Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Thousand Seven

I started the blog last December. Near the end of 2007 I wrote this piece about what the future may hold for us in racing. Unfortunately it is a year later. It dawned on me that I could write exactly the same piece today. Nothing has changed. In fact, we are worse off than we ever have in modern racing. I sincerely hope that I do not have to regurgitate this article again 12 months from now. Let's hope not. Let's hope we have hit rock bottom this time.

December 27,2007 - Rock Bottom

I thought, with the turning of the calendar, I would jot down some thoughts for harness racing in 2008. I'm optimistic. I have entitled it "rock bottom."

Huh? An optimistic piece entitled rock bottom?


Flip on an entertainment show and we might see a star du jour speaking of his trials with whatever it may be, and he will say "I had to hit rock bottom before I could change." I think 2008 in harness racing is the year we will hit rock bottom, change will occur, and the sport will place the wheels in motion to grow again.

I see a post on detailing that the Boxing Day handle for Woodbine hit an all time low. I see on the entry page for that handle for Canadian racing is down over $100M in 2007. I see tracks cutting some dates. I see tracks cutting stakes. All bad news and it does not seem to be getting any better.

When we hit rock bottom in 2008 a few things will occur. Policies will finally be put in place that will encourage growth. These policies will not be piece-meal, nor pay lip service, like we seem to see all too often. They will be real, tough and they will change the sport as we know it.

Customers will be appreciated. They will be able to bet harness racing from anywhere in the World at an affordable price. New 5% takeout bets will be the norm, promoted with vigor and thoroughbred players will cross over to our sport for the value. Pools will be bigger. Excitement will reign.

New bets will be introduced after we hit rock bottom. Legislation will be lobbied for to get these new bets into convenience stores, just like lotteries. The bets, and racing will be promoted on the Internet, on TV and in print. Someone will hit a $5M win with these new bets, and the word-of-mouth will be deafening. Gambling chat boards on the Internet will talk about harness racing. They won't be talking about a boring sport whose days are numbered. They will be talking about a new harness bet that has the gambling world buzzing. And they will want to be a part of it.

New money from new owners will be attracted by promoting clean racing, and these new owners will be introduced to a sport that is not filled with infighting, or 2 year appeals from suspect trainers that make them scratch their heads and want to buy a stock instead - they will be attracted to the joy and exhilaration of owning a harness horse. These new owners will bring in a new culture of racing - racing for the sport of it - and it will be the main focus for this new breed of owner. It will catch fire.

Horseman's groups and tracks will negotiate new deals. When sitting down across each other at a table, they will both not concern themselves with protecting their dwindling slices and fighting. They will concentrate on one thing and one thing only: growing the sport by increasing handles.

A new breed of racetrack executive will be hired. He or she will focus on handles first and foremost. Live handles to be exact. Distribution channels will be turned on their head. The internet will be embraced. Costs will be cut, the game will change from a low volume high margin one with few bettors, to a high volume low margin one with many bettors. Any savings will be passed on to customers to achieve more growth through reinvestment, not put into profits and purses. The sport will change from one who looks for protection as a monopoly, to one who competes, fights, scratches and claws for every betting dollar out there. We will turn into a perfectly competitive business and start growing on our own two feet.

In the end, we will grow and grow, and grow.

So yes, we will hit rock bottom in 2008. And when we do, we should all do one thing and one thing only: Smile.

Smile because we know our sport can grow again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pictures Galore

Our thoroughbred friends are having a debate on the Eclipse Award Winning photo that you can see here. A good deal of bloggers do not like it.

Dana at Green But Game has a look at twenty other photos she thinks might be as worthy as this one. Check that out if you are into horse photography; there are some beautiful pictures there, and I agree with Dana that the Casino Drive picture is great.

I am in the minority I guess, but I like the winning picture. I do see everyone's point about one like it winning before.

It got me thinking that I get pictures sent to me from a friend who (along with his daughter) dabbles with photography and loves the horses. Some of their pictures are flat-out amazing. They are often seen at the rail at Mohawk or Flamboro clicking away. Here is a sample from my hard-drive that you might like. You can click them to enlarge.

Here is winter in Southern Ontario, with two fellas with their coats on.

This is an awesome picture of one of their horses who passed on this year. He had a good life. How could you not with that view?

This is a serendipitous look at one of our stables fella's warming up before the Confederation Cup. Notice the sun off the bridle? That's so cool.

A weanling wondering what the future will bring.

I am not much of a photographer and really enjoy people who have a knack for it. I am a sucker for horse pictures as well. There is something elegant and innocent about these animals that really tends to come across in a picture. Truly worth a thousand words.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Interesting Posts

From two sides of the gambling spectrum. First our old friend Phil made a post about switching some of his play to poker.

On racing:

I have matured as a handicapper and consider myself to be atleast as good if not better than I have been at any point in time.

Yet, as time moves along, I find myself struggling more and more just to stay afloat.

On poker:

I consider myself a mediocre poker player at best. I probably play too many hands and am probably not able to calculate pot odds quick enough to be considered good, yet I can win at that game.

Case in point, as mediocre as I am, I had a convention in Atlantic City three weeks ago. So to kill some time, I took $40 dollars in chips to the poker room to play Hold’em. Over the next three days, I turned that $40 into over $400. Yet, this week while I was off, I used my above average horse playing skills to lose almost everyday. So tonight I decided to ditch the horses and fire up online poker. It was a good decision. In the last 5 hours I have multiplied my money by six. And I’m mediocre.

I once had a friend put $40 in a poker account and he played for six months before losing it. Low rakes are a nice thing. People like winning more than losing, that is a pretty obvious fact - win more at poker, play more poker. It is not difficult to understand.

Our other old pal Allan has a nice post of stats and stuff on the other end of the spectrum. Gamblers who know they will lose yet flock to give money to the bandits at Yonkers in huge numbers.

When I was at Woodbine on Saturday, I was sitting in behind a newbie table. They won a couple of show bets. One woman said "this is way more fun than slots; you have to think here!" Exactly. People really like it when they figure something out and it goes their way. It was not a pull of a lever, or a lottery. They used their head. Now if we could just find a way to send more people home winners at the races. We might do ok.

Damn the Torpedoes

The local horseman association here in Ontario called for a boycott of the box at Woodbine because of the lack of a racing contract. It appears that the sticking point is the fact that Woodbine can use their private property rights to exclude, or put restrictions on trainers and/or owners who they deem are bad for their business.

The horseman's executive seems to have thought this a good idea, but the rank and file have spoken against them. Woodbine received over 90 entries today for the 'supposed' boycotted card. There will be racing on January 1st.

Bettor Does Good

I got an email from a long time blog reader and contributor. He is trying to be a winner at betting and he has been keeping track of his wagers this year. I found it a cool note. Especially the ending:

Thought I'd give you an update on how the horseplaying is going. Over the year I am down but I had a lot of fun. The first half of the year killed me, I was pretty bad and didn't really know what I was doing. So I ended down most of the year. I did cash out a few times but never really finished above $300 (starting with $50). All year maybe on 3 occasions I bet above 700 in a night before losing my $50. That was a goal, because then I'd get about $40 back in a rebate via Premier Turf Club. Most times I would lose the 50 before that. I made a ton of action bets, which killed me and over all discipline was and still is pretty bad..... It has to be the most important factor, IMO.

