Thursday, April 30, 2009

First Look at Derby Odds

Betfair has opened the post position market late this evening and we are seeing a fairly tight book for this early in the game. This is much different from last year when the Brown looked to lay over the field. This is an interesting Derby, and this is even with Quality Road out.

With 13.6% overround we have:

IWR 7-2; Plenty wanted to lay at that price
Dunkirk 5-1; Thin market
Friesan Fire 6-1
POTN 7-1
Regal Ransom 17-1
Desert Party 18-1

It appears that there will be four horses under 10-1. I find it interesting that one week ago the illegal books were offering 40-1 for Regal Ransom. He is the biggest mover of all the horses when you compare last week to this week. That strikes me as odd.

As for Churchill I ran my database tonight and do not see too much. It is a fair track thus far this meet, in my opinion.

Offshore Money Derby Stuff

I have been thinking about my Derby betting the past couple of days. It is simply a must-bet event with large pools, a huge field and the opportunity to make a score. Conversely, let's face it, if you do not get your blood pumping watching this as a pure fan, you might as well call the paramedics for a pulse check.

For my pure fan bet, I would bet Friesan Fire. If you do not like and admire Larry Jones, I wonder who you would like and admire in our game. However, despite my wish to use him in exotics and I do think he is the most likely winner, I think he will be too low for me. I do not worry one bit about the time off. This is a completely different game today with modern techniques, breeding and vet care. We will see myths shattered about some of these rules, and have seen myths shattered for years now.

Right now, IWR is taking a lot of cash offshore. He is chalk, and will be chalk no question. He is minus 197 to beat FF heads up in match bets. He is minus 157 to beat Dunkirk. He is around 7-2 at Betfair. He will be overbet, in my opinion. I would doubt anyone who is super-serious and playing the game as a bettor, not a fan, would have him on their tickets. Many gamblers deduct some points for his trainer in this race as well as it is hard for some to believe Mullins will win a Derby. I am one of them and he is an easy pitch for me as a gambler. I know several people from across the pond who are fading this horse mightily. Remember, as a gambler it is not about being right, it is about getting value. Almost every year the chalk provides us with value from the fade side.

POTN is taking weird cash. I don't like him at all, and I think my fair odds would have him north of ten to one. He is 9-1 at betfair, but in some match up bets he is taking a little scratch. He is a favorite over Dunkirk, and he is a toss up against FF. He is underlaid in the ML and those are never good bets in a race like this. He is not going to be on my exotic tickets above the three slot. I am very interested to see what the public makes this horse at post time, as there are a ton of conflicting signals.

Dunkirk is my "what to do with" horse in exotics. I love the horse, hate the situation. He is 5-1 offshore, taking some cash. He is taking some smart money in match ups. I have trouble with the trainer having a horse at his best in this race and will reluctantly not use him on all tickets. But he is taking action and I will squeeze him in the number two slot on exotic tickets.

Square Eddie? Oh how I wish he was in this race, and sound. I had been salivating to make him my play after the Lexington. This was a year I was going to play him hard, and have not been this excited to play a horse since Closing Argument several years ago. I was very disappointed he was not in this race.

I have to move my play to a couple of others in exotics, and right now I am pretty sold on Desert Party. He is 20-1 offshore and right in the wheelhouse odds wise. I will definitely be constructing some tickets around him, but have much more due diligence to do. Another one that interests me is Musket Man, for some sort of exotics work-around.

As far as the winning mutuel goes, it is 7-5 that the payoff will be over $20.00. If that crept up a bit I think that is value, however I have not made a fair odds line yet.

My fan hat? Friesan Fire.

My gambler hat? Lord knows, but I hope I can hit something juicy and the chalk falters.

And as an added kicker? Track bias. Something to watch closely with the possible rainy skies. What a game! And what an event!

Morning Line Madness

I hate being a gambler sometime, because these things really tend to bother me, when all I should be doing is being a fan.

Driving back today from the Conference with a friend (and professional gambler) we listened to the morning line for the Derby. I Want Revenge 3-1. Dunkirk 4-1. Pioneerof the Nile 4-1. We looked at each other and the car was almost in the ditch.

Those three horses, out of 20 of them, have a 65% chance to win, according to the morning line (yes I know the ML adds rake and is made for the crowd). This is absolutely mind-boggling: The other 17 horses have a 35% chance to win? If I could ever get that in a race, sign me up.

It goes without saying that IWR will be a massive overbet and is an auto-pitch, but the other two at those odds are auto-pitches as well.

Gaming Summit

I will have a full report on the gaming summit and wagering conference once I get some time. But today one quote struck me, from Mark Davies, Managing Director of Betfair that I would like to share:

"Empirical evidence around the world undermines that argument (that operators will lose money by lowering takeout) quite dramatically," Davies responded emphatically. "Lower margin is where horse racing has to go in order to compete with all the other sports out there. Even if you are concerned about lower margin, what you should probably throw into the mix are the people who get involved at the margins because of the lower margins."


Yesterday, the quote with the most cajones was Moira Fanning, on a panel of industry insiders, speaking to industry insiders:

Moira Fanning, Director of Publicity for The Hambletonian Society, was a panelist in this session, and she admonished attendees to quit referring to harness racing as a sport.

“It’s a gaming product, so let’s call it what it is,” Fanning said. “It’s not a sport.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not Sure Why Casino's Are Popular

I am at the Wagering Conference at Caesars Windsor this week. I do not play the casino games much, and now I know why. Wow, are they hard to win at. Some tips I found out this evening: Don't bet 6 at roulette, it never wins. I don't know how to play craps, but when I bet pass it does not pass, and when I bet don't pass, it passes. Whatever that means. Thank goodness I am a horseplayer.

