Monday, May 31, 2010

Bet Night Live & Some Notes

Has anyone caught Bet Night Live on the Score yet? I had a look tonight, and I was quite happy with what they have done. I spoke about some of my thoughts with it last month. I truly believe that preaching to the choir is a waste of airtime, and with this new format they are not doing that any longer. I wonder what you folks think about it. To the readers who are south of the 49th and are wondering what the heck we are speaking of, the outline is here.

I have been delinquent this week with too much on the burner. I did not even chat about the Elittlop won this weekend by Iceland. My Swedish pal Janne is going to be upset we did not cover such a big (and great!) race. Next year I think I will give him the keys to the blog for it.

I got a golfing injury on the weekend. I went to look for my ball in the woods and got pegged with a branch in the ear. Yes, I got injured not by a club, or a lost ball, or bitten by a rattler or alligator - but by a tree branch. Luckily I got to the emergency room before the bars closed on Saturday and was stitched up in no time. Note to self - don't let doctor's give you a needle in your ear cartilage, ever again. It's worse pain than having your leading-by-five-longshot who is keying a $200k superfecta, get spooked and take a left turn into the infield. Ok, maybe not that bad, but it was not pleasant.

Now that Dave Wilmot is leaving he is starting to let fly a little. In this Globe article he shares some opine on Kentucky, New York and the CPMA.

I'm going to a meeting this week about harness racing. They are asking everyone to come up with two ideas that would make harness racing popular again. So, what do you guys think? Can we tweak our way out if this, or do we have to overhaul the sport completely to make any headway and grow again? Shoot me an email, or please comment below if you could list two things you would do tomorrow to help harness racing. I'd love to hear your opinion. No ideas are bad ideas, especially when we are doing so poorly.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cohen Causes Stir. Weekend Harness Action

As most harness racing fans know, Andrew Cohen has been speaking of trainer Lou Pena's success, in two harnesslink articles. The first one is here, the second (with follow-up reaction) is here. These articles are some we do not see much in harness, although in thoroughbreds Andy Beyer has spoken of such things several times.

We have all seen Lou's horses go, and go they do. Since moving east from Cal-Expo he is a one man wrecking crew. At Chester he is 4 for 5 off the claim in 2010 (12 for 16 off claim at Chester since he got out east last year), for an 80% hit rate. At Freehold he is 2 for 2 off the claim in 2010, at the Meadowlands he is 4 for 12, making 2010 a 10 for 19 run. Overall his numbers are remarkable: 172 for 580 for a 30% hit rate, and a 0.430 UTRS.

When we compare those numbers to his Cal Expo ones: In 2008 (his last full year out west) he was 101 for 848 for a 12% win percentage. Going back in a database for 2008 and 2009 at Cal Ex his off the claim numbers were a shadow of his current ones. Out of 9 races off the claim he had zero wins, two seconds and zero thirds. Of those off the claim, four of nine horses came 7th or worse, with two coming dead last.

Whatever side you come down on the issue, it is hard to ignore that this is an issue. I give full credit to Cohen for having the guts to at least make it a point of discussion, like Beyer does on the runner side. We need to have frank discussions about things like this.

Sportswriter's debut was last night at the Hawk. He came second in 150.2. He looks to have a ways to go, to me. Off a 56.1 back half, against horses who are not doing too well, I would have expected him to blow them away easily. He was beaten by a former stablemate who was recently in a 40 claimer. Comparing that to All Speed Hanover's prep last week at the M, we see the difference in the two, as handicappers. All Speed had a similar trip, but in horrible fractions for his spot on the track. He came home in 53.3 off the bench against some very good horses, and I thought raced super.

Rock n' Roll Heaven keeps on rolling. His very nice 148.3 effort yesterday at the M was eye-opening. He is not a flash speed horse like so many we see lately as our breed gets faster and faster (although it goes without saying he is very fast), but he is so very impressive when he is sharp. Let's see if Bruce can keep him that sharp for the next seven or eight weeks for the two richest races for pacers in our sport. If he does, the field better be on their toes.

Ideal Matters was a rather poor third, I thought. Off that trip I expected more from him and I have to think he was not at his best last night. Let's see if he can bounce back with a better effort next time.

Won the West won a good Molson Pace final on Friday picking up the lion's share of the record purse. They had a good crowd and a decent handle. Kudos to Western Fair for trying to brand this event each year.

I think starting this week we will get our pal Greg to outline his Top Ten for the NA Cup as we have in previous years. I hope to start that this week if he is up for it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Notes for a Thursday

There is plenty of action this weekend in our sport, but we'll hopefully get to that before Friday. Being busy lately I have to get a few housekeeping items posted.

First, Mike Maloney is not only a good player, he is a decent southern gentleman. He is on the board of the Horseplayers Association of North America, as well as the NTRA players panel. At a recent HANA Day at the Races at Keeneland, he went on camera to speak a little bit about the organization and to present Keeneland with their #1 Track in North America award (their takeouts are very low, and they try hard there to offer good bettor value). Here is the clip from US racing channel TVG. Since many of you are members of HANA (some of you a part of the 30 or 40 initial members), I thought you might find it interesting:

Second up, kudos to the Hambletonian Society. They, along with Yonkers and the Meadowlands created the Metro 6 Shooter, a seeded pick 6 that goes into effect June 5th. We will no doubt be speaking more about that over time, as I know most of you will be trying to hit this baby. There is a story on it here. A big thumbs up to Mr. Cashman, Moira, Seth, and the fellas and ladies at Yonkers and the Meadowlands. That is great work.

