Sunday, August 29, 2010

I'm So Glad Zenyatta Did Not Go to the Personal Ensign

Rachel Alexandra was beaten today in the Personal Ensign stakes at Belmont by a closer aptly named Persistently. Rachel battled her main foe through 47, 12 and 37 fractions before coming home in a very slow 27.1 to be defeated by the closer. As many of you have noted on the blog here about the mare in her previous '10 efforts, she is just not last year's horse.

It appears that Steve Assmussen agrees and appeared almost melancholy:

“I’m very disappointed that she lost, but I am always very happy with Rachel. It hurts to lose and you’re disappointed for it, but if that’s the case, just think about how happy she’s made you and all the things she has done for us. She’s a tremendous mare. If she isn’t exactly where she was last year, hopefully she can get back there.”

I bet hundreds of races a week, both thoroughbred and harness, and I find I truly watch so very few races. If I have four tracks going I have perfected listening to the call for my horse's name, while I scan for opportunities in the other race cards. For a horse like Rachel's 2009 sked, that was not the case. Horses like her make me pause, turn off my betting systems and windows, grab a coke, and be a fan. However, this year it is all-too-obvious that she is not quite the same horse.

Superstars like her rarely come along in our sport and we are very lucky to have watched her. We see that each year in the three year old divisions. People will get excited about a horse, but the horse is nothing to really get excited about. The horse simply wins races against other horses his or her age; someone has to win the Derby or Belmont. But not Rachel - she was generational - she was a filly you knew was special. She gave us goosebumps and she was an absolute superstar. She did not just win, she crushed.

Special horses - horses with innate greatness - are very rare. In my opinion, greatness in equine sport is when other horses know when they are beaten at about the quarter pole. Last year in the Woodward, we all remember when Rachel went a hot pace and won the race holding off the closers. During that race she absolutely destroyed the spirit of a couple of her speed foes, one of whom was knocked out of the race with an injury. Zenyatta did similar with St. Trinians in the Vanity. Great horses do more than just win, they dominate and break another horse's will. Rachel was that kind of horse.

Which brings me to my thought. If Zenyatta had have made the trip to the Personal Ensign like so many wanted, she would have won easily. Yes, I realize that the dynamics might have been different, but a trotting horse last quarter off a three quarters of 12 and change showed that this field was not much at all, and little match for the big mare.

But, I thank god she didn't.

If Zenyatta had come and won, we probably would have heard just how much better she was than Rachel. We would have heard that "maybe Rachel's 2009 was not as good as we thought". We might have have heard some say "she clearly is not one of the greats of this game if you look at her whole career". All because a 2010 Rachel at maybe 80% lost one race to Zenyatta.

To some fans, in 2 minutes and four seconds virtually everything Rachel had done up to that point would have been forgotten.

What a disservice that would have been to this wonderful, wonderful filly.

I will remember Rachel winning the Preakness off a 46 half, while wide. I will remember her destroying older males in the Woodward off fractions that would have wilted all but a very few. I will remember her as the filly who broke many colt's spirits and chewed them up like she was relaxing on an off-day with a carrot.

Rachel is a superstar, and no matter what happens from here on out, that is the way I will remember her. I'm just glad Zenyatta did not show up to spoil the party.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

6 Reasons Why It Ain't Easy For Racing to Run an Exchange

There is quite a bit of chatter about the Betfair bill in front of the California state legislature. There seems to be a good chance this will not pass, and one of the ideas floated about by many is the simple (logical, really) argument that racing can and should run its own exchange and 'keep all the money'.

This is nothing new in business. Bricks and mortar auctioneers saw Ebay in '98 and someone said "why don't we be Ebay". Newspapers saw Craigslist and said "why don't we be them". It is common in Internet business and has been for many years.

Currently, it is really not that difficult to get an exchange going. With a small investment (sometimes under $100k, if you give away a slice of the commissions), the resources and the back end can be had, and it can be up and running in no time, really.

So why not then? Why not finally get off our duffs and create one? Here are a few reasons why it is a tough row to hoe, in my opinion.

1. Too Many Fingers in the Pie

Takeout was 5% in North America in 1908. Now it is over 22% blended. If there is something we know racing likes, it's high takeout. Conversely, low takeout is the attraction to Betfair (and other gambling games online) and it is their hook.

From Betfair's annual review when asked about their low takeout:

"We know that the least valuable customers to Betfair are the ones who lose all their money quickly. They go away and never come back. So, we are happy to take less off our customers per bet."

Racing seems to not believe this, and never has, so one would suspect an exchanges biggest edge (price), would be muted by a racing led exchange. Even if they did start at a low takeout, once revenues were not what they wanted, the take would go higher. Horsemen would want most of the money, the investors would want their cut. They will complain when it is not enough and the fingers in the pie would raise the price and shrink the pie, just like we have seen the past ten years in racing.

2. Technological Advancement Will Be Second-Rate

E*Trade, Ebay, Betfair, Facebook and many other successful web companies know one thing: If you do not invest heavily in your technology, you will get killed. Today's savvy web-consumer demands a few things - they want stuff, it better be good, and they want it yesterday. Betfair alone has 400 IT people on their payroll and 1500 servers in five or six countries. They are constantly on the move.

Racing would have to become an Ebay - they would have to sink piles of money in the exchange, and reinvest a lot of the profits back in. The first time the purses are hurt, or times are tough, whomever runs the exchange will say "we need to invest our money to make this great" and someone, somewhere will say "we need the money to run horses because if we go, there is no exchange" The latter will win, and the IT department would lose.

Hugh Mitchell, CEO of Western Fair and a former Woodbine executive recently said that change and innovation in racing is hard because "it's like turning around a 747 on a tennis court". Companies that can not turn that jet on a dime, have their lunch eaten.

Here is a screen shot of software for exchange players on Betfair, showing a simple 5 horse dash. Will this be done here with little IT investment and edge?

3. Marketing Will Be Old-School

This to me is the most interesting, since I am a marketer. I can not believe some folks I speak with in racing who believe that marketing is a) Easy and b) Not that costly. It is very difficult and it is very expensive.

