Friday, April 29, 2011

"If You've Never Been on Your Feet Before...."

" ... you better get up now" bellowed Roger Huston 20 years ago (video below for those who have not seen it).

Fast-forwarding to today, I am increasingly impressed with the work done on the web, by professional writers, bloggers and more when it concerns the Kentucky Derby. One especially, Kentucky Confidential, has broken through with some excellent stories, insight and more. If you've never bookmarked a Derby website before, you better think about it with this one.

If you want to read a very nice interpretation of likely Derby chalk Dialed In, pop over to Wire Players and read Ghostzapper's tome. I do disagree with the conclusion, because I think Zito is one of the few trainers who treats preps like preps; and this horse is likely to improve by 10+ Beyer points, I feel. However, good pieces like that make you think and re-think. If your beliefs are entrenched you will be a terrible horseplayer. Ghost is making me think and that's the kind of analysis we need to see much more of on the interwebs.

Cangamble makes a compelling argument regarding drugs and racing. As most know by now, the rumblings in congress to regulate the sport are again rearing their head. Just like takeout, slots and alphabet nonsense that infiltrates this sport like a bad boil will be settled by others, so will the drug issue. Sooner or later. And with the government involved (most of whom don't know a fetlock from a frisbee) good luck finding good policy.

Betfair's Derby betting board has not changed too much, which shows a little how the rest of the world sees the event. UK events like the Grand National would have 3 million matched by now. It's different without a US market.

For example, Dialed In has not moved an inch with the defection of the Factor. The pace presence of that horse probably makes Dialed In's task easier; without him, more difficult. Uncle Mo continues to hold onto second choice. I have not done much at all with my futures and I am not going to get rich this year. I am short Mo, The Factor and Jaycito, long Sway Away, and long a tiny amount on Arch and Santiva. You can find me on the corner of Yonge and Bloor selling pencils if Mo reverses form and wins this thing.

Nice meet for bias players at Keeneland. Late pace horses (my "pace adjusted late" top ranked horse is 1.20 ROI alone this meet) with a decent poly jock and trainer - winner, winner, chicken dinner. I have been so busy this month it's not funny so I have not benefited much, but looking at the results in my database and speaking to a few everyday players, it was not a hard meet to make money at.

Calder has been hard to figure out so far, with the usual meet-start nuances. I have played two of the pick 5's and will be back at it today. I came close to making a great score the last two days, so I hope I can convert one of these.

Some chatter on Twitter about the Atlantic City meet. Some folks like it and with huge field size it is a cult fave.

$100k guarantees continue at Woodbine tomorrow evening. We are getting closer and closer to the North America Cup preps, too. It's time to crank it up for Mohawk.

I'd like to thank Gary West for mentioning me in his list of favorite racing sites. That was really nice of him.

Have a good Friday everyone.

'If you've never been'...... one of my all-time favorite harness races. The side point to this performance was the fact that Falcon was not eligible for the Jug that year, and there was some upmanship going on. Lucky for Nihilator this colt was not eligible. That day, the son of Niatross would have been completely destroyed by Harmer's horse.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday is Here; And Quite a Bit is Happening

The No Mo disclosure arguments in interweb land have continued this morning, carrying over from Gary West's piece, and a knock down, drag out discussion on twitter.

Alan over at LATG writes:

"Whoa, touchy, touchy, Mike Repole. For one thing, with all his talk about not disclosing, that's exactly what he did when it was convenient for him! When he was trying to concoct an excuse for the colt's shockingly poor performance in the Wood. Now, with Uncle Mo seemingly on the road to recovery, Repole doesn't want to disclose any details about the horse's gastronomical condition that he brought up in the first place!"

The full transcript of Repole's thoughts are a decent read. He makes one solid point, I find. What if something does happen to Mo and it is released before the fact that he had a procedure or two done? The PETA types are all over it, when you and I know that getting a cryo or an injection has little to do with the mishap.

Having said that, I do agree with Paulick Report commenter "Tinky".

"…the media has to do a better job of [presenting] more positive stories," he said. "Why do we only get the negative stories?"

Absolutely idiotic. That's precisely the approach that the industry has emphasized during its deep decline over the past 30 years, and yet this billionaire entrepreneur suggests doubling down. "

Whatever happens this is a good discussion to have. Multi-milllions are bet on races like the Derby. If we respect that and respect the public who is betting that money, only good things come of it. Stock markets without full disclosure would have sorry volumes and be considered nothing more than a mugs game.

More Notes

Clocker Bruno was not thrilled with Mo's work yesterday.

Arlington Park is going to a lower rake on super high fives and pick 5's this meet, at 15%. They also have a new "last call" wager which is interesting. I have long been a proponent of using uncashed tickets as a rebate mechanism (e.g. allow them to be used for a rebate before the last race to juice last race handles), but free drinks are a good start. Interestingly enough, AP is a CDI track and this is the second CDI track to offer lower takeout this season.

Hec Clouthier, former head of a racing industry association is going back to politics, running in the Pembroke riding. I have met and chatted with him many times, and he is a good man with a lot of passion. I drove through the district a few weeks ago (if you ever get the chance to drive on 17 between Ottawa and North Bay, do. It is gorgeous) and saw sign after sign after sign with his name. He has done a good job getting noticed. With a lot of people in the district not wanting an NDP coalition I suspect he will be hard pressed to win this, but if anyone can he can. He wants to change the CPMA, which is great news for bettors, and he wants to double our loss claims as horse owners, which helps us as owners.

Comments are still firing away on the Betfair report at the PR. I think my favorite one is from Phil:

3 million customers in 227 countries, 6 million transactions a day. And the People’s Republic of America’s racing industry wants no part of it. No part. Instead they have lobbied for 10 years for slot machines. To grind grannies social security check into artificially inflated purses for the trust fund horsey set’s favorite hobby.

The Meadowlands tellers have finally embraced reality. They signed and the M might be back on track.

There is a super high five carryover today at Keeneland, for those inclined.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Derby 2011 - Common Sense Prevailing

Today with the launch of Kentucky Confidential, Claire Novak reports on "Derby Fever". The fever, which I am sure would grab any of us slugs if we owned a horse like that, grips you hard, and sometimes it makes your decision making process cloudy.

Not so for two ownership groups and one trainer. Jaycito was pulled earlier this week from Derby consideration, and it is reported now that The Factor has also been pulled.

Co-owner of The Factor George Bolton: "We're doing the right thing."

Jaycito, with a sore foot and missed time might be the quintessential 10f horse in this weak crop, but he is still pulled. The Factor, a speed threat, probably had a punchers chance to take them home, but with minor palate surgery and a decent future as a miler or even Preakness starter, it was the right thing to do.

That's horsemanship, and common sense, and those connections should be commended. I feel better about horse racing this morning than I have for some time.

We complain (rightly) that horses are chewed like meat and race only a handful of times in this day and age. They do, in part, because they are pushed to win races like the Derby, for both prestige and extra millions in the shed. Baffert and crew said no, illustrating that more than ego is alive and well in racing.

What of Mo? He too has serious question marks. I am unaware of how he is doing after his work today and of course we are not privy to his general health, but as a horse owner I would be pretty scared to race a horse like this in a few weeks off treatment for a GI infection (and the dismal Wood). You have to be fit, 100% primed and have a ton of luck to win a Derby; in effect, everything has to go perfect and on schedule. If he is not fit, nor 100%, two out of three strikes are against you, in my opinion.

On the blog we have expected The Factor, Jaycito and Mo to all be pulled and we'll see with Mo. Repole wants more for this colt than a Derby "effort", and if there is a question mark in his mind, I bet he'll pull him. He's a special horse when he's right and he could have a monster second half. Why take the chance?


Bill Finley looks at the GP meet and compares it to CA's recently concluded Santa Anita meet. I agree, there could not be two more opposite results.

There was about $50k bet into the Calder pick 5 yesterday, which was not too bad. Unfortunately for me I could not find the leg three winner with a magnifying glass, crystal ball and Patrick Jane. Three lucky winners walked home with about $14,000 each. Nice handicapping, whomever you are.

