Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Laughing Into Stardom

Very often we see fans trumpet horses, especially young ones, when they are undefeated or have a good record. This usually tends to be premature. On this blog I rarely get caught up on horses and their records - some got mad at me last year for not yelling from the rooftops about Deweycheatumnhowe, or Donato Hanover for example. In all honesty I have only seen three horses this decade who I thought deserved shouting from the rooftops - Rainbow Blue, Somebeach and Muscle Hill. I am happy with those three choices and to this day I believe that all three are special.

But I am really close to adding one more to the list - One More Laugh.

This Ray Schnittker trained McArdle gelding has flashed as good a speed as you could ever hope to see. And most importantly he does it in the right way; like he has no bottom.

Cases in point, August 28th, a PASS race at Pocono. He breaks stride in the soup, goes 27.4, 27.4 to catch the field and comes home in 28.1 to win by four, on a track a second off. A week later he gets stuck in no mans land in a 27.3 third quarter, circles the field and wins in 51. A week later he comes home in 121 and change parked to win in a WR 149.2 (yes, a tricked up track, but still impressive). A week later he paces a middle half of 54 flat and still comes home in under 28 seconds to win easily in a track record at the Meadows. Keep in mind, the Meadows in October is not the Red Mile or the Meadowlands. He has yet to race on a mile track.

I don't think I have typed such words on two year old speed since speaking of Somebeachsomewhere in 2007. Horses are supposed to get tired when given these uneven fraction trips (especially around three turns), and only the superstars can win and make it look easy.

Will he be the next one? I have no idea. He is a gelding so he had some issues (I bet they regret that now), he is not huge, he is a McArdle out of a Sportsmaster mare so he does not have Rich n Elegant or Classic Wish type blood. And obviously, with an improving breed and the speed needed now, these horses last a lot less time than they used to. All those can be question marks.

But on pure speed and talent he is certainly one I will be watching week in and week out. We might be looking at something special.

Photo courtesy the Meadows

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Long Will it Last?

When I was at the gaming summit this year in Windsor I spoke with a gambler who said that 'casino revenues, especially slot revenues have a shelf life'. He expected that slots especially will fall off the cliff sometime in the next 20 years. When we discussed it, I was swayed. The demographics are poor, and really how much money can one lose day after day sitting behind a machine before it gets old?

Vegas and destinations have weathered the storm because they offer so much more. There is a reason to go there, but slots in every state and every province? I am convinced we will see that drop-off. From a recent report:

“The historical tendency for revenues from existing gambling operations to grow at a significantly slower pace than other state revenues may hold important lessons for states as policymakers consider further expansion of casinos, racinos, and other gambling activities,” Institute Deputy Director Robert B. Ward and Institute Senior Policy Analyst Lucy Dadayan wrote in the report. “Expenditures on education and other programs will generally grow more rapidly than gambling revenue over time. Thus, new gambling operations that are intended to pay for normal increases in general state spending may add to, rather than ease, long-term budget imbalances.

That is a dire warning to spend-drunk politicos that the gravy train does not last forever, and gaining revenue in the long run from slots is not something that is solid public policy.

The problem with this for racing is that after slots get saturated and bring in less and less revenue (should that happen) to governments, they tend not to change; they simply look for new avenues to fund their programs. What will they do? I believe, like in British Columbia, they will move online.

Right now horse wagering has a virtual monopoly on online gambling. But it is used like most things in racing - poorly and with little foresight. Go to a horseman group, or a state, or a track and mention online gambling and you will get three different answers, all of which depend on keeping their slices. We all know the problems with "home market areas" and "states regulations on what, when, how much and where someone can wager".

Are we not completely blowing this silver platter opportunity?

In 1930 we were the only legal game in town. We had attendance, we had revenues, we had 10% takeouts, we had gamblers playing racing full-time. Over the years we did not take advantage of it; in fact we might even say we sabotaged it. We raised takeouts by over 100%, thinking that a bigger cut will make us more money. We did not listen to the droves of people who left us, thinking that people loved the horses and would always love the horses. We made it harder and harder to be a customer, thinking that half-ass customer service was an acceptable business practice. We made it harder and harder to make this a worthwhile gambling game to play.

Online blackjack, poker and slots will be a reality in the coming years and that is not an opinion, with BC poised to do it, it is empirical. We have only a short window to not repeat history and blow this again. Will we make the necessary changes to compete before the competition comes, or will we do what we always do - wait for it to hurt us, then go cap in hand to the government begging them to save us? If we do the latter, I think that this time, we will find that no one is there to answer the door.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Partnerships for claimers and horses of racing age are well documented and out there. (Chick has a good list here). In Ontario and elsewhere for standardbred partnerships, Online Harness Owner and others seem to be doing quite well. But there are very few (that I can see) that solely focus on yearlings.

Yearling partnerships seem to be the ones which I am most interested in, for a few reasons:

1) The Home Run - Claimers and others can provide a lot of entertainment in harness racing, but rarely do we see a home run ball. You can not claim a horse for 20k and race him in the Jug.

2) You Will Probably Lose Money - People in the yearling game know that they will probably lose money. We have for a hundred years. In other partnerships they seem to sell "you can make a ton of money" and there is pressure placed on everyone to do that. For those of us trying to hit a homer and have a good horse, we know our investment will probably be gone.

3) Spreading the Risk - Buying say 10 yearlings at a modest price, can allow two or three to be successful and they can come close to carrying the others. If my stable buys two yearlings outright that is all we can afford and with two bullets in the gun you have to get very lucky.

4) Built-in Patience - People attracted to yearling partnerships should have more patience than a claiming partnership group. Winning, and winning now is not an option with young horses. In fact, patient trainers like Chuck Sylvester and Blair Burgess almost annually hit some sort of homer with modest stock.

I think yearling partnerships are built perfectly for the harness game, and if you have five or six you might be able to get more interest in our game. I thought at times about starting one, but being busy with a lot of other things I let that slide. Maybe it is something to revisit for next years sales, as I think it makes a ton of sense.

Does anyone have any thoughts on yearling partnerships? Started one, tried to start one, or wanted to be a part of one?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Changing Times & Now You're Really Angry

There is quite the dust-up from horseplayers regarding their inability to see the NYRA signal. Some have a new name for NYRA - "Now You're Really Angry." The thread is certainly rocking. I have no idea what this is about; I just know that when I was away from my TV I went to look for Belmont video to play their opening card and could not find it on HPI. I switched and started playing Mommouth instead and I don't miss it. I have no idea why our business tends to anger their customers so damn often. No one cares whose fault this is, they just want to be a customer.

I have been opining a little over at r2. I think we really do have to prepare more for the future, and virtually everything I read in my business seems to point to that. Over time behaviour changes, and what we are doing today will be much different than what we will be doing tomorrow. Even the little things that we all see each day provide us with examples. I don't even know if a Thermos exists any longer, because I buy coffee at a coffee shop for trips. There are millions of people who head into the office and open google news for their morning paper read. They would look at you like you have six heads if you ask them if they picked up the newspaper this morning.

Right now I feel fairly strongly about mobile betting. Only 10% of our wagering is done over the web. This will change and it will grow. But if we do not have the proper infrastructure in place we will be playing catchup like we have over the last decade. The state and provincial rules are insane, there is little investment and no vision. I would hope this gets better for our sport.

Some action yesterday on the "All the Weapons" situation. For those who do not remember, this is the Gold Cup and Saucer winner who had to forfeit his purse winnings because he raced while he was ineligible. The trainer and driver of the horse says that the "fine does not fit the crime." That might be very true. But when the commission calls you before you enter, to tell you that you will be fined purse earnings or 10% of the claim price, whichever is greater, and you still enter; well let's just say the punishment prolly does fit the crime. It is an odd situation to me, simply because they knew exactly what would happen to them if they enter and win money. It is like placing your hand on a hot stove and being annoyed you got burned. They are not bad people and are not bad for racing, but it does not mean the rules as they are written can be changed because people are nice.

Have you visited Breeders Cup 360? If you need to use another website for the Breeders Cup you are looking for more information than I am. It is encompassing and good for the gambler. Way to go Jessica.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some Dandy Reading

In the Thoroughbred Daily News, a feature by Bill Finley called "A Prescription for Racing", is an absolutely fabulous read. You can read it here, but it does take a free registration.

