Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Wishes for 2012

With the New Year almost here I wanted to do something none of you have ever seen before.

This ground breaking idea that no one has ever thought of doing (I am very, very smart and forward thinking) is a "Wish List for 2012".

Get ready and fasten your seatbelts, because here we go........

I hope in 2012 I don't get any more hits on my blog from someone searching for "Chantal Sutherland Nude"

I hope in 2012 someone wins the NHC in Vegas, stands up on a chair and goes completely nuts like Howard Dean did in Iowa a few years ago.

I hope in 2012 I get a DQ that helps me cash a ticket.

I hope in 2012 all out of town harness drivers use a travel agent before the Breeders Crown.

I hope in 2012, NYRA takes some of that slot cash and invests $0.49 in a big red pen so they can mark any prospective takeout changes on a calendar.

I hope in 2012 I figure out an angle that no one else is on, for more than a week.

I hope in 2012 Tampa announcer Richard Grunder pronounces every horse correctly.

I hope in 2012 when the horse crosses the finish line in the Derby, we don't read an article with the headline "Is this the year for a triple crown winner?" for at least 48 hours.

I hope in 2012 Ron Pierce quits moose hunting (that one is on behalf of moose everywhere).

I hope in 2012 I get Jerry Jam emails with no colors or crazy fonts.

I hope in 2012 I hear more from Chickenhead.

I hope in 2012 I don't get any more hits on my blog from someone searching for "Chantal Sutherland Shirtless on Horse"

I hope in 2012 I'll run into the uber-classy Horseplayers Association VP Mike Maloney and he'll be in a bad mood after a bad beat, just so I'm sure he's human.

I hope in 2012 we see more from "Railbird".

I hope in 2012 Mountaineer announcer Peter Berry's catch phrase of "he put the cue in the rack" catches on, like everywhere.

I hope in 2012 Twitter's Sid Fernando has a good year.

I hope in 2012 we see a good handle meet at the Meadowlands.

I hope in 2012 we find a long term home for our five claimer.

I hope in 2012 if Charles Hayward pushes down an old lady and she falls in a puddle, there won't be a NYRA supporter on chat boards blaming the old lady.

I hope in 2012 the Daily Racing Form gets its horseplayer focused editorial groove back on.

I hope in 2012 Jason and Nick from Tioga get a raise.

I hope in 2012 Moira Fanning gets a raise.

To finish the trifecta of raises, I hope Mike from Balmoral gets one too.

I hope in 2012 someone finally gets hired to do some good for California racing.

I hope in 2012 Ken Warkentin uses the line "these two gladiators flash swords" again, when two horses are battling it out.

I hope in 2012 I will not have to write stories about a 14 year old horse passing away a week before his mandatory retirement.

I hope in 2012 Chris Christie is right and horse racing can stand on its own two hooves.

I hope in 2012 horseplayer Barry Meadow enjoys his retirement.

I hope in 2012 everyone that took a shot at a yearling gets at least one thing to smile about.

I hope in 2012 o_crunk gets more twitter followers.

I hope in 2012 Normf66 on twitter - World's Number One Harness Fan - finds some more obscure tracks and tells me about them.

I hope in 2012 Caroline from Socal Thoroughbred Rescue finds homes for all her horses, fills her barn with new ones, and finds homes for them, too.

I hope in 2012 I win an Ebay auction item from Socal Thoroughbred Rescue.

I hope in 2012 my horses are all healthy.

I hope in 2012 your horses are all healthy.

I hope in 2012 everyone has a healthy and happy year.

Best wishes and happy new year everyone.

PS: I gave out my Harness Awards for 2011 today in HRU, so give it a look if you're interested (pdf). 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Racing Must be Pretty Complex eh?

Today in the Saratogian, NYRA board member Charles Wait said:
  • Wait said he doesn’t believe anyone at NYRA should lose their job. "I don’t think so," he said. "It’s something for the (board’s) Audit Committee to review."

    Asked if firings would follow a similar mistake at the bank — Adirondack Trust Co. — that he chairs, Wait said, "It’s not comparable. The racing laws are quite complex. We (NYRA) missed it and made a mistake. The first thing you do is apologize, which we’ve done."
That's pretty interesting, because I just had a look on Wikipedia about the US Banking System, then drilled down to the recently passed Dodd Frank Act . \With the latter and its gazillion sections, and 243 new rules, my head almost exploded. It's a wiki version of War and Peace.

It seems that "we have to lower takeout back to 25% in September 2010" is much easier to understand, but maybe that's just me.

o_crunk was somewhat less politically correct.

Enjoy your Friday folks!

PS: Steve Crist chimes in

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NYRA Lowers Rake; Could Spur Handle Increases in New York

Dana Byerly of Hello Race Fans looked into her winnings from exotics at NYRA tracks (which are eligible for a 1% rebate) not soon after the overcharge was announced.

She came up with the following:

$46 back might not sound like a whole lot of money, but it illustrates the power of that 1%, even for one person, with regards to handle bumps.

Dana clearly will not ask for a $46 check in the mail. If she does get it back, she'll do like we all do; she'll rebet it. When she does rebet, she will win a little money back more than likely, and perhaps churn it five times. If she does that, her handle has gone up by $230.

It's why we've always said takeout reductions do more than just churn - they make the game more fun, and a fun game is a game people want to play. Dana will have some fun with that money, because she will have $230 in free bets. 

That's only "1%"

She isn't the only one, of course, as it was reported that $8.6 million was overcharged. If those people all bet it like Dana does (if they get a refund), handle will go up by $43,000,000. That's a lot of fun for a lot of people.

This is being illustrated pretty well in California, on the other side. Their handles have fallen since they raised the takeout last year, but not only because "X" number of horseplayers boycotted - although I am sure that made a difference. When you take 2% out of the players pocket, they have a lot less to rebet. The game is less fun, too, and nickel money lines for a baseball game start to look pretty good.

It's no secret that when slots come to racetracks, handle can still go in the dumper as witnessed in many jurisdictions. On-track handle is especially at risk because now on the way home from the track, gamblers who made a score in the last can lay $500 of tomorrow's racings bankroll in a slot machine.

For New York in 2012 this may not be the case.

Charles Hayward, NYRA CEO, announced today that the 2% takeout decrease to make up for this mess will not be only for 15 months, it will be permanent. 

With a 2% reduction in takeout starting January 1st and a small bump in field size, NYRA may have a very good year in the handle department. If they expand it and spread some of this new found slots money to a 1% across the board reduction in churnable WPS or exacta pools, it could even be a great year.

Whatever happens, we do know that this season people like Dana won't have to wait 15 months to get back the money owed to her so she can rebet. She'll get it back when she hits her first grand slam, and she'll keep getting it back every exotic hit after that.

When You Work, Good Things Happen

I had a flashback over Christmas to when I was 12 and my dad put my name in to work at a gold mine and city joint venture for the summer. It'll "be a good experience" I was told. Well, getting up at 5:45 in the morning and working my butt off for $3.25 an hour when all my friends were sleeping in and having fun was not a good experience, it sucked.

But in the end I must admit, I learned a lot picking up rocks, digging holes and cutting grass that summer.

I'm now glad I started working at a young age. When you work, you get better.