Anyhow, the casino is quite nice here, directly across from the Detroit skyline, which I always found to be a pretty skyline. The Gaming Summit folks are milling around and are quite prevalent. I noticed that this place has quite a few acts performing here over the next several months. The one that I had a chuckle at was Kiss. I thought Kiss was retired, for about the 94th time, but I guess once you spit blood and breathe fire it is a tough thing to give up.

I'll hopefully be back tomorrow to update some news on the panels. Kim from SC is writing stories after each one. To be quite honest the panels are good. Whether something comes out of them is the whole other story I guess.

The Horseplayers Association twitter page here will have real time updates hopefully for those of you interested in following some of the panels.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wagering Conference Panels, The ABC's

Darryl Kaplan and the crew have added some heavy hitters to the schedule. I see Mr. Bissett there from Delaware North as well as Paul Lavers, founder of Sports Direct Inc. Nice lineup.

Now, here are the ABC's. I went last year so I am using this whole one year's experience to spread that vast knowledge.

Second session:

No Holds Barred

Bettors take on racetrack execs and tell them like it is as a customer of harness racing. What do horseplayers want from racetracks? Are they getting what they want? What can racetracks offer to keep horseplayers satisfied with the product, facilities, wagering opportunities and more?

Peter Gross – Editor, Down The Stretch and Morning Sportscaster, 680 News

Erik Potek – Founder, Canadian Horseplayers Advocacy Group
Jamie Martin – Senior Vice President Racing, Woodbine Entertainment Group
Dennis Dowd – Senior Vice President Legal and Governmental Relations, New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority
Kevin Koury – Horseplayer and Horse Owner

Erik is there. He reads the blog sometimes, so that's cool, although I hope they don't hold that against him. Jamie Martin is back, and I hope Erik is nice to him. No word if CEO Nick Eaves is paying Jamie any danger pay, like a raise miner in my home town. Apparently Kevin is a younger dude who plays the Meadowlands quite a bit. This could be kind of interesting.

Next Session:

Show Me The Money

A look at a new funding model that invests 10% of purse money to revitalize the industry. How could this model help Standardbred racing and are there other racing jurisdictions that use this model? What would be the best use of this money to reenergize racing and benefit both racetracks and horse people.

Dean A. Hoffman – Owner, Hoffman Communications LLC and former Executive Editor of Hoof Beats magazine

Moira Fanning – Director of Publicity, The Hambletonian Society
Tom Brodhurst – Director, Standardbred Horse Owners Panel (SHOP)
Kathy Wade Vlaar – Manager of Industry Marketing, Standardbred Canada

Using some of the billions of slot cash to do something radical like help grow the sport? Say it ain't so! Go get 'em Moira.

Next one, which is a good one:

Think Customers First

What can harness racing do to keep customers happy in terms of racing products? How harness racing can regain former customers that have turned to thoroughbred racing. A discussion about what thoroughbred racing offers that appeals to the customers and what customers would change about harness racing.

Kathy Parker – Editor, Horseman & Fair World

Jamie Erickson – Horseplayer
Harvey Weiner – Horse owner and racing fan

Jcapper, HTR, HSH, Formulator 4; all fine thoroughbred products that allow customers to work to get an edge and make the game fun. For harness racing? We have an ink program and a relatively new invention - the pencil. This will be a good session and hopeful Erickson will have some good things to say. I don't know Harvey. He might be a Woodbine runner player.

Next interesting one:

Life After Pari Mutuel Wagering?

Is there room for other wagering platforms aside from pari mutuel wagering. Could there be a Canadian Betting Exchange and what would it take to develop one.

Jeremy Pierce – General Manager, Harness Racing PEI

Mark Davies - Managing Director Corporate Affairs, Betfair
Michael Lipton – Member, Dickinson Wright
Dean Towers – Secretary, Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA)

Very cool. Getting Mark Davies on this panel is a coup. No word on if Jeremy Pierce is bringing live lobster and a couple of cases of Keith's from PEI, but everyone can hope.

Last my fave:

4:00pm–4:50pm Racing’s Own Family Feud…Survey Says…
Find out what bettors, fans and non fans say about harness racing in this interactive game that pits Customers against Racing Execs. Who knows our customers better?

The early betting lines have "Fans" at 4-5 and "Execs" at 5-1 (should be lower odds but the takeout on the exec side must be taken into account). We'll see if we are in store for a pari-mutuel puzzler.

In all seriousness, this is a good line-up, and the "Innovation" theme is something that needs to be spoken about, from both a fan and gambling perspective. Things like the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance, Raceday 360 and more have just in the last 12 months helped this sport. We need to keep doing these things at a grassroots level, but more importantly racing itself must move forward with a funded mechanism of embracing change for new markets. I hope these panels make some headway.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunny Friday!

Woodbine voice Ken Middleton has been tracking the NA Cup eligibles on the Woodbine site and it is dandy. Unlike last year there are a whole slew of horses kept eligible. We'll see what our very own Greg comes up with as he is back this year with his own tracking list. We'll hopefully start that next week here on this blog.

Hec Clouthier, all around nice fella and Prez of OHRIA, ran a marathon last week at the age of 59. I can barely run to the refrigerator. Way to go Mr. C!

The systemic failings of the pari-mutuel system (hey, it is like 150 years old!) were explored by Ray Paulick at the RCI conference last week. This is a mess that we have to clean up, no question.

There is a chat about Pick 6 betting at going on. It is one hard to hit bet. One poster says to play them, you 'need a set'. No kidding. I have a tough enough time with pick 4's. Yesterday I play some tbred action and take a couple pick 4's: The first one at Hawthorne results in my key in leg one getting across and paying a nice $11. I hit the next two legs and I have 4 out of the 6 horses in the last leg, and they are paying between $5k and 8k. Yes, I lose. Right on cue I like one at Hollywood Park because Peter Miller's horse in the opening leg looks grand and is 13-1. I key the bomber, and he wins. I have a super ticket going; one where you think, hmmm, I might have a shot at 20k+ if I get lucky. I have three out of six horses in race 6, 5 out of 6 in race 7 and in the last leg, an all. I lose in leg two, with the 1st through third choices. It paid something like $30,000. Yep, you 'need a set' for sure to play this game.