Kept reading your blog for tips and followed the links you provided. I was reading a thread on Paceadvantage called something like..... "Winning At The Track". A lot of guys on there said they only bet straight wins. That surprised me. I always bet a lot of large ($20) place tickets and the odd time equal show tickets, but no one on there really did that. So I looked at my player tracking at found out that I was down huge overall for the year at place tickets (it turns out winning at 3-1, when your 18-1 hits the top 2 is quite a great investment). I also found I was up overall with my tri's. So that is where I decided to go. Get rid of place and show tickets, stick with win, ex's and tri's. I pretty much bet tri's one way and it has worked out ok. I pick a winner and then try to pick a horse that will hit 2 or 1-3-all,, 1-all-3, for example; trying to hit about 12-13% of the tickets. I did find out from reading on your blog that picking longshots on top, doesn't really make sense and I have found that generally to be true. Though at some small tracks sometimes the 8-1 shot should be the favorite.

Anyhow..... in the last month since dropping the place and show tickets and sticking exclusively with win, Tri's and ex's. I am up about 1k. I have wagered $2970 and got back $3892. Up in both Wins ($507) and tri's ($585). I thought I stopped betting place tickets, but did lose ($47) there. Best of all, on 3 different occasions I wagered over $700 including $1500 last night, making smaller bets all evening.... I have never came close to that.

Well that's the update... the discipline is still bad..... still way to many action bets. So I am going to go after that next.


I enjoyed this read. Our game is a puzzle and in a lot of ways is just like golf, in respect that you are always trying to get better and can never really beat the game. This player has gone from messing around, throwing around some cash and losing, to working on the fundamentals: getting a rebate so he has a better bottom line, bet tracking, analyzing ROI by type of bet, and working on bet size. Then of course he is working on the nasty thing we call discipline.

It is what keeps most of us coming back.

Anyway, well done young man. Keep it going!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Racing Partnership Directory

Ever want to find racing partnerships in one place? Now there is one.

Partnerships are a good way to have a thrill of owning a horse, at a fraction of the cost. If you are a partnership, or know of one not listed, give them an email and I am sure they will add you to the directory.

Counting Down the Top Ten

I got an email from our friends at Harnesslink last night to alert me to a new harness racing blogger on their network. He is currently counting down the top ten harness races from 2008. Pop over and say hi, if you are interested. We harness folks have to stick together; there are so few of us left.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Word From the Fans

I went to Woodbine tonight for the races, which were cancelled due to unsafe track conditions. The strike talk that the horseman association is trying to drum up support for was not exactly a hit with the fans. From my very limited sample tonight:

"Are they nuts?"

"Do they know there is a recession out there?"

"We should call our MPP's and demand that slot money does not go to you people any longer because you are all crazy"

So far, New Coke was considered a big hit compared to this.

Ticket Prices Down in Detroit

Just reading some NFL news and it appears that the Detroit Lions, on the verge of going 0 and 16, are reducing and/or freezing ticket prices for next year.

Will racing be enterprising and do something like this for fans? Or are we too dysfunctional to have a sale?

Shot 'o Vodka?

Cangamble runs through drugs in racing in his last post. Word is that we got a synthetic morphine positive in racing as well this past week.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fight Club

The economy is in shambles. Auto bailouts, CEO's coming with cap in hand looking for cash from citizens. Consumer confidence low. A general malaise and a very big public chip on a shoulder for businesses who can not make it on their own.

With that, the local horseman association in Ontario, has voted to boycott the entry box because they are without a contract for 2009.

Most things like this are political in nature and this one looks about that way to my untrained eye. One must wonder, with racing handles crumbling, governments running 2009 deficits, with everyone belt tightening, who is running this show?

Usually when these fights occur there is about a 50/50 for and against factions on various chat boards. For this fight I would say it is more like 10/90 for and against. It appears, at least anecdotally, that rank and file horsepeople and horse owners think this is a bad time to be doing this and we should be very thankful that we have subsidized purses to race for in 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Harness Herb Goes Christmas

Harness Herb contacted us. He was gracious enough to send this note, along with a video Christmas message. Along with Herb, may I wish you all a happy holiday season, in whichever way you are celebrating, and a great new year.

Message from Harness Herb:

Pull the Pocket Dweebs,

It has been a good year on the blog, made much better by the presence of me. As you know, my immensely popular Top Ten List is suspended as I train for the upcoming season in cycling, but I thought I would wish you all a merry holiday.

As a special treat to you losers, I figured I would call in a few favors for a video that I choreographed myself. I contacted a few folks who love and respect me, like most of you do. Trainer of Deweycheatumnhowe Ray Schnittker is a personal friend. He said "yes." Paul MacDonnell is a personal friend who contacts me for driving tips and thanks me as the sole reason that Somebeachsomewhere kicked butt this year. He said "sure Herb." For a dash of star power I went through the rolodex and ended up with two additional icons. They both were excited to do this project - "anything for you Herb", they said.

Anyway enjoy; and happy holidays from Herb's family to yours.


Harness Herb

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Merry Christmas folks.

New Harness Racing Commissioner - Santa!

I change my vote for harness racing commissioner from time to time. I started with Jason Bourne. I ditched that after Matt Damon started giving political interviews. Then I switched to Fusion Man. But I checked the news today. I think I want Santa, despite him being pretty much a one hit wonder.

I am watching him on NORAD. His speed is being tracked at 100X the speed of the Tokyo bullet train. He is efficient. He is moving from home to home with laser-like precision. He is exactly what Harness needs. Check this out.

I think I want the big fat red dude as harness commissioner. Infighting would be a thing of the past.

Beach Named Nova Scotia Newsmaker of the Year

Somebeachsomewhere is starting to get some accolades. He was named Newsmaker of the Year in the province of Nova Scotia.

For our American friends who might not know, Nova Scotia is a gorgeous province with a population of around 1M people. Near Truro, where Beach was from, you can get a nice slice of East coast Canadiana, and if you head south you can get a big city feel in Halifax. To be newsmaker of the year in this province is not a small thing. The connections should be proud of this honour, and so should harness racing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Cards; and Monday Handles

Unless I am mistaken, it appears that tomorrow there is one track racing - Monticello. What an opportunity for an "A" track if they held a noon card. There is nothing else to bet. I just checked and WalMart is open 24 hours, so are some department stores here in the big smoke. No excuse for a racetrack not to have a big December 24th card.

Woodbine handle for Monday (during the 7/8th's racing experiment) was up to around $1.5M. It was a very slow day. Philly Park was cancelled and so was Penn National. No Mountaineer. All they had to compete with was Northfield and Flamboro (maybe one other small track). I wonder what handles would be tomorrow if Woodbine was the only big track going - thoroughbred or harness. Would we see $2.5 million if they really promoted it, maybe with a Fat Quaddie?

Horse Betting is Number One!

There is a fair bit of gloom and doom out there. Out of the $700 or $800 billion dollar skill-game market (poker, sports betting etc), horse racing sits at around $15B of it. But reading the Betfair annual report I came across this gem:

Betfair is the only online bookmaker which has racing as its Number One product: most others rank football, tennis, golf and cricket above it.

I know we are not them; I know our business thinks cheaper takeout is something they get at Dominos on two for one Sunday's, I know we are run by the same business model that was used when people listened to Dion and the Belmonts on the radio while driving to Belmont. But heck, is that not really encouraging? A company that is new, that is 2.0, that offers players 24 hour a day world wide racing, at as low as 4% takeouts in a neat way actually wants to offer racing and calls it their number one sport.

No slots, no sports betting, no asking for a handout from government, no ADW fights, no horseman fights. Just racing. 24 hours a day of racing from all over the world. And they like it. As an added bonus they will contribute more to purses than the traditional bookmakers do.