Betfair just embarked on the largest ad campaign in world history for a gambling company. TV, print, online, everything. Via Marketing Week their agency rep said "“Throughout the development process, we were encouraged by Betfair to keep pushing the boundaries. ’Middleman’ a compelling and competitive creative proposition which once again shows that Betfair is a real force to be reckoned with.”

I have heard racing be described as many things, but as a business that "pushes the boundaries" is not one of them.

Betfair is constantly looking for new markets, and do it in myriad ways, as witnessed in their TV commercial. Don't worry, it is not broken, it is in Bulgarian.

Can anyone see racing try this kind of reach and spend for an industry run exchange to grow it outside existing markets? Since they have not done that yet this century - and no one has been stopping them from trying - I can't.

4. It Will Cannibalize Wagering

Betfair does not cannibalize wagering when they enter a market. In each jurisdiction, the tote pools stayed the same, or went up. How? Because they bring in a brand new demographic, target new markets, and their players play more.

Will racing be able to do this with their exchange? As above, I doubt it. Where will they run ads for their exchange? I bet we'd seem them target Horseplayer Magazine, American Turf Monthly, at tracks themselves, and of course the old industry stand by: On simulcast screens. They will be advertising to their existing customers, just like they always seem to do. We will not be creating new customers, we'd simply be shuffling them.

5. No Volume, No Exchange, No Business

If racing had an exchange rolling right now, it makes me wonder. By advertising to existing customers, charging a high price, and having no real value proposition, who exactly is going to get hooked?

Betfair has three million customers, with hundreds of millions (if not billions) in their accounts. It's ready made and it offers volume immediately to any racetrack who chooses to partner with them. Racing would be starting from scratch, and with some of the points above I believe volume and savvy bettors would not be seen, even if we are an exchange monopoly. A dead exchange is worse than a track with a $100 win pool.

6. It Won't Go Viral

Internet gambling or service businesses grow because they are viral. Facebook grows because people sign up, chat and tell friends. Ebay grows because someone sold an old coin for $100 and they told 100 people about it. Online stock trading grew because people told people about it. Online poker grew because friends can invite friends to come play with them, and with others from all over the world.

If a racing exchange charges a high price, really is not that great, and very few people are playing, who is going to tell people to come play on it? We will hear what we always hear, even if we attract some newbies: "it is too complicated, I don't understand, and I lose money" so that person does not want to join, or tell friends.

"Racing should run an exchange and keep all the profits for themselves" is heard time and time again, and is usually met with a nod. Quite honestly it makes sense. There is a musician out there right now saying they should create an "ITunes" and keep all the money for their songs. There are many others who see something work on the net and say "I should do that"

It's not easy. Even with a monopoly, the issues that plague racing - too many cooks in the kitchen calling the shots, lack of reinvestment, lack of vision, charging too high a price for their product in a new world, and lack of customers - will rear their ugly head. We need to get rid of those horrible traits if we ever hope to compete. Until that happens, send the business to a reseller who actually knows how to do today's business. We'd be better off.

For me I guess it all comes down to one simple point. Racing has presided over the Internet age since about 1998. Since 1998, if racing simply held on to their customers and had them bet only to the rate of inflation, handle would be $20B this year. Instead it will be about $10B. A regime who lost half their business in the internet age (where they have held a legal monopoly no less), suddenly knowing how to run a new internet business successfully, is an argument I have trouble taking seriously.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More Wild and Wacky Quotes

Yesterday, we had two "quotes of the day" and today we see another.

There is a bill in California that raises takeout and adds exchange wagering. The takeout bill seemed to be sailing through just fine, as we see all too often in racing since about 1908 when takeout was 5%, with unanimous consent. However, the exchange thingy really seemed to get some shorts in a bunch. So now, it looks like it is 50/50 to pass.

Republicans are lining up to oppose this exchange wagering concept. And thus, we have our newest quote of the day:

" In fact, according to a Republican caucus analysis opposing the bill, between 1998, when exchange wagering was first allowed, and 2008, “purse revenues” went up 54 percent. Track attendance went up 10 percent, the number of horses in competition increased 19 percent, and the number of races jumped 26 percent."

OK. Let me see if I understand. In horse racing, which has been getting its ass kicked everywhere, an introduction of an exchange coincided with, higher handle, higher purses, more attendance, more horses bought, and more races.

And they're against it?

I am getting precariously close to following a new sport.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quotes of the Day

Two quotes caught my eye today:

"The factionalism and fear that is eating away at the heart of American racing is what has surprised me the most. It’s upsetting to see because there is absolutely no need for it. US racing is an amazing, exhilarating and life-affirming product at its best and there is no reason for those days to be behind us. The passion and enthusiasm the genuine horse fans have for the sport is great to see. We need to find a way for all that is good about racing to be conveyed to a younger generation than those of us who typically occupy the seats or place wagers.I don’t believe the sport, in the long-term, should be depending on slots or limited betting products to guarantee its future."
TVG CEO Stephen Burn, when asked what surprises him about the American racing industry, via Paulick.

And the granddaddy of them all. We have written, and you have spoken time and time again here on the blog the last four years, that if we lower takeout, we have more money to play into the pools, and it would be beneficial to racing. We were told by much of racing we were off the mark, greedy, and should not spout such nonsense.......

"It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but the more money we put back into the people's hands the more money they will bet back in, so a reduction in takeout would actually be more beneficial for us."
NYRA CEO Charles Hayward (the most powerful organization in racing) in an interview on CNBC, via SC.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Betfair is Like Chocolate Ice Cream

With the news that exchange wagering might be a reality in California sometime in the future, I thought I’d write a post about it. One of the first posts ever here on the little blog was about the company, and we have talked about the criticisms from old time racing in places like Australia and Tasmania when they were approved there. We also have relayed just how wrong those criticisms ended up being, with hard numbers, and even post implementation comments from some of the people who were criticizing the platform themselves.

