Saturday, March 31, 2012

Well, That Was Fun

There was an article last week in HRU (pdf) about the new direction in the LPGA. Falling on hard times, the new commissioner started a plan for 2012, called "Growth". Each letter corresponded to a strategy. The last letter, "H", meant have fun, because if you're having fun, fans at home and in the stands will have fun too.

I think it isn't a stretch to say that horse racing may be the most traditional, stodgy, almost funereal in its presentation, sports' in history. Often times you'll see customers complain on chat boards wondering if North American jocks or drivers care if they win or lose. Owners are rich for the most part, and seem detached. It's not a very good marketing avenue.

Well today, there was no doubt that someone cared. The jockey on Dubai World Cup winner Monterossa let go one of the coolest celebrations I have ever seen in horse racing. About 50 yards or so from the wire, in a can't lose spot, the horse slowed to a canter with him standing up and letting go some youthful exuberance.

He's a young jockey, a rising star, and he hasn't got the memo yet that he's supposed to win $10 million dollar races and look like he's just got a tooth pulled. In addition, he'll likely get fined by someone, too.

I hope he doesn't read the memo, pays the fine, and then does exactly the same thing again next year.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend Racing

Well we had some protests, some New York Times stuff and plenty more this week. However, thank goodness for racing, because we can actually hang out tomorrow - from morning to evening - and watch some.

As a reminder, an event I tend to take for granted - the Dubai World Cup - starts bright and early in the morning. It's on TVG in the US and HPI up here. Scott has a look at some of the races, and there are a billion links/PPs on Goatzapper about it.

I went through it, and I may play a few races.

I think Lucky Chappy may run well in the UAE Derby, and might bet $5 if he's odds. The former Canadian horse, Maritimer, looks neat at a price.

In the Turf sprint, I've always been a Regally Ready fan. He seems like he has a shot.

Giant Ryan seems like a wise-guy play in the sprint. I might play him.

In the big one, there are a ton of possibles. People seem to be wanting to discount Royal Delta, but I'm not. If she's value (and she likely will be, she's 11-1 at Betfair), I'll pop $2 on the mare.

In the Florida Derby later in the day, I'm looking at Take Charge Indy, hopefully holding off a fast closing Union Rags, with Reveron coming third, off a cheesy angle play I like.

In the evening, the second leg of the Spring Championship happens at Woodbine, along with the second race back for Horse of the Year San Pail in the Glory's Comet. At the Meadowlands, there's a pick 6 carryover of decent size.

Holy cow, I just realized I could be playing racing from dawn til midnight. Life could be worse.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jockey Club Steps Up To The Plate

Do you remember the Domino's Pizza video's of employees committing food violations that went viral on Youtube? It was a crisis for the pizza chain, and although slow to respond initially, their management strategy was very sound after that. They immediately issued arrest warrants for the offenders, they took responsibility, offered no denials or excuses and they worked hard to get their customers back. Marketing 101.

All week in horse racing we've been reading from industry pundits seemingly the exact opposite strategy after the Times article came out.

But tonight that changed.

The Jockey Club issued a statement as a direct response to the Times article.

They are proposing two main initiatives:
  • Raceday med ban
  • Lifetime Bans for Repeat Medication Offenders
The interesting thing, this time these have a shot.

Jim Gagliano has shown leadership on this and is really the first to do so. After the McKinsey Report, the Jockey Club has become, in my opinion, this sports de-facto commissioners office.  The way they handled things this evening, by not making excuses and by extolling leadership and vision, it shows they might not be a bad choice.

Stuck in a Bog

The folks upset with methodology keep popping up with regards to the New York Times piece in last Sunday's paper. Today Steve Crist wrote about it in the DRF, wondering how some tracks breakdown rates in reality (as measured by the Jockey Club) are different from the Times.

He concludes:
  •  .... an error of this magnitude regarding the premier race meet in American racing calls the accuracy of the entire analytical undertaking into question.
Maybe so.

But, let's pitch the New York Times stats and use the Jockey Club's stats instead, rounding the losses at 2.0 per 1000, okay? That number doesn't include quarterhorses, or eased, or horse's lost to getting bitten by spiders. It's "the number" everyone seems to agree with, from racing's industry organization.

With a field size of 8, for simplicity, that means that approximately one horse in every 60 races run will be put down due to a racetrack injury.

That's not Steve Crist's stats, or the New York Times. That's pretty much reality.

Let me ask you, if in the NHL a player gets crippled every 60 games, or if in the NBA one out of every 60 games someone gets maimed, and a paper wrote a story about it, would people be arguing that the number is one out of every 80 games, not 60? Would they be talking about how the ABA and junior hockey are skewing the numbers?

I doubt it. They'd be calling for the commissioners head. They'd probably be shouting from the rooftops and sounding the alarms. It'd be a crisis. Semantics about journalism and reportage would take a back seat, or it would be saved for another day.

We read about how we have to market the sport to families. How do you market a sport to families, when in an afternoon at the track there is a pretty decent chance they'll see a horse get put down? How do we ask government's for slot money when this happens to this degree?

This has nothing to do with Joe Drape or The New York Times.It has everything to do with us.

It's time to mobilize to do something, and stop arguing about the fact that 24 horses dying a week is not an accurate number, and that it's more like 15. All it does is give us an excuse to do nothing.

Budget Will Be Passed. What To Do Next?

It looks as if the budget in Ontario is a go, including the cut to the $345 million horse racing share of slots.

What's next?