With the release of the Betfair report by Christansen, where they addressed with hard numbers the pari-mutuel effect (i.e. it enhances, does not cannibalize wagering), the detractors have pivoted and gone back to the integrity argument. For those who have looked at the actuality of such, it's something that won't stick. But it seems to be the new (old) strategy now.

I agree with Alan. Versus is a tremendous opp for racing.

Nick Boyd, one of our stable trainers looks to be featured in a new show with Brett Wilson from Dragon's Den. Way to go Ralphie! If I hit the Derby superfecta, we'll stake the horse :)

Darren Rogers is doing a hell of a job on Twitter updating folks with Derby news and works. Follow if interested.

The Derby overround at Betfair is still high, but there is some action. Funny, after announcing Anthony's Cross was heading to CD, he traded at 200-1. Someone really wanted that $6. Money to buy Mo disappeared after his work at 7 and 8. He is now wanted at 9.6 only.

A big congrats to Jessica Chapel for getting Kentucky Confidential off the ground. Bookmark away folks!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday Notes

When I was in school (not sure about you) we got Good Friday and Easter Monday off. In the real world I seem to get neither. I think that's why all my friends growing up wanted to go to Teachers college. Remember when old people told us when we were in school "you'll never have it this good"? I think they were right.

Anyhow, there is something special today for players - The Calder Pick 5 at 12%. On Twinspires the deal is even better (they are offering 0% takeout). How the world has changed. Only two years ago opening days for tracks would feature a bobblehead giveaway. Now tracks are finally offering price breaks to get bettors through the door, virtual or otherwise. Thank goodness.

The sequence today seems chalky on the surface, but I do not have scratches yet, nor have I gone through it completely. If it does come up chalky, the payoff (when compared to the usual 25%+ take) will be pretty good, and some players will be satisfied.

Big spread in the Jersey paper on Gural.

Finley interviews a teller who says his crew have a hard time "trusting him". I grew up in a union town and worked from ages 16 to 20, during school, in a union job in a gold mine. Trust is always the issue with union folks. If you read the press it tends to be all about Republican and Democrat, but I think it is all about culture. Gural is a liberal dem, so if you don't trust him, who you gonna trust?

TVG commissioned a study on exchange wagering. The 150 pages does not tell most of you much that you don't know already, but they did a good job. Since the comments on Paulick's piece are the usual, it's time to link a refresher link I guess. "You've been duped", was a real world, empirical response to the chicken little's in Australia who regurgitate the same specious arguments.

"The point V'landys and wealthy breeders such as Gerry Harvey have made for the best part of two years is that corporates and exchanges would take money, business and patronage from Tabcorp and therefore drain racing of critical revenue."

I'll give you one guess about if the breeders and insiders were right or wrong.

Have you ever seen an industry that's so scared of itself?

Bob Baffert (I think we all agree) did the right thing taking Jaycito off the Derby trail. Will Pletcher with Mo? A lot of us feel it would be the smart thing to do.

Horse's have bad days, and St. Elmo had one last weekend where he tasted defeat for the first time. Proving it was an aberration, he swept back into the winners circle to start a new streak. He was dominant as ever.

What a waste of money. Pocono and Chester are fighting for Open pacers and offering to double the purse of the Open. Open's have crappy betting handle and players don't care. Card a 12 claimer for $9000 and offer the other $51,000 in a low rake superfecta pool, and watch your handle explode instead.

Dry Gulch, recently claimed for $8000 by Tracy Brainard, beat One More Laugh Saturday at Vernon. Oye Vay.

I cleaned out my storage unit yesterday and I found a 1987 Greenwood gym bag. I think I lost about $100 that giveaway evening, so that was an expensive gym bag.

I also found University text books. What a crock that is. $50 for a text that you can't sell and might as well use as firewood. I looked at Advanced Microeconomics, Futures Options and Swaps (a real page turner), International Investments, and Futures Markets and said to myself "when the hell am I ever going to use these again". I pitched them. Luckily all was not lost. While going through them I found four or five old programs and some VHS tapes from the 1980's and 1990's, including the full coverage of Breeders Cup I and Breeders Crown I. Cool!

Enjoy your Monday everyone and good luck with the Calder Pick 5.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rainbow 6 - Getting this Bet to the Masses

Yesterday's Rainbow Six mandatory payout day was a success, by all counts. The bet attracted over $3.5 million of new money, and the $5 million pool was spread out to many bettors, with the chalky result. As we noted early on with the Beulah Fortune six, this bet can market itself, generate some buzz and get people to look at your product.

The bet itself attracted the horseplayers it wanted to attract at the outset. Players like O_crunk had a nice ticket for around $300, and split it with a newbie betting 'lady friend'; they hit. ITP, a pro player, threw in $8,000 and hit it multiple times (and no he is not blowing smoke). The Twinspires players pool fared less well, spending $100k, and not getting a lot out of it. I would assume they had many combos multiple times, and may have took a hit in the last leg with a 10-1 shot winning.

There is little question this was a good bet for Gulfstream. The GP pools yesterday, when compared to the same day last year, were up 81% overall. Overall, the Rainbow, along with the new 50 cent five with a low takeout, gave players a reason to look at them, and handicap their cards this season. It appears handle will be up north of 5% this meet at the Florida track.

The pitfalls of this bet have been well-documented here and elsewhere. Before yesterday this was one of the worst bets on the planet for serious players, and serious players stayed away. At a 50%+ takeout with zero cash in the pools, it is an absolute churn killer for players - especially for those who might be less sophisticated and not understand the math. If we have a churn factor of five in North America, that means horseplayers have a bankroll of only around $2B to play the races, This bet sucked out some of that, and didn't give it back to replay.

Regardless, the buzz, the interest and the general feel of the bet was good. It shows what type of energy a bet like this can generate for the good of racing.

I think it is a perfect illustration about what can happen if racing gets together to figure out how to replicate this experience, and sell it to gamblers across other demographics. In Sweden they can get $35M pools for their V75 on carryover days and the economy of that country has the GDP of the greater Pittsburgh area. We can and should do better.

How about every racino selling this bet to slot players through a new system? In Australia and New Zealand we can walk into a track and put $20 into a machine and get a fractional wager on something like this. Why not here?

What about expanding this online through a dedicated website/ADW where the general public can play this bet and only this bet once a week? How about in lotto kiosks at slots parlors, casinos, racebooks, turf clubs and elsewhere with dedicated support staff? You could have a card system like a lottery bet, or simply offer some mix and match tickets called "chalk", "risky", "random" etc. They come back and check their results right on the website, or at the kiosk. You sell this bet to lottery players or newbies the only way they know how to wager - not like a racetrack ticket, but like a lottery ticket.

With all of the red tape, much of this seems insurmountable. However, this is exactly the type of bet we can use to expand racings reach to lottery players. It has verve, a pool, bragging rights for winners, and a little bit of luck all mixed in. It has everything that appeals to non-traditional racetrack gamblers.

The goal is simple: Let's organize and find a way to get these bets to them. To be a major league gambling sport, it takes major league organization and a vision. Marketing only to ourselves will not cut it.


Kudos to the Hambo Society, and Daryl Kaplan at Trot. Three years ago a bet with organization like this was discussed for harness racing by Kaplan at a Wagering Conference. He tried to get it done, but it was shot down in Ontario. Two years ago at dinner in Lexington, myself and two other horseplayers sat down with John Cashman (Hambo Chair and Castleton Farms head) and Kathy Parker at Malone's discussing a similar bet for the Hambo. The ideas are there, the organization is not quite there yet.

Big Event Blog's take on the Rainbow Six

As expected, Jaycito is gone from the Derby trail

The pick 4 pool last night at Woodbine attracted $86,000 and was topped up to $100k (making it a must bet). This shows, in my opinion, why some luck and scheduling is important. As noted above, there is only so much money in horseplayer bankrolls. A lot of yesterday's action was in the GP pick 6. I myself failed to play the pick 4 last night, not because I did not want to, but because I was too tired to structure more tickets. I would imagine Derby Day will be another day where this pool will be in tough to hit the benchmark.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rainbow Six - How Huge?

The question buzzing on chat boards with regards to the weekend is: "How big will the Rainbow Six pool be tomorrow if it carry's over"?

If you read the racing press, a conservative estimate of $2M has been floating around of late, for the mandatory payout. I think this might be way low. I have a sneaky feeling that this bet will be played like few other carryovers of this size we have ever seen.

