Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two Good Writers, One Good Article

Steve Crist on March 27th wrote an article critical of the results of the Dubai World Cup. It is no secret Mr. Crist dislikes synthetic surfaces (as well as most of the DRF crew, I find), and he did not disappoint in his article. However, being a Steve Crist fan, after reading the opine I was very disappointed. To me Mr. Crist is usually thoughtful, cogent and he makes a valid argument in a sharp way, and whether you disagree or agree with his point tends to be irrelevant. This time I left his page feeling like I just watched one of my favorite horses get beat. It was simply, in my opinion, not up to his standards. To me it felt rushed, sophomoric and something I would read on a thoroughbred chat board (or dare I say a blog like this, written by yours truly).

Fast forward to today, another writer whom I love to read, who like Mr. Crist usually writes with passion and razor sharp logic, is Nick Kling. Again, whether I agree or disagree I get my money's worth when reading his work. He wrote an article critical of Mr. Crist's cited above and laid out an alternative point of view. After reading it I was not disappointed.

We have some really great writers in our sport, but just like horses, sometimes they have a bad day. In the battle over the Dubai World Cup and synth racing in general, if we as fans only have these two articles to read, it's game, set and match Mr. Kling.

$300 Million Bettor

It is rare to see a $300M bettor in the public eye, but Sam McKee and the Meadowlands snagged the interesting interview.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It Took Awhile, But......

On this blog and many others, like the Horseplayers Association of North America's, there has long been a clarion call for the judges (or stewards) to be more responsive to the betting public. As we all know, when a call is made - with hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging in the balance - the lights go off and the horse's numbers are placed up, with nary an explanation. But that is beginning to change, as the Ontario Racing Commission becomes more proactive in explaining fouls, or non-fouls.

As part of its commitment to excellence in officiating and communication, the Ontario Racing Commission is launching two initiatives designed to communicate in a clear, concise and accessible way.

One is an online feature:

In a weekly feature titled 'From the Stand,' the ORC judges will select calls that have attracted discussion and questions (or the potential to do so) from the judges stand at Woodbine and Flamboro. The intent is to explain the reasons for the call, including reference to the rule and background to the reasons for the ruling.

The second is an on air feature:

[The second] in addition to the announcer relaying the decision, an ORC judge/steward will make an announcement, explaining the nature of the violation, where it happened and who was involved. The WEG TV crew will broadcast the announcement at an appropriate break in the race program. "It's similar to what other sports ruling officials have been doing for a number of years. We want the explanations to be clear and easily understood," said Stone.

In the last several weeks we have seen the following from racing in Ontario:

1. The ORC stepping in and telling feuding racetracks and horsemen groups to get their act together and stop penalizing the customer with their signal fee fights.

2. An initiative whereby the concept of purse pooling replaces the archaic, and completely ineffectual (and sometimes mind-boggling) laissez faire purse system in the province.

3. Judges being responsive to customer concerns.

Are these items a dozen years too late? Perhaps. But moving forward - no matter how slow - should be welcomed.

Now, let's work on the Woodbine takeouts. We might be able to get somewhere.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Morning Line Oddsmakers - Best & Worst

Courtesy my pal Ray, here are the ML stats for harness tracks across North America (thoroughbred below as well). The higher the rating, the better the morning line.



Knowing which morning lines are good, and which are not can help us gain an edge. In fact, morning line faves are generally a couple of points worse in ROI from the second choice for example. So, if we know a line is generally poor, we can possibly up our ROI by a few points - and as many serious players know - a few points is a monster edge in this business. A caveat of course is that ML is a strong predictor of wins and losses. Betting against every ML fave takes away about one third of the winners. If you are a player who needs to cash tickets, it is a fade angle that might not be for you.

