Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fall Four and Other Notes

Tonight at Woodbine, the elims for the Fall Four continue. Last night the Goldsmith Maid elims were contested and Crys Dream, by far the best filly trotter in racing, won easily. This evening the racing continues with elims for the Governor's Cup and Valley Victory are slated to go. If you have not signed up to's weekend preview, you can, and get the dowloadable trackmaster pp's for these races and more.

One thing that slots have brought us are lotsa stakes races. It seems the stakes scene (not unlike in the runners) is very watered down. I don't know if it is simulcasting or what, but it seems we can see the same horses race for big money week in and week out nowadays. With the two year olds especially it takes both a unique horse and a unique trainer to keep them going with all this big money available. Two year olds are asked for wicked speed now and they are not lasting. Horses like Rock n Roll Heaven and before him Somebeachsomewhere are true freaks, capable of withstanding this speed. 90% of the others have zero shot to. Have a look at the PP's this evening for these races, as well as the fillies who will contest the Three Diamonds. Most of them are a shadow of themselves. It will take a commissioner to fix this, in my opinion, because letting the free market rule with slots money and trainers and owners looking for purse checks with alacrity is a recipe for a dwindling stakes horse population.

Conversely, we can have a look-see at what a true stakes race can do for a sport. And what a horse who lasts more than six starts or so can do for it as well. No, I fully realize that bettors will save this sport, or make it grow, and I know that a superstar or a big stakes race is a blip on the radar, however this ESPN ad is pretty telling.

 We have to find out a way to do more of the above in both sports. But we surely can do better in harness. Giving away a couple of million dollars with a minor handle-bump like we see in harness (and in less promoted thoroughbred races) is not using your money wisely.

Good luck this weekend to blog reader (and defending national handicapping champ, and all around nice guy) Roy Sproxton, who tries to defend his title at Georgian. With $25k up for grabs, it is not a small pot. When you are watching the races this evening and see a longshot come in, let it be known that someone at Georgian is smiling.

This past week I got my Breeders Cup tickets in the mail, and I was quite impressed at the package, and the events surrounding the two days. It is truly 'the place to be'. Unfortunately I can not go now, so I had to give them to a friend. To everyone in the blogorama, twinkierama and everywhere else in the sport where I have conversed with you who I had hoped to have a beer with and share some handicapping, I am quite bummed about that. Have a great time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Two of marketer Seth Godin's books - Tribes and Purple Cow - are important works on understanding today's world. In Purple Cow, he writes a thesis about doing one thing well, and being remarkable as it can build a brand or a business. In Tribes, he relays the fact that anyone or anything can lead a tribe, and the spin-offs of such a movement can grow to build a brand, event or idea.

I was struck this week with the election of Mayor in the city of Toronto. Early on, the winner - Rob Ford - was chastised by many for not being broad enough or having all the 'big ideas'. The press seemed to dismiss him as he stuck to his one message over and over again - taxpayer respect. But over time this one simple message (while the other candidates tried to be everything to everyone with myriad ideas) stuck. His followers trumpeted that one simple message on twitter, facebook, to the print and electronic press - to whomever would listen. He won the Mayoral race in a shocking landslide.

His win was not at all surprising to marketers though, or those who follow Mr. Godin's books. Because it works.

We have some of this occurring in racing. Keeneland is having another successful meet and one thing Keeneland does well is know who they are. They focus on that one simple idea - a great, fun, wonderful day at the track - and they do not try to be everything to everyone. They have built a tribe of followers who brand their event and promote their event for them. Saratoga is not too dissimilar, and neither is Del Mar. The Horseplayers Association, of whom I am a member, focuses laser-like on one major item - takeout. For a small organization with no money and a leadership team of only four or five volunteers (with real jobs outside of it), this is Godin-esque, and the only way to grow, brand and get noticed for a fledgling group.

The Breeders Cup has been a bit of a mish-mash in their focus over the years - and this is not a criticism or any fault of the management there - it is just the way it is. Horse's are not very well known, and the event is not at all like a Super Bowl or World Series or a Ryder Cup. It simply does not have that one laser-focused item to use to grow, like so many other events. This year, however, they have it and they are not dropping the ball on the gift.

Her name is Zenyatta.

