and three quarters of a length, and the tank was used. He was beating these horses much more easily earlier in the year. It will be an interesting fall in that division if this keeps up.

The Cane is tomorrow. It looks to me an act of God is all that can beat Art Official, but you never know in this game.

Photo credit of Luc and Brigham Dream: Clive Cohen

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