Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Death of a Horse

This fume will pass until the next one arrives and the sad tale is played out again; some will hit me harder than others, even though they all toll the same. I will find nonsense on which to vent my pique and will fend off the tidal wave of waste and cruelty that accompanies every breakdown.

..... here

How Good is This Horse?

As we blog types chat about here - "great" is thrown around way too much in our game. If a horse wins some races, even if he is under the stick, or beating sub par horses, he gets the moniker. It is truly one of the most overused adjectives in our sport.

When a horse does something special is when we get a bit stoked that we might be seeing something worth talking about. For example, when the Beach won last year in 49 (easily) and set a world record, those who follow the game knew that something was up.

Well last night it happened again with Muscle Hill.

As we mentioned below while handicapping, this group of trotters is immensely talented. Rumour has it that earlier in the year a portion of Federal Flex was sold pro-rated at $2M. Explosive Matter (my pick against Muscle Hill last night... blush) was 5 for 5 and a world record holder. Hell, the one horse was a world record holder and he was a longshot.

Muscle Hill made them look like they did not even belong on the same racetrack.

Some history of the Breeders Crown for two year old colt trotters.

Last year:

Deweycheatumnhowe 3 1°/1 1/1H 1/1H 1/2T 1/1 1:57.2 29.1
Time: 28.4 57.1 1:28.1 1:57.2

Two years ago - Donato Hanover.

4 7°/7T 5°/6 2°/HD 1/1Q 1/4 1:56 30
Time: 28 57 1:26 1:56

Three years ago - Chocolatier.

1 4/5Q 1/2 1/H 1/1 1/2T 1:56.1 28.3
Time: 28.3 57.3 1:27.3 1:56.1

This year:

Muscle Hill
2 4/5T 1°/H 1/H 1/1 1/3 1:53.3 28.2

A world record - in November! A back three-quarters in 124 flat. He beats millionaires like Dewey, Donato and Chocolatier by an average of three seconds. He goes faster than the three year olds do a race later on the card! Want to know when a horse is special? Watch Sears in the stretch. He is pretty much a statue. And he is beating some awesome stock in a world record effort at 35 degrees. In the words of a gambling friend "never a doubt."

Repeating at three and capitalizing on promise for a horse like this is a challenge. In fact, the Haughton-Hambo double is very hard to do. Young trotters who show that kind of speed can get tweaked (just ask Snow White). But if by some chance this colt realizes this potential and comes back strong I think we are looking at the first 49 sophomore trotter in our sport.

In a nice gesture, Jerry Silva in the winners circle last night threw his solid support behind trainer Greg Peck. Greg is not a well known guy in racing and when the syndicates get together they tend to want the horse trained by someone else - a big name. Silva, paraphrasing, said 'many people called about this horse but it was always with the condition of 'get rid of Peck'. We don't do business like that.'

In a year in which Somebeachsomewhere is trained by a car salesman, and Dewey was driven by a trainer, I can not believe that people still think like this, but they do. I admire Silva for saying that. We need more fresh honesty in our game.

I am a Muscle Hill fan. Are you?

Photo courtesy Harnesslink and the Meadowlands

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Crown: A Great Night of Racing

We'll go through the races in a later post, and have Herb's new Top Ten on Tuesday. But a quick note about the night - a night that was a fantastic one for harness racing.

The torch was passed tonight - one of the greatest horses to ever set foot on a track retired (to be determined if that is so), and another stepped up to the plate to make us wonder what the future holds.

Folks, Shadow Play is a world champion. He won the Jug by seven and has numerous accomplishments. Unfortunately he was born in 2005 and when he races against Beach, he just looks ordinary. 148.3 on a night like this is simply tremendous. The Meadowlands Pace, raced in July each year has only seen that speed once.

The story of the night is the one who receives the torch. Muscle Hill, to trot 153.3, on a night when the three year olds trotted 153.4 is something that is never done - it is like a 2yo colt going Kentucky Derby speed. We were not kidding when we spoke about the depth of this crop. A superstar emerged that we all should follow.

My handicapping I was happy with. In Focus and Well Said keyed two races of a $1700 pick 4, and both were overlaid. I could not hit exotics in those two races, however. I keyed Explosive Matter on several pick 3's with In Focus and Make it Happen - no conversions, eventhough I took an all in the chaos 4th race and hit the 70-1 shot. I pitched Dewey out of the top two on all tickets and still could not get anything, which is simply poor execution. On a night I place a pick 4 on the blog that hits, I should have done much better.

I hope some of the thoroughbred fans enjoyed the night and they give our sport another look. It is a fine sport; and tonight I hope it proved it.

Ten Minutes to the Crown

Well I was going to go to the track tonight, but balked. I wanted to live blog this card and mess around with a few folks, but at this late time and wanting to sit back and play a few races I thought I would not.

The Meadowlands has one of the lowest pick 4 takeouts in North America. Unfortunately they carded two of my least favorite races as part of the sweep. But we will take a stab tonight on it. Maybe we can hit something.

I am going to make it a pick 3. Doubling the cost of tickets by adding Shadow Play, or tripling it with Blue Ridge Western is not a worthwhile strategy; so here are my pick 3's/4's for tonight.

236891011-12567810-3-3 = $56
236810-158-12457-3 = $75

For a bomber ticket, should Beach be sick, or get hit by a piece of pizza at the half and go off stride, thrown by an unruly fan, let's try this:

236810-158-3-12 = $36

Good luck tonight and enjoy the races folks!

Breeders Crown: The Glamour Division

The last, and biggest Crown event, is the one for 3 year old colt pacers. In this edition we have one clear choice, one clear second choice and the rest.

Although he was not a super-horse by any stretch, this race does remind me a little bit of the Goalie Jeff Breeders Crown; in that the fair odds are so low on a standout. Jeff won easily, but there is one clear difference and that is Shadow Play. I would submit that this horse, in the absence of one of the best horses ever to set foot on the track, would be chalk in many of the previous Breeders Crown's for colt pacers. It is somewhat unfortunate really. I guess could be said about Affirmed and Alydar or two other great three year olds. If one of them were born in a different year, they would have had different places in history.

Anyway, here is our rather pointless fair odds look at this race:

Beach looks like there is little chance he will lose more times than 20 or 25 out of 100 in this situation, but his last tilt he was a bit of a runaway, so I dock him a little bit. It does not matter one way or another. He will be 1-9. If he races like he can, it is simply a formality. We are not giving any great handicapping insight here.

I would run the fair odds for the exactor, but I am too lazy. I would think that the ex will be the lowest in BC 3YO pace history, in the probables. These two horses are lights out better than the others right now.

We get to watch the Beach for the last time on Saturday. I am pretty certain we will not see another one like him for a long, long time. So, sit back and enjoy this race. That is what I plan on doing. He gave us a fun ride.

I hope he wins by twenty.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Breeders Crown: 3 Year Old Colt Trot

Normally with a horse of the year candidate in a trotting field, one would expect a walk in the park. Not so this time. Not only does the division leader have a tough post, he had a throat issue that had to be taken care of. This is to me, the most interesting and anticipated race of the entire Crown.

I know what some are saying: 'He had a bad post at Mohawk and won easily!' Well at Mohawk in the CTC he got the lead in two jumps, had a long straight to do it on the 7/8 track; and then he got a two hole trip. The chances of him getting a trip like that are low at a track like Mohawk let alone the M, and I would be surprised if the colt will get his own way Saturday.

This race can go many ways: In Focus has plenty of speed and should get the front. The big horse will probably float out but he'll have a target on his back from Messrs Tetrick, Campbell and Sears. Each of those drivers want to be in one place - on his back. If Dewey decides to fire out really hard, I can not see In Focus saying whoa right away and him getting a 28 quarter. If Ray goes he will have to work hard, and if he does make front he will probably be attacked by whomever is on his back quickly and with purpose.

That is the way I see this amazingly interesting race's set up anyway. I think there is a huge probability that this horse gets a tough trip.

