Monday, February 28, 2011

Awards Post-Script

Last night was the big awards show, watched worldwide. The evening was filled with jokes, video, winners, losers, fashion and a dash of politics.... yessirree, I think the Dan Patch Awards were a winner (what else was there on last night anyway?);

No one even used the F word. Well, they didn't publicly anyway.

Rock n' Roll Heaven walked away with most of the hardware, as he should have. This season we had a three year old male (Rock) and a three year old female (Put on a Show) that were pretty much all world. Add a little bit of talent with Big Jim and it was a good year in harness racing.

The show was broadcast via for the first time. I thought they did a pretty fair job.

Here's my scorecard, if you are interested.

Tale of the Tape - Brennan versus Gural

Tioga Owner Jeff Gural let a remark fly at George's expense in Finley's Harness Racing Update last week; namely, that he should be racing at the Meadowlands, not Yonkers. I watched the tape religiously and could not see any sparks fly in this regard. However, since George spoke, I did not see Jeff speak, and this is scored on a ten point must system: Advantage BRENNAN.

Chick Fight - Moira Fanning versus Kathy Parker

Moira from the Hambo Society received her award, which probably could and should be named after her. Kathy, editor at HFW, accepted the magazines' well-deserved award. The speeches and glamor-wear were tough to judge. Moira got a new hair-do and Kathy was dressed elegantly in black. Moira remembered her husband's name, which today gets her some excellent Christian Bale points. Kathy did not forget anyone's names at the magazine, including the cleaning staff. It is a very close call here, but the nod goes to PARKER, because Fanning wins everything.

Grudge Match - Bruce Saunders versus Bruce Saunders

Bruce Saunders gets his own category. The man should be a politician. He spoke elegantly virtually every time at the podium. His last speech gets the nod here, for mentioning the photographers "getting Rock n Roll Heaven pictures with all four feet off the ground". I don't know how they do it either Bruce. Advantage: SAUNDERS

Young Guns - Gingras versus Settlemoir

Yannick Gingras, having to cut his speech to one-minute or be fined by the judges, made the most of it. The fine young Canuck wanted to give his award to Jason Settlemoir by the sounds of it, who probably does deserve one, like yesterday. In the end, I went with the gentleman who I feel still gets carded more in licensed bars. Advantage GINGRAS

Put on a Show versus Rock n' Roll Heaven

Two great horses, two speeches, and both were good. For the younger Bellino mentioning "the fans on the internet who loved our horse" he gets an edge, simply because I am a fan, and I am on the internet, so I figure he was speaking directly to me. Advantage: ROCK N ROLL HEAVEN

Big Jim Carr versus the Younger Bellino

There was a battle royale between the owners of Rock n Roll Heaven and Big Jim - "who could say nicer things about their drivers". Long blamed for losses, pulled suspensories, Lindsay Lohan and world hunger, drivers can get their due on awards night, because if their horse wins, that means they didn't suck too much driving them during the year. Big Jim loves Little Phil and Mr. Bellino loves Danny Dube. Since I like both drivers and both owners, I should be taking a push on this. However, because Jim Carr is big and could easily beat me up, I say, Advantage: BIG JIM CARR

Special Mentions

The Ponce De Leon Award goes to Gary Siebel. He looks like he is in his twenties, and I can't figure it out.

The He Really Talks Like That Award goes to Roger Houston. I'd love to be invited to dinner at his house. "If you are not standing up for these mashed potatoes, you better get up now!"

The No Kidding These People Are Down to Earth Award goes to harness racing; like duh.

Congrats to all the winners.

Here they all are via Youtube montage.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Adios Gemmer

Gem at Flamboro as a 7 year old
I was handicapping the races with my “internet friends” on a racing chat site a long time ago now. One of the participants and I hit it off. Vern, who had never owned horses before but always wanted to, responded quickly when I asked “do you want to take a shot on something at the SC sale in August?”. 

These two bettors, who never even met in person, wanted to spend between $10,000 and $20,000 on a horse who fit the maiden, who had a little bit of potential upside. After leafing through the pages we settled on three or four horses. We thought a couple might go for too much, including a Blair Burgess cast-off called Stonebridge Gem.  Vern, who hailed from the province of Newfoundland 1500 miles away stayed home, and I headed to the sale.

A couple of the ones we liked had moved out of our price range, but when Gem came up the bidding stalled at $11,000. I bid $11,500 and then $13,000. Sold! Vern called and said "good job". We got the one we wanted.

Dresden Raceway 2006
It’s hard to believe, but fast fowarding many years and after 140 starts for our stable, he had his last race yesterday. He motored to the lead, his usual spot, and he looked great at the half mile, but packed it in before the three quarter pole. He just can’t do it any longer, so it’s time for him to retire.

For a horse that was a big liability on the stable balance sheet most years, you might think we’d not have fond memories of him, but we do.

Early on he got Vern’s first ever win as an owner, going wire to wire to break his maiden at Windsor. A few months later, he was one of the favorites in the $47,000 Middlesex and he got a check (coming 5th). We were there to watch and we were thrilled.

The following summer he raced at little Dresden and won a few in a row. I made it to the track for those races and had to call Vern on my cell to let him listen to the racecalls. Dresden was not simulcast and there was no live video. When all was totaled, he won ten races and we have every win picture. Nice memories.

Win pic, signed by Al for Vern's Daughter
Vern’s daughter came to Ontario with him, too, to see old Gem. When he turned five and from then on for a few years, we could not place him in a cheaper claimer because she’d be sad to see him go anywhere. We didn’t mind.

In the latter days of his career we moved him to trainer Nick Boyd’s stable and Nick raced him and enjoyed doing it, despite his sub-par record. The horse could leave like an invite horse, so even when he was outclassed he gave it a speed try. He was fun for us to watch and you could not help getting attached.

I very rarely (if ever) speak of our horses here on the blog, but after all those starts and having him for so long, please forgive me. He brought me some new friends and it proves to me that although making a few dollars is needed as a horse owner, if you own horses for that only, you are missing out. Horses like Gem prove that each every day, as many of you out there know, I'm sure

 Adios old fella, and thank you.

Note: If you made it this far and know anyone who is looking for a sound horse in Southern Ontario (to hopefully become a riding horse) please let us know. We can be reached at Thank you!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Notes

A giant handicapping chipmunk
Tampa Bay Downs did it again today, and it is still pretty unbelievable - they out handled Santa Anita.

According to a twinkie from Canlumbo: "Tampa Bay this year 4,459k versus 4,448k last year. They ran 10 races versus 11 last year. Santa Anita last year 5,570k, today 4,270k -23%."

The chipmunks ain't buying Santa Anita's walnuts.

Bill Finley's Harness Racing Update had several great quotes of late.  First he interviewed Jeff Gural. Not one to mince words, Gural called out driver George Brennan for abandoning the Meadowlands for Yonkers, because purses are higher at Yonkers. As everyone knows, Yonkers could fall off the face of the earth tomorrow and harness racing would be better for it, because the horses and drivers would be back at the high handle Meadlowlands. For his part, Brennan did not take the bait and simply replied that Gural was entitled to his opinion. Bill also had a look at Betfair's take on owning a piece of the Meadowlands. It is some good reporting.

Gary West has a bang on article about the Derby chase. Hat tip to Equidaily for the link.

St. Elmo Fire is racing for a charity this weekend, looking for 24 in a row.