Like a time machine, these same criticisms from old time racing are now being seen here in North America with the new California news. You guys here have been through all of this before, following the blog and watching and commenting, and rather than speaking to the same old critiques, like ‘they don’t give back to racing’, and ‘they cannibalize wagering’, which we all know are myths, I figured we would chat a little bit about ice cream. After all, who doesn’t like ice cream?

At the local stables in Los Angeles there is an ice cream vendor who only sells banana ice cream. Years ago the government mandated that people who like dessert could only buy banana ice cream. This allowed the vendor to charge a really high price for his banana ice cream, and he never really developed any new flavors, new packaging, or different ways to sell his ice cream. He generally just went about his business and sold his ice cream, and since there were people in line all the time, he kept doing what he was doing.

Some of the banana ice cream vendors even assumed that people were lining up like they were because they loved banana ice cream. Sometimes he raised the price and amazingly people still came.

He loved the banana ice cream business – it was very easy.

Later on, after a few more people were eating the other desserts, the government allowed some of the new desserts to be sold to everyone. The vendor that was selling banana ice cream had his business hurt, and he realized that people did not love banana ice cream like he thought they did. But he kept on selling his product the same way. After sales were falling even more, he asked the government for money to keep him in business, and they said yes, so he was happy. He did not have to find a new job, or change his business to compete with all those new desserts. He could do the same thing as he has always done and get a nice big check at the end of the month from the government! Times were still good.

Meanwhile, miles away two entrepreneurs said:

“This market is unsustainable at these prices and the old banana product is just not working. Some people really like ice cream still, so why don’t we change it a little bit, put it in a new package, and change the flavor to chocolate. We could also sell it at a lower price and try to increase volume, because ice cream is a volume business now, and the banana guys have been treating it as the opposite of that for a century. We can sell more ice cream at this lower price, try and get back customers who have left, and spread the good cheer of ice cream throughout the world.”

Their new chocolate ice cream seemed to be a hit. People who liked ice cream, but were not buying ice cream anymore, were coming back. Other people who would only have one banana cone a month, were buying two chocolate cones a week! With this successful test, one day they had an idea and approached the banana ice cream vendor, and asked if they could open an ice cream shop selling their chocolate ice cream beside them, and partner up to grow sagging ice cream sales.

The banana ice cream vendor said “Why would I do that? You will steal my business.”

The chocolate ice cream man explained to the vendor that his proprietary ice cream is different. That it appeals to other people who are eating cookies down by the river, if they joined forces they could grow ice cream sales, and he would even pay the banana man a percentage of all his profits. He offered to advertise both their ice creams to all these new people, at no cost to the banana vendor, too.

No was still the answer. The banana vendor wanted nothing to do with this new vendor. He thought he was a bad man.

A couple of years passed and business was getting worse for the banana vendor. He went for a meeting and spoke to the people who bred and supplied his cream, his cones and his bananas, and told them the new chocolate vendor’s story.

He was told he was stupid to do what the chocolate vendor wanted him to do. He was told this new vendor was not interested in ice cream at all, and would not pay him any money like he promised. He was told if he allowed it, he would be killing ice cream sales everywhere, vendors will lose their jobs, and the world would never buy ice cream again. "It is not in the spirit of how we have sold ice cream for 100 years!" they pleaded.

But business was going so badly he finally agreed. They would partner up.

The next day at the stables there were now two vendors: One who sold banana ice cream and one who sold chocolate ice cream, side by side.

Almost immediately the banana ice cream vendor noticed something new. There were more people than usual around the two stands. People were still buying banana ice cream, but there were people buying chocolate in big numbers. He had not seen kids buy banana in many years, so this was big news to him. Banana ice cream used to be only for older people.

One day driving to work he noticed another thing new. There were radio commercials talking about ice cream, telling people to come on down to the stables where they sold. He smiled; he never really tried advertising his ice cream because for years he never had to. He wondered why they never tried it, but he was happy that his new partner was doing it, and it did not cost him a dime!

At the end of the first month the chocolate ice cream vendor gave him a check for some of his profits. It was not a ton of money, so he was disappointed. But then he looked at his books and he noticed he sold just as much banana ice cream this month than he had before; in fact he even sold a bit more than usual. The people all around the stand every day were sampling his ice cream. And of course, it was fun to see so many at least interested in ice cream because it reminded him a little bit of the old days when lots of people came for ice cream. It was fun to sell ice cream again.

Some in the old ways of business could still not understand why the chocolate man did not charge more money for his product like they do, and give them more money in return. They thought that they were the sole reason he was making money and they wanted more of it. They were mad.

The banana vendor told them that there is more to selling ice cream than they all had thought. He told them the new man is selling a lot of chocolate ice cream because he is friendly, gives volume discounts, is always improving his ice cream, advertises and charges a price his customers are willing to pay.

He told them that if he charged a higher price to pay the cow owners more, his sales and advertising will go down. If he does that he will sell much less ice cream. They were still mad because they did not like other people selling ice cream, no matter how many new people were buying some. They were wondering what got into their old friend. He was different now.

After several months and much deliberation and grumbling – after all, this new ice cream maker was doing business in a way they were unfamiliar - they finally accepted the fact that having a partner sell ice cream at a price and with a variety that appealed to their customers, made a positive difference. They signed a long term deal with the chocolate ice cream vendor to both sell ice cream.

Many of the old time vendors still could not accept things had changed and tried the best they could, screaming from the rooftops that the new chocolate seller was bad. But over time, their voices were drowned out. More and more people were buying ice cream, and banana makers, cow owners, and the people who made cones realized they finally were not getting smaller and smaller like they have been, and maybe over time they had a chance to grow.

In the end, everyone agreed that the world had changed and having customers buying ice cream again, was better than customers buying no ice cream at all.

And that’s why Betfair is like chocolate ice cream.

A Dandy Gold Cup and Saucer

Last night in PEI, Part Shark, the second choice, zoomed to the front and never looked back in the 51st Gold Cup and Saucer. The race, as usual, was an event unlike any we see in our sport. The time was 151 flat, a new track record. Video is below.