As for betting, he is a fine horse, but not a dominant one. His wins have been tight this year, and he has been under the stick in many of his races. I am 100% sure he will be overbet, so like last year where I would not have bet Donato Hanover with stolen money, I have to look elsewhere. Here are my fair odds for this race:

As you can see I have given the inside speed their fair share of chance. Both the two (12-1 fair) and three (6-1 fair) are capable (52-53 speed) and one of them has a chance to steal it, if sharp, and if the outside flow floats and gets bottled up.

I have also pitched Clerk Magistrate's (11-1 fair) last race. This could be a mistake. He is a decent horse, but off that bad line it raises questions.

I have docked Celebrity Secret (14-1 fair) because of his gate trouble. I know this horse was 1-5 against Dewey (5-2 fair) and has beaten him fair and square, but I can't see him getting a perfect trip if he even stays flat.

Crazed (5-1 fair) is in no man's land, but he does have a nice advantage: Tactical speed and he can keep his eye on Dewey because he leaves from just outside him.

I think my bet will be a longshot, as this race is ripe for one: The other Schnittker horse, Make it Happen (fair odds 9-1). This horse almost beat Dewey in the Futurity while coming off his back. He has tactical speed, one of the sports best drivers in big money races, and he will be long on the board. A combo I like to have in a race like this.

One thing I do not hope for is that Dewey throws in a bad one with that throat issue. He deserves to win. He has been the best, he has tried his guts out every race, and the connections are exactly what this game needs. As a fan, I hope Dewey wins for everyone involved.

I will not be handicapping the 3YO filly trot, or the 3YO filly pace. I do not like either race for betting and I think I can not find any value.

The 3YO Filly Trot is full of questions. John Campbell takes over on the division leader Lantern Kronos. If right she should win. Stage Show is a likely second choice. Creamy Mimi loves the oval, but I think she won the Oaks based more on the others not having a great day, than she having a great day.

In the 3YO Filly Pace there is a standout and that is Native Bride. She is 5-2 in the morning line but that is an awful line, in my opinion. She will be, and should be, even money.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Breeders Crown: 2YOCP & 2YOCT Fair Odds

Well, we went through two of the two year old races and they were pretty cool betting affairs. But now we take it to a whole new level. The colt pace and colt trot for two year olds are as good a races, with as good a two year old stock you will see in this series. Last year the field for the trotters was sub par and the colt pace was not at all deep with the absence of Somebeachsomewhere.

First up, the colt trot. Question: What is the easiest thing to do at the top levels in harness racing? Answer: Go undefeated as a two year old colt trotter. Virtually every year there is a trotter who runs the table. The reason is pretty obvious - if you have some talent and stay flat you can win because trotting depth is horrible. If we look at history and the history of the BC we see this time and again. Dewey: Wins last years BC in 157.1 with a back half of 100.1. Cantab Hall: Perhaps the most bizarre trotter of the year voting winner ever, won his BC by daylight in 56.4. No one was even in the picture at the end, except him.

Well not this year folks.

This is the finest group of 2 year old trotters (in terms of depth) assembled for a BC final that I have ever seen, and they have already set world records. If you had ten million bucks, I doubt you could afford to buy the top three horses in this race. If this tilt goes in 157, it will have to have eight breakers or be raced on jello.

Muscle Hill (2-1 fair). What can you say. Seven for eight and he has shown natural speed. He is the favorite by the public and is deserved.

Federal Flex (9-1 fair). A wise-guy horse for sure. The dreaded ten post, but this colt can fly, and last week I would bet that he was not 100%.

Explosive Matter (3-2 fair). Here is my favorite, and the horse I will more than likely be betting. He is five for five and I think, despite this monumental task he will go six for six. I think he might turn out to be better than many trotters we have seen over the past decade, and that includes some good ones.

As for the rest, well there are some decent plays for the back end of the exotics. I think Tom Cango will be overbet, but he could easily hit the board. If for some reason the big two falter, and Flex gets a bad trip from the ten, I think Keystone Activator might be there. He has 55 speed and has some go. Cesar is a nice horse.

I am really looking forward to watching this race, especially to see if the next real superstar in our sport comes forward.

Next up: the 2 year old colt pace.

Here is another fantastic betting race. There is no Somebeachsomewhere in here. If we look at the PP's we see just how mind boggling the Beach was last year. He went 49. There are no 49 pacers in here. But that makes for a great affair.

The chalk should be Major in Art (5-2 fair). He was wonky in Canada but he returned to be good last time. I will not be betting this horse as I think he'll be overbet, but he is the most likely winner and he should get a fair trip from inside.

If I Can Dream (7-2 fair) went a crazy mile at Dover. I would pitch his last in the wind. He should leave and get a good spot, or a good trip. He is a likely second choice, but the last race might scare some off.

Well Said (5-1 fair) in my opinion has more pure talent than all of them combined, and he will be my play as I expect him to be underbet on the board. This colt has two things 1) He is a very inconsistent horse and 2) He has extreme talent. His Metro Final performance when he was hung out like a piece of laundry was a great effort and it would win Saturday's final ten times out of ten. I think he could be a great play at a good price if he's right. I did not mind the way he raced last time. He might be pointing as Pierce looked very disinterested in winning the race.

As for the others Dial or No Dial has a ton of talent, but seems to be tailing off. I do not like Art Colony from out there. The horse should have probably won last week, and he probably should have won his last stake as well. At 7-1 I might even have him too low, when I look at it again.

We'll be back tomorrow to have a look at the 3YO races.

Breeders Crown: 2YOFT & 2YOFP Fair Odds

Let's do some handicapping. This years Breeders Crown races are a superlative betting affair. The 2 year old races are especially interesting because the fields are either evenly matched, or there are two or three potential good ones knocking heads.

First up: the 2 year old filly trot, which is race 2 on Saturday. "No Snow White"

This tilt comes down to two questions, I believe: Who shows up and who gets the best trip. Despite the record of Honorable Daughter (5-2 fair), she does not stand out, although if she races back to a couple of her running lines she deserves favorite status. She has tactical speed, has shown a maturity that usually wins 2YO trot races and has good connections. Last week makes us wonder if it was the wind or what, and that might juice up the price.

Yursa Hanover (4-1 fair) has some go, and shows tenacity. She deserves to be second choice. There are a host of others who show 27-28 quarters and decent 156 speed. This is a puzzle. I will be looking at a physical inspection and an overlay in this race. I don't see too many hidden positives or angles here that can help me - what you see is what you get.

The 2YO Filly Pace is a super race. One filly on paper looks like a solid chalk, but I am looking at the presumed second choice: Warrawee Kay (5-2 Fair). In August she scorched the Lexington Red Mile in 51. Her sub 27 second quarter was a tough test, but she had plenty at the end. I think she must have gotten tweaked in that affair. She might have bounced, then had a nice break with a couple of easy Q's. This helped her I think, and any return to her Lexington race stamps her as a decent priced possible. What can you say about Hawaiian Drink (5-2 fair)? She looks the best. But I feel she is ripe to be picked off by Kay. And more importantly - she will most likely be heavily overbet.

There are some other fillies here that are interesting to me, if they get some racing luck. Thou Shalt Not has shown maturity and some go. She is versatile and with a trip, and if the top two are off their game, she might make some noise.

Another good betting affair, regardless.

We'll return to have a look at the other two year old races later. Anyone see anything in the above two races that disagrees? If so, let's hear it and see if we can uncover a winner or two.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Breeders Crown Free PP's & Resources

To get ready for the Crown, I think the following are some good resources.

Breeders Crown at the USTA.

Free past performances are out now. (opens into a pdf)

Standardbred Canada should have some news on Canadian horses like Beach and it should be updated regularly. Ditto the Harness Edge. Each of those should have real time video of the races.

I am 50/50 on live blogging this weekend, with allowable live comments from whomever is on the blog. It is the best harness event to chat about and handicap. The action is fast and furious and the two big events - Beach and Dewey make it more special this year.

Dewey a No Go?

Looks like $3M winner Deweycheatumnhowe might have trouble making the starting gate on Saturday. According to the Breeders Crown website, Ray Schnittker told the BC's Moira Fanning that the colt did not feel like himself this morning in training.

Edit: Thanks to Alan a new link. Looks like things should be ok. This is an interesting race with the post positions so it is great for fans that he is a go.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Breeders Crown Time

It is BC week here in harness-land. We'll be handicapping all the races here, so feel free to contribute your thoughts, but first a look at some history.

