Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Breeders Crown is Upon Us

This weekend at Pocono Downs the eliminations for the Breeders Crown are to be staged. Here are some quick notes about the events, along with a little opinion.

Zee Rake

Pocono lowered their takeout on multi-horse exotics from a Uruguay-like 35% (yes, you are reading that right) to 25% this season. I can honestly say I would not have posted about this event here if they would have left them up there, despite me liking the people who run the event very much. Pointing people to 35% takeout tracks for me, is like giving an alcoholic a case of Old Grand Dad bourbon for Christmas. Instead I am happy to say that this years multi-horse bets are lower take than last time's at Woodbine, so you are getting better value. Ex takes are 20%, which are not too bad for harness racing.

Special Bets

Word is there will be a $10k seeded pick 4 and a $20k seeded pick 6 on Final night. Very good.

The Event of the Night

Very rarely do we see the 3YO trotting final be more interesting than the sophomore pacing final, but this year that is what we've got. Lucky Chucky along with Muscle Massive are two talented colts. Chucky is, in my opinion, the better of the two, but they are a match for each other. Usually this division is a walkover for some colt as there is just very little depth in the trotting divisions, both two and three year olds, as a rule. This race will be this years most exciting on paper, I believe.

What Happened to the 3YO Pacing Crop?

We spoke about this crop from day one this year - on paper, with flashy times, it looked very deep. However, if you dug deeper, we felt there was a huge chance at the end of the year we would not be looking at superstar-ville. And we are not. Rock n' Roll Heaven is a nice horse and so is One More Laugh. The latter did not race well at all in Ohio, and he needs to bounce back (which he seems to be always capable of). The former is the most talented in the division. There are two elims this weekend, with only six horses in each.

Older Divisions Provide Excitement

In the last several years, the older divisions were raced on a different evening. This year this is not the case and fans will be able to watch horses like Shark Gesture, Enough Talk and Lucky Jim duke it out. This is a very welcome change. As with most of you, the 2YO trotting divisions especially, are not very good betting affairs and for fans, many do not know, or have a hard time capping them. Some finals are available for download now if you want to look at some pp's.

Is This Simulcast Everywhere? Will everyone be able to bet it?

I'm working on it. Pocono is not the most distributed or known track out there, so we'll see.

Post time is 5PM for the big day, which is a different post as well, so we need to be aware of that.

We'll have more lines, and news and notes for ya as the weeks progress. Let me know if you want to chat about anything, or have some opinions on the races that you'd like to share.

Last up, for news and notes on the Crown this weekend and next, has a pdf that is mailed to you Friday morning, which should have some insight. Please visit here to sign up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rachel's Retirement Makes for a Happy Day, Not a Sad One

There is nothing better for an equine enthusiast (sorry PETA) than watching a happy horse race. They are full of themselves, they are in their element, they have a certain something that says they are completely happy. Rachel Alexandra, for much of her career was the quintessential happy horse. She would completely slay her opponents like they were 4 claimers from Penn National who had not won a race in 5 years. She would constantly win with ease, and she knew it. She was a pretty hearty alpha-mare, who was happiest beating up on her sisters (and sometime brothers).

In her first time at the gate this year, this all changed. She no longer had that certain something. Watching her at Fair Grounds early in the year you could see it - at the head of the lane when Shirreff's third stringer came at her, there was no separation. The heart was willing but the body was not. The usual excuses ensued with trip, pace, ride, fitness, and all the rest - Rachel can't speak, so we must try and figure it out on our own - but as usual with excuses, it turned out there was more to it.

What we were watching was a mare who was not that same happy alpha horse. She was telling us she was different. They tried and tried to get her back, but enough was enough, and they let her retire to the fields of Kentucky.

It made me think of a horse that we in our stable affectionately called the "Queen". If you will allow me to share a story......

My partners and I about five years ago noticed a harness horse racing at Windsor Raceway. She was a 4YO mare who was finally in a claimer. Watching her race over the previous season we were always amazed at her crushing will to win, and how she seemed to thrive in a dogfight. Upon a recommendation from the trainer that the horse looked alright to him, I popped to the bank for the $18,000 needed, and away we went. We had a new racemare.

And boy did she race. She did not make a million, nor did she enter stakes races, but she tried her guts out every time, never giving an inch on the racetrack. Win or lose, we would beam like a proud parent every time she would race - "our horse tried her guts out!" When she did win, she knew it. It was amazing to be a part of.

In the paddock with the other horses it was not dissimilar, she was the boss. As one of the stable pals relayed to me one day when he went for a visit: If it was carrot time, she got carrots first, and if she did not, she would boot the other horses (mares or geldings) to the other side of the paddock. Those horses knew that you did not mess with the Queen.

One day, close to a year later she had three starts where she was not the same. The body looked to be trying, and the mind looked to be trying, and the heart was still there, but the results were not. This tough as nails horse was running through something - something we could not discern.

The trainer replied "give me another few shots with her. I think she can come back."

So we did. We let him drop her into a cheaper claimer, where she should, if she was her, win by a ton. Because of her lines, we were sure no one would take her, which was a concern.

She was parked the whole mile and she as always, tried. But she could not go anymore and came 5th. The look on her face was painful for us to watch. I saw that look again with Rachel Alexandra, in the picture posted above.

We could have dropped her further and won a purse, no doubt, but that was it - our mare was retired on the spot.

We did not really have the cash to breed her, but we thought about it and did some research. Regardless, she would not race again no matter what. She deserved her retirement.

We found someone who liked her too, and we sold her to him, on the condition she would never race again. he bred her and she is now a mother times two. Her eldest is a two year old now and he has not started yet. I am betting one thing - regardless of his talent level, if he has his mom's genes, he is going to try awful hard.

The retirement of our mare, I am convinced was the right thing to do, because it had to have made her happy. For a tough mare who is used to asking her muscles to work, and they do not, it must be extremely frustrating and unkind. Her retirement was a happy day, not a sad one for us. I feel the same way five years later.