Lastly, a friend emailed today and mentioned to me that the Monmouth piece we wrote below was reminiscent of our Breeders Crown 2010 piece we wrote way back in late 2007. I read it again (gosh I know it is pie in the sky, but wouldn't it be great for our sport, and us as fans?) and it seems there are some similarities to what Monmouth is doing. I guess when we write opinion pieces we can let fly, because we don't have to enact any of them. One part while re-reading it made me think of Monmouth, and the Hambletonian Society news:

In Colonialist times sailors would sail from Europe to the New World in search of the metaphorical shining house on the hill. When they reached the Caribbean waters, some would get stuck in the doldrums named the Horse Latitudes. There they would toss their horses overboard to lighten their load, to allow them to use what little wind they had to get to shore.

Harness racing is stuck in the same rut. We can make a choice like those sailors did. We can throw our horses overboard and give up, hoping to get back to port with a few slot dollars in our pockets. Or we can instead implement new ideas and a new way of doing things that allows us to race into port, proud that we are not giving up this great sport without a fight.

I am guessing I had three beers when I wrote that, waxing poetic and all, but it struck me that two and a half years later it seems we are trying to fight for the sport. It is a fight we might just surprise ourselves and win, if recent evidence from Monmouth and the Hambo Society is any indication.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Racings Maturation

When I started going to the track, and long before that for many others, there seemed to be a mantra for tracks that was followed: Set a post, card some races, open the doors and all will be well. Since about 1990, this was clearly not good enough. With competition, an aging demographic which was not being replaced, and the changing of society, simply putting on the races was a recipe to, drip by drip, hurt the business. That writing has been on the wall for some time, and the response by racing was muted. However, over the past six to ten months, this seems to have changed a little. It appears we are starting to mature as a business, moving from one where experimentation was considered heresy, to one which is starting to realize that without it, we're done.

The Monmouth experiment, spearheaded by a governor and racing management that has demanded the sport stand on its own two feet, or die, looks to be resultant of that maturation. What they have done is the antithesis setting a post time and opening the doors. The hard work was being done long before the doors opened, because success demands it.

Monmouth's journey began about six months ago. They have done the little things right from day one, for the most part, in my opinion:

i) They set the table for a short meet, with pop. Horsemen want to race the most dates for the most amount of money. It is right as rain. This time, less days meant more in terms of a racing product and buzz. The shrinking of the meet, in a completely saturated market, differentiated themselves from the pack. Promoting what they were was flushing money down the toilet. Now they have something to promote.

ii) Promote they did. In every press release, in every email, in every ad - big field size, low takeout, good on-track amenities.

iii) Who was the first track in some time to use the HRF ad network to simply promote their meet to blog readers and chat board watchers? Monmouth.

iv) Their facebook page, survivor contest and use of the net was not a necessary evil, it is something they have tried to use as a conduit to reach bettors.

v) Did they look to raise takeout with the old time thinking of: Since we are sinking all this cash into the meet, maybe we should try and squeeze people a little more. Front and center their low takeout bets are promoted. In their 15% pick 5 carryover Sunday, $801,000 was added to the pool.

What they did was not earth shattering when we compare it to what Intel or Amazon or Wal Mart or McDonald's does on virtually a daily basis; but in racing it was something. They created an event, they promoted the event, and they strive to make each day of the event something special. It is very difficult to get fans to look at you in our sport because with so many customers married to their own circuit, the pool of bettors is small. So far, this risk looks to be working.

And of course, they did it without a slot machine. Some casino money yes, but no slot machines.

Over the past little while we have seen this happen in small ways at other tracks too. Look at Woodbine, who some might argue is the most unwilling to change track around. They spent money to get on TVG and actually used it to promote their pools. They tried a seeded pick 6. For gosh sakes, last week they ran the Open (which is a horrid betting race) the first race on the card, instead of in race 9 or 10 where it is an invitation to call it a night. Even when you mention takeout rates there is a realization they are too high now, as Nick Eaves noted in last weeks Trot podcast. These are small things yes, and things that bettors such as yourselves have been asking about for years, but they are a step in the right direction, especially considering the direction of most of the last 25 years has been one of a straight line status-quo.

Monmouth's experience, should it pay off, might be a seminal moment for racing. In four or five years, maybe meets like this will occur all over North America. Maybe a fan base can be energized to look at your track if you offer a product at a decent price that is worth playing. Maybe media will follow an event where something is happening, instead of yawning at our events where you can usually fire off a cannon in the grandstand and not hit anyone but a hot dog vendor. Maybe day after day and race after race of short fields at punishing 22% takeouts can be replaced by something worth playing, and watching, and promoting. Maybe the mantra of opening your doors and setting a post time as your core business strategy will be left where it belongs - in the last century.