In harness racing, particularly in Ontario, fans for the last quarter century felt racetracks were not working to up the bet. This blog probably has fifty articles about the malaise and the board room driven "put a race on and people will come" attitude.

As we've noticed the last year or two, this attitude is changing. Nowhere is it any more apparent than at Western Fair. Greg Blanchard has been an excellent hire and its starting to pay off.

Today Greg tweeted this:

A 63% jump in handle. That's huge.

Good things come to racing (not overnight, but they do) when we work at it. Greg is one of those guys who's doing just that.

Congrats to them on a great day. Let's hope a year from now we see another 60% increase.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Kling Searches for Barry

The NYRA story seems to be rolling on, with new articles in Horse Race Insider, ESPN and in the Troy Record, where we find this quote from Nick Kling:
  • I haven't spoken to Schwartz about the current mess NYRA has stepped into, but there is one thing about which I have no doubt. If Barry had remained NYRA's Chairman he would have had a calendar on his desk with a BIG RED X marked on the date Sept. 15, 2010. That is the day the takeout was supposed to drop to the statutory level one point lower than what NYRA had been deducting.

    People like Barry Schwartz speak too plainly for 21st century politics. That, and his frustration with opposition to later attempts to lower the takeout even more contributed to his departure
 I think he makes a strong point - racing needs leadership, bold leadership, from those willing to take a chance.

Jack Welch, the former GE CEO, once said that he does not want managers or executives who fear change. He wants managers and executives that fear what will happen if you don't change.

I can't help but think if Barry K. Schwartz was in a position of power in our sport over the last decade, we'd be in better shape.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Email Christmas Wishes

Merry Christmas
I thought I would share some of my email and twitter greetings from people in racing this Christmas, along with a few others. I hope they don't mind.

Here we go!!!

"Happy Holidays to all the folks in California racing who get along - all three of you" - Keith Brackpool

"Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. We're happy with our 2011 for two reasons - we had a 9% increase in handle, and that PTP dude stopped yelling at us for awhile when we dropped takeout" - Jamie Martin, Woodbine Entertainment 

"I bought Dancer for $1.2 million yesterday. If he's not the favorite to hit the chimney first, I am gonna make him the favorite!" - Mike Repole


"I was going to write a nice Christmas story on this card, but I can only type 140 characters or less" - Sid Fernando

"What Sid said" - Ed DeRosa

"I'd like to wish seasons greetings to PTP for alerting me that Ray Paulick was impersonating me in various restaurants in the Lexington, Kentucky area. He's my new stunt double." - Kevin Bacon

"Even though I find PTP to be totally annoying, I want to wish him a Merry Christmas for getting me the Bacon gig" - Ray Paulick
"A Happy Holidays to all our customers. For those of you who hit exotics since last September, we'll be sending this message out about 8 million more times" - NYRA

"We wish you a Merry Christmas and sincerely hope the revision on withholding gets stalled for another decade" - The IRS to horseplayers

"I love Christmas! When I was at home last night I ran a regression and came up with a wonderfully festive econometric model!" - So Cal Thoroughbred Rescue head, and Economics prof Caroline Betts

"Chickenhead, chickenhead, chickenhead. I can't stop saying Chickenhead. Happy Holidays!" - Thoroughbred Times Frank Angst

"We'd like to give a Happy Holiday shout-out to the weatherman in New Jersey on Breeders Crown day" - Ron Pierce and Luc Ouellette

"We wish a happy holiday to everyone except those five guys on Twitter who noticed we were watching a football game"  - Breeders Cup Stewards

"Merry Christmas and thanks for taking some of my money in 2011. You do realize you're only keeping it warm, don't you?" Slots to racing

"I'll be drunk dialing you Christmas greetings in a few hours after my date with the chick from the Calder Pick 5 commercials" - Kegasus

"For any Christmas messages, I refer all my fans to @notthetoddster ." Todd Pletcher

"I'm having a good Christmas season. My family likes me and I won the "Scapegoat of the Year Award" for horse racing. Life's good." - John Veitch

"We're sending this by email this year to some of you, instead of in-person, because we upped admission to the Christmas party and fewer people showed up. We're stumped why this happened and will be forming a committee in the New Year to look into it" - TOC
C'mon, you know I couldn't leave out the California takeout hike  :)

It's times like this each year that I am appreciative of everything positive that horse racing offers me.

I want to thank everyone for reading and commenting on this blog, and a give a special thank you for taking things like the nonsense above with such good humor.

From my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas


Thursday, December 22, 2011

More NYRA Takeout Tidbits & Some Fat Quaddies

Frank Angst reported a few more items today in the Thoroughbred Times on the NYRA situation.

A long-time player who a lot of you know, Joe Riddell was none too pleased:
  • Joe Riddell, who regularly wagers on NYRA tracks, said for the over-charging to last 15 months points to real problems with NYRA and the NYSRWB.“We, as an industry, have told our fans that we don’t care,” Riddell said.
There were a few other notes, mainly about fans and their reaction to the story on chat boards and social media. In particular, Frank looked at the Pace post by Rutgers who said he tried to contact both the state and NYRA. It's an interesting piece with some good reporting by Frank.


The social media aspect of this is something that certainly should not be overlooked. It's a different world now.

For the record, despite some arguable missteps with a tough story, if I had a track I would hire Dan Silver, NYRA's internet dude, in about a second. FWIW.

Thankfully there was a comedic element this afternoon (which is much needed as everyone surely doesn't like this story) and 0_crunk tweeted out the portion of the Angst story above that made me spit out my drink:
  • A poster on the fan site who goes my the moniker “chickenhead,” 
Yes, the word "chickenhead" was used in our trade press. I have two unnamed yearlings, who knows, maybe I found a name?

Chicken has been quite a prolific poster on Pace over the years and he is very sharp. I think he's in a tech startup in the Valley or something. He's an interesting guy and one of those people who when he is against your side of an argument, you usually go back to see if you haven't made a mistake.

Update from Frank on twitter

Another dude who is usually good to listen to on betting issues is Scott Ferguson who runs sportsismadeforbetting, and has worked in the gambling industry overseas for some time now. I see he offered out (on twitter) a way for NYRA to help ease the pain of bettors not getting a fair shake - seeded pools.

This is interesting to me, and yes, it is the way the TAB's do it. In Australia they used to have a takeout ceiling (still do I think) whereby only about 16% can be taken out of the pools (versus our 22% if you are wondering). But, sometimes there would be more taken out than prescribed by law; for example, if too many people played 20% pick 6's instead of low takeout place pools.  What they do then is seed pools and give the cash away.

One way is a Fat Quaddie, which I explained here way back in 2008.

Clearly a 0% rake bet like a Fat Quaddie is not doable here, but maybe they can come up with something.

Regardless, we've been asking New York to do more with their slots cash than just stuff it into purses like they did in Pennsylvania and Canada because when you ignore the demand side, there was no real handle growth. Maybe this will, in the long run, be a good thing for racing. 

This is truly one of the more bizarre betting stories I have seen in quite some time.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

NYRA Takeout Situation - The Plot Thickens

There's one thing about social media, it's tough to hide.