The results of the above are true to form I think, but there are a couple of points that stick out. The formful, tight horse population tracks have fairly good ML's. Tracks like Balmoral, Woodbine/Mohawk, Fraser and Cal Expo have similar horses racing week to week, with a minimum of shippers. On the other hand, tracks like the Red Mile, Georgian and others who have horses coming from all over are generally worse.

I was somewhat shocked at the performance of the ML at Flamboro. This is a track that should hold true to form, however it seems it does not. Is it the oddsmaker or the track? Of note, if you are looking to exploit this at Flammy by fading ML chalk, the takeout is quite high, making it very difficult. As well, the morning line at London (WFR) was a bit of a surprise. That track is very flat and very speed favoring. One would think making a line there would be easy. Takeouts at WFR in the win pool are not horrible, so adding a fade move to the ML chalk in your betting there might be an idea.

Grand River, with plenty of shippers and not being a track that is super-speed favoring, offers some horseplayer value with a fade move as well.

Anyhow, congrats to the very good linemaker at Balmoral Park. 0.73 blows away the competition, and it is a full-field joint. Quite impressive!

For a similar list of thoroughbred tracks, check out Stu's blog post here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Harrah's Ups Offer to End Dog Racing

Just last month we linked a story that Harrah's in Iowa offered the government $70M to end dog racing in the state. This month, showing just how badly they want nothing to do with a losing product, they have upped the ante, to $7M a year for as long as they hold a casino license.

"The casinos want to dump dog racing because it's expensive to maintain and draws few gamblers. The report shows consumer interest in betting on dogs has dwindled drastically, and it's expensive for the casinos to subsidize greyhound racing."

But, get this, they actually offered cash for retraining trainers, grooms and others who work with the dogs. "Harrah's on Wednesday said it also would allocate $4 million to $10 million to help professionals in the dog industry prepare for new careers."

We know slot money will not last forever but people are generally stubborn who work in this business and some believe it will last for a long while. However, when someone actually offers millions to retrain you from training (in this case) a dog to race, it should be a wake-up call.

Other tidbits:

Cangamble looks at the payoffs for Santa Anita this past weekend, here in the north.

Paceadvantage poster "Inside the Pylons" who comments here at times, is not happy with the last edition of Hoofbeats. If you are looking for sugar-coated opinion, don't look to ITP. If not, it's worth the read. He makes a strong point about running the internet wagering letter, in my opinion, and the magic mushrooms line, well that's simply too funny.

The Cheltenham Festival is starting in the UK. I don't know a thing about it, but even folks like Scott get stoked for it. What a great picture.

Lucky Jim is back tomorrow. Janne: Watch out for this horse come May in your home country. He looks to have come back fantastic.

Horses last when they stay in one barn. Winning Breed (a horse numerous super-stables wanted to get their hands on over the years) was retired after 232 starts. One owner, one trainer. Except when on vacation.

I changed the layout of my blog, because I found some neat new layouts. I keep telling racing they need to change, so hell, I figure I don't have to be married to an old blog layout. Change is good :)

Man who gathers wind and uses big words is always a good read. Great post; something so simple.

People tell me I don't have what it takes to be a successful horse owner because I like them too much. I do like animals, so there. I was quite sad when I found out that Daddy the Dog on Cesar Millan's excellent Dog Whisperer show passed on at the age of 16. I don't know if anyone that reads here watches that show, but man, what a cool dog he was. "There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse" is a fine proverb, but for me you can replace that with a good dog, too.

Purse Pooling Long Overdue

A story in the Guelph Mercury today shows that purse pooling - slot racetracks getting together to use slot fuelled purses for a better sport and game to bet - is gaining some momentum. Advocates of working together with this money (which will not be here forever) have felt this has held racing back in Ontario for a long time.

The poster boy for purse pooling has been Woodstock: "Woodstock’s total 2009 purse structure of just over $3 million produced a per-card average of $114,000 and yet the average bet, per card, on the races themselves was just 10 per cent of that — $10,469."

