Thursday, June 30, 2011

Woodbine Lowers Pick 4 Juice at Mohawk

For HPI customers (Woodbine's internet wagering arm) pick 4 juice will be lowered via 4% cash back for Mohawk each Saturday in July. The pick 4 on Saturday's comes with a $75,000 guarantee.

This might sound like a miniscule step, but for them this is a pretty huge thing. The historical corporate culture there resisted price breaks.

There are also free programs, and free video available for punters, so for those interested, there's some cash back in your pocket, and some convenience to take a poke at the bet.

Slots Sure Seem Fun

Chester Downs is a race track, which happens (thankfully for horse owners) to have a casino attached. Don't ask me how, but I ended up on their twitter page recently (for the casino side, I am guessing). Here's a snippet:

These messages are about more and more fun, excitement, bar deals and giveaways.

I know the horse racing customer is different, but I wonder if the juxtaposition strikes others. Chester is a track that has given away over $2.0 million in one day, to paltry handles, but if I did not read the industry websites I would not even know they did. If I go to the twitter page I would not even know a racetrack existed. I am sure (maybe?) they have a track twitter feed, but after searching for a couple of minutes, I could not find it.

The casino sure looks fun, though.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Notes

A positive test was recorded by super-filly Crys Dream this morning. According to the ORC, the drug was a Class I, II or III, which ensures not only the trainer and owner are suspended, but so is the horse. There were few other details given.

If I was a betting man, I would wager this is a trace positive of a common drug, because the connections of this horse are who they are, and you have to be certifiably insane to do something willingly with such drugs, seeing the way the ORC tests. Trace or not (and we won't know that soon, because the ORC, like other commissions only has a positive/negative trigger; it does not test for levels of the drug), the hammer will likely fall on the filly, at some point this summer or fall. If they drag out the appeal, one would assume they will be able to race for awhile.

...... The Kenutcky folks are holding hearings into the Life At Ten disaster at last year's Breeders Cup. So far the Sgt Shultz mantra of "I see nothing" seems to be taking root. Some are suggesting that interviews of jockey's be prohibited before race time, like that's supposed to be a good thing.

.... The TOC in California has brought Lou Raffetto aboard. This move was needed because the TOC is being challenged in the state by some thoughtful folks like Roger Licht. It will be interesting to see what kind of fine line he walks when asked about the takeout hike. Those supporting the take hike now are few and far between, but the folks that do, are in the TOC. Even if he (and this is likely, in my opinion) thinks the hike was a terrible move, he can't say so. This is cat herding 101, right before our eyes.

..... Woodbine, for year's a fave whipping boy for horseplayers, has been turning a corner, with a few take reductions, an embrace of rebating, and openness and transparency via the web. This year's Queen's Plate was well-received by those of you slugging away at the windows - it was a record handle. It takes time to change a brand. Woodbine has slowly been changing, and people are noticing.

..... After getting regulatory hurdles placed in front of them by copious governments, betfair's share price has taken a tumble. They are cleaning house there, and announced a new premium charge for bettors. The corporatization of the company is almost complete, which has affected countless private companies who IPO in the past.

..... The Saratoga meet starts soon, and NYRA and others are stoked on the heels of the deal announced with Versus. One question: NYRA had to raise takeouts 1% on some exotics a couple of years ago, to plug the OTB revenue holes. With OTB's gone, why haven't they lowered the takeout back down?

...... Places like betfair, and our own ADW's here, have been looking hard at optimizing mobile. Mobile's growth rates are huge, but I wonder if it is trying to put a square peg in a round hole in terms of grabbing new customers. I had a nice chat with a presenter at a recent conference who's an engineer who runs her own mobile web shop. She relayed the time a mobile clicker gives you is less than ten seconds. The attention span is infuriatingly short, and to bet, or want to bet via a mobile device takes a hell of a lot of time. I think spending cash on mobile in our game is for our existing folks to have a better customer experience, and growth rates for new customers will be smaller than expected.

Have a good day folks.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why is Optimal Takeout So Difficult to Understand?

If you peruse the Interwebs and the question of takeout crops up, there is the inevitable chatter about the cost to put on the show, or my favorite line: 'we only raised takeout because we had to'. It seems, to this camper, the concept of optimal takeout is something that alludes many.

A poster on summed up optimal takeout once, and I thought it was pretty dang good. I share it here.

  • Optimal takeout means maximizing revenue. There is only one takeout rate that will maximize revenue for a given "demand for X" over the long term. Zero will never be an optimal rate, it returns zero is officially the least optimal takeout rate (it shares that honor with 100% takeout rate.)
  • Optimal takeout doesn't exist in anyone's mind, it's not an opinion. It exists, as an actual number. Nobody knows what it is, exactly...but the truth is out there. It's the takeout rate where you get maximum revenue.
  • The reason the cost of the show doesn't matter is because it doesn't...optimal pricing is going to be optimal pricing for any given show, no matter how much you pay the star. You can't do better than maximum revenue. Optimal takeout rate = maximum revenue for the tracks and horsemen.
  • Whether maximum revenue pays for the show or not is a separate issue -- because you can't get any more money from your customers. If you raise prices your revenue will go down because they will reduce their purchases at a higher rate than the increase in price makes you.If you lower prices your revenue will go down because they won't buy more of it a rate high enough to make up for the decrease in per unit cost. You end up a net loser again. You can't bring in any more money, ever, than you'd get with the optimum rate. There is no more money for your show.
  • If there isn't enough to pay for the show at that point, then your show is too expensive to put on, and you should either consider putting on a different show, or just stop putting on shows -- because you are going to go out of business. Not all shows are blockbusters, many result in bankruptcy.
  • It is believed by many that racing is currently charging more than the optimal rate, and is therefore leaving money on the table that could otherwise go to pay for the show.

It really is that simple. You don't want to charge 0% takeout because purses would be zero, you don't want to charge 100% because purses would be zero, too. There is a number, somewhere in between, that makes the tracks the most cash, and funds the purses to their highest possible level. Our current takeout rates were never decided upon by trial and error, or an econometric model (like for example, how a casino does it; Vegas slot machines charged 25% in 1970, but 5% today because they make more cash at 5%). They were decided upon by governments, horsemen and tracks raising them each time they felt they wanted money, with near impunity, because racing held a monopoly*. We're not a monopoly any longer, so the old rules simply do not apply.

Every study since 1970 has said that the optimum level is lower than the current takeout rate for horse racing, and if they're right, tracks are costing themselves money in the long term, when they raise takeout.

It's not about horseplayer greed, it is about answering a simple question that millions of successful businesses have answered before, and continue to answer each day. I am at a loss as to why this easy to understand concept is such a foreign one. The next time you hear "our show is expensive to put on so we have to have high takeout" I hope the above explains why many of us pull our hair out.