About ten years ago a marketer we follow here on the blog (Seth Godin) stood in front of a crowd of newspaper execs and told them that if they do not change, many of them will not be around in ten years. It is not that different in racing. Fans, bettors, industry watchers have been begging racing to do something to make it an event. Begging to not add more dates with terrible horses that beget terrible betting races, begging not to let slot money slip away by doing what they have always done. Maybe this day has come in at least one small way. For the future of our sport, let's hope it works, and that others follow.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Much Learned this Weekend

It's a holiday weekend up here so I have tried to stay away from the computer. In fact I have barely watched any racing. But I did catch a couple of replays.

Auckland Reactor fell way short in his debut, but it was in a race which was pretty impossible, won by Real Joke in 147.3 off a 54 half. Julie Miller is a trainer who can take a horse and move it up big time; a lot of those horses are off great trainers too. Now she finds herself in that position as Lou Pena (who is winning at a mind-boggling clip) took Real Joke off of her for $40k a couple of weeks ago. Boom!

One More Laugh went wonky, which we have spoken about and were worried about before. He broke twice in the Hempt, which was won nicely by Fred And Ginger.

The NJSS was held Saturday and this week it was no fooling around with Ideal Matters. Two left turns and an easy win. He seems ready to break 149 easily.

Entertaining elims at London for the Molson Pace. This weeks final will be a good race and we will cover it a bit this week.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

News & Ray's Robot

Sportswriter qualified again this morning and went in 151.4, off an even half. They seemed to be looking to find the bottom of him to see how he is, and it seems they found it. His last quarter was 28.1. Time will tell how it goes for him this season, as many colts who seem to lose a wow factor early like he has, still have good years. Just last year Well Said was in and out, but still had some really nice 'ins'. If we remember, he qualified like a 148 pacer and looked right on-track, but then had two sub-par starts at Chester and in the Burlington. He had four or five nice miles the rest of the way, that showed his natural ability.

I watched the first at Churchill today while taking a lunch break. 12 year old Kid Rigo was making his 100th start - not too common in thoroughbred racing. In standardbred, this is very common. You will see a lot of horses with more than that at age 7 or 8. Harness racing is great if you are an owner who wants to watch your horse race regularly. It is one of the unique benefits of owning in the game.

Mohawk opens tonight and the card is a bit of a yawner according to some. WEG has been good in using TVG to sell betting on their races (like the Monday Pick 4), and doing some other small things to help the bet. I feel they have had an old-time monopoly view of opening days, with an "if you put the races on people will come" mentality. I don't think that works in today's society any longer. I think, for example, they should open on a weekend and put some cash behind it. As well, I feel that the card should be a good one, to get people to watch. I was reading on a chat board the other day and a poster started a topic about the opening night and how he was stoked for it. When the program came out, his excitement waned, and he posted this: "I just took a quick glance at the race-conditions for the opener on Thurs....Wow, what a sad bunch....mostly nw's of 1's and 2's, and a couple of cheap claimers...Pass..." That's not what we need for an opening day, in my opinion.

When governments and racing meet you see some crazy headlines; in New York more than others. Now some are complaining, asking why horse racing would get money instead of state parks. That's a new one. When hands are out for taxpayer cash, usually women, children or health care are the conduit to slam another side, not chipmunks, wood and greenery.

VFTRG has his thoughts up on some races this weekend here. I think Auckland Reactor will show his stuff on Saturday, but I have been wrong, oh about four and a half million times before. I wish I kept all my losing tickets over the years because I would like to send them to Adam and Jamie at Mythbusters to see if they could fill the Superdome with them. He did qualify well - better than any downunder horse has before who skipped across the pond to take on North American FFAers, that I can remember. There is a question mark, perhaps, in that they added lasix and are speaking a bit about allergies, which can be killer in Jersey.

I asked my pal Ray, who has built his own software, for some races this year that I can place on the blog. He said sure and sent me the Molson Pace elims this weekend. I, like many of you, feel that the nuances in harness racing makes using numbers only a tough sell - trainer changes, horses on the improve, horses off a layoff and much more. However, no matter what the racing, the fastest horse historically wins the race more often than not, and numbers can tell us something; sometimes things we can not see. Ray was featured in last month's Trot magazine with a couple of other people who are not using past performance lines to handicap. If you bet his overlays over the last two years he has a flat bet profit. That's saying something. I thank Ray for these and we'll have a few more races this summer, to see 'how the other half bets'.

Here are the Molson Pace Elims and selections that go off tomorrow night, with fair odds, according to Ray's Robot (click to enlarge). A free program for the card is/will be available here.

25 Minutes Old & a Hopeful Long, Happy Life to Come

Being a now city-boy I don't get to see this much. I tend to get them when they have a running line, or much bigger than this in a sales ring. This colt's pic is from a blog reader and friend. The little fella is only 25 minutes old and was born Saturday evening.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tweaked Horses & Stakes Season

It's not our grandfather's racing anymore. Horses 30 or 40 years ago could race more, bounce back easier and hold form longer. Today more and more colts and fillies who are pushed in tough races get tweaked and they are harder and harder to bring back off a layoff. In harness racing there are countless examples of this, as there are in thoroughbred racing. That sport is waiting right now to find out, for example, if Rachel Alexandra is suffering from last year's tough sked. In a youtube video (the Meadowlands is doing a great job with this series) top trainers speak of bringing a horse back and the challenges of such. It was a good watch.

I was going to link some news and stakes action for this weekend, but VFTRG beat me to it. He lists Auckland Reactors debut, and this weekend's Molson Pace elims at Western Fair here.

