Friday, January 30, 2009


Woodbine takes it hard from players regarding movement in their races (as we discussed below). But there is a nasty thing happening virtually everywhere with drivers. There is a habit forming at most tracks where a horse is pulled and they don't move forward. The driver just sits on the outside waiting on cover. This completely clogs up the outside and makes watching paint dry seem palatable. How 'bout enforcing a rule - the rule already there - where if you pull you move forward or we fine you $500? I think it would be fixed in about 48 hours.

Anyone agree, or is it just me?

Gathering the Wind asks the question. But I don't think there is anyone to answer him. I have said this for years and I believe it to this day: Our sons and daughters and granddaughters and grandsons will be reading about the business of racing and the period of 1999-2010 in MBA textbooks. And the case studies will not be complementary.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Flat Fees For Drivers & Winner Take All

There is a new rule being bandied about that drivers must go a second quarter within three seconds of the first quarter. As most know, on 7/8's mile tracks (it does not only happen at Woodbine) there is a huge first sprint, sometimes resulting in a 25 and change quarter, then an immediate back down of the pace. Fans and racetracks have been complaining for some time about single file racing on 7/8's. So much so that Woodbine recently went to 7/8's mile racing to combat this. In addition, lack of movement has been a bone of contention with fans who think that many drivers are not giving 100% effort. In an interesting suggestion Scott, a horse owner and kind and gentle poster at, came up with an interesting suggestion to shake up the driving colony.

"Pay each driver a flat fee, no percentage. The percentage (5% of the entire purse) goes to the winning driver. The rest get their appearance fee. The thought being: Drivers would try quite hard to win the race. Second is not good enough."

Workable? Doable? Worth testing for a few months? What do you folks think?

Note: Rick Dutrow responded to Andrew Beyer's column today. It is worth a read. Here are the horses running lines.

Betfair, TVG Notes

New article on Betfair and TVG here. Nicholson from Keeneland seems to tepidly see this as an opportunity. And as expected, he mentions the customer. It seems to be customary to mention the customer in every statement if you work for Keeneland.

Keeneland Race Course President Nick Nicholson, whose Lexington track had an exclusive contract with TVG, said he knows some Betfair officials in part through his previous job at The Jockey Club.

Since U.S. betting is based on the pari-mutuel system, he doesn't think Betfair will "have any choice but to do that" in this country.

Whatever happens, Nicholson said the industry needs to quit the feuding and frustrating its customers.

He believes, as Betfair does, that television is still an important medium for racing.

It will be interesting to watch this business plan develop as we have been chatting about below. I think racing will see some neat innovative change. Change that we need.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Andy Let's Them Have It

Long fed up with the state of the game and the amazing differences in horse performance from the 1970's (when he cut his teeth) to today via the barn change, Andrew Beyer has been a one man wrecking ball. He echoes what many on both the backstretch as well as the grandstand have been saying about miraculous turnarounds from trainers getting new stock in his latest piece.

Such distrust has corroded the very foundation of the sport. Honest owners are reluctant to invest in the game when they believe they can't compete with the cheaters. Many bettors have lost enthusiasm because the art of handicapping has become an exercise in guessing who has the best "juice." The public at large is alienated when it suspects that drugs are tainting the sport's greatest events.

The horse he focuses on in the article is a recent Dutrow acquisition.'s founder CJ listed his figures for the turnaround:

117, 76, 75, 66, 79, 71, 81, 33, 43

(hint - the 117 is the 1st time Dutrow running line.)

Another commenter who makes his figures says this.

I have been comparing speed figures with class for several years. It is a part of my handicapping. There are a couple of comparision charts out on the net. In the case of This One for Phil I would have to give him a Grade 1 level with the 117 BSF. This One for Phil would now rank with such notable 2008 American and International thoroughbreds such as Curlin, New Approach, Raven's Pass, Zarkava, Duke of Marmalade, Big Brown, Conduit, Goldikova and Henrythenavigator. We are somewhat familiar with their accomplishments. Maybe, although I have my doubts, This One for Phil is the one and the trainer is one also if he expects us to believe at this time on that track the horse has become a phenom.

In the old days we would have this horse winning the Derby and on a cover of a magazine, checking his progress. Now? Nah, not so much. He is simply a horse who ran out of his skin for a new trainer. I call it Saturday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Betfair & TVG - A Big Opportunity for Racing

Betfair finally expands its market to the US, by acquiring TVG, as was announced today. TVG has one of the biggest reaches as a television network, and is also an advance deposit wagering company, offering players avenues to bet their tracks over the phone and internet. Currently TVG is only offered to US citizens.

This deal is extremely interesting from a number of perspectives. Here are a few thoughts to chew on. My opinion only, off the top of my head at this early stage.

I expect some in racing and possibly TVG’s competitors to raise hell. They still have to pass muster in North America regulatorily (I believe), so there is time to try and discredit them. In any other business if a successful franchise wanted into your market, trumpets would blare and people will jump for joy, but this is racing. A new player in the space, especially one who has proven time and time again that their main focus lies not in the status quo, but in growing their customer base, will be met with resistance. We noted this when Betfair moved into Australia in a post about a year ago. Although this is somewhat different (Betfair’s exchange was entering the Aussie market, and it is not in North America).

I expect that Betfair will begin to work the US product on their betting exchanges for their 2 million world wide customers. The tracks they cover will be highlighted for exchange bettors. As well I predict that they will act as an ADW, just like they have in Australia with the TOTE. Betfair players will be able to login and bet via TVG right into the pools, with their Betfair bankrolls. The result of which is fairly obvious: It will increase handles almost immediately.

I believe that sometime within the next 12 to 24 months, TVG harness tracks will be offered for trade at Betfair. This means a track like the Meadowlands will be able to be exchange bet for their customer base overseas.

Next, I think the status quo is over. Protectionist laws that racing has lived by will be challenged, and challenged hard. In the US, state after state we see laws against internet betting which has handcuffed this business for a generation. Betfair is a 21st century company and they do not live by old-time racing laws without a fight. This might be the catalyst we’ve been waiting for - no matter what state you live in, you can bet racing.

Most obviously, behind the scenes lobbying for a US betting exchange will be initiated. I know myself and others have said that we should have done this long ago ourselves. But if all goes to Betfair’s grand plan, racing owning their own betting exchange will be a virtual impossibility. No doubt it will be a long road, but opening up betting markets is essential to our business and we should encourage it.

I think we will see cash spent on marketing, perhaps unprecedented amounts. Betfair puts their money where their mouth is in this regard. They are sponsoring the Royal Ascot meet and juicing up the purses. In addition, they advertise racing in all parts of the world via TV commercials and otherwise. Also, in Australia, they have bought a racetrack.

For Canada, we hear plenty about HPI and their virtual monopoly of wagering in Canada. Can companies like Youbet and TVG come to Canada and offer competition? I guarantee we will find out. Betfair challenged TOTE’s dominance in Australia and took that to the high court. If there is a crack open for them to enter Canada rest assured they will find it, come here through TVG, and offer choice to bettors for the first time.

For customers of TVG, I would fully expect that Betfair will offer rebates to their players. They have built their company from having no customers to two million customers in only eight years, and they have done so by offering low takeouts. In fact, one could argue it is the cornerstone of their business. Expect to receive a price break if you are a TVG customer, although perhaps this may be a ways off.

I believe that we will see Betfair continue to offer free handicapping tools to customers. In addition I would expect to see new acquisitions, possibly a data provider. Betfair has proven that they believe customers call the shots, no one else, and giving them the tools they need to play the game is paramount to their survival in a tough gambling world.