It was cool to watch the whole feed last night. With no Meadowlands and Mohawk out with a power outage, I flipped on the races via the interwebs and watched the card. The pageantry and pomp with the Gold Cup race was wonderful. The horses paraded via a spotlight, with announcer Vance Cameron giving the crowd their resumes and adding stories about each horse. One story, about trainer Wayne Prezcator with his charge (the ultimate winner), was that he told Mr. Cameron that he has been to the Little Brown Jug twice, and he has more fun, and feels more energized coming to this race. After being announced, each driver would smile and give a salute with the whip to the crowd who were clapping for his entry.

Before the race, a song (an east coast PEI anthem I am assuming, which makes one think of an Irish or Scottish sea-tune as a lot of the region settled from there) is sung from the winners circle. Gold Cup and Saucer "girls" watch the trophy. The crowd, well the crowd is having a beer or two.

The card resulted in a big handle for the little track - over $250k. This "small event" is growing in stature each year. The work of Harness Racing PEI, and the vision of people like Jeremy Pierce, who saw opening it up via a simulcast as an opportunity, and the fact that they have branded this event is all helping. There are many dozen events in harness racing with giant purses, but they do not hold a candle to this $60k event in terms of electricity.

I think we will see a half a million bet on this card within five or six years. It's wonderful, the people are great, and the GC and S folks are unapologetic in their Island Pride. It comes across the TV screen as 100% authentic and it is a joy to watch. Congrats on another great year folks!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Watching a Cat Fight

There is an amazing display going on right now in California racing.

As you know a Breeders Cup bill was introduced in the California legislature. It was to use marketing money to entice the BC to locate more and more to CA. Fine and dandy.

But then, several tracks and owners groups in CA decided to tack quietly on a takeout increase. They think it will make them more money. Why they think that raising prices in a business that is struggling, which flies right into the face of both empirical evidence and theory from experts is beyond us, but that's what they think.

Everyone in racing seems to like that.

But later on a new idea is thrown into the bill from CA racing and horse owners: Exchange wagering. They think getting some cash by licensing betfair is a good idea.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Twinspires and Xpressbet get wind of it. Press releases fly, ads are taken out and boom, we have ourselves a massive cat fight, with industry people fighting industry people.

A bill that raised takeout to squeeze tapped-out customers that everyone loved, is now not so loved by some, because they feel they are the ones getting squeezed.

What is unfolding right before our eyes is what racing has become, and some would say always was: A haven for protecting ones own slice at the expense of the customer.

It's sad. It's depressing.

But most of all: It is totally expected.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gold Cup & Saucer. M Carryover Pick 6

Well it is two days to one of the most unique and interesting races in the world - the Gold Cup and Saucer on tiny Prince Edward Island, where people have been racing horses since 1888.

For fans who do not know, this is the 51st edition of the race, and the folks come from all over to see it. At two minutes to midnight on Saturday, some funny things will happen. Horsemen will hang from the backstretch fences to watch. The Ferris wheel will have no one on it. The concession stands will not have a soul in line. The kitchen will grind to a halt. It's post time at Charlottetown.

People do not come to this race to be seen, because it is a cool thing to do, because their friends are going, or because a concert with a big name takes place afterwards. They come to watch a harness race with horses going in speeds that the little track, and these fans, never get a chance to see. The purse, $60,000, is about $59,500 higher than the average purse in the region.

On PEI, watching good horses race means something.

This year a pretty decent field has been assembled, and the huge throng of racing fans should see a very fast race. Unfortunately on paper, the race seems pretty square - the chalk, Stonebridge Terror, has intimidating speed from an intimidating post. I honestly do not know who will challenge him early, if anyone, but this is the Gold Cup and Saucer and not a race at Mohawk. I think someone will. The other two elimination winners also have good posts. I suspect that they will have a good shot at a track record. I will support the track and bet a few dollars on Saturday, but I just do not know who to take a swing at!

Here is a replay of last year's race, and below is Monday's elim with the chalk winning. It's amazing to see so many fans out on a rainy Monday in a small city no less. I was there last year on Monday's elim night, and I can attest, there were so many people enjoying the races.

Tomorrow's Pick 6 at the Meadowlands features a $110k carryover, and several stakes. It does not look like a really hard sequence at first glance, however after digging deeper it's a hefty ticket.

I'll pop back tomorrow more than likely and share some thoughts. I hope you do as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stepping Up to the Plate - in a "Big" Way

As we have spoken about recently, there is a movement in Canada to fund an initiative with purse/slot dollars to grow our sport. Horse owners are being asked if they support using a 5% purse cut to fund a slush fund to increase wagering and interest on horse racing. So far the plan is liked by some, and not by others. The old "the tracks should do it, not us" line has popped up again and again.

One owner said that it's time to put his 'money where my mouth is'.

Jim Carr owns the outstanding two year old Big Jim, who won the Dream Maker at Mohawk in a sizzling 51 and 1. He is donating a percentage of his winnings to this plan, which Standardbred Canada is holding in trust, if it comes to fruition.

"Carr, who also owns Riverwalk and Brush With Royalty, plans to contribute a percentage of earnings from each horse he owns to the Plan, starting immediately. He is sure that action must take place to allow the sport to thrive and realizes the majority of his horses’ earning power comes in the next several weeks.

“We need to do something,” he said, stressing that stakeholders need to step up to invest and that the funding must be spent in a prudent and professional manner in order to grow the sport.

“I was racing in the Open in the 1980s for $5,000,” he said. “Today the maidens at Mohawk go for $16,000. You have to invest in the industry. The more handle you get, the more people you get to the track, the better it is."

Big Jim is not only racing for Mr. Carr, he has stepped up to the plate to race for the future of an industry. Those are some heavy horseshoes indeed. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pick Ten Winners & You Could Win a Cool Million

On August 21st at Northlands Park, if you are the only person to pick all ten winners, you will walk away with a million bucks.