As for Rachel, I am too convinced that she is happy that does not have to go through this any longer. I think it is unkind to think of giving her even one more start.

She can romp in a field and boss the other horses around now.

In effect, she can be a horse. A happy horse who can still be the top dog, just like she was on the racetrack, but with no pain or anguish; with just happiness.

For that I am thankful.

Photo of Rach - Getty Images

A happy horse

Retirement Times Deux

It is not going to be too shocking to those horseplayers who participated in the discussion here since last spring - but it is official, Rachel has hung it up. She is off to broodmare land. Most of you have watched her and know horse racing and horses, and knew she was simply not the same. It was the right thing to do, and I am very glad they did it.

Watching a prize fighter who is past his prime, or a hockey or football player, is never fun for fans to watch. Watching her lose to fields that she should beat with half her hooves tied behind her back was not fun at all.

She was quite the racehorse. Quite the racehorse indeed. To think now, she gets to just be a horse. That's awesome.

In other news, Bill Christine of HRI wants to retire at least two people from the California race horse board - Chairman Keith Brackpool and member David Israel. As everyone knows, it was these two, among others, who were the impetus behind getting the takeout increase passed. Most watchers found that in a word, insane, and their comments trying to spin it did them no good at all.

Christine: "I'm ambivalent about two of them, Bo Derek and Richard Rosenberg (it's very hard to be ambivalent about Bo Derek), but it's definitely time for Brackpool and David Israel, the vice chairman, to move on. They are supposed to lead racing out of the wilderness, but they can't see the thickets for the shrubs."

Israel, who I think works in television, said "People often say we're competing with the casinos. I think that's shortsighted and wrong. We're not competing with casinos. We're in the entertainment business. We're competing with the Dodgers and the Giants and the Angels and the Lakers, and we're putting on a show."

We all know if he ran a racetrack without betting, the purse money would probably consist of a $30 Wal-mart gift certificate and a free meal at Dino's Rib House. It was a completely bizarre comment.

Brackpool added this about the takeout increase.

"We offer in California the premier racing product on a year-round basis,but we were offering our first-class product at a discount price. We’re changing the pricing model."

OK, folks, raising prices is now called "changing a pricing model". When you go into the supermarket tomorrow and the price of salami goes up to $1.25 a pound, dontcha know it is a "changing pricing model"

People in charge have treated customers like this (i.e. stupid) for far too long. Memo to racing - if you are going to raise prices on your customers, and kill our bankrolls and betting handle, please tell us straight to our faces. Don't treat us like we have the IQ of a gnat.

Regardless, horseplayers are, in a word, pissed. The thread is hopping.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Monday is here, and with it brings some weekend thoughts.

Racetrack man invites a competitor to the track. Racetrack man treats foe quite well - picks him up, feeds him, introduces him to everyone he knows. It all seems to good to be true. When foe finds out the real reason the competitor invited him, it makes for a belly laugh.

This weekends Breeders Crown elims portend the finals next week at Pocono. There will be a seeded pick 4 and 6 for the event. I am not sure if this signal will be distributed all over, nor am I sure what the rakes will be.

"Until this industry finds a way to fund purses from sales of TV deals (we pay networks millions to show our races every year, not the other way around), Zenyatta T-shirts or Todd Pletcher jerseys, we need to cultivate gambling." - An obvious assertion in a business which seems to argue the obvious.

The Horseplayers Association has endorsed the Ontario horse owner plan for 5% of purses (mostly slot money of course) to be used to increase demand. Horse owners seem to be for this, horseplayers seem to be for this, several industry organizations seem to be for this. The ones who are not? Seemingly only the horseman groups. They didn't support it last month and wrote a press release. Then today, for some reason, they let people know they don't like it again.

In racing one thing you can count on is conferences. At this year's simo-conference it seems things were more mellow. They talked about how rules are different for each country, and that 40% takeouts are probably not the greatest idea in the world. This is different than last year when Gural said racing has to get off the welfare.

Scotty, over at sportsismadeforbetting, says Bodog's odds are changing on the Betfair float. With the recent IPO of an online grocer that traded 20% below market, maybe we will see the opposite here - a lower valuation and then a spike. Regardless, the betting market is more often than not, correct.

The really nice mare To Helen back has been retired. Off to broodmare land, but happily after 5 years of racing.

I twinkied last week that I am getting old. I read there was a new Hawaii 50 coming out, which debuted last Monday. I watched it while I was a kid - I think we got two channels, and it was on one of them - and it was a weekly staple. The theme was the best on TV, so I wanted to watch the new one to see what they did with the theme. Like a horseplayer - we hate change - and change it they did. But the net, and this world is so funny today. There were a bunch of people who thought like I did I guess, and sure enough, up they pop on youtube with edited openings. "The way it should have been edited" are the title of several. In an ode to Jack Lord and other TV detectives who used to wear suits, here is one such clever edit.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

1792 & 2010 Are Inexorably Linked

I was reading the rewind segment today on SC and they discussed Fair racing. This long held agricultural phenomenon, still seen today in almost all provinces and states, continues to stand the test of time. The first fair in Canada was in Niagara in 1792, and have continued on in various forms to today. Unfortunately, the Norfolk County fall fair, will not have racing this year for perhaps the first time.

This is a compelling part of this sport - the downhome feel, people coming out to watch the races, for a love of the races, introducing new faces to racing. This year Standardbred Canada is trying to develop a "Racing Development & Sustainability Plan" using a slice of purses from people like me and you to revive such ventures like fairs. This is being done, in part, to hopefully keep them going and working them with a modern business model. If you are an Ontario owner, past or present, you can sign the petition here.

Linked closely to the Fall Fair's in terms of feel and marketing, is Charlottetown Driving Park's Gold Cup and Saucer. The race, explained here on the marketing/tech blog R2, is a built on similar principles. Horse owners travel from far and wide to be there, and it means something.

