Friday, October 31, 2008

Gold Cup at Woodbine

Alex made a comment below, about how he thought this year a special race would have given the sport a shot in the arm. This race would involve say, Mr. Big and Somebeachsomewhere.

I read a recent headline that the Gold Cup at Woodbine was being moved.... immediately I thought "wow, they are going to move it to December I bet, and invite the Beach." But no, it now will be raced on November 15th, the same day the Beach races in the Ontario Super final.

Last years Gold Cup was exciting. You had the usual free for allers, but in a neat twist, Tell All, the Jug Champ, and Hagi, the fastest three year old in Canada that year were both invited. We got to see a Jug Champ and a Simcoe champ face older as a 3YO. Tell All ended up the chalk and raced well. Hagi held his own first over.

I thought for sure we'd see something like that before the Beach heads off prematurely to retirement. It should be interesting to see what happens for the Beach's final race, but it won't be the Gold Cup against someone like Mr. Big.

If there was one regret I think everyone has this year about the Beach (no not the Jug miss) it was that he was not entered in the Canadian Pacing Derby. It is open to both 3 and 4 year olds, and I think it would have been the race of the decade. We want to see great horses test themselves, just like Jess Jackson did with Curlin trying the grass, or Zarkava and against the boys. We will not see it this year with Beach, and that is a shame.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Announcers: Stauffer and McKee

I just watched the 7th at Hollywood and it amazes me how good a race caller Vic Stauffer is. He tells you virtually everything that is going on in a race and does so with a sense of purpose.

On the standardbred side, how about Sam McKee? Another masterful race caller.

Sometime I think we take these professionals for granted. But they are tops.

In homage to two greats, here is some video.

First Vic.

And a great call by Sam:

Edit: For Greg, who mentioned Durkin, here is one of the most beautiful race calls I have ever heard (just my opinion, I know others have their fave Durkin calls, too). It was 20 years ago and hearing the crowd down the lane, along with this wonderful call should make us remember just how fantastic this sport was in terms of fan support and drama.

Quick Notes: Infighting, Judging and a Bunch More

Our weekly, bi-weekly, or when I am too lazy to type anything, quick look at racing.

I bet a horse at Flamboro Downs Monday night. I was at Woodbine on Monday watching the tractor tear a hole out of the track, so I needed something to do. I bet the one horse in the 9th. I thought it was an overlay. Apparently everyone else did as well. I bet him with 15 seconds to post at 5-2. The horse ended up 1-5. I spoke to a small track guy recently and he said he hopes that betting exchanges are passed sometime in the future, because we need something to combat this. Also another insider I spoke to says our pari-mutuel system is just not working any longer. I agree.

Plenty of feedback on the Western Fair non-DQ on Monday, with comments here. Moreso, the chat boards are humming. Several people are calling for people to be fired over this. I personally do not know what to think. Plus, as stated, I am pretty lazy tonight, so I will let all those bettors and people like Andrew Cohen fire way.

The Breeders Cup handle was apparently up. But it seems they are looking at 14 races instead of 11 races. Not to mention, the $3M guaranteed pick 6 did not meet the guarantee. It was a major event and the horses had to circle a few times before the first leg, hoping to get to $3M. Not good.

Hollywood Park is in some sort of fight between the horseman and the ADW people who offer the bet. Surprise, surprise. A poster at pointed out that on TVG today one of the commentators was speaking of the $150k guarantee in the pick 4 today and Todd Schrrup’s response was “I wonder how long they will have to circle”. Double not good.

Another bettor on the mess: "Today I cant bet on CD, HOL, GG [Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields]............seems like there are more disputes that hurt the bettor. You cant count on getting a bet down anywhere anymore. Why study all night just to find our your not eligible to wager somewhere." Triple not good.

Was I the only one who found this funny, in a sad sort of way? The USTA is running a poll on one side of their page this week. It asks where Somebeachsomewhere ranks in the all time greats. Around 60% of people think he is in the top three and 96% of the people rank him in the top ten. On the other side of the page is the Hambo Top Ten poll where he is ranked second for 2008. Only in racing.

Harnesslink is reporting that John Campbell has signed with America Bets, an ADW in the Dakotas.

Last but not least, Dave Palone. I saw he won 7 a few days ago. The man is so dominant at the Meadows it is not funny.

Drivers by Wins - 2008
Name Starts 1st 2nd 3rd Earnings UDRS
David M Palone 2398 754 417 283 $ 8,270,696 0.450

He will finish the year with less than 3000 starts and he has a shot to win 1000 races. It is mind-boggling.

As per usual, the dude who drives the most will take the title. Anthony Morgan will most likely get to the 1000-1100 win area in about 4400 trips behind the gate. To think, 1000 wins ten years ago was considered almost impossible, and a record that would never be broken. Now it happens every year. How times change in racing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Horseplayers Sometimes Complain Too Much......

.... but this time I think they have a good complaint. Be prepared to see the most incredible judges call, perhaps in the history of not just harness racing, but the thoroughbreds too (video below).

The chat boards are buzzing about race 12 at London's Western Fair raceway last night. The comments are less than complimentary. In this race, the horse in the pocket along the rail, pulls off the racetrack at the head of the lane. Yep, off the racetrack. He then proceeds to pace a little while, dodging the traffic, because well, horses are not allowed inside the rail so clearly there in no traffic; and then he joins back up just before the wire. Some would think this is a simple call - pitched to last.

In fact, virtually everyone thinks this is a simple call, and not just horseplayers. On Andrew Cohen's board, here is a comment from Woodbine announcer Ken Middleton:

I can't imagine how they didn't place the winner behind the rest of the field.

The horse in question looked like he was on his way to choking in the hole, and Donnie McElroy had no other choice but to put him inside the saftey lane - he simply couldn't hold him in the hole.

That might be the WORST call I've ever seen!

Here is the video evidence and here is the story. Be prepared. Don't say I didn't warn you.:)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Will There Ever Be a Referendum on Horse Racing?

Equidaily ran a story recently on a dog racing referendum in Massachusetts. The proponents want to see dog racing outlawed.

Will this ever happen in horse racing? Will an activist State pop up that wants to get rid of horse racing? Will brutal images be peppered in the press of horses breaking down, just to make a point?

One would not think so, but in this day and age when weird and wacky laws are passed seemingly daily, one never knows.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Breeders Cup Post at HANA

A reprint of a Breeders cup trip post at the Horseplayers Association of North America that I think everyone should enjoy. We do not have these big days in harness racing. We tend to be grassroots, and if we hear $600 for a seat we would have a fairly large chuckle. So I think it is fun to see how the other half lives. I remember my first post on the blog here about harness racing, and it is nothing like this.

Anyway, I can attest that (because I know a couple of them) the group at HANA is top notch and people like John are really good for the game. I wish I could have made it because I would have loved to meet racing writers Jim Quinn and Dr. Z. I read his book about three times, cover to cover when I was a tyke horseplayer.

If you have not joined the association and want to, you can here. It is free, it is for both harness and thoroughbred players and you can help by joining. Please do.

My mother frequently told me, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say it." I will remember her words as I write about the Breeders' Cup weekend. What I write is not meant to be spiteful, but rather constructive criticism.

I'll start at the beginning.

Thursday, Oct 23, 2:50am. I climb out of bed 10 minutes before the alarm clock rings. My flight leaves at 5:30am from LaGuardia. What was I thinking when I booked a flight at that hour?

Uneventful drive to airport and somehow I manage to arrive before 4:00am -- too early. Passengers are not allowed to proceed to the gate, yet. No chairs to sit in while we wait.

4:30pm -- Finally, security opens up. No hassles from TSA. Flight leaves on time.

I'm about 5'10" and 170 pounds. The seats on Continental Airplanes were built for people under 5'8" and 150 pounds. The coffee was the worst I've ever had on an airplane.

Arrive Houston. Run to the next terminal to catch the flight to Ontario, California. They are already boarding when I arrive. Good thing I'm not elderly or disabled because I never would have made the flight. I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn't on a flight to Ontario, Canada.

Arrive Ontario -- California, not Canada. Beautiful, sunny day. All the rental cars are off-site. Shuttle gets me there relatively quickly. I fill out the paperwork with the Dollar Rent A Car rep and then proceed to my car. I thought for sure I requested a compact car. I always reserve the smallest car because when they run out they will give a free upgrade to a larger car. The rep tells me I can upgrade to a full size for $10 per day more. I declined.

The parking lot rep (who turns out to the General Manager) points me to a Kia. I spot a nice Chrysler Sebring convertible. I ask him if I can upgrade to the convertible for $10 per day. He said, "I tell you what. I will upgrade you for free if you promise to use Dollar again." I said, "But of course" and then offer him a tip. He refuses it.