* In the early 1900's, the initial pari-mutuel takeout rate in the US was 5%. Source: Colin's Ghost.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

California Racing on Display

Yesterday there was a meeting of some sort in California, between the horsemen association (the TOC) and some other folks (who are not named in the article linked below, so it's a bit of a mystery).

The quotes from the meeting, from a customer perspective, are pretty curious. And that's putting it mildly.

In terms of the takeout hike, which has helped result in hundreds of millions in handle losses so far, owner Mike Pegram said "I am not willing to take an 18% pay cut". That was an interesting comment, because with handle losses continuing, I don't think we need a masters in math to figure the pay cut is going to come on its own.

In other news, the horsemen group appears to want to block low takeout (and very popular) exchange wagering, unless the takeout is sky-high (among other things that have been studied for years already).

"On a different matter, Pegram said the TOC will not support the implementation of exchange wagering in 2012, unless issues regarding to “cannibalization, [prevention] of corruption, and the takeout rate” are addressed."

In the past, the horsemen group of record in the state has not allowed rebating to in-state customers (so bettors can get a fair shake and enjoy the racing game more), and have had a punishing signal fee structure. They have also curbed out of state simo races, which give customers choice and also allow them to be happier bettors.

In summary:
  • A takeout increase occurred, which customers do not like.
  • Exchange wagering, which customers like, is likely going to be rejected
  • Rebates, that allow for in-state customers to be on a level playing field with out of state customers, and help them enjoy the sport more, continue to be banned
  • Betting choice, which customers like, is being resisted.
Do they need a road map to see why customers don't want to give them their business?

I'm glad I made the decision to not bet a single penny on their racing product this year.  With headlines like the above, it'll be a hell of a long time before I do.

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    A Man Walks Into a Bar.....

    I am off to meet a couple of friends last night at the Crown and Dragon north of Bloor on Yonge, here in the Big Smoke. For those who might not know, the bar has the best wings in Toronto, not only in my opinion, but from real restaurant critics. Anyhoo, I pop up to the bar, and what's on the big screen? HPI TV. The 6th at Mohawk is just going off. I must say, other than being in an OTB, I have never seen a horse racing channel being the feature at a pub! I got to watch a couple at the Meadowlands and Mohawk before they switched to some-sort-of-a-MMA-slugfest. That interests me about as much as an arts and crafts class.

    Further to the strange horse racing reference to the evening, I walked to the restroom and saw paintings of old race meets, and a 1907 Royal Ascot poster. This is not a horse racing bar, but it sure looked like one.

    The first person to arrive was a friend who is a professional gambler. While waiting for others I asked if he read the Tom LaMarra Bloodhorse piece on the state of California racing. He had not, so I gave him by blackberry and he read.

    "What the hell are those people doing there?" he asked.

    That seems to be a familiar lament. From reading customers' thoughts around the Interwebs, incredulity is the best word I can think of.

    The article is well-researched and quite good. The state of racing in that state is not strong, and with so much infighting, and so much policy not resting on stated fact, but on what each group "thinks" is the right thing to do, I highly suspect they will be in that funk for awhile. The over/under on handle losses for 2011 is $400 million, and that's a staggering number.

    As with most things, my evening, through happenstance or coincidence, focused yet again, on horse racing. I just didn't figure as much in a downtown pub.


    Charlie on twitter (@charlie125) summed up his thoughts on all the California racing articles in one Paceadvantage line yesterday. 

    Turf writers you want to follow on Twitter? Tom LaMarra, who is @jerseytom. He's a horseplayer.

    Claire Novak and others were mentioning See You At Peelers today. Bill Finley's article has legs, and it was linked on Equidaily, as well.

    Bob Marks from Perretti Farms emailed: "I would compare See You At Peelers to Rachel Alexandra, not Zenyatta". That is a strong point. Rach's 20 length romp in the Oaks was not dissimilar to SYAP's romps so far against the girls (in harness you are not likely to see a 20 length win in Open competition as the variance is simply not there). In addition, she clearly has the go to beat up on males, and is a horse who uses her speed, and has a wicked ability to separate, just like Rachel did

    Nick Eaves, Woodbine's CEO, was interviewed on the Paulick Report. Woodbine has gone through a massive sea-change in thinking the past six years. In the early 2000's, protection ruled the corporate roost - protecting signals from offshore's, protecting their product, and protecting the punishing takeouts. Now, a more competitive vision has emerged. Rebating (something that offshores were doing with success early in the 2000s, that Woodbine had resisited) is a part of the culture, signals are open, and they have turned a corner. They are not there yet, but they are getting there.

    Standardbredgal takes a look at the horse's who were "on cereal boxes" the past years, and likes what Jim Carr is doing with pacer Big Jim.

    Sid's "Best of Twitter Blogs" is a follow Friday. There are usually several crowdsourced stories of interest each day.

    USTA's strategic wagering is doing well. This weekend, for the Hoosier Cup, they are guaranteeing a 20k super.

    Queen's Plate day is Sunday, and I might head up for it. I have always enjoyed that day. The problem? I have been too busy to watch much racing, and I feel I will be at more of a disadvantage than usual.

    Enjoy your Friday everyone!

    Thursday, June 23, 2011


    It was announced earlier this week that handle at Golden Gate Fields was down 21% overall, and 16% per race when compared to last year.

    At the same time, a teeny meet at Stockton had a handle boost this season, primarily due to a free admission policy.

    Two different meets, two different kinds of racing customers.

    The Pareto Principle, which loosely states that 80% of all events, sales etc, are driven by 20% of an item, customer or what have you, has been changed to mean many things. We've all heard them: The top 5% of taxpayers pay 70% of the taxes, the top 20% of criminals produce 80% of the crime, etc. In horse racing we have a similar 'truism': The estimation is that the top 5% of players, probably play 60% of the volume.

    In California the top 5% of players have not been playing that product this season. The other 95%, had a fun time at the Stockton Fair, and bet their admission.

    Racing is at a crossroads, as we all know. It is (or should be) a battle between catering to the 95% of the people who make up 40% of the handle, while at the same time trying to maximize the 5% who make up the other 60% of our revenues. California, through giveaways, decent on-track promotions and other friendly things seem to be able to attract the casual player, but the everyday one is saying no thanks.

    High signal fees and takeout increases are an ROI leak for an everyday player which causes them to bet less, or change their betting behavior. It should not surprise anyone that California racing's handle has been hurt badly. Unfortunately, reading the headlines it does not look like they have learned too much from the past six months when it comes to betfair. Because racing cannot seem to separate the two segments at the highest levels of decision making, I expect Betfair will have a very tough time getting approved in California. Even if they do, the decision makers will be wanting to shoehorn a price sensitive potential betfair customer into a different pigeon hole (by charging 10% or more win takes). Racing must learn, you can't shove a square peg into a round hole, because if you do, the everyday player (or a poker player looking for something new to try) will take their money elsewhere. Most businesses use the Pareto Principle to their advantage, but we seem to carry it like an albatross.


