Friday, July 30, 2010

Growing Racing

In the light of the news that California is adding a provision in a bill (some would say "burying it in a bill") to raise takeout in that state, we actually have some good news for racing here in Ontario.

Standardbred Canada, spearheaded by Darryl Kaplan has detailed a plan to grow racing handles by taking 5% out of the slots purse pool and spending it on betting initiatives and more. He has a good ally: Leading driver Jody Jamieson. Jody said in a podcast detailing the idea: "It took me awhile but I now realize betting drives our business". The recent shut down of Quebec racing and the problems in New Jersey he says "opened his eyes".

We will speak more about this later. However, is it not refreshing that on the left coast racing could be further hampered by a takeout hike and here in Ontario harness-land there is actually a movement to grow the sport? There is hope in some quarters.

Other notes: Chuck Keeling has left Great Canadian Gaming. Chuck is super-smart and a great ambassador. We are losing some great people.

Best quote I have read from a horseplayer about the proposed California takeout hike. He is speaking about fighting the CHRB and the hike itself: "You can't win a fight with a suicidal patient."

For the story on how the Horseplayers Association feels about the takeout hike, it is now in the Bloodhorse here. It seems from quotes that they wanted to keep this pretty quiet. There is a pretty much "no comment" from Cali racing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Sad Contrast For Our Sport

Here is where we juxtapose:

This spring: California lotteries decreased takeout. This was in response to soft sales. According to a spokesman, this reduction of takeout should help the lottery grow:

"There are more prizes to give out, so people are going to win more often," said lottery director Joan Borucki. "When people win more often, they feel like playing more often, which in turn will increase sales, and as sales go up"

What was the result of this takeout cut?

Scratcher sales leaped by $55 million in June, the first month that a new law allowed lottery officials to increase the percentage of revenues [lower takeout] in prize money."

What are they budgeting for the future?

"In its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, the Lottery Commission projects total annual revenues, including all games, will climb from $3 billion to $3.5 billion, a 16 percent increase.

"We're on a pretty good path," Lottery Director Joan Borucki said. "We're able to put a lot more prizes into the game.""

In contrast, after a takeout increase for horse racing at Los Al, and a subsequent 27% on track handle drop (which they voted to extend) there now appears more madness on the way in California horse racing.

It is rumoured that they are looking to increase thoroughbred takeouts by up to 3%.

The California lottery system (a competitor of horse racing) lowers takeout and increases sales. Horse racing hikes takeout at Los Al on quarterhorse racing and decreases sales. Now they want to do the same thing in thoroughbred racing.

With leadership like this, is it any wonder why we're in the tank?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No One to Blame But Ourselves

The Paulick Report today reported that trainer Darrel Delahoussaye "was arrested by State Police Wednesday morning and charged with several felonies and misdemeanors alleging theft by deception, illegally administering drugs to racehorses, rigging a publicly exhibited contest and tampering with physical evidence."

This particular trainer, in 1998 " used an “appliance other than whip for the purpose of stimulating speed.” The appliance was described in court documents as a “wooden stick with stripped electrical cords stuck to it.” A veterinarian and two assistants testified seeing a horse at Beulah Park “jump two or three feet in the air” and then witnessed Delahoussaye unplugging an electrical cord from the wall."

This is our fault. If I was found to have mistreated a dog the courts would never allow me to own a dog again. In racing, he is let back in our sport, with open arms.

If we can not boot people out forever who electrocute racehorses to make them go fast, who in the hell will we ever ban from this game?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Using Slot Money to Invest In Customers With Wagering Credits

I once had a discussion with a head of a US racetrack regarding signal fees, rebating and the like, asking about how he could increase his handle on his home track. The fly-in-the-ointment with this is apparent: Charge a low signal fee and you are able to rebate players with your home track handle, however there is no way to guarantee that the rebated player will use the rebate to bet your track. He could easily use the money to bet others via his/her ADW or simulcast center.

In effect what happens is the opposite of what a track wants. The track who wants to raise its handle with a player reward system, ends up helping his neighbor who might charge a higher takeout. When we talked about this phenomenon he said "we have not figured out how to do this properly yet".