A few things struck me. One, (and this is no surprise) the betting experts made the most sense to me. Eugene Christiansen runs a gambling consulting company. You can tell he knows us. Jeff Platt is a buddy, so I recuse myself on commenting on his snippets. Crist has some great ideas. Second, Nick Nicholson is as good as it gets for a track exec. I loved his stuff. Last, Barry Weisbord either reads this blog, or I read his, because we agree on almost everything. :)

Anyway, if you are interested in the machinations of racing, it is a good read.

H/T to Equidaily for scanning the above pic, and linking the article.

Well Said Wins the Jug in Straight Heats

For the twitter folks who were salivating like I was to bet against Well Said today....... well, we bit the dust. Actually the crowd was pretty much on par with us as he was only 2-1 in his elim, so betting agin' him was not uncommon. His elim was a thing of beauty and the final was fairly academic, although he was stretched out a bit in the final and Pierce had to go to the stick. If I Can Dream raced well.

The boys on one of the chat boards were giving me the business about Well Said, as I can never figure out when he is going to look like Secretariat like the Adios or M pace elim, or Slow Hanover like at Chester, in the Burlington, or last week when he was life or death to beat Carnivore. I was thinking about it, and although I have always loved his talent, I looked back and I could never, ever figure this horse out. Way back when handicapping last years Breeders Crown., I alluded to me guessing with him, and it has stayed the same to this day: "Well Said (5-1 fair) in my opinion has more pure talent than all of them combined, and he will be my play as I expect him to be underbet on the board. This colt has two things 1) He is a very inconsistent horse and 2) He has extreme talent. His Metro Final performance when he was hung out like a piece of laundry was a great effort and it would win Saturday's final ten times out of ten. I think he could be a great play at a good price if he's right."

I don't think I am the only one who guesses with him. For such a talented horse he has not even been the favorite in the betting 10 out of the 23 or 24 times he has raced, which is pretty shocking, considering he wins like a 1-9 shot at times and his main competition (Vintage Master) did not even break his maiden until July of this year. The crowd seems to be wary of his consistency, as well.

I think this colt will do exactly that the rest of the way. He will set a world record, but then be 15 lengths worse another time and get beat again by someone like Mr. Wiggles. He is just that kind of horse to me. I can't bet a race he is in anymore. Sound advice for my bankroll :)

I was surprised at Vintage Master today. Anyone else? He was under the stick to catch cover in a 28 and change quarter and was totally off his game. These horses have bad days now and again, and he sure picked a bad time to have a bad one. That was his first sub-par race this season; but as a sharp capper I know noted when saying he would be swinging against him today - his last quarter in his qualifier was slow for a horse like him. Maybe it was not a stretch to see him race mediocre.

As for the Jug, the day seemed to be well attended as usual, and there were some decent tilts. The track the last couple of days seemed sticky and along the inside a bit worn. That might have helped the racing, with come-from-behinders having a bit more of a shot. As Bob Pandolfo opined with a few stats on another board - it is the fastest, most speed favoring piece of dirt around. But not this week it seemed. The times were somewhat slower than usual.

Another one in the books. On to Lexington next for many of the three year olds, trotters and pacers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jug Picks.......... Like Anyone?

I am going through the elims, and if they have a good pool tomorrow, which they should, these races should be dandy betting affairs.

Elim one is an absolute barnburner which could provide some serious value. Straight Shooting is freshened up, Keep it Real was a no try last week off foot problems and could pull an upset, Mr. Wiggles is a good horse, River Shark is more than solid, Doubleshotascotch has been racing really well, and If I Can Dream just won a two heater on a half in the Confederation Cup. Competitive enough for ya?

Outside posts have been horrible, as usual, so that hurts 'Scotch', and possibly River Shark. Mr. Wiggles and If I can Dream will probably be overbet. I have an inkling to try a little pop on Straight Shooting. Fresh, back class, the rail; and he beat Sheer Desire in his qualifier. If any odds at all, I'll take it.

Elimination two is equally exciting for me. Carnivore is as sharp as a horse can be right now. Vintage Master and Well Said are well documented. Sheer Desire is racing well, as is Chasin Racin'.

I think value will lie in three possible areas: Carnivore, Chasin Racin and Vertical Horizon. Of those I think Vertical Horizon will be the longest, and might be worth a poke. He was bad last time in the Simcoe with no pop, but we have a trainer change. This outfit can improve them in a hurry, and because if this colts gate speed, and the proposed big price he is worth a swing for me.

My most likely winner for the Jug is Vintage Master, but there is some very good opportunities in this race for a Jug winner; perhaps even a third heat. If horses like Carnivore, Vertical Horizon or Straight Shooting get the perfect trips from their inside posts, and score - I want whomever draws the rail in the final.

Anyhoo, the card is a marathon as usual. You can tune in virtually all day via HPITv, and many other ADW's and catch it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jug Time, and Budding Superstars

This week we of course have the eyes set to the Little Brown Jug. On Thursday, 19 colts will go in two eliminations, then the top finishers will come back an hour or so later for the final.

It has been noted, and I think rightfully so, that this group is subpar. I guess that should be expected since four of the five top 2 year olds are on the shelf, but it does not make the Jug any less exciting - it always is.

I am not much of a handicapper for half mile ovals, simply because I do not like to play post position. In big races, this becomes even more polarized. Simply put, a colt who is five lengths faster who draws the eight, is no longer five lengths faster. On the fastest, most speed favouring piece of dirt in harness racing, you do not want to be going overland.

That is exactly what early season sensation Well Said has to do from the eight post in elim one. He has no choice but to blast, and if/when he does, he has solid inside speed to contend with. He has to get lucky, or he has to return somehow to NA Cup form.

Because of his stout gate to wire effort in the Cane, Vintage Master is a likely and deserved chalk. If you can tell me he can make front in the elim, and draw the rail in the final, I would make him 1-5 to win. We'll see if the race goes his way, and he is sharp.

Anyway, the racing does not seem to matter come Jug time. I would think it is like some of the British racing festivals we hear about where the racing is secondary to everything else. The Jug is a piece of Americana, it is unique and it is ours. I'll be glued to the TV come Thursday afternoon.

The two year olds are going some huge speed this year, yet I have struggled to find a colt whom impressed me so far. They look fast, but ordinary fast to this handicapper. And I wonder if many of them will even be around come next year. However there is a colt who I think is the most impressive two year old I have seen since Somebeachsomewhere, and his name is One More Laugh. He's a Mcardle, which does not strike fear into a lot of folks, but being a Mcardle makes me think he might be able to last - McArdle was dead tough. Take a look at this colts replays if you have not seen him go.

As most folks who judge horseflesh tend to believe - show me a horse who does things others can not - even for a quarter mile or a half mile - and I will show you a potential superstar. We saw that with Muscle Hill in the BC at two, Beach in the Metro at two, Rainbow Blue in the Fan Hanover at three. I think you might have seen the same type performance from this fella in the elim for the Governor's Cup. For some strange reason, he was not even favored in the final.

As far as the rest of the two year olds go, the only thing that has stuck out to me is - if I have a good two year old I do not think I want to race him. Just this last week Ian Moore, who races his horses and is not one to baby them, looks to be shutting down his two good colts. "They are going scary fast" he says. I agree. We need to keep our eye on this for the next year or two to see just how these horses fare after the speed they are going so early.

Enjoy the Jug folks! It only happens once a year!

Them Damn Uppity Women

Horseplaying and race watching and racing in general is for men, right? Just go to a teletheatre and look around. Men, men, and more men. Listen to the PA system at a racetrack. Men.

Well, something is about to change this evening at Grand River Raceway.

Dawn Lupal, with a background in racing and in television, gets her shot behind the mic, and might very well be the first woman to call a harness race for a whole card.


Are you like me and can not believe this has not happened before? Are we behind the times in racing, or what? Phyllis George was on NFL Today in 1977 or 1978. Reporters for a "man's game" like football are roving the sidelines on a weekly basis. Sure, they might not be colour commentators because they have not played in the NFL, and the motives of placing them on at times was for other obvious reasons, but they have been on TV for thirty or forty years.

In racing, a woman who has trained a horse, or ridden them, or handicaps them, or drives them (just like men) has never gotten a shot to describe a horse race? Poppycock.