It is why here on the blog I say the glass is not half empty, it barely has a drop in it. We just have a lot of work to do.

By the way when speaking of them in the past I used to say they have "over one million customers." I have to start correcting that. They just signed their 2 millionth customer. It only took them about 20 months to go from one to two million. Well done.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mobile Betting Ready to Explode?

``We now have a 0.2 second delay for a decision in poker, which is pretty much the same speed as online. Four years ago that delay was 16 seconds, which meant a hand of poker could take as long as 20 minutes. Obviously no one wanted to play at those speeds.''

American gamblers are unlikely to see any of these innovations soon. The largest mobile gaming software companies refuse to touch American clients because of questions about the legality of these services in the U.S., and it is likely that U.S. phone companies would swiftly block any gambling sites.

Horse racing has a monopoly on online gaming in the US. Do you think they will roll hard and aggressively invest in this to snatch this willing market? No, I don't either.

More via Bloomberg

Ho Ho Hamilton

Mike Hamilton, Woodbine's on-air handicapper and other assorted things, has a Christmas list at the Woodbine blog... er column site. He pulls no punches. It is a good piece as he touches on myriad issues in the game.

A few here.

On "one racing customer": Acknowledgment within the industry that not all racetracks are in the same business.... [there are] two very different segments of society and a one-size-fits-all national marketing initiative just won’t work.

On a new way to deliver products: If the pari-mutuel model isn’t broken, it’s certainly on its last legs.

On data: Data from a number of different sources should be available through one co-operatively run web site.

On takeout: Reduced take-out for at least one pool per card.

On rules: Uniform racing rules and penalties at all North American tracks. It doesn’t matter which hockey, baseball or basketball game you’re watching, the rules, penalties and quality of the officiating is the same.

Nice piece by Mike that is worth reading for all of the Santa wish list.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Radical Post Position Policy Change

Dean Hoffman wrote in this months Trot Magazine that we need to think outside the box with post positions. Some of his ideas are extremely radical. Radical is good, because our sport has hit the skids. Ray on has given us post position stats for 2008.

Flamboro Downs Post One: 46% more than expected winners

Buffalo Raceway Post One: 41% more than expected winners

Yonkers Post One: 41% more than expected winners

On half mile tracks are we a racing game with nine possible results or are we a coin flip?

This is a speed game. Horses can go like the wind and stagger the last bit and win. Further, lower class horses are more prone to this, and tracks like Flamboro with many $4500 claimers exacerbate the numbers. Draw the rail, you win (522 winners out of 2276 post ones). Single file racing, in post position order is (in many races) assured.

In addition, this is terrible for horse owners. At some B tracks it is tough to get in more than three times a month. With vet bills and inflation of owning horses out of control, getting the six post or worse two times a month is a killer. Horse owners tend to pray for a good draw, and if they don't get one, they know they are finished.

What can be done about this? What can make races on B tracks more competitive in a gambling environment that needs change and variety? What can be more fair to horse owners who truck their horse out to these tracks and are immediately 50-1 or higher if they draw outside?

A couple of things have been tried in the past. Yonkers went to a mile and a 1/16th to lengthen the run to the turn, for example.

I am fairly confused on what to do to improve this. A few random things to throw out there for half mile B tracks.

* Staggered starting gate.

* Paying a higher percentage of the purse if the 6,7 or 8 posts win. This done to encourage leaving from the outside.

* Handicap system like thoroughbreds.

* Handicapping system based on gate speed/average first quarter speed, i.e. give the fastest horses off the gate the outside.

* Starting 4 X 4. The fastest four horses start behind the slowest four horses. The first quarter and subsequent movement in the second quarter would be marvelous to watch as the speediest horses move to gain control of the top.

I am sure we can bat around a few others as those are off the top of my head.

I think the question is a good one, and one we should explore. The B track scene is virtually dead. Pools are so small. Fans are not receptive to the product. It is perfect for a radical experiment. What do we have to lose?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sun on a Saturday

For those of us in the Northeast, the winter has been tumultuous. Last night a pile of tracks were closed, including Woodbine and the Meadowlands. I did a couple things yesterday. I took the day off. I think I worked for about 20 minutes. I helped push a car up a hill, for my good deed for the day. And I played like 11 hours of racing.

All in all a good day.

Well the sun is shining today, and we won't see cancellations I would think. It is pretty cold and I am sure I saw two polar bears fighting over KFC scraps left in one of the city garbage cans on my street; but it should be fine for racing. A few things that I found interesting today.

Our pal Dana had a follow up post regarding marketing the sports lookers. She used the word bikini in the piece's title. That is a sharp cookie. Scouring around the chat boards, Rootintootin posted a link to a Chantal Sutherland interview that I had not seen. She is truly into marketing herself. Good for her.

Happy Hoot, one of my favourite horses as a kid, passed on this week. He was a hard hitter. Our family's first horse raced against him and I still have a VHS of one of the races. The announcer at the top of the lane said "Happy Hoot is dead tired." He still finished his mile fine. He never gave up that horse. If heart made one live instead of body, he would have lived to be 100.

Anyone notice Tim Tetrick, off hip surgery is doing the in-house show at Chester? Holy smokes, the kid does not like to sit at home does he? Way to go Tim, but take it from a guy ten or so years older than you. Take a vacation sometime :)

I've been going through some of the harness racing post position data. Hmmm. We will have a post up soon about what we think the sport should change in terms of PP's, especially on small tracks. This data is eye-opening.

Last up, Twooter, twitter, twinks. They are starting to look at monetizing their product; somehow, someway. We have looked at some ways this chat-type technology can be used for racing. One neat way (I think) is by adding a real live web community that bets, and is enthused to post their thoughts and information via the medium. Check this out. Zannel has a new city watch app which allows you to see and follow what is hot and what is not in your area, via twinkles and pictures, in real time.

I can never follow what is happening at four tracks at the same time. When I was seriously playing Woodbine and the Meadowlands at night I would often miss post parades, notes, changes and more. To have a neat app on my phone at the track with a tinkeroo from someone alerting me to something that is happening, visually on a map like this (so the track it is coming from is readily apparent), is something I would look into as a player. It's not going to change the world of course, but the possibilities do interest me. As someone posted, maybe it was Railbird, would it not be neat to get a small beep notifying you of a bridge jumper in a pool? Someone notifying you that Art Official broke while scoring down the backstretch at the Jug, at 3-5? If something like this was business-planned and coordinated by racing itself, it could be a good thing.

Have a good day everyone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Ad Company Chosen for ADW Commercials?

I got a message today, it said "Pull, I am hearing some rumblings of a new racetrack/ADW ad campaign" and they sent me a link of a skeleton commercial. Could we expect to see Dave Willmot of Woodbine, Chris Roberts of Georgian, Jack Liebau of Youbet and other heavy hitters in this commercial in these roles? Gosh, let's hope so.

It is Like We Live in the 1800's

Old time racing should love this article to change the Interstate Horse Racing Act. In essence, it states the mantra that the producers of the product should get upwards of 90% of the revenue. The resellers should get a few scraps. In effect they want two things: 1) Reverse the rules of 500 years of capitalism and 2) Do the opposite of what successful gambling businesses do.

But I guarantee racing will love this. It gives them more money, in a pot they think is static, like we are an electrical utility.

This of course will not result in more money. Handles would more than likely be off 40% or so if we took money away from the sellers. When these folks learn that handle is not constant it will be a fine, fine day.

There are virtually dozens of things in this article that make little sense in the gambling economy, or frankly in any economy. A few parallels?