How many times have you seen a horse owner do this: Take an ad out in a paper to thank the people for putting on the event.

Horse owner Jim Lehman: "When those horses come out in the lights, it sends a tingle down your spine. We were down last year with Secret Weapon, the people down there just treated you phenomenal. We said it will never be as good as last year, and turned out 10 times better than last year. The people of PEI live horse racing down there."

Yes, it's a big bad world out there and we are a gambling sport, not a sport. However, never forgetting where we came from is always a nice reminder (click to expand).

Friday, September 24, 2010

So What About the Betfair Float?

I see sports betting site Bodog UK has odds on the new Betfair float:

Bodog bet:

* Company market cap £1.5bn at IPO: Over Even, Under 8-11
* End Day 1 trading above issue price: Yes 1-6, No 15-4
* End of week trading trading above issue price: Yes 4-6, No 11-10

I was asked Wednesday if I will buy some. I am honestly not sure. I have been investing a bit the last couple of years, but I am mostly playing the horses.

I am pretty sure that long-term this is a solid investment, because the people who are running it are forward thinkers. As well, barriers are coming down every day in online betting. Governments can only protect and monopolize sectors for so long before opening them up - the consumer always wins. See Ontario for that with their new online betting mechanism.

This company will be offered to US patrons, and probably some time soon. I expect further expansion all over the world.

In addition this is a growth business because they offer something unique, that people want. It might take time, but not unlike a conversation you and I might have had ten years ago about Blockbuster where we would have opined that long-term this is a good short, long term, betfair, for the opposite reasons should be a long. It has a purpose in modern society, and new businesses that have that win. As well, they have critical mass, which is vital for any web business and there are extreme barriers to entry that they enjoy, just like Ebay has on the auction front.

I do not have the slightest what I will do (and it does not matter to you one way or another anyway, I am certain), but with their amazing back-end processing power, lightning fast execution, and the void they fill with new, young bettors who are screaming for this kind of system, I am pretty comfortable in having the opinion that things will be well for this company and they will be bigger tomorrow, than they are today.

Just my opinion of course (insert fancy disclaimer here).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rock n Roll Heaven Wins Jug Easily

Rock n' Roll Heaven, the most consistent pacer this year, won an impressive Little Brown Jug in straight heats.

Other than a hiccup in the North America Cup Final, where he was a very flat 4th, he has shown up week after week. He is also a tough bugger, grinding out some nice wins. Those horses usually make good sires, so we will see.

Both Delmarvelous and One More Laugh were less than good and nowhere up to par today. Rock n Roll showed up, they did not.

We admire horses like Zenyatta here, or the Beach, because they show up every time, while others fall by the wayside with injury or being flat. Rock n' Roll, if he runs the table, deserves our praise. He is not talented like the Beach, no, but he is tough; and today that means something.

Video below:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Little Brown Jug - Americana is Alive and Well in Ohio

Despite Facebook and Twitter and cellphones and Ipads littering the landscape in this century, there are throwback moments which stand the test of time. 200 years from now, State fairs will still be going on, and along with them so will events like the Little Brown Jug. As this local puts it:

"The Little Brown Jug not only happens at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, it also happens during fair week. It is a major sporting event, shutting the town down on race day, Thursday. All the schools and most businesses are closed, traffic is horrific, and if you want to eat dinner out on that night, you better do it early. Once racing is over around 6 pm, the fairgrounds are emptied and all the restaurants are packed to the gills. The Little Brown Jug® is a part of Americana. And it shall ever remain so."

The event has crowned some great champions. And although heat racing and half mile track classic racing is becoming more and more anachronistic, the Jug prevails.

This year there are three heats, and the action looks good, with a chance of a great final:

$64,437 First Elimination
1. Kyle Major-Mark MacDonald-7-2
2. Rock N Roll Heaven-Daniel Dube-2-1
3. Fred And Ginger-Dave Palone-6-1
4. Dreamlands Art-George Brennan-12-1
5. Razzle Dazzle-John Campbell-15-1
6. Foreign Officer-Ron Pierce-10-1
7. We Will See-Brett Miller-4-1
8. Aracache Hanover-Doug McNair-8-1

$64,437 Second Elimination
1. Delmarvalous-Brian Sears-3-2
2. Classic Rock Nroll-John Campbell-7-1
3. Piece Of The Rock-Paul MacDonell-5-1
4. Docs Yankee-Dan Noble-10-1
5. Fools Gold-Tim Tetrick-20-1
6. Versado-Dave Palone-7-2
7. Just Crowned-Dan Charlino-25-1
8. Urgent Action-David Miller-15-1

$64,437 Third Elimination
1. Valentino-George Brennan-6-1
2. Four Starz Trace-Luc Ouellette-8-1
3. Im Gorgeous-Andy Miller-4-1
4. Allthatgltrsisgold-Dave Magee-10-1
5. Malicious-David Miller-12-1
6. Rockin Image-Yannick Gingras-7-2
7. One More Laugh-Tim Tetrick-2-1

Divisional co-leader One More Laugh seems to have the toughest task, trying to win from post seven in elim three, but he is such a good horse that he should be able to overcome. It is very important to win your elim, because you get a good post in the final.

Elim one features Rock n Roll Heaven, who on paper does not look like a handy half mile horse, but he can literally do anything.

Delmarvelous in elim two, might have the easiest road to the final, and if he wins and draws the rail, with the other two potential elim winners outside of him, it should make a dandy tactical final.

It all starts tomorrow. You can get your free programs here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Betfair Fun

It is becoming more and more interesting to watch old time racing fight the new in the UK.

As most know, the UK "levy" is a charge based on gross profits. So if you and I own an ADW or bookmaker and we make $100 million dollars, $10M of it goes back to racing. It's simple. It is actually a darn good system, because it encourages you and I to make more money, innovate and sell our product to as many people as possible. If we are selling and innovating to more and more people, racing grows. It is not unlike me writing a book and getting it offered on, and them giving me 2% of all sales. I am happy when they sell a million books, because 1 million times the price, times 2% is a lot of money. It's better than me selling it on my own website, and selling a fraction of the number at 20 or 30% of sales.