ESPN covered this series for several years. In one of the earliest tilts we had the "Super Horse" Nihilator featured, who demolished a Woodrow Wilson field of freshman pacers off cover, with a brush rarely seen in racing just a month or so before the BC. It was a World Record that would stand for some time.

That year the late season honours seemed like a formality. I remember as a kid thinking it would be a walk in the park for the son of Niatross. He had a solid trainer, the best driver and was destined to march into the record books, perhaps this time setting a world record on a five-eighths mile track too.

But a funny thing happened. In the elimination, a colt by the name of Dragon's Lair, trained and driven by a not-so-well known Pennsylvanian horseman came to play and gave the big horse all he could handle, succumbing late. But the marbles were raced for an hour later in the Final, and everyone knew that it would be a tight one, because this shadow-rolled black colt had some go.

This race struck me as the race that the Breeders Crown became a force in harness racing. So we will relive it here, and hope to see more races like this come Saturday.

Harness Herb's Tuesday Top Ten

Our reporter Greg spoke with Herb this week and got the lowdown on his poll.

PTP: Greg, how was Herb this week?
Cub reporter Greg: He was alright. He enjoyed the races on Saturday and changed a few opinions. He has been down though, ever since his broker told him to go long the Dow.

PTP: Did you agree with the Master?
Cub reporter Greg: I always agree with him. If I don't he yells at me and calls me names. He's surly.

PTP: What did he do this week?
Cub reporter Greg: He moved Muscle Hill in. He is annoyed with himself for not having Muscle Hill in earlier. He is still saying "who's your daddy" every time Native Bride wins. He moved her up again.

PTP: Thanks Greg
Cub reporter Greg: See ya PTP

Harness Herb's Exclusive (not seen anywhere despite having an attempted hacking of PTP's Hard drive every Monday night when the encoded Herb poll comes in) Tuesday Top Ten

1. Somebeachsomewhere (1)

2. Shadow Play (2)

3. Deweycheatumnhowe (3)

4. Native Bride (7)

5. Nebupanezzar (4)

6. Muscle Hill (NR)

7. Enough Talk (5)

8. Mister Big (6)

9. Explosive Matter (NR)

10. Hawaiian Drink (10)

Dropped out-Federal Flex, beaten by #9 in Breeders Crown elimination; Crazed, did not race

Monday, November 24, 2008

Woodbine Racing 7/8's Dashes

In a press release dated today, Woodbine announced that their standardbred product will race 7/8 of a mile, or 7f for you thoroughbred players,each Monday night. It is to begin as an experiment next week.

"This distance is being introduced in an effort to try and improve flow of the races during the second and third quarters," said Bruce Murray, WEG's Vice-President of Standardbred Racing. "Although Woodbine has always been a front-end favouring track, it is readily apparent to customers and horse people that since the Fall Meet opened, it is more prevalent than ever. The drivers we've spoken to are in favour of trying it."

At the 7/8ths mile distance, the start of the race will be moved up the stretch to where the finish line is, creating a shorter distance to the first turn. It is hoped that this will lead to more action throughout the race.

For those that do not watch Woodbine, it is a 7/8's mile track. This means that the finish line is about an 1/8th of mile after the start. What happens with this is the drivers gun out big time at the start. There is a quick sprint to get position and then the turn comes. First quarters of 26 flat happen often. After that tough sprint the leader generally takes a rest, the rest of the horses settle and bam - very few challenges.

I believe there is much more to the lack of second quarter challenges at Woodbine and Balmoral, but so goes the theory.

So they hope that this might encourage some movement.

We'll see.

Of course, to revive harness racing and racing in general, changing something like this is small potatoes. Some tracks have a takeout equal to the Massachusetts State Lottery. They could run bikini clad Maxim girls to run around the track and we would not be able to grow enough to beat that takeout.

Cangamble has a good piece up today, by the way. He has been writing some good stuff of late.

Do these stats mean that people are gambling less? Absolutely not.
Take Canada for instance. $13.6 billion in gambling money was lost last year by Canadians last year. In 1992, only $2.7 billion was lost.
Canadians can and do bet on anything. Internet sports, poker, Pro-line, slots, all sorts of lotteries, oh and horse racing. We didn't have as many options in 1992, but we did have to go the track or the teletheatre to make a bet on a horse race.
In 1992 handle in Canada was $770 million, last year it was only $560 million. Not only is that shocking (I know slots took away a lot of it), but if racing grew at the same rate as total gambling grew in Canada, the handle number last year would have been over $3.5 billion.

In 2004, The Cummings Report was published. It seems that racing execs used the valuable information and recommendations in the 72 page report as toilet paper.

Article here

Sunday, November 23, 2008

OK, This is Getting Ridiculous

Well I am reading around the web thing and I find a few stories on racing. We don't have any money. Money bet on racing per capita by country has the US a waffer-thin swedge ahead of the booming racing hotbed of Turkey. Ohio is in trouble. Handles are down. Horseman and tracks are fighting.

Then I decide to take a break from it and look at the World and what they do. It is kind of amazing what happens when the ol monopoly does not exist and racing actually has to compete.

First I check the advertisements. Betfair is advertising on TV. Nothing earth shattering, but not bad for a racing company.

But it gets better. The world is not a "home market area" and there are no such things as "source market fees" in the gambling world. So we have this.

That's the Bulgarian commercial. I think that's called 'reach'.

Don't worry it gets even better. How about the World's Largest Billboard? Somewhere in the fields of Austria an ADW is advertising.....

Betting on racing can grow on the Internet in North America. This company has achieved the above in six years of existence. We need a plan. I hope one day we realize that what we've been doing all these years has been completely wrong. We have a 15 trillion dollar economy in North America to exploit. I hope we get to it.

Well the Field for the Breeders Crown is Set

Shadow Play, as anticipated (heck Herb has him #2 in his poll!) easily won his elim for the Breeders Crown this weekend. He gets post two, and Somebeachsomewhere draws the three. Referring to this new rivalry (remember the last one with Art Official?) I caught this post out there in blogland, and it is very true. We are extremely lucky to see harness horses race week in and week out. I was alive when Cam Fella won 28 in a row, and raced 33 times in a year. Talk about cool, considering half the horses I enjoy in thoroughbred racing race about five times it seems.

The harness industry has proven this year that good things happen when you run good horses FREQUENTLY. Both Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatumnhowe have interesting stories, interesting connections and they run all the time at a variety of tracks. Maybe it's because of the blogs, but I don't previously remember so much coverage of the sulky folks. Anyway, it's been fun watching their individual rivalries, which we don't get enough of in thoroughbred land.

Out in chat forum land, Rich Bauer, the man behind a Magna boycott not long ago posts an interesting thought (at

Where is the game going?
For horseplayers, I’d have to say the answer is “Nowhere”.

The future that I see for racing will depend less and less on horseplayers and their money. While there are a few exceptions, such as Keeneland and Tampa Bay Downs; making changes to improve the horseplayers’ lot do not appear to be high on any racetrack’s “to do” list. The main reason is the push to replace handle as the primary engine for race purses with money from “alternative gaming” sources. In a word, “Slots”.

Not that horseplayers' are all that important in the minds of industry leaders today, but as their money becomes less important then so do they. We can see this in the attitudes of most racetrack executives (and politicians) who find it easier to increase takeout percentages in an attempt to get a few more dollars than to reduce takeout percentages in an attempt to get more handle that will in turn provide the extra dollars that they seek; and, at the same time, extend the horseplayers’ bankrolls a tad farther. With revenue from “alternative gaming” either in the bank, or, on the horizon, where is the motivation for anything but the status quo where horseplayers and handle are concerned? Squeeze that lemon dry!

The industry is replacing the money previously provided by horseplayers via the bets that produced the handle-generated revenue, with the money provided by the general population via slots and other gaming devices. It’s quite a coup, actually. They are succeeding in getting purse subsidies from a much larger population that cost them virtually nothing (it’s more or less a wire transfer) instead of having to rely on an expensive network of bet takers to produce the revenue from a small segment of the population that is becoming smaller day by day. Getting your money that way sure beats having to compete and put on a first-class show to get it from horseplayers.