This evening there is quite the discussion about NYRA being ordered to pay back bettors for not lowering the takeout in September of 2010. The initial narrative was that the provision in the clause was very complex, so giving them a pass might be in order, but it turns out (as I noted earlier) the section itself really wasn't.

Alan at LATG tonight:

"Section 32 above actually isn't all that complex. In fact, it's relatively straightforward"

and he quoted the section.

Alan also noted that The Thoroughbred Times had a story that talked about the sunset provision in it.

So, people seemed to know.

But here's where it gets really interesting. A frequent poster on Paceadvantage (I have read him for awhile on there and chatted back and forth with him several times), has been dogged on this issue for some time.

Tonight he posts:

"On January 8, 2011 I e-mailed the NYSRWB about NYRA’s takeout on some wagers being outside of the parameters of the law. I never received a response. "

"I also emailed NYRA in April, 2010 and July 2010 asking them about the takeout, but I did not receive a response. And in August 2010, I commented on Steven Crist’s blog about the “1% NYC OTB takeout increase sunseting” and NYRA takeout being outside the parameters of the NYS law. While he did not post my comment he did send me a e-mail acknowledging the sunset provision went in effect and that NYRA could ask for lower takeout if they wished. I do not know if he discussed it with anybody at NYRA but he does know Charles Hayward personally."

He posted a couple times in 2010 and early 2011 on Pace asking when the takeout will be reduced, as well. I remember reading both posts at the time he posted them (they're linked on that thread).

If bettors figured it out on a chat board and posted about it several times, it looks like we might put to bed the "it was too complex" theory. But if this poster above is telling the truth, and he seems to be credible in my opinion, not only did the bettors figure it out, but one of them emailed NYRA and the NYSRWB to tell them about it, as far back as spring 2010.

It appears this story is far from over.

Update via Frank Angst at the TT -

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NYRA Takeout Center Stage - Mystery Solved

Thar she blows.

It's always something that stuck in our craw, like in this blog piece : The New York 1% takeout hike to fix the NYCOTB system was still in effect when there were no NYCOTB's.

It made little sense to us, and we wondered why.

Even on chat boards like Paceadvantage when it happened, bettors knew the 1% hike was supposed to expire and be repealed in two years, citing the appropriate section of the statute (click to enlarge):

What happened? I assume we'll find out after they conduct an investigation, because today it was announced NYRA should have lowered takeout, but didn't.

They'll have to pay back all the money, plus (what I assume is) interest.

 The state Racing & Wagering Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to admonish the New York Racing Association for overcharging bettors millions of dollars over the past 15 months.

The action happened at a board meeting after racing officials discovered NYRA overcharged by 1 percentage point the amount it kept from some "exotic" bets. 

NYRA, which runs races for the state at the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks, will be required to pay back bettors about $8.6 million, according to one state official, if it can track them down through racing accounts. It will also have to help clear up IRS issues with those who won exotic bets during the period. Further, NYRA will be required to pay a $50,000 contribution to a racing-related charity.

Anyhow, for those of you wondering how a two year takeout hike to pay for OTB's was still going on when there were no OTB's, you weren't the only one. The mystery, for now, is solved.

What the future holds, is, I assume, a whole other matter.

With a Private Racetrack, Life's a Little Different

If you opened up Twitter when Rick Dutrow was reinstated with a stay and could race at New York tracks off his 10 year suspension, there was quite a bit of incredulity. Harness racing went through a similar situation at the Meadowlands a few years ago during the Ledford raid and subsequent suspension.

NYRA and the Meadowlands are/were considered public entities, and using things like private property rights are not in the arsenal.

With the announcement that Jeff Gural has been granted a 30 year lease at the Meadowlands, that is all about to change. He told Harness Racing Update in a detailed interview:

When asked if anyone who has applied to race at the Meadowlands would be rejected, Gural replied, “ I would think so.”

Woodbine Entertainment does similar, so arguably the two tracks stand as one. If someone gets a long suspension, I highly suspect you won't be seeing them race at the Meadowlands now if granted a stay.


Several people had an influential year in harness racing this season. Here are six of them (pdf, page 4).

I haven't been playing California racing for well over a year now. I even hadn't been playing it before I announced my reasons why here. Interestingly, in that piece I surmised handles in the short-run would be fine, but they fell off a cliff, so I was completely wrong. They took a solid short-term hit in handles, and the long term (as with any takeout increase we've seen in racing) doesn't look bright either. They will be comparing handles this season to last seasons horrible numbers, so maybe the press releases this year will look better, though. reports that the interest in some of the Meadowlands late closing programs are good. Let's hope they have a great meet.

The O'Brien voting came out and San Pail was the unanimous choice for older trotter of the year.

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Off We Go on a Tuesday

The 25th is almost here and not much is happening in racing, but I found a few stories relating to the spirit of the season that I thought I'd share.

Penelope over at the NTRA wrote a wonderful tome about finding a horse, claiming him, and giving him a nice spot to live. Great stuff.

West Point Thoroughbreds write about their horse retirement thoughts today too. Nice work.

One horse who will not be having his birthday in a couple of weeks (it would've been his 38th) is Gamblon Horton. He passed away this year at the home of our friend Keith Gamble. When I wrote this story last year on him, I had hoped he would make it one more year. From the piece, you could see Keith's pride in the old boy:
  • "He still does a half ass gallop when he gets excited and he is a little harder to feed now with few teeth left but I soak his hay cubes all day so they are like a thick soup and his grain I mix with apples, corn oil and hot water and turn it into a porridge. I keep my fingers crossed that Horton goes before Sam so he will always have a buddy in the field, because he likes company where Sam couldn't care less."
To read about Keith and his retired horses, you can here.  We need more of the three farms and people like the above. We're all sorry for Keith's loss.

I got a ping about a takeout story regarding New York racing this morning via the New York Times:
  • "The only way to bring in more revenue to both government and racing," Crist said, "is to increase the parimutuel handle wagered by the public, whose bets provide every last nickel of funding for these industries."

    His key proposal would lower the tax on bets in order to return more to the bettor, who would presumably promptly put it back into the system in new bets. When the parimutuel system began in New York in 1940, the takeout was 10 percent, with 90 percent returned to the bettor. The tax today ranges from 17 percent for straight bets to 25 percent for more exotic bets, and the state's six regional OTB corporations impose an additional surcharge of up to 6 percent on winning bets.
 Don't get too excited; it's from 1993.

I got a note from a dog rescue Sunday that seven hunting dogs were found with no home (I assume they couldn't hunt and were discarded, but I am not sure) asking for help. I pinged the contact and asked if she needed some help fostering one or two for awhile. She said "they are all spoken for now!"

All I can say to that is "awesome!"

Gunner says "woof"
Speaking of the rescue, we fostered "Gunner" last fall for a couple of months while he was awaiting a new home (and I got a nice set of bruised ribs chasing him - those hurt). We found a nice family who would take him and help him work through some of his issues (this was his fifth home, and he's only three).

"This will be his last home" they told me.

It appears it will be. I am so happy for the little fella. He is truly a kind and gentle soul.

Greg at Western Fair has arranged TVG to cover races on Monday's it seems. Great work dude.

It looks like the Jersey situation is winding down, with some sort of deal. Like expected.

I got some nice feedback on the Zenyatta-Tebow piece in Harness Racing Update (pdf here, page 7). Thanks to everyone who shared thoughts.