What we are left with, is a stalemate of high takeout from the largest racetracks. This hurts the game, because they are squeezing customers for every cent they are worth. And, newsflash: people are tired of getting killed at the windows and stop playing the sport.

Dave Briggs at the Canadian Sportsman wrote a piece about the recent roundtable for harness racing that was published last week. In it (among other things) he describes getting the ORC (Ontario Racing Commission) involved for setting up a slush fund, where new initiatives are funded with the bandit money. It is no secret we have used a lot of this money in racing - billions upon billions - for bricks and mortar, feed men, purses and all the rest. However, very little has been used on the core of the sport - the customer.

If the ORC did succeed in mandating money be spent on the customer end of the sport I think there is a tremendous opportunity to up handles overnight - possibly by a huge amount - by tackling this problem that the US track head had by helping the player. In a nutshell we would use slots money to fund a wagering rebate (i.e. lower takeout and higher churn), but the rebate must be spent on the track that is doing the rebating.

In Ontario, with the myriad harness tracks getting slot cash, it would work like this: Each Ontario track would have cash mandated to grow handle via a slush fund. They would have player reward cards, or in the case of HPI, a built-in system where when the customer spends $100 in bets, he gets $7 or $8 back. The kicker is, unlike now (at rebating ADWs for large players) where the rebate would go into an account with 50 or 75 tracks as options, this rebate would be a wagering credit on the rebated track only. If all harness tracks in Ontario got together with this, we would ensure rebated money is spent only in Ontario, on harness racing.

If you or I are in HPI we might bet the following:

$20WPS at Flammy, a few pick 4's and some other exotics for a total of $170.
$20WP on four races, some exotics and a pick 4 at Mohawk for a total of $250.
$5WPS on a few bombs at Grand River for a total of $80.

We do this four nights a week.

Currently that betting would get us pretty much squat (other than a kick in the noggin with 22% blended takeout), except for a few "points" to spend on a cap or some sort of reward we are not going to use to bet with. If we bet it with a rebater, we would see the next day in our account, a deposit of about $30 ($400 handle rebated at 8%, lets say). We can of course bet that at any track, for example a Saratoga pick 6 carryover. Good for Saratoga, good for RGS or PTC or another rebater.... lousy for harness racing.

But what if we had wagering credits instead, on just harness tracks? At the end of the week we would have wagering credits of $80 or so to be spent only on Mohawk, $40 or so on Grand River and $40 or so on Flamboro. That money will have to be bet on those tracks only. On that handle above, if it is churned five or six times, we would immediately bump handles for harness appreciably. And of course, each time it is churned, it is adding to the business because the churned cash is added to the coffers with takeout.

This would of course help the player win, and players who think they can win, and do the odd time, play more and get hooked on your sport. Just ask online poker players about that, playing with 4% rakes. In addition, winning more provides a better customer experience (we often wring our hands about customer service in racing..... well, there is no better positive customer experience than winning more money). They could conceivably bet our sport instead of the Belmont's of the world (because Belmont gives them nothing back in terms of a price break).

About seven years ago at a conference one of the WEG brass said "We do not want to pay people to play". I think that is one of the major problems in our business - sticking to old principles. It is 2010, not 2003 anymore. Paying people to play not only helps the customer, it helps your business; not to mention casino's have been doing it for close to a century. If you are paying people to play using slots money, all the better; really, isn't slot cash supposed to be used to grow your wagering business?

For those who would say this is stifling players freedom, I would submit the players who this would benefit, are a new market to rebating. I, for example, might play with RGS and get a rebate already so I would not be attracted to this system at all. This would be for newer people, who are unaware like we are that going to the track without a rebate is like bringing a knife to a gun-fight.

For example, what if someone joined HPI, or went to Grand River, and saw wagering credits on all harness tracks that he could use over and over if he keeps playing, but no wagering credits on any runner tracks? Wouldn't that make him more interested in harness racing? If a woman at Grand River gets an email that she has $25 of free bets on her rewards card, wouldn't she be likely to go to Monday's card to spend it, instead of going to a movie, or waiting for a thoroughbred card? If she makes another $200 in bets while there, guess what? Next Monday she gets an email that she has $16 in free bets - for Grand River.