To make matters worse - as if having 114k in purses for a 10k bet is not bad enough - the high per race purse at Woodstock did very little for small stables, looking to race some horses. Super-stables would swoop in with Woodbine horses, be 1-5 and take the bulk of the slot cash. This also caused a problem for our flagship track in Canada, because good horses were not racing there, they were racing at some of the small tracks. This has gone on for years; good horses racing in front of nobody is flat out crazy.

Here on the blog and elsewhere we (and bettors) have argued for them to get together and work a plan with this money, to grow the sport. It is simple common sense: Put caps on purses, claiming prices, money given out per card at the small tracks by some mechanism and make them the "mom and pop afternoon grassroots tracks", and siphon slot money that is needed to other main tracks where people want to bet.

I think it was first proposed in about 2003. Better late than never, I say.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Quite the Weekend

It's been a pretty wild weekend in racing.

First, just late last week, Tioga announced that they were lowering takeout. The amazing thing, Jeff Gural and the management at Tioga actually wanted to go much lower (eg to slot machine takeout levels) but the state does not let them. Someone should get that bizarre law changed. Ray Kroc would have never sold a burger if he had the state mandating his prices.

HD poster and long time bettor "The Whip" did not much care for the news about the Tioga takeout reduction, because he thinks if WEG shows those races, their "commission rates" will charge the old takeout rates anyway. He is not a happy camper.

Quote: "Not sure why Standardbredcanada.com would even publish this [Tioga news]. HPI will simply re-adjust the rake to what they normally take anyway.. so this means nothing to Canadian consumers. HPI Commission rates remained unchanged on every track....... still waiting to be able to bet Maywood and Balmoral pick 4s again. "

In addition, the news that Woodbine was guaranteeing their pick 4 pools on Monday's at $35k was not met with much fanfare on the chat boards either (in fact, similar comments were left right on SC's main site linked above). Most people remember when the pick 4 at Woodbine was good value at a 14.75% takeout, but then it was raised to 25.0% or so. Whomever made the decision was pretty sharp, because at the same time they lowered mins to 20 cents, which added to pool size, and deflected any lost handle in the pick 4 (although, also not surprisingly, with less money in your wallet, overall handle suffered since that move). The 20 cent min decision was curious in its own right, in my opinion. That is way too low for a sweep of four races and it is why no other track has gone lower than 50 cents.

Woodbine gave a sincere, honest effort with their huge pick 6 guarantee last year for the runners. I hope they give something new a shot, other than guarantee's of a bet which a lot of bettors feel is terrible value in the first place.

I believe Woodbine has some serious work to do to get bettors on their side again, from a branding perspective. On chat boards and other avenues, there just does not seem to be much praise for the track; and there is for some other tracks (eg Tioga, the M, Western Fair, Balmoral, Maywood), so the old "horseplayers complain about everything anyway" line, does not hold water.

Rachel Alexandra will not race in the Apple Blossom on April 9th, after her rather lackluster effort this weekend. This has caused some consternation on thoroughbred chat boards and blogs. I don't really know why. She was not up to snuff, so they do not want to meet the best filly or mare we have seen in ages in three weeks. Seems logical to me. I have my doubts she will be back to her old self, regardless, but I hope I am wrong.

What happens when a track executive goes undercover with a bettor? Here is one person's satirical take.

For those who can play in youbet.com, don't forget their new promotion: The 0% take pick 3 at Sam Houston for a few weeks. No Whip, I don't think you can bet that one here either.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Well That's That

Zenyatta does what she usually does - win with her ears pricked. If someone can show me a thoroughbred or standardbred who wins more races with zero effort, please let me know.

On the flipside, Rachel loses. What a disappointment. If you were watching with the sound down, or you were an alien who never saw a horse race, you would swear that the mare swooping at the head of the lane with the push button speed was Rachel, not a second stringer from the Sherriffs stable.