It's only 11:00am and I drive away with a big smile on my face in a brand new convertible for only $19.97 per day for 3 days.

The Holiday Inn Express is only a mile or two away, so I decide to check-in before heading out to Santa Anita. No problem and the very pleasant woman who checks me in gives me a free bottle of water.

There was a ton of traffic on the drive to Santa Anita. However, I arrived by the first race.

Jim Quinn had reserved his table in the Turf Club restaurant for Dr. Z and me. Theresia Muller, the sensational HANA Treasurer, and her friends were also in the Turf Club. It was the first time Theresia and I had met in person, but I felt like I was meeting a longtime friend. She is a bundle of energy and sharp as a tack. I'm so glad she is part of the HANA board. I didn't know it at the time, but Theresia is one of the best handicappers I have ever met.

Theresia and I chat during the second race. I notice that there is a good Dr. Z place and show bet on the coupled entry 1 and 1A. I don't bet it. Zanda Blue (#1) and Desert Siren (#1A) run 2nd and 3rd. It pays $3.00 for 2nd and the show bet pays more than the place bet $3.20. Dammit.

Theresia and I watch the paddock and post parade on the little TV monitor at her table. The #6 horse, Satellite, looks absolutely spectacular -- just bouncing and prancing around light as a feather. I'm still chatting, so I don't bet it. Satellite wins and pays $20.60. Double dammit.

Dr. Z arrives. We all chat and then go to our table. I bet the next race ( my first bet of the day) and lose. Triple dammit.

The rest of the day is uneventful, bettingwise. I just make small recreational bets and am behind for the day.

The food in the Turf Club was excellent. It was great spending a day at the races with terrific people. Losing some recreational bets could not put a damper on an otherwise fantastic afternoon.

After the races Dr. Z and I walk to the grandstand side of the track to locate our Breeders' Cup seats. They are at the 16th pole. Not terrible. However, for $600 bucks we were hoping to at least have a table on which to lay out our racing data.

We part ways and look forward to Friday's Breeders' Cup card.

Friday 10:00am -- arrive Santa Anita. I walk up the steps to my seat. As I'm walking up, there is a man sitting on a tiered concrete platform below my seat. I ask him what the cost of his seat was. He said, "These seats are free." What? Free? My seats, 7 rows back cost $600! What the #*$&???

OK. So my seat was a folding seat and his was a concrete bleacher. But a $600 difference in price?

Is it any wonder that the stands were empty on Friday and scalpers were willing to accept 1/3 face value?

It was a gorgeous day. The racing was top class. And the betting lines were short. Santa Anita and the BC did a good job of managing the event. The vendor food was substandard, but that is par for the course. However, there was a vendor near our seats that had delicious coffee.

When I went to the 1997 Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park, I seem to recall we got box seats for $75 and that included a box lunch with sushi. The 2008 BC did not include lunch and cost $600 for grandstand seats. My, how times change.

I made mostly small recreational wagers and ended up losing about $100 on the day. I was saving my ammunition for Saturday's card.

Dr. Z and I left the track and met up with Theresia and her friends at a nice restaurant in Arcadia. We enjoyed a good meal and then retired for the night.

Saturday 9:00am -- arrive Santa Anita. Same seats as yesterday. Great card for handicapping. I love marathon racing. I didn't have the winner, but it was logical. Had I taken time to handicap in advance I'm confident I would have had the winner. But the BC (like KY Derby day) is a recreational day for me. I bet small (unless I spot a bargain) and just try to enjoy the atmosphere.

The crowd was much bigger on Saturday, but there were still a lot of empty seats all around us. There were box seats to our right. Only about 1/2 of them were occupied. I think they cost around twelve hundred dollars, so it is not surprising they were empty.

I wondered why the BC won't use colored saddle cloths. Then I realized that the BC is an industry event. It is not meant for racing fans and horseplayers. That's too bad. If it was geared toward fans and players maybe the attendance and handle would have been higher? The food vendors would surely appreciate the larger crowds.

The one thing that really bothered me was the post parade for two of the turf races. For all but two races, the horses were paraded up to 16th pole on the synthetic surface, turned around and then warmed up. As they turned around, the fans got a chance to see each of the horses without the view being blocked by the lead ponies. However, there were two turf races where the horses were paraded on the turf course rather than the synthetic course and were never turned around to give the crowd a chance to view them. We could only see the lead ponies.

The one big advantage on-course horseplayers have over their off-course brethern is the opportunity to see the horses in the flesh. If that advantage is taken away then what reason is there to attend the live event?

For $600 I want to see the horses in the post parade. Is that asking too much?

I went 6 races in a row without cashing a recreational bet on Saturday. Finally, I saw something I liked. Midnight Lute in the 7th. I noticed he won the BC Sprint last year. He lost his last race badly. But judging from the running line I felt like something happened to him that was forgiveable. (I would find out the next day I was correct.) I noticed he worked a bullet 5 furlongs in 56 and change. I can't remember ever seeing a workout that fast, though I'm sure it happens. So I knew he was fit.

I confidently walked to the window and made my largest bet of the week.

As he pulled to the lead at about the 16th pole -- right in front of me -- he had this beautiful, high front leg action like he was bouncing off the synthetic surface. I don't know if was the surface or if he was superfit, but I've never seen anything like it. I can see why Baffert says Lute is the best horse he has ever trained.

Finally, a winner, and I recouped all my losses from the previous two days plus today.

Jumping forward one day, it turns out Midnight Lute had thrown a shoe in his previous race, according to the cab driver who took me to the airport on Sunday morning. He said he just dropped off the owners of Midnight Lute at the airport and they told him what happened in his last race. A cabbie wouldn't get the story wrong, would he?

Back to Saturday... I walked down to the rail for the Classic to get a good look at Curlin. He was super muscular. The only knock on him was that his coat looked a little dull. Steroid withdrawal? That didn't stop me from making a moderate place and show bet on him. Had he run 3rd I would have broken even on the race. As it was, I gave back some of my Midnight Lute profits.

Theresia had been touting Raven's Pass all day long. Did I listen? No. She also liked Henrythenavigator. Did I listen? No. Did I listen to her tell me about the nice exacta bet she collected on for the Classic? Yes.

I lost a little more on the rest of the races and figure I probably broke even over three days. Could have been worse. It just goes to show you how much those recreational wagers cost. But if it wasn't for the betting then what reason would a horseplayer have for attending the races?

Next year, I probably won't even bet the Breeders' Cup races. My kids' play sports. I missed their games on Saturday because I was at the Breeders' Cup. That will never happen again. I'd much rather see my kids' play sports than watch horse races -- especially races where horseplayers are underappreciated.

As Warren Buffet says, "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." In this horseplayer's opinion, the price of the Breeders' Cup live event exceeded the value -- not the kind of bets you want to make too often.

From a horseplayer's perspective, here are the grades for the various entities I dealt with this past weekend.

Breeders' Cup gets a "B".

Santa Anita gets a "B+".

Continental Airlines gets a "B-".

Holiday Inn Express gets an "A".

Dollar Rental Car gets an "A+" for understanding the importance of treating a customer well.

Dewey Tops the Breeders Crown Poll

This weeks poll is out. Dewey is still number one; Art Official ahead of Shadow Play.

Rank/Name/1stPl Votes
1. Deweycheatumnhowe (20)
2. Somebeachsomewhere (14)
3. Mister Big (1)
4. Art Official
5. Shadow Play

Harness Herb's Top Ten

Our weekly look at Harness Racing's ten best horses, ranked.

Greg reports that Herb had a tough week this week. He had to move a couple out, due to injury and sub par losses.

He moved Nebupannezar in, as he was lights out in a major race (a grade one to runner fans), and has raced well all year. He is close to being the 2YO pacer of the year if he converts the BC.

Enough Talk, with another win, is coming on hard, so he moved up a couple of spots. He has become the top older trotter in racing. He is a world record holder as well.

Federal Flex had some sickness issues, so Herb was not sure if he would bounce back, but he did. He moves in. He is this years Dewey, or Donato in the 2YO ranks - the top juvenile trotter in racing.

Shadow Play has stamped himself the "horse other than Beach", is a world record holder in his own right; and being so close to one of the best ever, the Jug champ deserves an uptick (Herb note: He would have stayed at 4 if he lost by a couple). Frankly, he would be a horse the big breeding operations would be after, but he was born in the wrong year. If he races last year, he probably wins everything and would be an easy #1 on this list. It is one thing Herb's list does that others do not - he looks at a horses place in history and ranks accordingly.