Today California racing is meeting to discuss a takeout raise. Yes, you read that right and no you are not reading that from the In other news, GM is looking to increase the price of cars because they are not selling any, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are looking to raise some venture capital to start up a new sub-prime lending company.

If you are in the North East, enjoy the day - sunny and warm, yay!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Horses & A Deep Respect

Horses are the most amazing animals on earth. They are great athletes. They provide important therapy to disabled people. They have helped pioneers cross the country,"

These horses give you their all. No matter how hard you push them,"

"They are like the best dog you ever had. No matter how many times to discipline them or leave them home alone, they are happy to see you."

These are the comments from a Polo player after the tragic loss of 21 horses, due to possible contamination or poisoning. More.

h/t to Paulick.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday Notes

It looks like the Standardbred Wagering Conference this next week at Windsor is getting rolling. Several new interesting panelists are announced, including Mark Davies the Managing Director of Betfair, and now head of TVG.

Greg Blanchard at Woodbine has launched this years Pepsi North America Cup website. I used the 'Pepsi' part since folks now use Yum! whenever they say Kentucky Derby. The site is fantastic again this year. Kudos!

Are you ready for Mohawk? I am. I love harness racing in a rural setting. We get it next week.

Jeff Platt of the Horseplayers Association of North America was interviewed on TVG by Matt and Todd this past weekend. I know many of you are members, so here is the interview.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some Stats, Survey Time & Race Strength

Jody Jamieson has vaulted to second place among North American leading drivers this season, trailing only Aaron Merriman. In past years, unless your name is Walter Case, he who drives most wins most. Jody I think will fall short, due to stakes season this year, but it should be fun to watch. He is working his tail off.

Kentucky Derby stats. Jessica has some up via google docs. There are a lot of cool ways to play the Derby. I think you could do worse than picking the horse that fits the most criteria. I will play Derby Day, but I do not know where I will go yet. Two throwouts for me - I Want Revenge and Pioneer of the Nile. But no throw ins yet.

We have said quite many times on the blog that the world is changing. I think prime evidence of that is the Santa Anita meet this spring. Attendance was up 1%, but all source handle was down 12%. This game (from a pure revenue standpoint) in 2009 is not about getting people out to the track.

Have you picked up this months Trot Magazine? If not, you might want to. It is the horseplayer issue. There are some excellent articles, including a good one by Roy Sproxton about betting class that is a must read.

Survey Time! Click here and help out the Standardbred Wagering conference will ya? It is a good survey and kind of fun.

We spoke below about the Woodbine experiment and how I think the lack of movement is simply due to a lack of chaos, due to field depth. One poster who keeps stats on such things posted some on Pace this past week. In a nutshell, he looked at race strength at the M versus Woodbine.

In my programming I calculate a factor called field strength. Any race with a field strength 7 or above is a strong field. Last night for example at M1, races 1,2,3,5,6,10,12 ranged from 7.14 to 9.38 (9.38 = 5th race). At Wb, races 3 = 7.38 and the race 10 = 10.0.

So for the first 11 races at M1 compared to Wb's 11 races the total field strength was 80.38 versus 67.01.

Some in the Meadowlands training colony have an interesting past which bettors are well-aware. However, they do put on better races than just about anywhere.

Keith at Tripledeadheat has a photo essay on the track changes, and driver thoughts on his fine blog.

Business Models

Pirate Bay, the torrent search engine, has been found guilty of sharing files, movies, books, what-have-you illegally and the principals have been sentenced. Personally I have never been a fan of these sites, however the business person in me realizes that at the same time this is not a win for authors and producers and actors. It just seems to prolong the inevitable - an excuse to cling to old business models which have been failing.

Via Tech Dirt:

.... the entertainment industry will gleefully declare victory, and make statements about how this is a major victory against "piracy." But, in actuality, the exact opposite of that will occur. Unauthorized file sharing continues (or even increases) and it becomes that much more difficult for the legacy industries to win back customers and embrace these new, useful and efficient tools of distribution and promotion. It's a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war. The ultimate problem, of course, is that the entertainment industry still (amazingly) thinks this is a legal issue, not a business model one. It can win as many legal battles as it wants, but in thinking it's a legal issue, it will never recognize how its business models need to change.

It is difficult for me, and people like me who want to embrace all sorts of new models, to side with the entertainment industry. It is also tough for me who wants to see artists getting paid for what they do, to side with this site. It is a grey-area in both business and moral terms, in my opinion.

I think back to the 1970's when in Canada, and in the US, it cost dollars a minute to make a long distance call. The telecommunications market needed opening up, but the industry fought it. When it finally did open up, we saw tremendous innovation, much lower prices, and a changing model. Some of those "old companies" were invigorated, and as consumers we were rewarded.

I believe that the old way of distributing music and movies has to change as well. In 1999, selling a CD with 12 songs for $19.99, when the consumer wanted only one song, was good to line pockets of the sellers, but the consumer was getting the shaft, and the first chance they got to jump ship, they did. In racing we see similar - the first chance people got to join something new (poker, bookmaking sites, betfair) they did. They were finally delivering what they wanted, at a fair price, in a fun way.

Places like betfair have pushed the racing business in many ways; many of them for the better. In 2009 we can get rebates, innovative video, some free past performances, and so on. But we have a long way to go. And it is never easy when old must become new, for the businesses themselves, or for us as consumers. But I do hope racing, and the other old businesses like entertainment do realize that the reason these places exist is for a major systemic reason - their customers are not being catered to in a 21st century way.