I hope she kicks some major ass and does very well. Kudos to Spencer and the crew at Grand River for getting her in the booth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Czars; Of Racing and Trotting

Mention the word "Czar" in racing and the eyes tend to glaze over. We know one is needed, we know that side deals and horseman contracts and everyone fighting for dwindling slices is too much to overcome. Or is it?

In British Columbia, a commissioner of racing might be a reality. And with this harsh (and in my opinion, bang-on) language, it appears this might not be the usual lip-service.

If you’re a horse-racing fan or work within this industry, look for several major changes to be implemented in 2010. And in a sport that does not adjust well to change, horse racing will have to face the reality: it’s time to do things differently.

When asked what else can be expected in the future, Coleman said a new direction is needed to get racing back on the right track. That includes for government to become more hands-on, including the creation of a manager to oversee the sport.

"I also believe we have to go to a professional management board to get rid of these old contracts and side deals that existed. This would make sure professional management of horse racing is not done by industry groups. They will still be funded, but funded for their own operation and objectives. And the new board will not be made up of the usual suspects," said Coleman.

More at link.

The Czar of Trotting, Muscle Hill, did not disappoint his legion of backers this weekend in the $1M Canadian Trotting Classic. It was a training mile. The last quarter was a little softer than we are used to with this colt, so perhaps he was not 100%, but when you win under a death grip by a large margin, that is probably splitting hairs. Here is the video evidence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

$1M Up for Grabs

Muscle Hill has the four, Southern Rocketop the two in Saturday's $1M Canadian Trotting. This looks to be a great race. It is a little cooler in the northeast this week, so the track might not be as fast as usual and it is hard to expect a super-fast time. But for spectating, it does not get much better than this tilt. This is a wonderful group of trotters.

It was reported this week that Explosive Matter had a lameness issue last week, which explains his poor performance. Not a whole lot of folks follow the insider news (and some might not even believe it), so perhaps that will increase this horse's odds Saturday. One thing is for sure, he raced nowhere near what he is capable of last week.

Trevor Ritchie, driver of the first-placed-last Angostura on Monday, spoke out via an interview with Dave Briggs. He takes full responsibility for the error.

“If Dan loses his appeal, it may be up to a quarter-million-dollar mistake on my part. Of course, that weighs heavy. Then, secondary, all the people that bet her had to rip their tickets up.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moving Forward ; & Some Amazing Hyperbole

The r2 collective is up and running. It is a site focused on bringing the sport of racing into the present, and in some cases the future. It will speak of web marketing, general 21st century marketing principles, technology and whatever else people think of. All we have to do is read a web poll on a the Paulick Report or Standardbred Canada to see that this business dislikes change of any sort. But it does not mean that we should not talk about it, does it? The first article is up, and I know the writer well. You can read it here.

Speaking of change, the relatively minor change of whipping in Ontario had hyperbole ratcheted up to a fever pitch last night when Trevor Ritchie's trotter got placed to last for a violation. The rule reads fairly clear and the ORC has done a good job of letting people know what to expect. So far all of the major stakes, and even the US drivers who drove in all the grand circuit races, have been fine with it with no incident. It was a whole lot of nothing, until yesterday.

The most amazing thing to me? Mainly the misinformation out there about this rule. I don't know how many comments that were made from insiders saying "they should not throw out the horse to last, they should only fine the driver." Well, that was discussed when they were gathering input on the rule last year, and the fact the horse is placed back was long ago pushed by many of the stakes drivers themselves. For example, if Jody Jamieson has a horse in the two hole in the $1.5m NA Cup and Brian Sears is on the lead, it is a whole different ball game. He can hammer away because he does not race at Mohawk; the thirty days means nothing to him. Jody of course can't do the same thing. As well, if there was a $10,000 fine, Jerry Silva, or whatever person who owns the horse would pay that for him.

Think of what a joke that would have been on North America Cup night. 12,000 fans, families, kids who have been explained that there is no whipping like they are used to, and a national TV audience watching. They will see Sears whip the living crap out of the horse with no care in the world. If the braintrust did not make the penalty phase of this rule what it is, they would be braindead.

The other wild argument thrown out there is that somehow it would be well if the judges did their job better, and we would not see this rule. What a load of manure. The pilot whipping project ran in April. All drivers were told that they would be fined and watched to get ready for rules changes. What happened? I saw around 200 whipping violations on Standardbred Canada. The rules were ignored.

Rules change in all sports, and mainly they are changed for marketing reasons (the NFL and UFC are the two most geared-to-marketing sports in terms of rule changes for that reason only). There will be hyperbole, yelling and screaming and so on from the people the rules effect. Sometimes you will hear the world is going to end. From some cappers you might read "I won't place a bet on a race again" and such other knee-jerk responses. But they will not be true. The only thing that stops horseplayers from playing the races en masse is going broke - that is why takeout is the only issue in racing for massive up and down handle movements. If players have a 5-2 shot on their line who is 4-1, they are hammering; and they will hammer if the horse is driven by a guy with a feather for a whip. We like money and an edge, and whether a dude can beat a racehorse or not is not even on the radar.

And for goodness sake, like Rick a poster below said, as bettors we know with ease that if a driver does this he is pitched. If we bet him we lose, if we bet the horse that is in second we win. if we have the horse that comes 2nd and 3rd ..... we end up with the ex. You have to have the IQ of an ice cube to be confused by this rule.

Since no one can tell me that when they go to the track they hear kids say "I don't mind the track, but mommy I wish the men behind the horses would whip them harder" I am fine with it from a marketing perspective. In fact, I support it for marketing to on-track patrons.

From a betting perspective and from a horse owner perspective, I think it will be rare to see this affect too many races - maybe one in two thousand races in 2010. I as a bettor or owner can not worry about something that will happen at random, one of two thousand times; it is insane to. Regardless, the sky is not falling, no matter how many people who like the status-quo say so.

If we spend this much effort about a whip rule that might affect one race placing in Ontario out of the thousands we see, imagine if we had the same passion about a real problem which truly is tied to handle like takeout?

Monday, September 14, 2009


Well for the first time in harness racing at the big track since the new whip rules, a horse was pitched. And it was in a stakes race.

In race two this evening, in an elimination for the Peaceful Way stakes, driver Trevor Ritchie put both lines in one hand, and tapped his mount (the very nice filly Angostura) with the whip. She went on to win the race by a little more than a whisker.

The inquiry sign flashed. And after several long minutes it was announced that she would be placed last, as per the ORC rule, for "having both lines in one hand, and striking with the whip".

The 2-5 favorite, Costa Rica, was placed first.

Muscle Hill Crosses the 48

Muscle Hill (pictured warming up) made his first trip to Canada this weekend, and he did not disappoint, winning by six in 153.3.

My first trip to see the horse did not start off well for my pshyche. I watched him warm up, and when he goes slow he does not at all look like a picture of perfection. He tends to hike a little bit. When he does get going he smooths out. However, if I told you that I said "I have an inkling to bet against this horse", it would be true.

During the post parade he looked good and all business. Brian Sears scored him out fairly well in front of the stand, which I did find a little bit odd, but since he had the nine post it did make sense. When the gate opened, he floated out, and grabbed the lead after getting mildly stung, and worked through a nice middle half. About 300 feet or so down the lane driver Brian Sears let out a small chirp and he opened up on the field with ridiculous ease. When he did, the people around me let go a little bit of a gasp. At Mohawk upstairs in the summer you will find some of the most knowledgeable fans anywhere - kind of like going to a Leaf game at Maple Leaf Gardens; everyone knows hockey there. These fans knew what they were watching.

In the second split, Explosive Matter must have came up sick, because he had no fire whatsoever. The winner, Southern Roketop looked fabulous I thought. I don't think he can give Muscle a run unless something wonky happens, but he should be heavy chalk to round out the ex.

Later on in the evening the second star to show up at Mohawk was NA Cup champ, Well Said. I was somewhat ambivalent about his presence for the evening. After his last qualifier I was looking to play against him from a betting standpoint, but since the field came up a bit light I was there solely as a fan. I popped into the paddock to have a look and he was really nice. Healthy, seemingly happy and ready to go. True class. The race itself certainly did not go well for him. He was all out to go by Carnivore, Jack Darling's colt. The crowd in the grandstand where I was standing was taken somewhat aback when Ron Pierce in the interview said the race 'was a good easy one for him'. I don't think he will go to the Jug.