If you are a customer, I predict you will like this deal. If you are someone who wants to see handles grow and new ways to bet be offered, you will like this deal. If you are a protector of the status quo, and like things exactly as they are, then it is a completely different story.

Betfair Buys TVG

Betfair has bought TVG for $50M. This is a huge move and could change the gambling landscape and the way handicappers have played racing in North America forever. We'll have more on this later.

For our previous discussions on Betfair and racing, they are under the archives. The last post we did on the subject is here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mr. Feelgood Wins Downunder

Why do I always think of Motley Crue when this horse wins?

Anyway, I was scouring the net for the video a few days ago and could not find it. Lo and behold, who points it out to me? Yes, a thoroughbred fan. Thanks Valerie!

The Jug Champion and former North American stud was shipped downunder and in his first race he won. The "ship across an ocean and win first start" is not a very good angle in harness racing. But this time it was bang on. Here is the video in case you have not seen it.

Keeping Stars Racing Past Age Three

The push is on to keep horses racing past age three in harness, courtesy the Older Horse Committee:

“We believe the industry is crying out for someone to take the initiative to at least make an effort to reverse the long steady decline in interest by the general public in our sport. We also believe that if horse owners know their horse will have to race at the age of four, it might encourage and promote the breeding of sounder horses, which would be a benefit to everyone. This rule would also have some provision to allow horses that physically could not race at age four to be excluded from this prohibition.”


In the "this is only a brick in the wall" of this post, here is a very good post from Steve Crist, long ago. He (rightfully, imo) states that the mellifluous thought that somehow the sports stars racing can turn back the clock and make the game better again is misguided, and wrong. There is a ton wrong with the game, and a few good horses not retiring will not fix it. Thanks to Jessica at Railbird for the link.

Instead of thinking like 21st century business operators competing for market share, racing prefers to imagine that some old-style publicity, perhaps an extra daily paragraph of coverage buried in the sports section of the local newspaper, will suddenly make it become 1957 again.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Prix D'Amerique

Today the Prix D'Amerique went in France. I stopped taking French in grade 8 so I have no idea what they are saying. However, a picture is worth a thousand words, so they tell me. This sure does look exciting.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Handicapping - Layoffs

One of the toughest things to handicap is the horse off an extended layoff. At the track I will often hear, "I will never bet a horse who is coming off a qualifier with a long layoff" or in the runners "200 days or more in an automatic pitch." Let's face it, this is often correct. In harness racing, a complaint from some is the 'he will need one' line. In thoroughbred racing, if a trainer wanted to put one over on someone it is a fine time to do it with a first time starter, or a long layoff horse with no form, because people tend to believe they have no shot.

So, is this true? Are long layoffs truly detrimental? Are they sucker bets? Should we bet the odds board? Well we have some numbers. First, courtesy our friend Ray, some from harness.

In 2008, here is some data:

Days off.....Starters......ROI

29-40 .......2496 .........0.42
41-60 .......1230 .........0.65
61+ ..........246 .........0.72

With a blind bet ROI of about 0.78, each of these layoff sections have a less than one impact value.

The number that jumps out to me is the 29-40 angle. That ROI is horrid, and about as bad as you can find anywhere. That is an ultimate fade angle. I would think that this is intuitively not surprising, however. I think that if a horse is off 29-40 days that horse must have had a fairly troublesome issue. If a horse is sick, he might be off twenty days, and be back in. He is probably 100% sound, and had a good schooler to get ready and he can still race well. Same thing with a minor foot or hock issue. But for a horse to be out over a month I think the issue is more than one, or much more serious. The horse probably could not get much work into him, and he would need a tightener, or perhaps is not the same horse at all. Regardless, these horses on face value seem to be very bad bets. The crowd is not discounting the obvious problem enough.

As time grows, so does ROI. Again, this is not surprising, if we break it down. The average handicapper hates long layoffs, and now they do factor in the fact that the horse had a serious issue. Further, I believe they are prone to think old school - "that horse will need one, and I am not touching him." When looking at it objectively, there are some good bets on long layoff horses, eventhough they do not win very much.

How can we up those ROI's, and perhaps catch a nice bet or two in pick 4's? I think there is a few ways:

1) The trainer - Statistics on trainers off layoffs in harness are not readily available. You have to know your circuit and know the guys who school long layoff horses and have them ready to go.
Noel Daley and Ross Croghan are ROI positive off 30+ day layoffs
2) The odds board - Is a horse that should not be live, live?
Today in race 5 at AQU a very long layoff horse, not overly liked by public handicappers, won at 3-1. Why was he so low? Because he was ready.
3) Warmups/Scoring - If the driver looks live on a bad form long layoff horse, there is a chance he may be live.

In thoroughbreds, this is 2008 data from a pretty large database:

As we notice, again long 200+ layoff horses do not hold up very well.

Starts........ Wins.........Win %....... ROI
1634 ......... 161 ........ 9.8% ....... 0.72

When just favorites are run, however, this jumps to 0.83 ROI:

Starts........ Wins.........Win %....... ROI
141 ......... 45 ........ 32% ....... 0.83

There is a slight bias against layoff chalk. If they are chalk, they are actually very good chalk. We have to think contrarian. The odds board is not stupid.

So I guess the lesson for me is that there are no bad bets just because the horse is off a long layoff, although the general numbers overall show this. Since the general handicapping bias is against these horses, that means the crowd is. If the general crowd all thinks something is sure to happen, you do not want to be with them all the time. With some filters (odds action; trainer data) you can weed out bad bets, and find some good ones. If you do you will be rewarded for it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter is a Bad One this Year In Canuckland

It's been seriously cold in the north east. And the snow is a little higher than usual. Ok, a lot higher than usual. Thanks to a blog reader and a horsewoman for giving us this nice picture of a couple of deer in her backyard. Deer heads I guess would be more accurate.

We certainly live in a cold country. It struck me this week we have to be a bit different here, considering anywhere north of Sudbury is generally snowbound and colder than a handicapper on a losing streak. But it is a pretty neat country isn't it? I glanced a bit at the inauguration this week in the US (a country that I like and admire by the way). Celebrities, money spent like the country is in good shape, glitz, glitter, superstardom. I kind of like our way. When a Prime Minister gets elected here, he is seen the next day walking his kids to school. When he gets sick, like ours did awhile back with an asthma attack, he goes to an emergency room and stands in line with the rest of us. I think it is wonderful that we treat people very much the same way here. It is somewhat curious, because as long ago British subjects, the whole royalty thing you would think would have caught on here, but it really did not. Maybe we are all too cold? Or just too busy looking out our backyard at some deer.

Back to harness racing tomorrow. That picture just made me chuckle about some of the crazy weather we have here, and I thought it was such a Canadian shot.

Is Twin Spires Taking Over the World?

I have been watching the news with Bob Evans, Churchill's CEO, and Twin Spires in general. For those who do not know, is Churchill's ADW arm, and they have sunk a pile of cash into it, and offer players many features (like the very good TwinspiresTV).

As we spoke about below, they have sent Jill Byrne to Las Vegas to cover the National Handicapping Championship. Her features are here, and they will be updated for the Championship. This is a good idea and what I hope we can do for our contests in the future. Here is episode 2.

I personally think they are trying to stake their claim over the internet betting landscape. They seem to be everywhere - advertising in magazines, giving out money for handicapping contests, many promotions and things like that. Will they succeed? I don't think they can win all of the business without hefty rebates, because big players depend on them to give them a shot. Sure TwinspiresTV is nice, but if you are betting $1000 a day and getting 8% back from an ADW like RGS, it is not worth $2400 a month. Heck, that is like paying 24 cable bills, 500 channels each.