Well, now, after some time, the British Horse racing Authority wants to change the way they tax exchanges. And it could not be more wrong-headed, showing us what we all know as bettors - they do not have a clue what makes a gambler bet their product.

What they want to do is treat an exchange differently than a bookmaker. If I bet $100 to win on a horse with a book, the book prices their margin (profit) into that bet when I bet it, and a corresponding percentage goes to racing.

On exchanges, this volume of betting is on steroids, so using the number of matched bets and taxing them the same way, is nothing short of insanity.

For example, I bet $500 to win on the seven at 10-1. If the horse wins I make $5000. If he loses I lose $500. He moves down to 5-1 late, so I sell $800 at 5-1. Now if he wins I make $1000 and if he loses I make $300, so I am "green all over". When the horse loses, I make $300, so I am taxed at 5% of that $300 ($15) and a percentage of that goes to racing.

I have bet $1300, but that $1300 I have bet, by backing and laying, never resulted in $1300 of betting volume in the traditional way. You can not tax the $1300, because officially the $1300 was never bet. In fact, I could bet that $1300 with only a $500 cash balance in my account. How do you bet $1300 with only $500 in your account? You can't.

This is simple common sense to punters, but racing, who tends to want to tax and shove people into their traditional view of the world, has serious trouble with this concept.

We saw it for some time with the offshore sites in racing. Those sites, by offering better pricing, were being frequented by bettors. Racings response was expected, and in no means wrong - let's shut them down. However, they assumed if they shut them down that this new volume would come back to racing at 22% takeouts. That was a pure fallacy. People were flocking to these places and playing more and more volume because they could play every track and get better takeout. These bettors would not go back to a system they hate - one with high prices, signal disputes, no rebates, and sites which offered them only a portion of racetracks they wanted. It was common sense to any bettor that handle would not go up; and it didn't.

We see the exact same thing happening now. Case in point, the head of the Irish bookmaker assn:

“If the money that Betfair turned over from Irish customers in 2008 had gone through betting shops, it would have generated over €12million in duty and corporation tax, and provided over 300 jobs. Instead, HRI accepted a voluntary contribution of €1.2million.”

No, that is not correct. Mark Davies explains it better than I.

Horse racing authorities have a purpose and can do good work. But when they do not understand even the most rudimentary items that we all understand as bettors, there is a serious disconnect.

Several years ago I had the pleasure to speak with a betfair exec. It was myself, a professional bettor and him having a small chat, which ended up lasting an hour. After it, while conversing with my friend, we both agreed on one thing: We have never had a more enlightened conversation with anyone selling a horse race bet for as long as we have been betting this sport.

We need more people that understand betting running racing, and the people who do not need to consult with them, and defer to their judgement. As I have said here before, when my trainer wants to put a set of blinkers on my horse, I defer to him, because he knows how to train a horse. When bettors are telling that same trainer to take the blinkers off in terms of gambling, he should treat others as he is treated, and heed that advice as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Outside of a Horse, Inside of a Man

An often used quote and its variation, "There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse" might be better suited androgynously in this day and age, but it has stood the test of time.

I recently read the "An Affair to Remember" piece here, which outlined the relationship between 67 year old exercise rider Steve Willard, and Zenyatta. When reading it, something that struck me, is that she keeps him young. After battling sciatic pain, he was close to giving it up, but then "she came along".

He relays what we all know, and what many of us appreciate - very few horsemen would have waited on her like John Shirreffs did.

“I can’t think of one other trainer that would have given her the time John’s given her,” Willard said. “Yeah, we got a good horse to start with, but the way John has managed her and the way Mario’s taken care of her … impeccably, is the only word I can come up with.”

It is a fascinating article which shows the culmination of a man's career; and the fact that truly there is nothing better for the inside of us, than the outside of a horse.

Other notes:

Give and Take

The Balmoral 15% pick 4 pool hit almost $105,000 yesterday. Kudos! In addition, for thoroughbred players, Portland Meadows goes to 14% take on their pick 4 this meet. The tracks are slowly learning folks!

Say What?

Jimmy Takter after Lucky Chucky rolled first up and demolished foes in the $1M Canadian Trotting Classic Saturday, including his charge who was on the lead, said: "I thought he had a tremendous race... Lucky Chucky got the trip today."

Booze Cruisin

A judge in Indiana failed a breathalyzer test seven times, apparently. Insert your own joke here.

Secretariat the movie opens soon. If you have not seen the trailer, it is below.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Balmoral Carryover

It's been a busy weekend, so hopefully we can catch up on some happenings tomorrow. However, for players who do not know, the Balmoral 15% take pick 4 has carried over. It goes tonight and the pool should be a good one.

Here is an analysis from BLMP. Good luck if you are playing.

Sunday, September 19th Balmoral Park selections

NO. RATINGS (Conservative Choice) (Speculative Opinion)

1 5-2-6-1 5 Mandy’s Gold 2 Miss Pat Weisar
2 7-6-3-4-5 7 Jesse’s Gal 5 Storm Queen
3 2-9-5-4 2 Apache Pete 5 Windy’s Zone
4 1-7-3-4 1 Yermanos 3 Mischief Man
5 4-6-9-10 4 CR Artistic 9 Dixie Brush
6 1-3-7-2 1 Towneism 3 Ryan View Joe
7 1-2-6-3 1 Morgan Shark 3 Got It Seeled N
8 3-1-2-6-7 3 Passion For Today 6 Incredible Camper
9 10-5-6-2-7 10 Donttellporkies N 2 SA Sugar Bear
10 2-1-7-3-4 2 Artificial Flowers 7 Sugar Bunny
11 3-7-5-6 3 Samsinite 6 Majestic Royale
12 5-6-2-1-3 5 Artiovascular

Race 7 starts the Pick 4 Carryover $19,125
$1 minimum bet 15% takeout
Estimated pool $60,000

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Racing, It's 2004...... Again

I have been fascinated with Internet business since I started working in it, late last century. Reading timely books on the subject and then seeing what transpired today is a wonderful mind-stretching exercise. Sure, stories like the DEC chairman who in 1978 said 'I see no reason why people would want computers in their homes' are comical to read, but they are simple business strategy commentaries. The Internet - and the changes it forced on business, and how business adapted to that change - will be the topic of business books for centuries.

