Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why Aren't Saddle Pads Uniform?

I am at simulcast centers sometimes, playing a few races on the massive rows of TV's. Some thoroughbred, some harness. It amazes me how I have to "switch my brain" between watching the little bitty horses on the televisions between the breeds, because of saddle pads. I don't know how many times I have bet the two horse at Mountaineer and cheer a white saddle pad - a victory; then at the same time I have bet the two horse at Mohawk and look up in time to see the white saddle pad jogging in victory there too. A double score!

Except that the white saddle pad belongs to the three horse at Mohawk.

Why are saddle pad colors different in harness and thoroughbreds? I have no idea.

I wonder how the first conversation went (let's say the thoroughbreds had their choice first, which I do not know for sure), when deciding in harness to pick saddle pad colours.

"OK, let's make the one horse red"

Bettor: "Same as the runners, correct, red"

"We should make the two blue. It rhymes."

Bettor: "Blue? The two horse in the runners is white and the three is blue. We have crossover fans, so why not make them the same? Why would we want to confuse our players?"

"I like blue. Blue for two."

Perhaps Dr. Seuss was the first harness racing commissioner.

It seems pretty simple. With simo-centers dotting the landscape, people watching both breeds on Twinspires TV, or on small windows media player screens one would think we would want to have coordinated saddle pads.

Someone should call for a commission. We could get it done in six or seven years, if we hurry.

3YO's - Not Getting Any Clearer; and Whipping Rules

The Hoosier Cup raced this Saturday and was won by Mr. Wiggles. The time was a slow 152.1 off a very fast half. Barber Pole was buried in a bad spot for most the of the mile, but did shake loose wide, late. He could not make up much ground, however, and I was not overly impressed.

The NJSS final for 3YO's was raced last night and Dial or No Dial got the job done, as chalk. He had a good trip and was also not overly impressive to me.

We have not seen Well Said yet, but right now I think it is pretty apparent that we were spoiled last year with the glut of talent.

Stormaway won the Molson Pace on Friday in a pari-mutuel shocker. It was a pretty exciting race. The news from the races aftermath shows the state of the game - whipping and sturrup fines for a few in the race. The ORC is about to change whipping rules, and it appears they are doing the right thing in advance of that - calling everything to the letter of the law. This is the only way we can see a smooth transition. I see (if I am reading it correctly) that if a driver does something illegal to win a race, that horse may be placed back. Can you imagine the first time a driver does that and then has to feel the wrath of the owner and trainer afterwards? It will not be pretty. I hope the ORC keeps this up in advance of the rule, as it is a fair thing to do.

The Ellitlopp goes in about twenty minutes, so I will be tuning in for that. It is always fantastic to watch.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Plenty to Watch this Weekend

This weekend should be more than interesting.

Tonight: The Molson Pace. Free program here (opens in a pdf).

Tomorrow, dual heats for the Hoosier Cup.

USFL, WHA...... Chester

The New Jersey Generals sign Herschel Walker. The LA Express sign Steve Young. The Hartford Whalers sign Gordie Howe.

Thank goodness the NFL and NHL actually had some power structure, because when the stars are signed to alternate leagues, the broader sport suffers. They found a way to either merge, or wait for an implosion.

Unfortunately, the hodge-podge that is racing can not stop this from happening in our sport.

The Meadowlands, Churchill Downs, Keeneland are all brands. When they falter, the sport falters. With slots and entries being peeled off to lesser tracks, that do not have a brand (yes, I know we have seen and heard this before here and elsewhere), it does the sport no good.

There is no better example of this than the Meadowlands and Chester. The Meadowlands is harness racing; when someone mentions the sport, the M is the track that they think of. In contrast, a harness fan was watching the races with me the other day and a race from Chester came on. He asked "where is Chester anyway?" My answer, "Chester is a track that all the drivers now race at, and all the best horses go to race."

"OK, but where is it?"

On Wednesday night there were some god awful races at the Meadowlands. Half the drivers were names that rarely, if ever, even drive at the Meadowlands. Tonight I watched the first few races at the M and they were seven horse fields that would not be carded at that racetrack on their worst day. Flipping over on HPITV to Chester I saw all the big name trainers and drivers racing. The problem? They were racing in front of no one. Everyone was inside pulling a handle on a machine, and real fans were watching the Meadowlands.

Chester is the USFL. The Meadowlands is the big league. The problem is, there is no one in charge to stop the insanity. When we have the best horses and drivers at tracks that no one watches, and our top brand suffers, it is simply another nail in the coffin for our sport. In case you have not noticed, harness racing can not afford to operate in a sub-optimal fashion.

Chester, Pocono and Yonkers should be running short stakes meets and that is all. The Meadowlands should be this sports beacon, for promotion, and for marketing. If there was someone in charge this would have been done long ago. Sooner or later this sport is going to have to decide if slots are a welfare scheme for horseman and for drivers (many of whom make more money than a surgeon, while driving a horse in front of an empty grandstand), or there to grow the sport of racing. If they decide to do the former, just send people checks and tell them to stay home, if it is the latter, start working towards doing something about it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

ORC Judges Get Tough; and Speedy Rocks!

The ORC handed down two fines in the Upper Canada Cup final raced on the weekend for whipping, and feet out of stirupps, to leading driver Jody Jamieson. A scan of the fines and suspensions list lately has been one fine after another for whipping, and hock infractions. It seems the ORC judges have been instructed to rule by the rulebook. Things that have been commonplace with drivers, especially the younger ones, is no longer being tolerated it seems. This has ignited quite a bit of chatter on

Louis the Whip, frequent commenter here, often gives me some B track horses he likes, just in case our stable is not flat broke (very rarely) and wants to make an offer for one. Two years ago he told me about Speedy Desperado, a 7 year old trotter racing for Robert Wilcox. I immediately loved this horse. No, I had not seen him race, but with a name like that how could he not kick ass? I checked a few replays and I agreed the horse looked like a possible buy and gave Mr. Wilcox a call, hoping he wanted to sell. He said 'this horse is like a pet to us so we can not part with him'. It turns out he was a pet who got over some problems to actually become a racehorse and they loved the guy. How in the hell can you not wish those folks success? And success they had with him; he went over the 100k mark, not bad for a mom and pop horse. I know we would have treated him well should he wanted to sell, but I hope Speedy knows he has a good life with those owners.

Harness racing tends to be a dichotomy. For every whipping fine we have a story like Speedy Desperado. I hope they get rid of whips one day, because writing blog posts about people like Mr. Wilcox is much more fun.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Social Media and Ads Evolve in...... Racing!

In 2001 Google created their Adwords program, where what you typed in google, triggered an ad to be served. The little boxes, with just text, has made google what it is. Almost all of their revenue comes from this one simple idea. After some time passed, they created a contextual ad network, where if a reader was reading a story on a news site about red socks, an ad in the network would be triggered from a company selling red socks. Once again, fairly simple - and effective.

Social media has been trying their best to serve ads in a way that promotes a niche, as all advertising is becoming niche on the world wide web. It has been difficult. On the racing blog networks we might see ads for many things unrelated for example. Until now.

Dana Byerly from Green But Game is a new fan. She is not like me, and many of you who contribute here by reading and commenting. She did not grow up with a red pen at a racetrack. She did not go visit family racehorses as a young person. As a new fan, and a web person she brings a unique perspective to racing. Her and her partner have recently created the Hello Race Fans ad network for racing websites. The little box on the right of this blog is an example of this, and several racing advertisers will be rotated. I set this up because this makes sense, and I want this to succeed. Why? Because if it grows it can promote racing within, and outside racing.

A small aside, as an example? I clicked the West Point Thoroughbreds link who is one of their advertisers. I have never been to that website before; but I went and was very interested in their partnerships. It looks well-run, they use trainers that have impeccable credentials and whom are known for their integrity, and look completely like something I would be interested in.

I think harness folks should take advantage of this for at the very least a test. Promoting harness to the thoroughbred sites in the network might be a good thing. We hear a radio ad for harness from time to time, sent out to the masses. Why not strike to serving a group of racing people that are at least pre-qualified to enjoy racing, rather than spending money to only the masses, who probably are not? As Seth Godin said recently, linked from here on this blog, "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."

I wish Dana and Adam the best with this venture. If you see an ad here, visit the site. You'll know one thing, it won't be landing on a credit report site, or a referral website for viagra, it will be landing on something we are interested in - a racing one. They might not be bringing racing to google with this, but they are bringing a little bit of google to racing, and that has to be a good thing.