One poster, and horseman on seems to think there's a chance to spend some of what's left to do something positive:
  • I am a former horse-person who spent most of my life in the business. The lightbulb came on for me a couple of years ago plus a little more, my reasoning was all the things that had gone astray in the business, it was no longer enjoyable, hard to make money, racing had generally become boring, things never seemed to change as no one wanted them to, and in fact were getting worse every year. Putting $10,000 vet bills into $6,000 claimers had become the norm and was a game I wouldn't, as well as couldn't play, I always said I got into the business as I loved horses, and I left for the exact same reason!
  • I think this whole situation should be looked at as a positive, no one acted for so many years to improve the product as the world changed around it. The industry stood still and reaped the benefits. The positive is that the industry has been given a one year reprive to get people interested again. The $345 million or so, whatever the number is, can be used as a farewell tour maintaining the status quo until March 13, 2013 when the doors will be shut forever, or it can be used as an investment in the future free from government interference all together. It's up to all parties involved. How bad do you want it??
  • Harness racing must reinvent itself for today's world, and the time to sit around and talk about it is over. There are one year and two days to make this viable again. The clock is ticking !! 
I've heard rumblings of that opine around the industry, although most think it's a pipe dream.

However, he does make some good points.

As we've noted on the blog, purses have gone up by 2 or 3 hundred percent the past 20 years, but costs have gone up the same. Vet trainers have surfaced to take advantage of purse inequities and the game got commercialized. 30% trainers get more stock, because people want to win at all costs. Those trainers need to jam to make money because of the vet bills and God knows what else, crowding out owners racing for second place. As well, with  droppers at 1-5 that look unbeatable, it makes the races terrible for fans. It's a vicious, awful circle.

Have we really gotten anywhere as a business because of it? Does having 12 claims on a horse in a race, with horse A shuffling to horse B and then to C and back to A do anything for us, really? Is that what slots were for?

I know little of that is news to you as bettors - you've lived this for years. But it is not only bettors. Owners have been quite upset too - good honest owners who just want to enjoy owning horses. The people we need in our sport.

It's good to see some soul searching and introspeciton. There are still plenty of racing jurisdictions left with slots. Hopefully this is a wake-up call to them to make things better before they are cut off.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Slash & Burn

Yesterday at 2PM the New Brunswick Budget was detailed. At 4PM the Ontario Budget followed.

Two Canadian budgets, two massive losses for horse racing.

In New Brunswick, 60% of the funding for purses was cut. In Ontario, the plan from a month or so ago, was all systems go:
  • There’s not going to be a horse industry as we know it,” Glenn Sikura, president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s Ontario division, said after the budget speech by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.“If their plan goes through, I think it could be the end of horse racing,” said Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association.
The plan itself was detailed on the Ontario government website.
  • Since 1998, $3.7 billion has been provided to the horseracing industry in Ontario, including $345 million in 2011–12. As part of OLG’s modernization process, the government reviewed this support for the horseracing industry, as outlined in the previous government’s 1998 letter of intent. In doing so, the government determined that the industry needs to move towards greater self-sufficiency without government support. This will allow the industry to respond competitively to market demands for its racing product.
    The government remains committed to supporting horseracing through its reduction to the Province’s pari-mutuel tax. This leaves wagering revenues with the industry for programming support.
Notice the last part of that prose.

"This leaves wagering revenues with the industry for programming support."

For all of us - and there are thousands - who've been saying for a long time that "there's only one customer for horse racing, the bettor", it looks to be finally here. And that's clearly not good news.  The alienated bettor has long left the building.

The narrative that Woodbine would be fine through this might be showing some cracks. Even they sound pretty frightened: 
  •  Eaves said he was not sure if gambling machines would stay in place at Woodbine and Mohawk, but the two intend to stay in business.“We’re two of the OLG’s largest money-producing sites,” Eaves said. “Our mandate, as a racetrack, is to make the maximum amount of money we can and to put on the best horse racing we can.”

Where do we go from here? Honestly, I think that is a guess. The final chapter, the final cuts, the final gaming plan all have yet to be publicly finalized.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The New York Times Intervention

If you flip on A&E for their hit show Intervention, and give it a watch, a common theme emerges.

There's someone in trouble, they tend to not realize their problem is a big one, and they blame everyone else for their life. They usually resist help at all costs and react to anyone with anger.  They sometimes feel things will just get better on their own. Then, later, they finally come aboard that they have an issue, they get help, deal with it and hopefully get better.

I think we're seeing similar play out with the New York Times hit-piece on racing.

First we saw some anger. "How could Joe Drape do this?" was a common theme. Poor ol' Joe's twitter picture was popping up on dart boards in shedrows across the entire nation.

Then we saw some deflection. The meme, "this was really about quarterhorse's, not us, you know" resonated. It seemed to make people feel better that Quarterhorse racing had a higher breakdown rate than Thoroughbreds and it was skewing the overall numbers. This was also mixed with some anger - anger that Joe Drape could allow this grave statistical injustice to occur in his article. People who took part in this stage also seemed to like the anger stage.

Then we saw "don't blame me, blame someone else" stage start to bubble. If you were a big proponent of dirt tracks, well, it wasn't that which was causing any problem. Dirt, according to them, played no role whatsoever in these breakdowns that the Times was talking about. If you were responsible for breeding these fragile beats, well it wasn't your fault either. It was the dirt tracks. Or drugs. Or maybe it was Joe Drape's fault. If none of that stuck, well the article was really about Quarterhorse's anyway.

We saw some enter the "this will get better on its own stage". The New York Times is a left-wing, agenda driven rag that no one reads. In addition,with trillion dollar deficits and a bad economy, people don't really care about horse racing anyway. This will go away.

Those aren't all of the people, nor is it even a majority of the people, and they are not crazy, nor are they stupid. It's just the way it is, because it's our game. In our cocoon here in racing, we like to commiserate together. Commiseration, deflection, anger, blame, and an willingness to pass the buck unfortunately doesn't do us any good.

We can nit-pick this Times series as much as we want for its alleged unfairness, but Thoroughbred racing has a breakdown problem. Its had it for years. We all know this.

In 2012, animal issues have reached a zenith, and they're not going away. And I don't mean with PETA types, they are probably best ignored, but with the mushy middle; the folks who are currently deciding between Obama and Romney. It's probably only going to get worse.

I am not smart enough to come up with an effective strategy for this deep-seeded, age-old problem, but Lord knows we certainly have to admit we have one, and someone better look at fixing it.