    Bill Finley gives some props to See You at Peelers in his latest ESPN column. Often times, comparing a horse - any horse - to a winner like Zenyatta is out of bounds. But not this time. She is clearly a special horse, who has the ability to dominate her female foes.

    It was inevitable I guess, but racing has screwed up the Internet. ADW wagering was down in Q1 in the Oregon hub, where all the major players play. I had a meeting last week with an online auctioneer. "We offer price breaks and convenience" she said. No kidding, it's the Internet edge. Racing on the other hand charges the same price, and makes it extremely difficult to be a customer and sign up.

    Jim Takter does not like elim winners not being able to pick posts. He has a point, but our stakes races have, for the most part, become coronations rather than betting affairs.

    Why do I love undefeated horses? Because they are not machines and they have bad days. Big Bad John was indeed off his form, and his feed for last weeks North America Cup, although I guess that is not a huge surprise to handicappers. A 55.2 half should have resulted in a 54 back half and a victory, under little stress, for a colt like that.

    Have a good Thursday everyone.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Drugs Can Be a Murky Bog

    One of the hottest topics in racing continues to be drugs - of all sorts. At times you can read some heady stuff out there on the scourge, at other times the chatter seems to do more harm than good.

    I first learned about lactic acid build-up the hard way, which amazingly Thoroedge talks specifically about this week. In high school I played many sports, and with our maniacal basketball coach making us run ten miles before practice consisting of plays, a scrimmage and wind sprints you would think I was in decent shape. One day each year we had a "track and field day" at school, intramurally, and decided I would try track and get out of class. I warmed up and joined the 400 metre, thinking the trip around the oval looked easy, one which anyone with a lick of common sense and a modicum of athleticism could run full tilt for. At the head of the lane, with a like 90 length lead, I began to know what Uncle Mo felt like at the top of the stretch in the Wood Memorial. I felt like someone was cutting me in the thighs, repeatedly, with a meat cleaver.

    In the thoroedge article, Bill Pressey speaks of the alternatives to milk shaking, which can help horses avoid lactic acid build up. I don't know if they will work or not, but it is an excellent illustration that trainers are constantly looking for an edge. Milk shaking, via a tube, is creepy, and we are all glad the sport banned it. Like most things in racing, if a little soda does some good, a whole lot of it must do really good, and that can get us, the horse's and the sport in serious trouble. Things that Mr. Pressey espouses, like interval training, are exactly what we want our trainers to be doing, however. But to me, it does illustrate what we're up against in this sport. One man's edge to help his racehorse run well, happily and healthily, can be another man's quest to have it banned.

    Recently, in Iowa, this comes to light even moreso, in my opinion. Trainer Gene Jacquot was suspended for cathinone, a terrible Class I drug. However, there was three billionth's of a gram of the drug found in this horse's system. Was trainer Gene sitting in the paddock with a big huge needle of this street drug, ready to inject the horse to make a score? If he did, he should be a world class chemist, or something, because he has the amazing ability to cut a drug into three-billionth's of a gram.

    Some folks might say "well, you never know, it could have helped the horse". Are you kidding me? Take a gram of marijuana, cut it into three billionth's, pop it in a plate of brownies and eat it. If a half hour later you are listening to Hendrix and eating cheeto's, you are a prime candidate for a placebo in a drug trial. Call Merck.

    There are bad people in racing, and we tend to know who they are. People interval training, or those caught with a speck of caffeine, or whatever, in their horse's are generally not them. The true bad people who are there to scam participants, fellow owners and bettors, tend to get legal counsel and ask for due process while racing, often times supported by horseman groups, while the "three-billionth of a gram" guys make headlines.

    Common sense drug policy is something we cannot seem to get our mind around in our sport. The result? Politicians who don't know a baseball from a blinker get to make the decisions. Like most systemic problems in our sport, I find they stem from a lack of common sense, absence of vision, and the fact that there is no one there to mind the store.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    North America Cup Post Script

    Up the Credit took the $1.5M North America Cup last evening in 149.3. The race pretty much unfolded much differently than was expected - the early speed was simply not there. Here is my horse by horse take, by finishing position:

    Up the Credit - From the get go you knew he'd likely be first over, and when they are going that slow, it's not a bad place to be. He ground down a very poor leader and grabbed the prize.

    Roll With Joe - The early speed in this tilt in no way materialized, and Randy Waples was the beneficiary. He got a very easy lead and got to sit close behind a chalk. What more can you ask for? This colt shows the importance of having a trainer who knows what he is doing. He peaked perfectly.

    Big Jim - He raced well, with a no-shot trip. When you try and come from behind and don't get any fractions you are in a bind, and a bind he was in. It's nice to see the colt have a little more fire for a change though, so I think we will see them try and trip him out this season.

    Foreclosure - 10 post, not much gate speed. That usually means you are coming 9th or 10th in this race, but this fella showed he has some serious zip, just getting nosed out for third. He closed from the 401 expressway, and if there were some fractions up top and he weaved through like he did, he might have been a bombs away winner. He came home in 52 seconds.

    Big Bad John - Last year in the Cup the top colt, Rock n' Roll Heaven, threw in a clunker, and later scoped sick. This season's clunker belongs to Big Bad John. If you give a colt with this kind of talent a 55.2 half going for a million-five, he will win 95 out of 100 races, and hit the board 100 out of 100 times. He had nothing.

    Shadyshark Hanover - Filled out the clunker exacta. With slow fractions like we saw last night, the winner will most likely be the leader, the first up horse, or the second up horse. This second up horse was empty.

    Cup Night Notes:

    How fast can a horse come home nowadays? Foreclosure showed some kick in the Cup, but how about Alled Hanover in the first? He was 4-5, in no mans land, and kicked in 25 to win like he was 1-20.

    My biggest bet of the evening was Dalhousie Dave. I can pick horse's who throw in clunkers.

    For a fleeting second in the middle of the lane it looked like Crys Dream would have to work to win the Elegantimage, but nope. I watched her warm up and she is not the biggest or baddest filly, but she looks perfectly sound and can really turn on the speed. I used the six horse to fill out my ex's as she warmed up super. I don't think those connections are too thrilled with the steer.

    It's amazing how quickly horses can go "off". The world was abuzz after Better Than Cheddar won by ten in 49 a few weeks ago. Last night as the 2-1 chalk in the NA Cup Consolation, he was coming from behind trying to get a 5th place check.

