Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New York Shows It Learned Nothing From Ontario and Pennsylvania

Today a press release from NYRA extolled the virtues of slots revenue.
  • Average daily purses up 44% for Belmont, 39% for Saratoga
  • Stakes purses up 26% at Belmont and 27% at Saratoga
Not two minutes after this was announced, a tweet from the DRF's Dave Grening went up (h/t to GZ):

 No lower takeout announced, no fan-centric ways to get more butts in the seats announced. Even worse, we have an increase in concession prices.

I had a chat with someone close to the Ontario situation this past week. He said he was startled that "places like New York are making the same mistakes."

When this casino is announced, or when headlines like this, or this, come about in a few years, we can look back on the above and only blame ourselves.

Related: Slots: A Cautionary Tale

The Slots Bring "Rent a Horse" Economics

In the 1980's and 1990's, purse levels for claiming races were pretty normal. A $10,000 claimer would go for $5,000, a $20,000 claimer would go for $7,500 and so on. Claiming activity was also pretty normal, based mainly on if a trainer thought he could improve a horse enough to make it move up the ladder. Sometimes if they had problems they would be laid off, or given some paddock time. Sometimes even, a horse would be claimed "downtown" and brought to race in the top levels at the B's and be kept for a long time.

When slots were brought into Ontario, though, claiming purses grew and racing in the Province experienced the "rent a horse".

It was not uncommon to see a race at Woodbine with ten starters; eight of them switching barns. Horses would be claimed each week, some of the hot ones having "c's" beside every running line on the program. At this same time, vet bills were going through the roof for owners, because there was so much money to race for, the horse would go to the vet each week in the new barn to make sure he was on go. After all, you were likely to lose them that week anyway.

With slots in New York and their artificially high purses, we are starting to see similar in terms of the rent a horse. This even with the fact that claiming in thoroughbred racing has fewer fast wheelbacks and is a different game.

Last week I saw a tweet that one horse at Aqueduct had 18 claims on him. It's not uncommon to see a six or seven horse race this year, with three or four off the claim.

The ORC in early 2000 in Ontario did not feel it was wise for horses to wake up in a new place so frequently. They also didn't like seeing these super stables appear, winning all the claiming races. As well, slots were supposed to supply new horses, not just watch money change hands, with vet bills taking a pile of it. In response, they passed jail time for all harness horses (not unlike many states do for the thoroughbreds), and later, passed a vet passport, so there was a record of vet work. It was generally done to protect the horse.

About seven years later, after the super stables were weeded out (some booted for violations) the ORC changed the rule back to something more workable.

When supply meets demand there is usually a market mechanism that makes things right. When you artificially change one or the other, market outcomes are usually suspect. If $5,000 horses race for three times or five times or eight times their purchase price in places with year round racing, strange things tend to happen. If the super stables with 40% or 50% off claim win percentages start zeroing in on New York racing, it will be interesting to see if any changes are made in the future there.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Head Scratchers & Other Notes

A few random thoughts today, if you're interested to read:

Hulk Hogan has a reality show about little people who wrestle. How in heavens name can't horse racing get on TV?

Someone at Betfair wants to bet $5 at 29-1 on Algorithms to win the Derby. I think that $5 will be taken in about two minutes.

Union Rags goes to 4-1 on the exchange with limited volume.

Demonizing your opponent as a right wing nut (Bush), some sort of "foreigner" (Obama) or, shudders, a private equity guy (Romney) works well. Apparently it works well with horse racing too. The Ontario Liberal Party have started running ads demonizing horse racing.

Scott looks at the "it's a great idea if I get some of the money" part of our sport with betting exchanges.

The Speed figure came out for Union Rags' Fountain of Youth win today and some naysayers started forming a line. "Not fast enough". What would they like, a 121 like Quality Road ran a couple of years ago? Those horses rarely last, and this was, after all, a prep race. If Usain Bolt won a pre-Olympic prep in 10 flat, everyone would say "right on target".