  •  First is the obvious, the carryover and mandatory payout. 
  • People have taken a poke at this for the entire meet, and many have cashed and liked playing it for a small amount
  • $2 pick sixes scare people off; "the syndicates win and I can't". 10 centers can attract more players and more dollars. As Dan puts it "three horses in each leg is less than half a tank of gas"
  • GP is a top track. This is not like the Beulah carryover.
  • Holiday weekend!
  • Huge fields and a couple of weak ML chalk. This gives one hope it can still pay. 
  • The buzz is out there already.

Players have been pleading for tracks to give them a reason to play; to get excited. Although many think it's too late, I do not think it is. 0% pick 4's through Twinspires at various tracks, the Calder 12% pick 5, the USTA's strategic wagering with seeded pools, including little Northfield slashing rakes, Woodbine's $100k pick 4 guarantee each Saturday. By themselves they will not "fix" racing, but if we add them up, keep doing it, and keep listening to players, buzz can build.

This doesn't mean I support all tracks doing a Rainbow six because I do not; breaking players with an all-out evil rake for three months and giving them a one day mandatory reprieve is a gimmick, not a vision for growth. But it does build some buzz, and if tweaked (e.g. sold as a lotto bet to John Q Public), it's a good thing.

If my premise is right, I think we see a monster pool tomorrow at GP. I'm already handicapping and I figure you are too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today's Video

I remember going to a horse sale several years ago. We were there without a trainer, just spectating. Out walks a big brown horse and the bidding stalled at $4500. I looked at his running lines and he looked okay, the trainer was honest and he was big so I thought he might like a bigger track. Up goes my hand. We owned a new horse. The next problem was finding someone to bring him home, because I don't think he'd fit in my house.

We do crazy things as horse owners, and to the outside world we are frankly completely off our rockers. When horseplayers hear we have to raise takeout to pay for our hobby, one can see them getting upset, because let's face it, we are kind of nuts. It appears someone feels the same way.

Note: Strong language alert for those who do not like such a thing.

The Derby is the Days of Our Lives

Bill Finley writes about the puzzling Derby picture today. One excerpt caught my eye.

"Figure this brainteaser out, out-handicap your pari-mutuel rivals and you might just be holding a winning superfecta ticket worth $498,234.80. This is the guy who has a firm opinion on someone. He has convinced himself that Decisive Moment is going to run the race of his life. This person is crazy."

Wow, he's talkin' bout me! I am a little nuts.

Recapping the futures and the soap opera this year, Finley has a point. Especially when we look at the major contenders.

Uncle Mo - In the Wood he backed up, ran in and out more than a drunk marathoner, changed leads on the straight, finished in a Beyer that a Scooter Davis off the claim nw of a race since 1999 for 5 claimers could run, has a GI infection, and he won't eat. Hey bettors, climb aboard!

Jaycito - Sore foot, hasn't worked since the last Pointer Sisters hit, might or might not make a race this weekend, and Baffert continues to wear dark glasses (even in rainstorms) so when he speaks, we have no idea if he is playin' with us or not.

The Factor - Sprinter speed, can't appear to rate too easily, flips a palate like Denny's flips pancakes, stopped like he was hit like one of those Hong Kong poison darts last time, and looks like a horse you'd want to wait on for other things as an owner anyway. Let's get him to the Derby and bet!

In addition, we have the usual array of downed horses like the uber-talented Premier Pegasus, To Honor and Serve; and I am probably forgetting about 11 more. To add insult to injury, those who handicap with Beyer's and are married to the little wee numbers in the Racing Form, you're screwed too. The chalk has a top fig this year that reminds one of molasses in a winter month.

If logic prevails we would chuck Jaycito, The Factor and Mo out and begin handicapping. They have so many things stacked against them, and so much talent for a sparkling career, one might surmise there is no way they will start the 10f spectacle. Then again, it is the Derby and people do things they would not normally do to be a part of it. I'd also chuck out the obvious horse, because if he gets stuck in traffic the tote board can light up.

So, if I had to bet today, I would box up Sway Away and Archarcharch and try and make $490,000 in Finley's  futures superfecta. And no, I don't much care that Sway Away does not have a big chance to make the gate with paltry earnings. With 17 days left in this soap opera, it appears anything can happen.


Kentucky Confidential is only $40 away from their goal. This morning someone popped in for around $9k as a contributor it seems. Right now it's a mystery, but a good mystery for Jessica and crew.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Social Media Primes the Pump

A year or so ago Dave Carroll had some baggage issues on United Airlines. It seems his guitar (he was on his way to a gig) was broken by baggage handlers. He wrote a song about it and it became a national sensation on youtube, showing that companies or organizations can no longer hide, or be unwilling to be transparent.

We have written many times here that horse racing in many ways should be more transparent as well.  Our game has always been one that is guided by the mantra of 'it's my business and no one else's'. The claiming game, where it is better to hide a problem than publicize it - almost to the point that you are looked at as "sharp" if you can put one over on someone - might be the best example. If you are selling your home you can't hide a leaky roof from a home inspector and get rewarded, nor should you feel good about doing such a thing, but in horse racing it's considered part of the game. How do we attract honest owners with money if we live by such rules?

For bettors this is a serious issue too, and what's good for bettors in terms of integrity, is good for the game. Take a reversal of form. If a horse loses by 40 at 6-5, nothing is ever said from those in charge. It could happen at Mountaineer or Mohawk, it does not matter. A few weeks later the horse is back in at 5-1 and wins in a Sunday stroll. Little do we know that the horse had an ankle issue, or scoped a '5' on the post-race scoping because no one tells us. This breeds screams of "fix" and "crooks" in the grandstand.  How is that good for racing?

For many years horse racing could easily scrub these issues away, but not anymore.

Issues like Paulick alludes to today regarding Uncle Mo are becoming more and more prevalent. The twitter-verse, Facebook world and blogosphere have not let the Mo questions rest and have pushed this story. We have a potential favorite for the Derby throw a clunker and people want to know why, and Paulick's follow-up is a direct response to those social media questions. His article would not have been even written a half-decade ago, let alone written in a matter of hours.

Yesterday another item popped up; the Santa Anita handle numbers. The track was vague on relaying them, and the DRF and Bloodhorse reported the numbers as-is, right from the tracks mouth. If you read those articles you get the impression everything is hunky-dorey at Santa Anita and they had a minor handle loss due to field size. On Twitter and various blogs, and in the comments section on some of the stories immediately after this story was published, there was an outcry from some: Is this spin, they asked, because if it walks like spin, and sounds like spin, it probably is spin.

Today, less than 36 hours later (not weeks, or in their next issue), the Bloodhorse responded with a full piece, digging in the numbers and reporting the truth without spin. The fact is, they had an awful meet, with gross handle down over 20%, and per day handle was not a heck of a lot better. It is pretty clear this article was written due to the comments filtering the web in the social space.

Most would look at this as cumbersome, or another task to add to the pile for them to address. But they should not look at it like that, they should look at it like an opportunity. We have many ways to keep our customers and stakeholders informed nowadays - embrace it. If we look at what happened with NASCAR two short months ago where the fan-verse was upset on social media about driving tactics for the Daytona 500 and NASCAR responded quickly to them changing a rule, we see just how powerful this tactic can be. NASCAR fans felt embraced and wanted and part of the sport they love. Happy fans spend money, annoyed fans don't.

Like above we are seeing some movement now in racing. Jody Jamieson last week drove St. Elmo Hero to a valiant loss, going for 26 in a row. It was on twitter that the horse had a shoeing issue. Jody reported it, the press picked up on it, and we all feel better informed about this popular horse.

This is the future and we need to see more of it from our alphabets and our participants.

This years Kentucky Derby might be a good time to start, en masse. Participants and press: Let us know how each horse is doing, what if anything their connections are working on, and how the race looks for them. Make it open. Make it honest. If not, word will get out via social media and we might expect someone to write a song about you and get a gazillion hits on youtube in a not-so flattering light. That doesn't do you, your horse, or the sport of horse racing any good at all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Notes

Usually top trainers go with their safe bets with horses turning three, but Jimmy Takter is not one of those. I could not agree more with him about Grams Legacy. This colt is a monster. I watched his qualifiers last season and his second where he was coming home like a rocket and broke showed his potential. I bet him first out where he was babied around the track (at a juicy 5-2) and he looked good again. His issues caught up with him, but the raw talent was always there. If he is right this year, watch out for this horse.