The Interventionist has left the building. It's time to move on.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Polished Horse Ad

I am pretty sure in the 1970's, hamburger aficionado's who only had a deep, traditional love of the beef were upset that a burger joint could stoop so low as to have a floppy-shoed, red-haired mascot sell burgers.

The mascot and ad campaign that the deep, traditional horse racing fans love to hate is back, too. This time with a nicely polished ad to start the madness.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Notes

Some news that caught my eye the last day and a half.....

The elephant in the room for thoroughbred racing (and steeplechase) has been the frequency of breakdowns. It's a story we don't like to talk about. However, the New York Times broke that pretty wide open this weekend. It was front page news.

San Pail looked great last night in his 8 year old debut.

What makes the rent a horse and the current Aqueduct issues so perplexing, is that horses who are not racing well tend to need time off. See You At Peelers needed it, they gave it to her, and she came back very strong on Saturday. I was 70% sure she'd show no kick, and this race was not going in her favor down the back. But she did. Sparkling effort that we all hope continues.

Suspended horse Reibercrombie raced via a court injunction. And we wonder why racing can't attract more decent owners looking for an honest investment?

Horsemen groups have a ton of power. They are probably most responsible for the status quo. A bettor looked at what the participants in other sports do to work together at Harness racing update (PDF)

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Friday Horse Racing Pop Quiz!!!!

I just got this via email. Let's see how you guys do (I got all answers correct, just so you know).

1. Alpha's First Derby Prep Race Was:

a) The Fountain of Youth
b) The Tampa Bay Derby
c) An Allowance Race at Fonner Park
d) The Withers, but to be sure, I want to see the tattoo evidence

2. The Recently Announced Aqueduct Breakdown Task Force Will:

a) Shake the foundations of racing and horse safety as we know it
b) We're not sure, but we hope there are plenty of free donuts
c) Blame Everything on Richard Dutrow
d) Conclude no one did anything wrong and that all racing is very safe

3. The Jockey Club Came Out with a Study today to Show that Synthetic Surfaces Are Safer. Racing Will:

a) Take these results, study them scientifically, and make conclusions based on horse safety and a bright future for our equine athletes
b) Look to fund further study
c) Switch some tracks to synthetic
d) Ask Bob Baffert what he wants, and act accordingly

4. Todd Pletchers Derby Chances are:

a) Great!
b) Slim
c) None
d) I have no idea, but he'll be there in a suit worth more than my 15 claimer

5. Who said "Fine. He's eating up his feed and he worked excellent today. We're happy with his progress" on the Derby Trail in response to the question "How is your horse doing?":

a) Todd Pletcher
b) Graham Motion
c) Bob Baffert
d) Every trainer known to man

6. Alpha's Next Derby Prep Is:

a) The Blue Grass
b) The Wood
c) An Allowance Race at Beulah
d) We're not even 100% sure Alpha is currently in the United States

7.Recently an O'Brien Award winner tried to enter a suspended horse at Yonkers, only to be found out and rebuffed by the New York State Wagering Board. Reaction was:

a) It's no big deal, they were being cunning
b) It's racing, you have to be shifty
c) More power to them
d) What's the big deal, the Thoroughbreds gave Michael Gill an Eclipse

8.  Jeff Gural and Joe Faraldo recently got into another war of words over money to market the sport of racing from slots. To get them together to work things out, poll respondants offered one of these:

a) A Call into Captain Stubing for a Love Boat cruise
b) Dinner at Pegasus, On Jeff!
c) A locked room, somewhere in one of Gural's 1.5 million New York owned properties
d) On the tarmac, race day at Chester Downs. It'll be very private.

9. The California takeout increase in 2010 was a failure, because:

a) Handle went Down
b) Revenue went down
c) Purse money went down
d) Ray Paulick has not written a pro-raise takeout article in months

10. In Ontario, slots closures at up to 12 tracks look imminent. Horse racing can stop this by:

a) Protesting
b) Writing letters
c) Engaging on social media
d) Giving the Liberal Party more money than the teacher's union did

11. **BONUS** Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are the same person

a) True
b) False
c) Don't Know
d) Holy s$(#, maybe they are!

If you scored 11 of 11 you are a true racing geek.

If you scored 9 or more you are damn good, but need some work.

If you scored 6 to 8, please start reading more industry press

If you scored 3 to 5, you need remedial racing class, so please look into a community college racing course

If you scored one or two, you are likely a member of PETA.

Have a great Friday everyone, and remember.... the above was in good fun, so no nasty letters :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's Hot

I remember when I was seventeen. I moved from my town in Northern Ontario to go to school in Toronto. I had never been to Toronto much in the winter before, only in the summer, and I knew it was warm and muggy. This was a far cry from my town, which was generally mild in the summers.

In my first year University I lived in a dorm that was built in something like 1850. In the winter it tended to keep the heat in nicely, but I anticipated it would get warm in the summers. The funny thing was, summer came quickly that year. In late March we had this massive heat wave. Studying for April exams was excruciating because it was literally 100F in the dorm.

I thought to myself, is this the way April was down here? Is it always this hot?

On Monday I took a break from sweltering studying and went to the track. I scored a nice ex in the second and hit a tri in the third. I made a few dollars.

Hmmm. How about an air conditioner? That would be sweet.

I walked to Honest Ed's (if you don't know that place folks, you should because if you are a poor student, it rocks) and saw they were on for less than $200. I did not have enough, but my dad was in town. I could bum some cash off him for the remainder I hoped.

Later on that evening I was in the sweet coolness of my room, surrounded by other sweltering people who wanted to study for an exam.

Thinking it would be like that each year in April or May weather-wise, I thought it was a good investment. However, 20 years plus have gone by since then, and guess what? The weather never got hot like that in April again.

Until this year. It's like Africa-hot.

The moral of the story and the point of it, is nothing, really. I was grumpy yesterday and I didn't feel like speaking about a dozen tracks nearby that may close, or all the other poor headlines of late. Plus I was speaking to Keeneland Gal on twitter and she got me started on the weather.