No horse in modern horse racing history has cut across demographic lines like she does (she is an Oprah "mover and shaker for 2010", for gosh sakes). No horse is more well-known by casual and non-casual fans alike. If you ask a casual fan on the street, he/she knows that the mare won the BC last time, and was the first "girl" to do so. When they see her name this year, trying to do it again, they are stoked to watch - and they tell people. On the flip-side, the speed fig guys and gals seem to want to see her prove them right - she is not fast enough on dirt and she will be more overbet than Dewey versus Truman. The Zenyatta "tribe" is alive and well.

For the latter fans, this years Breeders Cup marketing might make you scream - it's all Z all the time. But they are not speaking to you and me. We are going to watch already and have formed an opinion on the dirt sprint for example, by watching replays over and over of the contenders - contenders of which the casual fan would know less-of than they know of quantum physics.

Ongoing we will see more things like this:
  • Press Releases focusing on her. Other horses will be talked about, but she will headline
  • More commercials for the event in places like before the Secretariat movie focusing on her
  • Facebook chatter on her facebook page, which has more fans than most humans
  • A 60 minutes interview
  • More visits from the Terrell Owens' of the world
  • More headlines on prop bets and assorted gambling bets on offshore books, with special deals attached
  • Head to toe, wall to wall Z coverage from October 31st, through November 7 with webcams and more
After seeing what we have, and what we will see, you might think that the other horses are being ignored. They are not being ignored, as the trade press, handicappers, the DRF, Breeders Cup 360 will be talking about all of them. The Breeders Cup has them as one "tribe" doing what they do, so there is no need for overkill, or wasted limited resources. The only tribe the BC needs to focus on from here on out is the Zenyatta tribe. She will deliver the coveted mainstream media and casual fans that the BC and horse racing in general can only dream about.

By staying focused on this big mare and her tribe, it will make this a very big Breeders Cup.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Knock Down Drag Out

Recently I spoke with a marketing colleague about controversy and promotion. It was nothing new; just a regular chat about how some brands, artists, acts and so on can win with a carefully marketed controversial campaign.

It struck me that one thing horse racing (not on chat boards, but at high levels) seems to possess is any true controversy. The trade press is particularly non-confrontational, especially with breeders, for example. However, of late, there has been some fun, exciting, back and forth in the sport.

  • The "Racy Ad" was a more than interesting read. Ray Paulick responded to a couple of bloggers who took exception to the Churchill Downs' ad featuring a dude with a pair of bincoulars having a look-see at some good looking women racetrackers. In his first salvo, he told two of the people whom were offended by the ad to "get a room". That spawned 44 comments. A couple of days later, he was back with more.
  • Andy Beyer took a slight shot at Zenyatta recently, in a not-so-flattering piece. He was summarily booed by Zenny fans at Hollywood Park. Now I see a journalist of some sort (I have no idea what the site is, but I think it is a left-wing paper) takes their shot at Beyer for the tome. "For guys like Andy Beyer to besmirch this legend is a travesty. He has virtually called her average in his columns recently. Someone needs to examine his press credentials, if not his head." was written.
  • Jessica Chapel over at her blog took a shot at the general distaste for synthetic surfaces by some. She used the DRF as an example of such distaste and it spawned about a gazillion comments, there and elsewhere. This thought was picked up by Sid Fernando and the comments flew, including a response from Steve Crist. This debate, in my opinion, is never one for fair-minded people because it usually turns into sophomoric talk about "plastic". However, the chatter on those two posts was sharp, entertaining and did the issue a little bit of justice.
  • Betfair has been called names for years from the old-guard in racing. As mentioned previously, when an Australian member of parliament (in a racing area) says you are funnelling money to Al-Qaeda to try and discredit you, it is pretty hard to imagine you are going to find any sensible debate inside racing. However, it was interesting to read that the Bloodhorse actually published a bullish piece on the company, written by a gambling expert (and of all things a consultant to betfair themselves). I found this stunning, to be quite frank because with betfair, facts are usually not allowed in a racing bible and a pro-viewpoint is even less welcome. As well, Ray Paulick, whom I found to be parroting much of the misinformation in the debate this summer, actually linked to the following piece, where the Chairman of the British Horse Racing Authority's fund was a big buyer of the Betfair IPO. Smashing!
There has been some good stuff this past few weeks in racing. The above gives me some hope that we might get see more of it!