This years Upper Canada Cup at Georgian starts this weekend as well.

Sportswriter is in to go tomorrow for a qualifier (his third). Unless there is someone there to set the pace I expect him to try and blowout. I won't watch the final time, as much as the final quarter. I think that will tell us more. Mark Mac is back down to drive.

Mohawk opens Thursday, and for a lot of bettors this is a good day. Watching races close to the action and in the marvelous Mohawk venue makes for a nice evening out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Try or Qualify?

As hard-core gamblers who play racing and other sports we are almost immune to changes in performance due to effort. No team wants to lose the second half of a double-header, no team wants to lose the home half of a home and home, and often this is reflected in the odds. In racing this is tantamount to a trainer whose first of a layoff numbers are 2%, and second off a layoff is 15%. The horse will be 15-1 in his first tilt and maybe chalk in his second return race.

That's fine for a lot of bettors, but what happens when a horse, who should win easily, is a no-try? In the grandstand that is called a stiffaroni, and it happens. Is this good for racing? Because you and I and many others can 'guess' a horse's connections willingness to go all out we might not think much of it, but what does it say to the general public?

On a chat board recently a harness bettor spoke of the race last Saturday at the Meadowlands. In this race, Ideal Matters was 2-5. Slam dunk right? No, not really; he was off three weeks. Since the horse is not a speed horse anyway, and he had the six hole, one could easily expect the horse to drop back, and take what the race gives him. And that is what he did. After a crawling half he could not make up the ground needed - he was never in the race - and he failed to hit the board.

From the bettor who was not happy with this performance: "He said it's a NJSS race going for real money. If he needed a race, they should have found a qualifier. You can't drive a 2/5 like it's a qualifier as 90% of the people who are betting money have you on their ticket and expect us not to feel like we got robbed while watching that effort."

Forgetting this race for a moment, and realizing that this happens more than this one instance what do you think? If a horse is off a month and does not try, is it fair? If a driver drives a 2-5 shot like he is a 10-1 shot, should there be penalties? Should that trainer have qualified the horse if he wanted a tightener, or is this an instance we should be able to know as bettors?

Do you have any opinion on the matter?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Preakness: Do You Have $850k in Your Betting Account?

In the 1970's or 1980's some bettors would stand by the $50 window, looking for some tips. Nowadays, things are much more transparent.

Yesterday, about noon, Preakness betting was alive and well with windows open at the UK's There was action on the usual horses, and the odds were relatively settled. That is, until someone who really, really, really did not like Northern Giant logged in. The colt's odds plunged like a skydiver with one button. This man or women placed US$8500 to book on Northern Giant - at 100-1. If Northern Giant wins, this person is on the hook for about $850,000; and to book that, you need at least $850k in your account. Northern Giant was 25-1 on the tote board.

By 6PM, some of this was nibbled at, but most punters were not buying what he was selling:

$7800 left - come and get it. Not too many people did.

Of course Northern Giant ran poorly; in fact he came last, so this punter knew quite well what he/she was doing. However, after the race we had something else happen, that made me chuckle. On, the Preakness Results were displayed as follows, before being corrected:

Could you imagine if this punter was not around his/her television and did not see the result, but logged in via his blackberry to his Twinspires account to see if he is $800k poorer?

Someone call the paramedics.

In other news/opinion, I see Todd Pletcher did not much like the two week break between racing for his charge - Super Saver. Maybe there is something to his statistics with that move that we spoke about Friday. That's something to file away when handicapping Mr. Pletcher, especially in stakes races.

Super Saver looked pretty poor in the PP I thought, so I mixed and matched some tickets with him out, but had trouble taking too much of a stand against him. The race, even with what I thought was a negative post parade presence, was not something I could get excited about.

For those of you who took a huge stand on First Dude; congrats on some excellent handicapping. He was fabulous and deserved to win.

Yesterday's harness preps are done for One More Laugh and Rockin Image. The former was a little soft at the end, and that is somewhat troubling for me, but he is a weird horse at times, so we'll see. He converted at Pocono in 51. Rockin Image was quite good and should be on the radar. He had a no chance trip in those fractions and still almost won. Ideal Matters, off three weeks, took a jog around the track, but fired home like he should and is right on track for Mohawk's $1.5M Cup, in my opinion. Rock n' Roll Heaven also looked good yesterday, so maybe (being a grinding type) he needed to shake the rust off, just like last year. He should be back on the radar.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Preakness & the Pletcher Wheel Back

The Preakness is hours away, and like most bettors, I feel (as usual with this race) it tends to be formful; completely unlike the Derby.

If people believe Super Saver is a slam dunk I do not blame them in the slightest. Mine that Bird and Charismatic - two Derby bombs - carried that sharpness over quite well, so a sharp, fit, logical, handy horse like Super Saver should be, and will be the chalk. History tells us that the horses who were sharp and showed fine fettle in Louisville, usually carry that form over to Pimlico, no matter who the horse really. It is the extended break to the Belmont where we go price shopping.

However, this year we have something that might send a red flag out on Super Saver. Harvey Pack said "never bet on a favorite doing something he's never done before." Of course those horse's still win - they do every day - but Mr. Pack believed the price offered was too low on these horses, so he looked elsewhere. In the era of supertrainers one might say "don't bet a trainer's horse which is doing something the trainer is uncomfortable with", thinking the same thing. With Super Saver and Pletcher, we might just have that.