The Dan Patch Awards are being streamed at the USTA site. It starts Sunday evening at 7:30. We're all sitting on pins and needles on who will be horse of the year. My inside contacts tell me that it will be a horse whose name rhymes with Bock n' Toll Seven. The Horseplayers Association of North America is receiving an award at the big dance and Abe Diamond is there to accept it. Abe is a long-time fan, long-time HANA member, a daily player and a nice fellow.

Jessica is hot on the case regarding the horsemen and track fight at Suffolk. I think her last name is Fletcher. Also of note, on twitter we find out she'll be a guest on the Capital OTB show. Wish I could watch. She's sharp.

Craig Walker reports on California racing (the link is now dead. Hmmmm)  and asks that they do something - and quickly. He could not be more correct, in my opinion. A lot seem to think that we can turn on and off customers like we turn off and on a tap. No business is like that; customers just get slowly annoyed, and slowly leave. Takeout increases (or for that matter decreases) do not change things overnight more often than not and never have, and neither do most other branding changes. They have a lot of work to do there.

It's taken awhile, but the ROMP Handicapping league is growing. Excellent work by that crew.

For everyone (including me!) who was left scratching their heads after Rock n' Roll Heaven did not fire off second over in the Cup last year, that question is answered. He was quite the colt. If it was five years ago he probably would have been standing for more than $12k.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lindy Farms Doing it Right

She's a feisty one!
We have spoken before about the new horse partnership started by Lindy Farms. I know a few of the members including my pal Charlie, a thoroughbred player and board member of the Horseplayers Association of North America.

Owning harness horses in not like owning a thoroughbred horse. The differences, although they are racehorses and get the same care, vet work and feed, are there. You can buy a solid pedigree for less money, and you can catch the dream of owning a champion without having to battle a sheik at a sale in harness racing. You can have a horse that may race twenty times as a three year old, or even more than that. There are several other differences, but for a new fan, or a new horse owner, owning a nice yearling colt or filly can be had.

Training down

The "Bourbon Slush Stable" started with one yearling, but due to demand expanded that number to three - two pacers and one trotter. So far all three are showing promise and have been staked. I have been scouring their Facebook site (where I got all these cool pictures) and I see Ra Hanover has been in 24, which is great news.

John Campbell wishes Bourbon Slush good luck

Spending some time on their Facebook site shows that the power of that medium is huge, and if it is done right it is even more than that. Reading the posts, looking at the pictures and seeing the crew behind this venture can not help but put a smile on your face. This is the way horse ownership is supposed to look.

Everyone loves their yearling in March, that is assured, so times might be less energetic for the crew if the various issues we all have to deal with crop up. But win or lose these horse owners are doing something the right way. Things like their Facebook page to promote everything that there is about being an owner of a young promising horse - the dreaming, the good people, sharing some laughs and so on - are capturing that beautifully.

I'd love to see one of their horses win an NYSS or Sweetheart Final. It would be quite the party.

Betfair to Own Monmouth?

In an interesting bit of news, it appears Betfair is going to make a bid for Monmouth.

"New Jersey has a fantastic horse racing heritage. Betfair and TVG are absolutely committed to having a role. The racing product at Monmouth Park was vastly superior last summer. Similarly, the Meadowlands presents the most eminent harness racing destination in North America," he said.

This is not that uncommon. For harness players especially it could possibly be a good event if so. By pushing the Big M product (along with it being pushed on the exchange) the number of eyeballs on it should be very good for pool size - something sorely needed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ever Cash a Voucher and ......

Elmer Patzer walked up to a betting machine and started popping in tickets to see if he won. All of a sudden, whamo, he cashed for $6.5 million!

Clearly the error that occurred was an honest computer glitch, but ol' Elmer took Hastings Park to court. Today, after six years, he lost.

Uncle Mo is off to an overnight affair for his first tilt of 2011. There are a number of theories on this I guess: He is not quite ready or having some issues, they are not overly confident to try a tougher spot, or Pletcher is going for the Triple Crown. I am tending to lean to the latter. I have often wondered why horsemen in this day and age hit all the major preps. Yes, I realize they need legs under them, but horses are modern machines now as compared to 1970. The old myths (can't win the Juvenile and win the Derby, you can't win on two preps, etc) are falling almost every year.

If I had a track I would write several of these Derby preps for a special horse or two. I bet in a few years they will be populated by pre-Derby chalk in a big way.

Did Golden Gate cut purses? Can-lumbo is on the case. That chart is ugly.

This year's Cam Fella will be a good one with the addition of St. Elmo Hero. He is still undefeated and looks nowhere close to losing soon.

I have no idea what the big stink up is over Calder requiring horses stabled at their track to run there. They spend six million a year to offer out stabling for free. Why would they do anything different. They are not a charity.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Derby Futures Ten Years Hence

We have chatted a lot about CRM here in the past, and for your average every day fan who might want to become a customer, it is super-important. But what about the casual observer, is there hope to try and hook them into the business of racing?

One avenue I think helps, is the future pool wagering for the Derby. This wager as we all know is interesting for fans, because they are pre-qualified already to play futures. Your average sports fan makes a trip to Vegas and can bet the winner of the NCAA's, or the Stanley Cup. It is a part of our culture as sports bettors. And it has to up viewership.

Right now I commend Churchill with their Derby pool. They have promoted it and made it something fun. Technically it should be treated as a loss leader, because it markets your event for you.

Is this good enough? I think in ten years, this wager will be much different than today, and I think it will help racing because big events drive casual fans, and giving casual fans more ways and better ways to participate and share their experiences, is what we're after.

There are a few problems with the Future Pool. All horses are not represented, the odds lack a true real time feel, and you can not change your bets after they are made. This is something that the "World Sports Exchange" tackled as far back as 1997, and it changed the market forever.

What can a "Derby Exchange" for betting do? Quite a bit.

First, it can allow you to trade your position. If you have an eye for horses, or pedigree, and you find a nice horse off of a bad line, the sky is the limit. Let's look at the Grand National at Betfair for an example:

There is about $500k traded already in this market and it is a tight one. Let's look at the trading on the current chalk.

You could have bet this horse at over 100-1 earlier in the season. You could be trading the horse out right now at a profit. An example for the Derby might be: What if you bet $200 on Uncle Mo before the BC Juvenile last November at 12-1? You could easily trade him out at 4-1 and lock in profit. In addition, this ups volume as a rule. If you could bet Uncle Mo, knowing you could trade him out later, you might bet $20 instead of $2, or $500 instead of $50.

The second thing it might do is glue the casual observer to the news. If you owned Eskandreya last season at 10-1 and he was 4-1 two weeks before the Derby, would you not be paying attention to what the news is? If you heard a good work report on a longshot would you not pay attention? With a huge market and a chance to make some money and have some fun, people will pay attention. There is a 45 year old mom in Ohio who has a real time ticker on her Iphone for INTC news, because she is wondering if she should sell her position. It is not a stretch to imagine a sports bettor having real-time Derby news on her Iphone. Money talks.

The third thing it clearly does is attract a new participant in our sport. Peter Webb never played a horse race in his life before wanting to "trade" such positions. There are people writing naked puts, buying corn futures, or using Black-Scholes like we use Formulator who may be interested.

Fourth, forget cannibalization, and think growth. If thousands of people are paying attention and trading positions, think of what Derby Day can do. If you are that in tune with the horses, you better believe you are going to take a poke at an ex, super, or pick three.

Last but not least we have the existing fan base. There are literally thousands of people out there who would book Uncle Mo at 2-1 nine or ten weeks out (clearly 2-1 is an absurd value bet). All they can do now is wish, not play.

