Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Notes

Not too much happening, or catching my eye recently. However a couple of items....

The Woodbine Pick 6 (much to the chagrin of the WEG management crew I assume) was hit for the second week in a row. Only $52,000 was bet into it, and one happy punter walked away with $153,000. This is turning out to be one of the better bets for gamblers. These things do take time, and considerable effort. We'll see what some carryovers will do, but they better get some soon or one would think this new bet will be deep-sixed.

Still nothing for harness patrons. Trot contacted WEG about some sort of parallel harness bet, but no dice.

It appears there might have been a hoax news story published across the pond recently that had to be retracted. This link housed a story of a UK bettor who was said to have won 20M GBP over the past while, with some wild claims. For example, it was said he won a million or more GBP on a single race. This prompted a response from betfair to squelch this story.

We have been contacted by several customers in relation to an article in Sunday’s News of the World. We would like to make it clear that Betfair was not asked to comment on, or validate any aspect of, the article ahead of publication.

Although we cannot comment on the activities of any specific customer, some facts which may be relevant to some of the claims made in the article include:

the biggest winner in the relevant Britain’s Got Talent market (Susan Boyle winner - Yes/No) won less than £3,000.

No Betfair customer won £1.5 million or anything even vaguely approaching that amount betting on the Champion Hurdle.

No Betfair customer won £500,000 or anything even vaguely approaching that amount laying Monsieur Chevalier at Royal Ascot

The figures shown in the account statement screenshot in the News Of the World do not reconcile to any Betfair account.

The monies present in a Betfair account are obviously no indicator of the sums won or lost on the account.

We would encourage customers to be wary of the claims of anyone purporting to have a profitable system or strategy.

We would encourage customers to retain a healthy degree of scepticism toward any claims made in the press which are not validated by Betfair.

Kudos to that company's customer service/management team.

More cries for takeouts to be reduced, this time from Cary Fotias, long time horseplayer and author, and board member of the Horseplayers Association of North America:

In a country that has always believed in free markets, it is curious that racing has been so mismanaged by politicians and regulators that it has never had the chance to find where supply meets demand to maximize profits.

Fotias also commented on a recent Horseplayer piece which was harness related. Recently there was a think-tank at the Meadowlands filled with various insiders but no horseplayers. This sparked some interest with the piece linked from all major websites. A little bird told me that Mike Tanner of the USTA contacted one of the members and promised that an invitation will be sent to make sure a horseplayer is on their next panel. ESPN's Bill Finley also comments, giving his props to the harness folks at the meeting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Full Circle at the Cup

The 26th North America Cup is in the books. For most of the off-season, and in Greg's Top Ten here on the blog (kudos to Greg for having 8 out of the top ten starters in his series here) Well Said was at or near the top of the contender lists. After a couple of very flat efforts, he looked to be more than vulnerable. But it all came full circle. He won last night by 3, very easily. A few commentators spoke of the trip, but that was pretty inconsequential. He would have jogged from anywhere.

The race itself was pretty interesting. Steve Condren made the winning move with Keep it Real, and the colt raced well. First time driver Corey Callahan had Mr. Wiggles in a good position, as did Knuckles Brennan with the Brainard horse. I found Sears' drive curious. He tried to bull-rush Keep it Real, off a slow 54.3 half. Condren would have to be nuts to let him go. That move pretty much set up the flow horses to have a shot. I would surmise that he thought if he could clear, he could limb out Pierce and have a god shot to win. Who knows. Anyway we slice it, it did not work out.

Art Colony came second and raced ok, but at 6-1 I want to book bets on whomever bet him at those odds. Wow, there is still money to be made betting harness folks!

Fan Hanover

In the Fan Hanover, Yellow Diamond got beat, which was not unexpected to handicappers. Andrew Beyer said super trainers have "tarnished the great art of handicapping." I agree with that assessment. I have no idea how to treat the supertrainers when it comes to stakes horses. I have no idea what performance is real, and what is supertraining. Yellow Diamond showed she could have been the next Rainbow Blue, but now looks ordinary. Please remind me never to get stoked on these performances with these trainers.

Federal Flex Flat

A big thumbs up to Jamieson for his assessment of Flex. Time after time (Ron Pierce is the king of this) excuses are made for bad performances. Flex was flat and Jody explained that he was not himself during the week, and in warm ups. He still won by holding off the backfield.

Anyone Make Any Money?

I was up and down like a yoyo. After hitting Arctic Warrior I was up a good hunk of money. As is often for us as horseplayers, it was time to give it back. I took a solid poke at Annieswesterncard and Mr. Wiggles, in the mutuel pool, and in exotics. I was stunned Tetrick got AWC off 9th by 18. I mean sheesh, how can you pick up a check being 9th by 18 at the quarter? Regardless, he was not hitting the board, so the bankroll was going down either way.

I took another big swing in the 8th on Casie's horse from the ten, as he was 70-1. I got back going there because he came second and paid $35. Cinderella Man (another Brainard horse) opened with tons of cash (the fact this is a betting barn is the least kept secret at Mohawk), and he converted, paying $5.60. That was annoying.

The rest of the way in a word, stunk for me. I ended the night down.

$3.2M was bet on the card, which I think might have beaten last year. Mohawk is a perfect venue for this card. Let's hope next year we have some good promo bets to take advantage of, like WEG has done for the Queens Plate.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

North America Cup Card - As Good as it Gets

Mohawk tends to get solid, yet unspectacular handles. Much of it has to do with the US/Canada thing, and bettors know that the rakes at Mohawk are not overly customer friendly. However, this card for fans of the sport of horse racing, simply rocks. It might be one of the best cards assembled anywhere, and will probably be the best harness racing card of 2009.