Throughout 2010, Pletcher is most comfortable bringing horses back between 21 and 35 days of their previous start. It looks like his routine (suspected as paddock time, vet work, let down time, etc) is geared towards that philosophy. From 10 to 20 days off, Pletcher is only 1 for 8. From 21 to 35 days between starts, his numbers vault to 31 for 99, and he is ROI positive. In 2009, this held pretty firm - he only had 11 starters back within 15 days. He went 2 for 11. For some contrast, Steve Asmussen sent out almost 300 horses within 20 days with uniform ROI's and win percentages. In fact, with a wheel-back within 10 days, his win percentage is 34%.

If we are looking for a chink in the Super Saver armour, this might be it. I place some stock in it, but I am not sure it is enough for me to go pin seeking with some longshot. However, if the odds are too low on Super Saver, I think I will let Pletcher prove the phrase "don't bet a trainer's horse which is doing something the trainer is uncomfortable with" wrong.

As for the race itself, if I had to take a stab, pitching the obvious Super Saver and also eliminating Lookin at Lucky from the top spot, I would probably land on Schoolyard Dreams. For a potential score ticket: Maybe a Schoolyard Dreams - Lookin at Lucky - All and a Schoolyard Dreams - All - Lookin at Lucky tri and super. Schoolyard was sick for the Wood and is a much better horse than he showed there, so maybe he can run a big one.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

North America Cup Picture Getting Clearer

With many of the colts surfacing now through two qualifiers, or some races, the Cup picture is starting to become a little more readable.

This morning, All Speed Hanover (my top rated horse for the Cup as of last month), Woodstock, Sportswriter and Malicious all qualified. As expected, Noel had his two charges a little tighter this week, as per his training style. They both passed with flying colours. Last year, All Speed was the better of the two of course, and I think this year will be no different. He is solidified as a top contender for me.

On the flipside, Sportswriter was one I tabbed as my fourth rated choice last month, tepidly. I will be dropping him out of the top five after this mornings qualifier. Most handicappers will tell you he is not there, and Brian Sears echoed that sentiment this morning. "I feel he is still a few races away from being very sharp, but he does feel like a very nice horse." said Sears. Major red light.

Malicious, who ran second to Sportswriter by a length has some potential issues to overcome. Doctor Moore: "He was a little bit flat today," he explained. "I may have come back with him a little too soon. It's actually been 22 days or more since he qualified in Florida."

One More Laugh, who I have to move up to #2 in the list, is scheduled to go this weekend. He qualified so well - under no encouragement and with last quarter speed like he is a good horse - he will probably be able to carry that over. I did not have him on the list earlier, because I was worried that he finished the year a shadow of what he was in August. However, those qualifiers answered that question. If some of you have him at number one, I can not quarrel with that. He's a fast horse.

He vaults to number two in place of Rock n Roll Heaven. I did not like his qualifiers, and I did not like his Berry's Creek either.

Rockin Image (#5 in April) has really done nothing wrong, and he is in to go this weekend, which will tell us more. We'll see what he and Ideal Matters (#3 in April) are made of perhaps, when they knock heads in race 10 at the M.

My North America Cup Top Five, as of today:

1. All Speed Hanover (Daley)
2. One More Laugh (Schnittker)
3. Ideal Matters (Daley)
4. Woodstock (Daley)
5. Rockin Image (Takter)
Dropped: Rock n Roll Heaven, Sportswriter.

Last months list here

Harness Capping - ROI Tri Numbers

We get very few hard ROI numbers in harness racing, because data is not free, or readily available. As well, unlike the thoroughbreds, interest and pool size make doing the work not as profitable, either for sale or for personal use. But there are some folks out there doing some, and coming up with some interesting statistics.

I had a friend ask me for some thoroughbred data the other day and I sent him a bunch of angles that he has heard are good bets. All were ROI negative. In fact, if you look at any regular or popular angle, the ROI's are generally horrible. With takeouts so high playing the norm IV angles makes this a very hard game to win at. In harness racing, it is just as bad. Usually you can find some things that are negative plays (which help, because you can jump off those for being overbet and search for plays elsewhere). We'll share a few here, from our pal Ray (one of the participants in the Tioga Challenge).

First, let's check something we know has a decent hit rate - inside posts on half mile tracks. What would happen if we box up the inside four horses for a year? Trips to Vegas with a bottle of dom, or a ride home on the streetcar with a slice of pizza? For 2009 we have the following:

Races: 26,561
Bet: Tri box 1234, for $48 each race
Amount Bet: $1,274,928
Amount Returned: $851,946
Loss: $422,982
ROI: -33.2%

When you bring your grandma to the track and tell her to box the inside four horses, hoping she makes some money, you are not being a very good grandson or granddaughter. Considering the takeout of the lottery in Massachusetts is 31% this is pretty appalling.

With tri takeouts in harness so high, it is pretty tough to argue for a betting pattern from those statistics. If you try to subset a -33% ROI you can not find any gold. I guess if we are playing tris on half milers, we really need to look at a key horse winner outside those posts and work with that. The problem with that, of course, is that the worse posts we go to, the lower our hit rate, by quite a bit. Those bankroll swings can really kill us, and you need to have the money management style of a Buffet to stay afloat (and sane).