I have always been enthralled with the music industry and their response to the inevitable - downloadable songs. As we all know (circa 1995), you would pay $18 for a CD with 15 songs on it, and the recording industry was super-happy. Getting you to pay for 14 rotten songs and one or two good ones for $18 was an excellent model, since they controlled it. However it was hit by a sea-change in 1998.

They did everything they could to stop it, but the power of the consumer and the change in deliverable made this a futile pursuit. Several years after this occurred, the industry read the writing on the wall, but it was simply too late. Steve Jobs, and others, reaped the windfall.

I had a fun time reading similar about racing. I have long watched Betfair fill a consumers need with laser-like execution, fixed pricing, technological development and innovation and lower prices, since about 2001. When I first mentioned it to someone in racing, the conversation was short; "they are pirates and must be stopped". It was, in effect, the exact same conversation Steve Gordon had with Sony Music, as detailed in his book The Future of the Music Business: How to Succeed With the New Digital Technologies.

I glanced back and re-read an article, first published in 2004 in a gambling magazine, about "Racings Response to Betting Exchanges". It is a real eye-opener, because everything in the article is now considered common sense. However, what I find even more interesting (some would say disturbing) is that now - six full years later - we are still talking about the same things, like they are somehow even debatable.

Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We see that each day in our sport it seems.

For a copy of the article, which I think anyone with even a cursory interest in racing and the Internet, should enjoy, it's here. Again, it is from way back in 2004.

Some quick highlights:

We live in a cocoon, but this is not only about us.

** "Internet-related technological change isn’t some isolated one-off phenomenon that affects just the racing industry. The Internet is realizing its promise: it is wringing inefficiencies out of industries across the economy, lowering consumer prices for goods and services through more perfect information."

Would you believe Wifi wanted to be blocked and licensed too? Have you been to a coffee shop lately?

** "This, too, is probably in its early stages. Wi-Fi- yet another technological innovation-lets consumers bypass cable modems and DSL and get high speed connections just about anywhere–in many cases for free.

Does that sound like file sharing? It should. A couple of weeks ago Verizon lobbied Pennsylvania’s legislature into passing a law that would prevent Philadelphia from creating free or nominal cost Wi-Fi access points everywhere in the city–which would pretty much invalidate Verizon’s DSL service business model in Philadelphia."

Low prices, which we all have taken advantage of each day when we buy things on the net, is not just for those items; it's for racing too.

** "You will also find lower prices. Much lower prices. Betfair’s business model derives revenue from a commission on the peer-to-peer bets it matches: this commission seems to range from 7% to 9%. That is, of course, very much lower than the north-of-20% takeout that is commonly deducted from pari-mutuel wagers in the United States. Serious horseplayers are among the most price-sensitive consumers of any kind in any industry, and Betfair’s pricing is irresistible. Offshore betting services and rebate shops also offer lower prices, of course. Downward pressure on the price of betting horses is a structural change in racing’s market environment; betting exchanges contribute to this pressure but it would exist even if the exchanges shut down tomorrow."

More at link

I truly believe our business is going to be written about for many years, and we will be studied in business classes over and over again. Unfortunately, I feel it will be for all the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Zenyatta Phenomenon

It is something I have not really seen in my time following racing (since I was a kid in the late 1970's) - a racehorse that is more than a racehorse. Zenyatta has become a phenomenon.

If you go to youtube, you see video after video of her; and not just racing videos. Videos of her in the paddock, video of fans cheering her, videos of her with music attached, videos of her in impromptu plays and skits. Video after video.

If you search her name via google or Bing there are post after post, and web story after web story. Stories from countless sources, inside and outside equine and sports topics.

If she is in the box to race, you see people at the track that you have never seen before, and might not ever see again. A lot of them hold homemade signs.

If you are watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon on a sports channel, chances are it will be cut into so they can show her race.

Women, underrepresented in terms of the horseplaying community, are enthralled with her story and she crosses demo's like no horse before.

Kids, which we see so few of nowadays at the track, are in full-force, sometimes with their face painted in pink and teal.

Cold, die-hard bettors, pause and watch her race. They don't even have a slight interest in betting the race.

Her facebook page is filled with fans. More than any horse alive - and it is not even close.

She, along with major celebs, was chosen to promote a baseball team. Who has seen a horse on a billboard in modern society?

And it is growing.

I watched the views on this video below - a video of her working out.

That is 120,000 views, of a horse doing something hundreds of thousands do around the world each morning. There are companies who pay big dough to firms to get their videos seen 120,000 times, and 99 times out of a 100, fall hopelessly short of that.

Just three days ago, a video of her in the Keeneland Sales ring as a yearling was posted. Already it has 4000 views.

Not long ago, a video of her was posted to her Facebook page, showing her in the stall, prepping for a photo shoot for W magazine. In the video, it shows what we see with many horses - an innocence, an almost child-like persona.

But it's not an every day horse; it's her.

There are countless other examples.

She's much more than a horse, or a racehorse. She's a phenomenon, and I find it fascinating to watch.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Training a Horse For the Love of the Horse

Today, in the mainstream racing media, it seems almost every story is about a trainer doing something untowards, or suspected of such. Don't get me wrong - this is not a bad thing. Sugarcoating what happens in our sport does not help it, it hurts it.