Race One: NA Cup Consolation II

Stinger Blue Chip for me (although I worry about the pace to chase, and a possible hard track favouring speed a little more than usual), but there are several possibles that make this a good betting race.

Race Two: Open Pacing Mares $44,000

The best mares in the country square off. Tough betting race. No opinion here.

Race Three: $333,000 Goodtimes Stakes

I loved the way Duded Up won last week, with a decent middle half and a ton left in the tank.

Race Four: $40k Preferred Pace

No FFA tonight, so these represent the best pacers on the grounds. Very tough race to handicap. One of the best 3YO pacers of 2008 makes his 4YO debut, The Mohegan Pan.

Race Five: $680,000 Fan Hanover Stakes

The rich with tradition race is a great spectator affair. Will Yellow Diamond be better this week and break 150? Can she go 149? World record perhaps? We'll see. Off last week I will not be playing her, but have not decided who to play.

Race Six: NA Cup Consolation I, $100,000

Arctic Warrior for me. I hope he is not overbet. I think Barber Pole might pop tonight as well.

Race 7: $1,500,000 NA Cup

As below.

Race Eight: $30,000 CD Pace

Nice, nice betting race. I think Legal Litigator might have a longshot chance, and could be better this week. Raw Energy, with some flow could be there.

Race Nine: $561,000 Elegant Image Stakes

Tough race. The chalks look ok. I will be trying, based on odds, Celebrity Juliet. Two sub 28 quarters coming home while parked shows she is sharp. We'll see if she is fast enough. I have a feeling this race will sport a very fast time.

Race Ten: $75,000 Fan Hanover Consolation

The chalk looks tough. If she is in any type of form it could be an easy win.

Race Eleven: $21,000 CD Pace

I expect the rail horse, Rustler Steve, to be tough in here, dropping in class. He did not have much of a shot against Silent Swing last week.

Race Twelve: $21,000 CD Pace and Race Thirteen a $19,000 CD Pace

I can not get a feel for either of these races, so will be watching the scoreouts and so on. These races will have solid handle, despite being late in the card, as they look like solid betting races.

We don't see cards like this everyday, and it is a great night to be a fan of racing.

Good luck everyone and enjoy the evening.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

North America Cup Analysis

Here is my take on the Cup Saturday. I will probably be playing this race as there is sure to be some value on the board.

1 - OK Borimir: Last weeks 30-1 was a bit long on this colt, but he remains a longshot. Luc will no doubt be looking for a slice of the $1.5M pot, and sitting the wood.

2 - Mr. Wiggles: Big shot, and the 15-1 ML is from Mars. This colt was impressive in the Hempt, paces sound as can be and is a legitimate threat to take all the marbles. He did not beat much in his elimination, but he went a huge first quarter on an off track, so he deserved to be a little tired.

3 - Dial or No Dial: Nice mile last week and strangely this guy has been lost in the shuffle a little bit. I think there is a chance that odds can be had on him and he might be underbet. Huge shot to take it down.

4 - If I Can Dream: I have no idea what to make of this horse. He does not look world class by any stretch, but he got the job done last week and won in a walk. He woke up when he entered the Brainard barn last year, but at times has been flat. It would not surprise me to see him run 8th, and it would not surprise me to see him win. A total question mark for me.

5 - Well Said: I would not bet him anywhere near his ML (the ML seems way out of whack this year). I am a fan of this horse and was on his bandwagon for the BC last year where we got a good price, but price is everything and I do not think we will get it. He has a good shot to win of course. No secret there, but an equipment change last week, off two sub par efforts, and a hard fought head win, just gives me a bad feeling about his chances.

6. Keep It Real: The east coast horse is probably the best horse in the race. He left hard from outside last time, got hung a bit and was still firing at the end. I think that first quarter took quite a bit out of him last time, and if he gets a trip, he could be $750k richer.

7. Art Colony: This horse hung like a chandelier last year in several starts where he was in a perfect position to win, and this year nothing has changed. Racing for fifth.

8. Chasin Racin: Nice colt, but he has had good trips and has not converted. He is a longshot, and one I can't play.

9. Annieswesterncard: I give this guy a fighting chance at huge odds. He was the chalk in the Metro last year, and he has the back class to contend with this group. A race like this comes down to trips, so if he fires out and gets one, he can light up the toteboard. An angle going for him: A closer flashing speed in his previous start is usually worth a poke. I will more than likely be playing him a little bit and sprinkle him in the exotics.

10. Millionaire Cam: Only a long, longshot's chance.

Most probable winner: Keep It Real
Power Rating Top Three: Keep It Real, Well Said, Dial or No Dial

My plays:

Win on Annieswesterncard, 20-1 or over
Win on Mr. Wiggles, if over 7-1
Win on Dial or No Dial, if over 4-1

Ex box: Mr. Wiggles, Annieswesterncard and Dial or No Dial

Supers: Annieswesterncard and Mr Wiggles, grouped with the chalks, with a couple of all's in the three and four spots.

Good luck everyone.

North America Cup Field is Set

Drawmaster Brian Burke, GM of the NHL powerhouse Toronto Maple Leafs, did his deed and the Cup field is set:

Post Position - Horse - Driver - Trainer - Morning Line Odds
1 - OK Boromir - L. Ouellette - F. Baker, Jr. - 15-1
2 - Mr Wiggles - C. Callahan - B. Teague - 15-1
3 - Dial Or Nodial - B. Sears - Ji. Campbell - 4-1
4 - If I Can Dream - G. Brennan - T. Brainard - 5-1
5 - Well Said - R. Pierce - S. Elliott - 2-1
6 - Keep It Real - S. Condren - J. Shea - 3-1
7 - Art Colony - Jo. Campbell - C. Coleman - 8-1
8 - Chasin Racin - D. Miller - B. Teague - 20-1
9 - Annieswesterncard - Ti. Tetrick - T. Deters - 25-1
10 - Millionaire Cam - J. Jamieson - T. O'Sullivan - 30-1
AE1 - Arctic Warrior - TBA - B. Wallace - TBA

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mystery Pollsters and Get Going on Fair Starts

This weeks Hambletonian Poll is out. Last year we had some fun here with that poll in a couple of ways. Namely, 'how could a horse being compared to Niatross poll second for most of the year'. But we also had something else that made us pause in wonderment - the mystery Mr. Big voter.