    Blue Porsche is a nice horse, but I suspect that some of today's cowboy drivers would have gotten him beat (which I would've not minded since I bet 60-1 Luc Ouellette in that race). Trevor was incredibly patient, and he got the job done.

    Won the West had a teeny class drop and was for the first time this season, put into the race. He won in 147.2.

    See You at Peelers won the most boring $600k race you'd ever watch. With the 56 half it was like a nw1. She ran-in horribly in the lane, which might signify long term issues, but it was what it was. Krispy Apples would be a superstar any other year, and she came second. Idyllic, who is $106k away from $200k this season, sat a pocket and held on for third.

    Norm and Pete were happy when Bunny Lake's son won the Conso. I was too. Why do we want to see supermares have nice babies? Maybe because they so often aren't supermoms.

    "All Tiger is warming up like a freight train" said moi. Why didn't I take home the track after the 50-1 shot won? I think because I sucked last night at constructing tickets.

    A blog friend played 2-7 in the Cup final, in tris. He left Big Jim off his ticket in the third spot, and was lamenting this decision (especially because he had a nice 2-7-10 straight). A peanut gallery watcher says "smart move leaving off a horse for third who has never missed the board". :)

    I watched Greg Blanchard do a little of the TV last night on the Score, from the sidelines. They do a great job.

    The staff and employees at Mohawk were what they usually are - friendly. They did a nice job with that big crowd and there were a great many smiles.

    On big nights at Pull the Pocket Downs I think I will be circulating a memo for all drivers to be available on the walk back to the paddock to sign some programs. Jody was asked, as was Sears that I saw. And there were several people wanting autographs. David Miller even got a fist-handshake from some dude who bet him with Won the West.

    Grand River's Kelly Spencer caught two tris in a row last night. She was glowing with those victories, but it possibly had something to do with the Caeser's. It's always nice to see Kelly. She's a happy pumpkin.

    The crowd and handle was not quite as big as usual last night, but once again it solidified it for me - since moving to Mohawk, this evening is one of the must makes in harness racing. If you are a casual fan, the Hambo, The Jug, the Cup and the Cup and Saucer should be on the radar each year.

    Have a good Sunday everyone.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    North America Cup Day is Here

    Tonight is almost upon us, where we get to witness arguably the best card of racing in the sport. You can get your free program here.

    The third race kicks off the stakes action with super-filly Crys Dream, who will be tough to beat. So far this season she has done what she has to, looks sound, and is a pleasure to watch. To fill out the ex, I would expect some vet work to be done on Lukes Sophie this past week and I will peg her to be better.

    The 4th kicks off the pick 4 with the Cup Consoloation. This is a very nice betting race with several possibles. Anyone else shocked to find Better Than Cheddar in off last week's effort? If he somehow regains some form, he is likely. As a longer shot I do think Custard the Dragon is worth placing on a few tickets.

    The 5th is the Goodtimes, named after one of the better Canadian trotters to have ever trotted. I think I am going deep in this leg as I am not in love with anyone, nor am I totally sold on the chalk. Blue Porsche will probably be heavily overbet, in my opinion.

    The 6th is the Mohawk Gold Cup and it's a dandy race. I believe Lisagain will be better this week, but there are no less than five others who are usable. This is a true racetime decision for me, based on the board and the way the horses are warming up on the track.

    The 9th is the Fan Hanover, where See You at Peelers tries to run her streak to 18 in a row. If you watched last week, it looks like she is in a world of her own here. There are some good fillies in here, however. In any other year Krispy Apple would be a division leader. She's fast and is likely to fill out a short priced ex. For a longer one, I think I will throw Shy Away in.

    The 7th is the big race: The North America Cup. Here's my take:

    1. Big Jim- If I had a nickel every time I heard "he has to race off a helmet" I'd be rich. This colt has had some issues this season in finishing and has looked fairly poor at the wire in a few starts. If they trip him out he can win, but from the rail, looking for a trip in this type of race usually means you are boxed.

    2. Up the Credit- The talented, yet possibly never 100% colt, is an obvious choice. He's fast, and if he does not get pinned down early, should get a trip here.

    3. Powerful Mist- Has done nothing wrong, but he looks like he'd need a trip and some racing luck to win this. That should be factored in our odds line.

    4. Big Bad John- Seems like he's coming into this well. He looked a little funky last time (I agree he was having a look-see at the pylons), but that should be easily overcome. If he wins like that when looking around, it would not surprise anyone to see him win big.

    5. Shadyshark Hanover- Has not impressed me at all - until last week. That was a nice effort. He seems a little wise-guyish so I wonder if the odds board will not be our friend with him.

    6. Rockabillie - I actually played this colt two weeks ago all over the place, but I simply do not think he's fast enough.

    7. Roll With Joe- You can't help but feel unimpressed with him last week off that trip. However, for shot takers, Ed Hart is as sharp as they come. He probably jogged the horse two miles last week, or something, and will have him super-sharp tonight. Longshot possibility.

    8. Eighteen- Simply does not look fast enough.

    9. Dutch Richman- Nice horse, bad post.

    10. Foreclosure- Would need the racing gods to be hugely kind. He has a lot of go though.

    Most likely: 2-4-5-3
    My most likely bet (chucking out Big Bad John since he seems to be a little fidgety): 2-5-3-7

    If I head to the Hawk I will probably take some shots and pop them on my Twitter feed @pullthepocket, so ping me if you are online and want to chat.

    Good luck everyone and enjoy the evening.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Big North America Cup Card at Mohawk

    Woodbine Entertainment Group has quietly assembled one of the best harness racing cards I have ever seen for this Saturday. The highlight, the $1.5M North America Cup, goes in its usual race 7 slot and is surrounded by some excellent racing.

    The Elegant Image for $520k goes in race three and features the very good Crys Dream.

    The $100k NA Cup consolation is a nice betting affair in race 4 to kick off the pick 4.

    The $350k Goodtimes is in the race 5 superfecta slot.

    The Mohawk Gold Cup returns to Mohawk in race 6 and is an excellent addition to this years card.

    The $600k Fan Hanover goes in the ninth, with the undefeated See You At Peelers looking (and likely) to stay that way.

    This is one of the few harness cards of the season with $3M + handles, and is a must-bet for any harness fan, and even some thoroughbred fans. I am not sure they are offering free program downloads, but I sure hope they do.


    We complain about television coverage in racing, but we're not the only ones. A couple of family members were traveling through New England last week, staying in a southern New Hampshire hotel. When they flipped on the tube to watch the NHL game between Boston and Vancouver they could not find it. When they asked the front desk he told them "nope we do not have that channel". They finally found a bar who carried Versus. When a home town team is in the Cup final and the hometown folks can barely watch the game, that's some serious trouble.