It's a new world out there and in gambling especially we need new ideas. Wagering credits by using slot money to help people become everyday players or weekend warriors is one way to use that money. I believe it is a hell of a lot better to spend money on growing our customer base, rather than spending it on a $50k bump in a stakes race, or a $15,000 Open at Woodstock, racing in front of no one but two tellers and a hot dog vendor. After all, when slots are taken away, or severely reduced like they have been in Iowa and Pennsylvania, who will we have left but customers? Why not start investing in them today, so we are not racing for a cooler and a ribbon tomorrow?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Harness Racing Roundtable

Last month the Canadian Sportsman magazine hosted a round table on harness racing. Some industry folks got together and hashed out some ideas. I found it pretty interesting, and perhaps you will too.

There was quite a bit of talk about some of the usual items, although (refreshingly I might add) there was a huge focus on customers. In addition there were quite a few "out there" ideas, which was also refreshing, whether you agree with them or not.

Will Woodbine cut takeout? Are there any ideas out there worth considering?

Here are some highlights:

Nick Eaves, CEO Woodbine: "... we, for one, can’t very well withstand
many more years of 10 and 11 per cent year-over-year declines on our live pool." And in addition (this will be shocking for horseplayers who have followed WEG for some time) ".... but we are pricing ourselves in a way that doesn’t have us being competitive ..... If we could eliminate [lower takeout by 2% on non-tris and 4% on tris], then we are bringing the pricing of our product into a zone that, at a minimum, is going to keep and perhaps have some of our core customers return."

Murray Brown, Hanover Shoe Farms, on an inside tidbit regarding the drop two seconds in a week trainers: "Three of the very, very biggest owners, probably the three people who control as many quality horses as any entities in the business, made the suggestion that they were going to tell their trainers not to allow their horses to be driven by drivers who drive for this particular trainer.”

Chris Roberts, Grand Pooh-bah Flammy and Georgian: "there is such a true lack of understanding in harness racing, in all horse racing, but certainly harness racing about what it is that we sell. And I continue to hear people in the industry who should know better but clearly don’t understand what it is that we actually are selling to customers that come through our door.

Hugh Mitchell, Head of Western Fair: "“Our industry is not agile enough. We are not market responsive, and change takes waiting. It is a bit like trying to turn around a 747 on a tennis court, due, in large part, because of the regulatory environment."

Alan Kirschenbaum , Screenwriter, horseplayer, commenting on TV handicappers and how we present racing on the air: "“Poker players have become celebrities.Why can’t our big personalities, who are gamblers, be presented in the same way? I would rather watch some names that would send chills down the spine of people (in this discussion) between the races, talking about losing tickets, winning tickets and things like that. I have a friend I went to college with named Alan Boston,who is a poker player and a college basketball expert and a gambler, who is a tremendously entertaining guy, who would be better on shows than any of these people. You know, the Woodbine people would probably throw up, but put Bert Smith on TV, put my friend Alan Boston on TV, put Dan Nance from one of the bulletin boards on TV, because they are galvanizing people the same way." *

For a look at the full transcript (those above comments are only a slice, and only a couple of the people who participated) click here (it's a pdf).

* PTP Note: for a decent book on gambling that profiled Alan Boston that Alan K. alluded to above, try The Odds, if you are interested. Quite the read!

Ebbs & Flows

In the game that is racing whether we are betting or owning and racing them, there are certainly some ebbs and flows. It does not much matter which breed - the thoroughbred or the standardbred.

This weekend we saw San Pail defeat the two best trotters in racing in the $800k Maple Leaf Trot. It was an absolutely dominant performance.

The first quarter of 26.2 is super-fast for trotters, and the half was the fastest half for a trotter at Mohawk. With Lucky Jim lurking and Enough Talk in the pocket it would not have been a surprise to see San Pail come home slow and be soundly beaten. However, he stormed home and the others had their problems. Funnily enough, Peter Klienhans trainer of Enough Talk was quoted as saying it was a two horse race (between his charge and Lucky Jim). Maybe so on their home track, but neither of those horses seem to bring their A games up here. This game has a way of biting you in the rump.