We spoke a couple of months ago about using this, as a strategy for promotion. Offering a jackpot bet out (with some slots money for insurance purposes) as a way to get slot players to take a ticket, some lotto players to take a few tickets, or to get some simulcast players studying your card and venue, is a worthwhile plan. It at least uses alternate gaming money to promote to a new market. It also helps with some viral marketing, because blog posts, chat board posts, and news mentions because of this promotion, promote the track. The odds of hitting all ten for a $2 minimum, of course, are very low; but we are not promoting this to existing players who know better, we are trying to get a new market out to the track for a day.

This is the type of promo that other games do. Heck, for some neighborhood golf tournies sponsored by a "Tom's Bar and Grill" they offer $25k or $50k for a hole in one, which is insured. Sometimes they ask for $2 before the hole. I know the chances of me getting this are astronomical, and the takeout is severe, but I have tried. What the heck, it's fun, and it is only two bucks. Other businesses have thought of this before and use it time and time again.

Notice that Northlands is also promoting their $50k guaranteed pick 4. If I am going to take a ticket for 10 winners, and have studied all the PP's, why not take a pick 4 ticket while I am at it?

If they even get 500 people they would not get before to look at the card, it is a successful thing.

Good for Northlands for trying something in a game that needs exposure, and has been crying for trail and error experiments like this for many years now.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cup Goes to McNair, National Pick 4 Does Well

Today's two heat Confederation Cup went to Aracache Hanover, a $37,000 yearling purchase and Greg McNair student in 152.1. The colt raced very well in both heats and BG's Folly, saddled with post 7 in the final, had little shot to run him down.

This race did not have the draw of a few years ago when Somebeachsomewhere blazed to a 149.2 world record, but it was very entertaining. Fireworks in the final ensued as well in two instances. The first, when the colt broke at the gate and galloped, not losing ground, and at the wire where the driver celebrated with the whip (that's can be a no, no in Ontario as you have to keep two lines in one hand). The judges let the result stand, but it was anything but a sure thing.

This is one of the reasons I like harness racing - a big race is won by a good guy and a hard worker. His son is in the bike, and the owners are absolutely pumped to win it. You can watch the post race celebrations in the video below. I especially like when Greg shook his son's hand. No words said, but that's harness racing. A shake of the hand for a good job.

The National pick 4 for the Back at the Track day did really well this weekend, with $56,000 bet into it. I thought they would have a hell of a time getting that bet into it. It seems, from reading the web, the promotion went well.

They bet close to $4M into the pick 6 carryover at Del Mar today. It was an absolute chalk fest and it ended up paying only $3600. They pay-off was not that bad, considering about three of the winners might be keyable.

This Friday night the pick 6 at the Meadowlands has a big carryover. It's mandatory payout day.

After this weekend's stakes, the action switches to two big races - the Metro and the Canadian Pacing Derby. The three year olds have a few minor stakes, but the way they are going, who knows who will show up. It seems this crop might be becoming very overrated. Some watchers last year thought it was one of the best ever.

Ready for some down home harness racing? The Gold Cup and Saucer's trials are almost done, before a packed house in PEI. Part Shark and Giddy Up Delight won the first two trials. Monday is the final trial. Saturday is the big day, where 40,000 are expected, which is no small feat for a city with not too many more people than that living in it, and a superstar like Zenyatta draws 33,000 in a huge metro market like San Diego.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

$50K National Pick 4 PPs; Finley Caps Horse of the Year. 360 Launched

The national pick 4, guaranteed at $50,000 with races from the M, Balmoral, Northfield and Yonkers, is on tap for for Saturday.

In addtion there are programs available for free from the Trackmaster page here.

I hope frequent PTP commenter "Whip" has been playing Northfield and Balmoral, because I am lost there. :)

Regardless, that is a nice guarantee and a good takeout level. I will be playing this and trying to make some cash. For a link to only the free pp's for the national pick 4, they are here (pdf alert!)

Bill Finley handicapped the Horse of the Year race in the US today. He is a Z fan, but he could not help but take a shot at her schedule. I laughed at prose like this on her:  "She beat a stable pony, two Budweiser Clydesdales, a mule and an outstanding 3-year-old pacer from Cal Expo in the Clement Hirsch last week at Del Mar. But, hey, a win is a win and perfection is perfection."

Breeders Cup 360, the best damn site for handicappers (we should have had one for harness like this about 15 years ago, but I digress) is up and running for 2010. Bookmark it if you are handicapping the big card in November.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Handle Free Fall In Ontario? Bet on it - Online

In a piece of very-not-surprising news, the cash-strapped Ontario government looks to gambling to grab some revenues. It was announced that they are moving into "the online realm" and plan on operating (like BC) an online gambling portal.

"Across Canada and around the world, online commerce is part of our everyday lives and OLG is excited to start the consultation process for online gaming and growing its marketplace in the future," OLG Chair Paul Godfrey said. "OLG's internet gaming program will stress responsible gaming while providing an enjoyable experience for Ontario players."

Welcome to a massive loss of horse racing handle, coming soon to a track near you.

Although, I do like the "we'll stress responsible gaming" line. That is always good for a chuckle.

Currently, Ontario players can play sports, however it is with Pro-line. It has not done overly well, even with a monopoly. Although they have lowered takeout in recent years because people wise-up, it still is not doing the job. Pro-Line makes you pick parlays, and the odds, well to use the vernacular - suck.

We can hope that governments do what they tend to do when they get into something the private market does better - blow it. Maybe we will see the following:

Toronto Blue Jays -130
New York Yankees -170

If so, it will go bankrupt.

Otherwise, we're in huge trouble.

Monday, August 9, 2010

8 Reasons Why I am a Zenyatta Fan

Zenyatta won her 18th straight race on Saturday, at Del Mar. She is currently zeroing in on being the all-time money winning mare and all-time grade 1 stakes winning mare. With only a couple starts left in her career, I thought I would make a list on why I like her.