Good on Ya, Free Data and Sick Horses

Nick Boyd, trainer of ours for a few of our horses the past few years had a feature in a little paper in Fergus, Ontario today. Nick then went out and won two races at Grand River this evening. That's a huge day for a small stable, so way to go Nick, and remember your own advice from the blog post you wrote earlier this year :)

Louis the Whip and Greg the Pitt were doing some chatting on Greg's North America Cup Top Ten below. This is one tough year to pick talent, in my opinion. For the record, my top three would be Barber Pole, Well Said and Drop Red. But that could change in a weeks time with this bunch. I am totally pitching Barber Pole's last race. He should have won that race by open lengths with his talent. There is no doubt in my mind he will be a big force.

Shadow Play's disappointing 5th place at Western Fair in the Molson Pace elim has been attributed to sickness. Not unlike last year when Beach came home in 29 and change at Mohawk, any handicapper worth his salt knew something was up with Shadow. But as handicappers we rarely get this news. As a horse owner this news is commonplace. Hearing the next day the blood came back with a high white cell count usually places one's mind at ease after a poor showing. I wish somehow we made this public, however, as I think it would help explain some form reversals to cappers.

What is most interesting to me perhaps with Shadow Play, is that many times in this business, horses do not come back good at times after the winter break. I remember watching Doonbeg, the lil Ontario champ come back at four and I was not impressed. Some 'cappers were chalking it up to not "being tight" or the well-overused "3YO to 4YO transition" excuse, but it was clearly not the case. There are a great many other examples. I am certainly not saying this is occurring with SP, but I can say I will be watching his next start closely. This is not your everyday horse, and if he is back to last year's talent, in his next start he will explode and leave no detractors, and will need no excuses.

The Molson Pace final goes on Friday. A free program is available here for free tomorrow, and HPI, Premier Turf Club and other ADW's are covering the tilt. With Foiled Again a little outside, this might be a good race for 280k.

If you are a software person, or a writer of programs, Trackmaster is offering a free year of harness data as test data. It's about time this is done. I remember trying to get a years of data several years ago. It would have cost me $4000. Needless to say I did not pursue it, and thoroughbred wagering took more of my bankroll at about that time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Greg's North America Cup Contenders

NA Cup Top Ten- Mission Impossible

Like my buddy who runs this blog said in his latest post, this year’s three-year old colt and gelding pace crop has been very tough to figure out. The picture a month out from the North America Cup remains cloudy, but I have done my best to put together the top ten this week with a bunch of new additions as some horses step their games up.

1. Well Said (last week #1). Well Said still hasn’t made a pari-mutuel start yet this year, but I’ll leave him number one based on three excellent-looking qualifiers so far. The latest one for the son of Western Hanover took place on May 21 at the Meadowlands when he rocketed first-over on the turn and sprinted home in 26.3 to win by over lengths in 1:50.3.

2. Dial Or Nodial (last week #4). This son of Western Ideal had a very good 2009 debut on May 23 at the Meadowlands in a division of the New Jersey Sire Stakes. Tim Tetrick gave him a second-over trip, but had to pull three-wide early when his cover stalled. Despite that, Dial Or Nodial blasted home in 26 seconds flat to just miss by half a length to a horse (Ideal Danny) who tripped out from the pocket.

3. Barber Pole (last week #2). I had to drop Barber Pole down a notch this week based on his fifth place finish in his Max Hempt elimination on May 16, but I still think he might have the most up-side of any colt on the list. I haven’t seen any reports from George Teague, but I will assume the son of Badlands Hanover was sick or just didn’t like Pocono.

4. Drop Red (last week unranked). I probably should have had this son of 2002 North America Cup winner Red River Hanover on the list last week, but I’ll try to make amends by giving him the number four slot. After a second-place finish in the Berry ’s Creek on May 9 at the Meadowlands, Drop Red has back-to-back wins in New Jersey Sire Stakes action, including a 1:50.4 mile capped off with a 26.4 kicker last Saturday night.

5. Art Colony (last week #5). Art Colony qualified for the first time on May 22 at Mohawk, and while the mile was only in 1:56, I have to believe based on his two-year old performances that there was plenty left in the tank. I don’t think Pull The Pocket is a big fan of this horse, but I respect his connections way too much to discount him.

6. Annieswesterncard (last week #7). This Western Hanover gelding hasn’t raced since his Berry ’s Creek win on May 9, but he gets bumped up due to some defections from the list. Top notch connections here make Annieswesterncard very dangerous next month.

7. Johnny Z (last week unranked). This year’s Max Hempt champion makes the list this week at number seven. Got away with a soft 56 second half in the Hempt final over the sloppy going, but sprinted home nicely in the back-half and fended off a two-pronged attack in the stretch. He will give George Teague another horse in the Cup.

8. Stonebridge Terror (last week unranked). This son of Western Terror swept home from “Waybacksville” to win the inaugural Upper Canada Cup at Georgian Downs last Saturday night. He was excellent in his elimination as well, so his performance in the final, despite the late break by the leader, was no fluke.

9. Waffles And Cream (last week unranked). This son of Western Terror also charged home from far back to finish third-placed-second in the Upper Canada Cup. Very lightly raced, but has been superb in both starts from off the pace so far this year, and has the high-powered Tracy Brainard/Bulletproof Enterprises connection behind him.

10. Vertigo Hanover (last week unranked). I had this son of The Panderosa in the top ten the first time, and then he folded on the lead in the Berry ’s Creek. I’m not sure that’s where he likes to be though, and he showed that on Saturday night as he came home in 26.3 out of the pocket to win a three-year old open at Mohawk. This is another horse with former North America Cup connections in trainer Duane Marfisi and owner Aaron Waxman.

Dropping out of the list this week were Major In Art and Nebupanezzar, both of those colts are injured, and we wish them a speedy recovery; Chasin Racin, who also didn’t race well at Pocono like Barber Pole; Arctic Warrior, who had no pace to chase in the Max Hempt final, but still has a lot of talent, and Fast Pay, who disappointed me in the Upper Canada Cup elimination and consolation.

I am watching a pair of lightly raced three-year olds at Mohawk as well. The first is Keep It Real (Real Artist), who charged home in 26.3 in his first start from Truro (sound familiar?) to win a non-winners of one race at Mohawk on Sunday evening. The other is Manhattan Blue Chip (Art Major) who went right down the highway to win a similar event in 1:52.2 on Monday at Mohawk. This is a bit late for these late-starting horses usually, but this field appears very wide-open right now, and we could be looking at a Tell All or Rogue Hall-type year where these horses are very live.

A Poor Three Year Old Crop?

Last year at this time the three year old season had fans abuzz. North of the border, fans were anticipating the return of Somebeachsomewhere (it took the US folks awhile to warm up to the colt), and we already had several good quality colts like Art Official winning races. In addition, Breeders Crown winner Santanna Blue Chip was prepping nicely. We were set for a big, big year. And the colts delivered.

This year, not so much. Only one horse has popped, and that was Barber Pole. Well Said qualified well and we will see him soon.

Greg will be back with his NA Cup Top X sometime in the next bit and I will post it up, but frankly I am really hoping we see a colt step up soon, or this year might be one of those which we will forget pretty quickly. As I said here on the blog last year, I am looking forward to the trotters, especially the big horse, and I see nothing in the headlines so far that changes that thought.

Give Allan a visit, will ya?

Allan emailed today a story he wrote on his blog, and I pass the link along. He just started his blog and he has commented several times here. Give him a visit or two. We need all the people we can talking harness racing.

"We love him and he’s been very good to us, so we will be very good to him.”

A quote from the owner of millionaire Georgia Pacific, who is racing him in protected classes in Maine. We need more people like this in harness racing. Horses are horses, not commodities.

Books and more books

I should have some decent book reviews over the next while, if you are interested. I have received an advance copy of a money management book, and my buddy who is a professional gambler gave me about six or seven books last week that he said were all good. In addition, while meeting him at Mohawk tonight to see one of our stables horses go, he passed along a couple more. Maybe I can relay a thing or two that might be helpful to us in making a little more money at the game. I have finished a couple, and hopefully will have them all done by next week if work does not get in the way.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Technology Panel for Racing? How About Right Now?

Clayton Christensen, Harvard management guru and author, has written some fine books. Perhaps his finest, The Innovator's Dilemma, discusses why large companies fall behind start-ups who have filled a niche, and capitalized on new markets.