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Love, Passion and Remembering

    Sometimes we lose sight of the equine athletes that compete for our pleasure - monetary and otherwise. However, the sad story of the Grey makes us all pause and remember that we are dealing with living, breathing animals, that capture our hearts and minds.

    The accolades and condoldences are pouring in for the Grey Gladiator, who at the age of 14 unexpectedly had to be put down after a paddock accident. After romping around enjoying himself, he came back to the paddock and was soonafter gone. This is a sad story, especially when you consider he was enjoying his new life under saddle and promoting horse retirement as an equine ambassador to everyone outside the sport. He even won a competition last month. He was enjoying his well-deserved retirement after over 350 hard fought races in his career.

    So far, 46 comments have been tallied on the SC piece; some of them from movers and shakers in the sport with the rest from other trainers, grooms and fans. A few genuinely caught my eye and my heart. Tony Montini, who has had dozens upon dozens of greatmoney-makers said "it was an honor to train him." He only had him for a few starts of course, but it shows what kind of horse he was. I was at Mohawk one night when the Gladiator was racing and I ran into my trainer who told me Tony got a big picture of his win blown up for his wall. He was not blowing smoke, it was 'an honor to train him'. Not many trainers get pictures of their charges blown up, and certainly not many who are only taking care of a horse for a few starts.

    Rob Doyle who was with him when he was put down expressed the following:

    "I was with him in his final moments. I couldn't believe what was happening, he was so tough right until the end, and then he put his head in my chest as if to say its ok. I can't hardly explain how I felt last night."

    This comment, from his caretaker Wellington Charles, could bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened horsemen and women. I have left the spelling in check.

    "Good Night Son, I will always have U in my Heart....

    Time with us was way to short, u were my best friend. I hope that we will see each other in the future, I coulda had the worst day and as soon as i got out of the truck and we saw each other the weight on my chest left. We were out there trying to make a diference in every standardbred we can help. U lit up faces when people would come and see u, my love for u will never leave. The way u would shake when i went in the room for carrots, the way u came to the fence when u knew it was Welly-Admiral time, U dragged me almost everywhere we went, we raced together, and hung out together. I feel so empty right now, i cant stop shedding tears for U. But I will continue what we started, and promote standardbreds for life adfter racing. but nuthin will ever compare to riding U. So now lay down my friend, ur in no more pain.
    I will always love you
    and u will be forever in my heart."

    Horses grab us - whether we bet, groom, train or own - and make us better people. There were fine people involved with this animal, and for that we should be grateful.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Admirals Express Euthanized

    It was announced today that the Grey Gladiator had to be put down. A true throw-back racehorse, the Admiral met the best FFA'ers around and raced year after year at the highest levels. He compiled an incredible record, which other modern racehorses can only stand in awe of. He raced 353 career times, and compiled a record of 86 wins, 53 second-place finishes and 44 thirds. This was good for over $2.1M.

    He once held the record for most sub-1:50 miles and he won at 150 or below from ages five through 10. At age 13 he was still going strong, although he understandably lost a step.

    In an era where horses do not last he was truly an anachronism. At four he raced (and beat) horses like Dragon Again in a FFA stake. Five years later he was beating Dragon Again's offspring in those same type races.

    For old time horsemen and old time fans he reminded them of Governor Skipper, or Bret Hanover or Most Happy Fella - true tough-as-nails standardbreds who would run through a wall for you, then look for another one to run through.

    This is a tremendous loss for the harness community.

    Here is a video of the great grey, winning an invitation stake at Montreal, at age 10. It was a race he frankly had no business winning and during this race he looked beaten about ten times. Great horses like him might look beat, but they somehow find a way. Edit: You can read comments, including from driver Paul MacDonnell, here.

    For a feature on the Admiral via the Score television network, it's below.

    Getting Ahead of the Train

    I watched today's news story about New Jersey racing whereby the Governor of the state wants no tax money to support racing. As much as we may want to, it is difficult to not agree with much of his logic. Casino money has been used as a golden goose for a long time. Places that had it could; because they were one of the few jurisdictions that had gaming.

    But not any longer. Virtually every state, unable or unwilling to make fiscal decisions, wants more money. And to get it, they have passed some sort of gaming.

    In neighboring New York state, arguably the worst run state in the union, slots are coming to the Big A. This should bring in piles of money and help the horse population in that state. As we have seen with Yonkers and Chester's decimation of the Meadowlands, Acqueduct will surely lay claim to Monmouth and other nearby non-slots tracks. No matter what Jersey does, they are sure to be toasted.