The Grand National will have well over $15 million bet on it via this trading medium. I think in ten years, if legal in the US, run by whomever, $15M can be chump change. The Derby, the social media explosion and the ability to attract tons of new folks to trade this, is a match made perfectly for our sport.

Note: Who is a bust in the Future Pool? Who's a Bargain? Here is one opinion.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rainbow Six Anonymous

I admit it. I hate to, but I have to look in the mirror and come to grips with it - I bet my first Rainbow Six.

The pick 6 at Gulfstream - a lotto bet with huge takeout - is not something I find will help racing. Certainly it won't unless they get slots players buying "cards" or tickets in corner stores. But it did serve a purpose for me today. I was working on some real work items and just could not pay attention like I should, but I wanted to watch the races at Gulfstream. I decided, for ten cents, why not?

I took a poke and bet a gazillion combos, spending $60 or something for some good old-fashioned gambling entertainment. I lost in leg two (I pitched that chalk winner) but I still got to watch the races to see how I did.

OK, I feel better now, but I am fully expecting my Horseplayer friends to submit my name for an episode of Intervention. Watch for me on A and E betting Pennsylvania supers, exactors at Golden Gate and the Rainbow six, keying chalk.

The pick 6 at these increments has been dissected by several folks. Beyer, who liked the 25 cent Beulah Fortune Six, wrote about the ten cent variety here at GP and concluded it was not a nice bet. I think he is on the fence on them, depending on a number of factors. I think I am too.

In addition, Cangamble today looks at a potential "sucker" bet, the Pimlico Slider. This bet involves picking a winner, an exacta, a tri and a super, to cash the pot. The bar seems a little high, huh. The odds of cashing that are probably tantamount to the aforementioned Andy Beyer beating Uncle Mo in a 6 furlong sprint. They should call it the Pimlico Vacuum.

Sometimes qualifying bets and "hooks" are decent. For example, the Pick 6 in the UK is really hard to hit (because of the massive fields) and the pots can get into the millions. They add a qualifier for winners by asking them to pick one winner on a prescribed race the following weekend. If they do, they get the "side pot", which can reach mega bucks. I think side pot bets would be the way to attack new wagers. If you are going to charge 30% take for a hard to hit bet, why not stick 5% of it away for a side pool? Better yet, why not use some slot cash for the side pool at slot tracks, giving long-ignored customers some value?

The Gulfstream Rainbow Six and the Pimlico Slider look like they have aways to go; but it sure doesn't mean we should stop trying some new ideas. We should just make sure the ideas make sense. In my opinion, someone should call a horseplayer before making a new bet - a novel concept I know, but one that should be tried. After all, who is supposed to be making these bets?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Them's Good Eats

It's party-time in New Zealand at the wildfoods festival. A racehorse owner added something to the menu. Don't say I didn't warn you.

"Kerslake said some of the shots would be flavoured, and there might even be a possibility punters could request a particular horse. "


Hat tip to the Beav.

NTRA "Fan" Numbers v. Thorotrends "Fan" Numbers

Dueling surveys. Cue the music.

Alex Waldrop of the NTRA has posted about racings appeal and some hard-numbers from their survey done in 2009.

"...found that about 50.6 million adults in the U.S. qualify as Thoroughbred racing fans and that about 5.6 million adults say they attend a racetrack or an OTB or log onto an online wagering site and “bet a few times a month.” Some of you have questioned these numbers."

Some people have been questioning those results. The NTRA's numbers (I am NOT a poller) look more than fine to my uneducated eye. The group that did the survey seems very good and very reliable. I don't have the expertise, nor would I ever try and discount the results without even seeing the questions etc.

But reading the article there does appear to be a bit of a disconnect.

"Twenty million annual visits puts horse racing as the #2 spectator sport in America behind only one other U.S. major league sport, MLB, and ahead of the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and NASCAR. "

There is also a reference that 30M people can at times watch the Derby or Belmont with a TC in the balance. I have no reason to believe that is not true, but if we are visited as a sport so much, and we conclude so many people "like" us so much, how can those sports we beat in attendance and viewing charge (and get) billions for TV revenue, and the Breeders Cup, Hambo, race of the week etc, have to pay the networks to show our sport?

Dan Needham at Thorotrends tweeted today to Alex:

thorotrends Dan Needham

@AlexWaldrop @viczast If numbers don't lie, little has changed since 1974, a year after Secretariat.

He linked a piece he wrote (Dan is a professional surveyor, so while my opine means little, his sure doesn't) on a Pew Research survey that looks more in line with what we see.

"In 1974, a year removed from Secretariat's enthralling campaign, the Harris Sports Survey asked a national representative sample of sports fans to indicate which sports they follow. One in five (20%) sports fans claimed to follow horse racing. Horse racing was chosen as overall favorite sport by 3% of sports fans" [this 3% is similar to the 2009 survey]

But in 2006 Pew found the following:

"Therefore I had to dig into the data to find the result to compare our Secretariat-era estimate of 3%. The good news is that horse racing was in fact volunteered as a favorite sport by some. The bad news is the percentage -- 0.13% of all adults and 0% of sports fans considered horse racing to be their favorite sport to watch. What is startling is that "rodeo/bull riding" was actually mentioned by 0.5% of respondents. Suddenly that 3% estimate from 1974 in the wake of Secretariat looms as an impressively large number."

Numbers don't lie, that is true. But I wonder, which survey makes more sense to you?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Branding, Data & Happy Birthday to the Exchange

A few racing stories caught my interest today.

First we have two from Hong Kong, one from Britain and one from Australia.

In Hong Kong there is an attack on pari-mutuel pools from the internet. Both horse wagering and things like online poker threaten their revenues. If you read between the lines in this story the narrative is much different than on its face. Internet wagering is here to stay, so it looks less of a cry for help to block it (like we heard in North America from 2000 to even today), than a cry for better taxation or more business choice for the club.

The second Hong Kong article (from Equidaily) talks about just how well the HKJC is doing in the face of new competition. As we have spoken about here several times they have addressed many issues with taxation, takeout and other means and have seemed to nip the losses in the bud.

"The job is far from done but the comeback in the past few years has been impressive, with pari-mutuel turnover now hovering around $100 million a race after getting down as far as the low $80 million figures prior to the tax restructuring, rebates and turnaround."

Article three is from the UK. There is currently a big fight out that way with funding and the like, trying the 1995 thinking. You'd think its on its last legs. However, it has a pretty good hold on the gamblers - much better than here, for example.

"Wagering on horse races remains popular in comparison to the two previous studies of 1999 and 2007, falling between figures from those two surveys as racing registered 13% in 1999 and down just slightly from 17% in 2007."

Lastly from Australia. Only five years ago there were members of Aussie parliament saying exchanges were pretty evil, even going so far to say that they were funneling cash to terrorists. There would be blood on the streets if they don't give us all their money, they would pilfer pools and cause corruption etc.

Well, the five years have gone by. In terms of almost every other jurisdiction 2010 was a fabulous year for Aussie horse racing. Adrian Dunn of the Herald Sun looks at the experience:

Outrageous predictions were made. Mafia-style thugs would stand over jockeys, who would jump off horses mid-race so that shadowy figures who laid horses to lose would secure a windfall.

There were also claims that Betfair would grab all the money and run, returning nothing to the industry. Leading trainers and jockeys were urged by Racing Victoria to put their names to a document slamming Betfair.

Damon Runyon, the famed author of the 1930s, would have lapped it up.

.... It may be many things, but certainly not the ogre that some painted.