Have a great (warm) Thursday everyone. And if you are studying for exams in an 1850 residence tonight, try your luck on bagging an air conditioner. The Greenwood teletheatre is only a streetcar ride away and the first post at Woodbine is 7:30.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday News And Views

There is quite a bit happening in racing of late..... most of it making me grumbly.

Remember last year when trotting filly Crys Dream was suspended in Ontario for 90 days? Up until that point, any horse suspended in Ontario was suspended in other jurisdictions due to reciprocity. The Crys Dream folks challenged the ruling in the courts and they were granted a reprieve to race. Some race watchers felt this left the door open for other owners and trainers to say "screw you" to the Ontario Racing Commission and their bans. Well, that appears to have happened. Checking the entries for Yonkers this weekend, we see a Levy Pacing Series eligible named Reibercrombie in to go.

Guess what? That's the same Reibercrombie suspended for 90 days in Ontario last week for a positive.(h/t to posters on

***** UPDATE: Harness Racing .com Reports the horse has been scratched.

Reactive versus proactive. If you've been following the NYRA story the last few weeks on breakdowns and claiming rules, you'll notice a lot of talk about purse levels in claiming races, tons of claims, vet passports and all the rest that slots purses bring. NYRA recently changed some of the rules as well. The problem, we talked about it here a month ago, and it's been a topic for years, as it's what happened in Ontario since 1998.

This is suddenly news? My question: Since we knew about this stuff beforehand - even silly bloggers like me knew - why are we only reacting to it now, rather than having policies in place at the beginning to help cure past ills?

NBC starts covering the Derby this weekend. It looks like they are doing a couple of smart things with social media during the broadcast, long what we've been a proponent of here. TV by itself does nothing; you have to engage your watchers when you have the chance.

Paulick took PETA to task today in a good piece. However, I agree with @o_crunk on this.

This is how you innovate. A poker tournament added a hole card cam, and is offering odds on the players hands via in-play poker tourney betting. This not only glues you to watch the match, it also allows you to take some chances and play along while it's going on. Hmmmm, notice there is no talk of poker players holding out for a bigger slice of the betting, and no talk that one of the players might intentionally throw a hand so someone that's betting him to lose can profit.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone! Even though I am grumpy today, you shouldn't be!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


It's no secret I've thought this Ontario Lottery and Gaming plan has been rolled out poorly. Almost everyone I speak with does not know what's happening, or if the plans for taking slot money away from racetracks is written in stone. It seems like there is no one captaining the ship.

Today do we see more evidence of this? is reporting that the Ontario Premier now says it's up to municipalities to approve any new casino's, not he and his government alone. This, in my opinion, is a far cry from the initial announcement where all of these "gaming zones" seemed to be carved out and decided.

I'm the first to admit - even by following this story from the start - I am no more sure of what's going to happen today, than I was on announcement day. But are we seeing some cracks in the original plan?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why I Can't Be a Barber In Ontario Anymore

I’m a long-time barber and I’ve owned my shop for over 40 years. Not only do I love cutting hair, I was born into it, so it’s the only thing I know how to do.  I love being a barber.

Now, unfortunately, I have to announce I'm quitting. 

Here’s my story.

About 15 years ago I was happily cutting my customers’ hair. Some were going to the hot new salon in the suburbs, and business wasn’t what it used to be like, but I still had my core customers. 

I was making a living and I was happy. 

One day in the 1990’s a government man in a suit came into my shop and told me he had a new idea. 

“There’s a new hair product that’s been passed by the government for sale,” he told me. “I want to sell this product in your barber shop to your customers because the public doesn't want us to sell it to school kids. If you agree, I will give you 20% of whatever you sell.”

I had done similar before – I sometimes sold scissors and combs to my customers and took a commission - but this seemed different.

 “What’s the catch?”, I asked.

“Well, this new product allows hair to not grow quite as much, so your barbering business will suffer.  People who came to get their hair cut once a month, will now come once every four months. That’s why we’re giving you 20% of what you sell - it will hurt your business” the man said.

Since my business wasn’t doing really well, I decided to allow this product to be sold in my store. I might lose customers, but I may end up making more money than I had been, if this product was as good as they were saying.

It was. I ended up having a healthier business. I hired new people to sell the product,  I invested in new products, I supported my community, I did everything I was supposed to do that was set out in the deal with the government man.

The downside was that my old customers were not coming back, just like the government man told me would happen.  This was very sad for me. As my customers died off they were not replaced. My shop wasn’t as busy as it was. 

Then, one day, out of the blue, the government man came back to my store. He had some curious news.

“I am not letting you sell the hair product anymore. We’re pulling it off your shelves and we’re giving it to someone else to sell.” he said.

I was shocked.

I could not believe that the government man would license a product for me to sell – a product he knew would destroy my core business – then one day he'd come back and say “goodbye, your business is over”.

Thankfully this was not in front of the public yet, and I thought when it was they’d be on my side. They don’t like when the government does bad stuff to private businesses in our country. They were sure to be incensed.

The next day, though, I was listening to the radio. I couldn't believe my ears! The government was running a radio ad against my barber shop!

It said that my business deal with the government where I sold their hair product for them was a subsidy and it likened me to taking taxpayer money. It also said I was a “fat cat”, like a Wall Street banker gone mad.

Oh boy. 

They were even controlling the airwaves too. I am a simple barber. I don’t even know how to respond to them and all their money and consultants.

Since that time I’ve tried to reason with them. I tried to ask them how destroying my business is a good thing after all we’ve been through together. I have gotten no answers.

Last week I closed my doors. I laid-off my staff, I stopped buying scissors, shampoo and other products from the wholesale place down the road (the owner told me he was going to go out of business too). My career is over.

And that’s why I am not a barber anymore.