In a nutshell, old business (in any time, really) fall prey to what he calls "disruptive technologies". These technologies are faster, easier, cheaper and niche oriented, until one day they are no longer filling a niche - they become mainstream. The large firms on the other hand, are dominated by "sustaining technologies" which are incremental to their business. In racing, a sustaining technology would have been telephone betting, or adding a superfecta. In contrast, for poker, it has all been one big disruptive technology - taking an old game and making it different.

The reason this tends to occur lies in the fact that a large business can innovate and can be disruptive, however the marketing department, and accounting departments see little reason to. First, the marketing department's answer to any disruption is "our existing customers do not want it". Second, the accounting department says "we can not model sales because the data in incapable of being modeled." For a parallel think Betfair in 2000 when they came to racing. Racings marketers said "our existing customers will not like it"; the accounting department said "cannibalization".

New companies on the other hand who embrace disruptive technology have a different mindset. Because they are smaller, they only need to grow with a niche. This is exactly what Betfair did, what fantasy football did, what poker sites did.

Does that mean that existing businesses can not do anything at all to find and embrace new ways of doing things, and create their own "disruptive technologies?" Not according to the author. He tables examples of how these companies many times have created new technologies (for example, Seagate who in the 1980's created a smaller disk drive, they just did not run with it), but because they were placed under the same corporate umbrella, they tended to fail.

His solution is simple - take it out from under the umbrella and let the innovators roll.

For racing this would mean something pretty simple: an off book technology panel, funded from a central organization, or the racetracks. This panel would find out what might work tomorrow, and instead of going to a Board of Directors that would look at them like they were from Mars, their ideas would be embraced in a positive, yet business oriented way.

Will we have a tech panel for racing to try and grow this great sport to tomorrow's customer today? Probably not. But make no mistake, with storage capacities growing exponentially, with 4 year olds surfing the internet, with faster and faster processor speeds, if we keep working on sustaining technologies, rather than disruptive ones, our market share will continue to decline.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Upper Canada Cup - Trying to Start a Tradition

Last night at Georgian Downs the inaugural Upper Canada Cup was contested. The $480k pot went to Jack Darling's Stonebridge Terror driven by the Croatian Sensation Mike Saftic, in a thrilling stretch drive.

What the video does not show is the work that went into this to try and start a tradition. A couple of good looking dudes in tails, a procession of flags for the post parade, women dressed like it was 1804. After all, this is Upper Canada.

The simo-show was really well done as well, and on-track, folks seemed to be having a good time.

As for the racing, it was good. The purses were high, and outside Woodbine, or the Meadowlands, you will not see a higher purse day in racing. I was happy to see the racing was a main feature of HPITV, too.

However, the bettors did not flock to the event. The handle was low. This is something that needs to be worked on as time goes on.

All in all, a tremendous start to a very good event.

Here is the video for those who missed the race.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Weird Molson Pace Night

Tonight in London the eliminations for the Molson Pace took place, with some of the best Free For Allers in North America flashing swords. It turned out to be a sad night, and a weird night.

In the first elim, $2.3M winner Maltese Artist was well on his way to victory when he appeared to take a bad step. He was vanned off.

In elimination two, Shadow Play, a horse who owns a World Record on a half, raced very poorly, being a well-beaten last. He was the 3-5 chalk.

Next week the final could still be a very good one, though, and it goes for 280 large.

Full report at the Harness Edge. Update - Maltese Artist was put down.

Elim 2 via Youtube, Foiled Again.

Alarmism, Big Events II and Fast Q's

"If grooms do not deposit shovel fulls of horse manure in a sealed depository, it will cause global warming and the earth will end." Well, not really, but over the last dozen or so years, alarmism sells, no matter what the topic, no matter what end of the political spectrum. It gets play and it gets groups funded who 'alarm it', where it has become a cottage industry and an over-used strategy. Much the same happens in racing, especially of note with the Rachel Alexandra situation. Thank goodness for the blogs, because I find a good blogger is a good a read as any columnist out there. For a great take on fillies against the boys, try this post, Rachel Alarmista. Well done.

John Pricci writes about HANA this morning. It is nice for horseplayers to get good play on a major website.

Why do horses qualify in 151 or less nowadays? I see Well Said went that, as did a couple of others. It seems to be a trend. I am of the belief that a horse should qualify about two or three seconds slower than they are going to race. Note: Greg is back Monday with another edition of our Cup Contenders. It will be an interesting list, as a couple have pulled out due to injury.

I see the Adrenaline Festival in racing is picking up steam. In a parallel with our "Big Event" post below, sponsors and many others are climbing aboard this train. Big events are not only good for the blue bloods, and Gene Simmons or Michael Jordan attending Churchill, they are good for little ol us too.

There is a new horseman group (possibly) being formed in Ontario. As many followers of the news in Ontario know, the old one has had mass resignations. Bill O'Donnell seems to be spearheading the new group. Here's hoping they are a force for handle growth and a happier industry.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Big Event Promotion

This years Preakness was a solid event; the 5th highest handle ever, in a business that has seen handle losses the last twenty four months. Big events still work in racing, and I think more has to be done to coordinate them as a seminal marketing strategy.

Often times we read (in my view a specious) opinion that every day racing can somehow market to the masses. This has proven time and time again to be a failed policy. Why? Because primarily you can not promote some of the racing that we see on a daily basis to sports fans. I do not want to be mean here, and I am certainly not trying to be, but about 8 out of ten horse races have completely sub par stock. Who can get interested in them, unless we sell the gambling game, and not racing? From a poster at

As a sporting event, the average day of racing stacks up very, very, very poorly against an average professional sporting event. Let's take baseball.

I can get tickets to a baseball game for just about the same cost as a going to the track. Not good seats, but I can go to the ballpark for the same price. I can buy those tickets, and plan my trip, months in advance, to see whatever team I want to see. I know what I'm going to get. I can invite friends, plan a day around it. While I'm there, I know I am going to watch several hours of professional level competition.

If the average day of baseball operated as the average day of horseracing does, here is what I would get instead:

I would have no idea who was playing until a day or two ahead of time. It wouldn't really matter, as I'd have no idea who most of the players were anyway. If I wanted to find out anything about them, I'd have to pay extra.

I decide to go anyway.

I sit down, and they bring a bunch of toddlers out to play tee ball. Most of these toddlers have never played tee ball before, and the ones that have, have absolutely no skill at it. They appear to be the worst group of tee ballers they could find.

They play for around 2 minutes, and then they go back into the dugout.

The field is empty for 30 minutes. We sit there.

Then, they bring out another group of tee ballers, these ones are little girls. They play tee ball for 2 minutes. They are worse than the previous group. Then they go back into the dugout.

The field is empty for 30 minutes. We sit there.

A bunch of old men come onto the field, and play slow pitch softball for 2 minutes. One of them falls and breaks his hip -- he rolls around near home plate in pain, and then they cart him off in an ambulance.

The field is empty for 30 minutes. We sit there.

The "Feature" finally comes around, after several hours of this. It seems like it took an agonizingly long time to get here.

A bunch of Babe Ruth league teenager boys come onto the field. They are ok, but not great. They play for 2 minutes, then they go back into the dugout.

Then we all go home. The End

Maybe we do not want to read that, but for people who say we should be a 'sport', that is what we are selling.

We are sport on big days, with Somebeachsomewhere, Rachel Alexandra, Cam Fella and Seattle Slew. Selling those big days, by coordinating post times, coordinating marketing and bringing us together with a common goal, should be a vital first salvo into marketing this game to fans. We do not have unlimited marketing money. Spending it wisely is key.

And some things that we can achieve, do not even cost anything. For this years Breeders Crown races, for example, every track who is running against the Crown races should be yelling into the PA system at the track that the BC for 3YO colts is going off in five minutes, discussing the race on in-house TV, and NOT running a race against it. I would even take it a step further and make sure virtually all televisions are turned on the event, with full sound. The horses they will be highlighting are the best of the best, and it is we want fans to see. Clearly this is common sense, but all too often in racing, common sense is not considered common-place. At this years Breeders Cup, I counted two racetracks that ran a race at an off-time that overlapped the first Breeders Cup of the day. What were they thinking? For the Breeders Crown it is even worse. I swear 90% of fans would not even know the Crown is running if they are at a track on Saturday night. No one even tells them. Simo-centres and off-site tracks run their races like it is an everyday Saturday night.

