Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday's Here

At Saratoga, and at New York tracks' in general, handle has been up this season. Although they've had some wickedly bad press, and the politico's are heavily involved, the bad press, I believe was never really bad press as far as bettors were concerned. The message that went through early this season was twofold to punters. 1) There was a takeout reduction on exotics down to 24% (how this organization ever let it get up to 26% is shameful, but that's another story) and 2) Field size and betting opportunities should be better, which means more value. Value + value = a few more dollars in the til. New York's tagline this year is of "better racing, lower holds", is resonating.

Conversely, California struggles. The brand has suffered the last half dozen years and they can't seem to get their act together. Del Mar registered a paltry gain the last couple of weeks and other than the seaside buzz, punters seem less than thrilled with racing in that state. About five years ago the Head of Betting in Hong Kong told an Asian Gaming Conference that if they don't take measures (handles were falling, dropping to $7.7B in 2006) immediately, bettors will flee, and the nature of the horse bettor means they may never come back. They got to work, started a rebate program, lowering effective takeout and tried harder and harder to keep their bettors. Handle was over $10B this year. A lot of bettors that were married to the California brand have divorced, and it's going to take a lot to get them back, it seems, especially when instead of lowering takeout, they increased it in 2010.

We're about a month or so away from yearling sales season in Ontario and our business looks more and more screwed. I wrote that I thought yearling sales would be down 30%, on the supposition that we'd have our act together now and be promoting something to do with stakes races, and the sires program. There is nothing. How can a guy buy a yearling without knowing the minimum the sires stakes are going for? There is money in the til, there was a slush fund that has been held back. Some slots money will be churning until the end of March 2013 for 2013 purses. There is funding for it. Where is the information for horse owners, and potential horse owners heading to the sales? Uncertainty kills.

The lack of alarm in Ontario is flummoxing to me. We often complain that people don't act like they are a household; in government or big organizations and that, at times, is apropos. Let me ask you, if you were told that in one year you were going to lose your $8,000 per month job, would you continue to act like nothing happened? Would you continue to spend $7,500 a month, bring your family to London for the Olympics as planned, pick up a new Grand Cherokee because you want one, and live like nothing is going to change?  The Battle of Waterloo, the Upper Canada Cup, the sires stakes - all like nothing has happened.  Jeff Gural dropped the purse of the Meadowlands Pace $400,000 this year because that's what business does. We in Ontario seem to be living racing life like there's going to be $345 million for purses and profits next year.

Frankel goes tomorrow and he is apparently facing three horses. An article recently spoke of him, and his place in history, imploring him to face some competition.  I agree. You can only face foes like this for so long, before the natives get restless. Wayne Gretzky could've played in the WHA all his life I guess, but he made his name in the NHL, and is looked at differently for doing so. It's time to let him fly the coop if you want him to be revered for a generation or two, and not be a footnote of a horse who had a fast Timeform rating.

A young Chinese swimmer is doing some crazy things in the pool and the natives are getting restless there, too.  She's "dropping time" and "coming home like a freight train". Reading the coverage there has not been one person I saw say "she has not had a positive test so we can't say anything".  Swimming, and other sports have been down that road before, so they don't. We have too in racing, but it seems that line stays in the lexicon of racings jargon.

Have a great Tuesday folks.

Monday, July 30, 2012

NBC Does Niche Sports Right

Every time I flip on twitter someone is annoyed that NBC is tape delaying some of the events for prime time television. Columnists have joined in, and one of them has even been suspended, for tweets like this.
  • America's left coast forced to watch Olympic ceremony on SIX HOUR time delay. Disgusting money-grabbing by @NBColympics
Tape delaying is nothing new, and since money makes the world go round it's not surprising. However, I think this is a very smart move, and the ratings seem to agree.

Let's look at the sports.

Diving. The last time I dove I was 23 years old and I did a cannonball off a dock, after about five beers and a watermelon liqueur shooter. I don't know the rules of diving without a beer or a dock. Do I really need to see diving live?

Synchronized swimming. I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. I really need to see it live so I can critique the judges scores on that dolphin throw? Nope.

Swimming is on and Michael Phelps, well, he's doing something. Going for gold I guess. Look, I follow his exploits, but I have no idea what the current backstory is. I was playing the third at Mohawk when the trials were on, I don't know what hairless man with large feet can give him a run this year. I have no idea what to expect. Do I need to dart in on my Saturday morning to see it live? Nope.