Each week, Beach would get X number one votes, Dewey would get the rest, except for one vote. Each week, no matter what happened (even the week that Beach set the World Record) this one voter would place his number one vote in favour of Mr. Big.

Well, he's back.

Lucky Jim got 32 out of 33 first place votes. Mr. Big? Well he got one. I would love to know who this guy is. Does he own a piece of Mr. Big? Was he once invited to Joe Muscara's beach house? Does he have a share in his dam? Or does he just really, really, really love Mr. Big?

Mr. Big has now raced twice. He is 1 for 2. I wonder if he loses a few in a row if this mystery voter will still have him as his top choice?

Alan over at his harness blog has penned a letter regarding fair starts to send off to racing commissions. This item is now being placed on the agenda at a meeting in August. Fair start rules are completely anachronistic and changes are needed. In many cases they are nothing more than a money grab which sends patrons home seething. It is time something is done about it. Visit Alan's blog, cut and paste his letter and help the game a little bit. There is power in numbers.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

North America Cup Elims in the Books; On Track Recap

Last night at Mohawk the eliminations for the North America Cup were contested. The weather early in the evening was fine, although a little chilly, however when race 7 rolled around, Bethpage Black showed up, and it got pretty soupy. Overall it was a very good evening of racing.

In elim one I felt that Well Said could not "flip the switch" and be better this week, which was dead wrong. I think the connections, although publicly not saying anything, were quite concerned with his two flat efforts, the evidence being they changed both hind shoes to aluminum. Whatever happened, he was a different horse. East coast horse Keep it Real raced very well to be second.

Elimination two, on paper was Dial or No Dial's race to lose, and he did not disappoint. OK Borimer, with Luc O's buddy and blog contributor Greg standing in front of me with a fist pump, came second in a good effort to make the final at 30-1 odds.

Elim three was where I was going to take a poke at Arctic Warrior. He got stuck back in traffic and closed to be third. I hope he makes the final. Rooney winner If I can Dream won gate to wire, and Annieswesterncard was a good second.

In the last elim there was no fooling around for Mr. Wiggles. Gate to wire. Assuring himself a spot in the final was Art Colony.

Notes and News and opines from around the track

Federal Flex, the horse usually mentioned as the "born in the wrong year" three year old trotter looked more than fine winning his elim for the Goodtimes. It amazes me when we get to watch good trotters. In the elims for the Goodtimes I think I saw only a handful of knee boots. Most of them were equipment free and trotting smooth as glass.

Yellow Diamond was flat as a pancake in her elimination for the Fan Hanover. Do we chalk that up to happenstance and chuck out the subpar effort?

I was looking to bet against Well Said, as mentioned. I chose Lisagain as my 'value' horse. Lisagain was 6-5, Well Said was 5-2. In a lesson that we should all remember, not liking or liking a horse depends solely on the odds. Although I hated Well Said, if I knew he was going to be 5-2 I would have bet him.

I spent the Mr. Wiggles race in the paddock. As written on the blog, I wanted to back him pretty good this week. At about three minutes to post I saw he was 14-1. I had to run into the grandstand to bet, so I just said "fagetaboutit", and stayed in the paddock for the race. Never a doubt...... he won and paid $33.

After the Mr. Wiggles win (by the way, the kids at the winners circle after the race when I returned were all chanting "Mr. Wiggles". Kids like that name I guess) I saw the groom of the horse run up to trainer Brenda Teague, who was dutifully cleaning up and loading stuff into the truck, and say "cmon we just won!". Brenda said, something along the likes of 'I have things to load, so go ahead'. I have heard from three or four people telling me that Brenda is one of the nicest, and least pretentious successful trainers in racing. This told me they were right.

In what I like to call "The Art Colony Mystery", I am wondering who keeps betting this horse. He was 7-5 off a bad effort where he lost at 2-5. He should be about 20-1 next week, but for some reason I think he will be 7-2 or something.

I had a nice chat with Jamie Martin of Woodbine last night and he was quite excited about the Queens Plate, the pick 6 guarantee and the WEG/TVG deal. Let's hope that some of these things take hold. And let's hope we see some similar action on the harness racing side as well!

Friday, June 19, 2009

NA Cup Elimination Picks

Here are mine. I am wondering if anyone likes anything tomorrow?

Elim 1:

Keep It Real

- Looking for some value here with a gate leaver, who should be spotted nicely for a decent trip. He fired home well last time.

Elim 2:

Dial or No Dial
Stinger Blue Chip
Johnny Z

- I will probably play Stinger here as he should be pretty long odds. This is not a deep field, so Dial or No Dial might get things his own way and be uncatchable, however.

Elim 3:

Arctic Warrior
Passmaster Hanover
Sheer Desire

- It is a shame to see so many decent colts in the same division. Arctic Warrior has a real shot here I think with a trip at long odds.

Elim 4:

Mr. Wiggles
Vintage Master
Drop Red

- I think I will get a nice price on Mr. Wiggles and will swing.

Good luck to everyone tomorrow!

Wondering About the Woodbine 150K Pick 6, But I Know it is a Green Light Bet

Woodbine has added a new twist to the thoroughbreds for the upcoming Sunday's, starting with the Queen's Plate - a $150k guaranteed pick 6.