Ditch the marketing dollars from selling Tballers - sell those races to the gamblers instead with lower takes and better data and deeper fields - and transfer everything into making big events work. We will be better off.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Handicapping - Know Your Metrics & Work the Margins

Handicapping horses and turning a profit might be the most difficult task for any gambler of a skill game. We know all too well that beating high takeouts is not for the weak or unwilling. Most handicappers tend to think that 'if I can get one or two scores' I will be ok, and push to try and get into the black. We also are pre-programmed not to think at the margins, but in the aggregate. Hopefully I can show why looking at the margins is something that everyone should do, at all times. More often than not, working the margins can be a ticket to success.

I just finished reading SmarterSig's Improve Your Betting, a UK gambling book, concentrating on racing. In one chapter, gambler Alan Potts is interviewed and he says this:

"Analyze, especially losers post race. I found that after five years I was backing the same number of winners, but I was getting less losers."

Working at this can improve your ROI tremendously. I often go through all of my numbers and make sure I am doing things correctly. Most ADW's allow you to track bets, by bet, by track and so on. This information is vital.

I went through all of my statistics from 2004 recently and looked at what I improved when I set out to improve it, and what I need to do now to improve again. It is a never-ending struggle. Here are a few snapshots:

Place betting (something I have tried to do as a strategy): 0.969ROI over a large sample. I simply can not crack 1.00 here, no matter what I do. I think this is because place bets for me tend to be action bets. I want to play something, but I am not sold on the play, so I look for a reason to play. This is never a good thing.

By track. I started playing the thoroughbreds more than I had in 2007 and have tried many tracks. Turf Paradise: 0.883ROI Penn National (on at night via HPITV, so why not right?) 0.772ROI - a drunk monkey could play better. Conversely, there are several tracks I have done very well at over the years, in harness the Meadowlands, and in thoroughbred Belmont to name but a couple.

Super High Five wagering: 0.536ROI.

So, what can we conclude by looking at the above? Three things, and we have to be cognizant of them to work the margins.

One, a large sample of place bets has occurred and I can not get my ROI up there. If I eliminate these bets they push me to a higher overall ROI. I should not be wasting time on place bets, and I should watch action bets in general.

Two, I have enough of a sample that tells me I am not playing Penn or Turf Paradise correctly. There are dozens of tracks out there to play. If you are terrible and can not get a feel at Mohawk, why push it? Learn Western Fair instead and try there, or Georgian, or Chester. You never know what is around the corner. For example, the HANA track ratings (click for spreadsheet) showed that Sunland Park is a decent track to bet so I went and gave it a shot. My ROI at Sunland in 2009? 1.366. You just never know where you might click.

Three, low hit rate bets have to be looked at differently and this is important to understand. My super high 5 ROI is poor; however, the sample size is small and I can count five or six times I missed monster scores with them, for pool shots, by a head, or by bad racing luck. If one, just one of those converted for a pool shot score, I am up with this bet. I do not want to worry about ROI's on low hit rate bets until I have a large sample size. The only thing one needs to worry about with these type bets is capitalization. If you are under bankrolled you do not even want to be thinking about playing them.

I am sure there are some people out there with incredible discipline and incredible prowess to achieve 1.20ROI's or above over a large sample size. I am not one of them. I have to weed out the bad, and concentrate on the good in my betting to make sure I am betting efficiently, to have a shot to be a success. 1% or 2% a year to a bottom line can be a huge number, and can help turn a long term losing strategy into a winning one.

Track your bets, and work the margins. I think you will be happy you did.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Harness Racing - Odd Man Out

Prairie Meadows, a racino in Iowa, is being urged to end harness racing, while keeping both quarterhorse and thoroughbred racing.

Prairie Meadows is considering changing to a racing format that completely splits its Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing while eliminating harness racing.

I wonder if headlines like this will be a wake up call for us? I have a sneaky feeling it won't.

Western Fair & Georgian, Trying to do Things Right

In the 1980's and early 1990's London and Barrie had a track each. The average purse was about the price of a nice 42 inch television. Mom's and Pop's raced their horses out of sires like Armbro Splurge and Fundmentalist.

Today it is much different.

On Friday the eliminations for the Molson Pace go at Western Fair. Two five horse elims, followed by a $280,000 final are to be contested. Making the trek from down south are standouts such as Maltese Artist. From Canada, last years Jug winner and World Record holder Shadow Play takes on older for the first time in his career. It is a compelling race. This race used to go for $25,000. Not anymore.

On Saturday, at Georgian Downs, the $500,000 Upper Canada Cup is to be raced. If you have not bought an Ontario sired yearling, you might be missing out. This is a huge purse and when added to the Battle of Waterloo for two year olds, horses that race in Ontario have the richest pots to race for anywhere.

Why can't we get handles up? Too many reasons to mention. But these two events are good for harness racing in Ontario. For racing fans in Barrie and London, twenty years ago they would be going on a weekend to watch a $800 open pace. Now it is oh so different.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Faded Memories

On May 20, 2006 - Preakness Day - our stable had a new horse making his first pari-mutuel start as a three year old at Georgian Downs, in beautiful cottage country. He had qualified alright, and we were all kind of excited (anyone who has ever had a yearling knows what I am talking about). I try and watch all of the Triple Crown races in front of my trusty computer and TV with my betting account open, but that day it took a backseat. It was a great spring day, nice and sunny, so I rolled up early to have dinner and watch the Preakness before watching 'Dominique' take on his foes in the Georgian second race.

I walked into a crowded eatery near the track around 6PM, ordered some food and a pint of Coors Light. The sound was down but that was ok, I could still see the race. A few people who were not fans asked the usual questions like "what race is this", "who is going to win" and so on. As I do in those situations I dutifully explained that Barbaro had won the Derby, he was owned and trained by great people, and most of racing were pulling for him to win leg two of the Triple. After that I set in to watch. Not having bet the race, I was just hoping Barbaro would win.

Then we all know what happened.

With a deer-in-the-headlights look I headed to the track to see our guy. On the way there, I was like I usually am when I see a horse in distress like that - completely bummed out.

In 2007 and in 2008 before the Preakness I thought about that day, like it was yesterday. The Preakness and Barbaro were to be forever intertwined, I thought. This year though, it was different. I did not think about Barbaro, my trip to Georgian Downs and how awful I felt. I thought of the filly against the colts, Mine That Bird and respect, who would win, and would we see something special. It takes a special story or a special event to snap us out of the past, I find. This year, at least for me, we had that.

I will never forget Barbaro, as his story represents everything that is being a horse racing fan. But memories fade, and new memories are made. This year I have a good memory. I hope from now on I will think of this Preakness when looking back in time, until the next great story comes along.

Three years ago it was a terrible day to be a racing fan. This year, all was right in the world.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Getting Caught Up, Saturday's Tilts and Whipping Rule Fun

I was out and about tonight and it is a shame I missed the action at the M. It sounds like there was some dandy racing. I will get caught up on replays ASAP.

My Cup pick - Barber Pole - Greg informs me, stunk today. He was beaten by a George Teague fourth stringer. But looking at the line I still have him as my pick. He had to have been sick to come home in 29.1. I am pretty sure he will bounce back fine.

The 500k Upper Canada Cup elims also went on tonight in Barrie. The news is here.

I am getting caught up on some other news as well and I must say the driver commentary on the whipping rules is getting pretty hilarious. The sport of racing is comical (not unlike other sports; NFL safeties hated when clotheslining was outlawed, for example) - if you change one thing and ask people to do something differently than they have been, they get kind of cranky. The latest, Maritime driver Gilles Barrieau:

Due to that, Barrieau – a winner of over 3,000 races lifetime – says he’s giving up driving other people’s horses and he’s just going to drive the 12 horses he trains himself.

"I’m just not interested anymore. I come across the wire with a loose line and they nail me $50 so I am just not doing it anymore. It’s not that I don’t like (driving) but I just don’t like going out on account of that. I used to have fun doing it but it’s getting so it’s not. It’s no fun."

On the Saturday, May 9 race card at Exhibition Park, Barrieau would normally be driving in every race, but did he drive at all?

"Nope," Barrieau said. "That’s the reason really and I don’t miss it one bit. Until they change (the rule) I’m just not interested."

I hope Mr. Barrieau realizes that there will always be someone else to take the drives (and money) that he will be giving up.

The comments are even getting kind of comical, too.

Jack, we don't really need to do much further investigation into this incident to know what's happening. Here's what's happening: Gilles Barrieau, among many others, has had enough!

Cue the violins.