Sunday Notes

The gloves came off in today's Harness Racing Update regarding the Jeff Gural-Joe Faraldo situation. As you know, the Meadowlands owner and New York Horsemen group head have been battling for years. It came to a head last week when Gural commissioned a poll of horsemen and owners in slots states and found well over 80% of them agreed with his vision. That vision - spending some of their purse money to grow the sport - is something that Faraldo disagrees with. The letters are running about 5 to 1 for Gural, so I suspect his poll was pretty accurate.

Have you been noticing Santa Anita stakes races are going off really late on weekends? That's the plan, and Del Mar looks to follow.

How important is Trakus? Watch last night's 9th race to find out. What a fog the Rexdale oval had.

Full recaps of yesterday's stakes are all on Goatzapper.

It's a different world. When you hear someone in racing talking about less whipping, changing the game better in terms of safety and the like, look beyond our nose. The Luck news should wake everyone up. It's not 1940 any more.

Joe Faraldo and others seem to believe that getting everyone together and working the sport for the good is unattainable. It's always someone elses job. Well, I think the recent news in Ontario, and the response from OHRIA, shows what we can do when we band together. Videos like this should not be for crisis times, they should be an industry staple.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Is Horse Racing in Ontario the Fall Guy For Government Mismanagement?

Recent announcements of slot closures and the introduction of online betting in Ontario has taken the horse racing industry by storm this week. The government, deep in the hole, has looked to gambling as a way out, and the old site licensing deals with racetracks look finished. One new item they want to monopolize, is online wagering.

But is the governments entire set of assumptions bad business because they're dressing up a bad model without getting to the crux of the problem?

Gambling experts seem to think so:
  •  If any U.S. casino had that kind of monopoly and customer base the revenues would be much better,” a casino manager from Nevada told me. He suggested that with 80 million* Ontario residents and the huge appetite for gambling in the province, OLG should be bringing in at least double that revenue
Why are revenues so light? Just like in racing, experts seem to believe - "it's the odds, stupid"
  •  The casino manager believes revenues aren’t higher because the odds aren’t competitive, a mistake that is made too often by monopolies.
  •  Obviously all things equal Canadians would prefer to bet with the government bookmaker but if the governments and agencies like OLG treat single game sports betting like the lottery, they can forget about gaining much interest except with the very naïve or amateur bettors. 
The author believes that the government needs to do three things to be competitive, and increase revenue properly. One, cut the slot hold to no more than 90% to increase churn and customer satisfaction. Two, offer -110 lines on single game sports betting and three, make sure (if online poker passes) that big pools of players are allowed to play, because without a large base, the online portion of the strategy will fail.

Hmmm - decrease takeouts, offer proper lines, and make sure they have big pools. That sounds familiar.

Regardless, what Ontario has done with gambling clearly has not worked, or we would not be where we are. Did mismanagement get us here? At least some seem to think so.

* Suspected typo

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stopping the Insanity is a Good Place to Start

How do we help racing? There are a thousand answers from a thousand different factions. However, if we fix some of the simple things first - the most insane, asinine, make-no-sense to any rational person things - it would be a good place to start.

Frank Angst had a piece in the Thoroughbred Times today, looking at breakdowns and casino money in New York.

  • $7,500 claimers with a $40,000 purse
  •  ....veterinarians advised that purses should not exceed claiming prices by more than 50%. At the lowest claiming levels at the current Aqueduct meeting, purses are more than 500% higher than the tag—ten times over the 50% recommendation. 
Horses worth $7,500 going for $40,000? To any rational person that's ridiculous. It makes no sense; none whatsoever. It's the commoditization of living, breathing animals that the public hates and it ensures a system that is not based on economics in any way shape or form. In addition, what rational person from a horsemen group can make a business case that a purse for these events can not be $25,000, with $15,000 being used to grow the sport instead?

How could we ever let this happen?

As Alan at LATG points out today, there appears to be an anti-racing Governor in the New York Mansion. This is exactly the kind of stuff that can be used against racing to further his cause.

This is not unlike the absolutely incredulous policies that permeated the landscape in Ontario. There were some tracks that had $5,000 of nightly handle, while giving out $80,000 in purses. Time and time again people said "that's insane".

No one ever did anything about it.

That insanity helped the governments case against racing when the time came to pull the plug this week. Similar occurred in New Jersey with the Atlantic City/Casino subsidy.

We have a lot of problems in racing, but many of them are self inflicted; trying to shove square pegs in round holes. If we start by eliminating the ridiculous first, the contentious issues can be looked at next.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Horsemen Group Head Responds to Gural Slots Idea

Horsemen group head Joe Faraldo responded to Jeff Gural and the USTA poll regarding putting more money into the sport of horse racing from slots.

Here's some of the language. Yes folks, this is what our sport is about, and why nothing gets done.

  •  was a malodorous “push-poll” worthy of a political campaign
  •  time for the truth about the disingenuous wording 
  •  As to the insinuation
  • “push polls” never provide all the details

$lots World, Episode 12

We've been on this story for years. We've been to wagering conferences speaking of upping the bet from slot cash, we've written white papers on trying to bring exchange wagering to Canada so we can try and get a new demo involved in racing. I've probably argued with you on twitter about New York's most recent slot deal and how I think sticking all the cash into purses or site improvements like Ontario and Pennsylvania did is a sure-fire way to lose. We've been trying.

But I'm only a dumb bettor that owns a few horses.

Now we have someone smart who seems to be getting his message through.

Jeff Gural came out with a statement today on slots and racing. it was covered in virtually every trade - thoroughbred and harness so far.
  • In a statement released March 14, Gural said a poll of USTA members in Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania—states with racetrack gaming that supports racing—shows 84% favor using gaming revenue for enhanced equine drug-testing, and 87% support using funds for the marketing of harness racing, particularly efforts to attract younger participants.
  • “To continue to wait for track owners to reallocate money from the prime business of casino gambling is foolish."
Further, he touched on something that I think is vital to the whole proceedings - the disconnect from horseman groups.