Takeout increases don't work. When hula hoops were losing popularity Wham-o did not juice the price of them upwards, they got to work and created the Super Ball and Silly String. The reporting in the racing press on this issue, which now apparently involves regurgitating press releases, is embarrassing.

The psychology of cheating. Interesting article. Hat tip to O_Crunk.

No love for Oaklawn announcer from Saratoga Spa.

Bob Pandolfo has been surveying the landscape at the Meadowlands. He says the older tellers are defiant and the younger ones are willing to work.

Shocking news! Horsemen groups don't think much of raceday med bans.

The world of sports with cricket and soccer and horse racing is kind of comical when it comes to match fixing, solely on reaction. Bad people fix a race or a game and try to profit from it. Reaction from the sport: Blame the bet taker! It's like blaming Henry Ford when a guy crashes into a stop sign after 16 beer.

The Kentucky Derby betfair odds have tightened up now that the graded earnings picture is becoming clearer.
Some dude wants to bet $4 on the Factor at 94-1. That's about fair for me, but for the important people who make the decisions, it looks like a slam dunk. 

I got filled in on an interesting in-running race a couple of weeks ago in the UK from a professional betfair player. A 7-2 shot took a lead in a 6f race, was comfortable the whole way, was headed at the top of the lane, and came back on and won. We see it dozens of times a day, right? For some reason someone did not like him when he was headed and layed him at 1000-1. $91 was matched at that price.

Rumour central: St. Elmo Hero blew a shoe and had a foot issue after the loss Saturday. Believable, as the track was prolly like cement after the rain.

Gene says: Derby Wide Open!


More at link.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Guest Post: Does the Blue Grass Deserve Gr I Status?

Many of you who follow various online blogs and racing websites have seen someone with the screen name "Tinky" commenting, including on this one. He submitted a piece via email to me, regarding the Gr I Blue Grass at Keeneland. I have reprinted it here for you. For an alternate view, please see Jeremy Plonk's ESPN piece from last year where he said "I've read ridiculous accounts in the racing press about the need to strip the Blue Grass of its grade, and how it's become irrelevant to the racing landscape", and supported it with his facts and opinion. It's a lively debate, one which probably won't go away anytime soon, especially with the modern (some would say) less than deep three year old crops.

In October of 2006, Keeneland debuted the Polytrack surface on what had previously been a traditional dirt track. There have now been five runnings of the Blue Grass Stakes since the switch. Would anyone care to recite from memory the winners of those five Grade I events? How about three of the five? Two?

While it was entirely predictable that the switch in surface would degrade the Blue Grass’ long-standing reputation as a meaningful stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby, it might have required an extra dose of cynicism to have predicted the precipitous fall from grace that we have witnessed.

Here’s a brief look at the four winners of the race prior to 2011:

Dominican raced 15 times subsequent to his Blue Grass victory. He won just one of those races, a three-other-than allowance at Presque Isle Downs by a head. He ran in nine graded races, all but one (the Derby) Grades II and III, and could only muster some non-threatening placed finishes in the weakest of them.

Monba raced only five times after his Blue Grass win. He finished last in the Derby (though was probably injured), and third in two very weak Grade IIIs.

Stately Victor raced nine times after the Blue Grass. He won a weak, ungraded stakes at Woodbine (his only subsequent win), and placed in two weak Grade III races.

General Quarters, winner of the ’09 Blue Grass, was the only previous winner to have demonstrated anything remotely approaching Grade I class. While he predictably made no impact in either the Derby or Preakness, he did come back to win a Grade I turf race at Churchill as a four-year-old, and ran a creditable third behind Blame in the Stephen Foster as well.

The horse that won this year’s Blue Grass, Brilliant Speed, may well develop further, but has a long way to go before proving himself to be true Grade I caliber on any surface.

To be fair, there have been three placed horses, Street Sense, Paddy O’Prado and Game On Dude, which proved to be high-class performers. But if you add those three together with General Quarters, you have a grand total of four, arguably legitimate Grade I performers, to have won or placed in the race over the last four years.

So, what’s the point? The point is that the American Graded Stakes Committee has some serious ‘splainin’ to do. How can they possibly justify – while retaining any semblance of consistency – the continued granting of Grade I status to the Blue Grass? There is no reasonable set of criteria by which one could possibly lead to the conclusion that the Blue Grass deserves Grade I status.

It’s a glaring, and outrageous departure from what the committee maintains are rather clear standards for designating Graded race status. From TOBA’s own website, here are the main criteria for consideration:

The quality of a race is evaluated using:
  1. 1.stakes performance of all horses in the field in the 24 months before and after the race, and
  2. 2.annual classification ratings of the four highest-rated horses in the field

Stakes performance is measured in three ways:
  1. 1. POINTS (reflecting field-horses’ 1-2-3 finishes in all unrestricted black-type events);
  2. 2. PERCENTAGE of Graded Stakes Winners in the field;
  3. 3. QUALITY POINTS (number of Grade I, II, and III winners in the field

Based on the very straightforward criteria above, the Blue Grass should be a Grade II event at best, and assigning Grade I status is utterly unsupportable.

Finally, and again from TOBA’s website:

The U.S. grading system is designed to accommodate the flexibility and dynamism of U.S. racing; a grading system that could not quickly respond to our ever-changing conditions would never be appropriate in our country. Judgment and flexibility thus must always be a part of the system.

Really? Then why, after five years of, with rare exceptions, thoroughly ordinary horses winning and placing in the Blue Grass, has the AGSC failed to correct what is a glaringly obvious mistake?

What a Weekend of Racing

If you are a horse racing fan you have a lot to talk about concerning yesterday's racing, and I think it proves without a shadow of a doubt how interesting the game is.

Here we go.
  • Live horse racing to a willing customer-base who are treated right is not dead. Oaklawn jams 62,000 fans in for the Arkansas Derby. Their average of over 11,000 fans per day is as good as some pro teams get in traditional "sports".
  • I am never one to be hyper-critical of announcers. In fact, because they have a tough job (and it is) I cringe when one of them makes a mistake because it will light up chat boards with barbs thrown by folks, some of whom probably make 15 mistakes a day in their job. However, yesterday's call of the Arkansas Derby was pretty awful. Terry Wallace makes mistakes, has for some time, and there is no way to get around that.
  • The Factor is no factor. Immediately after the race I felt he was simply not a tractable horse, but hearing some of the rumors of a flipped palate, that does make sense. This is a very talented horse any way you slice it, but I think (even before this last race) you needed to re-check the capping to be betting him to win the big one. Time will tell what Baffert does, but one would expect a layoff, or Preakness.
  • I have been a fan of Archarcharch for some time. He deserved to win. He had an excuse in his last, and it was confirmed, because he is better than the backing up third he was last time.
  • Sway Away will be heard from this year, there is zero doubt in my mind. He is one of the better 3 year olds we have in horse racing. I was slightly perturbed with the switch to blinkers for yesterday's race, but I don't blame anyone for that; they had to try and roll the dice. I would think they will go back to open after that display, though. While standing in the gate he was looking around, and when he broke he broke really rank, got bumped, got shoved extremely wide and looked like he was unable to settle. He made a huge 4 wide move for the lead and really did not get as tired as he should have, but still ran in and out in the lane, looking around. If this horse was in the Derby in an open, I would be betting with both fists.
  • St Elmo Hero was defeated last evening for the first time in his career. This ends a super bad week for the connections, who lost their daughter earlier in the week (although one would suspect this loss means very little to them when put into a life perspective). If it is any solace, harness tracks that get sticky due to rain can throw some completely curious results. Some horses regress badly on them and throw in bad races. I suspect if that track was true-fast yesterday there is no way this horse loses. He is fast, gritty, talented, and is better than the horses who were close to him last evening.

The press seems to be in a tizzy about this seasons Kentucky Derby. I think we place to much pressure on horses, and I think we have too few real bettors in the press. We want to compartmentalize, make blanket statements (like the far-too-often-used catch phrase "he can't get the distance"), and have everything fit into a tight little box. That works in NASCAR, but rarely works in racing.