Rachel Alexandra also raced on the weekend. Her first two starts were anything but impressive, but her third was a solid win. In it she stamped herself as "back". However, this weekend most watchers were less than impressed with her, in a race against not too much. Bill Finley describes it here.

On Saturday we saw the three year old colts go at it at the Meadows in the Adios elims. For the first part of the year these horses were throwing some darts and the teletimer proved that. But like we see so often, they can get slower as the year rolls on. One of the Adios elims was won in 152.2 over a fast track. Rockin Image won the fastest elim, in 150.2 and should be the chalk in the final.

Another ebb and flow is Real Joke. The horse made famous by Lou Pena and his back to back 47 and change wins when entering his barn has cooled right off. He came sixth yesterday.

The hottest trainer at WEG is also slowed to a crawl. Shawn Robinson was placed in a special D barn for his Mohawk starts on or about June 16th. He was clicking through at some huge numbers before then, but not any longer. This past week he had 16 starters with zero wins, zero seconds and two thirds for a 0.042 UTRS. He had close to a 25% win percentage and 0.335 UTRS for most of this year at WEG.

This is a game of ebbs and flows. Will Rachel whip males next time in a stunning fig, will Lucky Jim and Enough Talk crush a horse like San Pail next time on home soil, will these three year old colts last the year at high speed? Who knows. It sure makes racing fun, and it does stamp me with one clear thought - horses who show up week in and week out, never throwing a bad one, are something we should hold in high esteem in our sport. It rarely happens.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Only In Racing

As most know, The CHRB raised takeout in January at Los Alamitos (for what reason I am not sure). Horseplayers all but deserted it. Handle since the increase is off over 27%. Despite those dire numbers, yesterday the California horse racing board voted to continue the raise in takeout experiment at Los Alamitos, instead of doing the obvious, and killing it.

It appears that the loss of almost one third of one's business has no effect on the people who run this sport. Horseplayers Association of North America President Jeff Platt who presented at the meeting:

"I can tell you from talking with some of the industry participants present at today's meeting that the significant loss in handle doesn't matter to them."

It got me thinking. Things you have never heard in business history.

"Our sales of Big Mac's dropped by 30% since we raised that damn price this winter. Let's continue it" Ray Kroc

"30% of our money went poof since we started asking for a pint of blood with every purchase. It's a good policy. Long live Wal-Mart." Sam Walton

"That pesky Wordperfect. 30% of our MS Word sales are gone to them. I ask the Microsoft board to do nothing." Bill Gates

"We shall maintain the status quo. Hula hoops are here to stay. To hell with the 30% loss of sales" Mattel

I dunno. I am at a loss. Almost a third of business wiped out and these people vote to continue it.

I hope other tracks try and grab CA's slice. With the thinking that permeates in California there is a severe opportunity to grab some business from them. If they are that oblivious to takeout hikes and the damage they do, their main thoroughbred tracks are probably going to follow and raise take sometime in the near future. Horseplayers will leave and they will want a place to play. Kudos to whichever track does the right thing and lures them aboard with low takeout and big, competitive fields.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Meadowlands Done - A Shot Between the Eyes

Today the recommendations for the Meadowlands were released. In it, the Meadowlands as we have known it, is gone. There are seemingly two options for the track, and they are:

•Lease the Meadowlands Racetrack to the standardbred horsemen for $1 dollar a year for three years with early termination rights and an equity-based share of the Bayonne OTW parlor.

•Convert to a commercial use one of the standardbred farms in New Jersey that has a mile track, and build a 5,000 seat grandstand complete with all necessary amenities.

The first option simply seems undoable. Yes, we can go to any backstretch and hear horseman groups lament about the amenities at a track, but they don't run them. $10M a year losses at the Meadowlands, despite the highest handles in harness racing, is simply a non-starter, in my opinion. Even if they ran a 30 day meet, jam packed with excitement and stakes, it would be tough to maintain things year round there. If something is done with this, I wish them luck and I hope I am wrong.

The second item seems like it would get some support. However, the same problems (neighboring slots tracks killing entries) are still there.