Regardless, when we have spoken many times about ADW sinking cash back in the game, and broadening its reach by using the internet this is pretty much what we are talking about. Twinspires has a budget, and is not afraid to use it to not only grow their business, but to grow the sport.

Raging against the machine below I noticed that yes, I was speaking about advertising against slots, and slots are used for purses in many places. So it is dichotomous. But as you know, this blog is about growing the game of racing, and that is what we always focus on.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rage Against the Machine

For the Super Bowl in 1984, Apple Computer released the commercial. The buzz was built-in because they pre-released how much it cost ($1M. When that number was considered much more than just 16% of a Mats Sundin per annum stipend), that they would only show it once, and they were introducing a product that (they said) would change the world. Not to mention, behind the scenes the rumour was that it was almost canned by some of the executive, adding to its lore. In the end, it was the most watched Super Bowl ad, and the lines to TV stations were jammed with people wondering what this ad was about, and what the hell a Macintosh was. It was buzz on steroids.

This ad worked for a number of reasons; on one level it succeeded because they had a villain. The man on the screen is IBM; the old, the boss, the controller of computing. Apple did something brilliant by responding quickly to them (and their vision of the future) by saying that a home computer can be fun, it is controlled by you and not a corporation, and it can fit not only in a large gray room, but in a backpack, too.

In racing we have not responded at all to the competition. I would argue we have a very good villain to take advantage of - casino gambling and online casinos. If you go there, you go there to get your head kicked-in and lose all your money. In fact, this is a mathematical certainty. In contrast, racing can be beaten and is a mind-puzzle for the ages.

Do me a favour: Rewatch the above commercial. Substitute the marching people with today's slot players, and the man on the screen for a greedy money-machine. When the screen explodes, the players are finally free to gamble using their minds, not their right arm.

Surely we have more to do to make this a winnable game, but it would be cool to try something to speak with one voice and get at the masses like this. If Apple can take on IBM, a business like racing should be able to take on a mind-numbing slot machine; maybe in exactly the same way.

Beach's Stud Career off to Flying Start

I found one of the most comical things that occurred during the Beach's run was some onlookers who thought his career would be tarnished by not going to the Little Brown Jug. With a horse who can pace a sixteenth of a mile faster than any horse living or dead, missing a race is correlated to his history and future about as much as what colour harness he wears. For some evidence of that, it looks like he has attracted the best mares we have in our sport, and whomever could get booked, did so quickly.

In fact his book was filled long before his stud fee was announced. In fact people were coming to us not long after it was announced he would stand at stud back in October.

"I have been with Hanover Shoe Farms for 12 years now and even though you can never predict the potential of a sire, at this early stage he's right up there with the best sires I have seen.

"He's even more popular than Western Ideal and The Panderosa. Niatross is the only other sire I could mention in the same breath as Somebeachsomewhere," Dr Jablonsky said.

It will be fascinating to see how his foals do on the racetrack. One thing for sure: He is getting a chance.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Harness Handicapping Finals - Use TV Right

I read the latest edition of the Horseplayer's Magazine and they spoke of the national handicapping championship to be held this month in Vegas. Handride linked a press release about it on his blog, noting that since ESPN is not covering it this year, Twin Spires has created an update channel with live video and reporting from Jill Byrne. Bravo.

Now, what about ours for harness here in Canada?

I went to the last one - not as a qualifier of course - at Woodbine. It was done well, with Trot people, and Woodbine providing a nice venue, some food and drink and all the rest (Woodbine bashers can choose something else to bug them about; this was well done). However, there was no coverage on the Woodbine in-house show, or anywhere else. I frankly enjoyed being there to see how a few friends were doing, and am generally interested in these contests as they are entertaining. But if I was not there I would have had no idea it was going on, and no idea who was winning. It was done in a vacuum.

To possibly correct this, my idea is quite simple: Run the National Handicapping contest on North America Cup night, when it is on the Score television network. Devote much of the show to the contest. Highlight handicappers, the big prize and everything else. Apparently, although we lobby government constantly in racing, there is a rule that we can not show betting on the airwaves. Why, in this day and age when Party Poker can show it and we can't is beyond me, but here is something we can show. We can show 10's of thousands at stake and the decisions behind them. We can show personalities if there are any. It can be filmed, updated and edited for the web.

I am not the first or the last to say this: Enough with stories on feed men driving around in a truck full of hay that monopolizes the coverage both here, and on ESPN and other networks! They have not worked to gain us fans for 50 years, and won't now. It is time to use our TV time better, and more efficiently. "Watch someone earn $25,000 this Saturday on the Score."

If a handicapper falls in the forest does anyone hear it? Let's make sure people hear it; loud and clear. This is one way that we can do it. Our TV time is precious, and it should be treated as a privilege, and every second should be used to maximize its reach. Let use it right.

Place Prices

We spoke before about "Betting Without Validation", meaning that if we see something anecdotally happen that fits our built-in bias, we believe it to be true, eventhough when we look at it with some backing numbers it might be totally wrong.

This struck me again reading this forum on A poster asks what a good estimation of what a horse might pay to place is. Dave Schwartz, proprietor of Horse Street Software, replies around "40% of win odds"; meaning that if a horse is 5-2 (2.5-1) the horse should pay around $4 to place (2.5 x 0.40 = 1.00-1 or $4). Someone replied to Dave that he checked 10 days of results and that is wrong. Dave came back with hard data. He checked 25,000 races, and for horses under 7-1 the ratio is 0.38 and for all odds ranges it is 0.366.

It is something that has struck me in my handicapping life that never ceases to amaze me. I still trust, but now I look to verify.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bradshaw to Swann = Nice Exactor

“According to one story, a priest came and asked Rooney for money to help start a Catholic orphanage. Rooney peeled off $10,000 and handed it to the priest, who asked, ‘Are these ill-gotten gains?’

‘Why no, father, I won that money at the race track,’ Rooney said.”

There were a few folks in the blogosphere chatting about bloggers and journalists recently. I did not think much of that or comment, because I generally spew out drivel here, based on something I read on the net, some track hiking takeout and wondering why their churn went down, or some horse I saw race. But there are some folks who really do some fantastic work that can be called journalism. Valerie is one, and she writes a really cool, timely piece on Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, and the teams connection with horseplaying.

That is journalism; and that is very well done.

CSI Recap

Although CSI Miami clearly has some of the best acting in the history of the craft, it simply is not a show regularly on my dial. But I did watch it tonight for the horse racing episode. In case you missed it, I am going to synopsize it for you (if that is a word, I am not sure). Spoiler alert!

- Man dies at the track, and no, it wasn't from heart failure after seeing the superfecta takeout

- A female jockey (who's super-smoking hot) resorts to cheating by using a buzzer on a horse. She needs it to get ahead in a man's world.

- Really hot woman in the science lab senses that drugs were used on the horse so someone could cheat, and make money bettin'

- David Caruso takes off his glasses and sneers at a mobster

- All knowing really good-looking science woman tells the model-looking science guy that the horse pinning his ears back means he is unhappy with him. She is apparently from Kentucky, and everyone from Kentucky knows this

- Man taking care of the horse has a heart of gold. As well, he appears to be taking a sabbatical from his regular job as a Tommy Hilfiger model so he could work for $350 a week as a groom. (Casting error note: He had clean fingernails)

- Polytrack is discussed, and for the first time in history, it does not spark an argument

- The hottest woman ever to pass a university-level organic chemistry course falls for the GQ groom. Meanwhile she discovers, using her handy pocket-cocaine testing kit, that drugs were used to make the horse go slow, to cheat bettors

- Cangamble is seen in the 4th row of the upper deck of the track, holding a sign saying "Frank, lower the takeout now!"