It is commonplace to see harness insiders grasp at the past, until you pry it out of their hands. It is why the business cannot police itself, or why we can not let us as participants run it. We need a commissioner, just like in other sports leagues, to tell Gilles and the rest who choose to not play by this rule, that if they do not there is one choice for them only: find another line of work.

Clearly, a Great Preakness

Two things for me today:

1. Mine that Bird is legit. Horses are not flukes when they run the Derby as well as he did, and it was nice to see him get some respect.

2. Can the headlines I have been reading from knee-jerk types in the media stop now? She did not break down, or whatever they were going on about all week. She is a horse, not a Faberge egg, and her going 46 to the half against other brown horses that just happen to have testicles is not a sword of damocles.

OK, points/rants over :)

I hope everyone enjoyed the race, I did ('cept the bankroll!).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Interesting Betting Race

The addition of the filly makes the Preakness a very cool race for bettors. The big races tend to be the easiest to handicap for value especially, because the flow of information is out there, the odds are known early and it is discussed to death. The way I play these races, as you folks know, is to simply look for a talented horse who is being overlooked by the masses. Then I group him deep on exotics tickets for a hopeful overlaid score. The Preakness is much more formful than the Derby, so I can not use the all button on top as much as I did in the Derby. The button simply does not have as much value in a shorter field, two weeks off the Derby, but still should be used in the two and three slots, in my opinion.

This weekend I have gone through what I think is correct to do, and feel pretty good about my value plays.

Rachel - She's the fastest horse, but she has been the fastest horse while running against sub par fields. It is not a secret that taxed horses do not run their best. There is inside speed in this race and it might be safe to factor-in she does not run back to her Oaks figure. Alternatively, 14 days off for a race she was not pointed to a week ago has to be a negative. I hope she wins, but I think she won't, and her fair odds are way above board odds for me. Many sharp handicappers think she has a super shot, however, and I respect that opinion.

POTN - Everyone seems to like him. He is as good or better than a few contenders in there for certain, but I don't want a horse everyone seems to like on the ticket.

Big Drama - Is this years wise guy horse. I don't want to take a stand with a wise-guy horse.

Mine That Bird - Perhaps the most forgotten Derby winner in history. He has had less press than Charismatic did when he won and paid $18. People all think he won because of Borel, and extreme luck. That might or might not be the case; however, there is some value with him because of that public opinion, I think.

Musket Man - A horse I played pretty heavily in exotics in the Derby, simply because he was overlooked. He is not this time, but everything says he has a shot.

Friesan Fire - Ever see a horse get a troubled trip in the lane, where everyone sees it? Notice the next race where he opens at 4-5 and ends up 8-5, when he should be 4-1? My no-brainer play, by the opposite logic, is Friesan Fire. He is fast, he was the favorite in the Derby, he had no chance to run, and wanted nothing to do with that race. He is going to be 4th choice. There is no way a Derby chalk with an excuse should be 4th choice in the wagering. Give me a fast overlooked horse with negatives seen on a big stage that the public overreacts to, and I will bet him every time.

Exotic gut shots:

FF-Musket Man, Mine That Bird-ALL

Ex box: FF, MM, MTB
Ex box: FF, MTB, Big Drama
Ex Box: FF, MTB, Papa Clem

Good luck everyone.

Crowds Watching Harness Racing - Overseas

When my horse came and they were trying to explain the equipment this horse was wearing, there were strings everywhere. I felt like a puppet master - pull out air hood, pull down blinds, pull up overcheck, kick over poles. My first thought was that this is going to be a disaster! But I must tell you it was one race I will never forget, the way this horse changed gears for me after being parked first up a long way I then pulled and kicked every string I could and he cleared and opened up on the field. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, to listen to the loud screams of people cheering was just amazing.

Brad Forward is representing Canada in the World Driving Championships in Norway. The crowds are big there, which is amazing to see. Follow Brad's journey here if you are interested. He is blogging it at Standardbred Canada.

Cup Contenders, Ed2

Greg is back with an instalment of his top ten for the NA Cup. Not a bad list for an amateur bettor, and a guy from Pittsburgh. I am ok with the young fellas opinions. I would still have Barber Pole number one. Art Colony would not be in my top ten. I will wait to make my list until the Cup is over. Then I will look like a genius!

Here we go..........

Another week has come and gone on the road to the $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup. More and more of last year’s top stars are returning to the track, and some horses who flew under the radar have made their presence felt. Without further introduction, let’s get to this week’s top ten.

1. Well Said (last week #1). No change at the top this week. Well Said was victorious in his first qualifier at the Meadowlands on May 7 in 1:54 flat and then came back to qualify on May 14 in 1:52.4 with a final quarter in 26.3. There is still no word from trainer Steve Elliott on when the son of Western Hanover will make his 2009 pari-mutuel debut.

2. Barber Pole (last week unranked). I had this son of Badlands Hanover ranked just below the top ten last week, but then he jumped up with a 1:49 flat mile on May 9 at the Meadowlands in a conditioned pace. The George Teague trainee is now headed to Pocono Downs for the Max Hempt Memorial, which has eliminations this coming Saturday and the final next Saturday.

3. Major In Art (last week #2). Dropped simply because he has not qualified as of yet. There hasn’t been any update from new trainer Noel Daley on when last year’s two-year old pacing colt of the year in the United States may make his season’s debut.

4. Dial Or Nodial (last week #5). Gets a slight bump up this week due to his 1:52.3 victory in the same qualifier as Well Said on May 14. The son of Western Ideal cut the mile in that race and used a 26.4 final kicker to defeat Well said by three-quarters of a length. Plenty of options for trainer Jim Campbell to use with Dial Or Nodial, including the New Jersey Sire Stakes or the New Jersey Classic before the North America Cup.

5. Art Colony (last week #3). Like Major In Art, simply dropped down due to the fact he has not appeared on the track yet. Casie Coleman still has plenty of time to get him ready, though.

6. Nebupanezzar (last week #4). Another one of last year’s stars who have not made an appearance yet. Trainer Bob McIntosh indicated over the winter that there would be no rush in getting the millionaire back to the track, so it’s not surprising we have not seen him yet. (Note - sidelined until mid summer, announced today)

7. Annieswesterncard (last week #9). This son of Western Hanover picked up an nice off the pace score in the $230,000 Berry ’s Creek final at the Meadowlands in 1:51.1. Trainer Joe Seekman had Art Official in the Cup last year and could make a return with this impressive gelding.

8. Chasin Racin (last week #10). This son of The Panderosa simply toured the Meadowlands last week to prep for the Max Hempt eliminations this Saturday. He gives Team Teague yet another shell to fire should they choose to send him up north.

9. Arctic Warrior (last week unranked). This fast son of Blissfull Hall used a 26.3 final panel to rally for a good third place finish behind Annieswesterncard in the Berry ’s Creek. He was a very good Pennsylvania Sire Stakes horse last year, and seemed to handle the transition to open competition just fine in the Berry ’s Creek.

10. Fast Pay (last week unranked). This colt might be the best three-year old based in Ontario until Nebupanezzar returns. This son of Western Terror, who was last year’s OSS Grassroots champion, came from off cover to win in non-winners of two at Mohawk in 1:51.3 with a final quarter in 27.1. He is entered on Saturday in the eliminations for the first Upper Canada Cup at Georgian Downs.

Dropping out this week were #6 Sheer Desire, who was rank and uncontrollable in his Berry’s Creek elimination, #7 Vertigo Hanover, who was on the lead in the Berry’s Creek final, but could not deliver in the stretch, and #8 Straight Shooting, who got away with soft fractions in a three-year old event at Mohawk on Saturday, but got passed by two horses in the lane.

Greg R

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Slots Are Poison for Growing Demand for Racing

From Power Cap:

The core issue here is too much racing and nil cooperation. Slots propping up an unappealing product is akin to having a braindead patient hooked up to a respirator. The patient is alive but it is no life and he is a burden to all those around him. The surplus of unappealing slot enhanced racing is becoming a burden to the family of racetracks on the east coast and has spread disease throughout all of them.

Similar in harness? Pocono and Yonkers peeling off entries from the M. Local Ontario B tracks peeling entries off Woodbine/Mohawk. A very poor watered down product based solely on slots in many areas that would not have racing if based solely off demand.

One thing that really sticks in a lot of folks teeth in racing is that the slots funding was based on a flawed premise of "if you flood the market by supplying a poor product, demand will rise." That was perhaps our biggest mistake with slots; the inability to act with cohesion and common sense for a better tomorrow.