This is a wonderful opportunity for gamblers but I just have one problem with it - I don't think it is going to work. I can not see them getting close to that number in the pools, and I would suspect that the execs will be cheering for one thing each time it is offered. A carryover.

We'll see what happens this weekend and next, but I have not seen the splash needed (through a web based marketing program on the HRF ad network etc) to make this catch fire. With it being only once a week there is a strong possibility of a carryover, and that is no doubt the plan, so let's hope for a carryover this weekend and some buzz (or hope I am completely wrong which is a fair possibility as you all know :)) because we want tracks to try things like this and we want them to succeed. If this was 10 years ago a place like WEG would not even entertain such an idea. In fact, it was only five years ago that this organization upped their pick 4 takeout over 10%, taking money right out of their customers pockets - money that these customers would be rebetting into the pools, and money that was needed to survive this brutally tough game. It is nice to see them change their mindset and corporate vision, and begin to fight for the gambling dollar.

I'll be playing and supporting it on Sunday, one way or another. It is a good value-added deal for players and is worth supporting. Selfishly of course, if I am right and they have trouble filling the 150k, everyone should be on this thing - it can be a very low takeout bet, and players can really make some money, even with 5 of 6. This is a green light play; no two ways about it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life is Now a Subset

Alan of Left at the Gate has never been a big fan of the Twitter and the twinkies, and I certainly respect that opinion. For some it is just asinine. For others however, it is not, and I think it is something that will be a part of racing on the internet for a long time to come, because of that subset.

I remember stock trading in the 1990's with my 56.6 modem cranked up to full speed. I hooked into a small cap volume alert thread at the growing and soon-to-be-popular Silicon Investor website. A trader or two, or a stay at home mom not even trading, had a their volume alerts set and would enter a trade based on them. They would post the potential mover, and a few of us would add it to our screens. I lived on that site for a couple of years. Real time stock trading was born on sites like this all over the world.

The key was that there was a subset of people who wanted to do this. They were "The Long Tail" of stock trading. It worked, and it grew into a phenomenon.

We are slowly seeing this subset of people using twitter for racing. Joe Riddell has his Keeneland report (he is paid by Keeneland to do this), now we have the Bridgejumper alert tweet thread, which alerts people to bridgejumpers who might want to take a shot against them. The carryover thread, long overdue, has been a godsend to many who want to know about carryovers.

I think that is only the beginning. Because when subsets of people that used to do things with pen and paper who can now do things with the computer, it is always that way.

Back in the day at Greenwood at the east end of Toronto, there were the clockers. I was one of them - you would show up right at 6PM with a program and a watch, sit up in the stands and watch warm ups. There were countless good bets found for people who want to work at it. Everyone had no problem sharing data with whomever would listen, as well.

There were the post parades and score outs. Religious watchers of them. If you met in the clubhouse and a horse broke while scoring out, you were alerted and bet accordingly.

All of these things were hard work, and they were only available to you if you were there. This is not the case any longer.

The Racing Post UK has real time alerts, right on the side of the screen for anyone playing from home. I would bet dollars to donuts Twinspires.com will have the same thing on their interface within the next 12 months. There are people out there who want to know near post if a horse washes out, they want to know if a rider is galloping a willing animal before post time, they want to know if a horse breaks in the score down, or if a trainer zipped the horse a 31 last quarter in the warm up mile. A twitter track feed on a scroll via your adw is not rocket science. It could be done tomorrow.

Will it be make or break? Will it be the difference in losing or making money? No. But added information is looked for by some, and some will use it. They will remember that Jim Takter warms up this horse in a jog, the wrong way around the track, but this week they saw a right way warm up with a 32 second last quarter. The horse might be 20-1. Others will remember last weeks track tweet that the six warmed up in a sweat, unruly and fractious but this week with a murphy blind added he is calm as a sleeping baby.

There are players out there doing things with computers that most players can not imagine. If a track used twitter to update each horses warm up in such a way to encourage it, say by twinkying "trainer name", "horse", "warm up back 3/8's" and one or two more factors, this would be super-easy to scrape off twitter into a spreadsheet, where the player would have a warm up tendency database, and be easily alerted when something is up.

If there is one thing the long tail has taught us, is that the market is silent, but can be out there. And in the aggregate it can be very big. Ten years from now your adw screen will look very different, and if we do it right, and think completely outside the box it can help racing grow, as it has so many other sports and games of skill.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stakes Night in Canada - NA Cup Eliminations

Sliding under the radar of this weeks Queens Plate are the elims for the North America cup, at Mohawk.

The elims have been drawn, and the hodge-podge that has been a staple this year is no more apparent than the four divisions. Divisional elims usually result in a top four or five finishers in each division advancing. Not this year.

In elim one, Keep it Real draws a terrible post. We'll see if Well Said can turn on a switch and somehow be better, which I doubt. I can't find a thing to play in this elimination. Seeing it is the superfecta, that annoys me. The Hoosier horse raced well last time, and that surprised me a bit. We'll see how he does.

In elim two we have another enigmatic division. I would guess Dial or No Dial should do well here, but last week's third place finish in the NJSS final does not inspire confidence. He will probably win, but he'll be overbet.

Elim three is by far the deepest. There are several 150 and change types here, and several horses that by all rights should make the final, will not. My pre cup pick Barber Pole has seemingly imploded. I have no idea what has happened to him; how you go from jogging in 151 on a five eighths without the use of the whip, and jogging in 149 like a Sunday walk in the park, to 6th by 25 is beyond me. My next choice, Passmaster Hanover, has a brutal post. For those people who sometimes wish the elims were drawn by handicap, by a handicapper, this elim is testament to that. I was really looking forward to bet Arctic Warrior after last week's Burlington, and I hated seeing him in this elim, but I will still be playing him.