However, there are so many trainers out there who are doing wonderful work. The problem I guess, is they rarely get good stock it seems. If someone is looking for a quick buck they going to a guy with a 44% off claim percentage, or who wins races like magic; it appears that most do not even care how they are achieving it, they want the cash. I do not think it is a stretch to say that racing has attracted that type of owner over the last several decades.

One such trainer who is in this sport for the horse, in an interview on VFTRG that I was enthralled with, is Anouk Busch, a 35 year old horse lover originally from Holland. The interview, which is long but worth reading, shows she does not pull punches, and she puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to horse retirement. Additionally, going to a honest horse loving trainer does not mean you will lose races; she does quite well.

Some quick highlights of the pull-no-punches interview:

On helping horses:

AB: I found Trolley, a quarter horse, at Camelot on June 30th with a sock superglued to her skull. She had a gaping hole underneath from a bashed in skull. What amazed me is how calm she still was with what happened to her in the past (I wish I knew for sure what happened). I kept coming back to her. So did Daniel Dube who was there that night since he was recuperating from an accident. When the other local rescues were unable to take her in and they talked about possibly having to put her down, I made some calls and decided to take her myself.

On getting stock:

Is there anything which should be done to make it easier for a trainer to attract additional owners?

..... if the cheaters are banned, the trainers who don’t cheat and the smaller trainers will get a better chance to attract new owners. That being said, the easiest way to get more owners is to have that one big horse.

On whipping:

PG: Since you mentioned it, is the whipping problem as bad as people think, or is it just a perception issue?

AB: I think it’s a big problem for sure. I hate it when my horses come back with blood or big marks. I tend not to use those drivers again.

PG: Have you ever ‘fired’ a driver because a horse came back with fresh welts or cuts?

AB: Yes.

In my opinion, some of the deep pocketed horse owners could do this sport some good if they throw a person like this a couple of horses. We need to support this sport in many ways when we buy a horse and it is entrusted in our care. She puts her time and money into it; maybe we should all do that in return.

More here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chat Board Chatter

It is always fun to scan the chat boards. Sometimes you get an absolute gem or two when reading. And it is rarely not entertaining.

Some examples:

Whip on used 7 of 9 horses last night in the last leg of a pick 4. Yes, you know what's coming - he lost, by a head as one of the two he did not have beat him for $3400. He asked a fellow poster a question:

"Alpha.. I need you to smash a beer bottle off my head"

By the way, whip ain't dumb to be playing the Cal Expo pick 4. They just lowered their take to 15% on it.

Another poster on the same board (and this one really made me laugh), Caper, had a comment about takeout. It is on a topic where horse trainers and other participants are planning and discussing a poker tournament with a $130 buy in. This bettor poked his head in and said this:

"When you take the $130 from each horseman.... make sure after each one gives you the money you take $40 off the top.... light a match and burn it right in front of their faces.... and then ask them.... "how do you like it?"

A poster on Paceadvantage, on the Secretariat Belmont thread, which is discussing Big Red's blowout win in a track record 2:24, spoke about the fact that on the gallop out, he broke Man O War's 1 and 5/8's mile record. I did not know that. In addition, his 10 furlong time in the Belmont, broke the track record (1:59) for that distance. So, Secretariat, in one race, broke three track records. Amazing.

Elsewhere on Paceadvantage, Ray Schell has been a participant in the Pen and Micro-Chip challenge, a competition on who was the best Tioga handicapper for their meet, which ended tonight. The winner? A micro-chip player, the Chatsworth Consortium on Trackmaster. If you played along and bet their picks at Tioga, you were ahead 16%. The computer cappers outdid the pens overall, with a 4% overall win ROI, while the pens did not do bad at all, -1%. If the takeout hike was not lowered, both would have lost. Congrats to Tioga and to the players for some excellent handicapping.

The chatter about the new Standardbred Plan to up marketing and development spend by 5% of purses, is ratcheting up. I was told just last week that if horsemen groups came out for the measure he would give me 500-1 odds. Sure enough, he was right. The comments on the story are quite good. Dave Vicary, a retired technology exec posted a good one, that I agree with:

And the revenues continue to spiral downwards while the camps form and roadblocks are erected (for obvious political reasons)...

The RDSP team is willing to devote their energies to tackle this monumental industry challenge. They are building a plan, they are trying to move forward. These organizations can remain in denial and watch their numbers continue to dwindle or get on board and influence the outcome."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday Notes

Some thoughts and notes on this Wednesday.

Justin Bieber takes up over 3% of twitters servers. If he was a racetrack, someone would want to increase his signal fee.

Answer: Dropping like flies. Question: What's happening to Zenyatta's competition for the Breeders Cup Classic? We've always given the mare huge props here for doing something many horses do not seem to do - stay fit, happy and last. Good for her. Run the table honey.

In the horse quality means handle file - which all the stats, and we know as bettors means didly squat - the win pool for the $300k Cane Pace was $11,000. The race, won by One More Laugh, was not exactly watched. Conversely, the Gold Cup and Saucer final at little CDP last month garnered a $24k win pool. This happens again and again in racing, and the U of L appears right when they said a doubling of purses only raises handle 6%.

Equibase is the first US company to do something of a grand nature with an Iphone app.

Trackmaster looks at smartphone handicapping. Like most things in racing, if it is new, and we are using something old on it, it is not great. The braintrust in the sport has to create something that makes sense to be used on a smartphone, not the other way around. That's what the internet is built for and a major thing old companies miss, when wanting to be an internet company. There are obvious possibles, which you guys as players know all too well.

If you read the Saratoga handle press release, and you are like me, you get the idea that things were excellent. It's kinda like reading one of those 'stimulus' releases saying that giving $100M to ant farm research was a kick-ass idea. But, They're in the gate, puts it succinctly.