- Bad Russian guy is caught, for cheating. He is one of the 2% of the people who make money betting racing. There is one less now, however, as he has a date with the greybar hotel, courtesy Detective Horatio Caine

So, all and all, a typical Hollywood horse racing plotline - drugs, buzzers and cheating - but this time with Caruso, which made it a kick ass episode and one for the ages. It is one you do not want to miss on reruns.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hollywood Smackdown

Usually celebrities are making fools of themselves speaking of the geo-science of global warming like they have more than a drama minor from a junior college. This time it is more grassroots and kind of cool. It involves perhaps the most comical political celebrity out there in Alec Baldwin. The super-vegan believes horses pulling around a little cart in New York should be stopped. Liam Neeson (who has actually ridden a horse) says they should stay.

Go get 'em Darkman!

Hat tip to Paulick.

Overacting, Ouch & Little Hope

Green But Game tells us, through her scouring the interweb, that CSI Miami has a horse racing episode tonight. I am waiting with the DVR for the episode because I want to hear David Caruso overact on being a handicapper. "You.... bet ... the seven? The seven has..... no ..... shot.... Bet the ......six..... he has good late.... numbers" If there are any lines delivered like below, man this could be good.

I notice on Ray Paulick that friend to racing Richard Shapiro, former head of the Cali Horse Racing board had some trouble as part of the Madoff nonsense. He always struck me as a decent fellow. In an interview he demonstrates the malaise that hits us in horse racing.

"Horse racing is a dysfunctional industry," said Shapiro, who has been in the sport nearly all his life and whose family owned the legendary Native Diver. "There are so many viewpoints. We need so much help from government. We have to find new alliances. We need to make the industry viable again."

Cangamble gives his opine on some of the things we have speaking of here on the blog.

Ray Paulick writes a piece today asking if there is any way racing can fix itself. It is a tough question. The knee-jerk reaction is of course, no.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Make $200,000 in Three seconds

Ever lose a photo and it cost you a few bucks? How about having a horse break stride nearing the wire?

Tough beat for a few players in the UK last week when a horse who was well clear decided to do a little jig and unseat its rider. It cost two syndicates about $400,000 in a sweep bet. But for others it was a pretty neat score. One punter at betfair bought a longshot at 999-1 in-running, bet GBP111 (a couple hundred bucks) 20 yards from the wire and walked away with over $200,000. Not a bad day at the track.

Something About Snowy Racing.....

I went to the Big Track tonight and the weather was frightful, but there is something about harness racing on a night like that. Snow coming down, stakes races. It felt a little like being at old Greenwood this evening; a few die hards, and not too many others, watching some racing.

In the picture above the Glorys Comet went to the talented Please Poppy in a very exciting race.

In the 8th race which was the Willowdale Series second leg, racing does not get much better than that. It was a twelve horse field, it had plenty of movement, jockeying for position, and some solid fractions. The winner was an old North America Cup winter book horse we spoke about last year here, Real Nice.

It is pretty weird to me. On a snowy day I find I will turn off a thoroughbred track. On a snowy evening I love watching harness racing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Hearty Standardbred

It's cold. I am thinking of moving to Baffin Island because it has to be warmer there than here. With all our runner friends in the northeast cancelling, I check the landscape and see the harness tracks are in full force. Say what you want about the two games, runners and harness, but one thing we got on 'em is toughness. These horses are something else. Give them a couple of meals, treat them with a bit of respect and they will run through a wall for you, and enjoy doing it at the same time.

We are pretty darn lucky.

Auckland Reactor Now 17 for 18

The New Zealand champ lost last night. I have watched several of his races and was not overly impressed. I was wrong. This is one hell of a race horse.

Check the video of this marvelous 'loss'. One of the best races you will ever see. I love the announcer as well - wearing his heart on his sleeve. Very nice.

Donate a few bucks? I did. It makes you feel good.


The Big M pick 4 paid a nice $700+ last night, despite 3 heavily bet horses. They have promoted that pick 4 over the years and charge a very low rake. That is a hell of a good bet. Our pickers below got 3.0 of 4. Nice try guys.

Gil Grissom left CSI last night. I am changing my vote for harness commissioner from Santa (god love the big red bugger) to him.

The geeks out there are now speaking about Web 3.0. Bah. Harness Racing 1.1 would be good; but if 3.0 is coming, I hope it spits me out some winners, makes my life better, and stops people in racing from telling me that the price of their product does not matter.

Got an email from a friend who wants to try what these British chaps are doing with UK racing. If he does try it I hope he will give us a weekly update.

Got an email from another friend ready to embark on his "I am going to play poker and racing at casino's and playing as long as I can get a comp" trip. It starts next week. Perhaps we can get him to keep us posted here, as well.

I am reading the book "Stuff White People Like" (warning, if you are the type of person that sits at a cafe in Montreal wondering why the world is so bad and you can't get a six figure job with your philosophy degree, you will not like this book) and it struck me that we could write one for racing. "Stuff Handicappers Like to Argue About". The discussion on chat boards and elsewhere about Beyer figs is hilarious. To some, using and/or supporting Beyer figures is like wearing white after Labour Day, just before your trip north for a seal hunt. Steve Crist almost goes into defending them in his last piece, but holds his tongue. Beyer is one of the best handicappers this sport has ever seen and to this day it is considered cool not to like him or his figures.

Blackout! I am tempted to make a Scorpions reference, but no, a major blackout in Toronto last night left me in the dark, literally. About 100,000 people or so on the west end were out. I sat around and wondered what in the hell people do without power. Not to mention it was freaking freezing. I swear I saw some Inuit ice fishing on Lake Ontario out my window. Thankfully I am back up, and able to post this wonderful drivel this morning.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big Pick 4 Carryover at the M

A nice sized carryover tonight, which could result in a $200k pool. Post up some picks if you got 'em!

Making Money at Racing

I am reading a post at Paceadvantage speaking of how nuts we are to bet racing. I am also reminded going to a conference where an ADW exec would not state the number of people who are winners at his ADW; only saying coyly 'we don't speak about that', because we know the number is probably 1 in one thousand. I think about the Mike Maloney interview where he stated when asked about how many professional horse bettors there are in the US he said 'maybe a couple of hundred of us'. But as I did below with Adam's blog about making $300,000 at racing in the UK, I again am doing a little reading.

I come across this: A gentleman who last year challenged himself to make 100,000GBP (about US$200,000) by betting the horse races. Guess what? He accomplished this feat on December 19th.

We have spoken many times here that our system is broken, our takeouts are too high, yadda, yadda, yadda. Broken record. But if we branch out, get rid of our worldview that racing is a place we should go to lose, we see how the other half lives. This game with low rakes (the above bettors are playing with 4 or 5% win takeouts) can explode (each of them probably are churning hundreds of millions per annum in handle). In the UK whose GDP is about 2.2 trillion, horse bettors like this are still drawn to racing, and bringing new blood with them to enjoy the game. In Canada and the US our GDP is about 15 trillion, so there is no reason we should not be able to blow away the UK numbers.

This game can grow rapidly if we would just get off our asses and make it affordable to the masses. Seriously, how much more evidence do we need? Do a scan over here in the blogosphere on bloggers who are documenting their $300,000 year betting racing and get back to me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Three Months for the Pitch

The ORC ruled today that the horse who took a shortcut in this video should not have. The race happened in October. Appeals like this should take hours, not months. What took so long? I have no idea.