* A songwriter gets about 10% and has to pay a packaging fee for a song. They get about 7% of sales.

* An author writes a book and gets about 7% of revenue from it.

* If I am selling a bookshelf at Wal-Mart, I sell it to them for $10, they sell it for $100.

Now do what racing wants to do. Try selling a song to a reseller for 90% of the revenue. Try going into Jeff Bezos' office at Amazon and sell a book retailing for $20, for $19 to them. Try going into a retailer and selling your product for 90% of the shelf price.

Your sales of songs, books and bookshelves would be off by probably 95%. But somehow, like this writer says, we are supposed to believe that handle would stay the same. In fact he even says so.

At a time when everything in racing and breeding is heading south, correcting the IHA would see $1 Billion going to the host tracks in the first year. Half, $500 million, would go into racehorse owners’ purses at the host tracks. For breeders it should be noted, that $500 million in racehorse owners’ purses is more than all yearling sales in 2008, and it is reasonable to expect racehorse owners would reinvest that purse money into new racing prospects.

Yep, completely change the model, taking money away from customers and resellers and everything stays the same - we still have that (like magic) $1.5 billion dollars!

Articles like this tell us that we have a long way to go to change the face of the game in North America, and get people to lose the monopoly mindset that has been an albatross around our necks.

Aranesp - Ten Years and $40k

The EPO drug has reared its ugly head again.

Investigators had received information that a number of prescriptions were being written for the drug Aranesp®, and were being filled at a Windsor area pharmacy. Darbepoetin-alfa is a brand name form of darbepoetin-alfa.

As a result of the information, out-of-competition testing was conducted on horses trained by Daniel McFadden. The tests confirmed the presence of erythropeietin/ darbepoetin-alfa in blood samples taken from two horses at the relevant time. Scott McFadden is the owner of the horses.

This is tough stuff, but we have to commend the investigators for this. In racing, like in cycling, it is virtually impossible to catch EPO/DPO in systems, because of timing issues. It is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Checking the horses in question racelines, they are interesting. Who knows if this story is 100% as reported (horseman and owners have appeals to take care of this, and we have not heard about an appeal yet), but here is the scoop in horse performance:

The first horse mentioned, Reason to Celebrate, was trained by another trainer earlier in 2008. His 2008 lines show a win in 200.4, and a fastest time of 159. In the new barn he did better. He won his first start, then requalified in 157.3. Two starts before he was a judges scratch he was second by a nose in 155.4.

The second horse, Dr. Sharkey had a poor 2007, spending most of it in another barn. He was 0 for 16. About May of this year the horse found himself. He won 4 races in 8 starts, and took a lifetime mark of 154.4. He has won 6 races in 33 starts this year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Couple of Things I Found Interesting....

.... but then again I am bored, so maybe they ain't. No one is at work, so I am not at work. I love the holiday season.


I found this hilarious: "GreenbutGame (I can't find it now but her site is great anyway) had a post a while back where she commented on how she receives multiple Google search hits a day from people looking for 'naked pictures of Chantal Sutherland.'"

I am combing through this month's Trot mag. It is the Holiday issue, and in it there are scores of horsepeople wishing everyone a happy one. I read virtually all of the best wishes ads. One of them caught my eye. In a game that is unwilling to change we rarely see anything from the grassroots about changing it. One ad said this: "My thought for 2009: We can not adopt the way of racing that was satisfactory twenty years ago. The world in which we live in has changed and we must change with it." I said, wow, what a nice thought.... who is this guy? When I check the name I find out he is one of our stable's trainers. I wonder who found who?

A profile of the young fella was highlighted on a sports network recently. I think one of our horses snouts made the clip. He was probably looking for carrots, the oinker.

I am still amazed at this piece, because it is so mind-boggling. The Massachusetts state lottery has tested takeout levels for the freaking lottery. They found out when they lower takeout they make more money. Like, duh. I can not believe we don't do a thing, other than raise it. Then we wonder where the players went. When a lottery is being more proactive on pricing than us, we should be very frightened.

Last but not least, I just made a bet on Flirtini at Hawthorne. I got beat out on the wire by a horse called "Ripe Tomato". I don't mind getting beaten by horses with kick ass names, like Super Ninja, Slayer, Crush em Bob or The Eliminator. But Ripe Tomato? Man that sucks.

Happy Holidays...... Kinda

From this months Trot Magazine I found this comment from one of the sports leading drivers interesting.

"Everyone is happy for each other at Christmas - we take the time to shake each others hands and we all try to get along. But it's the only time you see that in the driver's room! It seems like it's the only time of the year there is harmony in there."
Randy Waples

I wonder about that. Jocks and drivers both are hyper-competitive; and let's face it, they must have thousands of things to yell at each other about, considering they are driving or riding 1000 pound animals for money. But we hear very little of it. It is not exactly NASCAR where public disputes over accidents hit a fever pitch.

Lack of media attention? A better public face put on by our participants? I don't know, but it strikes me as odd we do not hear more about disagreements than we do.

Time to Capitalize on Slots is Shrinking

Purses are down.

Slots are down.

Handle is down.

Tracks are closing.

The time to grow using this subsidy is growing smaller and smaller. A couple of days ago, Bob McCown of Sports radio FAN 590 in Toronto let racing have it. It was with regards to Fort Erie closing. According to a good poster on a chat board:

Bob McCown of Prime Time Sports devoted the first 15 minutes of his show tonight on the Fan 590 to this subject. He basically said let horse racing die, it has been dead for a long time. It was a powerful condemnation of the government continuing to prop up horse racing via racinos/slots.

Further, John Swetye, long time horseplayer and VP of the Horseplayers Association had a very good piece on slots, and what they have done to handles.

Thalheimer and Ali present an ominous scenario in their paper entitled, "Pari-Mutuel Horse Race Wagering -- Competition from Within and Outside the Industry" (The paper can be found in "Handbook of Sports and Lottery Markets" by Hausch and Ziemba). Their research shows that when video lottery terminals (VLTs) are placed at pari-mutuel facilities, pari-mutuel handle decreases by 29% at the 114 VLT level and 39% at the 3,000 VLT level.

We have taken the cash, gotten drunk on it, and gave the game nothing back. When slots are gone (and they will be, we all know that), the game as we know it will no longer exist.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sex to Sell

In our post below on Idealism we spoke about branching out by selling the game in myriad ways, one of which was selling good looking riders, drivers and so on. Well Harness Racing Australia seems to be on that as we speak. In a new ad campaign "Harness Racing Turns Up Sex Appeal", several spots push the envelope.

One of the ads already has gotten some free buzz on the cover of a newspaper sports section and the creators make no apologies. "This is just a taste of things to come," they say.

h/t to Standardbred Canada.


Anyone watch the Steelers-Ravens game on Sunday? I did. If you did not, the game came down to a 3rd down inside the 15, with the Steelers driving. Steelers QB Ben Roeth-icantspelltherestofhisname dropped back and hit the receiver at the goal line. The call? Down on the two inch line. Immediate review.

The booth seemed to stumble with it. The commentators did not know which way the call should go. It looked close. Was he in? Was he out? No one could tell. But then, after some time the referee called a touchdown.

This call received a good deal of press. Most onlookers, including Chris Collinsworth of NBC brought it back to basics: "Replay was put in so that if the call is indisputable, it can be overturned. If you have to watch it over and over again, that means it is not clear and the play should stand."

I could not agree more.