Now, I happen to think that allowing gaming revenue subsidies to replace handle as the main purse-money engine will turn out to be a mistake. But, it will be a mistake that will be some time in being recognized and it is the short-term financial fix that the industry is looking for today. When it starts to dawn on the voters and politicians that there is money being provided by the general population that is being diverted away from the needs of the general population to satisfy a special-interest group, then horse racing will have reached its dead-end. They will have driven away most of their core constituents, the horseplayers, and replaced them with handle-pullers and button-pushers looking for a jackpot who wouldn’t know an exacta from an enema, and who would think that “twenty-two and change” is some new money denomination for the machines they play.

But, it doesn’t matter what I think. I’m a horseplayer.

Yes folks, this game really kicks you in the teeth and gets you down. It is the toughest, bar none, sport to be a fan of. I am honestly surprised there are any of us left.

Note: I think I have been too hard on harness racing. Below I called the business bizarre. There are things that are more bizarre. Like World Toilet Day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bizarre Night at the Meadowlands for the BC Elims

I was all set to write a quick synopsis about the Breeders Crown eliminations at the Meadowlands. But then I remembered my golden rule of betting the Meadowlands on weird days - don't read a thing into it.

The wind was whipping and it was cold. Bob Heyden had a touque on that looked about ripe for a Northern Quebec ice fishing trip.

The full writeup at Standardbred Canada is quite good and summarizes things well.

As for comments from this bettor? I think I am just going to save it for next week. This cold that is gripping the northeast deserves a fireplace, the heat up, maybe a snack, but no handicapping.

Hopefully it is a bit nicer tomorrow for the rest of the show.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Actions Have Consequences

Infighting. Over the years it has become a synonym for "racing". And this infighting has consequences.

Ohio has announced a massive decrease in racedates for 2009. The business that can't get along with each other is teetering as a business that may cease to exist.

The Ohio State Racing Commission on Friday approved a 2009 schedule that includes no live Thoroughbred racing dates at River Downs and 60 days of Thoroughbred racing at Beulah Park.

..... “The handle has been going down by 10% to 12% a year for the last five years,” said John Izzo, the Ohio State Racing Commission’s deputy director. “This is just something else we’re going to have to overcome if we want to keep going forward.”

..... Izzo said the limited racing schedule could prevent Beulah Park and River Downs from offering simulcasting in 2010. Unless horsemen approve a further reduction in racing days, Ohio tracks are required to run 83% of the days they ran in 1991 in order to offer simulcasting the following year.

”It’s the commissions belief that since they are not running the minimal number of days in 2009 and they don’t have approval to run less from the horsemen that they will not be allowed to simulcast in 2010,” Izzo said. “Both of them disagree and say it will be addressed at another time.”

Wagering on live racing at Beulah is not offered by major advance deposit wagering providers TVG, HRTV,, and because horsemen have not approved the track signals to be sent to ADW outlets. Horsemen are negotiating an increase in the percentage of ADW handle committed to purses.

In my opinion, this business is unsustainable without an actionable internet and home based wagering model of huge distribution and lower takeouts - I have not made that a secret. I also believe that if we don't hit this issue head on, headlines like these will continue over the next 5 years and racing will be a shadow of what it once was. Fighting over a shrinking pie is not a business strategy, and this is a result of that lack of vision.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Walter Case: The Enemy is Us versus Another Chance

I have not explored the recent decision regarding Plainridge Racecourse allowing harness driver Walter Case - who recently was released from prison - a spot to drive horses. Why haven't I? Because I don't really know what to think.

Case's history is well publicized. After receiving thousands in fines for kicking horses, and having a terrible drug problem, he attacked his former wife with a steak knife in 2004. He was released October 22nd.

From a frequent contributor to this blog, Greg, we see the passion of one side of the argument:

We Have Seen The Enemy, And It Is Us

Harness racing can't seem to help itself sometimes; it has to do things that no other sporting institution in the world would do. The latest chapter in that ongoing saga is the fact that Walter Case, Jr., who is still on parole for stabbing, yes stabbing, his wife will be allowed to drive multiple horses on Friday at Plainridge Racecourse in Massachusetts.

This decision by Plainridge and the Massachusetts Racing Commission is so mind-boggling, it's hard to get your mind around. Andrew Cohen reported on his blog that the Plainridge's President and CEO is one of Walter's old buddies, so naturally when he felt the need to get back in the bike, that was the first place he looked, and despite the protests of other horsemen and even the president/CEO’s own staff there, Case was given a pass by his “old-boy network” connections. Despite all that, it was the Massachusetts Racing Commission that had final say, and instead of nipping this in the bud like the should have, they unbelievably signed off on his license.

Do the people who run horse racing at Plainridge and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts not understand that Case has not completed his sentence yet? They will have a paroled felon in front of your patrons tomorrow. Furthermore, do they not understand that the future of racing in Massachusetts is on the line here? Animal-rights activists already got dog racing banned in the state by running a slick ad campaign that convinced voters it was the the right thing to do. You can bet that they will use this to make the same case about horse racing-what could be better publicity for them than the state allowing a felon and a serial horse kicker to drive there?

Case is an unbelievable talent, but that should not mean he's given chance after chance after chance to screw up, which he always does, and to illustrate this, if he was truly committed to going straight, he would not be seeking to work with his brother Tim Case, who has had a list of positive tests so long that it would make any rule-breaker blush. That's not going down the road to recovery, Mr. Case, that's just doing the same thing you've always done - putting yourself above the sport.

Andrew Cohen at his blog has many posts chatting about this issue. His view?

But what about the way in which he treated horses and others around him while he was driving back in the day? Just a casual look through the USTA's Pathway search engine reveals that on August 11, 2001, Case kicked Gallo Blue Chip-- let me write that again, Gallo Blue Chip! Dozens of other horses were similiarly treated and Case's rap sheet is long and notable.

In my humble opinion, and putting aside the crime for which Case now has paid, tany driver who kicks Gallo Blue Chip isn't welcome in my barn. But that's just me. Should the regulators in YOUR jurisdiction allow him in? Let's talk about it.

Kelly Spencer on her blog offers her thoughts, and they are tough:

When you stick a steak knife in a woman’s back, the world approaches you differently. Forever. No one is obligated to grant Case the opportunity to pick up where he left off on the racetrack. How fussy are we entitled to be? I can’t fathom how granting Case a racing licence weeks after his release from prison for such a heinous crime does one iota of good for harness racing.

Here is a one on one interview with Case via Trot/StandardbredCanada.

Here is a current article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

So far I think the web, which is usually a pretty good indicator of reaction, has been negative. It is yet to be seen what happens with this story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Respect People in Pajamas

The newspaper industry is having a tough time. Layoffs, decreased readership, a lack of trust by readers. Recently, media mogul Rupert Murdoch held a lecture series about media and what went wrong. His thoughts are covered by one of the best tech writers out there at CNET.

"My summary of the way some of the established media has responded to the internet is this: it's not newspapers that might become obsolete. It's some of the editors, reporters, and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper's most precious asset: the bond with its readers,"


“The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly--and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted. The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception."

In 2008, customers have become super-users, super-readers, super-bettors; and super informed. The Internet has allowed customers to call the shots, or at the very least be informed about what they are told.

Just like a left wing thinker can surf to the New York Times in a nanosecond for columnists that agree with them, and a right wing person can surf to the Washington Times for another view, a bettor has choices. If he does not like the high prices in racing he can go to betfair and bet the football game. If he is in New Mexico and he does not like the fact that he has two ADW’s but he still can’t bet Belmont, he does not bet Belmont. Or worse yet, he gets frustrated and takes off to the football game to bet that, too. If he finds out he can’t bet online in his state, he opens an offshore account where State houses have no say - and horse owners get no benefit. If he logs into his Ameritrade account and buys $5000 of stock in a click for $8.95, and he doesn't understand why he has to pay $17 for a $100 bet at The Meadowlands via the same mouse click, he plays more Ameritrade. The days of being dictated to are long gone.