This week we'll be looking at the Most Influential People in Harness Racing. I think it's out tomorrow. You can easily subcsribe for free to the paper if interested at the above link.

Tis the time of year where little things amaze me, and make me smile. We were heading to the cottage last weekend and we drove by a farm house on a side road decked out in lights like you wouldn't believe. It looked like an engineer planned it, and did the work (with plenty of help). Later on that weekend, I spoke to someone and mentioned it; I wondered who this festive person was. I was told he was an 85 year old farmer who's been doing it for well over a half century. Wonderful.

Happy Hanukkah folks!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Battle of the Ads - Low Juice Edition

I don't think I am going out on a limb here by saying that horse racing sure is funky.

Check out these two ads.

The first one, from Hollywood Park, is sham-wowing the Players Pick 5 because of the low 14% takeout. It's from a state which hiked takeout 12 months ago, saying low takeout didn't matter, and bettors will keep coming for the entertainment.

They've supposedly got the best rake in the country, and perhaps we can get a deal on a ginsu knife, too.

Second up, the strippers at Calder. They say "hold it big boy".

They're at 12% takeout. That sounds good.

Anyhoo, it's great and all that tracks are promoting the low rake, and it can be argued the Players Pick 5 may have saved Cali racing's handle from completely impoding in 2011 (last time I checked it's off something like $220 million).

But these two commercials rank right up there on the strange scale.

In the end, Pocket gives the nod to Calder. Not because of the exotic dancers, but for the lower takeout.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Your Betting Beta Can Be a Killer

There's a very interesting story today in the Wall Street Journal about wealth (and keeping it).
  • Lee Hausner, a California-based psychologist who works with the ultrarich, has one client she calls "The Phoenix," a real-estate developer and investor who borrowed and spent heavily. He has surged and crashed twice over the past decade, reaching a net worth of $400 million, losing it, then hitting $200 million and losing it again. "He's an impulsive risk-taker," she says. "He always lays everything on the line.
It's a story on "beta", or the volatility of our net worth. Risk takers have a hugely high beta and that is never going to go away, however, there are ways to stay in the game.

Some of the tips - for those types and we regular folks - about keeping our wealth are pretty common sense. We should look at what we spend and where we spend it, sock some away that's untouched, and monitor our bankrolls to ensure we are lowering our beta, not raising it. 

This applies to us as bettors as well.

Ask any bettor who is playing with a large set bankroll, whether it be $10,000 or $100,000 - the swings (beta) can kill you. To make 40% of your bankroll in a given day is fine, but to lose it and more the next can drive you nuts - and sometimes put you on tilt.

Some folks can live with this and are good at it. They have a determination that they are winners and daily fluctuations are no big deal. They also don't have the mortgage or rent money in their betting bankroll. They concentrate on low hit rate, high potential bets. Some (because they truly can't handle the swings as well as others) even spread these hard. Most people aren't that good, or fortunate.

We've heard it all before, but it bears repeating because it's true. If you can't stand a high beta, stay away from the high beta bets. If you have a $2,000 bankroll and know this horse is a 5% bet in the win pool ($100 to win), you shouldn't be betting another $40 in exactas and $24 in supers. Those are high beta bankroll killers - the one's that drive you nuts and ruin your whole day when you get nosed out for $3k.

How often has the following been said at the track: "I loved the horse, he won, but I ended up losing money on the race". We chased the beta.

Bankroll preservation is key for us as players, and for the business, because we churn what we win.

For example, it is no secret Betfair is doing well. What they have done is taken a high beta industry (exotic wagering at huge rakes) and made it a lower beta one. If you put $5,000 in a 5% win takeout medium tomorrow, where all you do is bet to win, (with one or two easy set rules and some skill) you will probably have a bankroll in six months. That's why betfair's churn rate is 15 and racing's is around 4.

Online poker does this very well, too.

Low beta is bankroll preservation. Bankroll preservation is more fun for us as players. More fun for us as players is good for racing.

Depending on what kind of player you are, the next time you're going to "take a shot" with a huge exotic play, think of your beta and think what'll happen - not if you win, but if you lose. If the pain of that loss is too much for you to bear - bet $20 to win. You'll live to bet another race.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday's Here

When I was in high school I never got suspended. It seems to be different nowadays, because I am pretty sure I did worse than these two high school kids who were suspended for Tebowing.

I hope they treat this Friday as a snow day. I would.

Off we go:

Let's imagine this for a second: You are an author who self-publishes and your new book has sold a few copies to friends and family, but gotten no major press. Suddenly Oprah calls and wants you for an interview. It turns out she loved the book.You're excited.

Your spot kills, you're going to sell hundreds of thousands of these books!

Oprah asks where can people buy the book and you say:

"Send me a letter with a check for $29.95 and I will wait two weeks for the check to clear. Afterwards I will ship you your book COD. If you order now I should have it to you in eight weeks."

Your potential best seller is not a best seller anymore.

This phenomenon from a horse racing perspective was explored a little bit in HRU this week in "What Tim Tebow has that Zenyatta Doesn't". (opens in a pdf, page 8)

Give it a read if you'd like, and let me know what you think.

SC is promoting a free past performance and picks page, trying to get harness racing in Canada to stop the downward handle spiral YOY. On Wednesday the picks page had a $31 winner, which was sweet for those who played along. These things are always a good idea.

In HRU this Friday as well, Bill Finley reports on Brian Sears. It appears he is not going to race much at all at the Meadowlands (if we read between the lines). He was one of the few who generally gave the Big M a shot the past couple of years. I guess we can't blame him; when $40,000 Opens (where he can get put down on a nice 8-5 shot) are ruling the roost at Yonkers, it's green.

Speaking of the Meadowlands, VFTRG tells horsemen to "capitulate" today. I tend to agree. This chapter is already been written in the state house.

I missed this piece from Hoofbeats this past summer on harness racing, takeout and pool size. The pool size points are good - and it's one of the reasons the USTA strategic thigamjig was announced. We in harness racing have several things against us and pool size is one of the big ones. Regardless, it was a good article.

One of the good guys in our sport lost his wife this week. Rheal Bourgeois' wife Liz has passed on. You can see from the number of comments how respected they both are. I'm sorry for your loss Rheal and family.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

$1.4M Winners, Trakus, A Bettor's Wish & More

We've seen it too much in racing: A $1M or more winner, toiling in a cheap claimer, getting beaten badly.

The Dubai Race Night blog focused on one of those times yesterday - $1.4 million dollar winner Diamond Stripes.
  •  Just yesterday, at Sunland Park in New Mexico, Diamond Stripes was last, beaten almost 30 lengths, racing for a bottom rung, $5,000 claiming tag.  In his three starts since returning from an 18-month break, he’s been soundly defeated by nearly 60 lengths.
We don't have any details (yet) - maybe his current owner plans to retire him. Maybe the old owner is coming back for him. But it always spurs some anger, regardless of the situation; and some bad PR too. It also provides us with a harbinger of the bigger picture, and why it's so maddening: If we can't even retire a horse, or be responsible for a horse, who has made someone over $1 million dollars, the rest have little chance.