Half mile tracks in general are somewhat anachronistic, I believe. They were alright when we went to the track for some fun, but trying to play into them at high takeouts is very difficult.

One area I believe can give us an edge using the above numbers is post positions on larger than half mile tracks. In harness, our demos skew older, and many players cut their teeth on half mile tracks. This lends to what I think is an inside post bias. As the numbers show on larger tracks, the inside horses are almost always overbet, sometimes way overbet. The rail at the Meadowlands wins at around 11%, but the ROI is well below -40%. The other posts win at or near the same rate, but they pay off much better (the center of the gate gives us the most value).

I think we can use post positons, in both exotics and win bets, to up ROI, but we must think pari-mutuelly, and slightly outside the norm to do so. If you are betting what most people are, like post positions or driver changes because you are afraid to go against the grain, you are probably not doing your wallet any favours.

If you'd like to take a look at Ray's tri data you can download it here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gambling is Really Bad. Unless We Need Money

Texas, like most states faces a shortfall in revenue. One item placed on the table is legalizing gambling. When government's need cash, good ol gambling becomes less of an evil, and more of a neat place to get some dough.

I enjoyed this clip last night from Bill O'Reilly. John Stossel kills me. I like watching him, especially on topics like gambling and other free-to-do issues.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kudos To Woodbine

We posted a few weeks ago a comment from a bettor: "What bothers me is a $10,000 payoff is being reported as 100,000 and the vast majority of horseplayers believe it is actually paying $100,000. I am trying to eliminate the posting of bull sh** payouts!"

A small thing for some, but ethically is he wrong? I did not think so, and I know many of you who play the racing product agree. Well, I do not know what happened - whether he and others emailed or what - but whatever happened, it has changed. Woodbine is no longer (in their press releases) reporting payouts like this. In their most recent press release.

" On Friday night, More Moss upset in the fourth race, returning $127.80 to win. That kicked off a Pick-4 that paid a whopping $24,257.50 for a .20 cent combination."

According to the charts, this pick 4 was reported as a $121,000 payout. They used the smaller denomination (one person hit the pick 4 for 20 cents on this occasion) when reporting it.

There are a couple of other examples over the past week.

As well, their pick 4 pool hit $65k last week, and Monday's handle was solid.

The racing has not changed, the drivers are driving the same, the field size is no different. But the handle is up. A little bit of promotion, and listening to folks like the punter who complained above, is not a bad thing. That's good business.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Very Cool

Thoroughbred champ Zenyatta. Live and in person.

Ad (digital):

And in real time.

I would say that Ponch took this photo, but that would date me.

h/t to

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Betfair & Racing - Two Entities, Two Different Goals

We often hear racing labeled old and out of touch. When the pari-mutuel industry is not growing it is easy to want to assess blame. Usually this blame lies at the feet of the executives; after all, who else are we to blame? Let's get 'em! But I think there is much more to it than that, and it is pretty unfair to lay blame at the foot of people who for the most part are smart and passionate.

I believe the people in racing are not to blame, what racing has become is the reason we lack meaningful change.

Many racetracks are owned by large casino companies, public companies or non-profits. The way to grow profits is through expanded gaming, with a dash of bean counting, protection of your slice, and some cost cutting. Rocking the boat to win big - where at the end of the journey lays a pot of gold for your racing product - is not overly important. I think this is why when you ask racing a question about changing takeout, or betting exchanges, or a wholesale change of the racing product with a long term growth vision, the answer tends to be: "Sounds good, but we can't do that. It's difficult. Have you seen our plans for table games? There could be some big money there."

From a bottom line business perspective in the short-term, there is really nothing wrong with that is there? Racetracks are now positioned as gaming companies, and they want more gaming, because gaming makes them more money. It’s good old-fashioned capitalism. If we look at the landscape, with Kentucky wanting slots, New York in slot hell, Ontario and Pennsylvania with slots, and so on, one might be led to believe that the racing gambling product is nothing more than an albatross. If racing didn't function as a conduit to more gaming, we get the feeling they might as well scrap it all together. If it was worth more, you figure they would be changing it so it could grow, wouldn’t they?

I was at the wagering conference in Windsor a year or so ago and met Mark Davies, Managing Director for Betfair. He was a rather young looking chap, who had some verve and confidence and it looked like the grass did not grow much under his feet. Despite being busy, he took time to chat with a betting friend and I for close to an hour. This struck me as odd frankly, because although he and I were on the same panel, I was nothing more than a bettor. Regardless, we talked about betting, horses, gambling, racings growth and where the betting world will be in the coming decades. I left the conversation with a complete lack of bewilderment that his company moved from zero customers to three million in less than a decade. It was probably the most enlightening conversation I have ever had with anyone about selling gambling on racing, and I have spoken to dozens if not hundreds of folks in our sport about that very topic.

I stumbled upon Mark's blog awhile back. In two pieces, he wrote about being ten years at the company, how he joined betfair, and how they grew. What struck me in them (other than the conversational tone and lack of corporate-speak, which is rare for executives on the web) is that they grew by selling betting on a core product, nothing more, using an innovative way to bet. They made betting work, not as a way to get a table game or a slot machine, but as a means to grow their customer base and build a business.