    So the Governor seems to be doing the only sane thing - asking for racing to stand on its own four hooves.

    This is why I believe it is extremely important for Ontario racing to do the same thing and do it right now. Get out ahead of the train. We should be moving forward, because the inevitable day is coming where horse racing will be ranked way down the list in terms of priority for governments and everyone else with a finger in the pie. We can learn a great deal from Jersey.

    The RDSP (racing development and sustainability plan) is one step that should be used to start to row our own boat. It represents what Jersey should have done ten years ago, when sharp industry watchers were warning of the coming storm. If Jersey had an RDSP then, they might not be where they are now; but there is no excuse for a place like Ontario (and Pennsylvania which is more wasteful with their windfall than we are in Ontario) not to roll now. In addition, New York racing could do the right thing too, before slots are even turning, and make sure a portion of the revenue for profits and purses goes right back to the customer. Ontario and Pennsylvania did not do that (PA has over 30% takeouts on super exotics for example and even the most degenerative gambler would not play there without a sizeable rebate) and now they are paying for it dearly with lost handles. A lemon can be squeezed, but a dried lemon is something you throw in the trash.

    There are a million different ideas to grow racing. But each one tends to get bogged down into a infighting mess, or were non-empirical driven band-aid's in the first place, and nothing ever gets done in a positive fashion. There is zero leadership. Some states and jurisdictions have a chance to do the right thing; but none of us our holding our breath.

    There is a metaphorical crystal ball we can gaze into. That crystal ball is New Jersey. The racing industry needs to decide if that is the way it wants the future to look, or if they want it to look something different. It's racings choice; and if they do nothing, they have no one to blame but themselves.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Tee-Ohh Tuesday

    Steve Turner/Hollywood Park
    The Zenyatta phenomenon is continually fun to watch. A good deal of times in racing the promo is forced. This can and does work for many companies and personalities but often times it fizzles out. With Zenyatta it does not; it just keeps on coming. Terrell Owens of the Bengals is apparently a fan, so as a fan (with a little more pull than you or I) he got to visit the big mare. 

    "She is huge" he said.

    Trainer John Shirreffs signed an autograph for Owens, which in itself is the opposite of what we'd expect. If I was Shirreffs I would probably be a little worried this morning. After speaking with Owens there is a chance that the big mare might wake up, demand a new stall, better feed and want the ball more.

    I watched Bet Night Live last night for the Woodbine races. The crew there seems to be finding their way. As well, the Central Ontario Standardbred Association donated $500 to each show, so two newbies can make $250 bets on select races. Last night both of them won! It is amazing to watch this show now - doing things that should be done and have been done by other gambling businesses since the beginning of time. I have not seen a horse racing human interest story in months.

    Speaking of ass-backwards, there is a video out about the California horse racing board meeting a bettor. They do not exactly speak the same language. "We have to pay to put on the show" is one of the most insane lines used by racing people to justify high takeouts and I am glad this was addressed with the Wynn example. It costs big money to make a pack of matches too, but they are a penny. It is about optimal price for optimal volume for max profit. Every business, gambling and otherwise does this, but with horse racing it is like it is some sort of wild, unattainable puzzle.

    There is a brand new forum on the web for harness buffs - the harnesslink forums. Check it out.

    One of the continents most passionate (and excellent) horseplayers passed on this past weekend, Richard Bauer. Rich was behind the Magna Boycott back in the early 2000's and had a real love for the sport, and doing things right. Horse racing handicappers are a dying breed and passionate ones like Rich who made and wanted to continue to force change in a business unwilling to will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace Rich; it was a pleasure to converse with you over the years.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Big Races & Big Anticipation

    Yesterday at the Red Mile there were a few big tilts.

    Wishing Stone won the Futurity in straight heats. This colt was my Hambo bet this year, looking for a score. Why do most of my picks win like 4 months after I bet them? I know, I know, it happens to all of us. :) Seriously, this is a really nice horse. Lucky Chucky is severely talented, but the sound grinders like this guy tend to get good late. He should have a nice 4YO year, in my opinion.

    One More Laugh got the job done in his 3YO pacing division, as did Rock n' Roll Heaven. Twice now Rock n' Roll has tried for a track record. You can only go to the well so often with a horse and I hope that is the last time we see that. We have seen his bottom now so there is no need to put on a show.