    Blog comments can sure stir the pot..... A recent injury to star driver Mark MacDonald has fueled some in racing to raise a few bucks for him while he recuperates. This prompted the first comment on the story: "How many hundreds of thousands of dollars did Mark McDonald earn last year? I would prefer if the money went to a charity - or at least a portion of the money." It's not a bad point really, since Mark has made millions the last decade, but like a lot of blog post comments, there is a time and a place....

    Tom Lamarra writes one of the better opinion-feature pieces in racing.

    Vancouver riot? Ok, I was cheering for the B's and have since I could lace a pair of skates (and that happened often in the polar area I grew up!), but really, what's with people today? Don't they have something better to do? I am getting old, and crusty now, but like a jock or driver who breaks the rules I expect some punishment for these doughheads. Maybe next time it won't be considered cool to burn cars and cause mayhem if the punishment is there. Rant over.

    Congrats to the Bourbon Slush stable, Frank Antonacci's group of new owners. Their three yearlings qualified Tuesday, which is a feat in and of itself. The colt looks like he has some go. I hope they have some fun!

    Have a good Thursday everyone.

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    $1.5M North America Cup Elim Preview

    There is a little race going on in New York, however... the Cup elims are pretty darn interesting! As like most years we have very few solid betting prospects in the elims, and what you see is generally what you get and I won't go in expecting to find much value.

    Here is my preview:

    Elimination One: This leg is filled with speed, and Big Jim might not be able to intimidate like he did previously. What on paper looks like a Big Jim-Powerful Mist finish, perhaps it is not that easy. Custard the Dragon (7) might provide value, as might Rock to Glory (2). The latter did not even look like a horse two starts ago, but raced surprisingly well last week. Most likely: 3-4-7. Longshot chance: 2.

    Elimination Two: This is a very interesting betting leg, with Feel Like a Fool (1), Up the Credit (4), Better Than Chaddar (2) and Shadyshark Hanover (8, with an error in the morning line), all with chances. By far the most visually impressive horse last time was Up the Credit, but he does have some issues, and a big back half like that can set up a possible bounce. Feel Like a Fool has done nothing too much wrong, and neither has Better Than Cheddar. This is one tough leg to pick, and if I were taking pick 4's I would have to go four or five deep here, which I hate, because on paper everyone will use those horses in the sweeps. Most likely 3-2-1-8. Shocker horse: Grams Legacy finally putting it all together to realize his massive potential.

    Elimination Three: I love the way Ron Potter has brought Big Bad John (7) into this elimination. He stayed at home and protected his horse, because popping off early catches up with them. Often times 28 second last quarters at this level signal a problem, but I think it's by design with that 16 day break last month. As I mentioned last week I have always been a Roll With Joe (2) fan and he looked really sound last week. The Metro champ (1) drew the rail and has looked fine this season, although he might be a couple of fifths behind the best ones at this stage. I wish Dutch Richman was in leg one, because he has nice lines. Most likely: 7-2-1-5

    Other notes:

    Race 1 we get to see Blue Porsche. That is a solid horse, with a more than solid debut. He came back really well.

    Race 2 marks the Canadian debut of the undefeated See You at Peelers. She will be a key for everyone, everywhere and rightfully so on paper, but I hated her gait last time. The other possible, Idyllic, did not impress me in the least last time, all out in a 28 and change last panel, and she was hot, as a lot of young horses are who are used to blinkers early. She is a total fade for me. I will be taking a poke at Tea Party Princess, probably with SYAP, because well, she's SYAP, and Honky Tonk Princess.

    In the Open I thought Dalhousie Dave got absolutely torched last time and still raced well. One would assume we will see a no try in that spot from that post, but if they go crazy who knows.

    Good luck everyone!

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Wanting to Watch Excellence

    Claire Novak, in her ESPN column yesterday, asked us to look at the current crop of three year olds through a glass half full lens.
    • It is human nature to find fault with the athletes we follow. Sports fans love to hate almost as much as they love to love, sometimes more. It is also part of the sporting world to seek out flaws, to expect them even as we hope they don't exist. I'm not suggesting this is wrong. But the 3-year-olds of the current season are putting on a show that is far from dull or predictable. 
    That's all probably true, but being a sports fan means we want to see, revere and follow excellence.

    I watch the Olympics every four years and I long for the 100 metre final. It is usually a mad dash with two or more contenders sprinting for a world record. I am sure I would watch it if the assembled athletes were unable to run 10 flat, but I really want to watch it when a Ben Johnson is against a Carl Lewis, going for 9.79. If it's a "bad crop" of sprinters, we notice.

    If you are watching an NBA Final with Larry Bird against Magic Johnson, it means something.

    The current crop of three year olds are putting on a show, but the show is not very exciting, simply because we are watching horses run 100 metres in 10 flat. Speed matters, because horses don't just race each other, they race a clock. It's not glass half empty, it's the sport itself.

    I watched every one of Zenyatta's races, and she was popular not only because she had all those people in pink hats liking her (as many would want you to believe). She was all 'that' because in her races she was winning with so much left from off the pace that we knew we were looking at something special. We knew we were looking at the type of racemare who could come within a foot of winning two Breeders Cup Classics on two different surfaces, in back to back years, against male horses. It was her ability to do something that few other mares can do which made her a must-watch.

    The Triple Crown series is what it is. It's protected by age, and (mostly) sex. There are 'x' number of horses born three years ago, and those horses will make up the series. We all watch, we all bet, we are all a part of it. But when out of those thousands of horses comes a crop which can barely break a 100 Beyer when put together in a race, many of us will simply look at it with a yawn. It's not dissing, it's reality.

    Belmont Pick

    I have been razor-sharp so far this year. After cashing huge on my Derby pick (Dialed In) and parlaying that into untold millions on my Sway Away Preakness bet, I am back with another winner. I will be betting Master of Hounds. I own a hound dog, and I got this picture below a month ago as a harbinger, although with my track record this season, maybe I should heed its advice.

    The North America Cup elims are this weekend and we'll have more on the three races later on in the week. Saturday is a great day of racing!

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    It's Time For Woodbine to Lower Pick 4 Takeout

    Over the past year there has been a slow but sure movement to lowered serial takeouts. The list of tracks, for example, who have moved the pick 4 takeout to lower levels has grown leaps and bounds. Tampa Bay Downs, Northfield Park, Balmoral Park, Western Fair and just this week Fort Erie Racetrack have all dropped takeout precipitously on this bet (to name just a few). Right now in harness racing, the industry standard for pick 4 take is 15%, down from 25%, or more.

    Several years ago the Meadowlands and Monmouth branded the 15% take on this bet and it has proven to be a staple. Despite falling handles everywhere, the volume on the bet has stayed strong. In harness, the Big M is the stalwart, with pools exceeding $100,000 frequently.