A lot of times we hear the good stories, like the one not long ago regarding Armbro Proposal. The hard-hitting millionaire was racing in a cheap claimer in London. One of the old owners got wind of it, drove up, claimed him and brought him home. Let's hope something along the same lines happens with this guy.

Moral suasion and promoting the good stories as an impetus is about all we have in racing for situations like this. There is no policy and there probably should be. If we want to give groups ammunition against us, the argument "look, they don't even care about million dollar horses in racing", help our opponents a great deal.

Turf n' Sport gives us his Christmas wishes. If you bet more than $50 a week in racing, I suspect you will be nodding at each one.

When we see a horse being managed poorly - raced too often, brought back too quickly off an injury or sickness, and many other things - it rarely turns out well. It can sometimes take months and months for them to get back to being sound and happy, and sometimes they never get back. Horse management 101 - Chapter Seven. He had issues all year, but his trainer is first class, and his owners are too. See how they did it. 

Betfair is doing well, and their mobile apps are good too. 41% of their customers placed a bet via mobile in November.

Trakus was a topic today for John Pricci at HRI. He'd like to see more info about distance traveled. We do that in harness already, and it is kinda neat. Notice the "DT" line on each program raceline for each horse.

Yesterday's post on racing having poor business models and structure, where smart people can look really dumb, prompted a comment from Perretti's Bob Marks:

Enjoyed today’s piece..
Back when we were doing Boardwalk which was probably the first multiply owned horse venture, it was obvious that the owners-all successful entrepreneurs in their specialty fields could not and would never grasp the nuances of the horse business as it simply defies conventional business logic.
Buy a Lexus for whatever and there’s a book that tells you what it will be worth In 12 months given the mileage accumulated and the business man can reasonably project how long he wants to keep the car.
Buy a yearling for whatever and there’s no way of knowing its value in 12 months assuming it has any value at all.
Kind of like drafting a kid out of college and paying him the going rate for his position and discovering that he can’t make it in the pros…
Buy an expensive broodmare in foal to a superstar and it comes out crooked.   Of course given her tough delivery, she’s a bitch to get back in foal and maybe after four years you wind up with two saleable horses though the second one no matter what it looks like will be penalized by the non performance of the ‘crooked” first one.
Racing offices bend over backwards to accommodate horsemen regardless of whether or not their staging bettable races.
Most judges have never handicapped professionally and are virtually traffic cops who don’t push the button unless there’s a visible infraction.   Form reversal??  Whats that???
If a racetrack exec never apprenticed as a public handicapper in which his weekly take was determined by the number of winners he could pick, how the hell can he have a clue what the people in the stands are there for..
That is when we had people in the stands….
Raise a gorgeous yearling colt and maybe 10 days before sales time it hurts itself in the stall and has a noticeable bump.
I could go on forever         

We could go on forever too Bob. Thanks for the comment. Enjoy your Thursday folks!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Racing's Infrastructure is a Huge Barrier

If we ask any industry watcher about someone in racing (virtually anyone), the words "out of touch", "not smart enough", or even worse come to mind as labels. It's easy to be critical of those in the sport when the business has lost upwards of half its handles the last while. And make no mistake - some of it's very valid and on-point.

I thought similar early this decade, but the more and more I think about it, (for the most part) it simply isn't the case.

I have a good friend since University who's nice guy from a working class background. He's a normal, honorable, grounded guy with no pretensions.

But he's scary smart. I mean really, scary smart.

For his GMAT to get into business school he scored a "perfect" which only a handful of people in North America do each year (when I gave him my score he was sheepish to tell me his). When we both took our first year CFA I was dumbfounded with the work. He passed with flying colors; doing half the work I did.

He started in a mail room of a major bank and finally had to leave because they didn't recognize his smarts and wouldn't promote him. I won't buy stock in that bank, ever, because this guy was that obvious.

He moved on, succeeded, and never once lost his grounded principles and street smarts, taught to him by a super-good mother and father.

We used to go to the track when we were kids and we talk about it often. When we speak about the infrastructure in racing over a few beers, he often says "no wonder it's screwed, it would take Houdini to succeed in that mess".

Nick Eaves is not 'dumb' or 'out of touch'. Neither is Bob Evans. If we read the press or chat boards, Frank Stronach is apparently the dumbest man in racing, which is quizzical seeing he built a multi-billion dollar auto parts company from scratch in a basement; something that we mortals and 99.999% of the world's population couldn't dream of doing.

Why do so many of these smart people come to racing and not succeed? I surmise some of it's because they are not gamblers, and they have to juggle the horsemen balls with the gambling balls; so, yes, that might be valid criticism.

But most of all I think it's because the deck is stacked against them. Forcing change in horse racing is like changing Congress.

Nick, Bob, Frank and others are smart. That's why they lobby for slots, table games and whatever else they can do grow their business. The solution for racing is too much work, far too elusive, not worth the opportunity cost, and at the present time, not ROI positive.

Off We Go on a Wednesday

One of the better horse racing writers on the web today gets virtually no publicity at all.

Dan over at Thorotrends works extremely hard on his blog posts and they are fun, informative, thought-provoking and interesting. Praise coming from a blog dude that writes his posts in about ten minutes may need to be taken with a grain of salt, but I think I'm right on this one. Take a look at his most recent post on television and racing, and see if you agree. His other excellent posts are below that one.

The RCI bans private vets from administering lasix on raceday. I guess it's a good rule, however to me it smacks a little bit like the city of Washington D.C. banning handguns. I'm not sure it's going to be followed by bad racing people, who are using more than lasix as a pre-race.

Alan's yearly "Naughty and Nice" list is up for harness racing in 2011. Who's on it? Find out here.

I was asked why I was not talking about the political machinations in Jersey this past couple of weeks. It's not because I don't care, or that I don't think it's important. I simply feel it will get worked out and spending time on it here is a waste of mine. In the end, Chris Christie will get what he wants.

I'm someone, like many of you, who like to start and then finish things. There has to be a beginning and an end for me to feel successful. It is why I truly admire people who work in horse rescue, mainly for their determination. There is no beginning and end to horse rescue; the horses just keep coming, and coming and coming. If you'd like to help one, there is an awesome Ebay auction going on with plenty of cool stuff.

There is so little harness racing news this time of year, but Pompano sent out a press release about their end of year meet. Big Bad John, Noble, food trucks! Don't tell them it's not exciting. Well done.

When Zenyatta was winning all those races in a row there was a ton of grumbling that she didn't come east and face boys month in and month out and that her winning streak beating up on her own on poly was somehow tainted. In addition, in some camps the winning streak meant nothing. That showed the inside baseball of our sport, and why we don't let bettors and columnists so close to the sport market it. As Rapid Redux is illustrating, the general public can relate to streaks, and they mean something to them. They don't care who he raced, or what races he's in. He was on Sportscenter last evening because of the streak, nothing more and nothing less, just like Queen Z was.

Have a good day folks!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

5 Claimers Can Do the Twitter

I saw a twinky from a stock market follower the other day when Tim Tebow was trending via the micro-blogger.

He said (paraphrasing) "It's times like this twitter shows its power; long $twit"

Today it showed its power and what it can do in promoting a racehorse. Rapid Redux - for most intents and purposes a 5 claimer - won his 21st in a row. He trended on twitter just before post time (and still is at this time).