I have read time and time again this spring smart race-watchers tell me "Rachel does not look quite the same". I thought they were being overly dramatic. Watching the race once, I was convinced she was probably going to scope sick or show a high white count Monday, but the more and more I watch that race, I think they are right. When a horse like Zardana (no disrespect intended) goes by a HOY like Rachel around the far turn like she is tied to a pole, there is clearly a problem.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Top 5 & Slots Money

The Meadowlands does a good job with their question segment each week, when they ask drivers and trainers for their opinion on something. This week Bob Heyden asked "who are your top five drivers of all time?". I, like a lot of you I am sure, wondered if one driver would leave obvious choice John Campbell off the list. Let's see if he did.

In Maryland the slots are not even spinning yet, and already politicos are asking for money to be taken away from racing and placed into something else. Horse racing = rat hole? Someone thinks so.

We really have to think about priorities," Simmons said. "If we don't think in terms of priorities, we are going to basically neglect and ignore some serious aspects of our social and economic structure because we are dumping $100 million a year into what I regard as a rat hole."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Systems, Equipment and Smart Cash?

Our Swedish visitor Janne noted below in the comments section that the $144 ticket that hit the $9M pick 7 in Sweden last week was selected as a group of tickets using a type of software available in that country. Doing a google search I can not seem to find out what it is, or what it does, but I am assuming it is a software which helps you construct tickets like Crist in his famous book Exotic Betting.

I am a huge believer in such ticket construction. Just like you should not weight a longshot in a tri bet like you would a short priced horse, I believe the same thing should be done in horizontal wagers. As well, with a limited bankroll you have to take your shot, and allowing you to weight horses based on that is super-important. The takeout for a pick 6 or 7 is high, and the sharks swimming in these pools cumbersome. We need to take a stand.

I use, for all my major pick 4 and pick 6 plays, the A,B,C type ticket constructor at the Del Mar site. For me it is a very worthwhile tool. If you are the type of bettor who has trouble weighting and making proper horizontal plays without overlap, give it a shot and let me know if you like it.

Ray at Paceadvantage.com has a poll question up: "Which factor influences the Win Pool Odds the most? (Multiple choices allowed)"

So far, whale betting and program info are leading the way. I wonder, after last weeks news about Michigan and the investigation going on there, if we should add another choice!

Blacks a Fake won a big one downunder. It always amazes me when I watch an overseas race, whether it be trotters or pacers - the lack of equipment on the horses. Are all these horses so much better gaited? Or am I just using anecdotal evidence and my claim is wrong to begin with?

I was perusing the betting in different nations this past week. Here is a chart, with the rakes for some of the countries.

Australia, about $8.5B bet (US), with an average take of 13%.

The UK, with a 10% rake. They bet huge amounts.

Japan, with not too much competition in 2008, bets a whack.

Remind me not to play racing in Peru.

I am guessing the South Africa 60% takeout is a misprint. I heard they have been trying to grow racing down there, so they can not possibly be sinking cash into a business to grow it, with 60% takes. If it is not a misprint, I have a suggestion for better use of the money used for racing - get a bucket, put all the money in it, and light it on fire. At least you will get some heat, and maybe be able to roast a hot dog for lunch; because you sure as heck ain't going to get any long term customers.

Last up, Lou Pena is on fire. On several chat boards there are the inevitable questions about "how does he do it?" I don't know how or what, or whatever, but I do know these guys are tough to make any scratch on, despite their monster win percentages. At the Meadowlands for example, $2 bet on every Lou horse gets you back about 10 points on your money. That sounds great, but really is it? Take one horse out of the equation (Letsgetitstarted) and you struggle to break even. Overall his wins produce an average odds of less than 5-2; again making it difficult to make any scratch.

With trainers like that I have only found one strategy that works - when they are in the race, sit it out. It seems unless you are on the ground floor, get the first several horses at prices and then ride it out, you end up chasing your tail, with more ROI negative propositions than positive ones.