Moira Fanning

One of the great people in harness racing is Moira Fanning. Today it was announced that she received the HTA's Distinguished Service Award for 2009. Congrats to Moira; this is very well deserved!

Overused Angles

Quick, go ask 100 race fans at the track what they think of first time lasix. Like most angles like this, you will hear positive reviews. I am a simple guy and live my life under only a few basic rules, one of which is this: Never trust positive reviews of two things 1) a popular betting angle and 2) any movie starring Ben Affleck.

For our runner friends:

1st Lasix
Wins: 1,354
Horses: 13,252
Win %: 10.2
ROI: 0.80

For my standardbred brothers and sisters (hat tip to Ray):

1st Lasix
Starts: 2,543
Wins: 368
ROI: 0.81

Do yourself a favor - shop for another bet that has some value.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

150k Challenge

We spoke before about a poker site promoting the "Chris Ferguson Challenge" where he starts with zero dollars in his poker account and he tries to turn that bankroll, with skill, into $10,000. We said that this promotion - making money at the game trumps just about every marketing angle out there. If people can make money, they will come. In what seems to be a world away there is a young fella who is trying to make GBP150,000 at racing in 2009. Yes, racing.

There is plenty eye-opening about this. 1) How many people in racing even think for a second they could make $300,000 in one year through the pari-mutuel system? Try it. Go to a chat board and state that you are going to make US$300k and see what type of responses you will get. You will be called nuts, crazy, and people will be posting weblinks to their psychiatrist for you. 2) Adam Heathcote, the lad who is trying this (after having a successful 2008), is only 23 years old. So much for the 'racing is for old folks' mantra. And 3) He just learned how to play racing last year.

Examples such as this tell us that racing is a good bet, if done right - after all Adam is not playing racing through bookies or betting the Tote - he is playing at an exchange. It clearly is not done right here in North America. Unless we change, we will never see this type of blog here across the pond. People do not think they can win at racing, and this is probably our biggest hurdle in attracting people like Adam. The point is not if he wins $300k, but that he thinks he can make $300k.

Good luck Adam on your quest. Racing needs more people like you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Change Comes

The OHHA has elected a new president. Bill O'Donnell, driver of such greats as Nihilator, was chosen to take over the horseman's organization today in a meeting. Immediately Mr. O'Donnell placed his stamp on the group by reaching out to Woodbine. As you know, this latest stalemate was mainly due to the horseman's assocation's executive insistence that Woodbine drop some of their demands in using private property rights to expel trainers who have gotten positives off their grounds.

"WEG doesn't want to hurt anyone. Their board is made up of horse people and they genuinely want to race horses unlike some other tracks."

At the heart of the debate is the private property rights issue to which OHHA took exception.

"WEG did not want to have a partner that condoned bad behaviour in racing. There was a clause that we were having trouble with but in my time in racing I always knew that at any racetrack there were private property rules.

"Not that I ever would break them but I knew that if I did it was clear that I would have to leave. I knew the ramifications and I would be out of there," he went on. "The membership spoke very clearly and showed by not boycotting the Woodbine entry box that this was not that big of an issue for them to stop racing. We had to listen."

Everyone I have spoken to wishes the Magic Man good luck. Harness racing in Ontario has a long tradition and it is filled with wonderful people. Let's hope this gets done quickly and we can all move on in a proactive way to help racing in our province.

2nd Annual O'Brien Awards Picks

It’s time once again for my picks (I am Greg, the guest poster and Harness Herb contact) for the O’Brien Awards, which are coming up just around the corner. Before we get to the picks, congratulations to all the nominees for just making it this far.

Two-Year Old Filly Trot:

I give the nod here to Elusive Desire, who won three races and failed to hit the board only once in her 14 starts. The biggest win in her campaign, which saw her bank over $395,000 was the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final, and she just seemed to be getting better and better as the year went on.

Two-Year Old Filly Pace:

This is a pretty easy one as St Lads Popcorn steamrolled through the Ontario Sires Stakes program, winning 12 of her 15 starts and over $602,000. Not bad for any two-year old, let alone one who sold for just $5,000 as a yearling.

Two-Year Old Colt Trot:

It looks like Federal Flex should pick up the O’Brien here. He was impressive early, winning the Bridger Series and the Champlain, and late, scoring in the Valley Victory at Woodbine. In total, he won five of his nine starts and over $560,000.

Two-Year Old Colt Pace:

The list of freshman colt pacers who have earned a million dollars is not very long, and Nebupanezzar joined that elite company this year, which should push him past Metro winner Major In Art. Nebupanezzar also won both in the provincial program and against open company, as he was this year’s Governor’s Cup champion.

Three-Year Old Filly Trot:

I found this category very difficult as Lantern Kronos only made a handful of starts in Canada , two of which were in non-winners action, and Bella Dolce was great in the middle of her campaign, but struggled at the start and at the end. I guess because she was impressive in winning the Casual Breeze and Elegantimage when she was north of the border, my vote would go to Lantern Kronos.

Three-Year Old Colt Trot:

Define The World should win this handily thanks to a 14-win campaign and earnings of over $751,000. He dominated the OSS Gold ranks in the summer and fall in addition to setting a world record at Flamboro on Confederation Cup day.

Three-Year Old Filly Pace:

Chancey Lady was top dog in the OSS and won against open company in the Fan Hanover, so she gets the O’Brien vote. The daughter of Camluck won nine of her 17 starts and over $721,000.

Three-Year Old Colt Pace:

This award has already been given to the Monster from the Maritimes, Somebeachsomewhere.

Open Trotting Mare:

Of course I’m biased for Brigham Dream, but I honestly think she should win. Aside from her Breeders Crown win, she was second in a leg of the Classic Series at Mohawk and was second to the boys in an open at Mohawk before the driver switch. Falls For You’s win in the Armbro Flight was great, but she broke in every other start she made in Canada.

Open Trotting Horse:

This is another tough one. Do you reward Armbro Chronicle, the horse who ground out $500,000 and change in Ontario or Arch Madness, who won the Maple Leaf, a leg of the Classic Series, and was second in the Breeders Crown? Let’s give the vote to the “little guy,” Armbro Chronicle. He won 11 times, including the Frank Ryan and the Earl Rowe, and finished third in the Maple Leaf Trot.

Open Pacing Mare:

This category is another toughie with the horse from the States, My Little Dragon, going up against an Ontario product, Southwind Madonna. My Little Dragon won the Breeders Crown, but couldn’t find the winner’s circle in the Milton or Roses Are Red while Southwind Madonna went a huge mile in the Roses Are Red before getting nipped at the wire, and was the terror the WEG open mare ranks in 2008. My vote goes to Southwind Madonna.

Open Pacing Horse:

Secrets Nephew has already been declared the winner.

Horsemanship Award:

I admire both John Kopas and Phil Pinkney for their tremendous skills with young horses, so they are both winners in my mind, no matter what. However, I think Pinkney is one of those guys “behind the scenes” who everyone knows about, but has never got the recognition, and so I hope he gets it here.


I go with Glengate Farms. They had a very good year in 2008, led by Art Official.


Bob McIntosh should be clearing space on his shelf for another O’Brien Award. He trained finalists Nebupanezzar and Windsong Soprano on his way to $3.7 million in earnings and the trophy for leading trainer in the Ontario Sires Stakes program.