I think the experience and response in those three countries is telling. Adding customer choice and making the product you put out customer-driven will allow for change, and it will allow racing to hold its own. No, the handles and revenue are not on fire and we are not growing like a weed, but our brand (racing live animals in front of people) is not a growing brand.

What Hong Kong has done and is doing is restructuring to be a present day gambling enterprise. They have done that and handle is approaching mid-1990 pre-internet numbers. It is not going anywhere.

In the UK the brand is solid, and consumer choice (you can bet pick 6's, jackpot bets, WP with a bookie at 6% take, WP on an exchange at 5% takes etc), is a big part of that.

In Australia, despite seemingly years of saying the sky is falling when you add bettor choice, things are doing quite well (2010 was a gross handle record year in Australia and purses were up all on their own).

Here in North America, with more alphabet organizations than a chapter in a Tom Clancy novel, the myths, infighting and actions on terribly bad data continue. We have branded malaise. If we start branding to customers like it appears we might be doing in some jurisdictions, we have a chance to have a good second decade. Growing handle is not such a pipe-dream. Growing handle while protecting the status-quo at all costs is.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Musings

It's Tuesday, right? There is some interesting stuff going on, well to me anyway.

Tom Lamarra writes a nice quick-hit blog at the Bloodhorse and today's is good again. It is difficult as we all know to go too far out on a limb in a trade paper. Tom walks a fine line, but still gives us all something to talk about. We need more blogs like that on industry websites in harness.

Jessica can not possibly be doing a better job with regards to the New England racing situation and looking at it from the customer side. This is old hat to us as it has happened in Ontario about a half dozen times. Harness handles, as reported this month in Trot, are savaged here with a lot of this nonsense. Racing must come to grips with the fact that when people leave, a lot never come back. No business in the land has ever grown by annoying customers and racing is no exception.

Last night I procrastinated from real work and got to researching betting overseas, just to keep tabs. Scott over at his blog linked a story where Sumo Wrestling has fallen into the fixing arena. Throughout history, usually when participants are over 600 lbs the talk of fixing only involves horses.

My old pal from Sweden, Janne, chimed in on bets in Sweden today in the comments section about my bet types post below. Nice to hear from you again.

Andrew Twaits blog in Australia via Betfair gives a good glimpse into the juxtaposition, political infighting, and back-scratching that can go on with racing policy. It generally uses hard numbers too, which is rare.

"Congratulations to the NSW Government for recognising that the NSW TAB needs to lower its effective takeout rates in order to compete for price sensitive customers and generate additional revenue for the racing industry."

Congrats indeed. Everyone in NA seems to know that too, but why do they do the opposite? I have no idea.

Being a dual-sport bettor I can honestly say that Pace is something that harness bettors use and have studied as much or more than any handicapping tool. I am constantly amazed when I look at the discussion of the subject on thoroughbred chat boards to see the lack of consensus opinion on the matter. I agree with Maloney that Pace in that game is still underutilized, especially the concept of uneven fractions. There is a three part series on Pace on a UK website and I am interested to read where this fellow is going for part three.

Hollywood Park & Santa Anita seeks to cut days in March. If the purses stay the same this is a purse cut. If not, average purse size will go up and the horsemen will be happy. The purse argument still rules the roost, even though it has been several years with no progress.

I finally got around to watching Secretariat the movie this past weekend. Hollywood can make a sporting event look great, a war scene like the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan look amazingly real, and a heavyweight boxing match weave magic. But it can't show a horse race. Horse racing is a been there, done that sport. Despite a $35M budget, the film could not come close to capturing the Belmont Stakes, in my opinion. It is preaching to the choir, and millions of people in the world will not agree, but that grainy footage is one of the most exhilarating 2 minutes and 24 seconds the world of athletics will ever see. No fancy graphics, pretty actresses, handsome actors and camera trickery do it justice.

Have a good Tuesday everyone!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reduce Bet Types to Grow?

The former VP of General Mills, echoing and confirming a long-held truism in consumer marketing and sales, said that choice builds sales. If you only make cheddar cheese and sell it in five pound blocks, you can increase overall cheese sales by offering different colors, different flavors and different packaging and sizes, and grow. That's common sense really.

In racing this is also common sense. Chances are if you offered WPS and ex only, your handle will be less on the race than if you offer rolling doubles, quinella, tri and super wagering in addition to the base wagers.

But is the pari-mutuel business the same as the cheese business? I think in terms of the short term it is, but looking at the long-view, perhaps not.

Right now, especially in harness racing but at some smaller thoroughbred tracks too, there are myriad wagers offered, but little pool size to support all those bets. What ends up happening is that we have watered down pools. This is nothing new, but in the grand scheme of being a gambler, it means everything.

For example, let's look at multi-leg, or horizontal bets. In this form of betting pool size is everything in terms of fair-value. Here is the pick 3 explained.

"It would be great to have 3 consecutive 20-1 shots win in a Pick 3 on the WEG circuit, but unfortunately the pools usually only contain approximately $4000, leaving around $3000 after takeout. A $1 Win parlay of 3 20-1 shots would pay $9261, but hitting that pays you at most $3000, and less if someone else has also hit it. Making a Pick 3 wager with horses going off at 13.45-1 or more in each leg is a mathematically poor bet."

Clearly this happens at more places than just WEG. The question is simple: If not enough cash is bet in a pick 3 to make taking a stab at some longshots value, why do we offer them each race, and why would we offer rolling doubles, pick 6's and pick 4's as well as them to further water them down?

As mentioned, it's about money. A race with a pick 3, rolling double and a pick 4 will attract more money than a race with simply a pick 3 or double.

But what is more attractive to you as a player? What if Woodbine, for example, had a pick 3 from races 1 through 3 with no pick 3's in the second or third, and no daily double? The pool could be $25,000. I am sure over time this would grow, but possibly not grow enough to offset the DD and other pick 3 money (I am sure it won't).

What I think is more realistic is having a bet like a superfecta in one race, but do not allow any tri wagering. You can offer this bet at 15%, or maybe seed the pool or offer a big guarantee after awhile. What might happen over three months, or six months time, is that players from everywhere will come for a shot at the pool as it grows. You might get more money bet on it than you did when tri wagering and super wagering was combined. In effect, you have attacked the small pool bias we have in harness racing by shrinking choice, rather than expanding choice.

Pari-mutuel racing is based on pool size, and it appears at some tracks the easy way out might not be the best way out. I have often wondered here in Ontario where so many ovals have miniscule wagering (90%+ of purses are funded by the bandits and a handle of $50k on a whole card is considered a good day) why tracks do not try more things like this. Cut out some wagers, try and build pool size by cutting take or seeding pools in one bet. Perhaps within 12 months the large pool size on your one wager would be more than your current handle. Who knows.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Notes for Today

It looks like the plans are in full force for changing the Meadowlands. This will take some major cash, that's for sure and a lot of luck and goodwill. If they are going to one day get slots or a full casino (which I think most of us think they will someday) it is a start. The pictures in the linked story are quite nice.

The Meadowands handle has just not been there this season yet, as compared to even 2008. The racing is certainly not poor (like some would say it has been the past 12 months) and there are serious problems in harness racing. There are zero quick fixes, in my opinion.

Frequent poster here at PTP, "Walleye Fisherman" is not a big fan of New Zealand pacer Auckland Reactor. It (for him) is with major dismay I report that he is back downunder and back winning. Although some have said (like the headline) it was an impressive return, if we study the fractions of the race it was not as much impressive as expected. He crawled through fractions and sprinted home. In fact, the performance was not much different than his qualifiers at the big M last season. I would submit his real test will come when he has to race through some adversity. So score one for the Fisherman - kinda.