This looks to me to be the culmination of slots in racing, and the lack of leadership with them. I think we have long lived with reality here on this blog, and elsewhere, where we knew slots and the lack of leadership would result in something like this. When drivers were jumping ship from the Meadowlands to race at Chester for a few more dollars, when trainers were running to Pocono and Chester and Yonkers for slightly higher slots-purses and when almost everyone believed that it would have no effect on the sport; well now they see reality. This should be a lesson to horsemen and their groups in places like Pennsylvania and Ontario, but I doubt it. Reality and harness racing only happens when one day we wake up and find ourselves racing for ribbons and a cooler.

What does this do for the sport of harness racing if indeed the Big M is no more? Well, it hurts it badly. Chester, Pocono, Yonkers, the Meadows and other slots-fuelled tracks can card some good fields, but they won't attract a big betting dollar. The die-hards will watch and play, but big bettors (like they have been for a few years now) will change their bailiwick - to the thoroughbreds. A $6000 pick 6 guarantee at the Meadows, or a $500,000 pick 4 guarantee at Saratoga makes for not a tough decision for people who bet $100 or more a race.

The lack of leadership most astounds me I guess. If this were Major League Baseball and five or six ball parks were created with public money, offered $10 seats and were located around Boston and New York, whereby those two franchises would be hurt, this would never happen. MLB would find a way to keep their two largest franchises going. They would beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. In our sport? It's a vacuum. We let outside subsidized tracks steal dates and entries from the Meadowlands - our flagship track - and we did nothing but run and get the money.

Surprise, the money is now running out.

The writing has been on the wall for years at the Meadowlands and elsewhere. The alarm bells were ringing, and like a fire drill at an office complex, we just ignored it.

Harness racing as a whole will pay dearly for this oversight, whether the Meadowlands closes next year, or the year after. The $4M nightly weekend handles at the Meadowlands will not be replaced - if you think Pocono and Chester's handles will go up by 1000% to pick up the lost handle, you are simply delusional. The exporting of the Meadowlands signal across the world like they did at last year's Hambo with $2M in handle from Sweden, will not be replaced. The flagship track - the harness racing brand - would be done. And with it goes a huge slice of this sports future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

End of Harness Racing?

The Mecca of the sport - the Meadowlands - looks to be shut down, if reports are to believed.

We'll wait for the announcement tomorrow to be sure, but if this is true, this could be pretty much the end of harness racing as we know it. Customers simply will not go to high takeout slots tracks like Chester for their harness racing fix. The Meadowlands, is was and always will be, harness racing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How Do You Grow with 35% Takeouts?

You don't.

At least that is what Pocono Downs thinks, as they have lowered their takeout on tris and supers from an insane 35% to 25%.

"Our fans have been asking that we do so in order that they collect more on those winning tickets," they said in a release today.

Pocono (and other Pennsylvania tracks) are all slots driven, yet despite that, they charge punishing takeouts. To make matters worse, these tracks sell shot machines just down the hall from the tellers which have takes at less than 5%. Not surprisingly, Pocono's handle is microscopic. On chat boards especially, Pocono (and Chester as well) are laughing stocks, and favorite whipping boys for players. When the Breeders Crown was announced to be held at Pocono more than one player said they would not touch the product with these takeouts.

By cutting the take to a still very poor 25%, at least they are recognizing that slots are not just for purses. They have a long way to go to gain horseplayer respect, but for the poster track for what many consider the ills of racing, they are at least trying. I would not expect handles to do too much here because of the history of the track and their high take, but at the very least horseplayers who hit the tris and supers will have a little more cash to put through the windows.

The Meadowlands Pace, which took place Saturday proved once again the division is wide open. Rock n' Roll Heaven raced way-to-good to lose and right now on paper seems to be the most talented. But, after the North America Cup, that can change in a heartbeat in the division. If you want parity, it looks like you have it.

I might be nuts - and probably am - but I still think the best pacer in this division is All Speed Hanover. When he gets his kinks ironed out, and the others are starting to lose a step, he might have a huge second half. There are no superstars in this division, I believe.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meadowlands Pace Draw; Balmoral Pick 4 Takeout Reduction Doing Well

The $1M Meadowlands Pace draw is now complete. OK Commander (whom I thought had a good chance in the final) was unfortunately scratched earlier today with a bad foot.