Keith at Triple Dead Heat has his thoughts up on the Woodbine start/finish experiment. Check it out.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Experiment

Woodbine's experiment with moving the poles down the stretch a couple hundred feet has been interesting, but perhaps uneventful. The racing is not a whole lot different as many handicappers suspected. Not suspending the judges rulings on hole closings I believe completely defeats the purpose anyway. If you leave hard and are toast because you can not get a hole on the turn, all that does is stop drivers from leaving and chewing their mount. But despite that, I must say I do kind of enjoy seeing something different. Maybe it is just me?

I think the reason that these things tend not to make a difference too much is because harness racing, since about the early 1990's has become a game of pure speed. If you race on a half, on a mile track or on a straightaway, speed wins races. What tends to kill speed is one thing only, fast fractions. And fast fractions do not occur with just a racetrack configuration, or closing a hole. Fast fractions occur because of field depth.

Jcapper is a thoroughbred handicapping program that I use. There is a number associated with each thoroughbred tilt at the bottom of each sheet - the chaos number. This number is related to race volatility. If you have a 12 horse field where 8 horses speed figs are all within five of each other, and there are six horses capable of 21 opening panels, you have a high number. If you have a short field with two contenders and three doddlers, the number is low. Almost without fail, the high number guarantees a fast pace, or an interesting race.

For my 2009 database, a volatility number of under 100 yields 40% winning chalk at a high impact value. The race is a snore fest and the best horse wins. For a volatility number of over 180, faves went 134 for 609 - 22% winning chalk - pure chaos.

In harness racing, at Woodbine, there are very few chaos races. Take a field of nw2 trotters. There is one horse with speed, one decent closer and eight fillers. You will not get movement no matter what you do. The horses are incapable of movement. In a short field FFA with one speed horse, like Ramegade Bruiser, you will not get chaos, ever.

What breeds chaos? Horse population and imagination. Before Yonkers opened, the Meadowlands was chaos. Now, not so much. When Yonkers steals 40 horses a night from your roster, this is assured. Here at Woodbine we do not have the population to breed chaos, and to get it, hard choices have to be made. Choices that might not even be good for this business.

I think we need much more to make movement in harness races the norm, not the exception, and moving poles will not do the job. However, I admire people trying things like Woodbine has. If you are not at least trying to move forward in today's gambling environment, you are moving backward, so kudos for giving this a shot.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Worth Checking Out?

For the last seven race cards of the year Woodbine has decided to move the start/finish line up 235 feet closer to the turn. This makes the homestretch a whopping 1215 feet, and makes the first quarter sprint more on the turn, rather than on the straightaway.

This could be interesting. The float out/hard sprint will be replaced by more traditional gate driver dynamics, like at the Meadowlands. Will it make a difference? We'll see.

I won an inquiry last night at the Meadowlands for a ticket cash. In race 7 the promising looking Noel Daley colt Western Posse was making his '09 debut. I guess the outside post scared many away as they let him go at 7-1. The huge chalk with Andy Miller got a fairly easy lead and looked to be well on his way to victory until he made a break at the wire. He was more than one length ahead of Western Posse and not lapped on. But with the vague breaking rulings we see sometimes, they pitched him. It is nice to win bets I do not think I should win, but I wish they would explain the breaking rule in the lane more to bettors. I have been around this game for a long time and never know which way they are going to go with this rule.

During the afternoon I played a pick 4 at Keeneland. I spent a few dollars as there is usually a bomb or two in the deep Keeneland fields, the pick 4's are both usually pretty big pools, and I can find a bit of value. Chalk pick 4's and taking them are a ticket to the poor house with the takeout, so I tend to seek in those tickets. But yesterday I think I took stupidity to a new level and it was a bit maddening. In the first leg I used three horses, and a 22-1 shot came in. I was covered for the next three legs, 3 by 5 by 4. In the second leg (for some reason I am not quite aware) I used 4,7,8 but not the chalk. Sure enough, the chalk came in with my horses running 2nd through 4th. I was out and somewhat annoyed at my playing. What took the cake is leg three, where I used the winner - who paid $102. When the will pays came up I was annoyed even further. Two of my horses were paying 3 of 4. I would have been alive on two pool shots had I used a 2-1 chalk in leg two. Thankfully the chalk won the last leg and the pick 4 only paid $22,000. I had him, but it stung less. My potential pool shot horses ran 4th and 6th. This is a humbling, fascinating game. And one where second-guessing is done by everyone, which at times is hard to control even though we all know we should control it at all costs, or suffer at the windows.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Seth Merrow of writes a commentary today on the Jeff Mullins detention barn incident that happened at Aqueduct a couple of weeks ago. He believes (and he makes a good point) that much of the chatter has been blown out of proportion.

My problem with the initial coverage and subsequent reaction wasn't that the story was covered, but how it was covered. I contend the story is what it is: A detention barn violation. However it was almost immediately elevated in tone to a cautionary tale of horse-doping and a black-eye for the game -- which I don't think was fair to the racing industry.

This statement is probably true, but the reason that it is true I believe is because of the state of the industry. For 100 years or more, people have tried to get an edge in racing, oft times by nefarious means. The fan base, and the training base is sick and tired of it. It is pandemic. So when they see something like this happen, they get fired up.

Trust me, it is far worse in track and field, and especially so in cycling. If a cyclist is caught with a machine in his hotel room the night before stage one of the Tour de France and it is injecting orange juice into his veins, where orange juice is perfectly legal but not something allowed twelve hours before a stage, the outrage in European newspapers would make this Mullins incident coverage look like childs play. Reaction to an incident like that is pandemic to the sport of cycling, because of its history of doping. It is the way it is, until fans and the business feel like they are being heard, or they see progress on this front.

Not coincidentally, today Equidaily runs a piece titled "April 23rd Hearing Set in Dutrow Case". This was for a violation almost one year ago. He has not stopped training in the meantime.