Like PTP said on here, I was a little surprised hearing from people that there was sentiment Paul MacDonell was not deserving or was not going to win this award. I said to several people in June at Mohawk that he was going to win after his performance on North America Cup night, and I don’t think he will make a fool out of me. Take away Somebeachsomewhere, and he still drove the likes of Lantern Kronos, Bella Dolce, Define The World, and Elusive Desire, and he steered four Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final winners.

Horse Of The Year:

Somebeachsomewhere…thanks for the memories.

Thanks to Greg for giving us his picks for the second time. Thanks to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame for the photo of Joe

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Escape the Wind wins #50

One of the true class acts in harness racing is 9 year old Escape the Wind. He won his 50th race today at Woodbine, and now stands at 166-50-19-22 for $1.96M earned. I remember his first start like it was yesterday. You could tell he had some go as he stormed from 10th to be 2nd. Only four months or so later Roger had him in the Breeders Crown. He survived an absolutely horrid trip to be second, almost running down the winner. Since that time he has suffered through a heart problem and a few other minor issues, but like most class animals he gets his share of wins between the troubles. Congratulations to Roger Mayotte on this milestone.

For a summary of Escape the Wind's running lines they can be accessed here, for a limited time only!

What's a WEGZ? And Holy Smokes!

I went to WEGZ Sports bar last night for the football games and some racing. It's owned by Woodbine entertainment. It has big screens, weird lights cut out as Maple Leafs, golf, pool and a pile of other things. It is also a teletheatre. I just don't know where that name came from. What is WEGZ?

Quite honestly, it is probably the best sports bar I have ever been to, and I have been to a few in my days. You can bet and watch some racing, hook up the computer with some Wifi and enjoy yourself with some affordable food. The only problem? I am getting too old to be surrounded by people under 30. Luckily I still tend to act like I am twelve.

They push the sports betting angle there with odds, prop bets and so on that are along their electronic banner. I can see why Woodbine wants sports betting. If it was allowed there I would submit that millions would go through that place.

We went to Woodbine for a few of the races after that. Yikes, that was some kind of weather.

Cangamble and HANA are speaking about a Nick Kling column in the Troy Record which quotes some of racings heavyweights. yes folks, people are starting to talk about it. Too bad we sunk so far before they did!

Chris Scherf: "The problem is we’ve got tracks and horsemen both saying they need more money in this economy. But the first thing we need is an engaged gambling public, and they should be at the top of the list.”

Drew Couto: "We have to face two very important realities. First, we have allowed (racing) to basically disappear.".... "Second, we have to adopt new ways our fans can participate. New wagers, betting exchanges."

More here.

Will 2009 be the year where we finally try and attract other price-sensitive bettors who have left us for greener pastures?

Next up: O'Brien Award Predictions - 2nd Annual version by Greg Reinhart.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Day in the Life

It is about freezing and not an overly great Friday weather-wise. But for the harness trainer, who is getting several horses qualified and ready to race it is a busy day. This game is brutal, ups and downs, downs and ups. If you don't have some sort of structure in dealing with those swings, you are in a tough spot. Harness trainer Nick Boyd felt like writing something today, and he passed it along. It is posted here for you, just as a reminder that those horses pacing and trotting around that TV screen don't make it there by themselves.


Today was a good day. Not a great day, not a bad day, but a good day. What is a good day though? It was not warm and sunny, but rather overcast and chilly. There was a light snow, I had to work, and there were bills to pay. I did not win the lottery, or inherit any sum of money. I was not informed of good news, nor was there any bad news presented to me. Today was a good day, but, what is a good day?

In harness racing, like anything in life there are highs and lows. People live for the highs, most longing for a taste of them throughout the lengthy lows. The wavelengths are skewed most would say, rather then an smooth up and down wave. But what about the line of optimization, that even keel that is often overlooked? My father once told me, and since has reiterated it numerous times; Stay on an even keel, never get to high and don't let yourself get to low. I've thought about it at lengths, and the only thing that seems to confuse me is why so many people, including myself, fail to ever be satisfied with being on that even keel?

During the past year I had many new experiences in my training career. With these new experiences came the chance to enjoy many highs and many lows. Whether it was a hot streak, or cold streak, win streak, or loss streak, the highs and lows came in droves with the latter winning out the majority of the time. One day, I raced 6 horses at Kawartha, and ended up sneaking away with two 5th place finishes. I had a horse that I owned racing for $40,000 get run into and taken out of the race, at the head of the stretch when he looked like a very possible winner. I had horses come up with poor performances in rich stakes finals, and had other horses breakdown or come up sick at inopportune times.

On the other side of the coin, I had an 11 race streak of Top 2 finishes. I hit 40 wins on the year, won 2 stakes finals, and earned nearly $400,000 in purses. In January I ranked in the Top 5 of the Woodbine trainers colony, and Top 10 for all North American trainers. I was featured in a segment on The Score, and found I had gained a new level of respect among many industry participants, more notably in ones I admired and looked up to. The season was filled with its highs and lows.

Today set up to be one of those days, that could be very good or very bad. I had 5 horses to qualify, and 1 to school. I was expecting the worst. I've come to find that the more horses I have in, the worse the results turn out for me. Maybe its coincidence, maybe it was redetermined by bad posts, or tough classes. I won't find an excuse, only admit these days have never lived up to potential. On a morning that flew by, with little time to breathe, let alone think, I had taken no time to reflect until now. Four horses qualified at Mohawk, then one qualified and one schooled at Flamboro. Not one horse jumped off the page at me and gave the "WOW" appeal. At the same time, not one horse went out and disappointed me. All five qualified, and the schooler went well. I could find both positives and negatives in the way they all went, but nothing could persuade me to lean to a definitive side. I was happy, for once a large schedule had not turned into an absolute disaster. There was nothing to rave about, but I had five horses qualified and all the owners were happy.

As I entertained my hired help (father and uncle) for lunch, we discussed the success of the day. Again, there was no raving about how we were on top of the world, because we weren't. We focused more on the positives, and how we had completed the necessary tasks to a satisfying level. We knew there could be improvement, that each and every horse could be better, but I also knew they could have been worse. After we had finished up I said "Well that was a good day" to which my father reiterated a statement I have heard from him thousands of times "We just stayed on that even keel, didnt get to high and never got to low".

Most trainers strive for that high training average, those large purse earnings and hundreds of wins a year. In a stats driven world, people become consumed with numbers. The glory of winning, the numbers pushing them into the spotlight, and the forefront of attention. I won't fool myself, I'd love to be on that slide underneath the microscope just as much as the next person, or have that spotlight shone down on me. But I realized something about myself, and the highs and lows today. I finally felt good. There were no press clippings about me, no shiny statistics, or big cheques. There were no angry or disappointed owners, and I wasn't left scratching my head about what to do next. What I found out about myself today, was that I was satisfied with that even keel. I did not like how disheartened I felt for days after the disasterous showing at Kawartha that day. Nor did the rush of winning a Claiming Stakes final last long enough to fulfill me. I found that even keel today, and now know what my dad has preached about to me for years. I am much happier being on an even keel, than high one day and low the next six.

The famous Mets pitcher Tom Seaver once said "In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end". The more I think about this, the more I realize how much it coincides with my fathers theory, and the more I feel I should apply it to my own practice. Tom Seaver put together a career of respectable numbers and a pass into Hall of Fame staying on an even keel. Who's to say Nicholas Boyd couldnt do the same as well?