Has anyone ever devised a profitable strategy for eventually overbet supertrainers?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Late Scratch Lucky

When I get a post time chalk in a multi-leg wager I am often upset. One person certainly disagrees. The V75 this week paid a record C$9.6 million (over US$9M) on a $144 ticket. Going into the last leg, the punters choice was scratched with only a few minutes to post time, giving him/her the post time chalk, which the bettor did not have.

And the chalk got the job done.

I somehow think this lucky bettor is a big fan of late scratches. That's quite the payout.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Improving Info, Takeout Simulations and .... Women's Curling

Muscle Hill, to nobody's surprise, wins the Dan Patch Award for Horse of the Year. I am having trouble believing it was not a sweep in the voting.

"To grow a company you need to be good at killing things" says a business blog. A lesson for racing, no doubt. If OTB's don't work, try something that does. If your track is filled with 4 claimers that no one wants to bet, try something new. Kill the dead weight, and spend on the ROI neutral or positive items in your business.

The Meadowlands is adding driver choice graphics to their simulcast. As most know, drivers are sometimes down on two or three horses, and they choose. Although this is a very good thing I find drivers make the wrong choices many times, so adding this to your handicapping as a potential overbet angle might be a good idea. Regardless, we have yet another data point to help us in our betting and the Meadowlands should be commended.

Autochart, is a real time charting and tracking service offered to harness racing. Let's get that data out there in an API and not hold back. Someone will do something with it.

Tampa Bay Downs about four years ago started lowering their takeout each year to try and build a brand. It appears they have been doing some good. On Saturday, with a couple major tracks closed due to weather, their handle reached the 5th highest in history - $7.5M. In particular they dropped their horizontal takes in the pick 3 and pick 4. I find people have a hard time understanding takeout reductions and what they do, but the HANA site had a decent simulation of the old takeout versus the new takeout and what it means to revenues and the horseplayer.

Player A plays $24 pick 3's at Tampa at the new low takeout. He is a losing player and gets $110 back for each $120 bet in the pick 3's.

Player B plays at a track those same pick 3's in $24 bets, but at this track, the pick 3's have a 25% takeout.

What happens?

Player "A" at Tampa with the local rebate and lower takeout bets $118.50 for a return of $110, therefore experiencing bankroll shrinkage of $8.50 for each 5 bet sequence. Player "B" bets a full $120 for a return of $101.85 @ a 25% rake therefore loses $18.15 for each 5 bet sequence.

The Tampa player can churn $2808 (118 bets) before hitting ruin. Player "B" at the high takeout track will churn $1320 (55 bets) before going broke. The track nets $491.40 from player "A" (17.5% of $2808) and $330.00 from player "B" (25% of 1320).

This is a lesson that seems to be lost on many in racing. Bettors do not change their behaviour overnight. It takes time, and churn acts silently. I hope the folks at Balmoral who just went to a low take pick 4 give it time. It does not matter if the pick 4 pools themselves grow, it matters that by giving bettors more cash back on that bet, and having them rebet it, helps your business.

There is a really nice homemade promo for the upcoming race for Rachel and Zenyatta on youtube; it's below.

What's up with Woodbine chalk this season? About 66% are hitting the board, which is down, and chalk is winning at thoroughbred levels - around 33%. I think this is the lowest hit rate I have seen for chalk at Woodbine.

Last up - women's curling. Yes, women's curling, which is not a huge topic on the blog. On Friday team Canada was playing Sweden and I was watching the in-play odds at Betfair. Going into the last end the Canadian team had the lead and were trading at around 1.08 to win. The problem with that is, in that situation the leading team still loses the game over 20% of the time. Some sharp players must have realized that and scooped up as much as they could.

During the end Canada seemed to be in good shape, although they were really not. The team traded over US$110,000 at 1.01. That means people were betting $100 to win a dollar. But a funny thing happened, they lost. If someone layed that $110,000, they cashed for an $1100 outlay.

Who says you can't make money at curling?

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