We have a long way to go in the business to get people confident in it again. The Mullins incident is simply a catalyst, allowing people to vent frustrations about a much larger problem that has been around for generations. This will not be the last time we visit this topic.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Changing the Mindset & Growing Handles

A long time ago a scientist noticed that when a dog saw a lab coat, he drooled. It turns out that the scientist wore his lab coat when feeding the dog. Pavlov's work was begun and we learned all about conditioning. In racing, it turns out when a track sees a horseman group, and vice-versa, we are conditioned that there is gonna be trouble.

At Woodbine this month, negotiations between the horseman group and Woodbine are ongoing, so I hear, to strike a deal. There are a number of things at issue, namely dates, private property rights, purse distribution and so on. Those are all important issues, and I am sure they can be worked out, however, it will not be easy; it never is.

I wonder though, why not work on some common ground, and help the game at the same time?

Currently the revenue agreements banged out between these two parties are pre-1990 in nature (and this is not just here, this is the way they are done all over racing). If the takeout is 22%, the horseman’s group takes a fixed percentage (let’s say 10%) and Woodbine takes a fixed percentage (say 10%) and the rest goes to various entities. This is how I understand it anyway. So, what happens if we want a wagering sale, for example a 10% takeout pick 4 on Friday’s? We can not. The ink on the deal assures it. The horseman group is entitled to 10%, the deals are not pro-rated, and Woodbine is not a charity. We are boxed in by deals like this and if you don't believe me, look at how hard Ron Geary at Ellis Park had to work to get his 4% pick 4 done.

In other parts of the world, the funding of purses is based on gross profits. For example, betfair gives 15% of gross profits to purses, as do bookmakers. This incentivizes them to grow handle, and churn as much as possible, by finding a price point that makes them the most money. When they make the most cash, there is more cash for purses. If betfair, or a bookmaker wants to have a 4% takeout sale, they have a 4% takeout sale. They do not worry about splitting a pie at the beginning, they worry about it at the end. That is why you see decent takeouts and a more optimal system across the pond. Hong Kong is currently under a similar arrangement.

Why not here? It can be done in this small way, rather easily. All we have to do is make sure there is a provision in deals between horsepeople and tracks, where the pie is split at the end, not at the beginning. This way it can free up this business to do business.

Will this cure harness racing and its handle problems? Of course not, but it at the very least allows some promotion for some bets to the $15-20B betting market out there. And as we all know, if a ton of this money that is bet at 10% takeouts versus 20% takes, and they are bet in HPI, or other internet platforms, you will see this money churned back. If someone gets paid $2000 for a pick 4 instead of $1600, they do not stick the extra $400 in a sock. They just know that their balance is higher and they rebet it. This has been happening all over the internet betting world since the late 1990's.

The time is now perhaps, to change the funding model in the business in a relatively simple way to grow handles and catch up with the rest of the world. We are not reinventing the wheel here, we are simply trying to write a 21st century mechanism, where we can do things that everyone else in gambling has been doing for years. And in the end, finding common ground in these deals is better than the alternative that we seem to see all too often.

Monday Musings

A picture is worth a few words I hear, and these ones sure do(note they are not overly nice pictures of the neglected horses in New York). I am a bit of a sucker for taking care of horses that we bring into this world for our own financial gain. Not to mention I am an animal person (I think what very little TV I watch is dominated by Dogtown and the Dog Whisperer on Natgeo TV), so these things really bother me. I am also a realist and know that we can not take care of every horse out there, everywhere. But there has to be a better way.

George Will (h/t to Equidaily) has a piece on government intervention and the transfer of wealth to businesses who can not make it on their own, in which he includes horse racing.

Rampant redistribution of wealth by government is now the norm. So is this: This redistribution inflames government's natural rapaciousness and subverts the rule of law. This degeneration of governance is illustrated by the Illinois legislature's transfer of income from some disfavored riverboat casinos to racetracks.

On knowing who you are, what you have and appreciating it, how about golfer Kenny Perry yesterday in interviews? He just collapsed to lose the Masters at age 48. He has never won a major championship either. When asked how he is going to deal with the loss, he said "If this is the worst thing that can happen to me in life, I have had a pretty good life." I mention this because on Saturday I was watching Ramegade Bruiser win the Spring Pacing Championship. The Bruiser is owned by a small timer, and small time racing family. They purchased him for $3500 at a sale, and now he is the leading money winner in harness racing in 2009. I am sure they appreciate every day what they have and realize how fortunate they are. Looking at the beaming winners circle photo you see that.

I had a pick 4 going at Oaklawn Park last week. I had six horses in the last leg and it was not paying too badly on a couple of them. Right on cue a 75-1 shot takes the lead (who I do not have), and he looks good in the lane. Worried, I see that another horse is flying on the outside to bail me out (after all I have 90% of the other horses on my ticket). Who is it? A 45-1 shot I do not have. I could not even cheer. Those two came one-two, and I am sure I was not the only one who said "I should have taken an all" after that race.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

No Whipping Experiment - Two Hooves Up

I went to Woodbine last night and saw live for the first time the new whipping experiment, which forces drivers to keep both hands in the hand holds during the race. I would say that at this early stage, and at first glance, the program looks good.

First, I am of the belief that whipping does very little to affect the outcome of a race. I know bettors feel better when a driver "gets into them" down the lane, but I think that is all smoke and mirrors. If whipping hard was correlated to horses going faster, a driver like [insert name here from a B track] would be this sports all time winningest. I think this was proven last night. The times were all the same for the classes, despite the cold winds and so on. No horse won or lost last night due to the whip, or lack of it.

Second, in Europe the races look like this and they have had these rules for generations. It looked fine. The lack of aggression down the lane was noticed.

Third, outside you could not hear loud cracks. At Mohawk or at another summer track with spectators that are close to the action I think this will be even more noticeable.

I know the drivers don't like this rule, as a rule. They are doing something they have never had to do, and this is human nature. But overall, Zeke gives this experiment two hooves up.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring Weekend

Spring seems to be here, finally. It is sunny and nice today (still a bit brr though), as was yesterday.