All in all it was a super-pleasant evening. Mohawk (as you can see from the non-professional blackberry photo above) is a wonderful place in the summer and fall. The crowd was out, and we got to watch some very nice horses do what they do best.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don't You Get DQ'd in Other Sports, Too?

There is a lot of grumbling in Australia via the whip rule changes. Namely, your horse can get DQ'd if your jock does something wrong with the whip. It is the same here in Ontario. If a whipping infraction occurs in a race, any race, your horse can be set back - both parimutuelly and in terms of finish position, for the owners check.

But I was surfing today, and is it not similar in every other sport? If you know going in, why would you complain?

Check out the Serena Williams' situation last night at the US Open. Quite interesting.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nice Card at the Hawk; and Disputes

Muscle Hill goes in race four tonight. If you want to watch log into whatever ADW you have at around 8:15 and you should be fine. He has the outside post.

A couple hours later, Well Said straps on the harness for a jog in race 10. Both horses are odds on chalk, and should not have any trouble.

Luckily you can actually watch those races. In yet another sign the customer is simply a pawn to be thrown around in racings grand sphere, NJbets and HPI have sent out notices to their customers that the signal from Belmont is being blocked to them. Why? No explanation; but it looks like it is yet another dispute.

If you are tuning into the NFL tomorrow and when you flipped on the screen and saw a message like this (the one I saw yesterday): "New Message For You - Belmont Live Video Streaming - Effective immediately, the New York State Wagering Board has prohibited HPI from streaming live video from Belmont until further notice. Replays will still be available. We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused.", there would be a riot.

This is not a restaurant running out of clam sauce, this is the major conduit people use to play the product being shut out. They don't much like when this happens.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Leave it to Beaver

The social media space is well-documented. We now see phones being advertised with "Facebook" apps, chat services and so on. Twitter is going through the roof with usership. But the racing chat boards were here long before Facebook was, and friendships between racing fans are certainly made, and developed there.

Two such racing fans are Shmalltzie and the Beav.

They "met" on and are die-hard racing fans. It is not uncommon to see them on the board arguing about who is going to win a race at the racing hotbeds of Saskatchewan or the Port Perry Fair. Their playful back and forth is forged not because of personal interaction, but by internet interaction (they live many, many miles apart). And it is fun to watch.

While surfing on HD, I saw recently that Shmalltz won tickets to the Little Brown Jug, but he can't go. He decided to start a handicapping contest thread for them with "Beav" to score.

The contest went ok, but Beav scoring while at his cottage was not overly appreciated I guess. So Beaver went and made a sign telling Shmalltzie what he thought of it. The sign made appearances all over cottage country Ontario; and on the internet. On boathouses, in boats, in rubber dingy's, with boating teenagers, on outhouses, and at stores.

Racing, and making friends in racing, tend to be long lasting and pretty real. It does not seem to matter whether you meet your friends in the grandstand, or in that great-cyber grandstand that many of us reside.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reader Thoughts on Purses and Stakes

Dave Hoffman wrote a comment below which is well written. I thought I would throw it up here.

On Labor Day, I went out to Freehold for the Cane Pace, the "first jewel of the pacing Triple Crown". I think this race shows how misused the resources are in developing harness racing. There are tremendous resources being put into purse money, but nothing done to relieve the ultimate customer -- the bettor. In the Cane Pace, the purse was $325,000. I didn't see the total handle for the race, but the win pool had a little over $13,000 in it. What does that mean -- at most $60,000 or so bet on the race? $10-$12,000 takeout for the house?

Instead of throwing money at the horsemen, for merely 3-4% of the purse money the entire takeout could have been eliminated. What was the handle for the whole day? I'm sure it was embarrassingly small. Why not use a portion of the purse money for bettor's relief?

This year the Cane Pace field was weak and did not attract the top three year olds. Notwithstanding the fact that the entire "triple crown" concept is a complete failure for harness racing, the stakes races should be reassessed and put into some coherent sequence that would a.) ensure that the best horses compete with each other in the best races, and b.) enable storylines to develop that might draw in the casual horseplayer.

What if the Cane Pace used a portion of the purse money to eliminate the takeout for that race. Is it not possible that using 3-4% of the purse money for this purpose would stimulate betting interest for the race, and thus for the stature of the race? Let's say that the purse were $300,000 -- would that have impacted the quality of the race?

Right now, I really can't see what the Cane Pace (and other stakes races) bring to the table in terms of building betting interest in harness racing. Ultimately, the slots subsidy will go (which will result in horseless states which will presumably discontinue sire stakes as well), and harness racing will have to stand on its own four legs. The only way to do this is to build the handle.

While racing had a monopoly for years and accumulated bad habits during that time, the good news is that there are so many more betting dollars out there than there were when Stanley Dancer was appearing on Ed Sullivan. Racing doesn't need to be the only game in town, but merely needs to have a respectable market share of the much larger present-day gambling market. The product that harness racing sells is wagering tickets -- not races, not horses, not horsemen. Improving the quality of that product vis-a-vis its competitors -- e.g., hold'em, lottery tickets, slot machines, etc. is the sine qua non, and is necessary for the survival of this pastime.

Dave Hoffman


I don't know if one-off races with lower takeout will do much good. However, Dave does put forth some that need to be asked. When $325,000 is placed into something which brings back $10,000 in revenue, this should be looked at. The money from that purse does go to a horse owner, like myself. And we do sink it back into horse supply, so that is something to think about. But allow me for a moment to delve into what I do for a living.

Let's say I am contracted to sell subscriptions to a magazine and I have to spend $1M in year one on marketing. I can do this in myriad ways: Banner ads, contests, targeted site marketing, search engine marketing, youtube ads, television or radio ads pointing to a website.

After six months I measure what comes back to me. Banner ads had a CPM of $4, bounce of 92% and an ROI of 0.11. Contests had a 4% response rate, 32% bounce, 1% conversion rate and a 0.44ROI. Youtube ads came in at a 0.55ROI. Search engine marketing came in at 0.87 with a 34% bounce.

My re-up subscription rate overall was half. ROI was positive in two areas: Youtube ads and search engine marketing ads.

In year two, I will divert spending into those two areas and ease off on the others. I will continue to work on my metrics with bounce rates, response rates and overall ROI. I will know what to spend, when to spend, and how to spend to make the most money for my client. It is pretty simple.

In racing, what if we took that $325,000 and did something with a portion of it, like Dave suggests: Lower take, contests, TV ads, online marketing, and so on. And with each medium we measured, like everyone else does. We will learn what works and what does not.

According to the U of Louisville report mentioned below if we double a purse we get a 6% increase in handle - putrid. If we spend it on takeout decreases, handle will go up at a much higher rate. When we look at the spending of purse money for feed men and otherwise on the supply end, is the business better off with a handle increase, or more feed men?

It is something that I think racing does not know the answer to, because most spending is not measured in a macro, industry-wide way. But I do whole-heartedly agree with Dave - at some tracks, in no way should we be putting all our big cash into stakes races that no one wants to bet on. In fact, a good deal of the time a good competitive claiming race with a big field will draw more handle than that stakes race. There is a happy medium somewhere. Many businesses have found that medium. Racing seems to just scratch its head and wonder where it is.

Thank you for the thought-provoking post Dave.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Very Clever

Videos on the web of a racing nature are not that popular. Most show a race with one camera angle and not much else. But we have come a long way. Those blogger types can get creative can't they?

Ernie puts together a blow by blow look at Rachel Alexandra's win this weekend. It is ten minutes well spent. Not only does he capture the electricity of the day with his handheld, you also get to see Andy Serling answer a question in only 192 words. It is fantastic!

Then our pal here Dana joins the fray with a clever look at the filly in a, let's say, different setting. I almost forgot how enthralling that movie was; and we get to see it in an interesting way. Well done to you both.

I have no talent, and no creativity. So I have no video of a stable partner wildly running down the stairs at Woodbine when one of our horses won, looking like a cross between Urkel and Larry Csonka. I wish I did. However I was at a Woodbine Entertainment Group meeting once, and taped it. The topic was sensitivity training but it went awry. I had no idea Jamie Martin could play guitar, so you learn something new every day. Give it a look if you want to see the inner workings in employee meetings at Canada's largest racetrack.

Rachel Alexandra – More to Do

A big announcement occurred today at the unveiling of the Rachel Alexandra statue at her new Children’s Diabetes Center in Bangor, Maine.