Japan is going to let racetracks set their own takeout because business is not very good. Immediately I thought this was good news, because if they lower it they might be able to jumpstart interest in their product. Then I realized they are likely to increase it.

How messed up is racing? One alphabet backs off on 2 year olds and the ban of lasix, but the Breeders Cup keeps it.

Some dandy stuff in HRU about heats and the Hambo. Ray Schnittker makes a lot of sense on this.

Twitter is super-interesting for this sport. The participants in racing tweet their own thoughts time and time again and it's fascinating to watch. Goatzapper listed twitter reaction yesterday in the Fountain of Youth. Bob Baffert said "wow" and Julien Leparoux was pumped. It's really cool to see real time reaction to events from participants.

It was a really weird day for Javier Castellano yesterday. Recently he chose Algorithms for his Derby run over Union Rags. Algorithms scratches in the morning, and Rags wins the buzz in the afternoon. Ouch.

Have a great day everyone!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

That Felt Like More Than Just a Prep Day

To heck with Daytona, we had a fun Fountain of Youth.

Yes, it's early and yes he may have not beaten world beaters, and yes there are naysayers out like there are for every prep, but Union Rags was asked the question and he answered.

He wintered well. Darn well.

Mike Welsch in the DRF asks "what can Union Rags really do?". We don't know, but if today was any indication, it'll be fun to find out.

I am fairly sold on him. He has a trainer that knows what he's doing - knows that you don't leave it all on the track in February - and he seems really sound. He also looked fresh at the wire; like he wanted to keep racing. That's never a bad sign.

Anyway, twitter exploded, Larry Collmus exploded and the racing world found a horse to latch onto for a little while this afternoon.

Life seems pretty good.

For full links, twitter reaction and all the rest, check the Goatzapper. They had the new-media type links up fast today.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Condren Profiled & Other Notes

Ever since I was a kid going to the harness tracks in Ontario I knew the name Steve Condren. He was a guy that if you bet against him, you might be in trouble.

It seems betting against him in his current fight is similar.

Perry Lefko wrote an excellent update on Steve and his battle with cancer. It's definitely worth a read (pdf).

Further in HRU we look at the Strategic Wagering Initiative in a redux article (page 4). I have spoken to many in harness racing, and in fact, in the academic community, about the "It's Not My Job" phenomenon. In racing, if track 'A' or ADW 'B' benefits more than ADW 'A' or Track 'B', there is a constant resistance to do anything at all. The status-quo takes hold, and it never seems to relent. We just can't seem to get our mind focused on growing a signal or bet that one day becomes marketable to ADW's and others across North America and the World. If we have a marketable signal we can charge a higher rate, we can't charge a higher rate and then get a marketable signal.

There's plenty of news this weekend, including petitions in Ontario, a $40k Balmoral pool, WEG stakes, a VFTRG good post, and more.

For several interesting links for the weekend, The Goat is on duty and it's updated in real time w/ news and notes. There are a couple tech links worth reading today, including how sports teams (and how we, in some way) are using Pinterest.

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Bait Car Nabs a Trainer

I tend to work all hours, but I grudgingly admit, late Tuesday nights I work alongside my television with it tuned into Bait Car. The show is quite fascinating.

If you haven't seen it, bait cars are vehicles which are left with the keys in them, in the hopes of catching car thieves in the act, and prosecuting them. All of it is done in a controlled setting.

The TV show follows some of these police departments on their quest.

In North America law enforcement everywhere is using this as a way to combat crime. As the bad guys catch on, car theft goes down.

In Surrey, for example, auto thefts are off 55%. since the Bait Car program started. The narrative "Car theft is serious and if you steal a car you are going to be caught" seems to be resonating.

Flipping over to racing, I think we have our own bait car. They're called Betting Exchanges.

Horse racing, just like stock trading or any other vocation with money involved, has their share of bad apples, looking to make a buck by screwing the public. In the old days this was done quietly and with near impunity. If you were a trainer and you wanted to stiff a 1-5 shot and blanket the exotics at the track for a big score, you did so at the windows. Your buddy would cash, bring the money over to you and presto, you're gold. If you wanted to hide your bets with a bookie, you could do that too. It was all hush-hush, no one would ever know, and we can count on one hand how many (of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of folks in racing since 1908 when pari-mutuel was invented) times it was ever prosecuted.