Not a Lot of Action

.... in harness racing-land lately. However, the Woodbine/Horseman dispute over their contract for 09 and beyond keeps getting more and more interesting. The new news is that Woodbine will not be negotiating with the OHHA, they are looking for someone new to deal with, it seems. WEG head David Willmot in the Toronto Star:

"We have absolutely kept the entry box open, the horsemen have never stopped entering and racing and we have assured the horsemen of no changes in any of the financial arrangements. The last thing we want is to prevent anyone from earning a living," WEG head David Willmot said yesterday. "The only thing that has changed is that we do not want to have further negotiations with OHHA.

"We have no legal obligation to be under contract with OHHA. It is not a union. It is an association representing private contractors. We have been under contract (with OHHA) for many years, but that looks like it is coming to an end."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Stern Call for Change

The recent horseman dispute with Woodbine Entertainment has been tumultuous. In late December the Ontario Harness Horse Association called for a boycott of the box at Woodbine, due to primarily Woodbine's reluctance to give in on their right to private property, and banning people they feel hurt their product. From almost its inception the boycott call was met with less than full support. The box filled easily. Then a second boycott was called and the box filled easily again. I had a couple of people in the know mention to me that they thought this might be the end of the leadership at the horseman's organization, as they lost the confidence of the membership.

Earlier today this call was made public. John Kopas, trainer of Keystone Horatio among many other greats, and member of a family which has been heavily involved in racing since the 1950's called for a change in leadership in the OHHA. In a letter to the Harness Edge he stated:

I have grave concerns in regards to our current leadership at OHHA. If we allow Mr. (Jim) Whelan and his "disciples" to continue we are not going to have a business left. OHHA must stop its antagonistic approach towards racetracks, politicians and its members.

We as horse people must rid ourselves of the OHHA as it presently sits. Mark my words, if we do not the repercussions will be catastrophic to our industry.

The full text of this letter as well as others can be accessed here.

It will be extremely interesting to see where this goes next. But a call for change from a well respected member of the owner and trainer community like Kopas is sure to get attention.

For video from Messers Kopas, Burns and Waples regarding the situation it can be accessed here.

Ray Paulick Spurs Betfair Discussion

Ray Paulick seems to be a bit of a polarizing a figure. It seems some people like his style, and some people don't. Very few do not have an opinion on the man. However, one thing he always does is spur discussion. In his latest piece he looks at Betfair and if they should, or their model should be embraced here.

I was reading the Dan Patch Story recently, and one quote showed how we thought way back in 1900. It was a snippet from racing about the new invention of cars. Racings response was that cars would hurt racing, as the horse was a transport vehicle and attracted people to harness racing. They wanted the building of roads banned in some areas of the US and lobbied for it. So it is not surprising that some of the responses, and the responses we have seen over the years from North American racing, about betfair are to be expected. We tend to fear the new and believe that protecting our sport is more important than growing our sport. I dare say this policy has not worked very well, yet we still seem to offer it out whenever we are confronted with a problem.

I remember being at a conference last year presenting on the future of wagering. I referenced betfair with some stats and so on. One of the presenters there with me was a guy who plays betfair for a living. He hooked up his computer and popped up a betfair race. It is where I was converted that talking about something is not as effective and seeing it in action. When he loaded it up there was a race just about to go off at a track in the UK. It was a fairly normal race, not a stake or anything. At 1 minute to post there was about US$2.2 million matched. Then the race went off; it was a 1 3/4 mile race, or something like that. He gave a play by play while the trading was in running. "Ok, the seven has gone down to 2-1, so he must look good; now the three is shortening. Oh, now the four is taking money so he is coming on" and so on. There were a few audible gasps from the crowd. About another $600,000 was bet while the race was going off. People were amazed and virtually everyone said "wow, does that ever look neat."

Hopefully we see more and more talk like this from people in Ray's position. The pari-mutuel system is broken, and has been for some time. Clinging to the past is not a policy. There are two completely different racing customers; one who is there to mess around and have some fun, and one who is there trying to play racing as a brain game with the hope of making money and supplementing an income. The interface for the former is the racetrack - the sights, the smells, being there, or betting it on a nice video interface. For the latter there is this screenshot - this is not your grandfathers racing, and someone out there knows that, and is succeeding offering it out to those players.

If we start looking outside our own little worlds here in racing to find out what is working and what is not - and implement what is working - we will be much better off as a business.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What's Up With Jersey Racing?

Anyone know?

Monmouth's handle was up for the thoroughbreds. Now out this week, the Meadowlands handle was up for harness. All I can think of is two things: 1) Jersey has to work extra hard for revenues since they have no slots, thus the hard work is paying off (same with Hawthorne handles) and 2) They are available virtually everywhere, to all ADW's and rebate shops. I know a couple folks who play the M at rebate shops, and they are not small bettors. Whatever the reason, it is good to see.

Allan noted this article in terms of Ocean Downs - fight club II. Horseman are shutting down simulcasting because of the backstretch closing.

For those who have not been following it, the horseman association in Ontario has backed off on their boycott. It was not well received by horseman (they continued to enter). Woodbine responded today that they are happy that racing is ongoing, and that the horseman appear to be in favour of them trying to clean up racing at their track.

Last up, all them social media types tell you to respond to posts when you want people to notice you. I do not do that enough, or maybe don't care since this is not a business or anything - I read ten or fifteen posts a day and rarely say a word. But it does work. Today I read a commenter here for the first time, Power Cap, and he seemed to have some good thoughts. I clicked his name and found his blog. He has some good posts up there. One of them was a very good piece on Las Vegas and how they cater to gamblers. It is well worth a read.

Awful Numbers

Wagering on all North American racing fell below $14 billion in 2008, a loss of over 1 billion of handle.

In inflation adjusted terms, our handle fell below $10 billion. We bet about $2B more in 1996, before internet betting was even invented.

In contrast, all is not overly peachy in Australia, but they bet about $8B last year in their dollars. Their GDP is about $775 billion. Canada's GDP is $1.3 trillion and the US about ten times that at 13 trillion. When will we wake up and put some policies in place to grow handles? Is anyone out there in power beginning to believe we have a serious wagering problem yet?

Hat tip to the commenter at the Paulick Report who referenced Supertramp's "Crisis, What Crisis" album. Pass the Moonshine, sister.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Someone Knows Who They Are - And Plan for It

In Australian newspaper The Age there is a good piece on racing in Australia and what they plan to do for 2009 and beyond. It is pretty eye-opening compared to what we are doing across the pond here.

In North America we seem to be concentrating on finding ways to split the shrinking pie, or litigating racing in such a way to be protectionist. Also, very little planning seems to be occurring with Internet wagering. Often in fact, we hear the Utopian view that we will attract people back to the track, just like days gone by. Not in Australia. There they have studied their customers and have worked a plan to increase betting participation through 2020 and beyond.

Some of the snippets of the article:

On who the customer is.... "About 40 years ago, officials finally realised that horse racing revolved around gambling" This was achieved by a customer study that showed 95% of patrons were bettors of more than $40 per day. Only 5% were there to watch the horses, and they bet less than $12 per visit. We are debating in 2009, what they knew in 1969 - when a man first landed on the moon.

On where they can expand .... "The international market represents the biggest possibility for growth.... The first will be a shift to attract the enormous Asian betting market. The cornerstone of this thinking is to transfer Moonee Valley's showpiece Cox Plate meeting from day to night, so it can be run at a more palatable time in Asia and Europe." Changing post times for a new market. Would we do this in insular North America?

How will they fund this expansion? Will they fight over who pays for it? "He said the Government was willing to invest $45 million into making Victorian racing a global leader."