Speaking of announcers, I listened to Mountaineer last evening as I am one to do. Is there a better announcer in racing than Peter Berry? He's accurate, he's funny and he knows which horses are bet and well meant. He is 100% pure class and he should be at a top track, like yesterday.

Tom LaMarra twinkies this: "Good racing source not convinced Big M deal is dead. Thinks there will be meeting of minds soon. ... We'll see." Follow Tom on twitter.

Nick Kling twinks about what he finds was a closer bias at OP yesterday (I agree Dance City was very good, but keyed up horses can sometimes last and never repeat the performance), and adds one on Castro's ride on the grey in the Charles Town Classic. That horse raced awesome considering.

Nice call Sidfernando!

Bill Finley says Gural says it's 50/50 if the Big M closes.

This is one tough game and success for scores usually teeter on hairline betting decisions. I liked Sway Away and Arch yesterday and I walk away with zippo. Bad betting perhaps, especially when I look at a model I have for blinkers on for this type of horse in a route.

I should probably be fading a non-public 0.53 ROI move, with a bunch of blinkered horses and a hot pace index, but I did not. It is what it is, and next time it might work out, but I think I played that race wrong, fundamentally.

I was speaking with a pro bettor this past weekend and it is such a difficult game.  He was having a good year in March, up a good amount. In four days he almost lost every penny. We all go through swings like that, even when you are sharp and playing well, because we work on razor thin margins. Most people can not, or are completely unwilling to lose $50k in a few days, and it holds people back (rightly) from ever trying our game as a professional.

Woodbine hit the $100k last night for the second time in three weeks. If you have not been taking a poke at the pick 4 on Saturday, you are missing out. The fields have been excellent to handicap, and even with the brutal takeout, there is some value to be had, in my opinion.

How great would have yesterday's Derby been with Betfair alive here? The Factor was trading a pile at even money and there was great action. Archarcharch could be had at 50, Sway Away at 13-1. For faders or longs, traders or handicappers, there was something for everyone, and if the US market was able to play yesterday, the volumes would have been staggering.

I am not going to be making any money in Derby futures this year. Longs: Sway Away and Premier Pegasus, shorts, Uncle Mo and the Factor. I hope yours are faring better!

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Notes

Woodbine racing forecast for today - windy, cold, windy, grey. I can almost "see the track from my house" and I doubt there will be too many people sitting outside.

Hopefully it clears up a bit for the night card, where bettors are again taking a poke at the $100k guarantee. It's a good card this evening (free program here). Late in the card, St. Elmo Hero has a stern test tonight with a fairly good field of preferred horses. He should win, but like last week, he might have to be good to do so.

Christie and Gural (strange political bedfellows, if you watched the O'Reilly Factor last Thursday) both seem to agree the Meadowlands has little shot to open May 7th, after the tellers failed to approve the contract. Are you at all like me with political decisions? If a guy like Gural and a guy like Christie are agreeing on something, chances are it's truth, and they are on the right side of the issue.

Hastings Park is up and going for their new meet. 15% WPS take and free past performances for the season (on their website)! That's the way to do it.

Equidaily has the photographic evidence of the super bad beat at GP on Thursday.

Tom Walters, owner of Santiva, the fave for the Blue Grass today at Keeneland:

"Obviously, everyone would love to run in the Kentucky Derby. That's a dream," Walters said. "But the most important thing we want to do is to do what is right for the horse.

The objective for him was never the Kentucky Derby. The objective for him is to have him around this summer, this fall and as a 4-year-old because we think he's going to be a better 4-year-old than he is now."

Full story.

I honestly do not know why more owners are not like this. I think we can ring off a ton of names who could have had excellent second-halves, and made more cash for their stud career than they did.

I like the horse in the race today (although it looks like no value).

For the second big one today, the Arkansas Derby, the pace looks hot. If the Factor wins this off a fast pace, he deserves every accolade he has received. If Sway Away isn't there at the end I would be pretty surprised.

Good luck today folks!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A "New" Stakeholder, Bad Beats & Evil Plastic

The tellers union at the Meadowlands plays chicken with the sport of harness racing. The union, by not voting, said no to Jeff Gural and his takeover plans. They would have been paid about $19 an hour, with full benefits, while his plan to build a new track and save the M was put into place. Why would some folks with a job which has pretty much been made obsolete and will continue to be made obsolete do this? There is a new stakeholder in racing to add to the many - people who punch in bets.

Speaking of bad beats, how about last night's Rainbow Six at GP? One lucky bettor has a 40-1 shot put up via a DQ in the second last leg which allows him/her to be alive on one horse in the last; a 4-1 shot with a great chance. Fast forwarding to the lane, his/her horse, for about $1.2 million has an eight length lead and looks unbeatable, only to falter late and be nipped at the wire. For your next bad beat, remember this poor bettor.

I have not spent much time at all watching California racing this season, but I watched a race yesterday. A horse was eased at the quarter and a horse fell 100 yards from home. It appears this has been happening quite a bit this meet. Rick Arthur shares some statistics. We really do a lot of knee-jerk things in racing, and this seems like it's another.

To think this was a quote in late 2009 by Jess Jackson, owner of Rachel Alexandra, when asked if he was going to Santa Anita for the Breeders Cup to face Zenyatta in a Horse of the Year showdown:

"I have a very strong dislike for plastic surfaces, and I don't believe [Rachel Alexandra] should be exposed to that. I'm not going to run her on plastic. We don't need to risk her that way."

As with most things in racing, it's ass-backwards. A year and a half later the reality sets in. This track is the one that has potential BC entrants worried about safety, not the "evil plastic".

In addition, the nonsense about bettors not betting synthetic surfaces continues to be shown as just that, nonsense. Keeneland's handle is roaring so far this meet. Bettors will bet deep, honest fields with a decent rake. You could run horses on cottage cheese and get handle if you do those two things.

Without a central authority to promote facts, our inmates have been, and will continue to run the asylum with a combination of demagoguery and bias.

More notes:

Mark Steacy's syndicate is doing well and is looking to do some expansion. Mark is an honest fella, so this is nice to see.

HUGE payoff in Cal Expo's pick 4 last night with easy to hit prices. The Cal Expo rake on pick 4's is a low 15%.

St. Elmo Hero goes for 26 straight tomorrow at the Bine.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Speculation II

We wrote about horse racing and speculation a few days ago, and it has continued. This morning, Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher issued statements on the health of their colt, Uncle Mo. Pletcher revealed he has an internal bug, which is being treated, one surmises, with anti-biotics, and Mike says that if the colt is not 100% he won't make the Derby.

On twitter and in the press rumors of shaved knees and surgery are still there, the latter with hearsay evidence and nothing more.

The statement from Pletcher and Repole did not address a question from the Paulick Report through their publicist concerning recent speculation about whether Uncle Mo may have had surgery to remove a bone chip following his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win in November. Uncle Mo spent time at an Ocala, Fla.-area farm before resuming training in South Florida this winter. The Paulick Report has heard from several sources — none of which have a direct connection to the colt — that surgery was performed, but neither Pletcher nor Repole has responded to questions confirming or denying the surgery.

This is something that stumps me with thoroughbred racing here in North America. It seems that if there are questions about a high level horse, it is rarely addressed, fueling hearsay and rumor. It's like some sort of nuclear code secret, and if the public knows about it, the world will explode.

I remember Somebeachsomewhere in harness. The undefeated superstar was being compared to Niatross, sure to be syndicated for $12M+, so similar rules one would think would apply. After his second qualifier he received an ankle bruise which set him back. I was at the track and everyone knew about it, the press knew about it, and the trainer Brent McGrath would be in the dining room chatting about it. No big deal - that's horse racing. Later that summer when the horse stumbled home in only 29 seconds (still winning because he was brilliant) everyone and their brother knew something was up with him. In popped Brent with the bloods for everyone to see - the colt was sick.

If Somebeach had a shaved knee, Brent would be in the turf club probably saying "Ya, he got treated for a splint. He'll be fine". Ho hum.