Now it's a bit different. The bad guys can find other ways to bet to lose, like with technologically savvy betting exchanges. But if you try, watch out. You are probably going to get caught.

It was announced today that in the UK a trainer was suspended for 8 years for corruption of the pools. His bets, done primarily on betting exchanges Betfair and Betdaq left a paper trail. In addition, odd looking bet sizes and bet timing bothered the exchange software, which is not much different than Nasdaq or Dow monitoring software, and red flags popped up. After an investigation, boom went the dynamite.The whole eye-opening ruling is here.

Of course the knee-jerk reaction of racing is not surprising and totally expected. Namely, the exchange is to blame for the corruption, not the person who used it to allegedly cheat. That's the Sargent Schultz "I see nothing" response we see so often in our sport. It's the same pie in the sky, polyannish thought that if we ban a drug, no one would ever use it again.

Corruption in racing didn't start when a betting exchange was created - it's been around forever. But this decade,  more and more people are caught, because authorities have a tool to combat it. In addition, the narrative "If we try to cheat they're watching and we could be suspended for 8 years" starts to take hold, and it starts to clean up the game.

Exchanges are racing's bait car, and they're working exactly as designed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Big Carryover, Big Money, Low Takeout. Sweet!

I am getting down to handicapping the pick 5 at Balmoral tonight, which I failed to mention earlier. Tonight is the biggest carryover the track has had since 2009 and the pool is guaranteed at six figures.

Balmoral has been a real success story and they've taken some chances the last couple of years. It's worth supporting this track for that reason, and the obvious - that's a pool rarely seen in harness. has all the info. I am too lazy to type more and have to handicap! Good luck!

Tampa Bay Downs Provides Strong Lesson for Racetracks

Today in the Washington Post Andrew Beyer looked at Tampa Bay Downs' handle for this season. Handle is down about $500,000 per day, and Mr. Beyer mentions two main drivers of that: Field size and the presence of super-trainer Jamie Ness.

I agree those are two factors affecting handles. Studies show that field size is correlated to betting handle, and as we as players know when you have 3-5 shots that are beatable on paper, but seemingly unbeatable in reality, we tend to skip the race.

However, I think two other issues are at play. And I think racing better learn them and learn them quickly. Both involve trying to squeeze a dry lemon for more juice.

Rumor has it (and it was mentioned in cautionary terms by HANA in December before the meet started) that Tampa Bay raised their signal fees for this meet. This is a takeout increase on volume ADW players, which effects their bottom line. Time and time again we hear of aggressive racetracks wanting to "get more of the pie". There is only one player, and when you take more, he or she bets less.

Second, this year there was a dust-up between Tampa Bay and TVG. TVG is a good promotional arm for racetracks, and if your signal is not out there in a crowded landscape you can get lost. From last December when TVG announced they were not hosting Tampa Bay this season:
  • Last season alone, as the Tampa Bay Downs signal continued to increase in popularity, $20.2 million was wagered on TBD through TVG, a virtual 33 percent increase from the previous season. “The ball is in their court,” said Tampa Bay Downs Vice President and General Manager Peter Berube. “They have severely underpaid us for a number of years and we are finally in a position to be compensated at market rates. "
It's great to want to get paid more - I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be paid more - but market driven realities dictate price, not the seller of the product. Why should TVG get a better deal? Because they market your signal for you, add to your betting handle, and provide a service.

If the seller of the product squeezes, he will get less handle. Tampa Bay, in my opinion, seems to be (in part anyway) living that reality this year.

That's the Way to Do a Trainer Website

I was first introduced to Gai Waterhouse - the Australian trainer - while researching something or another on betting. I found she had a unique forward-looking grasp of some of the issues that affect the sport - especially from a growth and customer perspective - and it was very refreshing.