    Woodbine went the opposite direction. In the early part of the decade they raised the take on the bet to approximately 25%. At the same time they went to the 20 cent minimum for the wager. Because the pick 4 bet has been branded as value, Woodbine has pushed the bet and ridden on the back of that branding. However, a beggar thy neighbor policy seems to have endured. Sure folks are betting the pick 4, but they are getting back less in return, and they are not spending money elsewhere. Overall handle is down this decade.

    Lower takeout bets, although some like to use it as a crutch, are not successful overnight. Just as $6 a gallon gasoline does not make people change their behavior overnight by buying a compact car, or just like when a credit card company charges 1% less interest a year we do not see major, quick change, the same is true of takeout.

    Using Balmoral Park as an example, this becomes crystal clear. In January 2010 Balmoral lowered their pick 4 takeout to 15% from 25%. Along with that they used the bets branding and pushed the bet the best they could, with handicapping tips and on-track telecast promotion. Let's see what has happened since that time.

    As we can see, the early 2009 pools (on average) have over doubled to today. Last month's average pool of $26,576 is well over 300% higher than the $7700 in 2009. In addition to those numbers, players have responded by having a look at Balmoral's other wagers and races. Handle at Balmoral, with low purses and no slots, rivals Woodbine harness handles at times. Just last Sunday, they did over $1.2 million. Balmoral Park has made more money for purses (in part) by lowering their price on this bet. What recession?

    As more and more bettors become cognizant of takeout, what we see happening is the opposite of what happened in the past in racing. From 1908 until several years ago price leadership focused on raising prices. When track "A" raised a rake, track "B" was sure to follow. They could do it with impunity because there was nowhere else to gamble. Nowadays the price leadership is towards a lower take on some bets. If you are a track who does not follow others to the expected takeout rate, you are leaving some branding and goodwill on the table.

    If Woodbine wants to be a player in North America a good first step is to follow all the other tracks who have lowered their pick 4 takeout to 15%. It's something that is now expected by horseplayers.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    You Can't Always Judge a Book (Horse) by the Cover

    Excuses are a part of horse racing and they always have been. As a horse owner, or a handicapper, you will hear many like "he lost a shoe", or "she bled". Sometimes these excuses are valid, sometimes they are simply the connections hoping against hope that their horse is better than he is, sometimes they are not even given, because it might hurt the colt's stud value. This is prevalent in both breeds, although I find in standardbred racing if you ask a horse owner what the problem was, he is much more forthcoming than in the runners. For example, when Big Brown ran like an eight year old Mountaineer maiden in the Belmont, some close to the horse tried to blame the rider to deflect, when to virtually everyone else there was a problem.

    I was chatting with Bob Marks of Perretti Farms today, who stands Rock n' Roll Hanover, the brilliant son of Western Ideal, out of the supermare Rich n' Elegant - who is quite possibly the most dominant pacing sire in racing. If you don't own a Rock n' Roll yearling, you are probably at a disadvantage before you hook em up.

    When I made my "Top Ten Trotters and Pacers of the Decade" post way back in late 2009, I said this about Rock n Roll, ranking him #9:

    "He was born to be a champion and he was. He set a world record at two and went on to win the big three at three. At the end of his 3YO year he looked done, but he was not. His win in the Breeders Crown was as good as his win in the North America Cup."

    The key point being - "he looked done".

    A good deal of horseplayers thought exactly that when August rolled around that year. Rock n' Roll, who won both the NA Cup and Meadowlands Pace met American Ideal in the Holmes, and he came second. Later on he went to the Jug and lost, coming a poor third in the final. In Lexington a few weeks later, I remember betting a pile against him, only to see Brian Sears trip him out and win. He was driven like a horse who needed a trip. 

    There were some who said he did not like a half mile track because of his Jug performance. There were others who thought he was totally cooked, never to be the same. Come Breeders Crown time it was game, set and match Rock though - he completely crushed in the BC, and looked as good as he looked in the Metro a year and two months earlier. Pure magic. 

    With a lot of great horses like him, you can't judge the book by the cover.

    "Rock n' roll Hanover is not a fan of extreme heat… Even his libido can wane in June and July… When he was here for a little Rnr after the Meadowlands Pace he’d be out at night but right at the gate to come in as soon as the sun rose at mid-morning…. That probably triggered his resurgence in late fall", typed Bob today.

    As well, in the Jug he had a foot issue from a nail in the foot, but they thought he was more than fine to give the final a shot. And they were not the only ones wondering if he might not come back to form:

    "He absolutely had to have a good finish to save the season" Bob said.

    So, as with a lot of us who are fans, we might speculate that Rock's sharpness had run its course and (I for one) might dock him for not being as dominant as some others for his entire career (Rock n' Roll Heaven/Beach), but it was all explicable. They are not machines, they are racehorses. When they show brilliance, and then do not have that same brilliance, chances are it's not the driver, the surface or the size of the oval. It's simply an issue that all horses have from time to time, and we can never be too harsh on them without knowing exactly what's happening.

    Promo, Mo, & Monday Notes

    Jeremy Plonk on ESPN relays a thought on Uncle Mo which has been talked about by fans (particularly on twitter) for quite awhile now. He sums up a lot of people's view pretty well:
    • While it's not the responsibility of horse owners and trainers to disclose all the truths about what's going on with each racehorse to the media and public, this was a different case. This was a horse, after all, for whom the owner created his own website complete with first-person updates written as if they actually came from the horse himself, calling his handlers Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike. They held a fan contest to "Get to Know Mo" complete with breakfast at the barn. You can't do things like that and then, when the media calls your bluff on big talk of full disclosure about racehorse health records, you claim that you'll come clean when everyone else does. That doesn't float. You're either a refreshing breath of new air in the game or just like everyone else. Choose a side. 
    Plonk's column this week is really good and worth a read.

    I highly doubt there is a better racetrack for promoting their carryovers and deals as well as Balmoral Park. Last evening there was a pick 4 and super-high five carryover and if harness players did not know about it, they are living under a rock. Balmoral has done this for about a year now, (since they lowered their takeout on the pick 4) and people expect and are not too unhappy to hear and be updated on betting news. Not only does the track ask for promotional help with this, they update you the next day. Last evening the track did over $1.2M in handle, and over $80,000 was bet into the pick 4 pool, with over $60,000 into the super-high five.

    Tioga Downs is going all out promoting their pick 6. The 'little bet' has been growing the past few weeks with work from them. This weekend it gets a little more of a push from harness players via a Pool Party. Tioga, not to be outdone created a promotional spot on the June 12th pick 6 Pool Party, and it is quite good. Great job guys and gals.