I was out last night at a local bar watching a really bad hockey game. In a table not far away was the manager of the place. He came by and spoke to a waitress saying "I just got a $26 winner". Surprised he was playing the races I asked where, and he said he had $5 on the horse at Turfway. He was picking numbers while working the bar. I said "where are you playing" and he mentioned it was Bodog. When I asked why he did not have a regular ADW account he said that he tried but it was full of red tape. It's been one of my beefs for some time now. It is very difficult to convert a casual customer to a real customer in racing and it is a shame that an offshore site can convert one with speed, while signing up for a real account is like winning a leg of the Amazing Race.

Woodbine handle is on the rise however. I wonder what has happened, but I surmise (with no knowledge of it whatsoever) it is their TVG component mixed in with the change of policy of treating ADW outlets and their players better. I'll see what I can find out.

Last up, there is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a..... goose. Or something like that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

ORC & CHRB on Same Path, But at Different Points

There is some news this morning on last year's annual report of the California Horse Racing Board as well as the Ontario Racing Commission racing plan. Ontario and California are two jurisdictions on exactly the same path, but one is simply further ahead on the curve.

First, business in California is poor. 

"Pari-mutuel wagering in California declined by $501 million during fiscal year 2009-10, and betting through advance deposit, the only growth area in the state's handle for the past several years, also dipped slightly."

This is no secret to anyone who follows the sport. Even ADW wagering is down, which shows there is something very wrong. California last season had their quarterhorse takeout rise, and they tacked onto their already super-high signal fees. It's really no shock ADW wagering would not be maximized in terms of handle, and it proves what a lot of people are saying: When you squeeze, you get less juice, because the lemon you are squeezing is already dryer than the Mojave.

The good news in the report is that the CHRB and Cali-racing, like the ORC has been for a long time, is very pro-horse in their long-term vision. Say what you want about synthetic tracks and horse safety, but Cali has always been on the front lines for detailing and looking into policy, like the necropsy programs. The ORC instituted that several years ago in Ontario and it is welcomed.

That is pretty much where the comparisons do end, unfortunately, but in my opinion, there is a reason: Cali racing has not hit a bottom.

In 2003 and 2004 Ontario handles were beginning to take a major hit, but not enough of a hit to frighten the long term. At that time, horseplayers, some owners, and some track executives and the racing press warned that this trend was not pretty. Things like purse pooling between tracks,  race date and race time coordination, claiming price ratios, investing in the future, better quality racing and rules, takeout rates etc were all talked about, but no change came. As handle continued to slide more and more (virtually cut in half) people jumped on board (contrary to popular belief the ORC can not make stakeholders do something). With that energy and stakeholder support, the ORC moved ahead with their 2011 racing plan, enacting many of the policies spoken about five, six or seven years earlier. This plan has angered some (or even many), but doing the right thing in the face of falling demand is rarely popular.

At the present time I think CA racing is at about circa 2007 when compared to Ontario; their 2010 annual review looks like a 2007 one in Ontario. The problems are there and they are deep and they won't go away with band-aids, but they are not quite alarming enough to get stakeholders moving right now at this minute.

I am half-certain some of the major issues in California will be addressed. Lower signal fees to attract out of state money and rebate in-state players, lower juice, better medical rules, better understanding of purses and the money that goes into keeping a horse race-ready to maximize ownership and field size etc will be addressed in a day, but it won't be yesterday.

The ORC is ahead of the curve and California is just starting it. I hope it gets fixed soon.

Note: Anyone in racing it seems is a whipping boy because things are not going well, and Alex Waldrop of the NTRA is no exception.  But I have always liked him - his vision and willingness to try and work with people who don't want to be worked with. Today on twitter to a question I posed regarding a survey, there he was with a response. It is what he normally does and it is totally expected because he has a passion for fixing things in our sport. I wish the NTRA, like the SC Plan up here, got more money and more power, not less, because looking to the long-term is something we lack in racing. Unfortunately, it is what it is, I guess.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spokesmen or Advertising?

Jack Darling recently floated out the idea of a "game changer" for harness racing, which involves taking some cash and hiring a guy like Gretzky to promote the sport. This is nothing new of course as it has been happening for many years.

Putting on my marketing opinion hat for a moment, I believe that trying something like this can be on a list, but we have dozens of other things to try first. Having said that, let's have a look at pure advertising, testimonial or otherwise as it is the topic at hand.

Seth Godin speaks often about how businesses with a crutch (eg negative stereotypes and negative branding) are the toughest to dig out of a hole. Harness racing certainly has its share of those - it's old, it's slow, you can "beat a race but you can't beat the races". How do we attack that on television for example? It costs money and takes time, focusing on a single message, in my opinion.

Audi is a great example of a type of systematic message-driven marketing. With their last two Super Bowl ads their message has held firm, and I believe they have completely changed this brand, by forging a space in the customers mind. First they led with one of the more popular Super Bowl commercials of all time, the "Green Police". This irreverent look at the enviro-landscape was edgy, fun and was targeted to the younger, well off customer. It also generated a huge amount of discussion.

This year they were back - by continuing the brand messaging. This time, another excellent commercial about old versus new.

According to an Audi VP: "”Today’s luxury consumer exists in a world where status is no longer solely defined by tradition, but increasingly by their entrepreneurial accomplishments. As a result, they are seeking out new and more evolved luxury symbols that make them stand out from the crowd.”

Carving out your niche by attacking the past and planting your message in someones mind is not only for Audi, it can be for harness too.

Attacking that for harness racing does not need a spokesman, but it does need some time, money and a vision. What that vision exactly is and how to accomplish it is up for discussion, but it is something that can help us. Unfortunately, with no one willing to spend a dime of slots money and no structure, it is probably wishful thinking.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beer, Horses, Poker and Changes

It is pretty amazing to watch how things change over time. But sometimes we wonder why it takes so long.

A couple of years ago I had an interesting and fun double-bill. Heading south from the Tundra I hit Keeneland for a couple of days at the big track. Then it was off to Augusta to watch a practice round at the Masters.

We stayed at a small hotel about 45 minutes from Augusta and got in around 7PM. There was a waffle house, a Pizza Hut and a convenience store near the hotel. I figured I would get a pizza, grab a six pack and bet some races (hey, with a trip to Keeneland and for golf, what do you expect?). I ordered my pizza and walked to the store. I went to the refrigerators to grab some of my favorite libation and noticed they had hockey sticks jammed in the levers. I tried to open it and a kind old Georgian looked at me and said "no beer on Sunday's young man." Other than being happy he called me young man, I was somewhat shocked. I wondered if I went back and  bet the races, the betting police would come get me. I knew there was no horse racing in Georgia.

It seems that might be changing. Georgia, looking for moola from bettors, is planning to legalize horse betting. In addition, if you want to bet Windsor's Sunday card you can do it with a cold one.

If you drive home north and pass through Virginia and want to have a meal at a pub and play some Hold em poker, that is another story. But a bill has entered the house there to legalize such evil criminal activity.

Petersen says he introduced the measure in part because last year a Northern Virginia restaurant, struggling as so many are in the current economic climate, tried to drum up some business by hosting a Texas Hold 'Em tournament. Winners did not get any money; they received free appetizers. Outraged by such an affront to all that is good and decent, the local constabulary raided this den of iniquity and charged the owners with violating the state's anti-wagering laws.

So if you head south, go to Georgia, buy some beer, play some horse races. But never ever play poker in Virginia. Thus ends today's geography lesson.