Tonight I stumbled upon her website, and what a website it is!

It's professional, welcoming, open, transparent and honest.

It is highly unlikely, or more accurately impossible, that I will buy and race a horse in Australia. But if by some chance I do, I hope she'll take my money.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Good Bergman Article on Have's and Have Not's

Jay Bergman wrote an article in the DRF about rewarding and cultivating bettors more, especially with slots cash.

In it he explored what the Meadowlands is doing versus what Yonkers is doing. Ironically, Yonkers is funded by slots and the Meadowlands is not. What's wrong with that picture? Well, that should be pretty obvious.
  • While horsemen's groups in New York and surrounding slot states remain aligned about a need to maintain revenue subsidies to support the industry, one group is continuously left out of the equation – the bettor. The argument we hear is how slots money has helped the horse businesses grow. Green space is preserved and will be devastated should any of this slots money disappear. Trainers will leave and owners will follow if purse money suffers any meaningful reduction.

    But the only group that could prove to politicians that the slots-for-purses program has achieved real success is the horseplayer. The green space in horseplayers' pockets needs to grow substantially to build this business.

It's similar in thoroughbred racing. Who has the best and lowest takeouts for bettors in North America? Kentucky racetracks. Who is probably the most proactive track in the hemisphere in trying to gain new fans and bettors? Keeneland. What don't they have? Slots.

It's something I've personally never quite understood.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Worm Turns on HBO's Luck?

We spoke a week or two ago that we thought the almost universal praise of HBO's Luck might see a 360. The show is not sunshine and lollipops and it does not praise our sport in a feel-good way. It doesn't "feel" like a commercial for the sport, like some people thought it may.

Last week we had Cot Campbell question it, and I received a letter to the editor on my thoughts on the series, politely saying I was nuts (I think it can do big things for racing). On twitter and elsewhere there has been some percolating anti-Luck thoughts from various quarters.

And, as we can see with this, for some it's coming full circle.

I think we see that often, and it filters right down to the way we market the sport. We love it, so everyone should, so we want to market and talk about what we like. This phenomenon is not just for racing, it's for many other sports and vocations that people love and are passionate about.

It rarely works, however, because marketing what existing fans like only markets to ourselves.

I for one will be giving Luck some time. My money is still on the positive side for the show, but maybe I am growing into the minority from the majority.

#luckchat happens Monday's at 9 on twitter for fans of the show

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Good Old Fashioned Odds Board

Last evening Black Caviar went 19 for 19 in another sparkling effort. She paid about $2.40 to win.

Earlier in the week, paper after paper and capper after capper downunder were going on about her being beatable; that only 1 out of 140 horses turned back like this off a weeks rest and won, and on and on.

The funny thing was: She was about 15 cents on the dollar.

Top last out Beyer, top bris fig, weighted fig, dropping in claiming price by half, and virtually any other figure or angle can be predictive, but there is nothing that tells the tale like the odds board. It's been that way since the beginning of time, and has lasted through no past performances, and no workout information or qualifying info, right through to the super computer and database age. It's something that has always fascinated me as a bettor.

Goat has all the links today, including a replay.

Have a good Saturday everyone.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Debate in Ontario is Getting Framed

It's highly doubtful, if not totally specious, that raising taxes on people - rich or not - can help an economy. It's highly doubtful if you don't like a terrorist act that inhibits your freedoms that you are "Un-American" either. But the way the debate is framed can make these things sound pretty good, or pretty bad, depending on your perspective.

Currently in Ontario that debate is being framed at this moment with regards to slots at racetracks. What's winning is the narrative: It's subsidy and why are we subsidizing it anymore?

Framing it as a subsidy helps, because even in super-liberal places like Toronto, people don't much care for giving cash away.

I'll leave the questions and answers and semantics of 'subsidy or not a subsidy' for smart people to argue about. It matters little to me.