What NBC and others do with niche sports is give the full back story. They tell you that so and so is up against it because she lost a finger in a woodshop accident when she was ten. They let you know that the Brits are going crazy over a young good looking kid that can dive off a board, and if he loses Fish and Chips will be mercilouslly thrown at his Chinese diving opponent.

Then there's the rules. Sheesh, I need them for the majority of these sports. What in the hell is going on with the balance beam? All I know is "fall off" is bad. I need the rules and at 9:40PM while sipping my orange juice, I get them.

That's what watching the Olympics on television is. Learning what new sports are about, getting the back story, listening to the violins, triumphing against all odds, singing the anthem after everyone slowly but surely appreciates what you've accomplished.

How do you do that live? You don't. That's why, in my opinion, people watch in prime time.

What's it have to do with horse racing?

Well, horse racing is a niche sport too. While some shows are doing it right (like Bet Night Live in Canada) by getting newbies involved by giving them contests to play, we try to be everything to everyone in one half hour or hour long show. Rules, backstories, betting, some cookie story about a horse's name. 'Let's throw everything at them and hope it sticks', seems to be the strategy.

You are going to jam everything into a live telecast of the Spiral Stakes and people are going to be enthralled? Not likely. It's a license to grab the remote.

I am not much on TV saving racing, so it doesn't matter much to me either way, I guess. But I think what NBC is doing is nothing out of the ordinary for niche sports that people watch once every couple of years. Horse racing can probably learn a thing or two from it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bally's & South Point Use Racing to "Build Excitement"

Courtesy Bally's
Do you ever read a news story and you have to think about it before deciding how you feel? I think I just did.

South Point casino has invested "millions" in Bally's iView technology, which is supposed to bring the excitement to table gaming to the slots floor. And they are using horse racing to do it:
  • The iView system, created by Bally Technologies, brings virtual horse racing to slot and video poker machines at South Point. Video screens added to the casino’s existing machines allow everybody playing to see, and potentially participate in, a horse race bonus round. Players can pick from a field of animated horses on a touch screen and win extra playing credits if their pony comes in first.
  • To engage players, the casino will trumpet “First Call” over a loudspeaker, and an announcer will call the minute-long race.
So, horse racing - the virtual kind - is being used to fuel the excitement in a bonus round at a slots parlor.

This brings up my conundrum. My bog. My enigma trap for the morning, if you will.
  • If horse racing is boring, why are they using it to stoke slot machine play?
  • If horse racing is helping slots, why aren't slot machine makers subsidized with racing revenues?
  • Why use a virtual horse race when they can use the real thing?
  • If horse racing is so exciting, why are all these people sitting at a mindless machine and not across the hall to watch the third at Beulah?
  • I thought racing was slow and slots were fast, hence we can't compete? Why are they using a minute long horse race every twenty minutes or so? 
  • Does anyone have a clue what was going on in the movie 12 Monkey's?
Sorry for the last one, I just thought I would throw that in.

I think the answers are kind of clear, despite on the surface this going against much of what we've heard, and feel about the gambling landscape.

Why are casino's using racing to help their business? Because it will work. Machines like "Wheel of Fortune" draw people to them, because of the spin of the wheel. Everyone has seen the show and can likely spell the word "Woolery". When that wheel spins, people watch, and they want to play for a shot at spinning that wheel. People know horse racing too - it's an easy game to understand, the horse who wins, wins. It can draw people to your machines, in the hopes of winning the bonus round.

Perhaps fifty years from now some may ask why racing has fallen so far down the chain. They'll wonder how the gambling sport - the sport that everyone knows, the sport who had a brand, the sport who had a monopoly - could not succeed against virtual horses. The answer will, in part, be something about innovation, testing, pricing, investment and marketing - the things Bally's and South Point do well.

When slot machines can use what racing puts on every day to generate excitement, while racing is unable to, it's probably the only answer that makes sense.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday Notes

The OHRIA report was released yesterday. The broad based thoughts give everyone a glimpse that no one really knows what's going to happen. There's two-pronged blame to go around for that, in my opinion. When the government lays down public policy that is unclear which results in the businesses affected from making a proper decision (think of the muddy health care law in the states), it's their bad. When an industry can't put forward a plan because they have to appease everyone and everything because of their dependance on the subsidy and lack of previous foresight, it's their bad.