1. Somebeachsomewhere
(3yo colt pacer, 12 wins from 13 starts, earnings of $2.11 million)-last week #1
2. Shadow Play
(3yo colt pacer, 12 wins from 22 starts, earnings of $889,000)-last week #4
3. Mister Big
(5yo pacer, 11 wins from 13 starts, earnings of $1.56 million)-last week #2

4. Deweycheatumnhowe (3yo colt trotter, 11 wins from 13 starts, earnings of $2.18 million)-last week #3
5. Nebupanezzar (2yo gelding pacer, eight wins from 11 starts, earnings of $906,000)-last week unranked
6. Enough Talk (5yo gelding trotter, seven wins from 23 starts, earnings of $756,000)-last week #9
7. Federal Flex (2yo colt trotter, five wins from seven starts, earnings of $470,000)-last week unranked
8. Art Colony (2yo colt pacer, four wins from five starts, earnings of $242,000), last week #10
9. Celebrity Secret (3yo colt trotter, six wins from 17 starts, earnings of $815,000), last week-#7
10. Up Front Annika (2yo filly trotter, four wins from 9 starts, earnings of $408,000)-last week unranked

Dropped out-Art Official (injury), Artimittateslife (loss @ Yonkers )

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Somebeachsomewhere Delivers. Curlin Does Not

In a spectacular day of racing, two superstars slipped on a bridle. One delivered a superstar performance, and one did not. I am not here to beat on Curlin, like I am sure some will. I love the horse. He is wonderful, and he is racing at four. That is enough in this day and age to love him.

First up, Somebeachsomewhere paced another magical mile in the $650,000 Messenger Stakes at Yonkers. The track was a mud bath, and Beach was not handling the going at all. During the running of the race he looked out of whack, and not steering at all well. If he was ripe for a beating this was it. Inside of him was Shadow Play - in any other year, the three year old pacer. He won the Little Brown Jug by 7 and set a World record in the Adios.

While watching the race a seasoned race watcher (in fact a guy who makes his living betting horses and does rather well) said "he can't steer him". He thought he was done. I am enamoured with this horse and thought he was not beat, and when he reached the straight he would go by. He did; but to say I was not sweating it would be a lie. Not to mention, even going straight in the lane was tough for him tonight, he veered and almost locked wheels with Shadow Play.

When we wrote the preview and thought it would be a tough race, we did not think this tough.

I was interested to see if we were both seeing things regarding the Beach's gait and straightness, but this was confirmed (thanks Kevin for pointing it out) on

Somebeachsomewhere overcame heavy sheets of rain, losing a couple of bell boots..... While scoring down before the Messenger, Somebeachsomewhere managed to kick off his Velcro-closing bell boots. MacDonell elected to go without them. Earlier in the evening MacDonell had warmed Beach up free-legged and the colt broke stride at about the three-quarter mark, but MacDonell later said that didn't worry him either.

This folks is what great horses do - they overcome adversity. Only the very best can do that. It is why we have had him #1 with a bullet every week since the Metro Stakes last year, when he won the race like no other two year old pacer has ever won in our sport.

Here is the video evidence:

Forget the World record mile . This race, to me, stamps him as one of the all time great three year olds.

That brings me to Curlin. He is a wonderful horse, but he is not a great horse in the spirit of the phrase, because great horses do not need to race on a particular surface or have things go their way. Great horses do not have to have good weather, or everything perfect for them to win.

I was cheering for Curin today (despite being happy since one of my good friends had a nice sized double on Raven's Pass) and I love the horse, so I hope the above paragraph does not come off the wrong way. It is the same way I speak of Dewey. I love that bugger, the owners and trainer, and think he will be a great sire. But superstars should be reserved for the very best. You saw that tonight with the very best; and his name is Somebeachsomewhere. I am convinced we will not see another like him for a long, long time.

Breeders Cup Notes:

Tremendous action on Betfair that was as fun to watch as the races themselves. Sharp players know what they are doing. If you thought that Well Armed was going to win at the half, the sharpies did not. In running he was 21-1 at that point.

Midshipman was hammered all during the trading.

I do not understand Woodbine. They ran their first race at 1:10 PM, which was the exact same post time as the BC Marathon. I could not believe their scheduling today.

Curlin went down to 1-2, and suprisingly it seems that no one believed Raven's Pass was going to win late. When trading was shut off, he was even money. Betting a winner at even money, right near the wire? Wow.

Quote of the day for me was from the Owner of Conduit: 'Well, he was going to retire after his last race, but we decided to give him one more race'. I had to look, thinking he was a 5 year old warhorse or something and I missed it ...... he is three and has had six starts. That's like Tiger Woods calling it quits when he was 11. Racing has some serious problems.

I grinded most of the day and made no money at all. In fact I think I ended up down. I ended up betting Eagle Mountain. Place money was decent and I caught the ex. He was right in my price range. That pretty much salvaged the day. I bet Go Between in the Classic and was very confident (watching the in running trading he went down to 5-1, in fact) but he did not fire. Some near misses otherwise, but a great great day of racing in beautiful California.

For Those Playing the Cup Pick Six.....

Wagering is open for business in many parts of the world, and it tends to be sharp. Today there were several horses bet below their morning line, and some above it and these were signalled Thursday night. They are helpful when constructing pick 6 or pick 4 tickets, I find. So here are a few quick notes:

Marathon - Sixties Icon is being hit pretty hard. Delightful Kiss is taking money.

Turf Sprint - Mr. Nightliner is live. I like this horse, so this is disappointing. I don't think we get any price on him.

Dirt Mile - Pyro and My Pal Charlie are being bet below ML.

Mile - US Ranger is being bet below ML.

Juvy - Street Hero is tepid chalk right now.

Juvy Turf - They are loving Westphalia.

Sprint - Fatal Bullet is live.

Turf - Conduit is taking money.

Classic - Curlin is just over 2-1.

Watching the in running betting at betting giant betfair was interesting today. When Indian Blessing was getting eaten up the action was pretty fierce. It happened several times today. The Brits love their racing and the sharpies who are working the in-running betting are exactly that - sharp.

Glancing around tonight while checking odds for tomorrow, I see the Aussie betting is going very well there. The 1:05 race at Moonee Valley had around $1 million traded just in the win pool. It seems this type of betting has been embraced downuner, and judging by the fast and furious action, it is well liked by Aussie bettors. To think it was only April of this year that it was approved. With millions traded daily and horseplayers getting nice low takeouts, I think those who tried to protect their slice and block betfair there, are looking more and more foolish.

Last, we'll take another shot at a bomb pick 6. We got two of six yesterday, which is about my average. Let's shoot for three of six here, for a big day.

BC Mile: 2,5,6,7,11
Juvy: 1,4,6,8
Juvy Turf: 1,3,6,7,11
Sprint: 9
Turf: 3,10,11
Classic: 1

Note: Premier Turf Club is offering a unique clocking report for the BC. Word is it will be up at 11AM tomorrow if you are interested (it opens in a pdf).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Slots Solution in 30 Seconds & Breeders Cup Tips

I have been reading reaction and stories about Halsey Minor's news that he would rather get sent to the big house, instead of having a slot machine at his track. It's been pretty interesting.

I thought about it for 30 seconds tonight, and I came up with a solution. A way to use slots cash to raise revenues. Currently tracks get around 10% and purses get about 10%. That's no good. In the vernacular, it sucks.

Pull The Pocket's Amazingly Intricate Slots Solution

7.5% goes to tracks
7.5% goes to purses
1% goes to marketing
4% goes to player rebates

I just upped handles by 20%, we will soon be watching the World Series of Horseplaying on ESPN 2, and we'll get to watch some cool commercials with Luc Ouellette in a tu tu. The sport grows.

Now that we have grown racing, it is time to speak about the weekend.

Pull the Pocket's Unsolicited Breeders Cup Tips

1. Go big or go home - Shoot the moon. If you bet every horse since the BC started, you make a profit. Don't buck the trend, especially on the pro-ride surface. Things will happen, funky things. No ML's under 6-1 for me. Catch a few bombs and you might be hobknobbing with the rich guys running for the US presidency. You just never know.

2. Play like an idiot and expect to lose - Hell, if we are shooting the moon, chances are we are going to get throttled. I usually place a certain amount in an account, knowing full well I will probably lose every penny. I got lucky on a bomb last year - Nownownow - and caught the exotics, but I got walloped the rest of the way and ended up broke. If Wall Street can do it so can we.

3. Have fun - When you know you are going to lose and bet these bombs, there is no pressure. None whatsoever. It is like a scrawny, single, everyman going to an Oscars party looking for dates. You know you ain't picking up Charlize Theron, so you might as well eat some good food and have a few laughs.

4. Don't Sweat it - When it is over you are not allowed to speak of bad beats. Everyone has bad beats BC day. It is a yearly ritual. Don't speak of them or you'll look like a weenie.

Pull the Pocket's Sure Loser Ultra Pick 6 Bombola

I am going for all the marbles in the pick 6 tomorrow. If I get two of six I am buying a lottery ticket on the way home, because I am walkin' lucky!