What they did was certainly impressive, but not really that remarkable, in my opinion. They just wanted to build a business, like millions of people before them, and millions will after. They looked at an existing mousetrap and built a better one; and when a government or racing commission told them they could not do something, they fought back and said 'just watch'. They were concentrating on their core product because the core product was all they had; if they could not make the core product work, no one would be giving them a slot machine to save them. If they failed, they would be hitting the want ads, or in their case, probably craigslist or Careerbuilder.

We have those same talented people in racing here in North America, but when success is measured by how many slot machines we have or if a city government will let us build a hotel with a roulette wheel in it, we are what we are. Until the culture of racing changes and we take risk to grow the core sport, I feel meetings on the steps of state houses and legislatures with cap in hand looking for alternative gaming will continue to be the norm. Heaven help us when they one day say no.

It makes me wonder. If racing is not concerned with selling and making money on their core product, why not do something worthwhile with it? Why don’t they spin-off their horse racing gambling product to someone with a passion and expertise to make it work. Tell this new group that you will take care of the horsemen and the casino (with such a high percentage of handle coming from the gaming side, they are one in the same now), and you will let them take care of the betting business. It might not work, but at least we would have one set of people working on the gambling game, completely detached from the gaming side.

I expect Betfair to keep growing. They are selling betting and they keep score by calculating how much money that betting brings them - no betting, they don't eat. I expect handles in racing to keep falling, because racetracks are not selling horse handles, they are selling slot machines, table games, hotels, or whatever else they can get passed by governments. That's the way they keep score.

In the end we have two sets of people who are ostensibly selling the same thing, but with two entirely different visions of what it means to be a success. If history tells us anything, the one who sells what they are is usually the better bet.

If you are interested in a birds-eye view on the growth of Betfair, read Mark's two part series on his blog. Part one, when he left his old job is here and the early years are here. Part two is more about the day to day items we are familiar with. I found them really interesting reading.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Slots & Summer

One day, maybe 20 years from now, I believe that an MBA class at Wharton or Rotman or Columbia will focus solely on slot funding for racing. It will probably have an
exam question like: "Slots Subsidies for Racing - list 36 things that went wrong and discuss." About $200M alone will go from slots to purses in Ontario this year. Probably 3X that will go to Pennsylvania tracks (powerhouses and the epicenter of the sport like Penn National) this year.

The model is as follows: Person comes to slot parlor, puts money in machine, loses. Money is taken from machine, given to racetracks for some profit and an equal amount is placed into purses. After awhile, no one comes to racetrack, handles fall. Purses then fall, racetracks profits then fall, the business of racing slows. Then money is started to be taken away from racing by government while they ask the question "what have you done with all that money". The last item, which we have not reached yet, but will likely: racing fails.

Then there is the class at Wharton about it. On guest speaker day an old timer would come in and say "I remember when...."

Darryl Kaplan has an excellent piece in this months Trot Magazine with a plan. It is a ten step plan that gives us a shot to not be a footnote to business history. It involves a few main items: Growing wagering by investing in bettors, purse pooling so tracks like Woodstock stop giving piles of purse money out while racing horses in front of eleven relatives, a guy selling hot dogs and three barn cats, and using some cash as a set-aside to promote wagering throughout the province.

So far the response has been lukewarm. As Darryl says in the piece, however, "those who are only concentrated on protecting their shrinking piece of the pie need not apply." I agree with that, 100%. You are who you surround yourself with, in life or business. If you want to win, you don't let these people in the front door. They are poison.

Anyway, nice piece Darryl.

Summer is coming. You can use the calendar to see that, or you can simply turn on the qualifying report in harness racing. Today many of last years good ones qualified. All Speed Hanover came 5th, shockingly. Woodstock was not much better. I am not going to read too much into that with Noel Daley at the helm. Sportswriter seemed ok. We will know how these horses came back next time, I feel. By the way, we will start our countdown to the cup here on the blog next week. Right now Ideal Matters and One More Laugh (who was, in my opinion, head and shoulders above any horse last year in sheer talent before going off in September) top my list. That can change as quick as a bunny after a race or two, and probably will.

Have you checked out that Survivor Game at Monmouth/Meadowlands in the HRF ad at the right? I do not play that contest, but I clicked it and visited the site. it is fabulous. How far we have come in racing of late.

Reminder: Live blog on the HANA site on Saturday for the harness races. Should be fun. If you want to join the Tioga handicapping contest you still can here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


The harness boys are starting to roll with technology and we are seeing some good stuff.

Mark Mac and Mike Hamilton of Woodbine are highlighted here at R2.

Tony Montini is slowing down, but he is up and giving out some solid information to players on Twitter here.

For Flammy watchers, trainer Blake MacIntosh is on giving out info.

Mike follows Swedish driver Erik Adielsson here, although for me this is futile. Erik's last post: "Rix FM säger sig spela "bäst musik just nu". Jag vill veta, vem spelar sämst musik just nu?"

Tough for me to understand. I can barely speak english.