I enjoy such articles. It shows how weird some things are of the past with gambling. In the linked article above, there was this preface on Pinball in New York.

For decades, it was illegal in many big U.S. cities to play pinball. City fathers felt the game was iniquitous, possibly Mafia-influenced, and certainly should not be allowed. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia once denounced pinball machines for stealing from "schoolchildren . . . nickels and dimes given them as lunch money." New York cops staged raids and smashed pinball machines with sledgehammers. 

The Big Apple did not legalize pinball until 1976, when — as Popular Mechanics reported four years ago — "the coin-operated amusement lobby (which represented the pinball industry) eventually succeeded in earning a City Council hearing to re-examine the long-standing ban. Their strategy: Prove that pinball was a game of skill, not chance, and thus should be legal."

And let us not forget the change in the public's mood regarding horses. In poker and saloon times it was common-place to treat them poorly. Come about 1940, that changed and it has changed more and more today.

Some might remember the movie Jesse James, with Henry Fonda filmed in 1939. In the film there is a scene where a horse has to jump off a cliff. The problem - they made the horse really jump off a cliff.

The public outcry about such behavior changed the way movies were made forever, thankfully, although such stories from the past are still nauseating to read.

We have a long way to go before we don't get chucked in the clink for a two-bit poker game, race horses are treated with the respect they deserve, and you might pop an ale and bet a horse race in every state on Sunday, but slowly but surely time marches on.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Harness Day in Racing

I woke up this morning and found out I was in a wild dream. Harness racing took over the Internet!

I saw first Seth's page aggregating some content:

Four stories on harness in a row!

I liked the Equispace story on his trip to the trots. Funnily enough I was playing the races on gtalk Friday evening with Charlie. He was playing the harness races, oft times with my picks and with "What Wins" free sheets for the night. He said the same thing "harness is fun!"

Then I flipped over to HANA and Allan wrote a blog post about Tioga Downs here.

For one day at least, harness racing took over. It was pretty cool :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Raceway Freakonomics

Does defense win championships? If you listen to any football, hockey or basketball coach, you are darn right it does. This maxim is as good as gold. But is it really true?

The authors of Scorecasting - the Freakonomics for Sports - took a look at that and let us know. It might make us feel really happy yelling "DEFENSE" in our cheap seats, but we could have spent the same time yelling the word offense.

Maxims, or the laws of a sport, jobs or whatever might not be maxims at all. Sometimes if they sound good enough, or catch on, they get matted in the culture and become the way it is. I see this a lot in marketing work. It amazes me to no end to see or read of a CEO telling a firm what he would like to see done with his marketing based on what he or she wants, based on their biases, or "feel". He or she might sell shoes, but  also sells socks as a complementary product, so they want to have a socks campaign. There are others selling socks better and cheaper than he or she is, so a socks campaign is not a very good use of limited dollars, but dammit I like these socks and they are great so we have to target and market socks. Invariably when the numbers come back, the socks campaign has a $0.50 return on ad spend, and the shoes campaign has a $4 one.

We don't tell our customers what they want based on what we think they want. Customers tell us what they want with their money.

In racing this happens, and has happened for dozens of years. If you go to a chat board you might see an insider say "I love bands after the races, so we should have more bands", or "the drivers/jocks should be stars like Michael Jordan, we should promote them", or "I don't bet and love watching top-quality racing. If we had more top-quality racing we can really grow the revenue. Owners of these horses should be given more money to race!". The biggest one we hear often is "if we increase purses we'll have better horses and more racing, and we will increase the sports' popularity". That one was the crux of the slots argument in the late 1990's.

In "Raceway Freakonomics" our revenue in racing comes from primarily two areas. Out of the billion or so for purses, about $650M of it is from pari-mutuel betting and 35% or $350M from slot machines or subsidies like them. So, we have to do one of two things it would appear. Increase pari-mutuel revenue or go for more slots.

In racing, the insider biases are prevalent with pari-mutuel betting. To increase wagering we are told we have to raise purses, or squeeze more money from existing customers. Unfortunately, these ideals which sound good have been proven to not do the job, both theoretically and empirically.

Richard Thalhiemer in his study:

"Wagering would increase by only 6% if purse were doubled. This is a  surprising finding considering the importance that is attached to the  purse variable in all major policy decisions to increase the wagering in  this industry."

Squeezing money from the existing customers is not advised to work as well from the Freakonomics crowd (pdf). We charged 20% when we were a monopoly. How can we now charge 22% and increase it when we are not?

"The high average cost of putting on a horse race is unfortunately almost irrelevant. The only industries that can successfully charge more than the competitive price are monopolies. Monopolies don’t last. Horse racing’s ended years ago. If we charge more than the competitive price, we will lose customers."

The second thing we can do to drive revenue is go after slots. Racing does a great job at this, as we know. Racing never met a form of alternative revenue that they did not like. The problem with slots is that they can be taken away as quickly as they are given. See Pennsylvania, Indiana and Iowa for that, as well as this weeks headlines about Penn National. In addition, slots do not increase pari-mutuel wagering, because the gambling dollar at a venue is not an infinite one.

If we were doing things Freakonomically where we let the numbers guide us, we would be doing things a whole lot differently. We would be catering to customers and trying to grow handle by the two main metrics that actually grow handles - a decrease in takeout and an increase in field size. That does not mean it is easy. One track lowering takeout will not change handle appreciably, just like adding to purses does not increase field size alone. Policy is needed and tested on both, freakonomically.

Everything else - games, giveaways, paying owners by the grade I races they run in, more stakes races, and on and on and on - might sound great and a good deal of them can help from a long-term branding perspective, but the ROI numbers for our two main Freakonomic categories are simply not there.

Letting the numbers guide our business is not some far-out theory; they are done each day by successful organizations. Take a look at the video below and ask yourself while watching it: Would we be better off and would racing possibly grow if we listen to numbers and experts rather than listening to feel-good intuition?

Stumbling on Wins, Super Crunchers and Scorecasting are all available in bookstores or on the web.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Notes & The Big Game

I had my first full day of wagering yesterday in a long while. It's been busy of late and it was nice to sit around and watch some racing, from 1PM to about 11PM or so.

I was struck by the decent racing at the Meadowlands. I have not watched it closely, although I have watched several races. This meet looks much better than last meet. I also watched Northlands last night and took a poke on the pick 6. It was very hittable (although I did not hit it).

There is an excellent interview with John Doyle the NHC champion via Steve Byk's show. He is a super spokesman for horseplayers and the interview (about half way through the first link) is worth a listen.

Sometimes morning lines are odd, and we had one of the oddest today in Tampa Bay's sixth. A horse off the claim by Jamie Ness, with good lines and figures, was 20-1 ML. He paid under $5 and won easily. The sample size is microscopic but I would figure the ROI on that move, with a horse getting beaten 17 lengths in its last, would be lower than a snake's belly. I faded it, and am eating macaroni and cheese tonight for it.

Is exchange wagering over before it starts in Jersey? Bill Finley's interview of stakeholders seems to make me think so. 10% takeout and no back pool support for liquidity? In my opinion, if that's what happens it's 15/85 toast before it opens.

I thought there were a lot of polarizing individuals in racing, but none moreso than Fred Pope, perhaps. He was back writing a far-out idea recently on the Paulick Report. In effect his idea is about paying for "talent" in racing via the purse pool. Unfortunately the argument breaks down at its first pillar, because wagering volume is not correlated to talent level. The commenters really let him have it on that article. I have no idea why we have such trouble with this. If money for purses comes from betting, and betting goes up and down based on takeout and field size, work on takeout and field size. It is not some sort of Chinese finger puzzle.