1. Kyle Major - Jody Jamieson/Shawn Robinson - 15-1
2. Rockin Image -Yannick Gingras/Jimmy Takter - 3-1
3. Rock N Roll Heaven - John Campbell/Bruce Saunders - 5-2
4. Valentino - George Brennan/Lou Pena - 15-1
5. Im Gorgeous - Andy Miller/George Teague - 12-1
6. Delmarvalous - Brian Sears*/George Teague - 12-1
7. Nova Artist - Brian Sears*/Lou Pena - 15-1
8. One More Laugh - Tim Tetrick/Ray Schnittker - 9-2
9. Fred And Ginger - Dave Palone/Ron Burke - 10-1
10. Sportswriter - Mark MacDonald/Casie Coleman - 6-1

Although not quite as contentious as the North America Cup Final, this looks to be a pretty good betting race. It once again seems to be a trip race, if all horses fire (unlike the NA Cup).

We'll handicap it later this week here and look for some comments.

There is no stronger correlation to betting handle changes, than the price of our product. Up takeout to 40%, lose a pile of handle. Lower takeout, and handle grows. For a game who has lost thousands upon thousands of customers to lower cost/higher expectation games over the years, it is becoming more and more apparent that pricing (like every other business on the face of the earth) is by far our number one issue.

I got an email the other day about the Balmoral Park pick 4. They cut their take from 25% to 15% this year. Although this is a medium sized handle harness track, the pick 4 is gaining traction (without a place like TVG helping out). Their average pool the past two months was over $14,000, while in the first six months last year the highest average was $10,000. Non-carryover months this season at the low take maxed out at over $11,000 as compared to $7000 last year. No this will certainly not shake the foundations and help racing grow overall, but it is something.

Lotteries like California (who had the worst handle in the nation) have cut their takeout. Casinos continually fight for business with 1% takeout machines. Betfair grows and grows with 5% take. Online betting platforms are offering 5 cent money lines in baseball. Rebate shops in racing can turn $10,000 per year handle players in $300,000 or more per year players (and keeping them glued to simo-screens seven days a week - just by giving them a price break).

Pari-mutuel betting in North America is off 52% (over a cut in half) since 1977, while bettors have left us for games which give them a chance to make money. Drip by drip places like Balmoral are trying to get them back, and for that they deserve our support.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Interesting Perspective on Commentating

Darryl Kaplan wrote a thought-provoking piece in last month's Trot called "Stop Being So Polite". In a nutshell, he focuses on the commentating in our sport, and the lack of criticism that we see on a daily basis.

"There is nothing more mesmerizing and attention grabbing than a well-crafted critical review. From your favourite urban affairs columnist to your beloved colour commentator, to Simon Cowell, the American Idol judge that convinces you and millions like you to tune in week after week, criticism is appealing – especially when the words uttered are accurate.", says Kaplan.

He is completely right about this, and over the years it has gotten worse and worse. Like the new revamped Race Night on the Score, we need change in this regard. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being critical of a drive, ride or trainer decision. If a quarterback makes a terrible throw resulting in an interception, John Madden would not say, "he is just having a bad day. He must have missed the defender. He is a really nice guy." He would tell it like it is and say the throw stunk. If he did not, we would turn down the sound, and he would certainly not have his name on a video game.

Several years ago during a harness broadcast, Woodbine's Mike Hamilton did just that - criticize a drive. It was an elimination race and the heavy chalk was brought right to the back - on national television. Hamilton questioned the tactics. All that brought him was a driver who refused to be interviewed.

I notice things are a little better today. For example, on my twitter page where I follow harness peeps (I get my thoroughbred stuff on another twitter avenue), I notice when something strange happens Ken Middleton states his opinion. Recently, he posted (after a race where it looked like there was an infraction) "Why no inquiry?". In the truest sense of the word we have a WEG employee questioning an ORC judge. In the real sense of the word we have a guy who is watching a race and giving the twinky-verse an opinion; one that is wanted and needed.

Outside the media, if you want a little no-holds barred opinion, there are others on Twitter commentating just fine. Try Benny Beam if you are interested in the WEG circuit.