Of course, we now have to parallel this to horse racing. Am I the only one annoyed when a judge rewinds the tape 246 times looking for a foul? Seriously, these are 1200 pound horses going 35 miles per hour, they are not playing hopscotch. If it takes you to slow it down and speed it up and do that over and over again to see something, call it no foul and lets move on. End, finito. It would speed up our game, and I think it makes sense.

In case you did not see the football game, thank god for youtube.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oval of Dreams

..... We roll into a parking lot bustling with activity, while local college students brave the westerly wind, tailgating behind their well cared-for Honda Civics.

..... A local high school marching band runs onto the track

..... ‘The Betting Team,’ 20 young women dressed in driving colours, stand at attention. Following the final note, into the crowd they go, automated wagering devices in hand. “Would you like to make a bet on the first race ma’am?” one says kindly to my wife. “Have you been to the races before?” My wife smiles and nods

..... “The fractions are way too fast, this horse is done,” I blurt out to my wife. I pull out my Blackberry to monitor the in-race betting lines. “We can buy the post-time favourite at 6-to-1,” I say, plunging $20 to win and pressing “confirm.”

Twilight Zone? Another planet? Maybe a bit of both, because the author is describing the day after Christmas at a racetrack; one which does not exist, but sure sounds nice if it ever could. To read the excellent article click here.

Can I Get a Fat Quaddie Please?

I want a fat quaddie.

We were speaking below about how we have seemingly marketed everything over the years, except the betting element. As we see from handle figures this has not been a rousing success - yearly per capita handle on horse racing probably resides somewhere near what the average Canadian spends on Vanilla Ice cd's. It has recently been released that Woodbine harness is looking at moving the start-finish line, the photo finish camera and the press box to accommodate a new track configuration. It is speculated that since Woodbine's track is biased to speed, this will help make the product better.

Price tag: $1,300,000.

Although I admire them trying, I believe there are better places to spend a buck. I am not even close to sold that the track configuration is the reason we see less movement. Despite the novelty element, I do not think it will make much of a difference for our long-term growth, and I think that even if a bit more movement is the result, it will not raise handles, and keep them raised.

Instead, I think we should do something to market the gambling on the product and purple cow it. My solution? Take some of that $1.3 million and give me a fat quaddie.

In Australia it is mandated by government that the takeout maximum is 16%. It can go no higher. Some bets are higher than a 16% takeout, so if there is money left over, the track must give it back. One way that they do it is with a fat quaddie. A fat quaddie is a pick 4 with a zero percent takeout. Let me type that again - the takeout is zero.

They promote this in a couple of ways. First they advertise, obviously, that this is a great bet. No bet on earth has a zero percent takeout. I would bet a few price sensitive poker players step up to the plate for this bet. Second, they get celebrities to pick tickets by spending $100 each time they are offered, and any winnings are given to the charity of their choice.

Zero percent takeout bet: Advertises that our skill game is beatable, at least for one day. Celebrities playing it: Advertises the coolness of the track in a traditional marketing way. Talking about winnings: Brings people back to the track, because we attack the stigma that you can't beat the races.

The results are very good, as they have stuck with it and helped build it as a brand. At one big meet the quaddie pool hit $3M. For a regular meet when they offer the 0% pick 4, they usually budget that pools will hit $500,000.

We have only tried something similar here in North America and it was at a small track (Ellis Park 4% pick 4), who was not a brand like Woodbine is and it was only done for a short period of time. Even with that, it helped put the track on the map, in the bettors mind, and raised handle on the bet. One day it hit close to $100,000 in the pool.

I think Woodbine should offer its live fans a Fat Quaddie (or something similar) during this meet (on the internet too if possible). A 0% takeout on a pick 4 for patrons, given a sensational moniker like our Australian friends have given theirs. Will it work? No doubt it would take some time, but frankly I have no idea. Our game has fallen so far, so fast. But, in my opinion, it will generate buzz that Woodbine is a place to bet, add a little zip to the churn; and it is exactly what our game needs to do to combat falling handles. The words buzzworthy and value with horse betting have not been used in the same sentence for some time. Maybe we should give it a try.

Would you be enticed to play a 0% pick 4 daily at Woodbine? Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Target Poker Players

As we spoke about below (Marketing what you are, not what you are not), I am a big believer in using marketing to target gamblers. One group I would like to see us aggressively go after are poker players. They like 'games' and if they were not paying poker they would be sports betting, or playing backgammon for cash like in the basements of New York City.

Craig at Trackmaster gives us a look at some of the similarities of the game in his last post: "Hold’em Your Horses: Using Poker Concepts at the Track"

Comment on the Admiral

Jen wrote below:

"The return of the grey gladiator sparked nothing but controversy on Woodbine's website and Standardbred Canada.

What is the opinion here, I can't really gauge if you agree that this horse should have been brought back.

Sure he won, so now the owners can pay for whatever it is they needed to pay for (heat? groceries?), but this horse had a giant going-away party at Woodbine years ago, a scam put on by the owners.

I don't agree with giving them press again."

Since they have owned and been with the horse since he was three, I have little problem that they brought him back. He will make $70,000+ in limited starts this year. And he appears to love to do his work. I do not question their motivation. If they put him in a claimer I would feel differently of course. But he'll have a nice home for life with those people.

Here is a story on him from a couple of years ago. He looks like he wants no part of retirement.

Nice story on another tough horse - Dewycheatumnhowe in the New York Times. He might not win Horse of the Year, but I would bet that his trainer wins trainer of the year. Ray deserves it and I think it would be an injustice if the press does not give it to him. H/t Equidaily.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


You don't see this every day.

7 Double Up 7/6Q 8°/6T 4/2Q 1/NS 1:59.1 29.3 202.25 Jay Randall

7 Double Up 406.50 40.40 11.00
4 Suddenly In Charge 3.10 3.70
5 On That Note 3.40
Wager Type Numbers/Payouts
Exacta (7-4 $404.50)
Trifecta (7-4-5 $2,840.00)

h/t to showbet

What Allan Wants from Santa Harness Racing

Frequent contributor Allan wrote a comment to our last post immediately below. It was long. We tend to post long comments here :)

What I Want for Christmas - The Harness List

1 - Shorter seasonal meets. Nothing was better than when Roosevelt Raceway was around. You raced three months at Yonkers then moved to Roosevelt and then back. You had some excitement and you didn't get bored. Opening day meant something. Meadowlands - Starts January 2 and finishes eight months later. Fatigue sets in. Yes, less time to race for the horsemen but guess what? Those that race at racinos they have super purses and the horses get rest.

2 - Meaningful circuits. Similar to above but set up regional circuits cross state lines (yes, a Yankee)so no more than one or two harness or T-bred tracks race at a single time. Doesn't mean you can't have a track start at noon; a track start at 4 and one start at 8 within the circuit.

3 - Reduce post times. For the few of us that go to the track, is there a reason why you need three or four hours to go through an entire card? I know, some people bet at the last minute. Well give them a half hour between races, give them five minutes between races, they are still going to bet at the last minute. The public on the whole has the attention span of a flea give it to them short and give them the relative constant action they crave for. Oh, but there are so many tracks they can play thanks to simulcasting. Realistically, how many tracks can someone play intelligently at a given time? My most enjoyable day at the Meadowlands was when once they were racing when they shouldn't have and they finished the ten race in two hours.

4 - Rolling daily doubles. What can I say, I like the daily doubles.

5 - To steal from the greyhounds, the Double Quinella. Hit the quinella two races in the row and win a nice amount of money. No, not Pick 6 large, but sure to pick up at least a couple of hundred dollars without having to bet a relatively large amount of money.