    Secretariat the movie is gaining some steam. I see it had a really nice hold, as good movies tend to have. It seems it is well on its way to becoming a late release success.

    Zenyatta talk is dominating the airwaves and chat boards and press. Is there any doubt this Breeders Cup Classic will be the most watched ever, by a mile? Casual fans are completely in love with her. Haters on some chat boards want to see her get demolished (why, I can not quite figure that out). There will be cheering and jeering come Saturday, Classic day. And this year it will be under the lights to boot. Wowsa, what a show.

    We're back to Woodbine for the harness meet. What to look for? People seem to lament on speed being good there, and that is true. But where isn't speed good in harness racing? With new equipment, better gaited horses, better breeding and better racetracks, this game is all speed. Even at the Meadowlands where in history this track has been kinder to closers, the drivers do not pull and go anymore; they sit half in and half out and wait and wait. Until the judges start hammering drivers who do that (and not those ridiculous pre-slot $100 fines), expect to see less and less flow and more and more speed.

    I heard that the Australian handle numbers for the Breeders Crown were not bad this year. Kudos to them. I got a note from someone there this week saying "we are really focusing on betting now." Let's hope they can get Woodbine to do something next year. It will probably have to pass nine meetings and some sort of internal commission, but maybe, just maybe we will see a low take seeded bet next year there, for example.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Secretariat - Maybe Not 100% Accurate, But Thank God it Isn't

    It has been fun reading a lot of the chatter on chat boards, blogs and industry sites on the movie Secretariat. As usual, we as insiders will have our gripes; after all, some people going to the movie remember where they went for breakfast the morning of the Belmont, and have memorized the morning lines. None of these type movies are for "us", they are made to sell tickets because people who make them want money. In Days of Thunder when Tom Cruise lapped the field in the last lap to win a big race, NASCAR fans cringed, and we will too, no doubt with this movie.

    One thing that strikes me with horse racing movies is that it is almost impossible to tell a true story without jazzing it up. Thoroughbred yearling buyers and owners are for the most part loaded (although if you hear some owners speak, it is like they are all destitute and ready to rob a 7-11 to feed the kids) and it does not exactly make for a good underdog story.

    Really, what kind of stories do we have in thoroughbred racing that a) can be a movie and b) do not have to have the facts 'changed'?

    Let's try some plotlines:
    • The Rachel Alexandra Story - Wine magnate Jess Jackson buys filly for a reported $10 million, or about 0.04% of his entire net worth. The gamble pays off, as his supermare wins the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward against all odds, however later on she is retired and does not make the whole ten million back. Because of it, Jess is only super-rich, instead of slightly more super-rich.
    • Sheikh Mo's Money - The rags to riches story about horse racing dude Sheikh Mo, who was born really rich, but whose family and life hangs on the fluctuations with the price of oil. This story focuses on his oil hedging book whereby if he makes a mistake he will only have $30 million to spend on yearlings instead of $40 million. As a sub-plot, his real estate empire takes a hit as interest rates go up which glues the viewer to the screen wondering if it is caviar or fois gras for dinner, or if he has to go through the gut-wrenching decision to downgrade his personal jet from a 747 to an Airbus. It's a true popcorn cruncher.
    • Zenyatta - How Itunes Almost Made Me Not Own Her - This is a story for the times. Jerry Moss, explains how the changing world of music almost made him not spend the $60k on Zenyatta. With Itunes and other digital fare dominating the scene, people like Jerry now make less money than they used to. The movie shows a parallel universe where he instead buys a few five claimers at Mountaineer, and he and Sting fill in for Nancy and Mark on the Mountain's simulcast show. The sub-plot is especially interesting - Andrew Beyer is the one who ends up with Zenyatta, and she goes 19 for 19, and makes her six-plus million. It showcases his internal struggle about owning and taking purse checks from what he considers a slow horse with sub-par speed figures.
    So, with Secretariat - The Movie, I am not looking at it for historical fact, or accuracy. It's a horse racing movie and I will watch it and enjoy it knowing that going in.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    A Nice Breeders Crown Evening

    Last night's Breeders Crown at Pocono might have not set the handle world on fire, but for a first try at a new (lesser-known) venue, the event from a fan point of view was certainly a success. There were several marvelous performances, and some curious ones that stand out and make us take notice.
    • Rock n Roll Heaven is the best horse in harness racing. He might be as talented as last year's good one Well Said, and maybe even as, or more talented than his dad. He has guts, determination, soundness and good speed. He is a joy to watch.
    • Big Jim might travel a little funny, might not look like a smooth machine out there but he has "it".
    • See You at Peelers is a really nice filly. It will be very interesting to see her next year.
    A few items from last night that crossed my mind.....