What seems to be happening in Ontario now, and what is soon to probably happen in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere with slots for racetracks, is a need to raise public revenues to pay for overspending, and trying to find the easiest target to foot the bill. That target - racing - is not organized, nor does it have much of a lobby to fight it. But strangely enough, I think it may turn out better than we thought, mainly because of good old common sense.

The Ontario government, I believe, will not "gut" horse racing, because of the way slots at racetracks came to be.

Slots were a government made and prescribed phenomenon. They don't occur in the private market, or grow on trees or on land. They were brought to the gambling landscape with a promise, a promise made to racetracks that said something simple:
  • If you host our slot machines, and promote it to your customers that are already there to gamble, we'll give you a slice.
Governments and racetracks already had a unique partnership. Since governments were pretty much invented they took cash off every bet in Ontario, and gambling dollars subsidized the public's finances. If they were going to come into the gambling landscape with slot bandits after being a partner in gambling for years, horse racing played "let's make a deal".

Now simply saying "screw you", subsidy or not, smacks of being a little bit of having your cake and eating it too.

I wonder what would happen if the Canadian government, who gives licenses to run telecommunications, took over the cell phone business. I bet Rogers may be up in arms. They played ball with the government, and their multi-billion dollar business would be crushed. It would never happen that way of course.

So what I think this may change is simply the landscape and the slots deal itself. Horse racing can cut a new deal, the government will be happy, they'll look good to voters, and we'll be back where we were - with a little less purse money. What we do with that purse money will be the big question that needs to be answered, if so, just like it always has. I hope the new answer is better than the old answer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Ontario Government's Out of Cash & Coming After Horse Racing

In today's Globe and Mail "Ontario Liberals talk racetrack closures to pull on the reins"
  • At present, 20 per cent of the revenue from those machines is used to keep the horses running; Mr. Duncan strongly hinted that he intends for the province to keep it instead. In effect, he’s saying that 17 racetracks is more than Ontario needs, so he’s prepared for many of them to just become gaming sites (or shut down altogether and stop drawing slot-machine customers away from nearby casinos).
It's not that we didn't see this coming, but it's still surprising because the Ontario government likes spending other people's money more than I like my beagle.

Of course, they didn't suddenly find a religion of good fiscal management; they simply found an easy target.

About $345M in the province goes to racing. We may expect that number to drop by a third or more when they're through, in my opinion.

Gural - Take 5% Now for Later. Abby's Take on Luck

Good Monday morning everyone.

Jeff Gural to "rounds of applause" last evening at the Dan Patch said this: 
  • “We need someone to step up. We are getting $500 million in slots revenue and I would be so disappointed if we couldn’t take just 5 percent of that money and put it into a national marketing campaign.”
So many want to do the right thing, but there's so little in the way of results. Regardless, kudos to Jeff. Full story at HRU (pdf).

One of the items we've been on here is in a similar vein. The Strategic Wagering Initiative has been a success, but we need, in my opinion to give it a push. For a full look at some ideas and thoughts on boosting handle with it, please see this (as well in a pdf).

Cute Goat
Goats can play horses. There's a new aggregator updating links pretty constantly (new media mostly, not old) on the hunt from a fan and horseplayer perspective. Cute goat. You can see it at 

The Goat linked this story on car racing and casinos. I think it does show how precarious slots are in our landscape.

San Pail is, of course, Horse of the Year. No brainer. The iron tough everyman, Foiled Again won pacer of the year.

I see they are trying some new marketing with Kegasus. 

Abby Alger (good follow @abbyalger, by the way; she's sharp) has put forth an opine that I think we'll be hearing more and more about HBO's Luck:

Up until now the industry has embraced this show with impunity, and have promoted it at every turn. Conversely, movies like Any Given Sunday that showed the darker side of football, were not, for example, promoted by the NFL.

It is a salient point, in my opinion, and I think as time goes on, more and more folks will sway to Abby's side of this debate. However, I feel that the viewing public can be engaged enough, and in fact know enough about gritty television, that it can handle it. Any Given Sunday was made 20 years ago. Times have changed, and so has TV. Regardless, we'll see and I don't blame anyone for sharing Abby's opinion. They may be right.