Betfair just launched the biggest ever ad campaign for a gambling company. Some of it looks neat, especially the digital marketing angles, and their new tagline is social, which betfair is, so I believe that is smart. It's hard to get a point across in a TV commercial, but they tried. It's not horrible I guess; what do you think? It does get the value proposition of low takeout (yes folks, betfair pays attention to takeout) and "cut out the middleman" across, to bettors familiar with it. So as a features and benefits ad, it is probably pretty good.

From the ridiculous to the sublime,
did anyone see the video of the exploding toy horse? Man, that is too funny. I can't get that mental picture out of my head.

This week - CTC Elim at Mohawk, and we are getting close to the Jug.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No Value No Bet

I went to Mohawk last night with two betting friends. One of the lads had hit the pick 4 at Woodbine in the afternoon via his HPI account and wanted to cash out some money. I tagged along, and the third amigo decided he had nothing to do so he'd join us for a beer and to play a couple of races.

When I learned I would be going, I grabbed the program and did some preliminary work. If I am going to play a few bucks I try to never go in blind.I noticed there was a few possibles for the evening. In race one the outside horse looked to be overbet, and Waples' horse had a chance to win. In the third I really liked the Medors horse from the six. He was 7-2ML and was not well liked by anyone it seems. In the fifth I liked the five for some value, and was stoked to take a poke on Waffle's and Cream from the ten. He never wins and is rarely well bet, because of that fact. However, he was locked last time, and very live. From the ten he could provide nice value. Maybe 12-1 or so.

Anyway, we got there. 2-1 in the first race did not thrill me. There was a scratch. No value, no bet.

The third was head scratching. This 7-2ML horse, with a move up in class, opened at 3-5.... and stayed there. No value, no bet.

In race 5, the 10 horse was overbet from there. No value no bet, other than a couple action-bet supers.

Those were my big potential plays. Nothing spent on them, to speak of, other than an action play or two.

It was pure shark on shark action in the win pools. Anyone who watched a replay or knew something about racing was in on the live horses. They were hammered in the pools.

Harness racing has a huge value problem. Some might say that is it the way it is, but I believe some of it is self-inflicted.

Case in point, you have three bettors out at the track, willing to spend money. One of the three cashed for $15k earlier in the day - he no doubt would love to spend some money. Sure there was shark on shark action going on, but if we had even a sliver of value, we would take a shot.

Here is the anatomy of an evening:

We scan the card and look at something to take a shot at. Someone says the pick 4 might be a good idea. One of the guys says he does not want to play into the horrid rake on pick 4's at Mohawk, and he hates the twenty cent option. We convince him that the pool is going to be $50k, so let's go. We bet $150 in pick 4's.

When we turn to race seven in capping the pick 4, one dude says: Wow, a 12 horse field! Let's invest a few hundred in supers. It is a contentious race and it has to provide value, even with 20 cents supers! The chalk is a chuck for some value too!

'Ummm, no superfecta in race 7' someone says.

Why would they not card this race a super, offer a guarantee, maybe a bit better rake, and fire away? I don't know, but I assume there is some reason for it.

Even without a super, this 12 horse trotting race was our highest handle race of the evening. I bet WP on Christiana Hanover and wheeled two horses in the ex pool. One guy sat it out, and the other dude broke down and took some tris 2311 on top, with all's for $330. He hit it, actually, so it was a good race for him, but he did not light up the pools like he wanted to.

The 8th race had some value, because it was a really deep field of ten claimers. It was an interesting race. We bet that one; a very small amount.

Then we left.

In the end the volume we bet was minor compared to what we might have. If they carded an early double at low take, or a low take pick three, we would have bet it. If they moved the seventh race into the 5th and carded it as a super, we would have bet it. If the early pick 4 was 15% rake we would have doubled our bets. If they gave us anything to play, we would have.

There was simply very little value to play, so no value, no bet.

In thoroughbred racing this is not uncommon either. Open up a California racing form and look at those masterful five horse tilts. Cali protects their signal and forces people to play those races. If it was a free betting state I doubt you would see any volume at all.

This is a huge problem in harness racing, though, and it has been exacerbated the last ten years. I was chatting about the lack of value in our sport with Ray Schell, who was featured in Trot magazine a couple of months ago, and is a die-hard bettor. Ray replied:

"In a game of Shark vs Shark, no shark can win.

The only alternative is to swim in pools where the sharks have traditionally avoided...... the kiddies pools at small handle tracks with high take-outs. But of course, you are limited to playing for small stakes, low wager amounts and hope to win enough to pay for the program."

I think this is what we have been relegated to, in a large extent.

Racing has to think outside of the box. We need 15 horse fields with a 15% takeout in supers. We need a low take rolling pick 3 to entice us to do something. We need horsemen and tracks to work together to card interesting races - like handicaps with the best speed horses with the nine and ten. We need half mile track racing, where we stick the four best horses in the second tier, and make for some movement in the races. Do a deal with Betfair and let me put up $100 to bet that Medors horse in the third last night and see if I get a nibble at 2-1. There are literally 1000 things we can try.

6 horse fields with the live horse at 4-5 and no value on the board in a 22% takeout win pool is the death knell for this sport. It's ugly, it's not fun, it is not exciting and it is completely insulting to any bettor with an IQ higher than a thimble. You might as well not even print the program because no one wants to bet, or watch that stuff.

As someone smart once said to me "the intelligence of the modern bettor is lost on those in charge." He's right. Most of those people have long since left the betting pools. They are now playing other games. They will not be won back with a balloon giveaway. Only value will get them to look at us again.

Can a track out there do something - anything - and try to build on it? I hope so, because we certainly are not going to grow if we don't.

The problem seems to be a willingness to try, and a willingness to stick to something. We have messed up this sport royally for close to three or four decades. Even if some change does happen - with lower take, or deeper fields, or distance racing, or low take supers or Pick 4s - it will take years to grow the sport again and years to get the modern bettor who has left back. After two months of it, they will probably say "didn't work, let's hike prices and card six horse fields again". Just look at those goofy three week takeout experiments for evidence of that - talk about having no idea who your customer who is gone is.