1. She's Undefeated

- I am a handicapper and I know she is not racing Ruffian or Seattle Slew or Spectacular Bid in her races. But she wins. Horses have bad days, and eventually they lose because of an allergy, an underlying sickness, overwork, lameness or 100 other factors we see day to day. As a horse owner myself (like many of you I am sure) where I have expected my horse to be great, and he throws in a clunker it is a non-negotiable part of this sport. But she does something that is rare and refreshing in racing - she delivers. Federal Express should hire her as a spokeshorse.

2. She Confounds Figure and Software Makers

- Invariably, after a win from any horse, go to the chat boards. Someone will say "I would like to see the Beyer before judging if this horse is any good". It's like somehow that blowout victory while being hounded in 45 and run at again in 09, but still winning easily does not mean much until we see a number. Zenyatta, as a deep closer who does not run like a scared cat, and whose final time is dictated by pace, runs to what she has to. If it is a 95, it's a 95. If it is a higher number, so far in her career she has done that. As a sharp handicapper once said on a chat board "put her in an allowance race at Beulah, she'll sit off a 49 half, win by two and run an 80". In other words, throw her figures in the trash and just watch her run instead.

As well, some software can just not get her pegged. I looked at two software printouts this weekend for her race. She was picked for second in both. Not being a speed horse, in a speed-laden game, it seems to make computers wonder what in the hell is going on with this mare. She is the only horse I have ever seen that can outwit a micro-chip.

3. She's Owned and Trained By People Who Respect Her

-Yes, the "sportsmanship" label is hung on them again and again and I too would like to see her race better horses and ship all over, because I am a fan. However, they have kept this mare going for three years at a high level, and they have treated her like a flesh and blood animal, not a throw away inanimate object. As well, two straight trips to the Classic (if she gets there this year) is not exactly unsportsmanlike in the first place.

Zenyatta was a growthy mare who had some issues training down. She also had talent and the connections knew it, but they still waited on her, where she did not make her debut until very late as a three year old. How many barns, only considered with stakes wins as a sophomore and potential glory, do that? Very few. If she was in one of a hundred other barns she is rushed, started earlier, and more than likely never races 18 races, let alone wins 18 in a row. They would have respected me as a race fan, but they would not have respected her.

Bravo Jerry. Bravo John. If people ran their stock like you do, this sports breakdown rate would be cut in half overnight and synthetic tracks would never have been even looked at, let alone installed. Don't worry about what handicappers like me want to do with your horse; you've done just fine.

4. She is a Superstar

- In a game where horses are retired so soon, where just as the public latches on to them they are gone, it is nice to see what this mare has done in this regard. This weekend Zenyatta trended on twitter. This is no small feat for a race horse. By my estimation over 10,000 tweets featured this animal and her win at Del Mar.Wow.

As well, we see stories in the press like this: "Mrs. Davis arrived wearing an unbuttoned Zenyatta jersey over a Zenyatta T-shirt, toting a bag bearing a Zenyatta button, then claimed her souvenir Zenyatta glasses and confessed that she would not have made the trip for any lesser animal."

And she has lit up young people like this little one in the photo, courtesy Mary Forney's blog.

She captures the general public's imagination unlike any horse in recent memory, if not ever.

5. She Kicks Our Butts

- I am an every day player and I like playing this game. Like me, many of you are the same. And I know something: We have both bet against this horse several times. "She's a closer, she can not get up", "she is overbet", "look at the bridge jumpers on her. If they go slow she has a chance to run off the board.", "she is too slow".

Umm, no.

On betfair last year she was 5-1 in the Breeders Cup Classic with the sharpies hammering against her, while being 5-2 on the board with the so-called "dumb crowd money". I was standing beside a friend who bets professionally and does quite well. He layed $5000 against her, and I too took a poke against "that slow overbet closer".

Zenyatta said "take that".

6. She Absolutely Infuriates the East Coast Clique

- I live in Toronto. People outside this city and throughout the entire country believe we think we are hot stuff, and have tagged us with a line: "they think they are the centre of the Universe." In a lot of cases these outside folks are correct. In New York racing especially, they are not thought of much differently. Some there expect that to be crowned as a great horse she must beg the racing gods at Belmont or Saratoga for an entry and bow to their esteemed presence. Just this weekend it was written by a New York scribe, "The best horse in the country [referring to Quality Road, who ended up losing] will run today, and so will Zenyatta."

She has not gone to New York, and might not go there.

She is a conduit, saying what a lot of people in the rest of the racing world wants to say to the east coast racing clique sometimes: "Get over yourselves."

7. She's a Bias Buster

- Using software to play races, and studying the sport, we know that very deep closers are up against it, even if they race at Santa Anita. The handicapping book is called "The Power of Early Speed" for a reason. It's lucky Zenyatta does not know how to read, or else for each race, she might feel pretty nervous.

Just this last Saturday at Del Mar the jocks did their best to beat her. She cantered to an opening quarter that was slower than two dozen horses went in the harness races at the Meadowlands earlier that day. The three quarters was about as slow as a racehorse could go on the front end, rivalling a Somebeachsomewhere three panels. She didn't much care.

8. She's Zenyatta

- I have watched hundreds of thousands of races and I have never seen a good horse with a personality like hers.

If you read physical handicapping books you'd never bet her - she paws, she swishes her tail - she does 50 things that horses should not do in a post parade or paddock.

She does her "dance", which lights up a crowd.

In a race, she plays, almost like she is a spoiled child in class. While many other horses can come a last eighth in 12, she does it while looking around, ears pricked, almost cantering. At Oaklawn this year, on her way to another easy win, she ran about twenty feet hard, then pricked her ears and looked like she wanted to take a right turn at the head of the lane to get a snow cone.

Mike Smith will scrub on her when she makes a lead, but she just ain't running anymore: "Mike, I have the lead. Leave me the hell alone", she seems to want to say.

In all my years of watching this sport, I have yet to see one like her and each time I watch her race, she reminds me why I love horses. She is simply the most unique racehorse I have ever seen.