Muscle Hill, the brilliant trotter trained by Greg Peck, had some minor setbacks at times, like when he was fumbly-gaited in the Breeders Crown. I remember being at the track that evening, and Brian Sears let it be immediately known that it was the shoes (to everyone in the paddock and to the press). It was again, no big deal.

In Hong Kong if Uncle Mo raced there on Saturday and lost at 1-9, he would have everything related to the loss published in the newspaper and on their website. He would not be allowed to even race again if it was not. (Hong Kong publishes vet reports, bloods, lameness etc on their website where it is public knowledge).

Leaving Uncle Mo aside and just speaking generally: Why is it so different here? Is it because if a problem is released a horse is worth $45M instead of $48M? Nonsense. The people buying into a colt and buying his offspring know what's up with him. Is it because we are afraid to tell the public that a horse might have a problem? Nonsense. The general public knows these are athletes and they might tweak an ankle or have a surgery, or get something cryo'd.

I think it is cultural. We are so used to keeping things quiet in racing and have for generations. It's like an old boys club, with brown things that are 1100 pounds.

Maybe everything in the statement is all that is happening with Mo, and on the surface, in my opinion, Mike and Todd's explanations are just fine. But don't blame people for speculating, because they have seen this movie a hundred times.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Horseplayers Are Winning

After decades of being called some not nice names, things are changing.

California, who has trumpted the "takeout does not matter and it does not make a difference" argument when they raised their takeout to groans in September, has suddenly changed their tune. They are offering a low takeout pick 5 for the Hollywood meet. It's a "no mas" offering, which I highly doubt players will embrace. They are far too soured on California racing because of the rake hike in the face of falling demand.

Ironically, this announcement comes on the heels of Calder's announcement. They have lowered pick 5 rake to a North American low 12%. That is a huge drop for a CDI track.

Horseplayers are winning. You are no longer betting degenerates, you are customers.

Banning Race Day Meds - One Tough Call

Today it was announced that Kentucky is looking at a banning of all raceday meds, primarily the bleeder shot lasix.

This is an intellectually challenging discussion for me, and we can see with the divergence of opinion, it seems that's confirmed by some others. Unlike whipping, where Ontario and other states made changes, there is more to it than simply a fear from participants of doing things differently.

My biggest fear lies in the fact that banning lasix will simply allow those who don't want to follow the rules more of an edge.

In the 1990's when milkshaking was a common process to make a horse last longer it was deemed a bad practice and banned. The people who did not want to follow the rule looked for edges in changing the ph level in horses and continued to shake. Later on, when D barns were prevalent, pretty much disallowing the benefit of milkshaking, the practice changed to dangerous blood builders. There are always people who will not follow the rules, and there is always something different to gain an edge.

If lasix is banned, backstretch shots of other bleeder meds I believe can, do and will happen. Even in the UK, where lasix is banned, we saw the Queen's horse's trainer get suspended for giving an anti-bleeder med on race day.

With 99% of thoroughbred racehorses getting lasix it is completely troubling. There is no way in hell these horses all need lasix. However, with lasix banned, chances are a fair percentage of these same horses will still get bleeder meds on raceday, we just won't see it.

Sweeping a problem under a rug can be good for public perception. The aforementioned UK example I think is a good one. Ask 100 people in North America about UK racing, and most would say they are clean. With brown bottle bleeders virtually everywhere, they are likely not as clean as we think; but that does not seem to matter.

It will be pretty interesting to see how this debate evolves, and if it addresses real change and not simply a public perception band-aid.


Pletcher and Repole talk Mo. In the comments section you see questions posed by two very sharp players and insiders asking about that shaved knee.

TVG talks their exclusive tracks, Woodbine/Mohawk and Keeneland. Like it or not as horseplayers, this is a proper business model for both tracks and TVG.

Jessica is either completely off her rocker, or smart as a whip. One thing for sure: She's got cajones! She leaves Uncle Mo at number one in her Paulick Derby list. But she might have used a raceometer.

A bettor here at PTP disagrees with Jess; with my nomination for comment of the week: "If Uncle Mo makes the gate in the big one I will eat my own spleen." I would probably just bet against him in futures if I were him, because that sounds a little painful.

Scott over at Sports Is Made For Betting asked me if I watched the Inter-Dominians in NZ last week. I caught the final on youtube, but came across the commercial for the event.

I have an idea: Ontario should take 5% out of purses and market like this! I know, I kid, I kid.

Enjoy your Wednesday folks.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Notes

There is quite a bit happening today and we have some fun and interesting articles and work being done in blogville.

Equispace's Space Sheet is damn cool and a great tool for Derby junkies. His dog did what he did this morning, not as a punishment, but as a thank you for compiling those cool stats. Good job.

Cangamble looks at drugs and racing and covers almost all the bases that I know of, except maybe CERA. Where there is money, there are people looking for an edge, and they are very sophisticated.

Full $1.5M North America Cup spring book odds are up. I agree with the chalk. If he stays sound, he should top the list as he's a nice talent. If you notice James Dean is qualifying him in Florida and then bringing him up here. For handicappers this signals who he learned training from - the great Stew Firlotte.

Dana is a true fan and is always looking for ways to have some fun come Derby time!

Frank Mitchell writes about Bellamy Road in his last piece. This is very salient to a handicapper, as it is a big part of this sport that we need to know about to make good betting decisions. After the Derby, Bellamy was called distance challenged, a fraud, a front-runner with no shot, and Zito was called an idiot for only two preps because he was not "fit". What he was, was injured. That he ran that well for 10f with a suspensory showed what kind of animal he was if he was sound, and that what we see is not often on the page. He was a superstar. Time will tell if Mo is Bellamy Road II.

It brings back memories for me, and they ain't good. I'd be retired if Closing Argument won that Derby. Coincidentally, Closing Argument was an outside the box horse in that Derby due to things not on the page. He was sick after the Holy Bull and was good in the Blue Grass considering it was a true tightening of the screws (sick horses have stall rest and need to get fit in a prep), but on paper it was poor, so people discounted him.

Some folks are talking about Toby's Corner's last eighth on Saturday. If you look at his almost perfect internal fractions with little variance, and the slow final time, he should come home in that. It was a perfect for a closer.

I'm long Sway Away for the Derby. The price is too juicy and I think he rolls this weekend, where his price will tank. I might feel more or less confident in him if the clock worked at SA for his second last and I could properly analyze that race.

Chasing the Derby has done a good job compiling links. This dude is into it.

LATG talks Shmoe today. Yessir, being done like dinner after 7f with no fractions is a head-scratcher for a superior athlete like that. He's push button, and when the button is pushed at 6.5f and there is no response, there is something going on. See Rachel not rebreaking when hooked by the inferior Zardana as a clue.

The Factor is 10-1 at Wynn and lower at Betfair and other online books. I have never seen that before. I can't see any serious player betting the Factor now at 8-1. But I have been wrong about a million times before, so expect to see the Factor draped in foliage in a few weeks.

Thorotrends asks, has any Derby winner been passed in his prep? In modern history I can only come up with Mine That Bird, but he was sent to engage in stout splits, wide, and rode straight and sound, deserving to be tired late.  Can anyone think of any others?

There is a long article on the UFC in the Globe and their battle to crush boxing. What they have done is nothing short of miraculous, and it shows when you have a strong executive with a vision, a sport can roll.

A Twitter horse racing partnership has started in the UK. Interesting.

For those of you who care about journalism and racing, there is still time to support Kentucky Confidential. As an aside, Kickstarter is worth joining anyway. There are tons of things one might support on there. It is somewhat addictive!

Have a great Tuesday everyone.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Speculation Sets Horse Racing Apart

Since 2007 we have said on the blog all along that horse racing represents the best gambling game in the world. It is an intellectual pursuit, which attracts people with some smarts, because it is a thinking man or woman's game.

This past weekend's events bring that into laser-like focus.

Uncle Mo races and is expected to crush. Uncle Mo loses, looking more like a claimer than a stakes colt.

Is he injured? Is he challenged by an extra half furlong? Did he have a cough? Will he run in the Derby? Will he be retired like Eskenedreya was?

If an NFL quarterback has a bad game, we ask him why he had a bad game. He might have a tender ankle, and although he won't use it as an excuse, we can probably surmise that was the problem. Sure there might be whispers of a drug problem or staying out all night the night before with a mistress, but we can ask him and hear it from the quarterback's mouth.