The simple market-driven axiom that if we flood a market with supply, without lowering price, bad things will happen seems to have been completely dismissed in racing. And the worst part? Despite overwhelming evidence that this was a mistake, we continue to this day write slot deals with exactly the same flawed premise.


This month's Trot magazine the "State of the Industry" issue, which I received today, is as good an issue on racing you will find anywhere. One section focused on questions asked to industry people: trainers, track owners, horse owners, horseplayers. I was astounded at a the differences in perspectives in these groups, and it in large part displays a good deal of why (imo) we never get anything done.

The first question: "What do you see as the state of harness racing today?", the driver and trainer comments for the most part are rosy. "We are in good shape", said many. However, track execs, horseplayers and owners were all virtually a polar opposite. I was quite honestly shocked that with headlines of handles falling, racedates falling, tracks closing, and an industry on unsustainable government life-support that so many at the grassroots level could think everything is just fine.

Another disconnect that was interesting was drugs. Drivers and trainers as a group said it was 5-1 that drugs would be eliminated by 2050. Racetrack execs and horseplayers said it would be 45-1. The malaise of track operators and horseplayers with the issue is readily apparent. We think it can not possibly be fixed.

It is an issue well worth the read.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Personal Betting Machines

A teller has been indicted for theft. Why, because she allegedly bet at her machine. Some mornings when I look at my bankroll I think someone was betting on it other than myself, but alas it is just bad horseplaying.

Speaking of personal betting machines our picture above is John's racing set-up from the UK. He bets horses at betfair. Verrrry cool.

This weekend there might be an underlay of all underlays in the Preakness. The filly, Rachel Alexandra, has garnered all the press and should be heavily bet. No early odds yet, but it looks like a good time to play the Preakness and try and make some scratch.

It's that time of year in thoroughbred racing where the melodrama about "saving the sport" with sidelines to the major race (this year a filly against the colts) gets trumpeted. Jeremy Plonk thankfully shoots that down.

Greg R informs me that he is watching the Q's tomorrow at the M and then writing his Cup contenders report. Several big names are qualifying as we heat up the stakes season in harness.

No word yet on the most anticipated qualifier since Somebeachsomewhere. Early word says that Muscle Hill has been training fine though, with a 56 training mile at the M.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some Things Are Meant to End

Society changes. In virtually all walks of life we see business change along with it. 60 or 80 years ago when much of North America was agri-based, the horse was a tool, a means to an end to help the farm, or help the family.

Today horses are much different in society. I listened to John Campbell today on Trot Radio speak of the horse in much the same way, with respect. He said (paraphrasing) 'It is different now and I think we should get rid of whipping. I am guilty of too much whipping sometimes just like most, but after the mile I say to myself 'that was stupid' the horse was giving me all he could'.

Scanning the news I see that steeplechase racing is looking to be banned in racing mad Australia as early as tomorrow. My opinion? Not soon enough. I abhor that type of racing and I think it has little place in modern racing, or modern society. The public simply does not have the stomach for it.

More than 150 years of jumps horse racing in Australia could come to an end on Wednesday, as officials decide whether to keep the sport alive amid recent horse deaths and rising community pressure.

Three dead horses at a country racing carnival last week triggered an immediate suspension of jumps racing in the southern state of Victoria, one of only two Australian states that hold the sport, pending an emergency review.

Just because it is 150 years old doesn't make it right.

Some things are meant to be done away with, and steeplechases and whipping should be long gone from the racing landscape, in one man's opinion. It's time.

Old becomes new in our picture, courtesy Peter. A new born Peruvian Hanover filly runs with her Abercrombie mom, enjoying spring in Ontario.

Rowing the Boat in the Same Direction

In following both the thoroughbred and harness game I find there are differences. There are the obvious of course, riders and drivers and running and pacing, however there is a rather unique difference in horseman groups.

The problems with OHHA in Ontario are well documented - resignations and so on. In the past the organization has focused on race dates in large part. If you want to cut them, no matter how much sense it might make, there will probably be a fight. Recently Hugh Mitchell CEO of Western Fair wanted to change some Saturday cards to Monday cards for example - no change in racedates, but Monday cards brought in better handles, so it makes sense, right? It was fought.

Contrarily, I have been following similar issues in the thoroughbreds. Today it was announced that Churchill Downs was cutting racedates because handle was down. This is the response from Rick Hiles, a horseman rep:

Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said horsemen's representatives have been discussing the proposed change with track management and are not in opposition.

"We've talked with management, and if we don't agree to cut the days, they'd have to cut purses about 20 percent anyway," said Hiles. "You can't expect people to keep coming out and supporting your business if all you're giving them is four- and five-horse fields. You've got to do what you've got to do."

Is the situation ideal? Of course not, but it is reality, and horseman want to work with the track to soften the blow.

I am not saying the tracks are always right and need to be cowtowed to, but to make the game better the stakeholders have to work together. I wish we would see more of this in harness racing, and maybe with a fresh start here in Ontario we can.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shadow Play, Youtube and Youtube

Shadow Play, the second best 3YO last year won his 4YO debut last night, and of course I need to procrastinate, so I go watch a few of his races last year. Then I read that there is a really cool Preakness Promo about the filly taking on the colts on NBC. Where is it? I have no idea.

Why networks do not get their promo's on Youtube in real time fashion is beyond me.

Anyhow, looking for it I came across my most favourite Preakness ever. I post that up here. Maybe tomorrow I will find the NBC promo for this weeks Preakness.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Watch Out For Barber Pole

It is only May 9th, but from what I have seen so far, I think I have my NA Cup horse. Last night at the Meadowlands in a conditioned race Barber Pole, a son of Badlands Hanover won easily, stopping the clock in 149. The ease in which he did it, as well as his two year old lines, suggest the 149 was not near his bottom.

Unlike last year where there was a standout, we can and do often see unranked horses become three year old stars. The top ranked colts will have their hands full with this horse I think.

For a look at Greg's list from last week it is here. I have a feeling the Barber will be moving up the list this week.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

1-9's Everywhere!

Horses opening with 10k to win on them, at smaller venues lately? I have not been playing too seriously the past two days, however I did check a few tracks here and there. I did notice what looked like $10,000 to bet on several horses.

According to, the posters are seeing this pop up in quite a few places:

There were some big underlays and overlays last night at Delta thanks to a mysterious bettor placing vast amount of $$$ on horses to win.

This guy must get around.Last night at Meadowlands harness in race 6,the pacer in post #1 got a $10,000 bet early in the wagering.He sat at 1-9 until late in the betting,and then drifted up a bit,closing at 4-5.

the 1/5 shots ran second, and payed 7.00 to place...

Makes you wonder.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Racing Demographics - Ouch!

I am doing real work tonight in Ad Planner, but of course I get sidetracked.

Age Demographics for Internet searches for website A:

Website B:

Website C:

Pop quiz: One is a racing site, one a poker site and one a peer to peer betting site. Can you spot the racing website?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pick 6 Carryovers

Carryovers are a good thing. I don't think I have hit a pick 6 in about three years. At Churchill today for the runners, the track is dead slop, it is a mess of a card, and probably impossible to hit this.

So let's play!


Sure loser, however the first just went off I see and I am actually alive on a couple of tickets still. Yippee! At least one more race to watch, which is usually one more race than usual.

Derby Top Ten Web Markets

I saw the link on Paulick and 360 to the top ten TV markets (Louisville was number one of course) for the Derby, but since we are proponents of new marketing here, let's check the wacky interweb.

For May, here are the top ten markets in terms of standardized search queries for "Kentucky Derby" on google.

1. Louisville, KY, USA
2. Cincinnati, OH, USA
3. Albany, NY, USA
4. Cleveland, OH, USA
5. Indianapolis, IN, USA
6. Rochester, NY, USA
7. Pittsburgh, PA, USA *
8. Columbus, OH, USA
9. St Louis, MO, USA
10. Denver, CO, USA
* Valerie sheds some light

In Canada? The city of Waterloo has plenty of racing fans in terms of searches.

1. Waterloo, Canada
2. Kingston, Canada
3. Burlington, Canada
4. Hamilton, Canada
5. Mississauga, Canada
6. Ottawa, Canada
7. Halifax, Canada
8. Toronto, Canada
9. Vancouver, Canada
10. Calgary, Canada

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cohen's Back

Andrew Cohen, CBS News Legal analyst and horse owner shares his thoughts in this month's Trot about the state of the industry. He says what many will not say; much of it needs to be said. Will this be ignored like most opinion pieces are in racing with each acronym solely concentrated on only protecting their slice?