Race 3: 3,7,12 - We no need this Indian Blessing.
Race 4: 4,5,11
Race 5: 8,9,10
Race 6: 3 - Gotta key a 6-1 ML shot. Today we're lucky.
Race 7: Zenyatta is the greatest mare in racing. We are keying Carriage Trail.
Race 8: 1,4,6,7,9,12

I didn't want to use Black Mamba in the last leg, because she is a chalk play, but it would be really, really cool to hit a $2 million dollar pick 6 with a horse named Black Mamba. Think of it at parties with non-racing fans, "what did you hit the 2 million on?" "Black Mamba," you say. That is super-cool.

Good luck tomorrow folks and remember, these tips and picks are for fun only. When all the chalk comes in I do not want to see it in the comments section. :)

Seriously, enjoy the day everyone.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Minor: Slots are a Disease & I Will Not Infect Racing With Them

Halsey Minor, the former CNET founder and Internet entrepreneur who wants to buy tracks, might be a guy that can turn this business around. He says "slots do not belong in racing," and that if they are approved for a track he owns he would not implement them.

Minor, with the comptroller by his side, also told reporters that he wants to revive Maryland horse racing without slot machines.

"These things, they're cancer," Minor said at a news conference in the comptroller's reception room.

Minor also said he would consider building a new facility in Baltimore at Pimlico, which is home of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Minor said his plans to revive horse racing involve focusing on improving the track experience for fans.

"Slots do not belong in thoroughbred racing," Minor said

Slots are our drug. Like most subsidies that are given without benchmarks or penalties, they make us lazy and allow us to be second rate, ordinary, unremarkable. They have allowed us to completely ignore handles, and the horseplayer for a long, long time. I think Mr. Minor has a point, and it is amazing to see someone with the cajones to stand up and say it.

Over the last dozen years we as a business have received billions of dollars of slot money. Almost all of this money has gone into supply. It has been said by many that the slots boom has been a good one for drivers/jockeys and veterinarians and not many others. I do not disagree.

What is the result? Handles have gone down and fewer people watch racing today than ever before. What business do you know gets a $3,000,000,000 or $4,000,000,000 subsidy (enough money to pay for the purse for the Breeders Cup Classic for the next 800 years) and has their industry’s only measurable metric go down? None that I know of. Racing will be spoken about in MBA textbooks someday as a "what not to do" case study.

I don’t begrudge the slots boom and the business taking all the money for the supply side. After all, I am a horse owner and get to race for inflated purses, in front of almost no fans; but when I look at it, it really does me no good. My training bills are small compared to many others out there, yet they are 150%-200% higher than the bills from my family stable in the 1980's - how’s that for inflation. A vet bill then might be $1000 a year. Now for some stables, it can be $1000 a week. It has done us very little good as owners in microeconomic terms. We have just shuffled money from one hand to the other.

As for the players, they have been annihilated. Takeouts pre-slots were in the 17% range. Now they are about 21.8%. The business got billions and the players have received a giant kick in the ass. I don't blame them one bit for leaving our sport and feeling cheated.

The sad part is that many will disagree with Mr. Minor and will probably be angry with him. Each time we hear something from the business it usually has something to do with marching on a state house for more slots, or sports betting, or some kind of hand out that does nothing but hurt racing handles. It has become a cottage industry, like trial lawyer or oil company lobbying in Washington. We know it is bad, we know it will not help us in the long run, but we can not help ourselves from bowing to the elixir of free money. It’s crack cocaine and we are its users.

When I first heard of Mr. Minor, I wrote a post about it.

In a recent interview on the Paulick Report, I found out that I really like Halsey Minor. Minor is a founder of CNET, a very successful internet firm which sold for almost $2.0B and he wants to buy and restore Hialeah in Florida. Why does a guy who worked in the Internet where tomorrow happens today want a piece of the racing business where tomorrow happens a decade from now? I don't know, but he appears to like racing. And he handles things like many I know in the Internet business - with common sense and no nonsense.

That opinion has not changed. I sincerely hope he succeeds and helps our core business thrive with a much needed change of business model.

We need a leader. We might have found him.

Messenger Stakes - Beach v. Shadow

As we noted, the buzz in all of racing is about the Breeders Cup. But there is a dandy match-up after the glitter of the day fades at Yonkers Raceway in NYC.

Here is the field for the third jewel of the Pacing Triple Crown, The Messenger Stakes (10PM).

$650,000 Messenger Stakes
1-Legacy N Diamonds 12-1
2-Brother Ray 15-1
3-Dali 20-1
4-Santanna Blue Chip 12-1
5-Shadow Play 5-2
6-Somebeachsomewhere 1-2

Slam dunk for the Beach at a 1-2 ML? I don't think so. He will have to work, and work hard I think.

In the Confederation Cup, these two horses met. Beach off an Ontario sired triumph, and Shadow Play off of a World Record performance in the Adios. I had to laugh a little bit as this was about the time that people were saying Beach was dodging horses and looking for an easy spot. The Cup was their toughest field assembled and was much tougher than the Cane, or the Jug, Windy City, or even the Messenger. This was one tough field and one tough race to win.

Clearly another shellacking by the greatest show on traprock. But in throwing a 54 back half around two turns like Beach did, NO horse, not Shadow Play, not Badlands Nitro, not even Niatross would have been close off a second over trip. Shadow Play might have not been at his best that day, but he had no shot if he was.

This time it is one heat, and Shadow Play has the post advantage. I am almost 100% sure Beach will be first over in this test. He is three or four, or maybe even five lengths better than Shadow Play, but the trip will be an equalizer. If he is in a bad spot, like second over, then he has to deal with traffic. It would be even worse. However, one thing I think I am correct on - he won't make the lead early. If he wins by four or five first over against a beast of a horse like Shadow Play (like he might), I think I would not criticize people for bringing up the Niatross comparisons.

So heading into Saturday night, I know two things for sure: One, I would not make the Beach lower than 3-5 in my fair odds line and two, I will be watching the Messenger. It should be a fabulous race.

I was going to live blog the Breeders Cup this weekend, as I thought it would be interesting. Check overseas odds on the invaders, see some opportunities with some of the live paddock reports and so on. But since we are a harness racing blog I thought we'd save that for the Breeders Crown. Let me know if you think this is a good idea. it would be interactive and we could play around and see if we can find some winners. Hey, maybe I can get that Moira chick to give us some hats as prizes for us players :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Harness Herb's Top Ten

It is no secret that Pocket readers are flummoxed with the Harness Racing Top Ten poll. We have made it a topic about four or five times. So our cub reporter Greg Reinhart figured we should do our own. I was too lazy so Greg has initiated this weekly event. Each Tuesday will be top ten Tuesday.

This list will be chosen by Harness Herb. A special thanks to Herb and Greg.

Harness Herb's Top Ten List

1. Somebeachsomewhere

2. Mister Big

3. Deweycheatumnhowe

4. Shadow Play

5. Art Official

6. Dial Or Nodial

7. Celebrity Secret

8. Artimittateslife

9. Enough Talk

10. Art Colony

PS: Just for the record I did not pick this list, Herb did. If you have a comment, please address Herb in the comments section.

Tuesday Notes

The Breeders Cup for thoroughbred racing is dominating the headlines and you can find some good information out there. We'll leave that to other bloggers.

Thanks to Ray Paulick of the Paulick Report, we'll run some neat stories about gay horses and horses who get their head stuck in a tree, though. Those never go out of style. No worries, the horse is fine and if she is anything like me when I licked a frozen flagpole at age four, she won't do that again.

Harness news seems to be in a vacuum. The Fall Final Four is at Woodbine, but those races, unless we have a supastar in them never seem to do much for me. I went to Woodbine last weekend though and sat around the Trot Canada National Handicapping Championship. Trot did a good job and Woodbine playing host made the event look enjoyable. The winning bankroll was pretty light. One or two bombers and one could have taken home the prize, but no one seemed to land one.

Woodbine upgraded their toteboard and big screens. It looks a whole lot more like Keeneland, and they are improved. I always wondered why they did not show the computerized Trackus replays. Now they do. On the third screen, while the replay is shown on the middle one, they show this neat feature.

That is decent for on track attendance. I have an idea how to bolster on track attendance (of course it is from betting, not a giveaway or a contest), but I am too busy with work to type it up properly. I might get to it sometime soon.

I made a trip to the Woodbine Paddock. It is quite a site. There are flat screens upstairs, the paddock is clean and the television studio with shiny-domed capper Mike Hamilton is there for everyone to see. Some horsepeople tend to be critical of Woodbine at times, but wow, whatever you think about this, it sure is a nice spot.