It's not a newsflash, but every slots at racetracks deal out there is a colossal mess. Other jurisdictions have a chance to fix it, in my opinion, but all you hear is crickets. If some of those deals fail, I believe that's mostly on them.

The Hambo and Hambo Oaks elims were drawn yesterday. The highest handle day in harness racing is less than ten days away.

Best line I've heard in awhile. In response to "we can't lower takeout because our business costs too much to run" from a racetrack, a horseplayer (Thaskalos on Paceadvantage.com) said "When 90% of your operating revenue comes from slots and you don't need the takeout money to run your business, that's no excuse". He's right. Tracks and horsemen groups in slots jurisdictions don't lower takeout because they don't believe in it as a concept, not because of that lame excuse.

The Gold Cup and Saucer is getting close. I spoke with someone at Red Shores and he's working his butt off to get people out. Their on track handle last year was $210k for the cards and he is hoping for more. He's also distributing his signal far and wide this year.

Olympic testing gets a boost. Red Blood Cell count passports are being used. I wish racing did the same early in the 2000's with EPO. h/t to @keenegal

How does the thoroughbred industry stop horses that don't need lasix from getting lasix? How about carding races for non-lasix horses with a purse bump. On condition of entry you have to have a scope report from a vet that only shows minor, or no blood after a workout or race, to ensure the horse is protected. I would expect in a few years (if the purse bump is high enough) you'd see 70% of horses on the drug, not 99%.  Whether we want to believe it or not, Adam Smith was no dummy. The greatest incentive in our lifetimes regarding decision making in business is cold hard cash.

 There was a nice conversation between Sid Fernando and Caroline Betts on breakdowns yesterday on twitter.  Sid brought up the very salient point that completely absent from the discussion has been track surfaces. That's this business in a nutshell - even if something works (like poly does with breakdowns), the old guard complains so much about change it is often reversed. Then never brought up again because "we're not going down that road again"

New rules on Shock Wave Therapy (days out and being on a list) did not sit well with a horsemen dude. One line caught my eye.

"Dave Basler, the executive director of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, objected strenuously to posting publicly the names of horses that had received the treatment, arguing that ESWT shouldn’t be treated differently from any other therapy a horse receives. He also objected to the horses being placed on a veterinarian’s list."

It's our horse and no one elses! In Ontario there is a vet passport to ensure vet work is not being done on top of vet work. In Hong Kong horses vet visits are kept in a log and (heaven forbid) released to the public so bettors can see about a horses health he may be betting on, or against. It might be "our horse" but horse racing gains revenue from a) the bettors and b) the public trough, through slot money. We need people to start respecting that more, because as Ontario racing is learning - there is only one customer, and when he's gone, everyone is standing in the unemployment line.

Have a  nice Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Power of the Horse

I was looking for something on the interwebs last night and I noticed this picture of Zenyatta at Churchill Downs, in her final race. We've all (most of us I figure) have seen that race, and I think that's a marvelous picture - her losing contact with the field, the sky, what everyone was thinking at that time.

After posting it I got about five retweets and twelve or fifteen comments, most from people who don't follow me, and who I don't follow. That mare was, in my opinion, the first social media horse in racing history. She lives on today in that same vein. I believe if a Zenyatta picture is posted in ten years, the interactive result would be the same.

It got me thinking: Great athletes get us interested in a sport that we've never watched. I remember being a kid and watching Bjorn Borg battle John McEnroe for the first time - I was interested in tennis. Earl Campbell, running over linebackers like they were feathers, got me interested in football in a big way. Goose Gossage got me interested in closers in baseball, and I knew every closer of that generation like the back of my hand.

How many people were introduced to Zenyatta via Facebook, twitter, youtube and social media of all types? How many have at least watched one race since that time? I bet quite a few.

What horse was it for me? I remember succinctly: Spectacular Bid. I was too young for the other big names before him, but he was right in my wheelhouse. I remember seeing (I think it was) a Sports Illustrated cover at a friends house on the big colt, and immediately wanted to watch his next race. I did. For harness racing, coincidentally, it was the same magazine, at the same friend's house: The Mighty Niatross was on the cover.

Sports Illustrated introduced me to Bid, I liked him, and I became a fan of the Triple Crown series at a young age. Ditto with Niatross.