Cohen on racing's stakeholders:

The gulf between authority and responsibility, manifested in “fragmented and confused” leadership on every level within harness racing, is the biggest structural hurdle in our industry. Greed, self-interest, old rivalries, new ones, cowardice, laziness — all of the natural forces in humankind which serve to thwart lasting solutions — are so prevalent now in the industry that it’s hard to see the way out (and that was true before the nation’s economic climate turned dramatically worse). We all know it. And yet we do next to nothing.

On suspensions:

Dope a horse in a pari-mutuel race? Breach the promise you’ve made to your licensing agency and (by extension) to your fellow competitors? Then go away, forever, and ply some other trade. “Get rid of their asses,” leading thoroughbred owner Barry Irwin recently told Blood-Horse Magazine when asked about this issue. “Kick them out.” I cannot count the number of honest drivers and trainers and other horsemen and horsewomen who have talked privately to me about the cheaters among them. So why don’t those whispers turn into roars?

On horseman groups:

And then there are the leaders of the horsemen’s associations. More and more these folks sound and act like baseball’s union leaders — the ones who automatically appeal just about every suspension no matter how egregious the foul. These folks would have you believe that people have a right, instead of a license, to be in the business of harness racing; that ‘due process’ protects accused cheaters in our sport almost as fully as it does alleged murder suspects. Perhaps baseball can afford the luxuries of endless stays after suspensions and hapless testing policies and procedures. Harness racing cannot.

On a commish office with teeth, and funding it:

The Commissioner’s Office must be funded by every stakeholder in the sport. Owners must be willing to take less — say 85 percent instead of 90 percent — in purse money. Breeders must be willing to pay into the fund for each registered yearling. Tracks must transfer a small percentage of their handle — or allocate money into the new organization per race (or per horse). Trainers and drivers must be willing to pay significantly more to get the licenses that give them the privilege to earn their keep. The USTA and SC must do their part and charge significantly more in dues. If men and women in 2009 cannot afford to pay a few hundred dollars per year to be a part of harness racing then perhaps a life in harness racing is not for them.

These are only snippets. Full piece here and everyone in this business should read that about, oh 100 times in my view. Cohen went out on a limb and it deserves to be read and discussed and dare I say, most of it should be implemented before the year is out.

Who won the 'Web' Kentucky Derby?

Matt McGee at Search Engine Land lets us in on what search engine won the Kentucky Derby flash results. The winner? Live Search (Microsoft's engine), followed by

Can and should we be doing more with search in racing? Absolutely we should. In many sports they work with search engines on filtering results and more, and we should make this is a priority. I do not think there is anyone out there in racing that thinks the above search result, with links to contenders and so on is a bad thing for racing.

Screen shot courtesy of Matt, at Search Engine Land.

Monday, May 4, 2009

North America Cup Contenders, Ed1

"Out of the nine harness blogs out there I think the Pocket-blog is easily in the top eight" began Pittsburgh's Greg Reinhart, "and I am thrilled to do the Cup Report again this year."

Thanks for the props Greg, and we are happy to have you.

The $1.5M Cup is just a month and a half away. Last year was completely different than this season as we had a huge standout and a couple of others that looked like some stock. Our final top three prediction missed the exotics, but was pretty decent as Somebeach, Art Official and Santanna Blue Chip all made the final and raced fairly well. If I were making an odds line this year, which I will soon, I do not know who I would have as chalk, and I would not at all be surprised if the winner comes from outside the contender list. There are no standouts this year thus far.

So, off to our cub reporter Greg and his first edition of the 2009 North America Cup Contender list:

With Mohawk recently opened, you know that the $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup is just around the corner. This year, the event has been moved back two weeks later than it had been in the past, meaning that the eliminations will take place on June 20 and the final will be held on June 27. That has helped the nominations go way up this year, as 133 colts are still eligible. This week, we’ll take a look at my initial top ten, which will be revised as the weeks go along and these horses qualify and prep for the event.

My number one prospect is probably everyone else’s, the Breeder’s Crown champion Well Said. This son of Western Hanover-Must See is well-bred, in top hands (Steve Elliott/Ron Pierce) and seemed to only be getting better as the year went along last year, culminating in his Breeder’s Crown triumph. According to reports, he will be qualifying for the first time this week.

Coming in second is Major In Art, last year’s Woodrow Wilson and Metro Pace winner. When the son of Art Major swept those two events last year, he became only the second two-year old to do so, joining Grinfromeartoear in 1998. He danced every dance last year, picking up a third in the Governor’s Cup and a fourth in the Breeder’s Crown after those events, and is getting a new trainer this year, Noel Daley.

Third on the list is Art Colony, a son of the great Artsplace. Despite not taking to the track until September, Art Colony quickly developed and was second in both the Governor’s Cup and the Breeder’s Crown, which helped him earn over $423,000. He is trained by the always-dangerous Casie Coleman.

Ontario-sired Nebupanezzar, the only two-year old to earn over $1 million last year, comes in at number four. Nebupanezzar not only had a great year in the province, but also chased down Art Colony for the victory in the Governor’s Cup at Woodbine. He is trained by multiple O’Brien Award winner Bob McIntosh, who is looking for his first win in Canada ’s richest harness race.

Occupying the number five slot is Dial Or Nodial. A son of Western Ideal, Dial Or Nodial was last year’s New Jersey Sire Stakes champion at both the Meadowlands at Freehold, and then picked up two victories later in the year at the Red Mile to go with a third in the Breeder’s Crown and a fourth in the Governor’s Cup. He hangs his harness bag in the stable of Jim Campbell.

Sixth is Sheer Desire, who equaled Somebeachsomewhere’s world record of 1:49.3 for a two-year old pacing colt last year at the Red Mile. That was one of three wins on the year for the son of Real Desire, who is trained by the powerful Ron/Mickey Burke combination.

Number seven is Vertigo Hanover . A son of 1999 North America Cup winner The Panderosa, Vertigo Hanover was ready to roll last year early on as he won a division of the Niatross at the Meadowlands and his Woodrow Wilson elimination before coming in third in the final. He returned to action last week, with a 1:52.3 win in a conditioned event at the Meadowlands, and finished second in the Berry's Creek elim this week. He is trained by Dewey Marfisi, who sent out Dali in the Cup last year.

Straight Shooting is in eighth place on my list. This Western Terror colt was victorious in the Metro consolation and a division of the Nassagaweya Stakes at Mohawk last year and for his three-year old campaign, he has been moved to the barn of trainer Casie Coleman.

Annieswesterncard checks in at number nine on my list. This Western Hanover gelding banked $224,000 and won six times last year, including a 1:50.3 victory at Indiana Downs. He was the favourite for the Metro Pace last year, but wound up finishing third to Major In Art. He is conditioned by Joe Seekman, who sent out millionaire Art Official last year.

Tenth this week is Chasin Racin. Another son of The Panderosa, Chasin Racin has already been quite active this year, as he swept the Matt’s Scooter Series at the Meadowlands earlier this season, capping it off with a 1:51.1 performance in the final. He was given some time off after that, but qualified back in 1:53.4 on April 23 at the Meadowlands. He is trained by George Teague, who won the Cup in 2006 with Total Truth.

Some other colts just below the top ten include Teague trainee Barber Pole, a fast son of Badlands Hanover who won his first start of the year in 1:51.4 at Harrah’s Chester last week; Schoolkids, a son of I Am A Fool who won $212,000 last year at took a track record mark of 1:51 flat at Vernon Downs, and Best Dream Seeker, Cambest colt who won three times, including Grand Circuit race at The Red Mile, last year.

For more on the North America Cup, including video, interviews and more please visit

Wagering Conference Recap

With Derby week behind us I thought I would update last weeks Wagering Conference at Caesars Windsor. Although less well-attended than last year, the event did attract some good presenters, and many good delegates.

I got to see most of the presentations, although I did miss a couple so I could do a bit of work in my room. I thought the presentations were better this year than last year.

The "Snapshot of Wagering Session" concentrated on two main issues: Where the business is now, and where it hopes to be after some of the recommendations are implemented (last years stuff). One neat slide was from Darryl Kaplan who was demonstrating that racing might not be here in 40 years (as we know it now) if we do not do something. He showed a clipping from 1968 that ran in a Massachusetts paper on dog racing - 'Dog racing handles and attendance soar' was the caption. He followed that up with a 2008 headline from the same paper 'Dog racing banned in New Hampshire'.