    Lisagain set a new Canadian record last night in an action packed Des Smith Classic.

    I'm busy this week and last and have plenty to do, however each year it seems the Belmont becomes a snooze fest for me. Unless I love a horse, or am stoked to see a horse race that I think is multi-talented (like for example an Afleet Alex a few years ago), or the TC is in the mix, I am Triple Crown fatigued. Anyone else?

    There was plenty of chatter on talk boards this past week about a couple of losses in the Burlington divisions. Phil Hudon took some flack for the Big Jim drive and his "looking around" (how a driver moving his head a few inches left and right affects a final time is beyond me anyway). Better Than Cheddar's loss is also seen as a bit of a shock. The bottom line for me as a bettor is - both horses were put in a position to win, and both of them lost. Cheddar lost to a nice colt trained by a sharp guy who knows how to point a horse to a race. Big Jim lost to a horse with previous soundness issues who put it all together and fired home in a shockingly good effort. What are you going to do?

    What the three year old division teaches us year after year since 2008 is that horses like Somebeachsomewhere do not come around very often and when they do, it's better to enjoy them. That colt is getting more respect each year; moreso than he might have gotten from some quarters in 2008. Greatness does not lose a race because a driver might have looked around a little, or have to "prove themself" in a Monday non-winners of two. There has not been a pacing horse born since the Beach that is even close to him in the trifecta of ability, toughness and greatness; and there might not be one for a long time.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Saturday Action, Sunday Carryovers

    As a thoroughbred watcher a major complaint I hear from the fan's perspective is the spacing of major stakes, and the lack of top competition meeting each other on a regular basis. If that's the major reason one is a racefan, I say "come to the dark side of harness racing!". Our horses meet regularly and you are usually entertained. Case in Point: A Lazy June Saturday evening.....

    See You At Peelers, taking on the boys in the Rooney Pace at Yonkers, made a mockery of the event. She went to the front and then just cruised. She won easily, but she did not look as sound, in my opinion, last evening. She remains undefeated.  Video evidence of this marvelous filly here.

    I think we may see her try a few more of these tests in the coming months.

    The Burlington Stakes triumvirate certainly was entertaining. In division one, Big Jim was defeated at 1-9, and the winner was a tough one to pick. Up the Credit exploded home in 52.4 showing brilliance that he has never come close to showing before. This horse has to be one of the favorites now for the big one in two weeks. In the second division, Bestofbest Hanover won in 51.2 with a nice covered trip. It's nice to see Bunny Lake have a nice horse like this. She was awesome as you all remember. The last division provided bettors with super-value as Better Than Cheddar was severely overbet and faltered quite late. Roll with Joe (another colt with a tremendous pedigree) got the job done off the pocket trip. Shadyshark Hanover was third, and although he showed a nice back half, he did not impress me.

    One thing we learn each year come Burlington time - the speed these colts go is huge, and we begin to think a lot about a crop. However, with today's vet-trainers training (or more accurately, overtraining) many of these horses, there is a strong chance that this is the best they will ever be. The good ones go speed in May, the great ones carry it through the year. You need a pretty sharp trainer to steer the ship.

    There is some carryover action today worth mentioning. For thoroughbred fans there is a $62,000 Pick 6 carryover at Belmont. For harness fans, Balmoral has some huge value on the card this evening - a pick 4 and a Super-high Five carryover. While watching the Des Smith card this evening at Rideau, the Balmoral card will provide a nice betting distraction!

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    California Handle Losses Drag Industry Down in '11

    Equibase reports that May handle was off by 8% and US handles are off about $400 million in 2011 overall.

    Fortunately, there is some silver lining. If you remove the numbers from California, where the CHRB and TOC make policy in the state, handle losses are not nearly as bad. This season alone, over $185 million in handle has been lost in the Golden State. California raised takeout on January 1st this year by about 9% on exactas and doubles and by about 14% on all other exotics.

    If we add in the lack of churn on simulcast action from California as the result of the takeout increase, handle is probably affected by well over $200 million dollars in the state alone. In effect, California is likely responsible for over half of all the US handle losses.

    In Kentucky, where entries have been raided by neighboring slot states there is still some good news. Keeneland handle was up for the spring meet. Other tracks who have tried to do some player friendly things, like Tampa (lowered rake again this season) and Gulfstream, had some nice 2011 handle increases.

    If somehow some positive change is seen in California and other tracks (like Pennsylvania's; and continued momentum in Florida for the fall/winter), we might have a good second half. However, with the recent headlines coming out of California where stakeholders are clinging to their anti-customer policies, that simply looks like a pipe dream.


    North America's leading filly trotter, Crys Dream, won easily last night at Mohawk in 155.3. She's something special.

    Tonight is three divisions of the Burlington Stakes at Mohawk, featuring Big Jim, Shadyshark Hanover and others. It's a must-see for harness fans.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Friday's Pocket State of Mind

    A few interesting tidbits that I saw today:

    They are changing the theme song of the Belmont back to "New York, New York". I am glad to see we weren't the only ones who were dumbfounded by the move last year to change the song to something the on-track demo has never heard of. I see they are still going with the Star Spangled Banner instead of Born in the USA, too, so there are no major changes from 2009.

    Yesterday's article where I chose not to pile on Alex Waldrop was not overly well received. It seems folks like to pile on ol' Alex. However, as an illustration -

    * It appears the Nor Cal State Fairs will be raising takeout. This is after a takeout hike in 2006 in California which did not work, one at Los Al that did not work, and another one this year that has presided over about a $150M or so handle loss.

    * Calder and their horsemen are fighting over slices of the pie. Internet wagering takeout should be a fraction of what it is, due to the cost of the deliverable, yet horsemen think they are pirates and want more dough based on where you live.

    How can a guy like Waldrop deal with rationale like this? How can anyone?

    Seth over at Equidaily usually has some good links, many of which can bring a smile. Scroll half way down and check the chat board thread on Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland's inquiry.

    I know one has to tread with kid gloves at the Meadowlands now, since it is having a tough time, but we need a little judging on the racing action. For years bettors have been complaining about the relatively new phenomenon of the drivers being half in and half out, screwing up races. Last night, Tim Tetrick on a 5-1 shot went 27.4, 58.1 and 127.3. What were the drivers doing during that? Yep, waiting on cover, screwing up the race for bettors. At Pull the Pocket Downs, it's a $3000 fine. Drivers will pull and move forward if you make them. One Mississippi to flush, then you have to go.

    Nice piece from Darryl Kaplan about betting as a University student. I can't help but relate. I did my 4th year thesis on off Track betting and carried my programs between classes. Sitting in a cavernous lecture hall in a hot 18th century building often led one to handicap a daily double instead.