Speaking of Hamilton, he continues to offer thoughts on the Woodbine Blog... er columns. In his latest post he gives Woodbine high marks for one thing, and low marks for another. In an amazing stat he says "would you believe that 40 of 143 trotters made a break in the first 5 cards of the meet and not a single trot race was without at least one on the run?"

A good article on the USTA site about brain games. With a good deal of dumb money taken out of brain games, leading sharks to fight sharks, your business can not help but dissolve. The pari-mutuel market in racing does not lend itself to growth in this situation. Markets change and smart businessmen change along with it, just ask the businessmen in Vegas who in 1970 were fighting a stigma and in the late 1980's reshaped their landscape. We'll have a post up soon about changing the pari-mutuel market to fit the new world.

I took a bit of time to research the harnesslink post we linked regarding the Chris Ferguson challenge. We often hear that poker knows how to promote because it is fun and stuff. Maybe so. But it is not the prime reason, in my opinion, as we have stated. This challenge is the marketing. Ferguson was given zero dollars in this challenge - zip. Then he was told to play free roll tournies to see if he could build a bankroll. He placed in one and made a few bucks, then he played awhile on low tables. His bankroll grew and grew and reached $10,000 within several months. That should not be lost on the marketing folks in this game. I will give 100,000 people $2 and get them to open a horse betting account. How many after several months will have $10,000? I bet none of them. That is why word of mouth is such a tough row to hoe in racing. There are ways to do this exact same thing in racing, however, (just think about it for a second, it is easy to come up with) but I see no one trying them. We do not think like marketers in our sport and each day we do not, we shrink.

Uncoupled Entries,Tackling Problems & Big News!

New York is looking to uncouple entries when trainers enter two or more horses. All I can say to that is hear hear.

Long ago when purses were $250 at Dresden Raceway, or $400 at a meet in Oklahoma it had its place. It does not any longer. The evidence? Look no further than Betfair. They uncouple horses. There is no 1 and 1A and they have done so because it encourages betting, and most importantly, their customers demand it.

A quick anecdote. I was watching the races recently and there was a 1 and a 1A. I did not mind the one, but I feared a huge overbet. The 1A was more than solid and had great late pace numbers on a track that was playing to late. The entry was 3-1 and I sat on my hands. I flipped over to betfair. The one was 9-2 and the 1A was 18-1. The 1A jogged. There was $4000 matched on the 1 and 1A uncoupled, instead of $2000 if not. A win for racing, and a win for the handicapper.

As a horse owner I admit, I love three horse fields, and non-competitive races. If I were a part of our old market (the one who now plays slots) I could see wanting not to change this rule as I would see a bogeyman behind every sulky. But for us to be taken seriously in the gambling world it is about time this rule found its way out of racing. We are intelligent and need to be treated as such.

and marketing writer Seth Godin had an interesting blog piece about tackling problems. He says that we should envision our business as a big box with 16 squares. The problem comes when one of the boxes encapsulates our efforts and we wring our hands over that box and ignore everything else.

That's why human nature is so enraging. When something is going wrong, when the economy is out of sync, we panic. We obsess about just one of the sixteen boxes and ignore the others. We talk ourselves into hysteria about how, "none of our customers have any money," or, "in this bleak economy, we'll never make a sale." Instead of using the relative downtime to build up the other 15 boxes, we just sit in the corner, keening, worrying about that one box that's out of whack.

I think we are seeing this right now in racing. Do me a favour, play a drinking game with me. Whenever you read an interview with someone in racing and that person is asked about falling handles, take a drink each time you hear the person say "it's the economy." I bet you'll be one smashed pumpkin.

If you persuade yourself and your friends that times are really tough and that you're bound to fail, you'll probably do the things you need to do to make that true in the long run.

How true.

Ok, here is the BIG news. This weeks Hambo poll is out and someone switched one first place vote to the Beach. Dewey was beating him 23 to 11, now it is 22 to 12. The guy who really likes Mr. Big refuses to budge :)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Slots Revenue Tumbles and Other Notes

In a harbinger perhaps (thanks to Equidaily for the link) slots revenue is falling fast.

The amount of money bet at Pennsylvania casinos dropped more than $200 million in September as the stock market and slots play slumped across the nation.

Harrah's Chester Downs wagers dropped 8 percent from the previous month. Philadelphia Park saw a 13 percent drop.

Never is it a better time to position racing as a place you can win.

Adding to the chorus is the last post at It is an excellent post on poker doing exactly that. Sure poker online is fun, sure it is a community, sure it is entertainment. But they rightfully do not promote that. They position themselves as a place that with skill, you can win. Just look at the marketing with Ferguson's bankroll.

They are saying "our game is open for your business. You can win like Chris, so come play." We can do that too if we put our minds to it. Racing is a great game you can win at if you are good and work hard when rakes are low. Just ask the 1,000,000+ players at betfair!

Pacing superstar from yesterday Ralph Hanover has died. He was a nice horse. It was 1983. Ralph was three and winning everything. Cam Fella was four and winning everything. As a kid, boy did I ever want to see them meet.

The draw for the Messenger Stakes is Wednesday I believe. In it, a more that solid match between World Record holders Shadow Play and Somebeachsomewhere. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lousiana Downs Bucks the Trend

Maybe it is not the economy after all.

Mountaineer Park in Chester WV ushered in the 21st century business model in 1999. At that time their handle was putrid, but they changed. They decided that they would offer their signal to anyone who wants it, for a good price (not the THG 1/3 model, but a low price to encourage people to offer it and to rebate to customers if they wish). The pre-signal distribution handle was $19 million for the entire meet. In 2003 with full coverage, this jumped to $300 million. They grew Mountaineer from a backwoods place that no one plays, to a solid destination for hungry price sensitive bettors.

Following that lead is Louisiana Downs. This meet, while most others showed massive decreases in handles, their handle jumped. They worked with their partners like Premier Turf Club and to push the product. It seems to have worked well.

Now in the third year of a marketing partnership, posted increases on Louisiana Downs racing once again. The online provider doubled their handle on Louisiana Downs from 2005 to 2007, and grew by another 10% in 2008. Louisiana Downs also reached an agreement with TVG network in late July, and the racing network's average handle jumped by 105% each day.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jocks are Terrible Handicappers

Jockey does good. Jockey retires. Jockey tries to be a handicapper. Jockey bets $10,000,000. Jockey is broke.

Thanks to Equidaily for the link.

Imagine if he bet it here with 22% takeouts instead of 16% in Australia? Wow, he woulda lost a whole lot more. Vive l'Australia.

We're Getting Closer

We have a long way to go to fix betting problems, as witnessed below in Joe Riddell's interview, but we are getting there on other fronts. The NTRA, a couple of days ago announced their 7 point plan. It is a de facto commissioners office on several pressing issues. It will not be funded by fans, as these things tend to be. And so far all tracks seem to be on board.

The initiatives include:

• A continued move toward uniform medication rules;
• A ban of steroids from racing competition;
• Out of competition testing for blood and gene doping agents;
• Uniform penalties for all medication infractions;
• Mandatory on-track and non-racing injury reporting;
• Mandatory installation of protective inner safety rails;
• Mandatory pre- and post-race security; and
• Adoption of a placement program for retired Thoroughbreds.

To implement the plan, a heavy hitter who is highly respected, former governor of Wisconsin Tommy Thompson. One blogger doesn't like him because he is a republican, but it is an election year, so that is to be expected in hyper-partisan times. He is clearly a good choice by any non-partisan measure and the industry all seems to think this is solid.

Included in the praise is professional player Mike Maloney.

"The NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance is great news for horseplayers. These reforms, along with the promise to address wagering security, are the kind of common sense ideas the players and fans have been looking for.
-- Mike Maloney, Member, Horseplayers’ Coalition Advisory Task Force

He is right, most of this is common sense. But we move slow in racing and we have rarely had to cater to its problems due to the monopoly status. This is clearly a good start.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Only Article One Needs To Read....

.... if they want to understand why wagering has fallen so far, so fast.

Joe Riddell, a bloodstock agent and horseplayer is interviewed for a business magazine about the 21st century racing customer, internet wagering and more.

Some salient points:

* On needing a national internet business model, getting the fingers out of the pie, and respecting the bettor:

..... not only does it not have the right business model, it doesn't have the right management team in place. As a whole you have to understand where our customers are, where they've gone, what they're demanding and recognize that we need to bring them back into the game and certainly back into the revenue stream. ...

RH: Who are the customers?

JR: Customers are the gamblers who are demanding a certain rate, a certain convenience and customer service that the industry has failed to provide. They're usually pretty high end, very intellectual gamblers who have now had their need satisfied by their bookmakers

What he is speaking of is exactly what betfair did: Target the customer, because they were the customer. While we were looking for answers about the "on track" experience, or arguing about who the customer actually is, they attacked the dissatisfied of our market.