Elim four is a decent betting elimination. Mr. Wiggles came home in 120.4 last time off a clear prep. I am not in love with him, but if he gets a trip the price should be nice. Other than that, nothing in this elim is overly exciting to me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

You Too Can Be a Harness Blogger

Standardbred Canada gets something like 8 gazillion hits, or so my sources tell me. And they are looking for a blogger.

I would like to see some harness blogs. I think it would be a hoot if more folks in the business blogged.

Randy Waples: A blog about how to answer a question from Greg Blanchard in 1,000 words or more
Ron Pierce: A blog about how to answer a question from Greg Blanchard in five words or less
The OHHA Blog: "How to win friends and influence people"
Bob Hollywood Heyden: The "I am taller than every harness driver I have interviewed" blog
The Sadinsky Blog: "How I wrote a paper on fixing harness racing and everyone used it as tinder" (ed note: This could be about any white paper ever commissioned by harness racing)
The Yannick Gingras Fan Club Blog: By the Hambo Society's Moira Fanning
The 0.700 UTRS Off the Claim Trainer Blog: "Shoeing tips"
The Birthing and Smiths Concert Harness Racing Blog: Kelly Spencer (whoops, this one is already there)
"HPITV is the Best Racing Channel on Television": Blog by PTP contributor Louis the Whip
The "We should have midnight and morning racing so I can drive horses 21 hours a day" Blog: By Tim Tetrick

C'mon folks, throw the hat in the ring!

A Picture Is Worth.........

.... a few words anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wow, What a Group

The Burlington Stakes were last night at Mohawk. Used as a prep for the North America Cup, they usually tell us something about the colts heading into next weeks eliminations. All we learned is that blog followers and commenters are right - this is not a talented group.

In the first elim, Art Colony was 2-5. Why? I have no idea. I swung hard against him with the six and eight and could not capitalize. No one jumped out in that elim.

In the second elim, east coast horse Keep it Real raced well. We were waiting with this guy to see the bottom of the well, and we saw it there, 150.2. He might have stamped himself as the Cup fave next week. Well Said had a decent trip and could not make any headway, coming fourth. Mr. Wiggles had an excellent prep. He looks like a horse to me.

Nothing sparkled in any of the other elims in my eyes.

At the M, Passmaster Hanover assured some favouritism with his score in the NJSS final. He won like a good horse. Blair Burgess has brought along another one like a master. While many trainers nowadays try to win qualifiers in flashy times in May, Burgess tries to win races in June and July. We see this time and time again with Blair. I think in ten years or so, or maybe sooner, harness racing will come full circle and we will not see 151 qualifiers in May. We will be back to old school, with a couple of slow q's and a nice prep or two. Horses are not machines.

Muscle Hill was amazingly impressive again. Strength of field makes some superstars look only like mini-superstars if the depth of crop is good, and can make ordinary horses look better than they are if the crop is mediocre. For example, could you imagine Somebeachsomewhere against this crop of three year olds, rather than the stock he beat last year? Well Muscle Hill does not have that luxury, as this is a good crop. Last night he showed how good he is, trotting away from his very talented stablemate like he was in another universe. My fingers are crossed for this colt.

In the Classic Series Final, mare pacing superstar Southwind Tempo showed when she is good there is no mare on earth who can stay with her. She swept that field like they were tied to a pole. Will she stay sharp all year? If so, one can see more world records being shattered by her.

In the older pacer Classic Series, Bettor Sweet showed that the four year olds can do just fine against older, if they are great horses. Since most great three year olds retire, we don't get to see it much. Two excellent three year olds that did not retire last year were Bettor Sweet and Dali. They look in fine shape to make some coin this year. The jury is still out on Shadow Play, but if he comes back good, and we add Southwestern Dream to the mix, the older division might be dominated by four year olds. And we have not even spoken of Art Official, who won a prep last night at Balmoral in 51, easily. This shows just how good Somebeachsomewhere was last year. The 2008 three year old crop will be spoken about for generations.

While we can fasten our seatbelts for the Muscle Hill ride we can do the same for the Cup. If the trend holds and no one jumps out, this will be a hell of a betting race. With a million bucks bet on the Cup, and a field with many possibles, we have a shot to make some money.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Trenton We Have a Problem

Carrying over from our post on Chester stealing Meadowlands entries away with the bandit money, we have had tons of good comments on the 'Mecca' of harness racing.

It was also only a few short years ago that the Meadowlands typically scheduled a total of one overnight trot race on their Friday and Saturday night cards combined. On Friday's program you would find the Open Trot nestled in amongst 11 or 12 full fields of quality pacers. And on Saturday nights it was wall-to-wall pacing affairs in which you could make a legitimate case for at least 6 or 7 of the entries. It was a value player's dream come true as horses that should have been 4-1 or 9-2 would regularly light up the toteboard at 6, 7 or 8-1.

JLB said...

The Meadowlands has turned into a Vernon Downs type of track, overloaded with trots for young, developing horses. As a longtime fan, the racing at the moment is pathetic, and it is my understanding that, in addition to those who have already done so, at least one top driver has expressed an intention to abandon the Big M during the week for driving assignments at Yonkers when Chester is not racing.

Last year I was lamenting here about Yonkers, that harness racing handle hotbed, taking entries, and drivers, and handle away from the M. Now they are getting ganged up on by Chester and Pocono. Both the latter tracks have takeouts approaching three card monte levels. In fact, a columnist had this to say about Presque Isle Downs and their PA takeouts:

The sky-high takeout rates that are in place at all Pennsylvania tracks remain in place. Takeout is the set percentage of money taken from a betting pool and not redistributed in winning payoffs.

Presque Isle Downs has developed a reputation as a track that cares about its own slots players and cares about keeping the horsemen content, but does not care about the horse player.