Speaking of spring, the Spring Pacing Championship goes tonight at the Bine. The purse is $87,000. I think many of the open events for aged pacers are watered down nowadays. Back about 20 years ago the FFA went for $12,000 around these parts and this series (it was called a few things over the years) always commanded a high purse, relative to the regular FFA. I think we have to start thinking outside the box a little with this, and become a bit more like the Levy. My suggestion? Make the winter FFA's go for $45,000 and pop $5000 each week into a pot. Promote that to horsepeople south of the border and see if we can not get a few more folks up for the weekly FFA. Then at the end of winter run the spring championship with seeded purses. If we can get this series up to a 150-175k final I think more people would participate.

Both thoroughbreds and standardbreds need better aged events. I am looking through the calendar for what is out there and I see millions for 3YO's and not very much for older. A sea-change in this regard is needed, in my opinion.

There is a cool use of Twitter out there for t-bred players - the Carryover twinkle. It lists all the carryovers and alerts players to them.

I think I have an idea for a good twitter page, by the way - the Bad Bet Twitter. It works like this: Each time I go to make a bad bet, the little bird on Twitter comes and pecks me in the face.

Grand River Raceway in the gem of a town Elora, Ontario is opening for their season. Grand River has good racing, and they try very hard there. If you play harness and want to look for a new venue to throw a few dollars at, Grand River is a good spot.

"I told them, 'You need to get somebody out here because if I catch them I'm going to kill them." Those were the words of a Navy Seal to a 911 operator while chasing down the nutbars that shot his dog. If we ever need a little reminder how we in this business must attack the cruelty issues at all costs, that's it. People love animals and want them treated well. The end.

Speaking of issues like that, the Ernie Paragallo story keeps rolling. He is apparently now charged, according to the Paulick Report.

That's it for today. Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Having a Passion for What is Right

Foolish Pleasure today:

Horse racing doesn’t need we bloggers to give it a black eye. Through its archaic attitudes and insular fiefdoms, general (and pervasive) lack of respect for horseplayers and fans through high take-out rates and lack of free access to the most basic past performance information, tolerance of medicinal abuse by successful trainers backed by wealthy hedge fund investors and disbarred lawyers convicted of scamming clients, stories of horrific animal abuse by prominent owners and collusive tolerance for broken down claimers sent quietly to slaughter—the sport is doing a fine job of self-destruction.

The passion is palpable, as it is with many fans in this sport. Why? The easy answer is that most are horse owners, bettors, or horse lovers who want to see everyone treated with respect and the game grow. But that is a White House press secretary answer, not the real one.

If you get sick to your stomach when you see a horse break down, you are one.

If you see a trainer get sent packing for EPO or animal abuse and you want him never to train again, you are one.

If the phrase 'kill pen' is one that makes you quiver, you are one.

If are tired of the gambling world passing our game by, you are one.

If it disheartens you to the core when a fly-by-night training operation is given horses by the who's who of the business with zero due diligence, while a talented, ethical horsemen can barely put food on his table, you are one.

If you believe that when someone buys a horse he/she has a responsibility to keep that horse safe by choosing the right people to take care of it, and to be responsible for it when its racing days are over, you are one.

What are you? You are a someone with a deep passion for horse racing.

And our game needs more of you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Whipping Change at Woodbine & the Old Argument

Be prepared for something different starting Thursday when watching the races.

The Ontario Racing Commission has announced that for a two week period starting Thursday, April 9 the drivers at Woodbine Racetrack will be required to drive the entire mile with a line in each hand.

Let's hope if drivers try other edges it is watched for. Regardless, it should be interesting to see this change, and how it is perceived.

In other Woodbine news, they are still on the ban online wagering bandwagon. I assume because they want relief of some sort from government. This $200 million dollar figure they throw around gives me a slight chuckle. Where did they get that number from? Who knows. All I do know is that in 1999 Sony Music had the same stance ("Well, we didn't want to see the future." said [Sony's lawyer] Mr. Gordon. It turns out the strategy was to sue, not partner and realize the world changed), and we all know how that turned out. As Cangamble noted, I do like this spaghetti analogy by a gaming analyst:

Holmes made her point in an effort to prod lawmakers into creating stiff barriers against online casinos. But OCA gaming analyst Sherman Bradley interprets the data in a different way.

"If you sell spaghetti out of can, and then people desert you and flock to a restaurant that sells awesome homemade spaghetti, it wouldn't make sense to ask legislators to ban homemade sauce. Instead, you'd have to find ways to upgrade your product," said Bradley.

What Sherman does not know is that in racing it is much easier to ask for government help rather than work on our product. This has happened virtually everywhere since the late 1990's and it has snowballed, resulting in stagnating handle and a non-energized customer base.

Some Serious Props

Paulick is doing great work. Not only did he dig, and dig deep into the horse slaughter issue recently regarding a horse owner, now he shifts to researching items in the Mullins detention barn case. He is not afraid to ruffle some feathers and strike at the heart of one of the most basic problems in racing - ethics.

Arthur opted not to comment to the Paulick Report on the Mullins investigation being conducted by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. In 2005, however, he made the following observations about Mullins to John Scheinman in the Washington Post, saying Mullins was a good trainer who didn’t have a clear sense of ethics: “It’s an attitudinal problem, and those things are hard to overcome,” Arthur said. “It’s basic ethics is what it is. The bottom line is [Mullins] basically lives in his own world, and you can tell by his comments that’s the case. He’s oblivious to everything around him and does things his own way and thinks it’s right.”


Tuesday, April 7, 2009


From this months Horseplayer Edition of Trot Magazine, "What a Horseplayer Wants":

Would you invest in the stock market if your broker took $2,500 off the top from every $10,000 you invested? If not, then re-evaluate the takeout. Rather than explaining why rate cuts hurt your business, be creative. Start by offering one low-takeout bet a night and promote it aggressively. Advertising changed when Google began charging five cents a click. Music changed when Apple’s itunes began billing 99 cents a song. Classified sales changed when Ebay started charging a few dollars to reach the world. Horse racing will change when stakeholders appreciate why Google, Apple and Ebay are successful at what they do.