There it is: The confessions of a cold-hard, tactical bettor, on why I like this mare. Yes, I know she might not be the fastest mare ever, or she might not even be faster than Quality Road or Blame. Yes, I fully realize that she has not criss-crossed the country looking to beat the hot horse du jour, if she did she might have lost, and the over-the-top accolades in the press and elsewhere can bum some people out. Yes, I know as a bettor I am not supposed to like this mare.

But I like her.

I am an unapologetic, unwavering Zenyatta fan.

Go Z.

Thanks to Mary and Jennifer for the pics

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hambletonian Card Recap - Third Highest Handle in History

This year's Hambletonian was a good one with Muscle Massive edging out Lucky Chucky in a very quick 51. Over $1M was bet on the race, and the overall handle was the third highest in Hambo history: over $8M.

Something we have been big proponents of on our little blog here is exporting races like this as far and wide as we can. Again this year the good folks at the Meadowlands and the Hambo society spread their signal out to several countries, and it paid off:

"International wagering was nearly $2.4 million, up sharply from the $1.97 million wagered on the 2009 simulcast. The Hambletonian was part of a seven-race bundle beamed to France, Monaco, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The first 10 races from the Meadowlands were sent to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and Malta."

This is great news. However, I still think we are not maximizing handle as much as we should on these races. Trot races are fine for export, but for local players we like overnights with deep fields. Case in point, I believe that the two best races of the day to bet was the Hambo itself, and the last race, which was a simple conditioned race. The last race handled $340,000; the other late races (US Pacing Championship, Lady Liberty, OWH) handled much less. I believe we need to sprinkle these races throughout the Hambo card, and possibly save the 2YO trots for another day.

Regardless, it was a good day for longshot players. Put on a Show went down to defeat, resulting in massive show prices. She looked lame, or at the very least unable to handle the speed they were going. Shark Gesture was also beaten, shut down in the third quarter, which is unlike him, and George Brennan. Jody J sprung out, brushed by, and then it was too late for he big horse to get started up. As we alluded here earlier, we felt One More Laugh would be overbet and he was. Delmarvelous, who still looks rank - but fast - took him down easily. Both Poof She's Gone and Lucky Chucky seemed massively overbet to this capper and I know I am not alone. Both those horses were not head and shoulders above several others by any measure. Lucky Chucky really raced well and just fell short, though.

A few friends made it down for the card. They are thoroughbred players and have never visited a harness track. I got some rave reviews from them after the races (since one of them hit the pick 4 I expected him to be happy, though!). Quotes like "the people here are very nice and laid back. Owners are very unlike thoroughbred owners" was a comment that I expected. We are different in harness racing. We always have been and always will be.

The coverage on NBC was decent I thought, and better than previous years. Both Kenny Rice and Gary Seibel cut their teeth on harness racing and it shows. Donna Brothers called a driver a jockey, but that is one simple mistake - life goes on - I thought she did well, especially the feature on how a horse trots and breaks stride. The feature on Chuck Sylvester was good. Everyone in harness racing that I know really likes and respects Chuck. It's a sad story.

I really like the way the front paddock was highlighted. And one of my pet peeves is that the grooms and connections of the horses sometimes look like they just got out of bed on television, but not on this day. I am not sure who directed it (Moira Fanning of the Hambo Society or the Meadowlands) but the Hambo shirts on the grooms leading out the horses was a nice touch. We need to think of things like this in our sport.

Overall it was a good racing day. There were too many races that were unbettable perhaps, however bettors world wide still responded and it proves that this sport, if done right, can bring in some good numbers.

I hope everyone enjoyed it, and made some scratch.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hambletonian Card Analysis and Free PP Link

This year's Hambletonian card, set for Saturday, is better than usual. Although there are one or two too many stakes races for serious cappers, the stakes do have some betting interest for me. For the first time in awhile there is no standout chalks in the biggest two races: The Hambo and Hambo Oaks. There is a free program here.

As well, I find I really like the all superfecta card in these instances, because if you can land a longshot or two on the ticket, it tends to pay.

Going through the card, I have a few I might play:

In race one I believe Misterizi is worth the poke. He has some problems, but Montini would not ship him down there for a lark. He's the fastest horse in the race. I might use Schnittker from the ten post in the supers.

In Race two Buck I St Pat should win, but why take a low price. I will likely sit this out.

In the Merrie Annabelle I have been through the replays a few times. I am pretty stumped. It looks like the chalk is solid, the second choice might improve as well. What to do? Probably nothing. Other than the 1 and 2, Fitness Girl caught my eye last time.

Comedy hour in race 4. The best horse in harness racing versus a 20 claimer not long ago claimed by Lou Pena. Shark Gesture, one would expect, to air. He is fine off three weeks, and more than likely schooled in 49 for this. I'll sit this out.

Race 5 gives us the best mare in training - Put on a Show. She is head and shoulders above this crew. Her even money ML is a big overlay for me.

Race 6 is really interesting. The chalk does look good and is a very talented colt, but there are several capable ones here. I will more than likely go price fishing with Evil Urges. I will throw in The Lindy Reserve for a bomb. He got cooked in the second quarter a bit and I think he will be better this week with a covered trip.

In race 7, if Southwind Lynx returns to form he should crush these. He has had some problems, but they appear to be fixed with the last layoff between starts. He is by far the class, but taking a low price is not advisable. Mr Hallowell and Casimir Camotion might provide a price. Noble Falcon jogged last year in this race on Hambo day.

In the Nat Ray the race looks like it begins on one question: Will Enough Talk race like he can. I don't like horses who bust at low odds, equipment problem or not, so I will pitch him and try to make a score. Lanson and Slave Dream are my shots. Lanson can get a good trip from inside and Slave Dream was good last time. John Campbell is ROI positive first time on a trotter as well (look at Elusive Dream in race 2 for evidence of that).

In the Oaks, I am going to wait for any track bias, and post parade inspection. I feel like going off the board here to Southwind Samarai, but I don't know yet. Barslide beat a little bias last time and I like her, but I don't like betting trotters like that in this race.