So clearly we have a problem. Jersey racing is pretty close to Kentucky racing - on life support. The horseman won't support the tracks at these purse levels. Drivers, who most would say do not have loyalty as one of their strong points, certainly won't support a place with lower purses. Bettors? As the poster above said: Small fields and crap racing is not exactly what we are looking for either.

Let's hope something gets done in Trenton. And of course, let's hope tracks and horseman groups do not do what they usually do when they have a windfall like this. Without some cash going back to the player to grow harness racing, you might as well not have a slots scheme at all. Just dole out a few checks like welfare does and be done with it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dave Brower: Harnessing Winners

I just finished a quick read of Dave Brower's new harness racing handicapping book "Harnessing Winners". It is a look at harness racing, mainly containing his thoughts as the track handicapper at the Meadowlands. Chapters include: Replays, Trips, Key races, Warm ups and class drops; among others.

For seasoned handicappers there is not a ton brand new, however I feel I take away at least two or three points from any book I read. And since there are so few newer harness books out there, it does fill a modern void.

For thoroughbred handicappers, or those newer to the game (or those readers who come over from 360 or the TBA here who don't know what I mean when I reference a 123 back three panels, while being checked in a blind switch), I think the topics are quite good and informative. Also, there are two sections on tracks I never play - Northfield and Yonkers. For people who want to learn a bit about those tracks, it makes for a good primer.

I agree with Dave on warm ups and a horses look on the racetrack. As well, Brian Sears in his section relays this often overlooked part of harness handicapping. I play both harness and thoroughbreds and have read three full books on body language. I feel that this factor is worth much, much more in harness than in thoroughbreds. If you are not watching the PP's and score-outs I think you are missing out on some solid plays. My last big score in fact, came from a scoreout with a trotter. When trotters are trotting sound, in a spot they can win, they can be ten lengths better than advertised.

The previously mentioned Brian Sears chapter was worth the price of the book. Brian is a good driver, no question, and that is obvious. However I have always found he is a driver that tries to leave something in the tank, unlike so many of the cowboys today. I think this is a huge reason why he is such a success. Overly aggressive drivers can have short careers, or never reach the pinnacle of the game by getting the call on stakes horses, or trotters. For claiming trainers, some of whom are long gone from the game for lighting them up like a Christmas tree, the aggressive folks can get by and make a good living, but if you want to be like Brian, leaving something in the tank is a godsend. Brian speaks of being cognizant of this in his style. He also sounds like a sharp bettor, although I have no idea if he bets or not.

For those who are looking for pure gambling logic, or tips, or a deep look at ROI driven or IV factors, one would have to look elsewhere. But for a basic skill level look at harness racing, or if you have at least a general curiosity about handicapping, it is well worth the $14, in my opinion. The book can be purchased here at the USTA store.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stakes Season Begins; Twinkies & the Changing Business World

The Burlington Stakes Divisions were drawn today. As usual, they are good tilts and could set the stage for the Cup elims next week. Of particular note to me is that Art Colony is NOT being driven by Randy Waples. Why, I have no idea. Was he lifted? Is it because he will not be driving at the Meadowlands? All I know is that Randy is one of the best drivers in North America who never seems to get stakes drives. It is truly bizarre.

I am back (for awhile) from a whirlwind 72 hours at the annual Search Engine conference in Toronto. I pretty much jammed 365 days of learning into those hours, not to mention some socializing with like-minded folks, which is always welcomed. Following racing in the way that I do, and then having to shift gears to my real job is quite the juxtaposition. On the one hand speaking of changing the status-quo in racing (like we speak of here on the blog many times), is met with a blank stare from most in our business, while in my real job the status-quo is yesterday's news, and not even considered an option. I could not be involved in two more diametrically different businesses.

I did learn a great deal this week. New sessions on what's next for Twitter, and social media, filled with real life examples was quite good. I think there is an opportunity for racing with many of these platforms, but we have to be smart about it. For 100 years we have had the "if you build it, people will come" mindset. Being a monopoly for so long breeds that I guess. However it can not be done in the new world. What some companies are doing each day to get customers blows ones mind. Speaking with many sharp entrepreneurs, one gets to realize just how hard they are working, and just how hard they try. We have a great deal of work to do, and despite some movement by NYRA and the NTRA (in harness most of this is not even on the radar yet), I have a feeling we are going to stay very far behind many other sports and businesses. We are simply not close to doing enough.

Point of Interest

A question below:

Would love to hear your take on Borel and Mine That Bird. I see a torrent of criticism aimed at his too-early, too-soon move. But long-time harness fans know that it is rare to find a heavy favorite in a big race that DOESN'T make an early move. I have heard the best drivers speak of these situations in which the thing they do not want to have happen is to lose a race having too much ground to make up at the end, and so their moves for the lead are almost always completed by or just after the half-way mark of the mile. Mine That Bird was spent - the pacesetter came back and edged him for the place spot - and was a tired horse. The Triple Crown road is a gruelling one on young horses, and T-breds cannot bounce back week after week like their harness cousins can. If this wasn't the case, then we would not have the number of unlikely longshots that have won the Belmont in recent years.
Cheers. Jim

Jim, riders/drivers get far too much credit when a horse wins, and take far too much blame when a horse loses. When Borel made his move and Bird was hanging like a chandelier I said to my gambling friend "boy is he going to get toasted for this", as it was clear he was not going to win. It made me think of Ron Pierce on Art Official in the Meadowlands Pace last year. He has done that move plenty of times and came 9th by 11, and was called a goat. When he won with Art Official, he was a genius. I do not feel sorry for riders and drivers either way, but it is the state of the game. People like to humanize their wins and losses and it is easier to blame or praise someone who speaks, rather than something who whinny's.