To read other horseplayer tendencies, click here.

Anyone play Tampa today for the HANA Pick 3? I did. I stunk, but someone made some cash. The pick 3 came in at 11k. The pools were juiced as well, upwards of 125%.

Ray Paulick has been on a story regarding horse slaughter this week and it has been making headlines, most recently in the New York Times.

The Jeff Mullins detention barn story has legs. Virtually all the chatter has been focused on not the infraction itself, but the stupidity of it. Harness trainers, is it not like walking and chewing gum at the same time to know that you do not bring a syringe into the D?

Breeders Crown 2010 - All on the Same Card

It was announced this past week that in 2010 the Breeders Crown will be switching from their previous format, to a same day one. Fans have been long calling for this change, and for those old enough, they have seen it before (the early Crowns were on the same day), and appeared to like it.

Pocono Downs is the 2010 venue, and this shifts to Woodbine in 2011. It takes cold hard cash to host a BC event, and those two jurisdictions have it. For 2010 at Pocono, it represents another shift. The card will be held on the same days at the Breeders Cup.

Say what?

Chatting with the Hambletonian Society's Moira Fanning she relayed that this is not some kind of grand plan, it was the only one. The Red Mile Grand Circuit is in full-force in October (and host in 2010 of the World Equestrian Games which made choosing the Mile impossible that year), and late October is optimum. That's where Pocono and the scheduling came in.

"The Breeders Crown needs two weeks to race elims and finals. So now we [only] have left the Saturdays of Oct. 30, Nov. 6 and Nov 13. We chose Oct. 30 [elims] and Nov. 6 [finals] despite the fact the Breeders Cup was Nov. 6." she wrote.

In addition the local media market for the smaller town of Wilkes-Barre is something that was considered.

"Going against Breeders Cup is not ideal. However It is more plausible in a smaller media market like Wilkes-Barre than it would be in Toronto or the Meadowlands. At the press conference for the new paddock and meet opening last week, Mohegan Sun drew 3 local TV affiliates and a couple of newspaper reporters [yes, they do still exist!!] as well as several other media types.

The Breeders Crown will be a very big event for Mohegan Sun- $7 million in purses, they likened it to the World Series or the Super Bowl. The most they have ever had in the last 20 years were the Hempt Stakes and last year a one-year venue for the Adios while the construction went on at The Meadows. "

So there we have it. Pocono Downs, 2010, all on one card.

My thoughts? Surprise, I have several.

One, I like the smaller market for this series. Harness racing is small market; it is what we are. The glitter of the Breeders Cup is not harness racing, so we do not need Hollywood stars or New York glitz. If this event could be held at the Charlottetown Driving Park it would get more buzz, and more play than at Madison Square Garden. We can not be what we are not, and we are not the Breeders Cup. It should not be marketed or run as such. So Pocono and Mohegan is a good choice, in my opinion.

Two, I like the fact that we are trying them all in one day again. With slots and simulcasting this series needs a hook. We see these horses all the time, and almost every track has a big race. It is no longer as interesting as it once was to see good horses race (like long ago when if Cam Fella came to your town you went and saw him because you never had seen him race, ever). Bringing everyone in the sport together for one day is special, and if marketed well, and correctly it can bring people out and energize them again.

Last, I personally like the fact that it is on BC day. Not for the reason Moira alludes to (happenstance) but for the marketing possibilities. Not old-time marketing where an ad is run at Santa Anita or Churchill saying "come watch the Harness Crown tonight", but for the new marketing that is out there. Buzz can happen, but does not happen on its own.

As for some concerns I have read, yes, the takeouts at Pocono are insane. I do not know one serious player that plays racing in Pennsylvania without a rebate, and I highly doubt many will jump to play exotics on this day. If I were doing something with Pocono I would be armtwisting the ADW's to offer huge rebates for this day in their platforms. Twinspires is making close to 28% on exotics there, as is HPI and everyone else. Speaking with one ADW owner about this, he said to me "there is no reason that you can not give a pile of that back in some way because the take is so high, and the signal cost so low." So, if that happens, there is some free promo. If it does not, get yourself an ADW that is rebating to play this card.

We need change in harness racing, very big change. Any change is good change as far as I am concerned, and if done right this can help the game grow, and put the Breeders Crown on a higher pedestal than it has been in recent years.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Good Points, Mullins II & Spencer

Rebecca commented below a point which we hear on harness backstretches virtually everywhere:

"Seeing as you have brought up the Mullins thing I want to throw out a theory. Does anyone think that the rise in handle on Harness racing at Woodbine can be slightly attributed to the fact that finally after so many years of the T-breds looking squeaky clean that now that their dirty laundry (i.e. Mullins, Dutrow etc)is getting out and looking really bad, maybe we look like the better option? At least we have a history of this crap and some semblance of real punishment. (Aka the Robinson ban from WEG.) Just a real far out thought but I have followed T-breds very loosely from a fan perspective for years and can never remember so many drug issues actually making the news."

It has long been said that harness racing is dirty as compared to thoroughbred racing. This, in my opinion, is totally false. There are bad people in each of the sports, but in harness we are in your face about it, as over the years we have had to be. Could you imagine in harness racing what would happen if someone was caught in Ontario with snake venom? Sayonara baby. You are done for ten years, or more. Anyhow, it has always stuck in my craw that harness gets a bad rap. It is unfair. We are just much tougher and more transparent.

Ray Paulick has a post on Mullins and his infractions here today. The comments are pretty vitriolic. And not just from bettors, from industry insiders and fellow horsemen.