    The 3 year old crop is not one of the best ever, it is totally average. That glamour boy final last night was about as deep and competitive as a Washington Generals basketball game. After I watched Nihilator race as a kid, each year I would gain more and more respect for him. As time goes on I gain more and more respect for the Beach in almost exactly the same way.

    Phil the Thrill Hudon. What a great performance. It is no secret that drivers are given a good deal of importance in our game, however capable every day reinsman can, do and will get the job done with ease. Phil probably holds as many lifetime marks on horses than many other drivers, so for those that think drivers 'make them go fast' he is fine on that count. Maybe he makes a mistake or two more than JC or Brian; however he proved to everyone that if the big money is on the line, he can do just fine.

    Big Jim II. Is there any owner out there who does not respect Jim Carr. What a breath of fresh air for our sport. He has probably heard 1000 times "take Phil off your horse and put X down" and he stuck with him, in a game which has about zero loyalty anymore. Take a look at the youtube interview of Phil and Jim below. I love, love that about harness racing - two small guys swimming in the shark infested waters and showing their joy and pride about winning a horse race they might never win again. The hug at the end of the interview is priceless (interview starts around 8:50)

    Has Shark Gesture had enough? If he has.... what a horse and what a career. He might be one of my favorite horses of all time.

    Lucky Jim jumped it off last night at low odds. His old rival picked up the spoils. In the post race interview we got a glimpse into a trainers mind when PK spoke of Enough Talk's issues and that he was "finally right again". People love to humanize problems when a horse is racing badly - no matter what the breed (bad driver/ride, trainer is dumb etc). 999 times out of 1000, it is because the horse is not right, or something is bugging him. Enough Talk, when right, is a fantastic horse.

    I missed the first pick 4, mainly because of poor ticket construction. I went "all" in leg one, which was won by a 30-1 shot. Then I liked 1457 in leg two (won by Break the Bank), See You at Peelers was my key and then four horses in the last leg, including the winner. I mixed and matched those with caveman tix and ended up keying Lucky Chucky on the "alls" in leg one tickets. It paid fairly well at $14,000. I played small in the pick 6, but missed that as well.

    Anyone catch any bombers? It was a great night if you went deep, especially in the ever-interesting trots.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    It's Back!!

    What has become my fave thoroughbred meet - Keeneland - opens in a half hour.

    In thoroughbred racing (and harness) we have seen smaller and smaller fields and smaller and smaller pools. It is very difficult to get excited with some of these racetracks. At Keeneland, however, the fields are huge and so are the pools. In addition, the takeout rate, with 16% WPS and 19% all exotics, is the best in North America.

    I should not do this, but..... time to take the afternoon off work!

    Good luck if you're playing.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Breeders Crown Contest & Bill Finley

    This weekends Crown is on tap at Pocono as you know and there is a very good handicapping contest offered by SC. Three winners will find their way to Georgian Downs for the National Championship, with a chance at $25,000. You can sign up and make your picks at the link. Also, here is a free program link for the weekend card.

    Second up, Bill Finley the long-time writer and racing fan has started a brand new harness newsletter that you may be interested in. And it's free. Some of the writers assembled include Andrew Cohen and Bob Heyden.

    Another reminder, has its weekly letter as well, and it includes updates on all the weekend's major races. It is also gratis.

    I remember about five years ago having a discussion on takeout and hearing 'you will never see anyone offer what you think they should'. Five years later, Hialeah (previously the poster track for high takeout) has gone to 12% - across the board. I would not be shocked to see other Florida tracks start lowering theirs. Tampa Bay has lowered takeout since 2001 almost every year and their handle has gone from $1.8M to $3.9M. It is working for some tracks out there down south. Pompano Park - for harness fans - has dropped theirs as well.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Breeders Crown - Working the Bet. Low Take, Seeded Pick 4's and 6's This Weekend

    This weekend harness racing puts on its yearly show at Pocono Downs. The year end championships are always interesting to watch for fans and bettors as well. In the past the races have garnered significant handle, however for the first 15 years or so in the series, the bet has been almost an afterthought. As with many tracks and organizations today, working the bet has finally been placed on the front-burner. Customers matter.