* On price sensitive gamblers who have gone to betfair, or play poker:

RH: So what does the horse industry do?

JR: Recognize why we lost them and understand how we need get them back. … It's as simple as understanding they are very price sensitive. We're trying to tell them that we want to charge them 20 percent for our product, and they're saying, 'Well, we'll pay you 10,' and we say, 'Okay, go away.

If WalMart had a "okay, go away" customer policy I do not think they would have done very well.

* On the braintrust in racing:

RH: You mentioned that race tracks, racing associations which own the various race tracks have been very slow to react to analyze exactly what it is they need to do. Can you explain why that has occurred?

JR: It's very simple: they have the wrong managers. They've gone out of their way to hire accountants and attorneys to do it, and these accountants and attorneys, especially more attorneys than anything, are very smart people, but if they've ever gone to the races and handicapped a race and placed a bet, they are disqualified from management at these race tracks. And I'm not being facetious, I'm not exaggerating. That is exactly what they've done. They've gone out and got these very smart people who don't understand the game, who don't understand the mind of our customer. ... If Vegas had the same model, it would have been shut down a long time ago, it would be a ghost town now.

We have echoed this before here: If you do not bet, do not grind and do not spend your time engulfed in betting this game it is very hard to understand people who do. Andrew Black, who created betfair, was and is to this day a bettor. To me, it is no coincidence that a site run by a bettor has changed the way gambling is viewed and has grown from a two person company in a basement in the year 2001, to a $3.0B+ betting site, with more bets per year than the European stock exchanges combined.

* On what can be done to get price sensitive gamblers back:

RH: What would you suggest when you mentioned that the wagers are looking for players or looking for a uniform vehicle in which to wager, how do you think that could be brought about?

JR: Frank Stronach, who's the founder of Magna Entertainment, about five or six years ago mentioned what he called the Central Betting Exchange. … The Central Betting Exchange idea was to have all the signals go through one hub and then individual brokerages like my company, Premier Turf, can then get a brokerage license attached to that hub, and it would therefore be able to be a stock trade. ... So you could choose to get a volume, a company that would give you the lowest rate, or a higher rate with more customer service, more perks involved.

The Central Betting Exchange idea is one that I've spent a long time thinking about, working on and it is a truer model, where all the race tracks can agree to sell their signal ... for whatever rate they think their tracks can handle.

So … you've got all the signals coming to one central exchange, where different entities like Premier Turf, like Twins Spires at Churchill Downs, like Express Bet of Magna, can hook onto that central exchange and be able to handle to take bets on every horse running in North America today at a price that is appropriate, that is low enough to attract all the clientele.

It is time for our business to be guided by capitalist, forward thinking principles. Fighting among horseman groups and tracks, and the beggar thy neighbor economics of racing has to stop. Thinking our customers are like slots players has to stop, too. Horse bettors are intelligent, price sensitive people who want to play a game to win; not to lose and get doors shut on them at every turn.

The time has come for us to realize this. I sincerely hope the management in racing puts people in charge who bet and who live this game. If so, we have a small chance to save our game.

Photo of Joe courtesy Chris Rosenthal, Lexington Business.

You Can't Win

At many conferences I have been to, and in discussion with most who own horses, or are involved in racing, the question "why is racing fading" is mostly met with the usual: Our game is not exciting, we should ban whipping, we need to play more music, we have to have entertainment between races, and on and on. On the blog and elsewhere with gamblers (i.e. the customers) this is rarely spoken about. The chasm between the inside baseball of racing, versus the grassroots is as large as the grand canyon.

On, a poster cuts to the chase and echos what we have said on the blog for a long time. Racing is dieing because customers can't win.

There have been lots of talk about what appeal horse racing has or could have to the mainstream public. Many give low marks to the industry in attracting more non horseplayers to this game.

In my opinion, there is one reason alone that keeps non horseplayers from crossing over: You cannot win at the game!

The game is so heavily burdened by takeout and other "hidden" costs (ie, pay for information (pp's), pay to play, pay to get in, pay for race replays, on and on), that it could be argued that it is mathematically impossible to come out ahead save for hitting a big score (pick 6 or other).

There will be many horseplayers quick to refute the "can't win" scenario but they have their own agenda for doing so. They cannot continue to play with an agreement that the game can't be beat.

My feeling is until the takeout is reduced to a competitive level (10%) and the cost to gather information is seriously dropped, the game will have to live with the smallish, core group of players that currently fund it.

Further, from a reply:

For the very few who actually win, there are thousands who do not.

The pricing model is extremely uncompetitive in 2008. The model assumes horseplayers are idiots who don't know any better. That might have worked many years ago when people had no other choices, but now there are too many other options. Until the higher ups in this game realize horseplayers are not idiots, they will still continue to struggle along while doing nothing to create a few generation of bettors.

I believe that in order to create new fans, you need the current fans (see customers) to totally believe in this game. The current customer has to be able to tell a non customer "hey, racing is a great game, its fun, exciting, a great entertainment option and you have a reasonable shot to win big" As of 2008, not one current fan is telling a non fan that this is the case.

An extremely high percentage of current fans were introduced to this game by someone who was already established. Same thing for the newbies, they are going to have to be brought into the game by a current customer/fan and that just isn't going to happen in the real world.

We are selling a product that people can't win at. And horseplayers are not roulette players. They don't come for a free beer, or to "have some fun", or don't care if they win or lose. They come to beat the game that they study and sweat over. After awhile, when they realize with increasing takeouts that it can not be beaten and all their hard work was for nothing, they leave.

This is so basic, and cuts right to the chase, it is simple. We do not have to look for scapegoats, we don't have to take a poll, we don't have to start up a commission. It is right there for racing to see. All they have to do is open their eyes to see bettors heading to the exits, wondering why in the heck they walked through the door, knowing they were going to lose yet again. Sooner or later, those people don't come back. Can we blame them?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good for Ray

The talk of late has been steroids in this business. Many of us feel that this has been overblown and driven by other sports and other headlines. Further, we seem to heavily publicize timing issue positives. If a horse wins in 150 with a trace of penicillin or whatever in his system, because he was sick, fans cry that he was "juiced". I think this does us a tremendous disservice.

There are some drugs in this business that are bad. And one of them is EPO, Aranesp or their equivalents. They are brutal on a horse's system and they are used for one reason and one reason only: To win races and take money from honest owners.

Ray Schnittker, trainer and driver of the very nice Deweycheatumnhowe spoke out about it today and it is detailed in this piece.

"I really don't think steroids work," said Schnittker of Middletown, who won the Hambletonian — harness racing's version of the Super Bowl — driving Deweycheatumnhowe in August. "It's a crock, and the politicians just jump aboard because they don't know what they are talking about. They should be testing for EPO (epogen), but it's too expensive. That's what they should catch people doing."

Some jurisdictions are doing great work with EPO and bloodbuilders. New Jersey and Ontario come to mind. But we have to do more.

EPO is ever changing too. I am a big fan of cycling and the Tour De France, but the EPO use there has been turning me off. Further, once they find tests for this, there is always something else to use. I think they are doing the right thing by booting cyclists out for a long time when they finally do catch them.

To see what these jurisdictions are up against, once they find a good test for one thing, another drug pops up. It seems the drug of choice is now CERA. But they are catching people.

Stage winners Leonardo Piepoli of Italy and Stefan Schumacher of Germany tested positive for doping from blood samples taken during this year's Tour de France.

The pair became the second and third riders to test positive for CERA today, an advanced version of the blood booster EPO. Italian cyclist Riccardo Ricco has already admitted to CERA use.

Between them, the three riders won five stages during the July race - or about a quarter of the 21 stages, which has struggled to maintain its credibility after being rocked by doping scandals for three years in a row.

I hope that we in racing are freezing some of these samples to test at a later date. I hope if anyone is using this in our sport, that they are held accountable. These drugs are so powerful that honest folks just can not compete and that does no one any good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

As You Know......

.... Big Brown is done. Of course, eventhough he could be back in four to six weeks, that does not matter in our game.

Retiring Big Brown yesterday was all about protecting an investment first, a racehorse second. This is as it should be, of course, since thoroughbred racing exists for one purpose only, and that is to generate revenue for owners, breeders and state governments, with occasional crumbs thrown to the bettors.

And a little dig at the painfully obvious of IAEH's Iavarone.

That is why I had to laugh when, after Big Brown's defeat in the Belmont, Iavarone's response to a perfectly legitimate question -- "How will this defeat affect his stud value?" -- was met with the most disingenuous type of indignation. "How dare you ask that question at a time like this!" Iavarone raged. "You think this is about the money?"

Well, yeah.