Speaking of micro-blogging, a live harness betting blog is being held on Saturday evening on the HANA site here. The evening racing for picks and discussion: Tioga Downs, to support the takeout reduction, Woodbine and the Meadowlands. Handicappers (yes, even the Fisherman from Frobisher) are invited to join in.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Finally - Targeting Bettors via Television

For those that know the blog, a hot topic for us in local harness racing has been the use of television to show things the old fashioned way, versus targeting bettors in a targeted way. As most who watch Race Night on the Score know, the human interest stories while the great puzzle of handicapping the races is going on are maddening. As I have said before, and you have agreed in spades, "if we have to watch another story on a feed man from north of Guelph who owns four pet ponies during a telecast I think I am going to have a seizure". In my view, not using a show like this in promoting what you are selling (i.e. gambling on the product from home) is wasted airtime.

Well it appears this might be changing. Race Night will be rebranded to 'Bet Night Live' at the end of the month. The new show will "centre around a four-race wagering contest through WEG’s online platform HorsePlayer Interactive."

At the Standardbred Wagering Conference in 2008 I spoke to several people involved and they relayed to me that talking about betting on the air ran somewhat afoul of government rules (yes it was true. The government can spend millions on TV talking about casino's but lil' old racetracks can not talk too specifically about betting). It appears they can at least broach the subject and have devised a plan. Long ago we spoke of a special Monday bet for example, like a "Score Pick 4" at a 14.99% takeout (making it promotable as the lowest takeout pick 4 in North America) where the bet is promoted each Monday on TV. I think an idea like that has a chance. After all, Monday's this past month all Woodbine did was highlight a pick 4 pool by guaranteeing it. Guess what, it grew. By highlighting and promoting - virtually nothing quite honestly - they got people to play it. When was the last time you saw a $58k pick 4 pool at Woodbine harness? Probably a North America Cup night. Well that is what they got bet into it last Monday.

For too long racing has had the attitude that if you show something, or offer a race, people will come just like they did long ago. It is not the way it works today, you have to offer something and promote it. You have to experiment. You have to work at it. You have to give people a reason to bet your product. And most of all, you can not bean count. It matters what your business is in five years, not five weeks; that's why many businesses write five year business plans. From a bean counting perspective, raising the pick 4 take five years ago was just fine. I would ask Woodbine how their overall nightly handles are five years hence with decreased churn from the hike.

It's not your grandfather's racing and it is not a monopoly product any longer. The Kentucky Derby can promote itself as an event with side shows galore. Work week betting at Woodbine or Mohawk is a game, not an event. If Woodbine uses this in the right way, Monday's could be their highest handle night, in my opinion, without question, and I would have this as a corporate goal.

Now, a special low takeout bet? An interesting race to promote all over? A seeded superfecta pool? The sky is the limit when you are energized to grow your handle and promote your game. Leaving the feed man stories where they belong - in the the trade magazines - and focusing on what you are is long overdue.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Gods of Louisville

Once again the Kentucky Derby stamps itself as the most interesting race on the continent, from a betting or fan perspective. I can not think (apologies to my overseas friend's who play big fields all the time) of a race which provides so much, in such a short period of time.

In studying and playing the race, here are a few thoughts:

Yesterday's race, with no standouts and a sloppy track represented the most random odds board the race has ever exhibited. There were 20 horses and the longest shot was 31-1. There were probably three or four horses in that race which had true odds of 400-1, but you would not have known it. In fact, at Betfair each year you can usually get one or more horses over 200-1. This year the highest I saw was 70-1. Pure randomness.

Lookin at Lucky is being called Lookin at Unlucky by almost everyone. Has a horse had back to back starts like this before, ever? It's a shame because he is a very nice horse.

Super Saver was not a very much talked about horse all week, yet he took all the early cash, and ended up at 8-1. Go figure. Is the crowd sharp, or were they so stumped with this race that they decided that they will go with Borel in the slop, and that's that? I think it is the latter.

Poor Sidney's Candy. He is such a nice horse but when the gate sprung he was sent so hard that he was sprinting. If there was one horse you could have thrown out ten strides into the race, it was him. The post gods sealed his fate.

The winner was 11-1 at Betfair. A close second choice. He moved down after the track was sloppy and several moved up, like Lookin at Lucky. People seemed not to want the inside, yet ironically the horse who won hugged the rail.

The track was impossible to figure out. Inside speed was horrid, but with time between the later races, it seemed to get better.

What race can a $100,000 win bet not affect the odds? The Derby. The 100k win bet by the contest winner did not do a heck of a lot to a horse with almost $3M on him.

I think Noble Promise is a horse. He was my #1 pick to come last after he was scraped up bad in the Arkansas Derby and scoped sick not long thereafter. How did he do so well with all those negatives? He must be a good horse.

Funny post from Wintertriangle at "So, I'm talking to a friend a few days before the KY Derby. He pulls up the grocery ad from his local Super Saver store at and sends it to me. They are running a special on blue bunny ice cream. On another page, cool whip and the Peppermint Paddy ice cream. He played Super Saver, Ice Box, Paddy trifecta. I guess it pays to be superstitious"

Calvin Borel has a set. How many riders or drivers do you know who will take chances in getting shut off like he does with potential winners every year in the Derby? There are millions in stud fees at stake with a win, and most riders want their horse out of traffic and wide to avoid criticism. Not Calvin.

I hope everyone had a good time betting the Derby. As usual, I can't wait until next year. The Derby puzzle represents the most challenging pursuit a horseplayer could ever hope for.

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