Can this be fixed? Sure it can. Develop a plan, a plan to take advantage of racings two customers in this new world: Appreciate and create positive customer experiences with fans and make it easy for them to be a fan through modern reach mechanisms on the Internet, and for the bettors who take the game seriously, offer them a good price (i.e. a rebate) and access to all tracks through the Internet. Most important: Trust that your customers are smart consumers who have choices, and fight like hell for their business like every other company does.

Despite the blemishes, however, Murdoch said newspapers can still count on circulation gains "if papers provide readers with news they can trust." He added they will also need to embrace technology advances like RSS feeds and targeted e-mails. The challenge, according to Murdoch, will be to "use a newspaper's brand while allowing readers to personalize the news for themselves-and then deliver it in the ways that they want."

We are not there yet. Not even close. Look at the current ADW fight in the US, or with recent horseman and track fights in Canada - they are shutting out racing customers as almost an afterthought, like they do not matter. Worse yet, we have the greatest medium to grow this sport we arguably have ever had and they can’t figure out what to do with it, except squabble over percentages. The monopoly will not die, eventhough the fork has been stuck in it for over ten years.

I don’t think horse racing as a betting sport is obsolete, not at all. Actually it is tailor-made for the internet. The folks in charge just have to find a way to make sure that they find a way to grow back the bond and trust with their customers, and exploit racings reach by pricing properly on the web. If they do not, I fear we will be a footnote of wagering history.

Pajamas? Oh ya, I almost forgot. We should never discount them people in the pajamas:

Murdoch criticized the media reaction after bloggers debunked a "60 Minutes" report by former CBS anchor, Dan Rather, that President Bush had evaded service during his days in the National Guard.

"Far from celebrating this citizen journalism, the establishment media reacted defensively. During an appearance on Fox News, a CBS executive attacked the bloggers in a statement that will go down in the annals of arrogance. '60 Minutes,' he said, was a professional organization with 'multiple layers of checks and balances.' By contrast, he dismissed the blogger as 'a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.' But eventually it was the guys sitting in their pajamas who forced Mr. Rather and his producer to resign.

"Mr. Rather and his defenders are not alone," he continued. "A recent American study reported that many editors and reporters simply do not trust their readers to make good decisions. Let's be clear about what this means. This is a polite way of saying that these editors and reporters think their readers are too stupid to think for themselves."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Harness Herb's Tuesday Top Ten

Our weekly look at the top ten horses in racing. Herb was unavailable for a full interview this week as he was getting a pedicure. But he did relay that he thinks this weeks match-ups should be good ones at the Breeders Crown and this list could move in the coming weeks.

Herb mentioned that he was back being impressed with Nebupannezzar as last weeks loss looked like an aberration. He thinks Native Bride, supplementing to the BC will a boon for her 3YO filly of the year status.

Harness Herbs Tuesday Top Ten

1. Somebeachsomewhere (1)

2. Shadow Play (2)

3. Deweycheatumnhowe (3)

4. Nebupanezzar (5)

5. Enough Talk (4)

6. Mister Big (6)

7. Native Bride (7)

8. Crazed (8)

9. Federal Flex (NR)

10. Hawaiian Drink (NR)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Somebeachsomewhere #1..... Finally!

He's the richest horse in training. He has four world records. Hall of Famer Ron Waples compares him to Niatross. He draws tens of thousands of fans to racetracks to see him go. He draws onlookers with flashing cameras to watch him train. He has had more column inches of any harness horse in major newspapers this millenium. He has more google searches done on him than any harness horse alive or dead. And finally, after all year not being ranked the top horse this year in the Weekly Harness Racing Poll, he gets his due.

Rank/Name/1stPl Votes Age/Gait/Sex '08 Record '08 Earnings Pts LW
--------------------- ------------ ---------- ------------ --- --
1. Somebeachsomewhere (19) 3pc 14-13-1-0 $2,198,003 331 2
2. Deweycheatumnhowe (16) 3tc 14-12-1-1 $2,158,987 327 1

The press should be commended. We can finally promote this horse to people as one of the best ever without having to answer "if he is the best ever, why don't you guys have him ranked first in your poll?" questions any longer.

Here is the Beach just a few months ago winning the richest harness race in the world. We rarely get TV coverage in harness racing, especially on a major network, and we almost never hear cheering at a harness event anymore, so this is a race to watch and relive again. Courtesy "The Score" sports network.

Career Over? Call the Commissioner

Two intertwined stories this morning are out. One, the Canadian Press is reporting the following headline on its Somebeachsomewhere story: "Somebeachsomewhere Ends Career With Win at Sires Stakes" & two, there is a report out that the tracks have set up a task force to look at ways to pump stakes money to events for horses sired by horses five years of age or older.

The first story by the CP does say the following in the text:

Somebeachsomewhere ended his Canadian pacing career in style Saturday night, cruising to victory in the $300,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final for three-year-old colt pacers.

But is the damage done with this headline? For a sport that gets so little fanfare we need people to know that he is racing this weekend don't you think? And that his career is not over. This is a job for a commissioner office. In other sports the office would be on the phone immediately and correcting something like this I imagine. I can pretty much guarantee that the NFL would be working the phones if a CP report said that a football stars career was over when he had two games to play.

The very good, horse racing news aggregator with a large following picked up the story today and placed it under this headline on their site:

"Sulky side: Somebeachsomewhere ends career with win at Sires Stakes"

It is clearly not their fault. When I read a headline like that I think his career is over as well and would post it like that. This type of stuff seems to happen in harness racing all too often. I am sorry for the broken vinyl, but: We need a central office.

As for the harness tracks getting together to look at older stakes it is welcome news. Bloggers have been pushing this for some time now, and virtually everyone in our sport is wanting to see horses like the Beach race when they are 4. This is a step in the right direction. I applaud Mr. Gural and others. According to the release, many of their thoughts are what Bill Finley at ESPN spoke about here.

Super post with pictures of Somebeachsomewhere's race on Saturday at Woodbine on Down the Stretch.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beach Says Bye to Canada - And the Field

Somebeachsomewhere raced for his final time in Canada this year. It was freezing here and I did not make the trip, but the mile was pretty electric considering the horrid conditions. He won by 11 and three quarters in 150.3. Doing some quick math, looking at a homemade track variant, that is par 147.2 - easily the fastest mile in Canadian history, and more than likely the quickest November race in racing history. He is a sharp as ever.

Someone who was there had this to say about the race (from

That mile was just incredible. All the fans cleared out to watch it in the outside bleachers, even in the pouring rain. It was an amazing site to see and hear all the people cheering and whistling for him the entire mile. What I noticed in particular were 3 elderly ladies in tears as he crossed the line.

People can talk about Dewey, or whomever they want. This is the single greatest horse to come along in the last decade. He has done more for the sport then any new rules, any new types of racing, or any promotions can do. He deserves HOY honours on both sides of the border, not to mention even higher accolades. What a shame it is we only have a max 2 more opportunities to ever watch him.

The bridge jumpers were out. 150k was bet to show. Pretty easy money, and I never think that. I bet each time against bridge jumpers. Not this time.

Here is the video evidence:

Thanks to Clive and WEG for the photo.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Beach is Back & Losing Streaks

Tomorrow evening the most famous horse in harness racing is slated to go in the OSS Super-Final at Woodbine. This will be his last race in Canada. He will have two more starts at the Meadowlands then he calls it a career so he can go breed more horses in a sport with way too many already (sorry, I can't help myself ;)).

He has been picking up some mentions in the mainstream press though. The Toronto Star had a story this week on his final race, and his preparations. For those who figure they might try and beat a potential bridge-jumper tomorrow night in the show pools (I have not got a program downloaded yet, but the entries say that show betting is permitted), well take heed of this:

"He just seems to be getting stronger and better and enjoying the cooler weather. We trained him Sunday and just let him come a final half (mile) in 53 (seconds) and a piece and he did it just easily. Like always."

Back when I was a kid I remember a horse named Farmsteads Fame came up North for a stakes race and he qualified with a 56.4 back half and I was stunned. This horse comes home in 53 for training miles. He is probably 1-10 fair odds tomorrow night, and I don't think I have ever said that with any horse.