In horse racing there is no such thing, because horse's whinny. If we add in the simple facts that in this game, since about the beginning of time, injuries are kept quieter than a Bill Belichick injury report and money can be made in the huge Derby pools if you are right, we have a confluence of opinion that swells like a tidal wave.

Speculation is a part of this sport like no other:

In the last 48 hours after Mo's loss, there are pictures linked on a chat board of what appears to be a shaved knee. There are twitter posts about ankle problems. There are back links to April 15th 2010 where speculation was rampant that Esky had problems and should be a toss for the Derby, with people wondering if we are seeing it all over again. There are stories on blood tests to look for a spiked white count, or any other malady. There are people talking fitness and distance and on and on. It's like a treasure hunt where you get to be right or wrong, because everyone is thinking.

The thing is, everyone who is chatting about this comes from a different walk of life, adding fuel to the speculative fire. If you are a person focused on breeding, you are looking at the pedigree for stamina, and come to a conclusion. If you are simply a fan you might be focused on racing history and say "this looks like Favorite Trick again". If you are a sharp physical handicapper you are looking at the running-in Mo did, or the changing leads on the straight. If you are a horse owner, who after your horse throws a clunker gets a report of heat in the leg or an ultrasound of a tender tendon, you know all too well that's the big reason the clunker happened and it probably happens 100 times a day, so you are immediately thinking soreness.

As we spoke a couple of months ago, Derby futures and having an exchange is a real draw. We linked to Saturday's betfair trading chart as well, where Mo skied to 30-1 after the Wood, with several thinking that they have seen the colt for the last time. This is why we need an exchange in North America, linked to the world, and we need to promote the hell out of it. All of these people - bettors, grooms, fans, horsemen, everyone - has an opinion and some speculation. The ability to put your money where your mouth is should be there for everyone, at every minute, after every prep and before every prep.

If we let people act on their speculation and promote this niche we have on other sports and gambling games, there is little doubt in my mind racing can be on the minds of many more than it is today. Horse racing is the grandest betting game ever invented, and this weekend's ongoing speculation proves it. We stand alone.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday's Here & It's All About Mo

Why is horse racing a fantastic sport? It's Masters Sunday and about all people are talking about (that I know; yes that's a small sample) is racing.

The Uncle Mo performance is the most talked about loss since Rachel could not fend off Zardana last March. If you go on chat boards, or read some comments, it was somehow a fait de compli - a perfectly expected loss. One wonders why the horse was 1-9 and 1.15 on betfair then, of course. It certainly was not expected, it was shocking. If the colt stopped the clock at 9f yesterday what he stopped the clock at 9f in his BC Juvy gallop out, he wins easily. Something happened to this horse.

What happened? That's anyone's guess. I believe he looked awful, and at the quarter I was worried because he would not settle. After seeing him run in several times, and have no response on the far turn, it looked that he would be beaten by more than he was. But good horses like him don't give up easily.

Opinion on the net is scattered. Some think we have seen him for the last time, others think he will be fine. It truly is Rachel Alexandra II out there.

As expected, Mo will ship to CD, according to their twitter feed a moment ago.

Whatever happens, I hope racing wins. Because Repole and Mo are good for racing. I feel bad for both of them.

Thankfully Mo is a horse and he can't read. All he wants is a pet and an extra carrot. What more would he ask for?

Mo Notes

Mo's price at Betfair has settled at 8.4-19. Some traded at 30, 20 and 16, as well as a hunk around 10. The new chalk is Dialed In, followed by the Factor.

The Factor has been everyone's fave Derby whipping horse because of mostly his racing style. But the colt laden with speed is still there, while other grinders are dropping like flies.

Sway Away is at 32.0 at Betfair and that seems like a no-brainer long, even though the connections are changing things up with blinkers. I thought he was just fine in his last; just a little goofy on a pretty fast track with some traffic trouble.

Kudos to Aqueduct. I rarely play there because I will not even look at a field with less than seven horses, and they are shut out of two of my ADWs, but I did yesterday because the race office carded a fantastic group of races. Handle soared because of that, and attendance did too because of Mo.

Cowboy Squirrel commented below on the day.

"Big crowd of Mo-ites clad in blue & orange cheering in the dining was grand.
Whatever the issues with this horse, Repole is refreshing & positive. He walked by us with a 100+ entourage on the way to the paddock...talking to people and shaking hands with fans...priceless!"

It's why a lot of us in racing are hoping yesterday was some sort of freak occurrence.

Non-Mo Notes

Balmoral's carryover and guarantee did well last night, with a nightly handle well over $1M and a pick four pool of over 50k.

Uncle Mo, then Uncle Joe? I took a small pick 5 ticket yesterday at GP, hoping I could get D'Funnybone beat, which happened. However, I was keyed on one horse in the last leg - Uncle Joe. This was about ten minutes after Uncle Mo was beaten. Needless to say, although he was 7-5, I was not very confident and that was confirmed when he was badly beaten.

Woodbine's guarantee was not hit last night; they had to add ten K, making it a nice takeout reduction for horseplayers. I did not partake because I could not see Umphery's horse winning leg one. I went six deep, but should have went nine deep.

Northfield had another nice pool. The 14% take and guarantee is paying off.

Why should we never bet a non-speed horse at less than 1-5? Hypnotic Blue Chip answers that one. The horse absolutely needs a target and is terrible first over. JJ got away third and was forced to press to the lead. From there he was beatable with no target. JJ certainly had no choice however, and at least he gave punters a shot for their money instead of sitting in like I am sure he'd have liked to.

I've been traveling like a crazy man lately so blogging has not been on the priority list. My last trip this past week was for a good friend's funeral. What a guy this guy was. He was a friend from University who ended up being a friend for life.  He was not a mover and a shaker, his family was working class from a small mining town in Northern Ontario, which is possibly why we hit it off so early. The guest list from our school days was pretty astonishing, though, and might make you think he was some kind of big shot. Lawyers and business people, a high ranking government official (taking time off the campaign trail), university professors were all there; some of them traveling thousands of miles. For a funeral that was out of the way for so many, it did not matter and his family was truly touched to see them. I think that's what happens when you live your life as an honorable person and treat everyone as equals, wanting nothing in return: People remember you. A lot of people will miss him. What a wonderful friend and person.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Uncle Mo's Loss a Tough One for Racing

I admit it, despite watching racing do some completely bizarre things to not help itself, I love this crazy sport.

Last year, Zenyatta was a joy to watch and I cheered for her each and every time, because she was good for racing. Rachel was similar and regardless how she looked early, where most of us were sure she was a shadow of herself, we hoped we were wrong. I find I am having the same feelings with Uncle Mo.

The Derby is my day to bet. The pools are very large and it is where on an annual basis I try and make a life changing score. Uncle Mo was causing me some trouble, because I think he's an amazing talent, and not only feared betting against him, I did not want to.

I have had several sharp handicappers, a couple who do this for a living, tell me since last year that they thought Mo has soundness issues. One who can play legally on betfair has been laying him beyond belief. Although I take everything in, I have constantly resisted that thought and looked for every opportunity to argue with them. Because I respect them as players I watched the Timely Writer no less than ten times looking for soreness and I could not find any (other than the somewhat odd way he carries his head). But maybe I just did not want to see it.  Regardless, as today seemed to prove - where he raced erratically and was all done at 7f with zero ability to separate - it appears it was game, set and match for their astute opinion.

What this does is open up the Derby for me as a serious horseplayer. I again can go searching for the elusive bomb in the one, two or three slots, looking for that blanket super that pays $200k or more. Hoping, wishing for that Derby score as a yearly rite of passage.

I should be happy, but I'm not. I wanted to see that colt roar, for the good of racing; the good of our sport because he is such an amazing talent with a mind-boggling cruising speed. Unfortunately because horses are tendons and flesh and blood, and not manifolds and pistons and fuel lines, it's simply the way it goes sometimes. Regardless, kudos to the cappers who saw what they saw. This game is very difficult and to have that talent and will to stick with your minds-eye convictions on a way a horse moves, it's why you are doing this for a living and I am working for one.