    Our old friend here at the blog who runs a horse rescue, started a little blog as a newbie bettor. Good luck Claudette!

    Another old friend, Dan Needham at Thorotrends released his full survey results on his blog. It was a comprehensive survey which illustrates much of which we have been chatting about for years here - racings many segments. It's an interesting read.

    HANA Harness and Tioga have teamed up for a Pool Party. There are very few racetracks as customer friendly as Tioga. It's a great card on June 12th to boot.

    Reminders: The Burlington Stakes go tomorrow, featuring Big Jim. Sunday is the Des at Rideau. Harness action heats up this time of year!

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    "Socially Responsible"

    David Jones, CEO of Havas and Euro RSCG, one of the world's largest marketing firms, was the keynote at last months Mashable conference in Florida. He spoke about shifts that he sees business, and marketing making in the new world. He believes the biggest winners in the new economy (among other things) will have a socially responsible focus.
    Jones thinks that the most successful businesses and leaders in the future will be those that are socially responsible. He envisions “a world where the people that do the most good make the most money,” citing programs like Pepsi Refresh and Nike Better World as examples of companies finding what he calls a “social business idea.”
    Clearly for us in racing - racing animals - we will never be at the top of the list in being socially responsible. Our detractors are vocal, and there are many of them. However, doing the right thing the best we can should be a priority.

    Bettors and participants often have an opinion that this does not matter very much. For example, during the whipping debate in Ontario many are on record saying that they have never heard anyone complain about whipping; horsemen groups were similarly not sold on the concept. "We will lose customers" was the general opine. But we have more to lose than customers, we have the public, which controls many of the purse strings on our sport, with subsidy money and slot cash. They are demanding we be more socially responsible, just like the speaker above talks about. We might not think it's important, but in today's world it is.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Alex Waldrop - One Tough Job

    The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight, with my favorite team (no, not the Canucks) facing off, trying to win the Cup for the first time in a long time.

    Looking at the growth of the NHL the past twenty years, I cannot help but remember a time, back around 1994 when I was a wee Canadian lad, playing NHL '93 on Sega Genesis, drinking beer with my University peeps. Gary Bettman had just been hired by the NHL to be commissioner. This "outsider" was (and this is not too strong a word) hated by a lot of the old time Canadian hockey fans, including my NHL '93 playing partners. He wanted to modernize the game, he wanted to sign a US deal, he wanted to put teams in sunshine states. He did not even mind the Fox Sports glow puck. He wanted to expand the sport the best way he knew how. For the most part, if we looked at things from the outside, or dispassionately, Bettman was right, and we old time fans were wrong.

    Bettman has held the job for a very long time, and things are moving (and have been) in the right direction. Revenues have increased by over 500% since he took over the reins.

    Racing has been pretty much been the polar opposite of this in terms of growth, and since we can't blame a horse (they're cute and don't make policy), a singular track head (there are 100+ of them), or even Frank Stronach (though we try); who's left to blame? Namely, Alex Waldrop, head of the NTRA.

    I have read the blogs, the stories, the comments on those stories and heard the back room whispers, like many of you have. I find, with Waldrop, they are not unlike the Bettman gripes.  He has made bad policy, he makes too much money, and on and on. I think it's for the most part undeserving. Alex Waldrop, in my opinion, has the toughest job in our sport and he in no way has done a bad a job as people like to make out.

    His job posting reads: "Legal and Sports Marketing Background- Previous experience in cat herding an asset."

    Some of the things Waldrop has pushed, like the NTRA safety alliance, should be commended. He, in 2007 and 2008, hired some digital marketing consultants before digital marketing was ever even spoke about in our sport and pushed that concept. He has realized high takeouts kill our customer base and has spoken out about it to anyone who would listen (but he controls this in no way at all). He has constantly promoted the big events, and these big events have grown, despite handle losses overall. He has tried to get done many things without the ability to be a Gary Bettman - yield a big stick.

    How does one make policy without power?

    I have rarely criticized people like Alex here on my blog, because I realize how hard their job is. In racing, unlike any other sport, the job is especially hard when you are given no power at all. If Alex Waldrop did not hold this position, the criticisms would be the same; they would just be leveled at person with a different first and last name. The person is not the problem, the structure of racing is.

    Here Come the Three Year Olds

    It's a rite of spring in Toronto - The Burlington Stakes (now called the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes). It's the weekend where the $1.5M North America Cup eligibles gather to prep for the big one. Years ago this was a huge night, because many times us locals (in the absence of simulcast) could finally set sight on the US invaders, in the flesh. Now we know a great many of these horses, but it still has energy.

    The full card is now published on Track it.

    In division one, lies Big Jim. He will be the heavy chalk. If he steps through like he should, he is a likely favorite for the Cup. Some might try their luck here on another - maybe Prodigal, or the talented Powerful Mist - because Big Jim has not quite lit up the teletimer this season. I can't blame them for trying, because he will be such a short price.

    The second division can be described as non-descript. Last years early season star Lookinforadventure, has not even come close to his ability in a long while and there are several horses coming off bad lines. Blair Burgess's colt, On the Radar, has a little bit of go it seems. Jackie Mo's charge, if you like to bet "shake the rust off" lines right back, might provide some hefty value. I think this is a division that people can and will go very deep on.

    The last division is the most interesting, from a spectating and betting perspective.

    The likely heavy chalk and now horse - Better than Cheddar was tight as as a drum Monday, winning in 49.2. A few issues with that, however: The track was super-fast (the fastest I have ever seen that oval since I've been following it); 3YO trotters went 54 with a back half of 54; a maiden went 51 with a 53.4 back half (I think that might be the fastest maiden win ever at Mohawk). As well, the horse was totally all out, broke stride in the gallop out, and he's coming back in only 5 days. For value players this is will be a huge red light bet.

    Shadyshark Hanover was most likely not at his best last week. That was a slow mile, and he had no fire; when compared to the previous week where he was sparkling. If he bounces back and pays $9, there will be a lot of folks kicking themselves. I will probably move in this direction if the price is right.

    Roll With Joe is one of my favorite colts from last season. He has some go, a wonderful trainer, and he is a nice spot here, so he is a likely shot for a swing horse if the chalk falters out of the top three or four.

    Watermelonwine and Foreclosure have talent, as well, and add to a super-interesting last division.

    The three SBSW's are races 3, 7 and 9 on Saturday.

    Further Notes:

    See You at Peelers takes on the boys in the Rooney this weekend.

    Crys Dream, the best filly not named See You At Peelers on the earth, goes Friday in the Casual Breeze.

    Sunday is the 30th Des Smith Classic at Rideau. Draw is tomorrow.

    For a feature, written by blog friend Keith on Phil Hudon and Big Jim, have a look-see here.

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