In the big one I am going to what I think is an extremely talented trotter: Wishing Stone. He closed from the clouds last time and I think is sitting on a big one, at a nice big price. He deserves a big effort here to show he is better than he looks. If the pace falls apart and this one wins, I will look at Lucky Chucky and Pilgrims Taj underneath.

I am not interested in the OWH in 11 with the heavy chalk. I think BG's Folly is a really nice horse, though.

Ditto race 12, the US Pacing Championship. I like Vintage Master, but he will be heavily bet. If there is some sort of wild closing bias I might take a small poke on Bettor Sweet at a bomber price.

In the Lady Liberty, Dreamfair Eternal is so good right now, but this is a really interesting race, especially if there is a speed bias under the sun. If Tug River Princess fires it could be over. If any of the Bulletproof horses do the same and improve, we might see a speed winner. On the Glass is one of my favorite mares and if she is a price I might play her.

In race 14 I do not like One More Laugh, at his price. Razzle Dazzle or Valentino will see my cash I suspect.

In the last, I will play Lennon Blue Chip off an eye-catching close last time. Pena and Coleman will be overbet I believe.

Have any trip notes for us here at PTP? Let me know.

In addition, I might pop up the live blog tomorrow, so if you are around and playing the Hambo card as I will be, please drop by.

Have a great day and good luck at the windows.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Good Harness Racing News

No, I am not on crack. There actually is some good news in harness racing.

Tioga Downs, since their takeout decrease, is knocking it out of the park (as far as harness racing is concerned anyway).

"Tioga Downs lowered its takeout rates to state minimums for the 2010 race season, and the numbers have shown promise as they continue to rise. In July Tioga Downs was up in its live racing handle by eight per cent, and watched its export number grow for the second straight month by 21 per cent." says the release.

A telling part of the release is the ending. The Tioga boys broached the Vernon horsemen with the same idea - lower the juice and see if we can build something. They got a big fat no from them. Handle at Vernon is off 13%, just like about everywhere else.

If you ain't playing some cash into Tioga, it's time to.

Secondly, more good news from Balmoral Park. They too lowered takeout on their pick 4, and it is growing. If you were too scared to play into the BLMP pick 4 because of low pools last year, well they are not too low anymore.

"The July Pick 4 pools at Balmoral totaled $212,641 for the 13 nights of live racing, averaging $16,357 per card. In 2009 with the higher takeout, pick 4 pools averaged $8,888. The average 2010 July Pick 4 pools were 84 per cent higher with the lower takeout than the July 2009 pools." they said in their release.

I am going to start giving out a Harness Racing Tweet of the Week © I think. This weeks winner...... Bennybeam666. After a particularly bad, no flow harness race, he twinkied on Sunday: "I have seen more competitive drive-by shootings."

Congratulations Benny. For the win, I will send you an autographed picture of Mario Letizia.

Lastly, it is always good news when it's Hambo Time. The Oaks and Hambo draws are complete.

Note: We wrote not long ago that industry websites are not very interesting because they do not provide much opinion that does not fall into line. However, kudos to the Bloodhorse. They are starting to talk about all facets of racing, including those who pay for purses to the tune of a billion a year - the customer. Lenny Shulman and Steve Haskin spoke of the proposed California takeout hike today on the video below. It's the last segment, and it is not worth missing (unless you are a huge fan of Cali racetrack execs, then you might not love it). Fast forward to about three quarters through if you just want that piece. The other pieces are good too, though, if you are a runner fan. Anyway, thumbs up Bloodhorse.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Plans, Plans and More Plans

The Ontario plan to use some slots cash set aside for purses to grow the sport via marketing and wagering, has been gaining some steam. A good number of owner signatures are being recorded and it seems the train at the very least has left the station. However, as "SuperNewf" commented yesterday, the usual suspects are trying to throw a wrench into the plans. I was reading many comments on some of the chat boards and some folks simply do not want purse money to be used to grow our sport.

Usually I am the one stealing Seth Godin quotes here on PTP, but I got one from poster "Kort Nozzle" on, about where we are, and what needs to be done in racing:

"Right this minute, you still have some cash, some customers, some momentum... instead of squandering it in a long, slow, death spiral, do something else. Buy a new platform. Move. Find new products for the customers that still trust you. Change is a bear, but it's better than death."

Change is better than zero handle and racing for ribbons, but there are many who still seem to be reluctant to move this forward. It's truly sad.

If you want to add your name to the list in support, click here. Some of the wagering items to be studied for implementation are:

Wagering Development to include:

* Ontario Racing Products – (i.e. Canada One)
* Lottery Wager
* Expanded distribution
* Betting Exchange Platform
* New Wagering Products
* Handicapping programs, leagues, championships, etc.

I believe seeded pools, exchange wagering and better distribution are the cornerstones to growth, so I was glad to see much of that added. Tracks would hopefully (for their share) look to expand wagering credits and lower takeout. If the above, along with lower prices are achieved, we might actually see some handle in this province for a change.

HANA penned what they would do if they were California racing (minus the obvious - lower rake). Cali racing is totally out of ideas, so much so all they could come up with to help racing there was to raise takeout. There are five or six ideas that I have never heard from anyone in power in California even make a peep about over the years I have been following this sport.

The Hambo elims are in the books, as well as elims for the Oaks. We have to find the horse who is peaking here. I have an idea, but I want to check the post positions first. Click link for video.

Delmarvelous won the Adios. Musical chairs in this division. I was discussing this crop with a horseplayer friend last week and we both felt the crop is overrated. It's good but by no means great. Time will tell.

Sportswriter is done. He went one for six this season, but at least the one was a good one. It's a tendon tear, which I think this barn had last year with Art Colony.

Cangamble thinks that supertrainer percentages might drop with the Pennsylvania investigation and arrest last week. We'll see.

The Back to the track ad you see by the USTA has some neat stuff (although they need some SEO help! I can't find it with a google search). One video, below, with cappers. There is also a $50k guaranteed pick 4 (that might provide value as they might have a tough time hitting the $50k, being at four tracks). Worth studying.

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