    One organization that has been much more proactive than most to up the bet and build the brand has been the Hambletonian Society. This group, who runs both the Crown and the Hambo, have tried things many other tracks and groups have failed to. For example, they were behind the "Metro Six Shooter" earlier this season which generated some buzz, and did work to promote a decent sized pool.

    Not long ago the group asked "what kind of bet can we offer, and how should we go about it" to several bettors. The feedback was pretty good. Most of the ideas involved offering out a pick 4 or 6 which is seeded. As well, takeout was paramount. As most of you know, Mohegan-Pocono has some of the highest takeouts in North America (which they did reduce back in August), so this was a pretty important thing to tackle. We have to remember The Hambo Society and others like them do not run the tracks, or the government, so it is not like they can walk in and change takeout, or seed $500k pools etc. They have to work with the current structure of the track in question.

    Mike Kimelman of Blue Chip farms is a dude who gets it. I have spoken with him before and he almost sounds more "bettor than breeder". In an interview with Norm Borg, he highlights this weekends betting offerings, as well as a bit about the process in scheduling post times and the Australia export. These items will put a smile on a lot of your faces because these are techniques you all have spoken about here for quite awhile.

    "According to Mike Kimelman, the night is offering the bettor a great card as well. Pocono's wagering menu serves up a $10,000 Added Early Pick 4, a $20,000 Added Pick 6 and 15 per cent takeout. Kimelman notes that Australia will pick up the Breeders Crown card for the first time and many tracks will be arranging post times to allow for customers and fans to watch and wager on their local track and the Breeders Crown simulcast without missing a minute of action."

    Awesome news.

    This years Breeders Crown card is at a new track, a lesser known track, and a track which has not exactly lit a fire under bettors feet. You don't just put on an event any longer and expect people to march a path to your door. Nor do you offer out one bet, or one technique and change twenty years of lost handles. But you do try; try and build year over year, to grow. The Breeders Crown is doing exactly that, and the people there should be commended for doing it.

    I will update the Crown this week here on the blog with free pp's and some links for some analysis. With a 15% take and seeded horizontal bets, these races should provide some serious horseplayer value.

    The card is simulcast on every ADW that I know of, HPI in Canada. TV coverage is on an HD channel in the US (commercial below). Post time is 5PM this Saturday.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    I Went to a Hockey Game & A Horse Race Broke Out

    I found some funny chatter happening on this past weekend's Zenyatta race.

    From "Greyhorse" on

    "From the quarter pole on, all I heard was the crowd's screaming!

    It was the largest crowd I've ever seen at Hollywood, and the largest I'll ever see.......Some woman tried elbowing me out of my spot on the rail when the race started. You can believe I fought back! Mosh pit!"

    Great freaking stuff. (full post of hers here Note - I just heard you have to sign up to see that post, but it is worth it. It is a good board for fans with very little chat-board trolling/fighting)

    Here is a slice of the day courtesy Oak Tree Racing. Who says horse racing ain't fun for the masses?

    Monday Thoughts

    I have been pretty busy of late with work and other things, and I could barely get caught up on the Monday headlines until now (and I am really not even caught up yet), but a few things caught my eye.

    ..... I have been reading the Zenyatta headlines and I marvel at how much action there is on this mare. She was a hot google search on the weekend and she is sure to make this year's Breeders Cup the most watched ever. I notice Ed talking about a new video produced by the Breeder Cup to promote the event. Get ready for much more of this the coming 34 days.

    In our sport, the Crown looks to be a dandy event. The elims were not overly entertaining, I thought, but they never really are. However, I can honestly say I have never seen a horse do what Not Enough did on Saturday. She was rank, see-sawed, the plugs were out before the quarter..... a sure recipe for a 6th by 14. But somehow she won. For video it is here.

    There is a handicapping contest for the Finals. You have three chances to gain entry to the National Championship to be held at Georgian Downs. There are also links in the story for all of last weekend's action.