Who writes a harness racing blog post containing social media, rock concerts, getting spat on, and placenta as the main themes? Kelly Spencer that's who. It is a strangely clever and interesting story. Grand River is lucky... I think :)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Big Hit, Mullins & a Sale with 3% Takeout

The pick 6 was finally hit last night at the Meadowlands. Over $900,000 was bet into the carryover to make it the largest pool ever at the M.

I hit four. I tossed Andy Miller in the first leg so I did not have to worry about cheering for anything. A couple of friends hit 5. One in the US, one in Canada. The one in the US did better as he did not have to pay the 'special fee' that is charged up here.

Oh, oh, trainer Jeff Mullins is in trouble this past weekend. The fellow who had some not nice names for bettors..... get this:

“Our stewards are investigating an incident inside NYRA’s detention barn on Saturday afternoon,” Mahoney said. “NYRA security personnel advised the stewards that Mr. Mullins was observed attempting to administer an over-the-counter product called Air Power to [Gato Go Win] in the security barn. He had also apparently taken a syringe into the security barn.

The IAEH boys are involved in this one as well, as I Want Revenge is a Mullins trainee.

“I can’t make any judgments. I just hope that whatever story evolves doesn’t take away from the performance of I Want Revenge. I went through this last year [with Big Brown and trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.], and it’s disturbing to me again that attention could be taken away from the horse.”

Dude, your trainer went into a security barn (allegedly) with a syringe and bottle of Air Power. What the hell do you think is going to happen?

In further news, 3% takeouts are happening with the gambling economy faltering. Unfortunately they are for slot machines. (h/t to Equidaily).

Had you there for a second huh?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Reminder to Get Capping

For those who don't know there is a large carryover at the Meadlowands tonight in the Pick 6. I am starting to cap this card now, but I luckily have until race 4 to get it done.

Good luck.

......... wow.... 426k carryover until tomorrow. I hit 3 of 6 on my ticket tonight. I am not great at math, but I think that is not overly good.

Props To Keeneland

The Keeneland meet starts today in the t-breds. They are almost always the first to do something in this business. This meet, Keeneland has hired horseman and bettor (a good one) Joe Riddell to provide live paddock reports via Twitter. He can be accessed here for you youngins using the twinkies.

Speaking of Twitter, Google is apparently in talks to acquire them as reported this morning.

Marketing, Marks and Fractions

Marketing blog thought for the day.

You can no longer market to the anonymous masses. They're not anonymous and they're not masses. You can only market to people who are willing participants.

Three years from now, this advice will be so common as to be boring. Today, it's almost certainly the opposite of what you're doing.

That is generally the simple concept of 21st century marketing. It is why newspapers can not charge thousands for an ad any longer. There are more effective ways to market now and it is why permission and targeted marketing spending via the web was up in Q4, while everything else was taking a bath. Businesses are not spending this way because they want to show their friends a neat google ad on their laptop at a pool party, they do it because it works.

Hey how 'bout Bob Marks, Manager at Perretti Farms? He is (partially) interviewed on harness racing today in the Guelph paper. I generally like Bob's opinion. He is a breeder, but also cut his teeth as a bettor. Far too often we have only one opinion represented from the horseman side and we need someone with more than one perspective and Bob tends to fit that bill. One item we have mentioned here before he agrees with:

Further, Marks said judges often aren't trained to protect the bettors' best interests. He believes the betting customer should not only be heard more, a professional handicapper should be empowered at each track to aid the judges in officiating the sport.

I was watching Turfway out of the corner of my eye today. I heard the first fraction of 28.3 and wondered what in the heck was going on. It was a 2 mile race. The half was 55.3, the three quarters 123.3 and the mile 153.2. It is bizarre to hear those fractions in a runner race. I guarantee you that thoroughbred players watching the race were having a tough time doing the math with those fractions, whereas we were reciting the quarter splits off the top of our heads....... sheesh, with a 55 middle half no wonder they only came home in 29.4, huh? :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Buzz

Jessica links to a news feed story graph for Kentucky Derby buzz. 2009 is like a turtle. Slow and steady does not win the race with buzz. This year the mainstream press is not covering the Derby as it has. This is unfortunate for racing knuckleheads like us, but even more disconcerting is that this year looks like it will be a good race and the crop looks solid. I think we'll have to be more proactive in promoting these days. Simply offering something in racing does not guarantee it will be covered.

They're in the Gate looks at TV ratings compared to other sports this last weekend, and racing. We got our butts kicked by figure skating. I do not think TV is the way to go. People can not get hooked on watching racing via that medium any longer. Our game, because it allows betting legally is our hook for interactivity. If you do not do something to link the two, I think we will be spending money frivolously with zero ROI. If you look at Sweden and its V75 (the weekly pick 7 that is akin to a lottery sold everywhere), they have huge interest in the race day via broadcast. Why? People are playing the V75 and want to see how they do. I would submit, per capita this is the most highly rated racing broadcast for harness in the world. The buzz created with this spins off to commercials, and damn good ones. This is not 'come watch harness racing and play the V75', this is 'play the V75 and come watch harness racing'. This is not a subtle difference and in my opinion we have this backwards in North America.

The population of Sweden is just a bit larger than the population of the Greater Toronto area/Golden Horseshoe. They had a $35M pot for one of the V75's this past year.

Nice buzz for Will Rogers last week for HANA. This week? Everyone can play, including Canadians in their HPI accounts. Tampa Bay Downs.

I am half way done looking and jotting some thoughts down on Breeders Crown 2010 at Pocono.

Lastly, Greg has been found. Thankfully Luc has not put him to work cleaning stalls. He is back in Pittsburgh, lounging around watching TVG or somethin'. He's safe and sound.

Woodbine Smash up, Epilogue

Dave Perkins of the Toronto Star updates us on the drivers hurt in the massive Woodbine pile up a month ago.

What was it Roger Mayotte said, while lying on the track at Woodbine a month ago with three fractures in his upper right arm and a suspected cracked pelvis?

"Get me out of here, we're holding up the card."

Harness horsemen are tough as nails.

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