For our thoroughbred friends like one of our favourites Valerie, he is supposed to go to the gate at 9:38PM. Woodbine does not live stream so I guess you need a youbet or twinspires account to partake. Here is the field:

7 -- Pace, purse $300,000 (EX, P3, SF, TR)
Post time: 09:38 P.M. Lasix: 05:23 P.M.
1 Lucky Man 12-1
2 Dougs Fame 40-1
3 Somebeachsomewhere 1-5
4 Trade Editor 20-1
5 Amillionpennies 40-1
6 The Mohegan Pan 12-1
7 Keystone Horatio 15-1
8 Deuce Seelster(L) 15-1

We did a post awhile ago on losing streaks. They are deadly for ones psyche and we all go through them. There is an excellent post on from a good player who gives us an easy excel sheet way to find them and also gives us some statistics. It's worth a look if you ever wanted to delve into the subject further.

Friday, November 14, 2008

When Two Tribes Go to War

Seth Godin is a marketing writer, and a good one. What makes him stand out (what makes him a “Purple Cow” to use a Godinism) is that he is a ‘new’ economy business and marketing guy. He has been promoting his new book, Tribes, and does so via the blogs and so on. The interweb stuff. Originally posted on 26th story, a new media blog (and linked first via raceday360) was this question and Seth’s answer:

What's the most important lesson the book publishing industry can learn from the music industry?

The market doesn't care a whit about maintaining your industry. The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there's even MORE music than there was before. What got hurt was Tower and the guys in the suits and the unlimited budgets for groupies and drugs. The music will keep coming. Same thing is true with books. So you can decide to hassle your readers (oh, I mean your customers) and you can decide that a book on a Kindle [note - internet reading page] SHOULD cost $15 because it replaces a $15 book, and if you do, we (the readers) will just walk away. Or, you could say, "if books on the Kindle were $1, perhaps we could create a vast audience of people who buy books like candy, all the time, and read more and don't pirate stuff cause it's convenient and cheap..." I'm a pessimist that the book industry will learn from music. How are you betting?

Hmm. Let’s change a few words in that to equate it with racing, k?

“The lesson from ADW and the internet is that there's even MORE opportunities to see racing than there was before.”

I played a race at Sunland this year, in fact several races. I do not even know where Sunland is. ADW’s like Youbet or Twinspires bring racing into the 21st century and allow us access. Just as Itunes brought new artists to the fore and will end up growing music to an otherwise unreceptive or unwilling audience, this will end up growing racing, if we do it right. In my opinion, we are not funding this enough to grow racing along the tail. To take more money from it, or to limit its access with infighting or archaic rules that were written before the Internet was even invented defeats its purpose entirely. Companies lose when they do things like that in 2008. The companies who win, embrace, invest, market and price their product accordingly.

Next up:
“So you can decide to hassle your bettors (oh, I mean your customers) and you can decide that a bet on a Youbet SHOULD cost $15 because it replaces a $15 bet at the track, and if you do, we (the bettors) will just walk away. Or, you could say, "if bets on Youbet were $1, perhaps we could create a vast audience of new bettors who like betting horses all the time, and don't play other games like poker instead cause it's convenient and cheap..."

Self explanatory of course. The economies of scale that the internet has brought us is amazing. You can buy a stock on a foreign exchange with the click of a mouse for $9 and it resulted in stock trading exploding with moms, pops and whomever buying stocks from their laptops. Ten years ago you would have had to pay $300 for the same trade, perhaps. If Ameritrade charged regular in-house prices over the internet, customers would walk away. In racing we seem to think this rule of Internet business does not apply to us. The marginal cost of an internet bet is negligible - yet we want to price it like we are delivering it at a 1950 racetrack, because after the sock hop there is nothing to do but go to the track. Just as customers will not give you $15 for a book online, he/she will not pay $15 for a bet online. And guess what? With competition, and traffic, and kids and work and all the modern encumbrances, he sure as hell ain’t heading to the track to do it. It is found money lost.

5000 people can read a book online for $1 and give us $5000. 5000 people can make a bet online for $1 and give us $5000. Neither of those two groups will be going to the bookstore, or the track and doing the same for $15. We seem to think zero revenue instead of $5000 revenue and potential new fans is a viable business model.

His last line: “I'm a pessimist that the racing industry will learn from music. How are you betting?”

I don’t think racing is quite there yet to learn from music, or poker, or anything that has grown on the web. Heck, we are currently shutting out internet signals. We don’t show live video on our track websites. We charge people to look at a PDF file, where after looking at it they will give us 21.8% of their money through takeout. We have some groups trying to take more money for purses instead of reinvesting it in the internet medium as a long-term growth strategy. We clearly have a long, long way to go.

I have saved his first line for last: “The market doesn't care a whit about maintaining your industry.”

This is true in the outside world. But it is not true in racing and that is the painfully ironic thing. We customers care about maintaining this industry. We might be the only customers of any industry known to man who care that much. Yet we seem to be treated as a nuisance, with companies and groups charging high prices and fighting for higher ones in an internet world, making us leave the game we love to play; and maybe even worse, not attracting any new fans in numbers to a wonderful sport to replace us.

It is very difficult to be a fan in a sport that seemingly does not want to help itself. All most of us have left is a glimmering hope for a brighter day.

It is no secret that bettors have been telling us we have not delivered what they want, at the right price. Supply and Demand in an internet world is a very neat thing. They always tell you what price is right. Now if they could just get people to listen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some Posts Are Da Bomb

I was chatting via email with Jessica who does some of her work with Raceday360. I notice that she (or someone there) makes "editors picks" which are decent posts from the blogosphere. Some posts (like this one) just don't cut it. Others that make it are the ones that make a good point, are well written and contain a good idea. Well today, I read one of them. Cangamble has written an awesome piece on takeouts, and the history of betting this game.

In a very good point regarding drugs in racing and the PETA types, that I have not read:

Drugs, potential cheating, lack of proper disclosure, fatal injuries, etc. are just secondary problems when it comes to growth. In fact, if racing were to increase their fan/bettor base by competing for more players, the other problems would go away because integrity would actually matter as the game would be taken seriously again, by the masses, and the masses would demand it.

On how racing once cared if you won, and wanted you to keep grinding because they knew if you did not win, you would not come back. Now this is completely gone as evidenced by the trap race pick 4's and 6's at various venues:

Aside from the fact that it takes years to understand most of the handicapping nuances that allows a player to be better than average, the reality is that being better than average won't make one a winner. Far from it. A handicapper is considered good if he or she only loses 10 cents on the dollar (the collective average takeout at Woodbine, for example, is around 21-22%).

Racing execs have shifted their mentality. And the result: In the 60's and 70's racetracks were hesitant to even bring in exotics because they were worried that fans would lose money too fast and be discouraged.

Now racing is set up under the baseball stadium model: Get as much as you can from the customer as quickly as you can because they might not be back for a while. You will probably not see many of them again.

He further explores other issues and it is one fantastic read!

HANA announced today that two of my favourite horseplayers have been added to its advisory board. Nick Mordin's books are awesome. And Barry Meadow, who wrote a fantastic harness racing book as well as Money Secrets at the Racetrack" which I reference often are bibles in this game.

Further on that site, there is a fantastic series on "Why I Left Racing" by a long time horseplayer and member of the Handicapping Hall of Fame (HOF page here). You can see the series on the HANA page linked above.

I would like to personally thank several of you who have welcomed me on your blogs to the Blogging Alliance. I have been remiss and I am sorry for that. Dana, Valerie, Patrick, Equispace, and a few others I have no doubt missed when surfing. Thank you very much.

Trackmaster has a blog. And it is pretty good. They looked at the ADW dispute and internet wagering in their last piece. It is a good one.

Cohen is looking at the Freehold/Horseman fight. I don't really understand it, so no comments from me.

Happy Birthday Kev. You've had a great year and are a great fan.

Handicapping: Betting Without Validation

In the 1840's Austrian physicist Ignaz Semmelweis did a study he thought would change the way that babies were delivered. The infant mortality rate was very high at a hospital he studied, but the good doctor found out that if nurses and doctors simply washed their hands, this rate could be severely reduced. He brought his findings to the hospitals. They asked “why does your data show this?” Semmelweis could not say why, he just told them that it did. The hospitals would not succumb to his wishes and change their washing policy - in fact they fiercely resisted. If he could not tell them why his data showed this, they wanted nothing to do with it.