We need some serious vision, foresight and guts to turn this ship around. I hope someone out there decides to give it a try. If so, there are three bettors last night at the Hawk waiting for a clarion call to give you their money.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Buffalo News' Bob Summers Passes Away

Bob Summers of the Buffalo News, who covered all types of racing for the paper, passed away at 66 on September 4th. The avid harness racing fan hopefully got to see the big night of racing that evening from Mohawk via simulcast, because you know he was sure to be paying attention.

Bob followed along here and commented on our harness racing posts - if I ever checked the logs for the website and saw a click from Buffalo, it would be Bob from the Buffalo News.

During 2008 when the Hambo Top Ten poll had Dewey on top over Beach and we were wondering why, Bob would chime in here and offer his opinion. Bob was one of the few writers with a vote that had the Beach on top each week, but he (politely) admonished me for sometimes being so hard on people who chose to vote differently. It showed class.

The Buffalo News' obit called him a "happy handicapper". A lot of us could use that lesson from time to time, I think. I know I can.

Rest in Peace Bob, and I thank you for following our sport with such passion. There is one less harness fan in our world today. My sincere condolences to his family and friends should they stumble upon my post.

(Photo courtesy the Buffalo News)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mohawk Soup

Last night's big card at Mohawk was turned into a bath of rain, wind and mud. Just like our thoroughbred cousins, this tends to throw a massive wrench into the results. At Mohawk, however, it seems to be worse than at some other harness tracks. Last night, the first two races were fairly standard - the preferred went in decent speed and Hambo winner Muscle Massive (I still do not know why this colt is not called Massive Muscle, but maybe it is taken, and I digress) was good.

From then on, it was like it was different each race, and gosh knows who was going to win.

Lookinforadventure was flat again. With two year olds nowadays you rarely know if they will last or what. He's a nice horse, but something seems to be going on with him. I find it hard to believe that breeding farms continue to buy into two year olds, with the hopes that they become great three year olds. This does not seem prudent in this day and age. Unless you are looking at a Beach or Muscle Hill, who were obvious superhorses, I think it is a waste of money, and far too much risk. But hey, it ain't my money.

The Metro was bombs away, with 30-1 shot Mystician getting the job done. Lucky Jim had trouble on the track and the chalk was horrible. It was a head scratching result. My pre-race pick raced fairly well to come third and he looks like some stock.

Pretty Catherine raced poorly off easy fractions. She barely held second.

Shark Gesture looked to have an equipment problem and he went off stride at the head of the lane. Won the West usually overcomes tracks, bad drives and all the rest, and he did not disappoint. My pre-race pick raced well, but did not quite have enough to get second. At 30-1ML I was surprised to only see him 12-1.

In the end, it was one of those nights. I know they can not, and I know it is not feasible, but a huge part of me would love to be able to cancel these races for a better evening. To have $2M in purses, and the best horses on the continent race in that mess, it does not do us much good from a fans perspective.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Big Metro Card Saturday

This Saturday at Mohawk, there is a very good card if you are a fan of the sport. Included in the 13 races, are the $1M Metro and the Canadian Pacing Derby (entries here).

Some highlights and thoughts:

In race two, Hambo winner Muscle Massive surfaces, and hopes to prep for the Canadian Trotting Classic later this month. I would expect he will be overbet, but it does not look like much of a betting race to me.

In race five, the Metro pace consolation for $100k occurs. It features Lookinforadventure who threw in a huge clunker last time. He is right back in and if anything close to right should be likely to win, however, if the odds board is not kind, I will be looking elsewhere.

In race seven, the Metro, there are several possibles. The three elimination winners all look logical and one can expect the speediest of the three to be the favorite, but both he and Big Jim will take a pile of money. Personally, I loved the way Great Vintage won last time. I know he did not go as fast, but he looked to win like a good horse. Often times the most relaxed and mature horse wins the Metro, rather than the one with the most pure speed. I think I will take a poke at him, if the odds board cooperates.

In race eight, the She's a Great Lady stakes, the monster chalk on paper is the best horse by far. But, it's rare to see a two year old in a hood, because at times, they can run big early and then falter later after the early speed catches up with them. As well, this is first time D barn for a young horse, which can cause problems. Although there looks to be little chance she will be beat, you can't get rich betting 1-9 horses, so I won't. I will probably play Shyaway. She is 12-1ML, had some nice pace in her last, looked great on the track, and looks like she knows what she is doing out there.

The older pacers are always my favorite races. This Canadian Pacing Derby is simply awesome. Shark Gesture, who took the bye last week, is one of the toughest horses you will ever see. He will run through a wall for you, and then look for another one to run through. I want to see him win, and he probably will, if his form tells us anything. The 5-2 shot, Hypnotic Blue Chip, has always had a ton of talent, and he is throwing yet another piece of evidence that it is not how old you are, it is how talented you are, which equates success or failure in the aged division. Although I expect those two to do well, I will again (surprise, surprise) go off the board. I will take a shot at 30-1 ML shot Bettor Sweet, and hope for some racing luck. I think this horse is hugely better than he is showing right now, and one of these weeks he will pop at a big price.

The race card starts at 7:30 and the big race is televised nationally here in the Tundra, on the Score Television network.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Picture Time

A few neat racing pictures......

Two pups enjoying their time at Saratoga racetrack outside George Weaver's barn. Not sure who took this, but Dan G on the HTR software board posted it. I'm a sucker for dogs.
Trainer Nick Boyd participating in the Human sulky pull at Xtreme horsepower at Georgian Downs over the weekend. Nick won the race and credited his performance to his feed program (thanks Mrs. Boyd!)

Horseplayers Assn of North America board member Charlie D has moved some of his play from thoroughbred to harness because of Tioga Downs' takeout decrease. He constantly posts "have you guys seen their feed - lowest takeout in the land - cool" Way to go Charlie.

This little fella was at Georgian Xtreme this weekend in the mini-horse race (Norm F photo)

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