Valerie at our bloglist blog has a good post up on Big Brown et al. She slices with her words like I cut a porterhouse, but I need a sharp knife. I wish I had the gift of prose that she has.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Case Study: Horse Racing in the Internet Age

I had written a small piece for the blog, but decided that Jules, the ever capable marketing man at would do the post more justice with some fancy pictures. So, he nicely accepted the task and posted it on the fine blog at his site.

The report is simply a broad look at racing in the Information age. Google searches are a fine barometer of interest in a product, story and much more. Ad revenue from google makes up the bulk of their revenue, and this ad revenue is not banner ads, or interruption marketing. It is advertising based on you and me - what we search for drives their revenue, and what we search for is gold to businesses.

Anyway, enough rambling. Please pop over to this link for the post on Racing in the Internet Age.

Apologies in advance for having some fun comparing horses like the Beach to Dewey and Curlin to Big Brown, but hell I am just a kid at heart. Playing with google is like playing a video game.

For another interesting web post, check below the article. There is the Internet match-up between harness heavyweights Deweycheatumnhowe and Somebeachsomewhere, which I found very interesting.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Waldrop New President? Grassroots Likes PTP!

Alex Waldrop of the NTRA seems to be throwing the hat in the ring for a central commission. This is good news. He is a good man and would no doubt do a good job in a business that badly needs a "President".

On the internet, the grassroots seems to be speaking out, however. Even elder ladies have caught the wave of Pull the Pocket Mania. I am flattered, but really, I am just a dumb horseplayer folks.

HPI Interactive Doing Some Good & Questions Answered

A quick note about Horseplayer Interactive and what they have been up to. First, I mentioned before that they have added free Bris stats and picks for all thoroughbred cards. They are giving members information, for free, to help them handicap. There are some solid stats and angles in this information.

Further, they have added Compubet stats for harness cards. This too is for free.

The HPI brand has taken its share of knocks from horseplayers, and this is a problem. But offering players some tools to encourage them to bet is a good thing. It is a rebranding step.

a comment I noticed below asking a question:

Should the harness racing industry in North America allow Betfair to come in and offer harness racing? How would it work, if so?

I believe that Betfair offering a harness racing element is a good thing (if they did it like in Australia where they act as an ADW and you can bet into pools too), but it would be much better if we did it ourselves. It involves changing the laws of course, but that should not be as difficult as it is made out. For instance, there is more and more sports betting offered and more and more lotteries offered. Years ago there was no Hold em Poker at casinos as well. If the government expects horse racing to compete with casinos who are using 21st century games and delivery, they can not leave us to battle with them using an outdated 19th century pari-mutuel system. It is like bringing a spear from the 100 Years War against a stealth bomber of today.

It is definitely something that does stick in my craw. We often go to State houses or governments for things that have nothing to do with our core sport. We go for nothing more than a handout. It sucks. I wish we'd go to them wanting to grow our game - not sports betting, or slots, or table games - but grow racing. Why do they always go and ask for things that will suck money from handles? We suffer from a lack of vision.

I think we should get a betting exchange platform passed as soon as we can. In addition we should pass fractional betting and completely overhaul our pari-mutuel betting at the same time. We can bring it to a 2008 world, in my opinion. It takes some will, some money and some fight.

Sermon over; and just my opinion :)

Friday, October 10, 2008


As expected, "it's the economy" is the rallying cry from racing.

The gross domestic product in the USA was 7.3 trillion in 1998. In 2007 it was almost double that. If we are to believe that the bad economy is a reason why we are down, then why did we not double handles since 1998 when the economy grew by almost 100%? Why aren't handles $28 billion this year? We have not grown anything if at all since 1998. Handle was around $14B then, as it is now.

They can't have it both ways.

Wagering Crisis 2008. Anyone Surprised?

I mentioned this post courtesy the Horseplayers Association earlier. In it, the bad news. Wagering is down almost 10% in the second quarter. We clearly have a wagering crisis in 2008.

What happened? I think a good many people already know how we feel. On the blog and elsewhere, the tenet that has helped us go into the toilet has been trumpeted: We are old, we are governed by 1930 rules, we are slow to react to technology and by pricing our product too high we send people home constantly broke and they are tired of it.

Horseman groups sometime feel that they are immune to losses in wagering. We see that with horseman strikes, or with groups like THG stopping tracks from offering their signal to players. This is not the case. Not the case at all.

During the third quarter, pari-mutuel handle decreased 9.85% in year-over-year comparisons. Total purses were off by 2.37% during the same period, while race days were down by 1.29%. For the nine months ending on September 30, wagering is down 5.75% compared to 2007 levels, with purses dipping 0.04% and race days off by 0.87%.

I saw recently in Canada tracks like Western Fair and Georgian want to change their dates to maximize wagering, and groups are saying no. They better start saying yes, because sooner or later they will learn that when handle goes down, purses go down.

The worst part for me is that in racing when your customers leave, they are very hard to get back. This is not McDonald's where we can offer a $1.99 big mac and get them back. When they leave they tend to stay that way.

Also of note, is the "it's the economy" excuse.

“Our industry’s difficult year continued during the summer as a harsh economy and other factors continued to negatively impact business,” said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the NTRA.

Folks, we can not let them use that excuse. Remember, this is the same business that told us that if we just shut down those offshores (which were shut down in 2007) that handles would skyrocket - some used the figure, "by billions". That is clearly folly. If it is the economy, then why do we see this: In the exact same year and economy Aussie racing has seen handles go up.

The Australian newspaper The Age reports that Betfair's incoming chief executive in the land of Oz, Andrew Twaits, says the economic slowdown is having little impact on the firm, and after four months of trading in its new financial year Betfair is on track to beat its goal of 30 percent sales growth.

Twaits said this week that there was no doubt that the opening up of Australia's wagering industry, particularly Internet wagering, had led to increases in turnover by all providers, including Tabcorp. The disclosures have disproved dramatic claims by traditional horse racing associations and politicians who opposed Betfair's licensing that it would impact adversely on the industry.

When we deliver our product at a low price in a new exciting way we win. When we are doing what we are doing, we lose. Sometime, let's hope, this message gets through. If not, expect handles to go down more and more in the future and that will be reflected in losses in purses, racedates, horse ownership and all the rest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday Notes

Just a few things while passing time here, sick as a dog and avoiding work at all costs.

When are we ever going to learn that we are the problem?

Ray Paulick has a post up about horse slaughter. It is amazing that there are so many organizations and all of them refuse to take a stand.

EPO testing is going on for the Breeders Cup. If anyone is using EPO, don't use it in that window.

I watched some thoroughbred racing on Saturday. At race 5 or 6 at Woodbine, about four tracks with stakes were going off at exactly the same post time. In the UK for oh, about the last sixty years, their central organization has made it that races go off every ten minutes.

A horseplayer at, who is a semi-professional, believes that it might be time for him to leave the game.

* I currently need 3 accounts to bet MOST, not all, tracks onshore.
* I'm sick of odds being all over the place after the race starts.
* Information is poor and about 30 years behind modern technology.
* Takeout is not getting any lower, and probably will go higher.
* Field sizes stink
* Pools are too small

For most of us who are businessmen we would be attacking these issues. Three accounts? Well how about updating the Donna Summer 1978 Horseracing Act to say that "if you offer wagering across state lines you have to offer it to everyone who wants it at the same price". Odds all over the place? Well, let's get fixed odds betting instituted. Pool technology out of date? Well since I can buy a put option on the Nikkei exchange from my laptop in the middle of the night, gotta figure there is something for us to do there. Takeouts? Well my business knows that when wagering is down, we should not be hiking prices. Heck my 11 year old nephew knows that when he is not selling lemonade, he should not raise his price. Seemingly simple, but in our game it is like splitting an atom, while simultaneously writing a best-seller while on a date with my wife Carmen Electra.

Standardbredcanada has begun their new web design. The site most certainly needed it. Whenever you change something you will see resistance, however this is much better than the old one. It was behind the times.

Woodbine Bloggers are having some fun. Some good stuff there. Not too many comments, however, except from a guy who says "Hey, howdy" a lot. Since people usually address me in the comments section as "Hey Wiener", they are doing ok.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good Betfair News for Racing

Betfair is currently going to run "in running" betting for all grade 1 races in Australia.

"In the run betting has become so popular in the UK, it now accounts for about 18 per cent of all money traded on UK horse racing."

Also, remember the complaining when Betfair was licensed, from the old guard of racing, protecting their slicerooni? The cannablization argument was first and foremost. It is not happening.

In Australia, the local subsidiary of UK-licensed online betting exchange Betfair has announced that it will increase its funding of the Tasmanian thoroughbred horseracing industry by 12.9 percent.

Increases in TOTE betting have also occurred during the last year. Innovation and bringing our product to a market is clearly a good thing.

21st Century - Debates to Rest & Let's Make History

Timeform is a global data driver, and a service that rates horses based on what they run. They were recently bought by Betfair. In the recently concluded Arc they rated Zarkava, the filly who won, at a 133.