As we've seen in California, the chasm between what the customer wants and what the TOC wants is as wide as the grand canyon.  This is emblematic in the industry as a whole and no matter what side you're on, this is a huge issue that protects the status-quo. In Canada, the recent plan in Ontario to use some purse money for other things to up the bet, was rejected, despite gathering over 1000 signatures from rank and file horsepeople to do just that.

Gural: "He commented that there appears to be a disconnect between the leaders of the horsemen’s association and the members. He is however, hopeful that these poll results will finally bring action on the part of the industry to use a small portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars from slots revenue to solve the drug problem, get us on national television and utilize other marketing tools that are available but at the present time unfunded."

I wonder if someone is going to listen since more than just dumb bettors are asking for it? I hope so.

Further news:

Windsor Raceway looks to be finished.  Hiawatha as well.

Fort Erie is likely done. In the broken record file (for blog readers anyway) this quote from a lottery insider states the obvious. “How do you justify sustaining it,” the source said. “It’s not making money. Thirty-five per cent of the purses from every race comes from the race itself and 55 per cent of the purse is propped up by slot revenues. The business model is not sustainable.”

For those who think that's just at Fort Erie, think again. About 35% of revenue for purses in US thoroughbred racing come from machines. This year with slots at NYRA, it'll probably go even higher.

It's a Slots World. But sooner or later the money dries up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fort Erie, Windsor & Hiawatha Slots to Close

That didn't take long.

Storied Fort Erie Racetrack, host of one of the jewels of the Canadian Triple Crown is reported to have their casino shut down within "months".

In addition, Windsor Raceway, home of the Provincial Cup and host to many harness racing greats over the years is likely to shut down as well.

Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia, is also reported to be on the list.

One day - three racetracks.

How many more? Likely quite a few.

Full report on CTV News.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Slots at Racetracks Program Ending in 2013

Some thought they might take a scalpel to the slots program in Ontario, but it appears they brought out the hacksaw.

The program, which pours about $345M into purses, will be ended by March of 2013.

What replaces it is unclear. As we surmised earlier, it seems Woodbine will, or should, be okay. Many of the other tracks are in serious jeopardy of closing, or having a smattering of fair type racedates.

Racing was never the same when slots came to the industry in 1998. It'll never be the same post-2013 either, by the looks of it.


Reaction from Horsepeople
CTV story
Valueformoney Website

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Help Me Understand Please

Today in HRU Bill Finley (pdf alert) looked at the reinstatement in Pennsylvania of a trainer, calling it a "disgrace".
  • In 2001, he was caught injecting a horse with an illegal substance, which caused the horse’s death. In 2007, his license was revoked after he was charged by the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office with conspiracy over his involvement in the trafficking of EPO and snake venom. These are not trivial issues, they are serious matters involving the death of an animal and then involvement with notorious drugs that are a plague to the sport. In a sane and rational world, Mosher would never be allowed to have anything to do with harness racing again. 
I don't know much about this trainer, only having bet a few of Sarita's horses now and again. But it begs the question, how much is too much?

The Paulick Report did a story awhile back on a thoroughbred trainer who was also licensed.
  • ..... in 1998 he was banned by the Ohio Racing Commission for one year for an incident at Beulah Park when he was ruled to have “mistreated, abused or engaged in an act of cruelty to a horse” and used an “appliance other than whip for the purpose of stimulating speed.” The appliance was described in court documents as a “wooden stick with stripped electrical cords stuck to it.” A veterinarian and two assistants testified seeing a horse at Beulah Park “jump two or three feet in the air” and then witnessed Delahoussaye unplugging an electrical cord from the wall. Delahoussaye appealed the case but ultimately lost.
Both of these gentlemen were let back into racing to train.

I am not a hang-em-high type guy. I understand there are circumstances, I understand there are different degrees for and of wrongdoing, I understand that decent people will make some mistakes; many deserve second chances or third chances, in life, or in racing.

But I don't understand this.

EPO and Venom is evil. Venom masks pain that not only endangers horse's lives but jocks and drivers too. EPO turns a horse's blood to sludge.

What the thoroughbred trainer was convicted of above, well that just makes me sick.

Michael Vick did some bad things and can't own a dog. If a daycare operator abused a child, he or she would never be able to work with kids again. If a school bus driver is caught with a DUI, he can't drive our kids around, that's for sure.

Why oh why, for egregious penalties on this scale, is racing so happy to have these same type people back?

Help me understand please, because it's something I can't wrap my head around.

Plenty of action today in thoroughbred racing. As usual, follow He has the previews and results as they happen.
Higher and Higher won the Overbid elim last night with a decent kick.
Big M outrider was taken to hospitial last night after that 8th race debacle.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Handle Wars: The Bottom May Be Here, For Awhile At Least

One of the things we've noticed this year in U.S, thoroughbred racing, is that handles seemed to have bottomed. Wagering is up so far in 2012, and we finished the year a little better than we did in 2010.

Harness racing, perhaps the leading indicator for all of racing, seemed to hit bottom about a year ago. The average mutuel pool for example, has been up for quite some time, and total handle in 2011 saw the first green number since about 2003.

So far this year, harness racing has seen a resurgence. Where the only metrics are kept - Canada - handles are up over 18% in 2012.

Harness racing did a number of things that thoroughbred racing seems to have done, but they did it earlier. In 2009 and 2010 they started paying attention to the customer with lower takeout and guaranteed pools. They also consolidated: They carded better, deeper field races. Long gone were the 5 horse fields that no one bets.

In the thoroughbreds a similar thing started to appear in late 2010. Tracks began lowering rakes and looking towards bigger pools. They also have consolidated. Field size is up. The only major jurisdiction that raised takeout in 2011 was the California tracks, and they got totally spanked last year. If they would've stood firm, we probably would've had a much better year in 2011. It's ironic that after raising takeout, California tracks, starting with the Hollywood meet last year, went to a low takeout pick 5 to help stop the bleeding.