6 - Classified racing. Again a throw back to the old Yonkers/Roosevelt days. FFA, JFA, Open, A-1, A-2,...., C-3. Yes, Mr or Mrs Racing Secretary you will need to do more work but at least it will make handicapping easier for the racino and casino fans. Again, the attention span is limited, asking them to figure out some conditions which a lawyer would have a hard time to figure out is absurd; then when you see it in a program you will see even at the Meadowlands three races listed as nw3cd with different purse amounts. If they won't go back to classified racing, streamline the conditions and loose those AE conditions (where you have multiple AE conditions.

7 - Sell the Meadowlands to a private entity. Right now, because it is quasi-government owned they don't have the right of exclusion. Sell them to a private concern so they can ban the crooks.

8 - Racing commissions with teeth unlike in NJ where they come up with harsh rulings and then the person appeals and rather than backing up their rulings all the way through the courts, they compromise so the offender gets to miss the deep winter months. Also, don't allow people banned in certain states to race in your jurisdiction. Despite some of the rulings, commissions more like
Indiana and Ontario.

9 - An ADW which will show harness racing prominently on their channel unlike TVG. I know the Tbreds are more popular, but give me my harness racing. If need be, have two channels, one for Tbreds and one for harness racing.

10 - Ban the whips in harness racing. As Andrew Cohen, said in his column in the harness horse, PETA is looking at all racing. They have been successful in getting greyhounds outlawed in many states, the most recent being Massachusetts. American society is become more animal rights oriented, while harness racing fortunately has fewer breakdowns, the whipping is going to get their attention and all you need is a referendum and you are history.

11 - Real horse adoption programs like the one at Finger Lakes at each track or if not at each track within each racing jurisdiction. The rationale, see #10. Unfortunately, while some of people in the industry fight for better treatment of our horses, a large number remain silent probably because they don't care. Here in the lower 48 you are hearing more and more about what is happening to horses after they are done racing.

12 - Get rid of the cheats. 'Nuff said.

13 - Lower the takeout. Plenty has been said about that.

14 - Eliminate eliminations for stake races. Use the KY Derby model. Having races where people are racing for fourth place is not right. Have races where everyone is racing for first. If you want, have smaller though substantial races for those that don't make the cut for the first tier event.

15 - The ability to bet any track racing in the US legally through your ADW, not this one has this track, this one has another.

16 - And lastly, can someone explain to me why we can't bet Canadian tracks through TVG?

Anyway, Happy Holidays to all.

All Hail the Admiral!

I love war horses. The horses who are throwback to a different time. It is no secret that Admirals Express is one of those horses. He is soon to be 13 years old. He's raced 317 times and has 82 wins. He's made $2.2 million. He set the Woodbine track record about four years ago, at age 8 or 9.

He has been slowing down some, finally. I was not sure he could get it done at the 'A' track any longer. But counting out this guy is not a smart thing to do. Tonight he won at the big track again, in 152.2, in a $21,000 conditioned race, against horses more than half his age.

Standardbreds are a cool breed. Not only do they want to work for you, they are tough as nails. Recently with the breed getting faster and faster (if you compare the leg speed of Somebeachsomewhere versus Admiral Express it is like comparing Usain Bolt to Urkel) we have lost some of that. But it is still there and on display whenever the Grey Gladiator races. We're lucky to be able to watch this horse as fans of this great game.

Photo courtesy Clive Cohen.

Note: It is Xmas time, or so the clock tells me. There is a vicious rumour that blogger people are lazy with their posts. All I have to say to that is, yes in my case you are correct. But others are not. Evidence? Dana must have been googling for racing presents for like 3 hours to get this puppy up. Nice work.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Entering the season when we will see more and more cancellations due to driver/jock votes, Renee Kierans of Woodbine really lets them have it for the closing day vote:

.... next time the same type of situation comes up, think of the consequences to others before you behave in such a selfish way.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Marketing What You Are, Not What You Are Not

Paul Moran’s article, where he said that we are not NASCAR, or football, or other sports; that we are a gambling game and we should sell it as such, has sparked some chatter. It is kind of fun actually. Since very few are actually speaking of racing, at least someone is.

In Jack Trout’s 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing he outlined rules that have stood the test of time. One of them describes racing perfectly: "Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure." We had success, and we were arrogant. Unfortunately our success was based on a fallacy. We were a monopoly and people flocked to the track to gamble, not because they were die-hard fans. It was the only place to gamble. If your city mandates that only one restaurant is allowed in town, and it has to serve Iranian food, we would never conclude that the food was good and the population loves Iranian food. But somehow we came to these conclusions with racing. It was a huge mistake.

This was, in my opinion, the catalyst for our failure in marketing racing for the last 25 years. We were dead before we spent a cent. In the words of Mr. Trout again - if you do not know who you are, you are doomed to fail at marketing your product.

Gibson Carothers, a marketing executive and bettor said it perfectly: "At BBDO Advertising, an agency where I spent some time, identifying a product's prime prospect is Step No. 1. That may sound obvious, but it's amazing how many advertisers confuse their real market with the market they would like to have. In all my years in advertising, I can't recall a client [racing] who was so conflicted about its own product."

We would like to get new "fans". We want them to come to the track, sit for five hours and come back for the entertainment. This is a mistake. It is not happening and not going to happen. Those days are over. So what should we do? Balloons, how about a rock band, what about free giveaways? They never work long-term and have not worked for thirty years.

We must stop trying to gain fans by advertising what we are not, or by hoodwinking our prospects. We must start marketing what we are - a gambling game. As Mr. Carothers ably puts it: "So, the first big step for racing is to agree that its product is a game, and that it should be marketed as a game. Not as a sport. Not as entertainment. Forget using promotions unrelated to the game. Forget adding shopping malls. Forget performances by the Laker Girls. Those are bad props. You need people coming to the track for the right reason, to play the game."

How many times have you seen a poker site offer you a shirt for signing up? Never. They sell the game. Their game. They sell that you can win at that game with some luck and some skill. And that the game is fun and affordable.

They had something else on their side of course, and it had nothing to do with interruption marketing, or other 20th century marketing. They were built for the Internet. Web 2.0 is building an application, product or web design that takes advantage of what the world wide web is. It is building something for the market - not what the company may want to do, but what the market tells them they want them to do. The Internet is not hard to understand, and is not hard to understand what works and what does not. It is interactive, it is always on, it is deflationary, and the product (if it is 2.0) markets itself:

"Remember that old stuffed bear I had? I just sold it on Ebay for $25!"

"Hey, look at me, join me on Facebook!"

"Do you want to play a game with me online?"

"Hey, check this out, I am playing on a poker table right now with five others all from different countries, come play."

Poker was viral, interactive and no marketing was needed. If there was no pocket cam, or Phil Hellmuth it still would have grown because it was built to grow. ESPN's coverage of the WSOP was not because they had a bright idea, it was because poker was already a force.

Other large companies were letting the product sell itself, and positioning themselves properly, so it was no surprise poker grew. In 2001, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told his board that they were suspending all marketing spending and offering lower prices and free shipping. The lower prices and free shipping sold the product - in fact, in less than one year Amazon registered its first non-holiday quarter of profit. In 2008 and beyond the product is your marketing.

I have had the pleasure to consult with hundreds of web companies. We get requests to take the accounts for many others. We turn down most of them because if they are not set up correctly, or are not in a position to grow with marketing help, we believe that they will be wasting their money with us. We tell them to try something else, or try another avenue to grow. We would never have grown our company from a start-up if we took people's money, made false promises and have them fail. If racing came to me tomorrow I would tell them they are a potential client. Racing, in my opinion, with some investment and repositioning, could thrive. It is a 19th century game that is built fundamentally for the Internet; and with a 21st century race goer in the live setting, too. I think it possesses the innate characteristics to grow.