What's neat about that is if you click the trend hyperlink for Redux, it opens up a page which has new media associated with it. You can see pictures and videos of this lil' racehorse.

In effect, this is not unlike contextual advertising via pay per click, or Facebook advertising via that medium, but in a way it's even better.

What we have are people who have no idea who Rapid Redux is. They click the trending link. They see pictures of him (some of them live pictures) and it introduces them to a racehorse.

And it's free.

It's point and click and meet a horse.

The monetization of those clicks are a whole other story (hint - there are none right now), but for one brief period a good many people got to know a horse.

It's a darn cool story. And he's 'only' a 5 claimer.

PS: We'll look at monetization of popular racehorse press and links this weekend in HRU.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Notes

Here are some things that caught my eye this morning, if you're interested:

It was downright fascinating to not watch Luck last night, but 'watch it' on twitter with racing peeps. Some of the 180 degree comments like "I don't think Tim Tebow can even swoop in and save this one" to "if this doesn't help horse racing, nothing will" were interesting.

I watched the first Deadwood long ago and thought it was the worst show on earth. I didn't like a character, everything was slow, it was too raw, and more. But I ended up liking the show. I didn't watch Luck, but if I did, I have a suspicion I would feel like the LA Times reviewer, who said:
  • it's difficult to imagine any show that would prepare an audience for the first episode of "Luck," which moves with slow and often maddening deliberation
  • Even the master of the multiple storyline, Charles Dickens, took pity on his readers and appointed a protagonist, but Milch and director Michael Mann steadfastly refuse
That's about what I would've expected.

Ted reviews Luck here.

From Luck to Chuck

Trot Magazine allowed HANA Blog to use their article on Charlie Davis. Charlie's a cool guy - he went from playing sports and not knowing a furlong from a furcoat to being a horseplayer and horse owner.

Awesome Racing

Lovely video of Ready Cash's win in France yesterday here. Some of our trot races truly match up well for two mile or more races. If that race was on Betfair, in-running, I think we'd get a big audience over time. I have one friend who plays in-running and all he bets are the really long steeplechases.

PMU, Peeewww.

Speaking of France, I can't help but comment about it, because we often hear from racing "I wish we were like France, look at the crowds and the betting!"

France has a monopoly. Of course we wish we had one, who wouldn't?

If we put the shoe on the other foot: Would those same people like a car monopoly, where a new Ford Focus cost $38,000? How about a toothpaste monopoly where you pay $10 a tube, or subsititute baking soda to brush your teeth?

We'll never be a monopoly again, so it's tough to look at that as a model, plus they suck for the betting consumer. With the internet, good luck.

Pick 4 or Pick 5 - What do you wanna hit?

The Pick 4 at Gulfstream yesterday paid $111,000. The pick 5 (same sequence, except we added one leg, won by a 7-2 shot) paid $28,000.

Don't Ever Send Me a Picture

A friend who trains horses pinged me via Blackberry Messenger on Saturday. "Do you want a piece of a weanling?". Usually my answer would be no, but he is well bred and the deal is good. However, I was going to think about it for awhile because I have so much going on right now.

Then he sent me a picture.

I now own a piece of a weanling.


Why if an NFL player does something bad, is he fined $50k and given two games (which can be 1/8th of a $10M annual salary, or $1.25M) but a harness driver who makes $800,000 a year is fined like $100 and given a week off when he was going to fly to Aruba for a vacation anyway?

Why I Like Owning Harness Horses

The two lil yearlings I bought are training away and doing well (touch wood). I get emails like "when are you coming over to jog them? Stay the weekend, bring your dog!" I can't imagine having someone ask me over to ride my thoroughbred yearling.

Swing and a Hit

Congrats to hard-knocker Silent Swing on his 50th win.

Have a great Monday everyone.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Balmoral Handle Trending Up

Let's end the week on a happy note. Those takeout cutters and hard-workers at Balmoral had some good news to share today. Enjoy your weekend everyone. Here's the press release:

                                    TWO $20,000 GUARANTEED POOLS ON SATURDAY

                    Chicago, Illinois - December 9,2011 - by Michael Antoniades 

      On the heels of a very strong November, Balmoral Park rolls into the holiday season showing strong gains in handle compared to 2010. The combination of large fields, guaranteed pools, low takeout and monster payoffs has made the Balmoral Park signal extremely attractive.

     There was no stronger barometer than the average wagered per race. Balmoral Park showed double digit gains in November versus the same days in 2010.

                        Race Day       Average handle per race    Gain in 2011 per race     
                                                     2011           2010
                          Saturday         $ 98,645         82,581             $ 16,064          18%
                         Sunday                93,004         78,931                14,073          17%
                        Wednesday         68,489         64,801                  3,688            5%

      On the gambling side, Balmoral started a Sunday $10,000 guaranteed Pick 5 on November13. The average pool has been $26,516 and the average 50 cent payoff is a mind boggling $13,637.34. The Pick Four has a guaranteed pool every night ranging from $15,000 on Wednesdays , $20,000 on Saturdays and $25,000 on Sundays. Through November 30, the average pool was $28,033 on 92 guaranteed Pick 4 pools.

    On Saturday December 10, Balmoral will offer two $20,000 guaranteed pools. The Pick 5 has a carryover of $4,285 and starts on race 2. The Pick 5 has a 50 cent minimum bet. The Pick 4 is on the Final Four races , starting on race 10. The Pick 4 has a 15% takeout and a one dollar minimum.

    I would personally like to thank the USTA and Track Master for their extraordinary help in the Strategic Wagering Initiative. They are a big part in not only the guaranteed pools but interest in the other pools as well. The numbers don’t lie. Chris Schick, the chairman of the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative , said it all. “Low takeout, guaranteed pools and competitive full fields made the fans respond in a big way. That’s obvious. We are very pleased with the results.”  So are we.

    Free program pages, expert selections and the complete December schedule for the Strategic Wagering program can be found at the USTA’s handicapping page at

Friday Notes, Stories, Twinkies and More

Here are a few things that caught my eye today, if you're interested.

I follow some of the things that Three Chimneys Farm does with regards to aftercare and industry promotion. If I am in the market for a thoroughbred yearling anytime soon, I am buying one of theirs.

Twitter has been a pretty cool medium, I must admit. Where many (me included) use linked in to network in business; for racing fans, breeding farms, turf writers and some fans, twitter is the go-to. I had to jot down some thoughts about Twitter last week. Who do I call? No one. I pinged @sidfernando on twitter and asked him some questions. I wondered what some thoroughbred fans and bettors thought of harness racing last week too. I asked Claire, or Dana, or Chris, on twitter. There was no need for a focus group. 

Twitter and Harness Racing was a topic in this weeks Harness Racing Update. To see which drivers, trainers and others are engaging on twitter, and what we have to do to get more involved with the micro-blogger, you can read it here. Thanks to Sid for the comments, and Greg (@gregrienhart) for looking it over. It's much easier to ramble in pieces that take me ten minutes to write (I know, you can tell!) on this blog.

Also in Harness Racing Update we learned our friend here on blog land (and harness racing owner and commentator) Andrew Cohen got a job as the new legal correspondent for 60 Minutes. Like seriously, how cool is that? Congrats dude. 