In 2012, we are seeing this momentum starting to firm. In addition to the scores of tracks who have lowered takeout and concentrated on carding deeper races like Charles Town, NYRA tracks, Woodbine, Calder, and even the Pennsylvania tracks who dropped rakes, we have some new developments.

NYRA is on the cusp of having a blowout handle year - their payouts went up, and they should be injecting more cash in the pools as they find people to pay back for the takeout debacle. Their field size should also improve, attracting dollars. California has begun rebating local players (which is a takeout reduction), which has lead, or should lead, to a handle explosion of rebate cash (60% of the handle is bet by only 5% of the players).

In addition, I think we'll see a few more things happen in the mammoth jurisdictions:
  • I expect Woodbine to give even more back this season & continue to work the landscape for dollars
  • In California, I expect by the Del Mar meet to see more takeout reductions. Joe Harper has to convince the TOC to do this, but I think with the new elections there with some new blood, he'll have an easier time of it this season
  • In New York, I expect more takeout decreases in 2012, and better racing
If the above three things happen, we are assured (mathematically) positive handle gains. No if's and's or but's about it.

For years, bettors and wagering economists have asked racing to concentrate on a few items: Card better, deeper races to attract betting dollars, consolidate to do so, and look to lower effective takeouts.

We're starting to see some results of that in thoroughbred racing, and I hope we see more of it.

Good things can happen when you concentrate on the main two metrics that relate to increased handle, and increased customer satisfaction. Pay out a bit more so people can have a little more fun and bet more, and card some races worth betting with your customer in mind. It's really not that difficult.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mystery Voucher Giveaway Spurs 2012 NYRA Handle

(Pocketville NY- March 8, 2012) - It was announced today on twitter that the New York Racing Association handles have been trending higher. February saw an over 7% increase in average daily betting at NYRA's current track: Aqueduct. This has occurred with no apparent increase in field size or racing quality.

Many in the industry are pointing to the weather, baseball not starting up,  Rick Santorum, and the results of the Russian elections for much of the increase. As well, track handicapper Sandy Merling says people are betting more because "I rock".

However, NYRA's CEO has an easy answer.

"It's our mystery voucher program," said NYRA boss Chuck Maynard.

"What we're doing this year is giving vouchers out to our patrons. These vouchers are used to bet for free. It's what casino's do with free play on slot machines. Last year we did not have that program. " added Chuck.

"About 1% of every dollar paid out each day is now given back to customers through this mystery voucher, so they're betting it into the pools", he continued.

The program that Mr. Maynard is speaking about was called the "Mystery Voucher Act" and it was passed in late December, mandating that NYRA increase payouts to their customers and fans.

"I love the new program. Who doesn't like free money to bet with?" said an unnamed patron wearing an "Easy Goer Was Better Than Sunday Silence" t-shirt.

"I'm winning more and enjoying racing more because of it. I love New York. And I love Easy Goer" he added.

In general terms, if this gentleman cashes $500 of winning tickets, he gets a voucher for $5, so he should be pleased. But it apparently works even better than that. He might win one or two bets with that increased payout, so that $5 increase in handle from the mystery voucher turns into more.

"$5 back to him would translate to about $25 of new handle, through something called "churn"", says University of Southern California economist Carolyn U. Bett.

"There are many more people than just that one player getting mystery vouchers. This program, with, for example, $5 million of daily handles, could be adding over a quarter million to the daily betting numbers alone", she concluded.

She then started to do differential calculus on her pocket chalkboard and I stopped listening.

Regardless, it seems like the mystery voucher program is an amazing success, and we wish all our friends at NYRA well with this new program.


Epilogue: Of course that's tongue in cheek, but I hope you enjoyed it. That's what the takeout decrease did at NYRA this year: Put about 1% more money in your pocket, just like a mystery voucher program does at a store, casino or racetrack. When people get a bit more cash through an increased payout they don't stick it in a sock, they bet more. Takeout reductions are not really that hard to understand. They add to handle, that is a mathematical certainty. How much? That's for others smarter than I to decipher.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There Are "Three Masters"

I found today's short but sweet Godin piece interesting. Called "Three Masters" it looked at the three facets that your industry can be guided by and serve.

Master One is your existing customer base. He says you should keep your promises to them and find ways to organically grow that space.

Master Two is the people who aren't looking at you. To attract these people the author believes you must "make a different or bigger promise" to land them.

Last is Master Three: "Serving your muse, on making the song in your head real, regardless of who wants to hear it."

In our sport, Master One is the current horseplayer. They want (according to a recent HANA survey) a cleaner game, and better payouts so they can last longer as bettors, and enjoy the sport more, and more often.

Master Two is the poker player, or online skill game player who is part of a $500B or so market and, perhaps, the non-racing sports fan. To have a chance to land some of that poker and sports betting market, we'd need to do a few things with vision to our betting game first. To land a sports fan, we probably have to ensure our top competitors don't meet fewer than once or twice (or never) in their lives.

Master Three is serving ourselves and our muse, regardless what Master One and Two are telling us we're doing wrong.

Racing keeps "singing the song" and serving the muse that we can't have a cleaner game, better payouts, uniform rules, better racing, or compete with a casino. The song gets sung, and the business stagnates.


Did anyone ever watch the "Rumble in the Jungle", where Ali employed the rope-a-dope against Big George Foreman?

Racing is getting rope-a-doped right now, but I fear the outcome may be different.

In the last several months:
  • Pennsylvania has cut some slots funding and purses are trending lower
  • Zynga Games (i.e. "Farmville") announces they want to get into gambling
  • Ontario is looking to siphon off many millions from slots funding
  • Canada is looking to legalize one game sports betting
And today: New Jersey is looking to pass online gaming, with no help for horse racing.

For healthy industry's these shocks can be withstood, via pivoting and changing a model. Racing has not been very healthy, stating the obvious, so one has to wonder how much more of this we can take.

Note: Harness Fans, there is a huge carryover and $100k guaranteed pick 4 pool at Balmoral tomorrow evening. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Single Game Wagering To Ontario Racetracks?