“She is going next to meet with John McCain and Nancy Pelosi to bang out health care reform,” says Rachel’s junior partner, winemaker Jess Jackson. “It’s time. McCain is one Rachel can work with. Pelosi has some hard-liners to deal with, but with some work, Rachel says she can get it done.”

“I am looking forward to meeting her and sitting down,” says an unnamed congressman. “I saw her once in the Belmont backstretch and all the other horses were gathered around her. She was not even carrying carrots. She brings both equines and people together.”

This announcement follows the work Rachel has been doing with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, regarding the swine flu epidemic. Dr. David Breski of the CDC said “Yes, she is a horse, but she is in tune with all beings. She grew up at a farm near pigs so she knows pigs. We are seeing immediate success. Simply having her wear a mask and demonstrating to kids how to cough in their hooves when she visited a pre-school last weekend was good enough, but her knowledge and expertise on all things pathological has even trumped that.”

Seasoned watchers praise the filly’s ability to be a greater force for good.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia (who sources say has been around since the Civil War), has seen stars come and go; and to Rachel, he was deferential. “She is as good as it gets. If she were President we would not have a deficit, we’d have racial harmony and everyone would love one another. I for one love her idea of paddock time instead of power lunches.”

Veterinary medicine is stunned at the filly, as well. Dr. Wilbur Injectahock of Birmingham Equine stated: “She don’t need no work. She runs, she runs, she runs. She don’t need no work. I want to give the hock needle, but she shakes her head – no. No needle. She puts vets like me out of business.”

However, there are still some who think she does not deserve her stardom.

“Ruffian would kick her ass” says Joe Rocomore, wiping mustard from a hot dog off his chin, from the Niagara Falls OTB, in New York. “Rachel this, Rachel that. It is becoming annoying. I know she did my taxes, delivered my cousin’s second child, fed the hungry in the Congo and all that. But for those who say that she is special, they are nuts.”

Pete from Westchester, in a call-in to Steve Byk’s radio show: “Other horses have won with higher Beyers” he said. When asked by Byk if going stout fractions, beating older male horses as a three year old, and overcoming all types of adversity in the Woodward (like when she had to take a cell-phone call from the President of UNICEF at the half about an upcoming charity appearance), Pete countered: “Rachel Smachel.”

A recent Rasmussen poll showed Rachel Alexandra was the most popular celebrity in the US, handily beating Tom Cruise, country super-group Rascal Flatts and that Sham-wow guy; but it appears that some handicappers are still waiting to pass judgment on her place in racing history. Time will tell I guess, but it appears the super-filly is not waiting around to find out. She has more to do.


OK, the above was of course a parody. But is it not funny in some quarters how handicappers can not see what they are seeing? At Paceadvantage, moderator and forum owner Mike started a new thread to combat some of the posters who will not give the filly credit. He says it better than I can. We thought we had trouble getting people to realize that Somebeachsomewhere was a tremendous specimen? They have more trouble in thoroughbred land.

Mike’s post about what she has done in racing in a thread titled “How can You Not Call Her Great?” (with files from Steve Haskin's excellent piece on Rachel at the Bloodhorse):

· The first filly to win three grade I races on dirt against males in a single year.
· The first filly to win the Woodward.
· No 3-year-old filly had ever defeated older males in a two-turn, grade I dirt race. The last to win a major two-turn dirt stakes over her elders was Misty Morn in the 1955 Gallant Fox Handicap.
· All year, Rachel has been flattered by horses she has trounced.
· Gabby's Golden Gal was beaten 29 1/4 lengths by Rachel in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and came back to win the grade I Acorn Stakes in 1:34 3/5.
· Flashing was beaten 31 1/2 lengths by Rachel in the Mother Goose (gr. I) and came back to win the grade I Test Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths.
· Summer Bird was beaten 6 lengths by Rachel in the Haskell and came back to win the Travers Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths.
· Take the Points was beaten 32 3/4 lengths by Rachel in the Preakness and came back to win the grade I Secretariat Stakes.
· Just Jenda was beaten 11 3/4 lengths by Rachel in the Fantasy Stakes and came back to win the Monmouth Oaks by 4 1/4 lengths.
· Even Sara Louise, who was beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Rachel in last year's Golden Rod (gr. II), won the Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga in 1:09 3/5 in her 3-year-old debut.

Great she is. And no, she does not have to balance the federal budget to prove it.

Muscle Hill Draws Post Nine; Online Wagering in BC; and it is Trouble for Racing

Muscle Hill drew post nine in his Trotting Classic elimination at Mohawk. The elim highlights a very good card with many stars out for their respective Simcoe and Nassagawaya Stakes. The card has 13 races, and with the Meadowlands closed, you don't see a better collection of harness races anywhere.

Trainer Greg Peck in his Trot Radio interview today spoke about Brian Sears leaving last week to drive in Canada, how it came that Peck himself was first going to drive the horse, the fact he will be sent to stud this year and more here.

The fact that he is going to stud is not a surprise - they all do nowadays. But I do wonder if we even try. For example, the purse for the Canadian Pacing Derby used to be $850,000; it is now about 200k less. Meanwhile the purse for the Jug is going up, the Metro for 2YO's, the NA Cup and Meadowlands Pace are all stout. Seasoned race watchers in the thoroughbred game have really given a kick in the ass to that sport for their poor scheduling of events, and the lack of meaning in grade one races. Often times you can watch twenty stakes in one weekend. In our sport this is equally frustrating. Almost every week there is a huge signature event for a track and it is watered down as much as the entire sport is. With some foresight and scheduling, along with the massive amounts of slot money out there, there is no reason we should not get together and try to have three one million dollar races for aged horses - one at Chester, one at Mohawk and one at Yonkers. If we add the Haughton and the Breeders Crown there might be more than enough cash for the aged horses to stick around for awhile.

The BC Lotto is going to run online casino games. Want to play poker, blackjack and more? No longer will you have to go to one of the overseas sites.

B.C.'s plan to introduce the new games online is unprecedented in North America, according to one gambling expert, who noted the U.S. government has outlawed casino-style gambling on the internet.

"It's not new, but in terms of being legal and authorized by a government in North America it will be brand new," Bill Thompson, a professor of public administration at the University of Nevada, told CBC News.

This is another nail in the coffin for horse wagering. This will proliferate over the web and will take more and more customers. We, like in the US, have technically a monopoly on onshore legal wagering. We have not done a heck of a lot with it. Too much infighting and too much to get done. I wonder what would have happened in 2000 if when Betfair came to us, we built a plan for Canada together. We help them get licensed, we offer all our tracks to Canadians, and we share in the revenues if and when sports wagering online was passed. Would not have we and racing in general been in better shape to compete with the BC lottery, when this inevitably happens?


The second edition of the Harness Edge online edition is up and running here.

A look at the University of Louisville study at HANA where it showed that to raise handle and interest in the sport, takeout is the #1 issue. Purses come in at 0.06 elasticity - which means if purses were doubled we would only see a 6% increase in handle. Why do we constantly hear that if we increase purses all will be good with handles then? The opinion piece explores that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rachel is Fast, Whipping Surprises and History Repeating

As a handicapper I tend to judge horses and their place in history via a number of factors. There are several winners a year of big races. Someone has to win them, and just because they do, it does not make them special. In a harness race we all know if we want to judge if a performance is superior or not, we can look at the running lines. If we see a trotter, for example, battle for the lead in a 56 middle half, and finish strong it is probably a good performance. If we see that same trotter battle with another superior horse with the same type trip, and the other horse backs up, the performance is all world.

By that barometer, Rachel Alexandra is all world.

She roared out of the gate in a fast, fast pace. She battled on the speed with 2008 Belmont winner Da'tara, Cool Coal Man, and Past the Point. She won. Those three horses finished last, second last and third last. The horse whom Tom Durkin called past the quarter as the trailer, "and it is seven lengths further back to Macho Again", came second. She was so far superior to those horses (and remember, those are older male horses) it is downright scary.

I caught a whipping post on popular harness chat board recently. The discussion on that board from some industry insiders and whipping in general (before Ontario passed the rule) was atypical - no change was needed, whipping should not be changed, I will only bet where they can whip etc. But a funny thing happened. A week after watching it, the support for it has risen. One poster said this:

Surprisingly, with the rule change I am even more sensitive to whipping abuse. I can't stand to watch Northfield anymore.