Timeform have put a lofty provisional rating of 133 on Zarkava’s stunning Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe win - and that makes her the joint third-best filly/mare in the past 20 years, according to the world-renowned ratings organization.

And they believe that she has the ability to become the best.
Allez France (1974) and Habibti (1983) have recorded the best female performances in the past 40 years, posting a rating of 136, and Sunday’s comfortable 2 length defeat of Youmzain sees Zarkava ranked alongside more recent greats such as Miesque and Indian Skimmer.

“Zarkava’s basic rating for winning the Arc was 131 but she has been credited with an extra 2lb for the style of her success and the fact that she didn't have an entirely trouble-free passage.

“She's undoubtedly one of the best fillies in recent memory and, still unbeaten, has the potential to be the best if she's given the chance to continue racing against colts.”

In addition, this service rates horses, based on ability all around the world. Curlin is currently the fastest horse in racing.

Big Brown versus Curlin? There is no debate on who is historically better, it is Curlin. He has run faster. It has nothing to do with horse of the year, but at least we get to see numerically who is the better horse. We will know for sure when they meet in the Classic.

What does this have to do with harness racing? It is simple, it helps define what we have been speaking about on the blog - political, and/or strange votes for Horse of the Year. And it helps bring our sport into the 21st century, by allowing us to compare horses in different years, or venues and creating a detailed history of this sports horses. It also lets us join what thoroughbreds have been doing successfully for some time now.

As for promotion: People love power ratings. Each Tuesday one of the most searched terms in google is "NFL power ratings". Everyone knows that the teams are re-rated each Tuesday.

It is high time that harness racing contacts Simubet, or the Harness Eye, or figure makers out there to run the history of this sport and develop ratings for our horses - including all of the greats. It is not difficult. And it can do a lot. We need our history tabled, detailed and documented.

Look what we would learn about Dewey and Beach. Who is better? We get 9000 opinions based on where a horse raced, what province, what size of purse, their competition and all the rest. All of that is inconsequential when we standardize like Timeform. To seasoned racewatchers Dewey would not be close to the Beach, but it would be in black and white for everyone to see. Then we could get to work promoting the best in our sport.

For example, Beach's 146.4 might be rated a "130", based on the speed of the track that day. His 147.4 might be a "128" because it was slower that day. We can now look back: Rock n Roll Hanover ran a "top" of a "122". His average was a "117". Beach's average timeform rating is a "126". Niatross's time trial was a "139" (remember this data is standardized, so a 49 in 1980 is worth a hell of a lot more than a 49 now).

The list goes on. Many observers out there say that Beach is the 2nd best pacer ever. Well all I can say to that is let's find out. I know Cigar is faster than Curlin because these numbers are documented, let's find out if Artsplace is faster than Art Major, let's find out if Beach is the second fastest horse of all time.

We can look at horses like Dewey, too. Is he the best of a bad group? Dewey might have trotted a "103", in the Kentucky Futurity. We can then standardize it, just like they do with the thoroughbred rankings and see Dewey is rated as a 115 horse. Then we compare him to Donato, and Mack Lobell and all the rest. If we find out Donato ran a top of 130 and Mack a 135, we know Dewey does not belong.

With some work, we can rank the horses in the world, in a systematic easy way.

Although Timeform ratings use more than time, for those who think time means nothing, I believe that is nonsense. 20 claimers go in 152, 40 claimers go in 151. A 148 pacer beats a 150 pacer every day of the week. Of course time means something. Usain Bolt is currently a multi-millionaire because he ran a 9.68, not because he won a gold medal. If he won a gold medal in 11.12 against a bunch of fat guys, he would be lucky to get an endorsement shilling for Turtle Wax.

Is this difficult? Absolutely not, it would cost a small amount of cash I would surmise. I would submit the slots revenue at Pocono from the time it took me to type this post would pay for it.

It is about time we get to work on making this game fun, fresh and simple. We are so far behind the thoroughbreds in this, it is not funny.

This business locks up its racing data like it is the nuclear codes; for what reason I have no idea. I have little doubt we would see this and so much more if we gave it to horseplayers through an API or otherwise (I know, this is Web 2.0 and we are barely at Web 0.2). This data is sitting there gathering dust for absolutely no reason, in a sport that is slowly circling the drain. If this business is not going to give it to us and continue to treat it like the Caramilk secret, why in the heck don't they start doing something productive with it?

Racing, and betting racing is a mind game, a puzzle. Don't give us fuzzy polls to tell us who is good, worried about offending a breeding farm or a friend, or allowing where the horse's owners sleep at night to be a factor. Give us numbers and science to tell us which horse is great and allow punters to compare them to past greats, and have some fun. Not to mention, unlocking the data train might get more people to do something wild and wacky - bet more on our sport.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cohen Chimes in on Hambo Poll

This was in this weeks Horseman and Fair World. It was actually penned a week before Dewey lost another race.

This skewed view manifests itself most clearly in the sport’s latest Top 10 poll, with balloting conducted weekly by Harness Racing Communications. Although three voters moved from Dewey to Somebeachsomewhere from the previous week, the collective group still places the pacer a distant second. Dewey received 24 first-place votes, SBSW has 10. Why is there still so much separation?

Maybe the reason is because there are some people who just haven’t seen enough of the Canadian-owned SBSW in this country, considering that just three of his 17 starts have been in the States. I’d love to hear from this week’s 24 Dewey backers why they still picked the trotter over the pacer. What more do they believe SBSW needs to do?

And echoing what some have said here on the blog. Geography. Wow, I thought we lived in an Internet world.

One Canadian horseman said if Somebeachsomewhere were a U.S.-based horse he’d be the runaway poll leader and a surefire Horse of the Year in both countries. Again, with all due respect to Dewey and his connections, the Beach has a pretty strong case, right?

Surely our love of harness racing and great champions transcends borders. Surely we are a strong enough family within the sport to give credit where it is due. Surely, a horse who generates a cheering mass of harness fans the way Somebeachsomewhere did here in Lexington on Saturday deserves any hype or glory he gets.

It is nice to see people speaking out about this.

Early Retirement

With the problem of many horses retiring too early, there was a comment from Allan which was good. This can easily be applied to both standardbred and thoroughbred racing.

Here is an idea which may help solve the problem with early retirement. How about two new events, the North American Pacing and Trotting Derbys?

What should happen is whenever a standardbred is registered in the US or Canada, a $50 surcharge should be applied. For this $50, each horse is automatically nominated to these two races (splitting the nomination fees between the two races or base it on the sire being a pacing or trotting sire).

Next, add a $50 surchage to the electronic eligibilty fee and that could be the first sustaining payment. In this case, the fee would be assigned to the trotting or pacing derby based on a declaration made at that time.

By doing this, every horse that ever makes a start is automatically eligible for a nominal amount of money each horse is eligible to race. Of course, after the eligibility certificate is issued, each owner will then be able to decide whether or not to keep making payments to stay in the race, but just with these initial fees, you will have good size purses for races that will be raced for 4yos and up.

Have big enough purses for older races and the economic case to keep them racing is made. Here is a way to have get at least one big race for older horses.

A lot of that is inside baseball, but the point is well taken. We have to shuffle a few million from 2YO’s and 3YO races to the older horses, somehow. Over time this can help us, not only with the obvious, but it also makes economic sense. A full field of sports stars, attracts much more attention than a 2YO pace like the Woodrow Wilson, or the Merrie Annabelle, but it goes one step further and it also attracts more betting. I was at those two races this year, let’s just say the buzz was non existent.

We discussed some of this before in this post, when Darryl Kaplan was making a plea to the business to do something about aged events and keeping horses around for at least a little while.

We wrote this awhile back and my opine has not changed:

The Sadinsky Report is out and they are speaking of purse pooling and using money for marketing. Work out a deal and make a Canadian Triple Crown. The Canadian Pacing Derby, The Des Smith and the New Provincial Cup at Windsor (I'd want the third leg to be the Gold Cup and Saucer, but I won't ask for too much). Make them the three richest races for four year olds and up anywhere. Make them the most prestigious events that this sport in Canada has ever seen. Roll out the red carpet for owners, provide marketing and a budget so on track fans can have an experience they will tell friends about, get them on television, pay a bonus. Think big and give the breeders with their huge checkbooks a run for their money.

Unless someone can tell me that fans pay admission and help the business by watching horses mate at four instead of race, it is something that should be at the very least studied. With handle down 40% the last several years, a Montreal track with 101 year history shutting down, and our sport in worse shape in terms of fan interest than it has ever been before, no idea should be considered a bad idea.

You’d think that horses break their leg before they turn four or something with the evidence of how few seem to race now. I don't know what can be done, but it is pretty clear something has to.

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