Sometimes we do get some interesting comments on these pieces though. For example, one poster copied and pasted a quote from David Willmot of WEG on this issue, way back in 2001:

"But if you sit down with the gamblers, it is pretty simple what they want. They want field size, they want pool size, and they want low takeout. Frankly, they don’t care if a horse is by Mr. Prospector or Santa Claus. The truth of the matter is, racing is a gambling business 99.8 percent of the time and a sport the other point-two percent. Granted, it’s a sport for a lot of those people who supply the product, but for the industry to work, we have to take care of the customer. I think for decades we have not."

I think most agree with that. However, everyone is wondering where the low takeout is at Woodbine since 2001. [edit, I see CG has a full post about this]

Along those lines there is a comment by a harness horsemen group up here on field size and racedates.

"The feeling of horsemen in general is that there isn't a great understanding of why we need less racing opportunities," said Hardy [President of the OHHA]

I think the answer to that is fairly straightforward. We probably need less supply because we don't have any demand. If we don't build demand, in few years there will be no need for supply.

How can you make a lot of money? Get lucky. Scott analyzes a soccer match where the top club, cruising to victory, traded at 1.01 at betfair, for millions. The problem? The other team came back. One of the largest and most lucrative plays ever for 1.01 grabbers.

There is a heated discussion on a suspended horseman up here who has several conduct violations. You have to be a member of to read it.

Social media, good or bad? On the same chat-website there is a video uploaded of a driver whipping a horse agin' the rules. In slo-mo. Years ago there would be nothing said, other than maybe a few grumbles in the grandstand, or a new fan would think it was animal abuse and never come back, not telling anyone. Now, it is posted on chat boards and youtube for everyone to see. There is no update on whether this poster (on a site the ORC reads regularly I hear) caused a fine or not. In fact, seeing it is the weekend, I don't even know if the judges caught it, as it would not be posted til Monday on SC.

Last up. I have been waiting all week for the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. I must say I am looking forward to it more than the Lingerie Bowl. Thanks to Conan, I get both. Enjoy the game everyone!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Playing the $25,000 Northlands Pick 6?

If so, here is a freebie.

Dave Vicary is a computer dude who presented in Windsor at the Gaming summit. He has been working overtime on a program which gives an overlay now and again. This evening there is the new Northlands Pick 6 with a guarantee. Dave has offered Northlands out tonight for free. All you have to do is sign up at no charge.

For more information on the Northlands pick 6 please click here. Horsemen, tracks and others trying to get something going is never a bad thing!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Need For Speed

There were a few items in the news today and a couple caught my eye. In general, the thought was about how we need to get moving.

In 2006 Hong Kong racing was experiencing it's sixth straight year of revenue declines. The newly appointed betting guru there decided that they had to move on these losses. The Macau casino's had been attracting gamblers and rebated offshore action was also adding a pari-mutuel pool leak. Bobby Chang, when presenting to a conference in Paris noted that when horseplayers stop betting a venue, they are very difficult to get back. He had to do something, and quickly.

What Mr. Chang decided to do was attack some of those losses regarding pricing, with rebate. The effective takeout rate was lowered to 17.1% blended (15% on rebated action), which is pretty good for a quasi-monopoly to get people back playing. The results were apparent immediately (pdf).

The terrible trend line was stemmed, which is difficult to do. This has improved, despite the world-wide recession since 2008, which the racing industry here blames the declines on. In 2009-2010, revenue was a little over $9B.

I admire this structure and its alacrity. We all know as horseplayers when we leave something for something else, whether it be a track or another game, we are very hard to get back. In Hong Kong, with a gambling person in power, with a proper structure (there are not fifty-seven acronyms there fighting for money), this could be done in virtually one year. Purses will come if people are betting.

It's a simple algorithm. Read, recognize, execute.

Over here two items that caught my eye today exemplified the differences.

First, Jack Shinar wrote about the takeout increase and resulting Players Boycott in California. Handle is off close to $18 million so far this meet, yet reading the article there is no sense of alarm or emergency like we saw in Hong Kong in 2006. The only thing spoken about is a takeout reduction for on-track participants - which we all know is not targeted, as on-track patrons are the least sensitive to rate changes. There is no talk of the real issues like super-high signal fees, decreased churn, poor races, increased juice and more. There is no sense that anyone there wants to get things rolling by making lemonade instead of squeezing dry lemons for more.

Second, via r2 there was a Yahoo! piece about Las Vegas and Cantor-Fitzgerald's new system for in-running betting, via an IPAD, smart phone or tablet. This is a de-facto betfair for sports bettors in that state. Next time when you or I visit Sin City, we will not be sitting there betting a game line at a crowded book. We will be betting on live in-play betting, just like Betfair offers.

In contrast, we in racing are looking at Betfair in Jersey, hoping it can get going. In California, where it probably could be up and running right now, it was sloughed off for a decision in 2012 due to horsemen, Magna and CDI opposition.

In Hong Kong and Las Vegas they make things happen. In North American racing we argue about them.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ever Wanted to Watch Zenyatta Being Bet In-Running?

I have had plenty of feedback from Jersey folks and some insiders regarding the post about Betfair and its possible hangups here in North America. They too seem to feel some stumbling blocks are readily apparent.

With a couple of the emails, however, it struck me that a great many people do not even know about exchange wagering - how it works or what it does. There was a poll today on SC, asking (mostly horsepeople) to vote on a one to ten scale how much they know about this type of wagering. Guess what? 70% picked "1" which is "no knowledge at all". Sometimes I forget that, since I have been following the exchange news and views since about 2001.

With that thought, I found a little video, which horseplayers and non-horseplayers should like. It explains the concepts, but it does more than that. It shows live "in running betting" (betting when the race is going on) and it uses the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic as an example. Zenyatta, who started at around 5-1 (she was 5-2 on the tote board, so betfair bettors were not buying the hype), moved to different odds levels during the running of the race, with backers and layers playing away based on what they thought of her chances. This video (the video is all very good, and an excellent primer for those not 100% familiar with exchanges) at the 1:30 mark shows the actual betting odds of the Classic at various points in the 10f affair via Betfair.

It can't be embedded, so click here to watch.

For another in running race, this one is really interesting. The horse (green silks on the inside) looks like a no-chance at many points in the race, but he sneaks up the rail to win by a head. The odds are displayed in the top right hand corner of the screen. This is not our grandfathers horse racing!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Exchange Wagering 1,2,3

Scott over at Sport is made for Betting went through a few of the hurdles that Jersey exchange wagering will probably be going through over the coming months.I am not quite as pessimistic as he is. We'll go through a couple of his very good points.

First he rightfully speaks about the debate about laying horses:

"That [the debate] hasn't occurred yet, and there's no reason to believe American racing people will be any less antiquated than the rest of the world when it comes to explaining that you can effectively lay a horse via current wagering systems"

This was one of the big criticisms used in the past in all new jurisdictions, as Scott alludes. It always struck me as being a bit of a red-herring because racing using this argument is essentially saying "our participants are corrupt and if you give them a chance to be corrupt, they will." Sure there are corrupt people in racing, but with large purses are a lot of people out there going to take the chance with a betting coup for a few dollars? So far the answer has been a big fat no. Betfair has caught more corruption in tennis or other sports via their excellent tracking system than they have in horse racing.

Clearly racing must take these things seriously however. Right now you can get three soda positives and get a slap on the wrist. Racing must agree that if someone does abuse this system to take money from players, they are gone. Goodbye.