All we need is racing to understand who they are. And to stop selling themselves like they did when they were the only game in town.

This is Our Market


An elderly man I sat near in a Las Vegas race book every day for over a year. One of the morning regulars. Lost his wife the previous year. He said without racing, he'd have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. I believe he meant it. He loved his "work" and his "office" cronies. Then one day, he stopped showing up, and everybody just knew...

A middle aged guy, at the race book most nights, standing up, hooting and hollering, pounding his fists in the air every race, betting a whopping $2. I wish he'd just shut up but his enthusiasm just cannot be contained. Hey, he just hit a $20 winner. I do my best to suppress a little smile.

A young man, whose previously anti-gambling wife prodded him to get his bets in once he started making serious money, casually makes his $2500 in bets for the day, one $100 bill after the other. I don't handle $2500 in Monopoly money that dispassionately. His extensive betting records are an open book. Holy crap!

An man fumbles to make his bets. Has he ever made a bet before? He's convinced he's just lucky, even though he has supported himself solely on his weekly winnings for 6 months. He quits because of the stress. And because he's just lucky.

A young man comes into some money, buys thousands of dollars of computer programs and books, starts making $200 bets within a few days, and is busted in less than a week.

A man quits handicapping after 40 years of losing. He is sick and ^%^$#! tired of losing. He never looks back.

A man buys a new program. He admits he's been losing for 40 years. He's obviously excited about the new program. Really excited. Dang, now I'm excited.

A woman calls to tell us her husband recently died. She relates how much he enjoyed handicapping and number crunching and how he treasured the friendships he made with his fellow handicappers. She called to let us know...and thanked us, along with everybody else. Sigh...

A man bets horses for a living, surrounded by computers and TV screens. He laments the lack of a social life. The stigma. The isolation. He used to love horse racing.

A man relates to me that all handicapping programs are completely worthless. Why? He's bought them all and lost his shirt with every single one of them.

A man quits his high paying job to pursue his dream of being a professional horseplayer. After a year, he's back in the job market. Successful? He says yes. Happy? He says no. Glad he tried? He says definitely.

These are some of the faces I personally put on handicappers. Some successful, some not, depending on how you define success. Beating the game in the longterm is a very very attractive carrot; beating the game today can be very satisfying; continuing to lose can suck the life out of you.

And so it goes. Race 5 is coming up.

Ron Tiller

They deserve more respect than we've been giving them.

$500,000 Upper Canada Cup

If you head up highway 400 north of Toronto you hit cottage country, where the people who used to be rich own cottages. On the way, you hit Georgian Downs. Pre-slots, it was called Barrie Raceway and purses averaged about $900. Now with one-armed bandits, the purses have exploded. So much so, that it was announced that we have a very lucrative event to be raced for the first time in 2009 - The Upper Canada Cup for three year old pacers. It is to be staged the last week of May.

I recently read a weird article on the CBC website that the Canadian something council wants to look at regulating the Internet to make sure that there is enough Canadian content on it - yes I know that boggles anyone's mind who lives outside Canada, but they do strange stuff like that here. So to make sure I comply with any new regulations and not be shut down by a score of people wearing tweed jackets from Ottawa, here is a link explaining the history of Upper Canada.

Ok, with that out of the way, this race adds to the already enriched Ontario sired program and is sure to be well attended. With the May 24th long-weekend the unofficial spring drunkfest for anyone under the age of 27, we could see plenty of annoying punks like we all were on May 24th of years past.

Georgian Downs general manager Chris Roberts speaks about the event on the Harness Edge podcast. The interview is good for a laugh or two if you are a fan of Ontario racing, with a little bit of inside baseball.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

4 Harness Trainers Not Using EPO

In a spot of good news on the medication front, four trainers who had horses test positive for EPO this fall at the Red Mile have been cleared.

The Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory has confirmed the blood samples taken from horses trained by Jan Johnson, Bob McIntosh, Jim Arledge and Joe Seekman, who were scheduled to race those horses at The Red Mile earlier this Fall, tested negative for EPO and DPO.

Twinkies and Techno-babble

Patrick, who is at the Arizona thing is super-messaging the festivities in real time using "twitter". His buddy (who we hold in high esteem because he took Mr. Thoroughbred player to the Breeders Crown) Alan can't figure out what this twitter nonsense is all about.

I guess for horseplaying, picture this: You have a couple people at the track. One watched the seven warm up and he looked great, another is in the paddock and he says the horse is alert. You have the horse at 5-2 fair odds. He is 5-2 on the board. You revisit it based on that real-time twitter information and you make your odds line 8-5. You bet using Kelly and the horse wins and pays $6.80. Twitter just made you money.

The Racing Post in the UK offers exactly that. Real time short notes from paddock inspectors. It is a neat tool when you think about it, in my opinion. And it is growing year over year.

John Pricci chats about technology and younger racing fans in his last post.

More tech news. Harnesslink speaks about the new google book reader and how technology in racing can possibly save us again.

People are trying to make this internet thing work in the racing industry, but infighting and a complete lack of understanding means we risk being severly late to the party, so late that everyone’s gone home.

Memo to racing: Please spend some slot cash on technology.

Cangamble seems to be never one to mince words. I ain't a journalism person, but I am a marketer by trade. I think using doughhead in a headline would elicit more clicks. I am going to try it here sometime, and it is especially valid since I just looked at my last three days of wagering. I have met Doughhead and he is me.

Photo courtesy who else, Pilsbury.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"No Horses Allowed"

The press has been having a tough go of it of late. Many say they have lost the confidence of the readers, and they have been passed by technology. Yesterday, at a meeting to name Athlete of the Year in Canada "it was announced by the Lou Marsh Committee that only humans be eligible for the award."

35 years after Secretariat was named Athlete of the Year by Sports Illustrated; 28 years after Niatross was named Athlete of the Year by a New York newspaper; it was deemed that in 2008 a horse was not allowed to even have his name put up for a vote.

Somebeachsomewhere brought tens of thousands of fans out to the racetrack. He brought fans from the US out to watch him train, like he did on a morning in Lexington, invoking memories of a long ago time when people met Dan Patch when he walked off a train. He brought an entire part of our nation to its feet, like he did in Nova Scotia. But more importantly, sports is about excellence. It is about someone, or some thing rising up to be the King or Queen of his or her craft. This horse did just that. This horse ripped other horse's hearts out. Just like Tiger Woods in the last group of a US Open, or Michael Jordan at the top of the key, or Wayne Gretzky behind the net, we know that whomever is defending or competing against them is toast. Just like Sham was toast, so were the horses that raced against this horse; the race was over before it even started.

That is excellence. That is sport. And we make a big mistake when we eliminate athletes like that - two footed, one footed or four footed - from even being considered.

For a look at the National News piece about the Award (before they changed the rule) give this a go:

Still Waiting for the Magic Word .......

OK, first we had the post below regarding the NYRA dude on where the slots cash was going and no mention of the bettor (I hope you played my quiz!). Now we have a story on Bloodhorse direct from Arizona. This one titled "Is Racing Using Its Slots Money Wisely?"

As hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from slot machines flows to horse racing, there is growing sentiment that perhaps the racing industry is failing to capitalize on the new wealth by solely pumping money into purses and breed development programs.

I was pumped. I was really excited. I was as excited as (when I was a tot in 1978) when I found out that a new Kiss album was being released; hold it, I was even more excited than that .... Finally: the symposium and our business was going to talk about using slots cash to help the customer!