A bill has passed that has amended the Criminal Code (I always laugh when I write that; betting the Cowboys with your buddy who's a Giant fan is criminal) where single sports wagering may become a reality. Currently, only parlay wagering is available in provinces.
  • It will enable Ontario casinos to open “sports books” to attract people keen to bet on individual games instead of just the existing Pro-Line that requires gamblers to wager on a minimum of three games simultaneously.
It's not too much of a stretch to believe that any existing slot parlors in racetracks would also be hubs for sports wagering. Because of the recent headlines, this might be a bone to throw racetracks, in return for some of the slots cash. To say Woodbine would be jammed on Sunday morning in football season would be an understatement.

Of course, this is another drag on pari-mutuel wagering, though. As racing handles fall from the pressures a new competitor, we'll likely be in a similar spot in the future.

The Red Blood Cell Count & More Sunday Notes

For handicappers a horse blood test doesn't mean much, but it should. When a lot of handicappers see a horse race poorly they try and chalk it up to a bad ride or drive, a "bounce", the track surface, the pace or distance or any number of other issues. Often times the horse is simply a little under the weather.

Today in Harness Racing Update, a horse owner uploaded a pdf of his horse's blood test (it's in the letters section on page 6). It's always neat to get familiar with some of these items; for example "GGT" was a liver level that Uncle Mo had that they could not get down.

One level - the red blood cell count - is what the letter writer focus's on. This count, which can be elevated due to illegal blood builders like EPO/DPO and Aranesp, is generally a scourge and has felled several super-duper trainers before. The writer believes that elevated counts signal wrongdoing and we should start pitching people for high counts.

As it has been explained to me, the RBC can be elevated on its own, so that's why commissions can't do much about it. However, it seems that if some trainer had every horse in his or her barn with high RBC counts they could do something couldn't they? It's a question - a statistical one - that I have always wondered about. If anyone knows why they don't do more using statistical data, please let us know in the comments section.

Yesterday was a dandy day for thoroughbred racing. The Gotham, Big Cap, and the return of Pants on Fire and Dialed In were all worth watching. The Goat has full replays and recaps from yesterday.

It looks like (although I expect it a longshot) there's a chance California may allow sports betting. I suspect the lines won't be very favorable if so. As has been noted many times in Ontario, the government is not very good at running a gambling establishment.

Congrats to Balmoral Park. Their wagering per card is up over $342,000 in 2012. Good fields, contentious racing, promotion, a couple of low rake bets have all made a difference.

Oh, at the HRU link above we have some thoughts on distance racing in harness, as well. it is something that's always interested me, in a "let's test it" sort of way.

Last but not least - Ninja Cat broke his maiden. It's nice that a horse with a great name like that enters the "winners" record books :)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"We Can't"

I saw a tweet tonight from someone (who shall remain nameless) who has been around the business forever.

It said:
  • I love horse racing, but the industry blows.

I think that dude is onto something. For me it all stems from the word "can't".

That word seems to be our rallying cry, from both the industry itself, and those who enable it.  I don't know how many discussions or meetings I've sat in on in this strange business where something was "impossible", only to see it implemented at some point in the future.

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of that word. Probably 90% of the things that we apparently "can't" do, we can.

People tell us that we can't do anything with slots money because it's "mandated". Complete and utter nonsense. Of course we can. We get together and set some slot revenue aside from non-mandated spend, and we spend it on something to grow the sport. If we spend one penny of it on marketing and promotion, the world will not end.

People tell us that slots tracks would rather have no racing and that we can't do anything about it. The former is  probably true, but sure we can do something about it. If there is no racing there are no slots. Commissions have to ensure the tracks spend what they are supposed to on the sport and not just go through the motions.

People say we can't lower takeout because horsemen groups say no to it all the time. The former is likely true, but sure we can lower takeout. Commissions have to step in and tell the horsemen they have to make a business case for saying "no", and if it doesn't pass the smell test, they tell them to take a hike and lower it without them. If it means updating the IHA, then update it. The thing was written before Magnum P.I. premiered, so it could probably use some updating.

People say we can't have exchange wagering in California. Betting to lose, my slice isn't big enough, they eat bangers and mash, they talk funny, blah, blah, blah. Of course we can. Just say yes, and for once do something your customers want you to do, instead of what you want to do.

People say NYRA can't lower takeout because, oh, God-knows-what excuse people are giving this week. Of course they can - they simply have to ask first.

People say we can't have uniform rules and penalties because it's too hard to do. Ya, it's hard. It was hard to land on the moon, too. Giving a 50 day uniform penalty for milkshaking doesn't even take an engineer to calculate a proper longitudinal trajectory to ensure we don't land on Pluto.

People say we can't fix the TOC because they're dysfunctional. Well ok, maybe they have a point on that one.

Regardless, when someone brings up something new to try to help the sport, the answer is not always "we can't". It's been that way for 30 years, handles are down by well over 50% since, and the business is shrinking.

Perhaps it's time we started saying we "can" when it comes to fixing our problems, and let's see what happens.

There's Racing's Next Competitor

I'll Bet $10 on the Pig
Casino's, slots, online poker, bingo, scratch cards and lotteries - they've all been considered a threat to horse racing's betting revenues; and they have been. But it may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Get ready for Zynga betting.

Yesterday, Mark Pincus of Zynga Games, the company that has in's with Facebook and others and runs the popular social game "Farmville", said the company is looking into online gaming.

"I think it's a good natural fit. I think, philosophically, the part people haven't noticed yet, real money gaming is the perfect with virtual goods and social games."

Zynga already runs "Zynga Poker", which has 30 million users.

While we've been fighting over slices and betting to lose with betfair and exchanges, and have spent time talking about 30% takeout central internet betting platforms, our positioning in this market has eroded. Right now there are companies offering real money fantasy sports challenges, and kids can play video games like Madden 2012 head to head for cash, for two examples. 

But all that could be considered small potatoes when and if Zynga gets in the game. They are smart, well-funded and usually create things that capture a huge audience.

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