I could not agree more. After watching drivers drive horses, and not hit them, I think the other tracks look completely backwards. It looks completely ridiculous to me to see the hauling off hitting, and before this rule I would have said that the opposite would be true.

I must say, it is common for the Ontario Racing Commission to take flack from participants. In this case they can not. They did this right, first by asking for industry and bettor feedback, second by making sure the rules were adhered to and penalties severe if one screws up, and third by letting everyone know what was happening. This is a job well done.

Last up, some thoughts on the Canadian Pacing Derby from a handicapping perspective from a blog reader named Brendan. He whipped off this email to me about "history repeating itself." He alludes to our picks here for the Haughton where we liked Shark Gesture and Bettor Sweet, and how that came about this weekend. I too thought about how much missed opportunity there was in the Derby. Shark Gesture was going to Brennan, who drives this horse aggressively as he likes to be near the lead. Bettor Sweet had a nice week off and looked to be coming into the race in fine fettle. First up and a back half of 52 assured that. He is also the Mohawk track record holder, so he likes the Hawk. In addition, both were given byes as the best two horses in FFA racing this year. What's not to like? Not much. So why did the ex pay huge and the super come back 6 grand? File that one away I guess. For the record, I went with Bettor Sweet. 8-1 was too high to pass up for this kid.

Thanks Brendan for the note:

While the developing drama down at Duquoin on Saturday afternoon/evening deservedly grabbed all the harness headlines, I was also quite intrigued by what took place in The Canadian Pacing Derby at Mohawk.

In considering the race from a handicapping perspective, there were a couple of new interesting angles to digest in contemplating this latest clash of the North American Aged Pacing Titans. 1. Was Won the West a legitimate post time favourite given the fact that although he had recently strung together a couple of successful appearances against the big boys of the division, his past performance history indicated that this type of success had not been sustainable over extended periods of time? 2. Was Bigtime Ball a legitimate competitor against the best Free-For-Allers on the continent or was he just a very good Woodbine Entertainment Group "Open" horse? Or in a single race would the "Racing Gods" allow the latter to once again beat the former as we saw in the Maple Leaf Trot with San Pail?

Of course, full encyclopedia volumes had already been written about a number of the other noteworthy competitors in the race. I seem to recall some sage advice one such scribe had written in handicapping the Haughton Memorial Final on July 11th at the Meadowlands as still very much pertinent in an evaluation of the CPD field this past Saturday night!

"I will be looking as always for value. I assume Mr. Big will be overbet, so I will look elsewhere. The trip that Shark Gesture endured last time and still hung around to talk about it has me leaning that way. He is as tough as nails, is not the now or wiseguy horse, and should he get any type of trip he should be heard from. Another one who should provide board value is Bettor Sweet. I have a feeling he will be better this week. The odds board will tell the tale on where I go in this fantastic race."

You can correct me if I am wrong, but I seem to recall a certain horse by the name of Shark Gesture winning this year's Haughton Memorial Final. The $115.60 exactor was completed by some horse called Bettor Sweet. And finalizing the $412.20 tri was an equine athlete apparently named after a chocolate bar - Mr. Big.

Now if we fast forward to this past Saturday night, we receive our answers to our original two questions before the Canadian Pacing Derby field has even hit the three-quarter mark. Won the West has recently shown himself to be a quite a capable competitor at this level when he can sit the trip, suck along and pick up the pieces, but if asked to prompt the pace first up (see Race 10 Mohawk Sat. Sept. 5) it suddenly becomes a whole other ball game! As for Bigtime Ball, we find out very quickly that Mr. Irwin's strategy to race him exclusively in Ontario every summer may not be without merit!

When the limestone dust settles we have the top three finishers of the CPD (and please keep in mind that this is not a recording...) Across the wire first is none other than Shark Gesture. Completing the $99.70 exactor, yes you guessed it.... Bettor Sweet. And for those interested in collecting on a $765.00 tri ticket all you need to know is... "When you're this Big they call you Mister!"

Unfriggin' believable! The top three finishers from a stakes race contested eight weeks earlier - come across the finish line in the exact same order and the tri almost pays double what it did in the Haughton!

Now, regretfully I did not have a parimutuel interest in Saturday's CPD. The sole purpose of my note is to point out that from time-to-time history does seem to repeat itself in this game and thus having a good memory can often be as good a handicapping tool as any!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Boy Them Whips Really Make Them Go Faster, eh?

Go to any simulcast center in North America. Or listen in on a driver excuse-trainer/owner chat after the race. You will often hear "if only I hit him more" or "if only the driver would have hit him harder" the horse would have won, or done better. This is certainly common in the world of handicapping. As handicappers we love to blame our losses on others, and the whip is a good proxy.

So, with a hundred years of watching races one would figure that the new experiment in Ontario regarding whipping would have those horses going slower, would it not? After all, a driver can not "get into them", or be a greek god and slam that whip into the saddle pad, stifle, or whereever else they find, with Roberto Duran-like force.

Having a look at the races since the new whipping rules began (started last Thursday):

Sportswriter - 149.2 World Record in the Metro Pace

Shark Gesture - 148.1 track record in the Canadian Pacing Derby (tied the fastest mile in our country's history)

Hyperion Hanover - 149.2 race record in the FFA

Keystone Horatio - 150 flat seasons record

Senor Glide - 155.2 Canadian record in the Simcoe

There have been several others set lifetime marks the past five days. And they all did it without the use of the whip. Everyone knows that Mohawk is super-fast right now, but even with that, this whipping experiment is a whole lotta nothing for handicappers; and the doom and gloomers are being proven to be completely off the mark.

And when we think of it, is it not common sense? I read Geoff Huston's book on horse behaviour awhile back and he said time and time again horses are conditioned. They are not smart, they will not do your taxes, but they know that down the lane when they hear the whip, hear yelling, see a horse come up to them, it's time to go. Trainers do a good job and have ingrained it into them with thousands of training miles, schoolers, and races. It is why when a horse gives it up late, he is a bad bet, because he is not giving it up because the driver did not whip him, he is giving it up because there is a problem, and he is tired. We saw that with Yellow Diamond earlier this year at Georgian. To think, with hundreds of hours of conditioning, that she would not have walked at the wire if she was whipped is pure folly.

So I am handicapping just like I always have. And so is everyone else it seems. It's a whole lotta nothing, and it is best to treat it as such.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Muscle Hill Survives a Weird Day

What a great day of racing. I will be getting caught up on Rachel in the blogosphere soon, but the Muscle Hill win today in the World Trotting Derby is one of the weirder episodes I have seen in a long time in all of racing.

1. Rain Delay - The track is clay, and it can not be raced when sloppy. The rain stopped, but post time was pushed to 5PM, then 6PM CDT.

2. Brian Sears has drives in Ontario for a couple million bucks this evening, and the post time would result in him missing them. Apparently trainer Greg Peck says "go and drive up there, no big deal". I was shocked, frankly. If Calvin Borel had five rides booked today for $10M in purses I am guessing he would rather eat bees than book off Rachel. Regardless, the strangeness of that started a weird day.

3. Greg Peck says he is going to drive. Mr. Peck has driven in eight races this decade, but he is ready to take over in the 500k race. Bizarre? Yep.

4. Trainer Peck then runs into someone on the backstretch who suggests he should call Luke McCarthy in Lexington as he might drive (a guy came along and said ‘How about Luke McCarthy?’ I said, ‘Yes, you’ve got a point there.’ says Peck). Luke is a downunder driver and his brother drove Muscle Hill last year. Peck gives him a ring.

5. McCarthy hops into his car and drives a couple hours to Duquoin. On the way he chats with Brian Sears and gets some tips. Sears tells him to float and take the lead and he will be fine. At 11:20PM CDT he is aboard, and post parading world champion Muscle Hill.

6. A minute fifty two seconds later he is in the winners circle, World Trotting Derby Champion. The Muscle wins easily (although not by ten; as Luke says: “He had a lot left. To be honest, I was too scared to let him go. I just wanted to keep him together and make sure we won the race.”) and he is elated.

Sure Rachel was fun today. Jess and his wine, a marvelous performance, lotsa people at Saratoga, spine tingling excitement. But hell, how can you top Muscle Hill, the World Trotting Derby and Luke McCarthy? Only in harness racing folks.