Nope. They think the any excess cash should go to build barns and stuff.

Damn, the article started out so promising.

I, Pull the Pocket, your humble cub reporter will not be dissuaded. I am watching all the news closely from Arizona. When someone in our business finally mentions using some of the billions in slots cash to actually attract the customer you will hear it here first.

Plenty Going On

I have some of those webinar thingies all afternoon, but there is some dandy stuff worth chatting about.

The twinkles coming from the racetrack symposium are good. Today, racing with young people. I don't know who Jhamlin is but "I don't buy [the fact that young people need instant gratification] as they sit through 4 hour college football games". Bingo, whoever you are.

Subsidizing a product that no one is buying is a bad business plan? Someone thinks so.

Check out the revenue mix in New York for the new slots. For today's quiz: Find out what percentage goes to the customer.

Much more today to chat about, but alas I have to pay for my massive gambling losses by working. Enjoy the day everyone, and follow along with the tweetering if you are hanging out. That bug is pretty cool.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Race Track Industry Symposium News

In Arizona the RTIP is happening now. Dana over at Greenbutgame is speaking about it this evening, and according to her (and I see it on the side of her site) there is a bug with twitter, tweets, tweekies, twinkies, or whatever you'd like to call them. For the uninitiated, it is simply a collection of short messages - in real time - that people are typing in from the Symposium. It's like a live blog on steroids.

Last year if you remember the theme, and keynote, was based on wagering: getting internet wagering up to speed, easy access to customers, bringing new forms of wagering to fans and so on. It is a year later, and what happened? It has gotten worse. In 2008 this business has shut out wagering for thousands of fans with disputes in Ohio, Florida, California and elsewhere. It is ironic that this symposium is held in Arizona where last year they made it a felony to bet a race over the Internet.

This year the theme is customer service. Oh boy. Great piece from Ed at the Thoroughbred Times on the opening address from a shoe company exec from wants its customers to say ‘wow’ after every transaction. Unfortunately for racing, its customers often say “D’oh!”

I remember being at the Gaming Summit last year to chat about wagering and stuff. Virtually everyone there - I don't mean some, I mean everyone - said something like the following: "I don't like going to these things because we all talk a good game and nothing ever happens."

I sincerely hope this year is better than last. I really do. We need something to happen. If not, I guess we could sell shoes. The Zappos guy seems to kick some major butt.

I added the widget at the right, so if anyone wants to follow the news the next day or two it is there.


Dandy Wire to Wire column by CBS legal analyst and horse owner Andrew Cohen on accountability in racing.

On the human side of harness racing, accountability is too often a joke. Or more like an insult.

He goes on to outline several items that he is scratching his head over. Our horses move at fast speeds - the Beach's second quarter in the Meadowlands Pace was about 36 miles an hour - but our sport moves a little more slowly. I am not sure it could beat a turtle carrying a fat man, while dragging a sled of bricks.

Things move fast in the digital world as we spoke about here. The business world is getting it. Companies are moving at laser-like speed to address concerns, sometimes addressing them in minutes like here. I think we might want to get cracking.

Quotes of the Day

The Toronto Star's Dave Perkins, on Somebeach being Athlete of the Year:

"This time, there's a new twist, namely a write-in campaign for the brilliant pacer Somebeachsomewhere. Here's the rub, though: can the Lou Marsh Trophy go to a racehorse? It never has before."

Horseplayer Association of North America, on why racing finds it hard to lower the take:

"Hey, who can blame 'em! If you or I were selling hula hoops in 1950, we were the only seller, and the government mandated that the only exercise the citizenry were allowed to do had to involve a hula hoop, we would have stuck it to hula-hoopers everywhere. Cheaper hula hoops? Not a chance."

Note - Just out. The Lou Marsh Award was given out. No Somebeach, but a valiant effort by all involved, especially Standardbred Canada's Darryl Kaplan.

Missed Chances & A Great Game

Our friend at Gathering the Wind is talking some horse ownership. Yep, it sure is tough. We were recently wondering about when this game suddenly turned into one where we are all supposed to make money. I think I had an epiphany. I think it is not us, it is some of the syndicates that sprung up mostly this decade. I believe that to sell shares some of them have to promise potential investors a good chance to make money. And now that many of them can not, or are having trouble we must look for more money, or higher purses. In speaking to one who does run a syndicate, Woodbine's on-air handicapper Mike Hamilton (blog for the group here), he said he tried to stay realistic with new entrants. As well he prepared them for the vagaries of horse ownership and the simple fact that this is not some sort of big-three-bailout printing press. This is important to do, in my opinion. This is no surprise from a guy like Mike.

I believe that to succeed we need one thing and one thing only - luck. We have to get lucky to make some scratch. You need the one horse, perhaps a claimer you grab for $10,000 and he rolls right into conditioned races, or up the claiming ladder. Or maybe you go to a sale and grab the horse that blossoms. Or maybe you buy a yearling and he is a stakes horse. You need luck.

I was reminded of this tonight. About two years ago we were in London at the semi-annual horse sale and our trainer said he was going to look at two horses to race at a small track. He would take a small piece and we would take the rest if we wanted. There were two he looked at, both were two year old fillies. I guess we could have had either one, but he did have another owner there. That owner chose one of them, and we ended up with the other. They were both hammered down for $5000. The one we bought was not too bad. She was a $8000 conditioned claimer and won a few races. We sold her later for around $3000 and she is still racing. The one we did not buy for the same price ended up being very good. She won a $130,000 stakes race the summer after that and currently has almost $300k in the bank. Luck. It's all it is.

As an aside, that story was reminded to me because a blog reader here, who became a friend, recently purchased that same horse. He had no idea that we almost had her a couple of years ago. In her first start for his barn, she won easily at Western Fair in a $10,000 race this evening. She will be heading to the big track soon I imagine. Congrats Roy.

Somewhere we lost our way and I don't know when or where it happened - it just did. We want more money from bettors because we buy bad horses and can't make money. We fight about virtually everything because someone somewhere is not making enough money. This game was never about that before. It was about buying a horse, visiting a barn, maybe bringing a child to feed it a carrot, watching it race and hoping for a third or a fourth here and there to pay a bill. If not, well we put in some cash because we did not expect that we would pay a bill every month with a purse. Something changed. Now trainers have pressure on them to win and win now. If some guy who has been training for 30 years can't drop three seconds on a horse in a week, he is fired and the horse is given to someone who has been in the business a month who wins at a 30% rate. Vets live in the backstretch and have a medical bag that would make an executive at Pfizer blush. Jockeys and drivers are booted off and made a fool of for making a minor error that any other jock or rider would have probably made anyway. Bills are astronomical. Today's game has nothing in common with how it was 20 years ago. Nothing.

As Gathering the Wind said in his post: "Owning and racing a horse is a commitment to something bigger and more pure." I could not agree more. I wish him all the success in the world. If more people like that succeed, the better off we'll all be.

Now for the good side of things, because that's the way it is too.......

Tonight I got a note in my inbox. Harness driver Kurt Hughes is a young guy who wants to become a horseman. He got into a terrible accident and is having a rough go of it. Of course, before you know it, the people in this business swing into action. A website is up, a domain is registered and away they go. shows the best of the community. An online auction, with stud fees donated from breeding farms. Sports tickets from friends. Memorabilia from the owners of Somebeachsomewhere, including a saddle pad and head number from the Beach's 146.4 world record at Lexington.

It is truly the best part of this tightly knit business.

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