In addition on HRU it seems See You At Peelers is going to try and make a comeback next season. I still marvel at the differences in the two sports - thoroughbred and harness - in terms of openness. Takter would pretty much hand over her bloods if the press asked. I love that about this sport.

Darryl Kaplan wrote a very cool piece on San Pail in Trot magazine for the Christmas issue.
  • As Canadians, I think we sometimes thrive as the underdogs. Not respected and not taken seriously. But like San Pail, we go out and we take care of business, week in and week out. And no one comes onto our track and pushes us around.
I loved the piece. It's seriously worth a read for its good writing.

Richard Eng wrote today that NYRA should use some slot cash to lower takeout. Hey, I think that's a great idea.

Fantastic job by economics prof Caroline Betts on HRTV yesterday. She was interviewed by Joanne Jones and Brad Free on takeout. She elaborated on what many of us speak about regarding rakes and racing, but she did it like a smart person does.

Teresa made a good comment on yesterday's piece regarding racing and social media. I think they've done a fairly good job of late. However, I wonder if we ever had it professionally done. Businesses, leagues etc tend to have a grand plan for everyone to follow - a workshop if you will. I think that's what the NTRA was set up for, or what the Standardbred Action plan called for. Both entities are understaffed or not even funded.

Greatest trotter who ever lived? That's the question on SC. These are extremely difficult questions because harness racing has raced in different generations and our equipment and breeding are changing. The best modern trotter, in my opinion, is Varenne. The best in past times for me, is Greyhound. I loved the Grey Ghost.

Have a great Friday everyone!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Moving Away from Racing 1.0 is Very Difficult

"It's not my job"
I've had a busy day here. I worked at a real job, I bet two races (1 for 2 with a positive ROI for the first time - in what feels - since the Bush administration), I chatted with a professor of finance about computer teams, takeout and pricing, scanned some releases on the RTIP conference and chatted with a couple racing peeps on twitter and via email.

For the racing side of things there seems to be a palpable frustration towards the business and its seeming unwillingness to change.


Today Tom LaMarra wrote a piece on social media and racing from a panel at the RTIP.

It was agreed we have to embrace it.

In 2008, Jessica, Alan, Dana (and others that you know from the blog) spoke about the same things at the NTRA conference.

It was agreed we have to embrace it.

Yesterday Caroline Betts, Phd and an honest broker reported to the industry that we need to find a way to lower takeout in a real, detailed, measurable way.

Some people said we have to look at that.

In 2007 on this blog, at numerous conferences, we said we have to find a way to lower takeout in a real, detailed, measurable way.

Some people said we have to look at that.

You get the idea.

At conferences we tend to talk a lot, but nothing ever happens.

At the Standardbred Canada conference in 2008 the amazingly capable and passionate Director of Biz Dev Darryl Kaplan, put forth several panels for change, a couple of which I spoke about and joined in on. Each panel of professionals included people from outside racing, the industry itself, bettors, and others. Each session presented a vision about things like social media, using television, putting bets in corner stores, jackpot bets, lower takeout, exchange wagering, and a few other marketing initiatives. Virtually everyone agreed that these things needed to be looked at, built upon, and done.

Not settling for just talk, Darryl created working groups for each item, brought aboard professionals from all stripes to work for free and built a plan. This was not going to be "just another talk fest".

After this was constructed, each group wrote a plan, and Darryl brought it to the industry. It would need some money to implement, so he tried to build consensus and asked for funding through a Wagering Initiative.

After two long years of hard work, everything that needed to be done was talked about, summarized and ready to roll.

The table was set for Racing 2.0 in Canada.

What happened next:  When it was brought up for a vote, the industry rejected it.

"Not at this time" was a familiar response.

It's easy to be frustrated with Racing 1.0 when we see conferences just talking about things. But it becomes palpable frustration when we find a way to do more than just talk and move racing forward, and it dies on the vine.

Racing 1.0 wins, and has won for decades. Right now, Racing 2.0 seems a long way off.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RTIP Takeout Thoughts - It's a Punt

The panel on takeout rates today, with an industry insider, and our pal economist Caroline Betts failed to deliver too much to bridge the industry's long-suffering handle losses, in terms of pricing. One of the presenters mainly focused on data accumulation, rather than an actionable plan to test lower takeout levels, and this is what dominated the industry press.
  • Steve May, the business manager for the Racing Commissioners International, said that a project he undertook to examine takeout rates while studying for his master’s degree at the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program failed to generate any firm conclusions on how takeout rates affect betting because he was unable to acquire enough data on handle at racetracks and handle by bettors.
  • "The conclusion is blank," May said. "I don’t have enough data. It would be unethical to say there is a conclusion. There’s a lot of work that need to be done on this, and to cite studies from 1976 is not good business."
So, there was no data and without data what'll happen is we'll do nothing. It'll be yet another punt, by an industry with a hard-core culture and history of punting the football down the road.

As Dave Vicary, a retired tech executive noted on Twitter:

"It's a classic argument used to avoid decision making, responsibility, and change."

I agree that's what the industry takeaway from the above will be.

I would've personally liked to have seen a narrative that focused on some sort of goal, with the stated assumption that rake is too high; mainly because there is data - real world data - to back that up.

For example, we all know bookmakers in Britain - who have been doing so for two or three centuries - charge about 5% for shorter shots in the win pool. They don't do that because they're a charity, they do it to make the most money from their customers - it's their "optimal rate". By simple reasoning, that means the 20.75% win take at Turf Paradise is probably way too high.


How do we test the historically derived profit maximizing 5% takeout rate in one pool (that has been borne out of centuries of data) when we have tracks charging 20.75% here (a rate which is completely capricious)?

If you try and work a plan to implement that - say by getting all tracks on board to try a 12% win pool rake, or a 10% one sans rebate - then you can accumulate data and adjust. This is what casino's do; they tweak and test all levels on slot machines constantly.  Your neighborhood bookie does too. Notice how your he/she charged ten cent lines in 1911, just like they do in 2011, without the use of excel for Mac?

How do we work towards that? What are the next steps? Do we have an action plan? Can we discuss it? These are the ideas Caroline has been working towards for some time.

Unfortunately what we tended to get here is yet another industry-led narrative that will probably involve setting up more committees to answer a question that every gambling expert, or businessman or woman out there knows the answer to already - our takeout is too high.

Authenticity With Twitter Can Go a Long Way

It was reported in the National Post this morning that Alec Baldwin was kicked off a flight for not turning off his wireless device when he was asked to.
  • “He was on his phone. He didn’t want to get off his phone. Then he snuck into the bathroom, he became a little bit irate, and they had to remove him from the flight,” another passenger said.
The 30 Rock star, who I personally find hilarious at his craft, went on tilt on twitter afterwards:

 American Airlines twitter account replied:

If the early reports from the Post story are accurate and Mr. Baldwin was clearly the one in the wrong, that was about the most unauthentic reply we can ever see.

American Airlines has its problems, but what I would've done (with my marketer hat on today) is the exact opposite. I would have replied that FAA rules call for cell phones to be shut off at a certain time, and that we as customers abide by those rules when politely asked. When we don't, we're pitched off a flight no matter who we are.