Background - My take on Luck and Rounders in HRU here (pdf).

Have a great Monday everyone!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Say What?!

Today's laugh comes to me from @socaltbrescue on twitter.

It's a picture of the horse who played Seabiscuit in the movie.

Or maybe not.

Friday notes:

Pennsylvania horsepeople are getting ready for a fight in PA over slots cash.

Big Jim's book is full. I hope he does well. He was a cool racehorse.

Thoroughbred aftercare alliance formed.

This weekend in HRU - "Seeding pools and the Strategic Wagering Initiative". To sign up for HRU in your inbox, you can here.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jersey Time!

The exchange wagering meetings went on today in California, and it looks like exchange wagering is finished in California.

There are too many factions to please, too many cooks in the kitchen, and just like most things in California racing, it gets stuck in a bog, and the status quo rules.

The horsemen group (not shocking, I know): Against it

Scott Daruty, protecting the Stronach slice: Against it

So, I think it's Jersey Time. If New Jersey wants to attract some new bettors, and bring a new way of playing the races to the Garden State, and elsewhere, they now have a shot to be first; and first gives you a tremendous advantage.

Run with it Jersey boys and girls - it's 2012, not 1912. California's dysfunction is giving you a huge gift. Take it.

Exchange Related: 
Juice the eyeballs, grow the sport 
6 Reasons Why Racing Cannot Run an Exchange
Betfair is like Chocolate Ice Cream

Someone Call the CFD; Balmoral Handle's on Fire

I got a note this morning from Balmoral Park regarding their year over year handle numbers. To say they're impressive would be an understatement (click to enlarge):

Yep, that's their total handle, up 54%.

What happened? It seems a number of things. The track promoted their pick 4 takeout decrease in 2009/2010 to a willing audience, they worked hard to get noticed and up the bet, churn took over in some pools via that, and they joined the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative which guaranteed some pools. 

Most of all, in my opinion, it took time.

I remember back in late 2009 or early 2010 when Balmoral slashed their pick 4 takeout rate. They were doing about $7000 pick 4 pools at that time, and a month or two afterwards the pools were up to around $10,000 - by any measure it would seem to be successful at that early stage. But some thought not. They were multiplying the revenue gained from 25% of $7,000 and 15% of $10,000 and deeming it a failure.

Short term thinking at its finest.

Currently, a couple of years later, Balmoral is doing $20k to $25k a night in their pick 4 pools. Overall handle, as you can see, has followed.

Churn, getting your name out there to willing players, promoting. It all takes time.

Balmoral stuck with it and they are now being rewarded. They, in my opinion, are a poster child for the patience that's needed to change our game for the better. One track at a time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

NTRA & Gulfstream Park: Social Media Juxtaposition

This morning we got a nice contrast on what racing should be doing, and what it shouldn't, when it comes to social media.

Penelope Miller, the new NTRA social media person, was interviewed today and had some good social media answers.  

She spoke of how tracks should get involved to promote, engage and give out fun and worthwhile information via the web.

Conversely, in my twitter feed this morning, I saw this line from a horseplayer tweeted to Gulfstream Park:
  • "I don't follow you for slots results"
Investigating, I see that Gulfstream Park - one of the highest handle tracks in the nation - uses their twitter feed for this:

 and this::

I have no problem with a track promoting their casino side, but when the track uses the main twitter feed for slot machine news?

Slot revenue will not save us, and it appears there is no one in charge, or someone with a will, to use this revenue for something to grow the demand side of the game (sorry to sound like a broken record on that).

That being said, I don't think it's too much to ask for a racetrack twitter feed to be about the racetrack.

Note: The headline news marches on. In Pennsylvania the government is again looking to raid slot-purses for general revenues.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sometimes We're Left Speechless

Although it is very difficult to do, sometimes headlines render me close to speechless.