Speaking of people like Benny, I sat in on a round table recently about racing. One of the participants was Allan Kirschenbaum, who is well known to many in the sport. He stated a very similar opinion. In fact, he even mentioned a name or two that he would like to see on a weekly broadcast, calling it like they see it. He mentioned a couple of controversial people (believe it or not) from chatboards. I am not sure you want to go that far, but I think both he and Kaplan make a strong point.

We often say here that we are not cheerleaders. If a horse is not as good as the hype, we'll say we think so. If a drive was no damn good, we say the same. Why should healthy criticism and debate be left only to twitter and blogs in our sport?

Note: If you play WEG on twitter, please follow the WEG Handicapping list if interested.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Entertaining Meadowlands Pace Elims

The three Meadowlands Pace eliminations are in the books.

Elimination one went to the NA Cup chalk who rebounded back to form with a convincing score. The second elimination's fave - Rockin Image - lived up to expectation with a nice easy victory. In the last elim, one of our blog faves - OK Commander- converted at a nice 9-1 price. Sportswriter was an almost bizarre overbet at 2-5, but made the final as the fastest fourth place finisher.

We are seeing something that has happened several times the last few years in this division. Sometimes horses are sharp and sometimes they are not, and this year there is no standout. It's been a real crapshoot to bet, but you can get some prices. If anyone is under 2-1 next week, in my opinion, they are overbet.

Next weeks final looks like it will be a good one. All three elim winners are good horses.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Racing v. the Rest of the World & Notes

After about nine years New York state still can't get slots approved for NYC tracks. There is yet another round of bidding. In other news, after six years - three years less than the NY Slots debacle - a solar powered plane was developed and flown for over 24 hours straight.

My prediction: Slots at Aqueduct will have their opening day on a Tuesday, sometime within the next ten years. However, on Monday of the same week, the federal government will sign a law that outlaws slot machines.

Boy oh boy the press is really on the connections of Rachel Alexandra regarding her schedule. NTRA's Bob Ehalt: "By choosing to run next in the ungraded Lady's Secret at Monmouth, a race that was moved up a week to fit Rachel Alexandra's training schedule, our 2009 champ now shares the dubious distinction of racing through the least ambitious schedule ever by a reigning Horse of the Year."

I find it a little odd to be so critical. Just two starts back the trainer was wondering if she would ever regain her form. More than one handicapper and race watcher wondered if she would retire. Now, after one decent race (against really one challenger who was totally rank and could not put up a fight) she is supposed to jump her game up? I guess so, but it is a long season and there will be several opportunities to race some good horses.

Sad news: Tough as nails Zooka has been euthanized. This horse was the ultimate grinder. He would look beat constantly, but kick in late. He knew what he was out there for.

M Pace: Pierce gives some thoughts on All Speed's bad showing in the NA Cup. I tend to not listen much to this - choosing instead to handicap the race - however there is no way that All Speed was close to right in the Final.

Who is the chalk for the M Pace? Ask five people you might get four or five different answers. Another great betting race.

Yep, he gets it: Rich Eng says we better start lowering takeout and increasing churn.

"For a bet taker, high churn creates the large amounts of handle needed for profitability. A key part of maintaining high churn is keeping the takeout or hold low enough so that bettors can win money to stay in action. Two types of gaming that follow this ideal are sports betting and video poker. The sports vig is 10 percent, and the payback in video poker is in the 95 to 98 percent range. But in horse racing, it is popular to market high takeout wagers, like the Pick 6 and the Super High 5. Both bets are counterproductive to churn. These wagers take money from the wallets of many and put it into the hands of very few."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

$1M Meadowlands Pace Elims Drawn

Saturday's Meadowlands Pace eliminations have been drawn, Just like the North America Cup, this looks totally wide open. Who shows up? Who is sharp? We'll do some digging this week and see if we can find out.