My 2 cents.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yellow Diamond - 149.4

Yellow Diamond, harness racings potential answer to the thoroughbred queen Rachel Alexandra, easily won the James Lynch at Pocono this weekend. The time was a stunning 149.4. The colts went 151 in their stakes race at Pocono two weeks ago. It was a nice mile for Ginger and Fred as well, who was a solid second. With the right pace set up, this filly, in my opinion had a shot at the World record, regardless of sex on this day. She won with her ears pricked, with Morrill shutting her down early.

The video evidence:

Harness racing is a wonderful sport when we have talented colts and fillies to watch. This year, touch wood, we might have two that should stay on the radar all year, this filly and Muscle Hill.

Friday, June 5, 2009

North America Cup Contenders Ed III

Greg is back with his North America Cup list. Here you are!

NA Cup Top Ten - Picture Still Cloudy

Last week was another week of somewhat confusing results in the stakes races leading up to the Pepsi North America Cup on June 27 at Mohawk Racetrack. I keep waiting for someone to step up with a really big mile, and aside from Barber Pole's 1:49 effort earlier this year, it seems like nobody has. This is probably the most wide-open Cup since Mantacular won in 2004, and really anyone and everyone with an eligible horse should think they have a chance to win. One good thing about that is that it should make for several elimination fields.

1. Well Said (LW #1). A "work-man" like 1:53.1 victory in his season's debut at Chester on Wednesday night. The track was sloppy, so the time is excusable, but I would've liked to see him kick home a little bit stronger, especially with a 40-1 shot on his back.

2. Dial Or Nodial (LW #2). Converted a two-hole trip into a half-length victory in 1:50.1 in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final on Saturday night at the Meadowlands. Again, the win was more "work-man" like than anything as he didn't put the field away after he cleared.

3. Barber Pole (LW #3). Had zero chance to win the Hoosier Cup after drawing trailing post 12, but rallied to pick up fourth, beaten just one length. Again, he's the only three-year old so far this year to have a "WOW" mile, and if he could pull that again, he'd probably win the Cup.

4. Johnny Z (LW #7). Didn't race this week after winning the Hempt on May 23 at Pocono, but I gave him a bump up this week based on some other horse's performances. Seeing that 1:51.4 mile he went in the slop in the Hempt after watching some of the races from this week, it looks like a better performance.

5. Mr Wiggles (LW unranked). This year's Hoosier Cup champion was under pressure every step of the way and staved off a host of closers to win by a quarter of a length in 1:52.1. His last quarter was only in 29.2, but I think it was a good performance considering he was wide much of the way and never got a breather at any point. #3, #4, and #5 are all trained by George Teague.

6. Drop Red (LW #4). Cut the mile in the NJSS final, but gave way in the stretch and had to settle for third. He was beaten only a length and a quarter and paced his mile in 1:50.3, so it was still a solid performance. Drawing the nine-hole didn't help his cause either as he was wide on the first turn.

7. Stonebridge Terror (LW #8). This year's Upper Canada Cup winner finished second, beaten a head, in a 1:52.3 Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series elimination on Sunday evening at Rideau Carleton Raceway. That's two straight sub 28-second final kickers on five-eighths mile tracks for this guy, so he may be the closing threat when they go back to the big track.

8. Keep It Real (LW unranked). Can you possibly go from NW1 to winning the North America Cup in a month? If it's ever going to happen, it might be this year. This son of Real Artist is now four-for-four in his career, and has charged home in 26.4 and in 27.2 in his two races at Mohawk so far. The 27.2 final panel came in a condition event on Monday evening, which Keep It Real won by two lengths in 1:52.3.

9. Art colony (LW #5). Art Colony takes a big drop this week as neither one of his qualifiers have impressed trainer Casie Coleman or myself. Hopefully we'll get a better read on him in a three-year old open at Mohawk on Saturday night.

10. Annieswesterncard (LW #6). Was admittedly bad in the Hoosier Cup, finishing 10th, but it was his first race in almost a month and he was parked on cover at every call. He did very well at Mohawk in the Metro last year, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him bounce back.

Dropped out: #9 Waffles and Cream, who simply didn't race this week, and I wanted to make room for a couple of others, and Vertigo Hanover, who had a good second-over trip in the Hoosier Cup and had no kick in the stretch (wound up fifth).

Muscle Jogs in Debut; and a Harness Racing League?

Belmont Schmelmont. We had a special horse do his thing in his first start of 09 tonight at the M. Muscle Hill won easily in 153.1, on a track that was not overly speedy. He sped away like a good horse should.

Every year we hear a great deal of hype, with especially trotters. There is at least one with a gawdy record that beats up on two year olds in unremarkable ways, and unremarkable times. Donato Hanover's debut was in 154 and change, pretty much to the bottom of the barrel. Cantab Hall, perhaps the most hyped trotter of the decade, faltered in his 3YO test against decent horses. Dewey last year won by a half length with a 29 last quarter. This debut blew any three year old trotters debut that I can ever remember. Let's hope he stays sound and progresses. I am going to stick by my post last year with this colt. I think he shatters 150 if all goes well.

Allan says: Give us a harness racing league, in a well thought out post. Much of it makes sense, and some of the machinations can address many of the real problems our sport has.

Plenty of comments on the whipping post yesterday, including one from EQ on the picture. I have to agree, that picture kicks some major ass. I hope we can speak about the issue more and more over the coming weeks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Whipping, Breakdowns & 1970's Football

In the 1970's in the NFL, football was downright dirty. Players had tricks they used to get an edge that were right out of a scene from Braveheart. Clotheslining was legal, so was (said by one player I saw interviewed on the subject) 'jabbing your fingers into an opponents neck and grabbing his voicebox'. That sounds pleasant, huh?