I'd probably immediately start a web ad campaign; something along the lines of:
  • American Airlines, where the 1% is treated like the 99%. Thank you for turning off your cell phones when asked
In the cutthroat world of travel, authenticity resonates because the competition is out to get you. Interestingly enough, in racing it's not quite that way. We depend on other tracks for signals, we depend on slots for purse money.

We won't anytime soon see an ad running outside a racino saying:

"You Realize You Are Gambling at a Game That's Impossible to Win At, Don't You?", with a picture of professional horseplayer Mike Maloney

We won't see Charles Town run an ad saying:

"Santa Anita hiked your takeout. At Charles Town we respect your financial situation in these tough times, so we lowered ours. Join us!"

We'll be having a look at twitter and harness racing this weekend in Harness Racing Update. It's a story, and a medium that gets more and more interesting. I hope you'll give it a read.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

There's Never Been a Better Time for New York to Slash Takeouts

The trend across racing is there, and it's prevalent. Handle will be down to close to $10 billion this season, another 7% decline.

But there are a few bright spots, and what to do to achieve some success is hitting racing over the head with a hammer:

Slots tracks that take some of their slot money to lower takeout and promote racing via alternate means, can, and do, win. Charles Town Race Course spent a little cash to be shown on TVG, promoted their big events, and lowered takeout precipitously. This is what happened:
In August, Charles Town had their 15th consecutive handle growth month.

Woodbine Racetrack, who has received oodles of slots cash since inception in the late 1990's, decided to finally do something with it a couple of years ago, other than stuff it into purses and some new coats of paint.  This season they lowered their trifecta takeout, expanded lower cost wagering to the US, and paid TVG some slots cash to show their races.

The result? Handle was up 7.5%.

New York racing has the same opportunity, but thus far we have heard nothing along these lines. Nothing except stuffing slots cash into purses, which hasn't worked for the demand side anywhere. They have had two takeout hikes the past several years, and as horseplayer Mike Maloney noted in an interview in Horseplayer Magazine:
  • Their exotics takeout on the tris and supers is absurd anyway, so the combination of those two things pushes me away from New York most of the time.
Today it was announced that the Aqueduct casino is the most successful in all of New York State.  There are no excuses left. New York must begin to show some vision and lower takeout, distribute their signal and use slot cash for the demand side of the equation and not just for the supply side. If they do, we might actually be able to grow handle in 2012, instead of watching it circle the drain for another year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

We Do Have a Racing Season

You'll often hear folks speak about how racing does not have a beginning and end, like football or baseball does. That's certainly true. 365 days a year you can watch and bet racing, virtually 24 hours a day. This certainly does bother some, and despite the obvious differences (baseball and football are sports, while we are a participatory sport and gambling game), they have a point.

If we scan most racing related websites, it seems we do have a season, don't we? This is a 2011 look at traffic trends to, via quantcast.

This works like clockwork each year.

When April rolls around we begin to see stories on nightly sportscasts, newspapers and the interwebs focus on the Derby.  The Derby is watched and the winner is spoken about time and again. With the Derby winner fresh in the minds of the general public, and with only a two week gap to the second leg of the Crown (will the horse or won't he keep on the Triple Crown trail?), interest is still there.  Into June, we still see interest in the last leg of the Crown, even if it's not achievable.

In addition, it does not matter who the participants are during our "season" just like it has little effect in football or baseball. Spectacular Bid or Secretariat could be the protagonists, or Mine that Bird or Animal Kingdom can. The spike and resulting wane in interest will be seen just like it will for a Super Bowl game between two little known teams.

If anyone asks me if thoroughbred racing has a season, I always answer yes. It starts in late April and ends when the Belmont winner crosses the finish line.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's Probably Time Enough

Finley writes in HRU today (pdf), regarding banished-from-racing Walter Case Jr. 
  • On the surface, Case, who has also had numerous problems with substance abuse, is not exactly a nice guy. And I am not interested in scrathing beneath the surface or examining whatever demons might have made him so troubled. I just don't see what any of that has to do with his right to drive a standardbred race horse and the right of an owner or trainer to hire him to do so.
The more I think about this question, the flimsier and flimsier the excuses to keep him out of racing are. I can simply find little behind the arguments against him, and they tend to fall back on a catch-all "we don't need people like that in racing".

Those arguments bother me.

This is a sport that does not even ban trainers for life if they are criminally convicted of animal abuse. Why ban a driver who served his time? 


You have said for so long in comments and elsewhere here on the blog that our stakes races in North America tend to be snorefests. In Saturday's Harness Racing Update this was explored (page three).

Chuck's Back

Not long ago Caroline Betts and I were speaking on twitter about her garage sale for her horse rescue where she had nothing major for sale including "a helicopter flight manual". I jokingly proposed she say the manual was owned by Chuck Yeager and the price would skyrocket. Not soon after Chuck Yeager was in our twitter stream, mentioning he never owned a flight manual. Very funny. Well, he's back. She is currently running an Ebay auction and I asked (because the price of one item is through the roof) if Chuck Yeager ever owned that piece. ten minutes later, there's Chuck asking "what did I own?"

You Don't See Closes Like This on a 5/8ths too Often

Anyone catch the Western Canadian Pacing Derby from Northlands yesterday? I could not believe that horse got up. What a nice stretch drive. Video here.

Hottest Horse in Harness Racing?

Sparky Mark

Thoroughbred Punters Think.....

I chatted with some of my thoroughbred betting friends yesterday about harness racing (they don't play it and almost never watch). Each one said they found it too chalky. I think we'll explore that question for an article soon. If you are a thoroughbred bettor who doesn't touch harness, let me know.

Have a great Sunday. I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Results are in: Rebranding TV Coverage Works

The results are in from the recent Bet Night Live experiment on The Score Television network, and they are solid (see below).

 For those who have not followed the story, here is some background,  from a post on the blog a couple of years ago:

For those that read the blog, a hot topic for us in local racing has been the use of television to show things the old fashioned way, versus targeting bettors in a targeted way. As most who watch Race Night on the Score know, the human interest stories, while the great puzzle of handicapping the races is going on are maddening.

As I have said before, and you have agreed , "if we have to watch another story on a feed man from north of Guelph who owns four pet ponies during a telecast I think I am going to have a seizure". In my view, not using a show like this in promoting what you are selling (i.e. gambling on the product from home) is wasted airtime.

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

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

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

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

Today some statistics were released:
  • In the two-year lifespan of the network program, the total number of new sign-ups has reached 2,086, with over $5.7 million wagered.
  • The new format is proving to be successful as Bet Night Live’s audience is growing. This season there has been a 30 percent hike in viewers compared to the 2009 season of Race Night on The Score.
I am unsure they are tracking TV signups from regular ones, but if 20% of those sign ups and 20% of the handle from them are due to the brand change, this has supplied the Return on Ad Spend expected. In addition, if you can retain 5-15% of your new accounts with incentives and good business, the life time value of the new customers is a gift that keeps on giving.

As we noted this week in this post, I hope the Jockey Club is listening, and devising a plan to win customers, not just show racing.

In addition we can only hope Woodbine keeps trying new things, looking at offering not only the betting product, but betting value, has a plan to cultivate the new signups, and incisively track newbie bettor behavior.

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