It Does Not Take Long

In the annual procession of carnage (otherwise known at the Triple Crown Trail), Mo looks horrid and loses the Wood. Before the race he was trading at 1.15 at the UK Betting Site Betfair. He was solidly chalk in the Derby portion of the antepost betting as well, trading at a tidy 5-2. It did not take long for that to change. A minute after the loss, $5000 pops up to book Mo at 9-1 and only one soul wanting to buy him at 500-1. He will probably be  higher later today, as he has already traded some at 30-1. After the way he looked I can't see anyone seriously biting at only 9-1.

Saturday Notes

I'm watching the Masters and waiting for the Wood. I keyed Uncle Mo, like most. Oeuf on face? We see.

Tonight marks week two of the WEG 100k guaranteed pick 4. There are free programs on the Woodbine website for those interested.

Equidaily highlighted the Balmoral Park carryover and guarantee tonight on his website. Expect a push to that pool tonight. The article is correct: It can be huge value.

Jody J has been twinkying again and he offers some excellent thoughts on tonight's card and drives.

He's worth a follow!

Good luck everyone.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday Notes

Woodbine decides to try and keep a good thing rolling. After a modern day handle bump Saturday, with $116k bet into the $100k guaranteed pick 4, they have decided to continue it. Another interesting thing - it was first spoken about, and de-facto released, on Facebook.

In other news, is harness racing beginning to kick some butt by doing something crazy: Getting together and promoting. The strategic pick 4's this past weekend all rolled. The pick 4, since the Meadowlands blazed the trail for everyone with a 15% takeout (when low rake was not kosher in this business), has become harness racings bet. It's nice to see tracks using that branding power.

Flipping horses for profit? Without commenting on Paulick's assertions (which I know nothing about), this is in general as common in places in our business as getting a morning cup of coffee, unfortunately. It's very hard to attract good, honest, decent people to invest in our business when some practices that others find abhorrent, are tolerated. I cut my teeth as a kid in racing with an honest harness trainer. At a sale once, I got a lesson about selling horses and doing it the right way from him, and my family. I could not believe that my trainer would give out so much information about a horse we were selling - including the bad points. "That's the way you do business if you want to be respected" I was told. It was a good life lesson for an idiot kid. That trainer? Below.

National Wagering numbers are down again. Some tracks - Gulfstream, Tampa Bay, and it seems Woodbine, are up. The largest handle joint in NA is down.Why is GP up? Because they make some common-sense decisions.

When does a Beyer mean nothing? When you horse's name starts with a Z, or if you have a talented three year old in April who is a deep closer trained by Nick Zito.

Will the Wood Memorial winner make it through safely to Derby Day? We'll find out soon. It's this weekend and apparently they are expecting rain.

Seth at Equidaily goes all out on promoting St Elmo Hero, even bringing in a picture of the dude from Hot Shots.

The trainer of ours? Tom Strauss. Sadly, Tom left the business of training several years ago because "he could not compete". When good people who care about horses like that can't compete it's not a loss for the individual, it's a loss for horse racing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Woodbine Takes a Stand & Wants Our Business Again

With a good opening day handle, an excellent harness promotion and some other bettor-focused policies, Woodbine again is becoming a player in North American racing for long-suffering punters. If you try, people will notice, and they are.

For a good number of years (the post monopoly years) players, fans, some execs and some pundits were always stumped at what they saw was a lack of effort. After 100 years of being the only game in town, where "if you build it, people will come" was the rallying cry to some success, it was something that took awhile to change. Sure, there were gym bag giveaways, maybe mugs or a poster were handed out, but very rarely did a track venture to the deep heart of the problem - attracting more and more people to want to sit and handicap and bet - your product.

Woodbine Entertainment was a poster boy for this system (just read the comments on this blog from horseplayers since 2007) and players were fed up, leaving in droves. They had long had enough.

However now, things appear to be changing, and it is not one-off change, it is becoming (to borrow a phrase) "change we can believe in".

Yesterday was opening day for thoroughbreds at the Rexdale track, and this year there was some positive buzz. For the second year in a row they dropped their tri take, which is still a high 25%, but it is getting there. This move was filtered through the handicapping world and players seemed to see some hope that the track is beginning to want their business again.

There have been other positive player changes the past 12 to 24 months, much of it what players like me and you have been asking, for a long time:
  • Expanding their reach via the ADW system, and exporting more to get some of the anemic-handle pools up, and worth playing
  • Being tough on some of the 'out of the woodwork' super-trainers
  • Using their on-air talent (many of them qualified in handicapping) to give more and more information to punters with editorial freedom
  • Concentrating on field size and carding bettable races
  • Offering free video and free past performances on their website
  • Top-notch simulcast production, with Trackus, allowing simo bettors to follow along easily
  • Using Youtube for a replay channel (it is a very good channel), and at the very least trying to use the internet advantageously
  • Doing some advertising to people who actually bet
The results are promising.

Opening Day in 2008 barely broke $2 million in handle.  This year they did almost $3 million. 

Handle was up about 7% in 2009, and 9% in 2010. Things are moving in the right direction and this year they may be up double digits for 2011.

Not to be outdone, the harness side had something happen that rarely does: Some positive buzz.

Woodbine Harness (with the Meadowlands faltering) is the premier harness product in the World. But the handles do not reflect that. This past little while, some new things have been tried. Saturday, Woodbine pumped the $100k guarantee in their pick 4, for the first time ever (even advertising on the HRF ad network to fans they don't normally reach).

Would they hit it? Would this be a horrible error? After all, $100k in a Woodbine pick 4 is something never seen, certainly in a wintery April.

The pick 4 attracted $116,000.

On WEG's signature harness day - the $1.5M North America Cup - where over $3M in purses are given away, 20,000 fans cram the tarmac at Mohawk after being bombarded with media, and the race is shown on national television, the handle barely breaks $3 million. Saturday, with the guarantee, some advertising to punters, and some positive buzz, the handle was $1.8 million. We don't see that number any more for Saturday harness; but we do now.

Several years ago here on the silly blog we were all chatting about Woodbine. They just raised their takeout on pick 4's 15% to 25% (or thereabouts, and you were pissed), all the talk was about offshore wagering  from the brass there, and players felt like they were speaking to people who never made a bet in their entire lives. As handle was circling the drain, both insiders and punters lamented "why don't they try something positive for customers - anything!" Slowly but surely something happened - they listened and responded.

If Woodbine continues on this course, with new bettor centric ideas (like a 15% take pick 5, for example), continued lower takeout, better distribution and rebates, and confronting the elephant in the room of the too-low pick 4 minimum, they could be a major force on the Continent with serious horseplayers. With places like California suffering where dedicated bettors are abandoning the product, the door is open. Let's hope WEG continues to walk through it.


What kind of horse is St Elmo Hero? A good one. That was a marvelous effort last evening for a colt with foot problems and time off. A hard move to the front, a retake around the turn after being attacked by Mark Mac off a quick third panel would normally portend a loss. Not this time, because good horses don't use excuses.

Speed and trainers rule the roost at Woodbine thoroughbreds in April. Wesley Ward (who was 7 for 20 here last season) has good stock and sends them ready. He won 5 races. Yesterday, for value players he was shut-out, keying a nice hittable $5,000 pick 4, proving you can't be hot all the time and as bettors, we must take stands against the on-paper obvious to win at this tough game.

Layover time in the Spring Championship last evening at the Bine. Hypnotic Blue Chip is a top pacer, and despite being so far back, he fired home beautifully to win. If St. Elmo was on the front end, it was a different story, but Lisagain is no St. Elmo right now. Regardless, Hypnotic is a horse to watch this season in all the major (non-half mile track) stakes.

Florida Derby. I am reading on chat boards and via twitter how Dialed In's win was not impressive. I completely disagree. This was an impressive prep, and if he moves forward, Uncle Mo and Premier Pegasus better keep a keen eye on his saddle pad.  

USTA Strategic wager is a success in opening weekend. Balmoral's guarantee was blown out of the water. The Chicago oval continues to impress since changing the takeout on the pick 4 from 25% to 15%. Handle is up over 80% and  overall handle has been trending upwards as well.

Kentucky Confidential continues to gain steam, with $2400 pledged. Keep it going.

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