Someone at a meeting this past few months in Jersey said "wouldn't it be a good idea to bring back the diving horse?". And someone said "Ya, great idea".
  • As part of a revitalization effort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the owners of the city’s historic Steel Pier have announced that they will bring back the horse diving show by Memorial Day of this year.
  • In the diving horse show, a horse jumps off of a tower that is approximately 40 feet high. In some versions of the act, a rider climbs on to the horse at the top of the tower and rides the horse as it plummets into the 12-foot pool below. In other versions of the act, the horse dives solo.
What, were there no little people available for a midget toss?

I doubt this idea ever gets off the ground, no pun intended. It's so glaringly bad and offensive, someone, somewhere with the IQ above a bowl of breakfast cereal will stop it.

Related- The movie industry stopped throwing horses into pools of water in 1939. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Someday We'll Look Back & Cringe

For horse lovers, the recent headline in the Toronto Star about a bistro bringing horsemeat back to the menu, was cringeworthy.

Sometimes things make no sense. In America where "all men are created equal", there was slavery and separate water fountains. Women, apparently because being born with a different chromosome made them unable to walk to a polling station, could not vote in our country. When we look back at it, it's embarrassing that any sane person could've thought that way.

Horses are much more than just domesticated animals. They've helped us settle our respective nations. They fought side by side with us in wars against oppression. They were a means of transport when we had none. They delivered mail, worked fields so we could eat, and became our friends. They are not, nor have they ever been considered a non-domesticated food source like a cow or pig.
  • Who knows what the world would be like today were it not for the existence and domestication of the horse? Our partner for centuries, perhaps no other animal has served man in so many diverse ways, nor suffered so dearly for it.
Eating our friends in a civilized country like ours, who have given us and World History so much, and asked for so little? They should be on a postage stamp, not a dinner plate.

One day, I'm convinced, we'll look back and cringe.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Will Luck Do For Racing What Rounders Did for Poker?

In 1998, the poker movie Rounders, starring Matt Damon, was released. It did not do very well at the box office, but the film has become a cult classic in the world of poker.  It’s credited by some for giving a big boost to poker, worldwide, and young card pros like Dutch Boyd and Gavin Griffin have publicly stated the movie first got them interested in hold ‘em.  Anecdotally, according to players, if you sit at a table in Vegas, it’s common for lingo with a Russian accent (after John Malkovich’s character in the movie) to pop up after a bad beat or two. The movie clearly did enter the poker culture.

Will Luck help horse racing in a similar way?  

To read the whole article, please see this weekends HRU. 

Note: If you are interested in Luck and racing and want to chat about it, our old pal Dan is co-hosting a Luck chat on twitter Monday evenings. Follow @thorotrends for more.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday Notes

Here are a few things catching my eye this Saturday.

When I started in the 'net business in around 2000, I was always amazed and interested by the freemium model, lifetime customer values, start-up spend and new business marketing. It shocked me that offshore gaming, for example, knew exactly what to offer a new customer to land him/her, to steal him away from somewhere else. Things like bet $100 get $100, or get 50 bets for referring a friend were common in 1998 or 1999.

Outside gambling this was alive and well too. Online stock brokers offered free software, 50 or 100 free trades, you first month trading free, and so on. Having worked with an online stock broker at that time on their online marketing, I always loved their passion for trying things new.

Racing never seemed to follow suit.  The last several years we've seen more of it, but it seemed like an exercise, not real marketing, and quite honestly it was disconcerting, because it's just math.

Twinspires this year though, has done the math. If you refer new customers to them, there's no pussyfooting around. You get $250 and a new Kindle Fire.

We're going to have to steer more and more people into betting on the net, so we might as well accept that and be aggressive. I bet TS gains some customers with this promotion.

The first online betting business who steps outside the box, works with industry leaders in an aggressive way, and goes after online sports bettors and poker players, wins.

Anyhow, some more things:

Great chatter in HRU today on "What happened to Meadowlands' handles?"Loved the comments from Les.

Billy Davis will have a good career with this kind of talk:

  • “These trainers, grooms and owners, they work all week on these horses. They invest all their time and money and it can all go down the drain in the two minutes I sit behind them on the track.  
Nice pdf of the McKinsey plans (pdf). There's some good stuff in there.