The video:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Drivers and Jocks Are a Little Bit Nuts

I once heard from someone who played sports at a high level (not snooker or cross country skiiing, but contact sports) that to excel you have to be a little bit nuts. Not long ago at Randy Waples started a thread about the "good old days" where people could share some racing stories from the past. One poster shared a tale from when he was but 18 or 19. The story involved one of the leading drivers the sport of harness racing has ever seen, or possibly will see - Herve Filion:

The time was likely 1959 or 1960. The place was Montreal, specifically Richeliew Park. I was a raceoholic. Although I lived close to Blue Bonnets, my favorite track was Richelieu Park which was about an hour and a half away using public transportation.

On many evenings I could get a ride with friends who were going. If not, I would take three streetcars to get there. If this was the case, I would have to leave after the sixth race before the streetcars stopped running. If I'd had a good night betting, I might splurge on a taxi. Anyway one Saturday night, I was invited to go out after the races with a group of horse people. I remember a few Filions and Turcottes.

At the time Herve Filion, even though he was only 19 or 20 was undoubtedly the second best driver in Canada behind only Keith Waples. As was almost always the case, when Herve went out, he always picked up the check. On this evening, I lost track of time. I don't remember exactly what happened, but it was one o'clock in the morning and I had no means of transportation home. Herve said "C'mon kid(he always called me kid even though he was only a year older than me), I'll take you home" even though it was at least a half hour drive for him.

I believe he drove a 1957 Thunderbird at the time. We were driving down a virtually deserted Sherbrooke street at 120 miles per hour. I was terrified. The radio was blaring and it turned staticky(?sp). While we were driving at this speed, Herve opens the door and starts adjusting the antenna to get rid of the static. At this point I was so frightened that my pants were turning brown. I hollered to Herve "Herve we are going to get in an accident and end up in the hospital". He hollered back "Kid, if we get into an accident - no hospital!!"

For people who follow and chat a little bit with some of the best drivers in the sport, I think this tale should not surprise us at all, huh?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

150 watch & Bears. I Love Bears.

Muscle Hill sets his sites squarely on 150 this weekend at the Duquoin State Fair. Nine colts will contest the World Trotting Derby. From the rail out:

1. Southwind Tagar, Homer Hochstetler, Hochstetler, 10-1
2. Windshear, Dan Dube, Jimmy Takter, 15-1
3. Tad The Stud, George Brennan, Frank Antonacci Jr., 15-1
4. Photoforwin, Rick Beinhauer, Beinhauer, 5-1
5. Southern Rocketop, Dave Magee, Robert Taylor, 4-1
6. Muscle Hill, Brian Sears, Greg Peck, 3-5
7. Definer, Tyler Buter, Kenny Collier, 8-1
8. Wuthering Hanover, Dan Dube, Jonas Czernyson, 15-1
9. Airzoom Lindy, Tim Tetrick, Frank Antonacci Jr., 6-1

Are you like me at all with morning lines? I wish they would make them accurately with horses like Muscle Hill. He is 1-9, has about a 85% chance to win, so fill out the rest with the 15%, huh? This will be streamed via the web from the website. That is good news. This will be worth watching. I make it about even money he hits below 150, if the weather is good.

Seth from Equidaily linked his mother's chocolate cake today on his horse racing site. I think I will too. Man that looks like great cake. The owner of that blog has a good tagline. "Lisa is neither a professional chef nor a trained writer. She is just a girl who believes that time spent experimenting in the kitchen, reading cook books cover-to-cover, or wandering local farmers’ markets is time well spent." That is almost exactly the same as me, but I am not a girl, don't know how to bake, and I spend all my time betting horses. Other than that we are two peas in a pod. Anyway, I am sold. I am going to pay someone to make me that damn cake.

Big races this weekend at WEG. About $2.5M up for grabs. I might speak about them tomorrow. I don't find the 2 year old races good betting affairs at all. I do like Bettor Sweet in the Pacing Derby though.

I was watching Sudbury Downs Wednesday evening. Being a born and bred northern boy it brought back some memories - Ah, Sudbury. Rock, some more rock, some trees, and more rock. It did also bring back another memory - there are a lot of bears in Northern Ontario, and sometimes they go to the track (at least they did; before takeout got too high). I love these little bears. Now if I can only find the video of the deer running a half a furlong with the 5 claimers at Mountaineer a couple of years ago, the day would be complete!

Seats at the Table

There was quite a bit of action yesterday on the Fred Pope piece at Paulick. Not coincidentally, Ray informs his readers this morning that he is up in traffic and he is starting to blow away some of the thoroughbred news sites out there. Ray speaks of push-button issues and has grabbed a following. There clearly are not too many puff pieces on his site. People seem to really want to speak about the issues there.

I was thinking a little bit about the Pope piece last night, and how bettors seem to get up in arms about them, while some industry insiders think he makes a good point. There has always been a disconnect in racing between the customer base and the suppliers of the product; this is nothing new. And I truly believe that it is one of our great mistakes in our business. We sincerely need people involved in betting decisions at the highest level, who know betting, and who live betting; at the very least they need a seat at the table. Unfortunately, in our business the people who need to be at the table, don't have a seat.

I think a little bit about the Horseplayers Association of North America. I am a member, and yes it may be self-serving to say, but I look at the experience on wagering that the board and advisory board has. People like William Ziemba (Dr. Z), Cary Fotias, Barry Meadow, Jeff Platt, Nick Mordin, Mike Maloney and several others who can be called wagering experts. They have published dozens of books on betting (racing, poker and otherwise). One has a Phd in statistics and is an often quoted person on wagering economics, one is a computer programmer who makes a living from racing, one is a horse owner and full time bettor, one has a unique perspective by playing and being involved in racing in all parts of the world. In total they have well over a century of wagering experience from all corners of the globe. The board of directors has owned hundreds of racehorses, to boot. They live breathe and eat racing, and they care deeply about its future.

On the flip side we have some racing insiders like Mr. Pope, Barry Irwin, people from horseman groups like Bob Reeves, who is a trainer, and others. They care about racing too, and are extremely bright and passionate, but I would submit most don't place too many bets, and don't have the experience wagering that the other list has.

Let's think about this for a second. Let's say that we are scrapping everything - all the rules, the cross-state restrictions, everything. We are starting racing and wagering on it from scratch with a blank slate.

Who would you want writing the rules, or being heard from to create the new North American wagering system - people like Dr. Ziemba, Nick Mordin and Barry Meadow? Or the people who have a seat at the table now?

In other businesses the board of directors and officers each have their place in the world. One of my oldest friends and smartest people I know is an executive at a major corporation. He is a money man. When a new product is looked at, he runs all the numbers to make sure it can go to market and succeed. His partner is the engineering man. He makes sure the processes to create the product are achievable and firm. He relies on the workers on the line, looking for input on what they do. It is a well-oiled machine. Each person has their expertise, and each person is given respect in their bailiwick. It's the way things work; in fact, it is the only way that they can work.

Right now in racing if a new wagering change was looked at, say a change in the IHA, the people at the table will be as follows:

- A person from a racetrack
- A person from a horseman group
- A person from one of the many, many groups with four letter titles
- A person from a state or provincial office or commission

They will be in charge.

The people who bet, or who take bets and have succeeded in doing so (in betfair's case these folks have turned a start-up into the most successful gambling enterprise the world has ever seen in a short time) have absolutely no say. No say at all. They will not even be invited to the dog and pony reception for crackers and cheese and a glass of Jessvino.

I know getting people to change in racing is easier said than done. I have been to the meetings. I have seen first hand the fingers in the pie and the yelling and arguing. I have seen the grasp of control with no one wanting to let go. But when will the good of the business as a whole trump the needs of each faction in our game? When is enough enough? When is the time to move in a new direction?

From someone who loves racing and wants to see it grow, I hope this time comes soon. I hope one of the factions finally stands up and says, "let's roll and get this thing figured out", regardless to what it does to their slice of the pie. In 2012 or 2013 there is a real chance that Australia will pass North America in gross handle. Australia is a country that is 1/20th the size of North America in terms of gross domestic product. I think it's time we start setting the table to ensure this does not happen. One way to start is letting gambling people make some gambling decisions.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

80,000 People at the Track? It's Easy. Just Block all Wagering.

Ray Paulick has run an opinion piece from Fred Pope about a potential match-up and big racing day. The protagonists are Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the two top mares in racing. Mr. Pope has long held the belief that if the tracks take the bulk of the cash from betting, racing will be in good shape.