Session two was "No Holds Barred". Bettors discussed the issues with some execs and I was pleased that takeout and other bettor-centric issues were on the forefront. One such issue discussed last year to fix was the uncashed tickets problem. As most know uncashed tickets go right back into revenues and it was discussed that we should place this money in a new seeded bet to give it back to the rightful owners - the bettors. Bettors were incensed to see that a horseman group (and apparently one other group) blocked this from happening. Why do bettors seem to have disdain for horseman groups? That's why. If you dropped a ten dollar bill at Wal Mart and went back in to see if they found it, a manager says that he did, and he waves it in your face and then sticks it in his pocket, saying it is his now, you'd be annoyed too. And no doubt you would tell friends not to shop there. The next time a purse goes down because of lost handles, I hope these groups look no further than the mirror.

Show me the Money discussed taking some cash from slots revenue and placing it into something to grow the game. Common sense for most, but tough to get done. See the previous paragraph for why.

I loved the new technology panel. Dave Vicary was a gem. He is a programmer (retired from Nortel Networks) who has computers running 24 hours a day, building an artificial intelligence handicapping program. He was a cool guy and I was impressed. I loved his other thoughts with video. He says he can get a piece of video, program it so horses are highlighted at the users choice, and you can sort these pieces of video into "troubled trips" and so on. Man that was so cool. This should be done, like, now! I stressed that new markets are different than old ones, and we need to get moving. One example that a couple of people told me made them think: A recent study showed that 33% of South Korean three year olds are considered "web surfers". I asked racing this: In 15 years when this market is legal to bet, are they ready for them. I don't think we are, or will be, without some thinking and investment.

Line of the conference for me was bettor James Erickson, speaking on the betting panel that Kathy Parker moderated. Someone asked a question about drugs and James said 'sometimes you just have to give people the boot. Look at Bill Robinson. They got rid of him, and rightfully so'. I sensed every track exec in the room cracking a smile.

The betfair panel was tremendous. To have one of the original founders there was flat-out cool. To actually have a chat with someone who knows tech, and knows bettors and gambling was something I have been waiting for, and I talked his ear off. I never thought I would hear anyone in racing - anyone - who spoke about one thing more than all others, takeout. He mentioned that our game is pricing itself out of existence. For years I thought I was yelling this in a vacuum, so believe me this was really neat for me to be a part of.

Some other tidbits about the interesting week:

Moira Fanning, Director of Publicity for the Hambo and Breeders Crown is one of the nicest people in this sport. If you have a chance to meet Moira, go to it. She cares about racing, and is no nonsense. She is the one person in racing who I have never heard anyone say anything bad about. That's saying something.

Woodbine was well represented. Mike Hamilton, Jamie Martin, Greg Blanchard, Bruce Murray and Nick Eaves were all there. I am critical at times (but I hope fair) of Woodbine in general, but not the people there personally. I do not know Nick much, but I like each of the others. It is always fun to chat racing with fans like Mike and Greg. I was at a conference last year and got to chat with Woodbine marketing man Paul Lawson and I was sorry he was not there, though. I think Paul is one of the people who 'gets it'.

Kathy Parker, editor of Horseman and Fair World (a US trade mag established in 1877.... but Kathy has not been there that long) is always nice to see. I only see her at these things it seems. What's the most friendly state in the Union? For me, Kentucky. Everyone I meet who is from there is like Kathy.

Kevin Koury, a harness bettor from Florida flew up on his own dime. Do bettors have passion? I think so.

Windsor Raceway karma. Race five was the "Standardbred Canada Pace" and delegates could go down to the picture. I said I would, simply because I looked at the entries and one of our former horses from a couple of years ago was in the race. She was tough as nails, tried so hard and I loved her as a racehorse. I felt that she was going to win for her old carrot giving owner for some strange reason. She did. There were two little harness racing fans - little girls aged four and five, with the blondest hair and cutest smiles one could ever see. We asked their dad if they wanted to come into the picture. I think that made them happy and they had a story for school the next day.

Thanks to the organizers for inviting me - Darryl, Ted Smith and Kathy. It was fun and I was happy to do it. If a reader of this strange blog ever has a chance to go to one of these things, do not think twice. Just go. You will be happy you did.

For an "80-20 story" about the Conference, try the Horseplayer Association of North America website here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Different Prices Everywhere

Depending on where you bet the Derby, life was either good, or bad.

Sport is made for betting gives us our chart picture above, and discusses the race at Betfair on his blog (click the link to read his blog, click the picture to see the chart more clearly). The bulk of the wagering was done on Mine That Bird at 140-1 or above.

Conversely, due to the rules here in Canada that anger bettors (and anger is not too strong a word) with different fingers-in-the-pie economics with groups wanting bettors money, the payoffs stunk.

The Tri in HPI (Canada's ADW): $38,426.60
The Tri at Churchill Downs: $41,500.60

The Super in HPI: $515,746.80
The Super at Churchill: $557,006.40

Yes, just for those two bets you paid a fee of about $45,000, or around 20% higher than the average yearly salary in this country.

Who gets the money? Your guess is as good as mine. Fixing this issue and giving bettors what they deserve is long overdue.

140-1 at a betting exchange or paying a $45,000 fee here in Canada? Which is better? It's pretty obvious. The betting exchange is growing, and we are floundering.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Perfect Storm

The favourite is scratched at 9AM.

The new favourite rips half his hoof off at the starting gate.

The second choice almost falls on his face at the break.

Result: $100 winner.

What a game this racing is.

The Greatest Gambling Event of the Year

This event is simply (hands-down) the best gambling event of all gambling events, and we need more people to spread the word about it. Why? Because of luck and opportunity.

The winner, Mine That Bird, was keyed up beyond belief at the start, but got squeezed and had to be strangled. Reserving that energy and him settling probably won him the race, and in the process made readily apparent that when betting this event never bet workouts, or press, or breeding. Bet the board, construct proper tickets, and gamble. If you are successful, you can make a life-changing score, because 9 times out of 10, the winner is simply luckier than the other horses in this race, and/or is on his game with the elements.

With the slop today I tried my best with the all button. I took a few pick 4's with Derby "all" but tried to pin seek a little too much, and went heavier on non-chalk in the second leg, and third leg. I could not convert the ticket. I did take an all-1-all pick 3 with the Derby as the first leg and have that going, so I will see if maybe that can hit to salvage some scratch.

As for the derby itself in exotics, the all button was used by myself on a good deal of tickets, but I could not convert there either. I played Musket Man and Desert Party up and down, with all's in the ex and tri's - but Musket Man was nosed out for second. I spent some money around those above two, with Friesan Fire in supers, and was not even close. Friesan Fire had no fire whatsoever, and he looked beaten to me at the quarter pole. Some days these colts are just no good.

I hope we can bring racing to new markets in the near future (I think we have to) and I hope that market is a gambling one. I am a student of gambling - I love it - and I can honestly say (without a hint of bias) that this race can attract millions of gamblers if we give them the tools. It is that good. Win or lose, there is no event like it in punting.

Friday, May 1, 2009


So I woke up and started working this morning, then I get ready for lunch and flipped on racing, hoping to catch the CD card. Yikes! It started at 10:30. I bet and I follow things. I had no idea the post time was early. Note to anyone like me - tomorrow the post time is early too.

Erick Poteck presented at the conference this week. He emails to inform me that the Fan 590 is having a racing show this weekend and he is on it. They never cover racing, so if anyone wants to ask any questions about racing in Canada, the email is here. It is on from 10:25 to around 11AM Sunday.

$1 super minimums for the Derby card? This is a good thing for big bettors, but it stinks for small ones. What is Derby day about, helping new fans take a poke at ten cent bets, or catering to large bettors? This is a good question, I think.

has opened to bad weather, which is disappointing, but this weekend looks a lot better so I think I will be out to Milton.

Ontario Harness Horse Association looks like it is imploding. The Globe and Mail is covering the story.

puts their stamp on TVG - open signal access. Nice to see someone bring the business into the future.

It Makes You Proud to be a Racing Fan

Races and days do not get better than that. The filly was superb, and the message with that wonderful horse with that populated winner circle was awesome. That was a fantastic day for racing, and if you have not watched the Oaks, you better tee it up on youtube. I have never seen a rider give a horse four pats for a good job when the race had not even ended yet.

"Bravo" racing for a great day.

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