Fascinating talk in New York state about expanded gaming, operators wanting more from slot revenue, and more. Being a free market dude, I simply can't wrap my head around it all. Don't vote me Prime Minister, that's for sure. The corporate tax rate would be zero and there would be no goofy corporate welfare subsidies. That's mainly because I don't understand business social engineering, I guess.

Congrats to Standardbred Canada's Darryl Kaplan. He's one of the good guys.

Carryover today at Aqueduct for pick 6 players. Okay super high five carry at Tampa as well.

Good luck today folks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wednesday's Here

It's snowing in this part of the world today, pretty hard. I watched "House Hunters" last evening and saw houses listed at $250k in Arizona that were palatial. I want to move to Arizona.

Anyhoo, here are some things that caught my eye today.

Fantastic piece linked by Scott Ferguson (I saw it on Dan's twitter feed) about Betfair. The betting business is a business and needs to be treated as such, or we'll be racing for ribbons. It's nice to see someone speak plainly about it.

A few snips. 

On traditional bookies and old racing trying to get them to pay more than them (with a narrative that really isn't valid, like we see often in North America with ADW's):
  • Betfair has revolutionised betting but its effect on the on-course market has squeezed margins – good for punters but bad for racing, with its income based on gross profits. Do you have any sympathy with the view that Betfair should pay more to UK racing?
    There is no evidence that margins have been affected. That was the finding of the Donoughue Commission which looked into starting prices. Even the traditional bookmakers no longer say that margins have been affected in any material way. Do I have any sympathy with the view that we should pay more to UK racing? Absolutely not. We pay effectively the levy on 10.75% of our gross profits on British horseracing like every other bookmaker.
On the big prize money going to only a few owners with super stables and betfair's creation of series that benefit the smaller owners:
  • I’m afraid that sort of thinking is consistent with the idea that racing doesn’t have to compete. The fact is you have to look after the owner – and there are 65% of owners whose horses never see the winner’s enclosure. It is vital that the bread and butter owner has a chance of a big payday.
  • We support Champions’ Day at Ascot and believe premier racing is vital for the industry. But if you do that to the exclusion of the smaller owner then you do so at your peril. You should bear in mind that over 50% of prize-money goes to about 30 people. The industry is benefited by ownership from the many thousands beneath those 30 people. 
On betting to lose/corruption:
  • California was the first state to introduce drug testing on racehorses. Funnily enough, there were positive examples, so people said therefore California was responsible for doping in horseracing. The recent corruption case demonstrates that we have been the only company to share specific account information and details to help police the sport. The idea that corruption in horseracing started when we arrived in 2000 is ridiculous.
Fantastic piece with a real kick in the ass attitude that racing needs, in my opinion.

 More notes:

Hoof Beats published the trackmaster speed ratings for three year old pacers in their last issue. As we know, Stan's experimental ratings were rightfully retired with his passing. It was a good report. I do disagree on who was chosen first in the TM ratings, however. I thought Sweet Lou said game, set and match in the BC Final.

Big M goes guarantee on Friday for the pick 5.

Balmoral's handles keep growing. Give this track a look for their 15% pick 4. The pools are huge.

Ahh, the sweet smell of protecting racing video's.

Free data from Bloomberg. Amazing. h/t to O_crunk

This week  - writing about Luck and Marketing for HRU. If you haven't signed up for HRU in your inbox, it's free.

I always like going through Horse of the Year votes, or others, to see what goofy things were voted on.  Monkey on My Wheel and Up the Credit got votes over San Pail.

Prix' D'amerique. Loved the fun, loved the gelding in the stars and stripes, loved the hype. Cool video.

Roger Way, a tireless horseplayer advocate and monster racing fan, passed away yesterday. It always amazes me that (he was 75) horse racing gets so in your blood that you are working today to change it, when we're likely not here to see the results of the change. I spoke with Roger several times and he always struck me as a kind, kind man. Rest in peace.

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