    In one of the better poll questions I have seen: "Hypothetically, if it cost $1.2 million to get the Breeders Crown on NBC, would you endorse $100,000 purse cuts from each final?" You can see the results, and/or vote here (it is on the right side of the page.)

    Handle figures for the weekend from Pocono, asks Pacing Guy? Anyone have them, because I do not.

    In the weird file, Steve Assmussen will not answer questions on Rachel's retirement. Is this some sort of "cone of silence"? Really guys, it's about a horse, not some sort of caramilk secret. We'd ask her, but she only whinnies.

    I got a call last week about taking a shot at the Scoop 6 in the UK. We balked. This week it was hit by one person, so I called my UK betting friend asking jokingly if we hit it. He replied "I was going to take one, but the last race was a 35 handicap". I said "what's a 35 handicap?" He said "35 horses".

    35 horses in one race? No wonder why we balked again this week!

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Huge Weekend of Racing

    Sorry for being delinquent (and short in this post) - I have been busy this weekend. I barely got to see any of the races live, but here is a catch-up.

    Last night two statements were made in harness racing, by the two top colts, Rock n Roll Heaven and One More Laugh. The former made a much more significant one, however. That was impressive! Full results for the BC elims for night two are here.

    Another one (or two I guess) of Zenyatta's main rivals raced yesterday in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and like so many others this year, failed to perform. The very nice Blame, and the new Dutrow barn pupil Rail Trip both failed to run their best; or maybe they did, depending on how you look at it.

    Meanwhile, Zenyatta won again. Ho hum, another routine grade 1, where she was trading a whopping 1.14 at Betfair (no those are not souvenir tickets knocking her down, it's big bettors too). Why is she the only horse on earth that seems to not throw a clunker? I have no idea how she does it, but she does. It is either superior training, luck, a unique freak-of-a-horse, or all three. Regardless, 19 in a row, with I think 12 grade 1's, over three seasons is remarkable.

    I caught the race live and noticed the crowd, the pictures being taken, the signs. I knew ESPN was cutting in; I knew it would be a big crowd. But going through Youtube after the race was amazing. There was video after video after video of her; in the PP, in the paddock, after the race, during the race. They were all sent by everyday folks. The Breeders Cup this year will probably be an absolute madhouse.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Breeders Crown Elimination Night One in the Books

    Last evening some of the Breeders Crown elims at Pocono Downs were completed. Tonight there is another set.

    A few thoughts while in between some work and play today:

    Big Jim is one talented racehorse. He was crooked, running out, and parked virtually the first three quarters. He throws a 27 and change in the third panel and still almost holds on. Is the horse hurting a little, or is it equipment? I have no idea, but he is one fast horse.

    Pretty Catharine, the ML fave and good Coleman trainee was "late for retention" and scratched. Wow!

    Dejarmbro in the 2YO colt trot looks like the real deal. He got tested last time and torched through a quick three quarters. Often times this results in a trotter coming back a little bit off (which for a trotter means a alot off!), but not him. He scorched a quick first quarter, but the sharp and underrated Jeff Gregory drove him like he owned him from there and gave him a nice trip.

    Speaking of driving them like you own them, how many horses were flat-out torched last evening? No wonder some of these times are fast. They are being driven like they are Shark Gesture, not a two year old. It is tough to watch how hard some of today's catch drivers are on their charges. You know who they are.

    See You at Peelers, a curious name if I have ever heard one, looks to be the real deal. The fractions were brutal, with Tetrick pulling into a 26.4 second quarter, but this filly came to play. Idyllic won her elim, but I do not think I have seen a horse who is undefeated generate less buzz, or confidence. Players do not believe she is too much I think.

    For those horseman group and industry insider types that say "if you have quality you have big handle" they might want to check last night's betting. It was brutal. As well, if some folks think the Meadowlands closing is not a big deal, check that too. Only WEG and the M can generate handle on a BC, or stakes card. It is sad how far our game has fallen. I hope next weekend provides us with a big crowd and some decent handle. If not, we are going to have to see BC tracks offer something big to bettors. Take some of that slot money and go 10% rakes for the BC; or something. We need people to look at our events, and if it is a loss-leader, well so what. There is more to this sport than purses.

    Enjoy the racing today and tonight - it's a big day. Zenyatta, the Arc, Blame in the JCGC, another elim night at Pocono, a huge Scoop-six carryover in the UK. There is something for everyone today.

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