At the time no one knew it, but this was one of the very first studies into germs and the harm that they can do. If they had implemented his policies, lives could have been saved.

This use of statistics and data (including the above story) was explored in the New York Times bestseller, “Super Crunchers”. The author deduces that when we use data in the right way, we can tell more, much more, than we would using simple human deduction; and we do not have to know why something happens, we just have to know that is does happen.

I believe this to be true. At the racetrack we often hear that intuition is key, or ‘I bet that horse because I knew he was going to win.’ We often times fall prey to the law of small numbers: When we see something happen anecdotally we think it to be true, and extrapolate it as part of our handicapping.

Such things are commonplace in harness handicapping. “Open to blind is a good bet”, “don’t bet a breaking trotter next time as the driver will not try”, “bet come from behinders in the slop”, “don’t bet a claimer off a qualifier” and on and on.

How do we know these are true without data and accompanying information from that data? The answer is that we do not. Without checking our preconceived notions we are making a grave error, perhaps even a fatal one in terms of our handicapping bankrolls. The problem of course is that in standardbred racing, good luck in trying to get a database working to either prove or disprove these theories. It is why I have never bought a harness handicapping book and expected to learn much - I have no idea if what the author is telling me is true, without validating numbers.

William Quirin wrote a fine handicapping book in the 1970's called “Winning at the Races”. It is considered one of the best handicapping books of all time. In it, he validated his data through studying race results. He was the first handicapper to do that.

Recently I read The Power of Early Speed. The writer, Klein wrote that he had an idea early speed was an underbet factor, but he never knew for sure. Then one day he learned of the Daily Racing Form database. He had over 200,000 races with 1.6 million horses to data crunch. When he did, he found out that he was on to something - early speed, leaders at the first call, had an ROI on $2 bet of 3.12 throughout racing history. It made the book.

I have always tried to validate my preconceived notions in harness racing, and I found out many times my notions were wrong, and costly. As I mentioned before in a study on driver changes I found no impact values, or ROI boosts that show anything major at all. I ran numbers at Harrington looking for some numbers to exploit the drivers Tim Tetrick and Tony Morgan - I found nothing other than terrible ROI’s on driver changes or otherwise. Detention barn data was always worth looking at. I fell into the law of small numbers mistake with a few trainers in detention. I thought they were terrible, and so did the handicapping crowd, when in fact they were not bad at all. There was money to be made on that one, you just had to check your ego at the door and admit you didn’t know squat until you saw the numbers. Unfortunately (and I think one of the reasons harness handicapping has never caught on like the runners) the problem with doing impact values in racing is you have to do them by hand. Who has the time to do that and bet $1000 win pools?

With thoroughbreds it is absolutely fun (and sometimes profitable) to data mine and see if your handicapping angles are smart, or dumb. For example, maiden special weights dropping in class to maiden claimers was always a favorite angle in the handicapping books. Running that in my 2008 database shows this:

Starts: 1503
Wins: 203
W%: 13%
ROI: 0.81

Not something I think we should spend too much time on, eventhough the IV is over 1. The ROI isn’t even close to pursuing.

As we mentioned before on the blog, let’s check that angle we hear handicappers trumpet from time to time, blinkers on:

Wins: 709
Starts: 6875
W%: 10%
ROI: 0.7149
Impact Value: 0.8348

It’s a one way ticket to the poor house.

We sometimes hear “don’t bet the odds board and ignore it with first time starters because people overbet the unknown.” Let’s check:

First time starters bet below 8-5:
Wins: 31
Starts: 82
W%: 38%
ROI: 0.92

With a rebate you almost break even. Not a bad angle at all. The odds board signals winners and these winners are underbet.

It is difficult for us to think broad and data driven like this. The racetrack is filled with stories and angles and such. I still get caught with it from time to time, although I watch myself constantly. I was chatting with a thoroughbred handicapping friend who plays Woodbine and I told him (because I saw it ‘once or twice’ for my validation) that I heard people in the grandstand saying that WEG regular Emile Ramsammy was terrible on speed horses. After watching him strangle a speed horse he agreed wholeheartedly: Never bet this guy with a speed horse we both said. Of course I had to check, expecting to see my bias validated:

Ramsammy, E
Speed horses Ridden: 252
Wins: 42
W%: 17
ROI: 1.06

If I bet $100 to win each time Emile rode a speed horse, with no other handicapping, I would have made $1700. Instead I looked to bet against him because two or three times I saw him go to the back and strangle a speed horse.

This game is almost impossible without lower takeouts, there is no reason to make it even tougher by making bad bets based on anecdotal evidence. Now if we can somehow get harness racing to offer API’s and other data features for horseplayers, instead of locking up data like it is the last Big Mac in a famine, we might be able to up the bet, learn something and validate our handicapping.

I am trying to validate several things in harness racing, but have not had a chance yet. If anyone wants to help (i.e. do a little tabulation work), let me know by emailing. It will be boring work (we would have to crunch numbers by hand) but we can't help that. Maybe it would be interesting, who knows?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Harness Herb's Tuesday Top Ten

Harness Herb was hard at work coming up with his Harness Top Ten when our cub reporter Greg got a hold of him via satellite phone. Greg forwarded his phone call verbatim here, and this is unedited.

*Exclusive to Pull the Pocket*

Greg: Hi Herb
Herb: Hello my Pennsylvanian friend

Greg: So Herb where are you this week, still in Tibet?
Herb: I’m back in France. The weather is cool but Herb has to train. Some of the early year cycling races are just around the corner. Just like a racehorse, Herb needs training to keep in shape and stay cut.

Greg: Ok.... what about the top ten. I notice you dropped Nebupanezzar this week, is that off his flat showing in the Gold Final?
Herb: Of course, Sherlock. He was disappointing and not the same horse that has been winning. To be on this list you have to dominate. This is not a list for sissies. He's still the best two year old colt in racing though.

Greg: Crazed made a move in. How come Herb?
Herb: He is in because he won his Dover stake easily, and Dewey was off beating up on some weak ones. He's had a better year than Celebrity Secret.

Greg: What did you think of Native Bride? I thought you’d move her up even higher.
Herb: That’s why Herb compiles the list and you don’t. Yes she is the best filly in racing. Yes she can clean plenty of clocks, but we ain’t moving her up over Mister Big quite yet. By the way, who’s your daddy? Herb had her in the top ten weeks ago. I think we can all agree, and I say this with tremendous humility: Herb rules.

Greg: Do you think Dewey or Shadow Play can ever overtake Beach with only a few races left?
Herb: Beach is a freak. Those other two horses would have to set a world record for Herb to even think about dropping him and that ain't gonna happen. It is good to keep in mind that Herb knows all the horses. Herb was there when Bret Hanover raced. Herb was there when Steady Star time trialled. Herb was there when the hula hoop was cool. He’s seen it all. Those other horses can’t carry Beach’s bell boots.

Greg: Bye Herb.
Herb: Bye Greg.

Official (not seen anywhere else, although people have offered Pull the Pocket big money for this) Harness Herb Tuesday Top Ten

1-Somebeachsomewhere (1)

2-Shadow Play (2)

3-Deweycheatumnhowe (3)

4-Enough Talk (5)

5-Nebupanezzar (4)

6-Mister Big (6)

7-Native Bride (10)

8-Crazed (NR)

9-Art Colony (8)

10-Up Front Annika (9)

The Hambletonian Top Ten was out yesterday. See how it stacks up to humble Herb's!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Racing Should Cut Prices Right Now

At a time when racing raises prices on its customers and is shutting down signals, (customers have a tough time winning in the first place, and finding an ADW to bet all tracks has even gotten worse), the real business world marches on. McDonald's sales are up, big. Why? Value meals and a price break.

Same-store sales rose 5.3 percent in the United States, helped by new menu items, including the Southern Style Chicken sandwich, and continued demand for breakfast items. The company's popular Dollar Menu and its annual Monopoly promotion also drew in value-hungry consumers.