Scott also talks about the smear campaign, which has occurred in other countries.

"In Australia, Betfair had to cop such rubbish as senile Senator Bronwyn Bishop accusing them of laundering money for al-Qaeda. They've got a long way to go to win the PR battle in the States, the negative campaigns haven't even started yet and if there's one nation that loves their baseless smearing political campaigns...."

This is a good point, but again time has marched on. I would suspect that very few people will say a company that is listed, and is a part of racing by owning TVG for two years, who has also been a good corporate citizen in several countries, is funnelling cash to terrorists or other such tripe.

Last he talks of the cash component and dealing with the various racing fiefdoms.

"Currently the horsemen get a big chunk of wagering turnover to pay prizemoney. That's easy enough to do when the totes take 20% out of the pools on each and every race. Are the horsemen really going to agree to a deal which will equate to around 1/10th of what the tote (pari-mutuel) gives them?"

This one holds the most merit, in my opinion and is a real stumbling block. Unlike in the UK where taking a smaller amount per bet to try and up handles/turnover is part of the culture, in North America taking as much as possible without going bankrupt seems to be the major belief.

Racing has lived with the thought of high take per bet for so long it has become the culture. We see it each day, even in 2011. "If they are betting $1M and we are getting 20% of it, why not up take to 25% and make $50,000 more?"It's difficult to believe we could actually grow a pie with dynamic and discretionary pricing to new markets. It's simply very hard for racing to grasp.

I can envision a fight about revenue whereby the horsemen will want to take a huge hunk and completely change the business model. In that case we will have cannibalization, and any potential long-term revenue gains will be muted. They would simply be selling their same cheddar in a slightly different package to people wanting to buy a brand new type of cheese. That will not make the game grow.

Although the above has real merit as an argument to how this can be derailed, I believe perhaps the toughest hurdle to overcome is the fact that New Jersey will be hearing from old time racing folks who vehemently disagreed with exchange wagering, were proven wrong, but still hold some of their beliefs. A lot of the people who warned exchange wagering would kill the business are still in power and they will be considered de-facto advisers to Jersey.

For example, in the Australian newspaper last year we had the head (and still head) of Aussie wagering exposed. One of the largest breeders in Australia was too. In an article titled "The Death of Racing is Still Some Way Off" a few quotes and empirical data was offered.

"You have been duped. Racing figures in NSW have misled you in a scare campaign worthy of Australia's flailing politicians."

Quotes from Peter V'landys and Gerry Harvey back about 2008:

"Here is what these men said last year on ABC television. Harvey: "If they (corporate bookmakers) are successful, there's no racing, it's as simple as that, and they know that. It will all go back to picnic races. So it's just total destruction of the racing industry as we know it. They know it, we know it."
V'landys: "This is the biggest problem the racing industry has ever had, because this is a direct threat to its funding levels." Then again: "It has a massive impact. As I said, 70 per cent of our income comes from wagering, so if that money is being pilfered out -- and we are not getting paid to put the show on, it means that all our 50,000 participants in the end will lose.""

They could not have been more wrong.

"Betting on thoroughbreds topped $15 billion for the first time in 2009-10. With the $5.074 billion wagered on harness and greyhounds betting on the three codes burst through the $20 billion barrier [up from $19.369 billion]"

Pari-mutuel wagering was up, betfair was up, purses went up, more people were betting racing and the pie grew, all in the midst of a world-wide recession.

Racing in Jersey, if they honestly want to grow, must avoid anecdotal evidence from people like that at all costs. Our game deserves better.

I hope New Jersey racing chooses numbers and hard-data, over hyperbole. If so, exchange wagering in the spirit it was intended - although nowhere near the panacea some give it - can help kickstart the sport in the Garden State.

Related: Betfair is like Chocolate Ice-Cream

Three P's & Some Fine Women Cappers

Northlands Park opens with a Pick 6 guarantee of $25,000. That is pretty gutsy. Hard to hit bets usually need some sort of mass to get rolling and I wonder if Northlands is popular enough. For rebate players it might provide some sort of opportunity, and early on there is a chance at some sort of pool value. I think I am going to take a shot at it.

If you were wondering what's been happening with the players boycott of Cali racing, you can learn more here. Jeff Platt fills everyone in.

There has been quite a bit of chatter about the Prix D'Amerique in France this past weekend. Equidaily had pictures up and Allan spoke about the structure of the industry in France. On the surface French trotting racing looks popular with the crowds and the parades, but at times I find looking a little deeper does some good. The PMU, who runs racing in France has a virtual monopoly on wagering and the races are distributed in over 9500 lotto outlets. In a way it is 1960 Roosevelt Raceway. We can get confused that trotting is a big "sport" there, when in fact it might not be the case. I ran through the Youtube videos of the race, and races over there, including some clips from "Sulky TV". I was disappointed with the hit counts - some have 200 or 300 hits. If it was as popular as we think, I believe we would see more than that. I did a little web metric surfing too, and the results are similar. As we know, it's not hard for a gambling monopoly to look popular or give us the warm and fuzzies. But like here when we had all these fans watching racing, as soon as we flung the barn door open, they bolted and weren't really fans at all.

Animal time; horses and dogs (ya, I know. You are shocked):

I love doggies, as I have posted before. They have an amazing quality to forget and live in the moment. I came across this video of pooches being rescued from cosmetic and medical testing labs. I found it five minutes well spent, because these creatures who have never even seen grass before open up completely to their new surroundings, like they have never been living in a crate their entire lives; and that made me smile. The sequence of them finally leaving their cages and their resulting good nature was just so darn uplifting to me. I got my beagle off the streets and I often wonder how he is so good-natured; like he lived the life of a king before, when he clearly did not. After watching this I think I know. They are just great dogs. I don't know how I feel about the message in the video (that's a tricky one for me), but I do know I was happy to see those dogs find homes.

Second, horses are cool too. This video of training on a beach is of one of the better trotters in recent history. You can appreciate (and tbred folks reading the site who do not know how difficult it is for trotters to trot at speed, here is one with an awesome cadence) his skill. He brushes quickly, never missing a step, all the while being on a beach. Wonderful video of a wonderful breed who just want to work for you. I have no idea how the car part entered it at the end, but it's a good video of a super horse.

It will be interesting to see the comments on the Exchange wagering in Jersey. Racing has a real opportunity here, so we'll see if all this talk on pricing that Platt talks about catches on. What we always have to remember - racing hates change, and the players and horsemen are used to doing things one way. With exchange wagering we are not after the people who are already looking at us, we are looking at those who are not. Focus groups are pretty much useless. If New Jersey thinks to the future, does not give in to making one themselves (really guys, you have a partner that spends $50M in marketing with 3M customers from around the globe right in front of you), and does not give in to crazy pricing by trying to price like a 20th century business, we might be ok. Betfair went from zero customers to millions in less than a decade. New Jersey should not be telling them how to do business, it should be the other way around.

Speaking of focus groups, did you know ESPN spends gazillions on polling and surveying their viewers? Hat tip to Thorotrends on this article. Boy are we behind.

Last up, I was speaking to Theresia at her chat board Thoroughbrednet. It is a forum which has quite a few female participants. And a lot of them bet. She informed me that she is running a handicapping contest and she said "it has to be the only contest where 75% of the participants are women." Chat boards are sometimes caustic places, but that place isn't. In a sport of handicapping dominated by men on chat boards and in simo-centers, it is quite a nice place to visit. There are some good handicappers there to boot.

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