Banning whipping, or changing medication rules to make a safer sport. Will it be tackled or will it be a five or six year debate between 37 different acronyms, all with different views? "Racing is becoming more aware of its image. Jumps racing, which is conducted in Victoria and South Australia, looks likely to be restricted to the country venues... Political correctness now prevails, with more charges laid against offenders who have brought racing into disrepute by their actions or words. Changes are also mooted to the way jockeys ride their horses. This week, the Australian Racing Board is expected to announce a change to the whip rules, so that jockeys will only be permitted to whip their mount a certain number of times during a race."

We complain in horse racing in North America about costs for us as horse owners and venues, and too much racing, that waters down the product and dilutes purses. In Australia they address the issue, they don't just talk about it. "The number of training venues in Victoria will be slashed from a currently uneconomic 39 to 16. RVL's vision is of super training centres in strategic regions instead of costly training tracks scattered all over the state. RVL has been quiet on the topic of closing racecourses. But it appears that the current complement of 52 country racetracks and four metropolitan tracks will be deemed unsustainable."

While in North America we often complain or try to take more from people betting at home, instead of encouraging this as a reality, Australia has no problem in embracing and planning with the changing world. "While bums on seats is a good recipe for a successful racing club, authorities have identified that bums on couches can be a handy money-spinner, too. That is not to say that officials have given up luring people to the track. But authorities realise that the golden days of bumper crowds are gone."

Everyone knows the business model must be changed, correct? Over here we tend to fight about it - by protectionist policies, or looking for government subsidy to 'make' people bet racing, or by trying to hike takeouts for revenue shortfalls. In Australia, this attitude is completely different. "Despite fears that corporate bookmakers will kill off racing's revenue stream, RVL chief executive Rob Hines predicts the rise of the corporates will add to the marketplace. He said the move to deregulate advertising by wagering operators was designed to remove the protectionist attitude and encourage people to bet on a wide range of products. "We expect these revenues to add to tote turnover," he said, with the TAB continuing to be the main source of revenue for the industry. "

Also: Hines announced last month that Victorian racing was "open for business" following the release of its "Racing To 2020" blueprint for the future. "The vision provides the platform and framework for industry development over the next 10 to 15 years," he said. "Now, more than ever, it is essential that the entire industry operates with a more collective, innovative and less protectionist approach if we are to succeed and achieve our goals."

When you mention to someone in racing that you think most of our ills are self-inflicted you will get a pass the buck answer from most quarters - we can't lower takeouts, government is against us, offshore pirates are killing us, we can't change racedates or post times because of rules, and on and on. A simple question can be thrown back - If Australia can do it, why can't we?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Notes Around the Horn

Several notes of interest, that I am too lazy to elaborate on.

...... On the Paulick Report, Mr Fred Pope is back defending his system that the tracks themselves should get the vast majority of the take, and ADW's get much less. Some players and ADW owners, like Dick Powell of RGS have joined the discussion. Mr. Powell's post cuts perfectly to the chase. If Mr. Pope's plan was ever enacted (don't worry it won't be), then handles will fall precipitously as Mr. Powell explains. We need people shaping this game who understand wagering; who bet. If Andrew Black had carte blanche we would be in a hell of a lot better shape than we are. I believe that if this industry ever starts funding purses through gross profits instead of the archaic current system, we'd be able to see some real growth. Racing mantra for 2009 - take what we have done and do the opposite.

..... I went to Woodbine last night. I have never seen the slots so dead. Yep, it was cold, but it was an after Xmas Saturday. I think we will see a big loss in slots revenue this year. Just a hunch.

..... I watched Mythbusters this evening. They were testing if beer goggles actually work. I wonder about gambling goggles. If I bet after about 5 beers or so, I suck. Then again I suck most of the time. But I think it makes a big difference. Anyone ever make money betting smashed?

..... I bought a Slingbox. Whomever does their customer service should be hired by racing. That is second to none.

..... A few of the editorials at Harnesslink are really hammering Woodbine in the semi-dispute between horseman and the track. I am sure they could find someone for an op-ed with some passion on the for side the issue. One side is not a good debate.

.... I liked joining the TBA (bloggers alliance) because I get to read some people I never would have before. Triple Dead Heat has a nice piece with pictures about harness racing at Woodbine, including shots of the nice new paddock.

.... Gathering the Wind is simply one of the must read blogs out there. Do yourself a favour and bookmark this interesting chap.

The Horseplayers Association of North America is doing a top tracks list with an algorithm that can be easily reproduced. I think we should do one for harness tracks. But then again, did I mention I am lazy?

.... I heard a guy at the slots area last night, lamenting losing at the slots. He said "slots cheat. They should rename Woodbine, Cheatbine!" Yes folks, horseplayers are not the only gamblers who feel the world is agin' them :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Top Ten Races, Change Pricing & V75 hit?

Our friend US Harness racing at his blog has added his top 5 harness races of 2008. Mine are a bit different. I liked #5 - Mr. Big versus Artistic Fella in the Haughton; #4 - Muscle Hill's 153.3 Breeders Crown win; #3 - Somebeachsomewhere against the clock in 46.4; #2 - Somebeachsomewhere over Shadow Play at Yonkers and #1 - Same as our pal at that blog. Easily the race of the year.

Change your pricing, change your story? Absolutely.

I am not sure if the $15 million dollar V75 was hit in Sweden or not. I have been scouring the news but every news story is in Swedish. I refuse to use one of those fancy translators. I am guessing - yes it was hit!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Beach versus..... and a Few Notes

A poster commented "what is up with Hoof Beats?" I knew what he was speaking about. On Andrew Cohen's blog there was quite a bit of chatter during the debate on who was a better horse, Dewey or Beach. One or two of the commenters, I think one might have been Murray Brown of Hanover Shoe Farms, said "what does Hoof Beats have against Somebeachsomewhere?" Apparently the horse had never once made the cover of the magazine and people were wondering why. I do not know either way, however, this month's cover does make one scratch their head a little bit.

After the Breeders Crown virtually every story (including the AP wire), mentioned when speaking of the Beach's BC win that 'horse of the year was locked up'. In fact, I have not heard anyone in the blogosphere or press even think it is a debate anymore. But I guess Hoofbeats still thinks so. What do they know that we don't?

There is more than one column out there lamenting the brutal year racing had in 2008, and that big changes are needed for 2009. What took you guys so long? We have been doing worse and worse since about 2003. We have needed changes for a long time.

I do however think thoroughbred racing is at a crossroads. I primarily bet the runners in 2008 and I followed the sport, from nighttime races at Mountaineer, to days at Turfway, Keeneland, NYRA tracks and a few others. In my opinion they have to fix that breed, and quick. Comparing a thoroughbred horse's durability to a harness horse's is like comparing Saddam Hussien to Mother Theresa. I watched an afternoon about a month ago (three tracks) and I saw four horses break down (or pulled up). I see four horses a year get pulled up in harness racing. They have a serious problem in that sport and it clearly needs to be addressed.

Some chatter on chat board of interest. First up, the fight between the horseman association and Woodbine has drawn 20 pages or so. Some of the comments are brilliant; some not so much. But entertaining nonetheless. Another thread speaks of the battle for driver of the year in Canada between Jody Jamieson and Paul MacDonnell. Wow, maybe I am way off, but this one I thought was not even close. Paul not only drove Beach, but several other stakes stars and was probably the main Canadian driver in all the Classic races this year. I believe he will win easily.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

V75 Jackpot close to 15 million

In harness racing Sweden the v75 is a big deal. The jackpot pick 7 grows leaps and bounds and this weekend North American bettors can take a stab at a huge pool. I think the record is around $35M, so it has a lot to go to get there, but someone might have a nice New Year's present on Saturday with that pool.

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