"McDonald's strong October sales show that we are delivering what customers count on from McDonald's -- choice, variety and high-quality food and beverages at affordable prices," Chief Executive Jim Skinner said in a statement.

If racing had a commissioner that man or woman would be wise to take heed in that report. If we could flip a switch, like McDonald's can, and offer an immediate price break, it would give us a chance to weather this storm.

In fact, horseman groups fighting for more cash from tracks and the bettor like we see going on right now, need a new push, in my opinion: Ask for 5% of all ADW revenue to be sunk back into the business through reinvestment. Rebates and R and D will grow this business in times like these, fighting over purse funding and raising prices on bettors will not.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Weekend is Done

Well almost done. It's the third quarter of the Eagles game. We're getting there.

HANA issued a press release tonight. They have injected themselves into the ADW fight in the US and their President Jeff Platt has been trying to find common ground.

I can not believe racing, sometimes. Customers pay for virtually everything, yet the fight is between horseman, tracks and ADW companies. Where is the player represented? I would hope they begin to listen. ADW companies put a lot of dough into marketing and innovation and of course players use the medium. It is the ONLY growth area in racing. It can not be short-circuited in some kind of archiac purse fight, in my opinion, so someone has to stand up with common sense and be heard.

The Progress Pace was today. I can not believe the odds on the two chalks, Badlands Nitro and Dali. There is no way they should have been that low. I could not find the winner though.

I bet 27 races today, and I got 11 second place finishes. Oh ya, and I only bet win. That was an incredibly frustrating day. My handicapping and money management was perfect, and 80-90% of my horses were well-meant but I lost money.

Harness Herb has been touting pacing mare Native Bride. Herb was correct. This mare is first class and is sure to be odds on in the Breeders Crown. She is easily the top filly in racing and she proved it tonight in the Matron. I would expect Herb will have her at least 6 or 7 in his list this week. Here is the video evidence.

Kudos to Woodbine. When they show the stretch run the damn odds banner gets in the way. But they have moved it along the top so viewers can see the horses coming from out of it.

Jessica Chapel of Railbird emailed me last night about Raceday360. If you want a quick way to look at the blogs of racing, give it a bookmark and check often. It is updated in virtual real-time.

We'll be back tomorrow with the Hambo poll and |Tuesday with Harness Herb's look at the top ten. Also, I have a handicapping post to get up. I have not done one of those in awhile.

I hope everyone had a good weekend.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wow, Now That's a Betting Site!

The UK, and its 60 million or so people bet quite a bit on racing. In fact they bet more than the 350 million people in North America (we should hang our heads in shame!). One reason why, is that they do things a whole lot better there, than we do here for their customers.

When I was at a wagering conference I thought about an idea I thought might work to help drag our sorry butts into this century and quench the thirst of bettors who are serious about harness racing. It involved placing some money into a full-blown singular website for harness racing only. On that site we would have all the video, news, programs, pretty much everything to do with harness racing, as well as a handy-dandy link to your betting service to place a bet. If you were a part of the betting website, of course it would have tons of bet tracking, stats and all the rest to keep you stoked and make you a better player. We'd also have access to a database where all racelines were stored (databases for football are a big hit, and they are free like Maybe have a trip notes database where we could keep track of trouble lines; each bettor would have his very own personalized, customizable page. Maybe have a handicapper for each track offering value-added in pop ups when you click a horses name. Live paddock reports or cameras would be pretty neat of course. Y'know, things that other businesses do.

Too expensive? Too much work? Ya, I thought you'd say that. After all this business has only received around $4 billion bucks in slot money, so building a website is out of the question. Funny though, in the UK websites like this are doing just fine. is offering a look at their beta for their new UK site. I love this stuff, so of course I was hooked and had to find out what they had in store for bettors. It was what I thought they'd come up with:

Want to look at different ratings?

Want live paddock reports?

Want to sort by different factors?

Want replays?

Want easy navigation and scheduling?

Want to look at a database?

Want to scan all oddsmakers and find the best prices?

Want to bet the best price at a click?

Want to have a trip note database?

Want a one stop shop for streaming news, odds, video, reporting, betting and more?

Want to watch crisp, clean live video in on your PC?

They did it. And we should have done this a long time ago.

For a demo of their site, check it out (it opens in a pop up). I know some folks think we are $2 betting degenerates, but this demo should prove otherwise.

Note: When they go through the "best odds" notice the overround (takeout) under the bookmaker. Some are 7%. Oh my head.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Suffolk is Serious & Notes

Ray Paulick wrote an interesting piece on horse slaughter and Suffolk Downs. We wrote earlier that the owner of Suffolk has instituted policies in which horse slaughter is not tolerated. Paulick's piece reads like a mystery and is top-notch.

Mike Hamilton is at it again. The Woodbine Blo... Columnist has a post up filled with numbers, thoughts and a general hodge podge of data. It is interesting though. One thing I am not sure of is, he mentioned the Paceadvantage post that I wrote here about. That was on the 4th, and he wrote his post on the 5th. If he stole it I am going to sue him for like, well, one of those really good second floor Woodbine roast beef sandwiches. Anyhow, drop by and say Howdy to Mike.

Horseplayer Association president Jeff Platt was on Bloodhorse this week. There is a post up about it. I can't believe that such a high percentage of betting in North America goes to purses (around 6%) compared to the rest of the world (around 2%), yet we are the ones who constantly complain about not getting enough money from tracks and ADW's for purses. It's Rod Serling-like.

Looks like Georgian Downs gets their wish and is closing for a couple of months this winter, and adding dates to the summer. For anyone who has been on the 400 highway in January, versus August, the only question to ask about that is "what in the hell took them so long?"

Oh and one more thing. I guess I am in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance now. I am not a thoroughbred and I stink as a blogger. One would think that is a poor match, but really I like brown things that run around in a circle, whether trotting, pacing or running. And on the good side maybe the work of good bloggers like Dana and Patrick rub off on me. One way or another, them fancy blue-blood t-bred bloggers are gonna learn what a hopple is :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Plonk Joins Kaplan & Y'know What is Neat?

What is neat is sometimes you go and write a blog post, then get sidetracked, click around for a second and find that someone wrote half of what you were going to speak about. Well today that's about right. Cangamble has a good post up on some of the wild stuff happening in racing. Check it out, he writes better than I do anyway.

HANA (the Horseplayer Association) has a good post on a story written by Jeremy Plonk today at ESPN, with a full link to the article. Jeremy really let fly today. Some choice quotes regarding the fighting in the US over signals and money in this falling sport:

Wake up and smell the monopoly.

Tracks are losing. Horsemen are losing. Worse yet, horseplayers are losing patience and interest.

Racing organizations had better realize this: I'm not a crack addict.

I've sat in conference rooms and been on conference calls where racetrack executives and horsemen's representatives act as though the bettor is a complete degenerate who simply will do cartwheels in order to satisfy a $2 jones.

I've sat next to a president of a state horsemen's group who openly complained about a handful of customers in the grandstand of his local track calling in their bets on the cellphone to an ADW company instead of going to the track's betting windows, thus depriving the horsemen of a bigger percentage of those few bets. How simpleton can you possibly be?

Let's just be honest: most of the old schoolers representing horsemen didn't see the light at the end of this tunnel. At that time, many thought E-mail was something Captain Kirk received on the Starship Enterprise.

Horsemen should thank ADW companies for coming along and bringing Thoroughbred racing into the 21st century. Private enterprise gave life support to an ailing, insular racing industry. Those who compete for purse money should be thrilled to gather every penny on the dollar they can get from customers who otherwise wouldn't walk within three states of their local venue. They should be happy as a lark that they bear ZERO of the expense involved in developing software, staffing, marketing, promoting or processing a single wager.

Those are only a few quotes from a good piece. I thought Kaplan's piece in Trot on the lack of effort and marketing was an eye-opener! Regardless folks, not only the players are not standing for this nonsense any longer. Now the press is getting in on the act. Bravo.

On a lighter note, the lack of ADW can cause serious problems. See the people in this video? This could happen to horseplayers without a track to play. We need this fixed.

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