To make a statement for all racehorse owners about the upside-down, off-track revenue model that bled $500 million out of purses this year, the owners of these two magnificent fillies have a timely opportunity.

For the big event, the fillies’ owners would agree the race would have no set purse amount, but instead they would get 100% of the takeout from on-track wagers on the race. In effect, the racehorse owners take the risks.

By locking out all off-track wagering and televised coverage, if we can get a crowd of 80,000 and drive the on-track handle to $20 million, the takeout for the purse would be $4 million gross. If we paid back to 6th place, there is a huge incentive for the owners of other good fillies to enter the race and drive the handle higher.

Protectionism at its finest. And it never works.

Somehow we are supposed to get 80,000 people to a racetrack. And they have to leave any handhelds, phones, or computing devices at home. They also have to bet about $200 or so, or about 1000% more than on-track patrons bet normally on a whole card, but do it on one race. How many people are going to bet $250 on one race, which probably is not a good betting affair to begin with ($4.40 ex and a $6.60 ex respectively with the two chalk). The answer is: Not very many.

I recently returned from Xtreme horsepower at Georgian Downs. It was a great day. Thousands of people attended - race fans and new fans from everywhere. The line-ups for concessions were twenty deep. The tarmac was fairly full, the rides and games attended and the weather was good.

That crowd bet $200,000 on 12 races.

Mr. Pope should realize that on-track patrons, or fans, or new fans don't bet much. The real betting is done at home, or off-track. That is where handle comes from.

What will end up happening if such a day ever would occur (and it won't) is the following:

Offshore pirates will reap all the rewards. You can not watch the racing day on TV, but you will be able to bet it. Money lines will be placed up all over the world so people can stay at home and bet. No revenue will go to racing, and even if people wanted to travel many miles to bet the race, pay fees for parking, walk miles to the track, stand in line to bet into 22% takeouts and spend hours at the track - they won't have to. The offshores love this idea.

People will bet what they generally bet on track. They won't get 80,000 people for a horse race, but if they got 40,000 (which would be great for an event like this) they would bet the usual $20 a head. Handle would be about $800,000 tops. If you do not distribute the signal, handle falls. It is a modern truism.

We are supposed to march to a drum that raising prices on bettors, making them come to a track and bet, make it more difficult for them to bet, and inconvenience them will result in a raising of revenues and be a good thing for the sport. Ouch.

The constant barrage of old time thinking that permeates us in racing is flat-out mind-boggling. This is not 1938, it is 2009. The internet is here, racing is being distributed far and wide and people are playing it in other ways. We have kids, two parent working households, traffic snarls where a drive to work takes two hours instead of ten minutes, and many things to do with our time and money. People are not going to the track like they used to, just like they are not going to see minor league baseball, or junior hockey like they used to. It is never coming back. Without bringing racing to the masses, we are finished.

I spoke to a bettor yesterday. He was watching and betting an Irish race. There were horses he never had heard of, in a place he could not find on the map. There were a few people watching the race live - and the kicker was, it was a race that was being run on a beach. Yes, not on a track, but on a beach. A race on the beach, in the middle of nowheresville attracted $300,000US of betting on Betfair from at home players. What is the handle without them? Peanuts, that's what.

Yes the world has changed. And it can change for the better in racing if we place ideas like Mr. Pope's where they belong - back in 1938. They have absolutely no business being proposed in this century.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Whip Rules and Old Rules Broken

The new whipping rules come into effect in Ontario today. Jock's are now using the light tough whips and can not whip as much as they used to, and drivers must not beat the heck out of their mounts, one-handed.

What strikes me is with the lack of leadership in racing, the rules are taken as some sort of nebulous thing that can be broken. Why is that? Some quotes:

Reactions are mixed in the thoroughbred world on the new rules set out for urging a horse, with some riders brazenly stating they will break rules if they think it means the difference between winning and losing

"If I am down in the heat of a race, how do you start counting?" said Kabel. "People know I am an aggressive rider, that's why they hire me." "The penalties are too severe," said Kabel.

in Australia strict whipping rules were introduced along with the crops.

That has led to a mini-revolt Down Under, where jockeys say paying attention to winning a race is their first priority, not counting how many times they strike a horse.

How now brown cow?

In the NHL they instituted a crease rule long ago. In the pre-season if a skate was in the crease (even a millimetre) it was no goal. In the NFL they initiated a no horse collar rule last year. If you touched a players collar and brought him down it was 15 yards, no questions asked, and if it was particularly brutal, it was a fine.

Within weeks the skates in creases and horse collar tackles were almost non-existent.

What there was was no whining about them while they were testing it. The players knew that this was a league rule, and they are getting paid a good sum to play in the league. They abided by the rules. We never would hear "If there is a puck loose and I have to go into the crease to get it, I will no matter what". Why would they say that; if they went into the crease to get the puck, the goal would be disallowed. Why bother?

Why in racing do we hear all the criticism and sometimes the brazen "I don't like it and I will break it" mantra when a new rule comes in? No respect for the authority of racing or the penalty does not fit the crime, in my opinion.

If the ORC really wants to make this rule work, the first time after the grace period they see something happening untoward, they fine the participant, and suspend the participant. Take a lesson from the big leagues and leave no grey area, leave no shred of doubt that they are serious. People will abide by the rule by mid-October, if so.

Speaking of rules, we have a funny in harness racing. The owner of All the Weapons raced and won the Gold Cup and Saucer a couple weeks ago. There was a problem. The horse was claimed in Ontario and shipped out to race before the 60 day jail time was over. No good. They were fined the purse money. What is funny to me is that the ORC was like a mother chasing a teenager to make sure they knew if they entered the race they would get hammered - yet they still entered. Some snippets:

They call him to make sure he knows the rule, which they don't even have to do, but they did anyway:

On August 17, 2009 at approximately 6 p.m., prior to the horse making his first start in the Gold Cup & Saucer trial, the trainer of ALL THE WEAPONS Ken Oliver, contacted the Judges at Mohawk Racetrack at their request. Rule 15.09 was explained to him at that time. Furthermore, he was also informed of what the policy relating to penalty currently is.

On August 17, 2009 at approximately 7 p.m., trainer of ALL THE WEAPONS Ken Oliver called back to the Mohawk Judges and asked that rule 15.09 be read to him for clarification. Also, the policy relating to penalty was again relayed to him.

He still raced, and won. He made the final, which of course, will also have the purse (whatever he makes) going right into a fine:

Having seen “ALL THE WEAPONS” in-to-go in the Gold Cup & Saucer final set for August 22, the Judges at Mohawk attempted to contact Ken Oliver on Thursday August 20 by calling his cell phone, his home phone, and we even spoke with Roger, a Charlottetown Judge, and asked him to have Ken Oliver call. No call back was received by us from Ken Oliver and nor did the owners make an effort to contact us for clarification. We did receive a call from Ken Oliver's wife as she wondered about our number coming up on her call display.

Subsequent to those calls being attempted, the Judges at Mohawk called the only number listed under Standardbred Canada for owners Kerry and Shirley House. A message was left on an answering machine also on Thursday August 20.

I remember chasing around an old girlfriend once like that whom I was sure was stepping out with my buddy Dave. I was around 15 years old I think.

So the horse won, and they were fined. End of story. For some reason this is a debate that they should not have to give back the purse money. Only in racing.

We do strange things in our sport, because it seems we just don't care much about the rules. Jockey's want leniency even before they break a rule. People know they can't enter a horse out of province but still do, then some rally around them, for some strange reason. We saw this in the thoroughbred's this summer when Jeff Mullins brought a substance with a non-needle syringe into the detention barn. A two year old with a learning disability knows not to do that, yet some rallied in defense of Mullins. In football have you ever seen people rally around a guy who rips a facemask off another player and gets a one thousand dollar fine, knowingly breaking a rule? Of course not. After the play is over, it is forgotten, and the player (and fans and all players) know not to do that anymore.

Imagine if this occurred in the real business world? Would the EPA call your home fifty times to tell you that you can't pour toxic waste into a river? Then when you do it anyway, all the other business leaders protest the fine for you?

Some say that the ORC treats us like children. But maybe it is because we act like children. I swear we are going to see an industry wide notice next, telling us to not nail horseshoes to our foreheads because if we do, it'll hurt.

Only in racing.

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