At this time in the sports' history, highlight shows were popping up, and those highlight shows were becoming popular (only a portion of games were even shown in the early to mid 70's). The brutality of football and these laissez faire rules resulted in some very bad injuries, and some stomach turning episodes. To combat this, Rozelle had NFL Films never show, or distribute the brutal stuff - the dark side of the game would stay hidden, come hell or high water. Rozelle's reasoning was simple: Selling the game to new markets would be hampered if the brutality of it was not snuffed out.

After that policy not being overly successful (you can not stop progress and technology), the NFL, under his guidance, changed the rules. No more dirty stuff, no more clotheslines, no more head hunting. The players would be fined and suspended, no questions asked. Of course, the players hated this. They had plied their trade for years one way, and were asked to do something different.

Some of the excuses used against the changes came from them, and the old guard. One such argument was that fans loved the brutality, they cheered when big dirty hits occurred and changing the game would cause the game to suffer. Rozelle was a visionary, however. He knew that the people in the stands would always love football, and watch football. It was not about them, it was about the new markets that did care if they saw people get hurt, or possibly die right in front of their eyes. If they did not change the game those markets could not be sold to, using the relatively new medium of live sports on television.

It is clear that the policy worked. The NFL changed their demo from men, to men women and children. Changed it from an insular game in cities, to a game to sell the world. More people watch the Super Bowl than live in 80% of the world's countries. People tune in for the halftime show at a rate that tune in for some of the most popular television shows in existence. Football is still a brutal game, but if you ask the masses, the brutality of it is rarely mentioned. They changed the mindset within a generation.

This is why I support doing everything we can to stop breakdowns, and stop whip brutality. It is not about us as insiders and what we want, it is about selling the game to new markets. We can not sell a game where you see a driver jam his whip into a horses genitalia. We can not sell a game where one of our equine participants falls down and dies at the finish line, like we see all too often with the runners.

The ORC is currently changing the rules in Ontario. In harness, no more brutal whipping between the legs, dropping the feet, raising the whip over your head like you are a Greek God of war, or doing 1970 NFL "tricks" to try and make a horse go faster. In thoroughbreds I saw the second race last night at Woodbine, where the jocks were made to carry 'lite-touch' whips. These are all proactive measures.

The next time you hear the argument that fans want to see whipping because they think they got a fair shake for their gambling dollar, tell them it is not about us, it is about the future. Tell them to think big, just like Pete Rozelle did well over 30 years ago.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


A lull in the action this evening with not much going on, so here are some things to ponder, or not.

..... The ORC has instituted out of competition testing for stakes races. As most know, OOC testing is to get at the bad stuff, namely EPO and blood builders. These drugs are given between races and are very hard to catch.

..... Well Said, NA Cup favourite, made his first start of the year at Chester this evening. After a 150 and change qualifier I expected him to be good, but he came home in 28.1 and did not look like a chalk for the NA Cup to me. Time will tell of course.

..... Salty card this weekend at Mohawk. JC speaks of his Classic Series mounts here.

..... Dave Brower's new book is out. I went to the bookstore but I could not find one. If I can I will review it here. I am surprised I have not seen advance copies around for reviewers. Dave is a pretty sharp guy, so I expect it to be good.

..... Greg will be here tomorrow with his NA Cup Top Ten.

..... I have been scouring the internet, searching valiantly for Harness Herb. We will get him back in the fold when we can for his top ten monthly harness horses.

..... Muscle Hill goes tomorrow at the M, making his three year old debut. By the looks of the quallies, one would think he should be good.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Do We Have Our Own Rachel Alexandra?

Three year old Western Terror filly Yellow Diamond made a huge statement this past week at Pocono Downs, winning in 151, under wraps. This prompted driver Jim Morrill to say "She won as easy as a horse could possibly win. She could have gone in 1:49, no problem. I don’t care what (starting spot) she gets. It doesn’t matter. I’m not usually like that; I’m not an overconfident person. But with this filly, she was so good, I just don’t think anyone can touch her. I know what I had left.”

Drivers are some time prone to hyperbole, but right now it looks to me like this filly is as good as any of the colts. If she was eligible to the North America Cup, she would be in my top two contenders. I have only said that about one other filly in my days of following this sport, and that was Rainbow Blue. To this day I feel she could have won the Cup, and I wished we would have seen her take on the colts back in 2003. Will Yellow Diamond be this years Rainbow Blue, or Rachel Alexandra? Time will tell, but I have to think she has a shot to.

Wow, Actually Targeting a Willing Demographic?

Ten, twelve, maybe even fifteen years ago gamblers were often saying to racing that they are the market, but they are not giving them what they want. Over that similar window of time, and even before that, racing was steadfastly married to marketing to the masses - trying to get on mass market television, showing human interest stories about a girl and a horse, and so on.

This week something popped up that finally makes sense. Using the gambling market as the target for racing. In Europe, the Poker Channel is covering one hour of racing a night.

The Poker Channel also announces its first ever live horse-racing coverage, which airs for one hour every evening from a selection of leading US racetracks including Philadelphia Park, Hawthorne and Tampa Bay. Racing coverage is broadcast live on the Channel in all markets except the UK and Ireland.

The target demographic is not people at home in the afternoon on a Saturday with busy lives, who would not know a superfecta from superman. They are bettors who 1) Have online poker accounts 2) Know gambling 3) Bet thousands of dollars a year on sports and other games to try and make money and 4) Are prequalified gamblers who are willing to learn about other games to play.

There are a ton of specialty channels world-wide who are screaming for content. Gambling TV in Canada, several in Europe. What if racing actually spent some cash developing gambling content for these networks instead of spending money to get a race shown on National TV that no one ends up watching? Google has proven that prequalified, targeted marketing is the future and the present, so what if we finally followed that example, instead of being shackled to old thinking? Who knows, something wacky might happen..... some people might actually bet.

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