Race 4
PP - Horse - Driver - Trainer
1 - Delmarvalous - Brian Sears - Brenda Teague
2 - Superbad Hanover - George Brennan - Kostas Tsanakos
3 - One More Laugh - Tim Tetrick - Ray Schnittker
4 - Kyle Major - Jody Jamieson - Shawn Robinson
5 - Jo Pas Fod - John Campbell - Jim Campbell
6 - Rock N Roll Heaven John Campbell - Bruce Saunders
7 - All Speed Hanover - Ron Pierce - Noel Daley
8 - World Of Rocknroll - Ron Pierce - Richard Norman

Race 5
PP - Horse - Driver - Trainer
1 - Razzle Dazzle - John Campbell - Jerry Silverman
2 - Rockin Image - Yannick Gingras - Jimmy Takter
3 - Ideal Matters - Brian Sears - Noel Daley
4 - Nova Artist - Brian Sears - Lou Pena
5 - Tobago Cays - John Campbell - Jeff Webster
6 - Im Gorgeous - Brian Sears - George Teague Jr.
7 - Shoobees Place - David Miller - Richard Norman

Race 6
PP - Horse - Driver - Trainer
1 - OK Commander - Brian Sears - Gregg Mcnair
2 - Foreign Officer - Yannick Gingras - Tony Alagna
3 - Valentino - George Brennan - Lou Pena
4 - We Will See - Brett Miller - Sam De Pinto
5 - Sportswriter - Mark Macdonald - Casie Coleman
6 - Iam Bonasera - Jody Jamieson - Erv Miller
7 - Fred And Ginger - Dave Palone - Ron Burke
8 - Windfall Blue Chip - Andy Miller - George Teague Jr.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Bets - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It was announced this weekend that the $30,000 seeded Metro 6 Shooter has been cancelled. The bet, which required you to pick 6 winners at two racetracks, was fairly successful, but not successful enough to continue, according to the organizers.

New bets - especially hard to hit bets - are extremely difficult to make work. I figured I would give my opine on what went well, and what did not with this new bet.

The Good:

First up, they attracted about $40K a week on this bet. In harness racing this is very good. The $30k seeded was a good idea as well. I do not think we realize just how hard it is to get $40k bet into any harness pool, from scratch nowadays. Western Fair could offer a $10k guaranteed pick 6 tomorrow and would be lucky to have $300 bet into it. It's just the way it is. They got some punch.

Second, they marketed it correctly. They spent some money. They took the attitude racing has had for years (offer something out and expect players to run to it) and flipped that on its head. There were some smart people behind this, and it showed.

The Bad:

The first couple of weeks it was virtually impossible to find results. I found it personally hard to bet, and hard to follow. I remember the first night having no idea what it paid. Twinspires did not show the result, neither did HPI. It was like the bet was marketed mainstream, but the results were in a vacuum.

As well, having it at two tracks is very hard to make work. They did their best, but it is something that has long been difficult. Even the Magna Five, with only five races (all usually stakes races) which was marketed wildly to thoroughbred players, had difficulties. We're talking two harness tracks here, not Stronach-ville.

Last, while the bet was going on, and after it began, I missed not seeing a couple of things - pool size, and number of live tickets. Hollywood Park does a good job of this with their pick 6 branding.

The Ugly:

Two words, "no" and "carryover". If this thing gets a carryover or two, we are not having this discussion. With only $70k in the pools, with two tracks, there were three weeks that had one winner. The mathematics, with less than $100k bet at a one dollar increment, says that this should have carried over; but it is what it is.

Regardless, kudos to the people who put it on and tried. New bets are hard to make work, and you need to catch some breaks. At the very least, we learned something. Trial and error works for Amazon and Wal Mart. There is no reason to think it should not work in racing.

In my view, this is not the end, it is only the beginning. If we want to survive in the betting markets we should look for ways to improve this bet, and go to it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Those Track Handicappers Sure Are Trouble

The G20 Summit was in Toronto last weekend. The summit had the usual assortment of characteristics - protests,  high price tags,, politicos, etc. But in an interesting twist, we had a track handicapper bring us a headline.

On Sunday, as part of the G20, Mike Hamilton of WEG was arrested.

Let's have a pop quiz. Mike was arrested for:

a) Protesting the 28% Woodbine Tri takeout
b) Holding a sign that said "Free Walter Case"
c) Walking around his neighbourhood

If you chose c) you are pretty much correct.

For the full story, click here.

Trot, and Standardbred Canada, due to people like Darryl Kaplan and Kim Fisher, have been doing some good things. The story above is one example. For another, how about the behind the scenes story on trainer Riina Rekela? Nice job folks. This is not your grandfather's Trot Magazine.

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