How were you introduced to a horse?What horse was it?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Notes

There's a stupendous card tonight at Mohawk, for fans of good horses. The gambling might not be too bad either, with all but two or three races with fewer than ten horses.

Warrawee Needy is back, with the ten post, in the three year old Breeders Championship. I highly suspect that morning line won't be hit for us, but if it is I'd be backing up the truck. I think the colt wins this easily.

The $750k Maple Leaf Trot looks to encapsulate a changing of the guard. San Pail, flat in a couple of races this year is out with an injury, and the three most talked about horses in the division are Chapter Seven, Mister Herbie and Daylon Magician - all four year olds. This is a really interesting race. Daylon Magician is better now than he was a few starts ago, Mister Herbie looks to be sounded up, and Chapter Seven, well, is Chapter Seven. This race is really cool.

The Meadowlands has a $58k Pick 6 carryover. I may wait for one more and then dive in. If you are so inclined Derrick over at DRF Harness has his ticket up.

There's going to be no Check Me Out in the Hambo. Schnittker doesn't want to compromise her, and to me this makes perfect sense. Although some folks had her ranked 1st over and over again on the Road to the Hambo, I thought (until her last start) this was reaching. Although there are no super colts, she'll have to work to be a winner, and for $750k where only Maven looks able to knock her off, she can make some money in the Oaks.

The need for speed that we're seeing from some horse's early seems to be catching up to them. This was looked at today in Harness Racing Update (page 3 pdf)

Have a nice Saturday everyone.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hopping Aboard the Lasix Train, Just Because

Do me a favor. Go up into the bar area where trainers are at a place like Woodbine, which races both harness and thoroughbred horses. Ask a question about a first time starter, or any horse really, regarding its bleeding meds.

If you speak to a harness trainer you'll likely hear time and time again:

"He scoped with a little bit of blood, but I'd rather not put him on lasix"

From the thoroughbred trainer you'll likely hear:

"He scoped with a little bit of blood so I put him on lasix"

Almost all horses of both breeds bleed a little bit at least, so why is virtually every thoroughbred on lasix but much fewer harness horses are?

I went through the entries for this weekend's big card at Mohawk. We aren't talking 2 claimers here, but the best in the sport: The 13 race card has purses totalling $2,014,000.

The $166k Breeders Championship for Fillies: 1 of 10 on Lasix, 9 of 10 without
The $159k Breeders Championship for Trotting Colts: 1 of 10 on Lasix, 9 of 10 without
The $750k Maple Leaf Trot: 2 of 10 on Lasix, 8 of 10 without

And on and on.

You can talk about the physical differences, the exertion differences and what have you. But the fact remains that harness trainers choose time and time again to leave their horses off the drug, unless it is really needed. This is likely not altruism: Racing a horse each week with the terrible weight loss with lasix is hard on their systems, and you end up having a tired worn out horse in a hurry, so it cuts down on starts/year, and your horses earnings. But thoroughbred trainers, as a matter of course - with virtually the same amount of blood showing after a work or race - choose to medicate.

A trainer once told me after someone got nabbed with a soda positive that read a huge amount: "To a lot of trainers, if a little bit of something is good, a lot of it must work better"

I think today's modern thoroughbred trainer, with horses racing so few times, wants every inch of racetrack they can get. 'If there's a little bit of blood, we better use lasix, or we're simply not trying.' The owners probably push this as well. If you were the one out of 200 trainers who didn't use lasix and your horse was racing poorly, how long before the horse is moved on you to a raceday med trainer? Likely a week. It pays to join the party.

I think that is why the sport needs policing, and I think that's why you see so many wanting to ban raceday drugs. If the raceday medicine cabinet is open, it will be used in some cases with some people, just because it's there.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

There's Giveaways & There's Bands, But There's No Substitute for the Bettor

I know we've all said it before. Until we find a way to get revenue from selling Todd Pletcher t-shirts or Zenyatta dolls en masse, this is a gambling game. Balmoral Park, through a direction change in 2009 has concentrated on growing handle by attracting people to bet, through lower takeout and better betting races. The man in charge of most of it is a bettor himself, and knows the math behind it. It's working.

Here is an edited Press release from this afternoon. Count the times you read the words or a genre of words "handle, bettor, takeout, value, horseplayer and gambling" and compare it to a press release for another track. It's eye-opening.

Balmoral Park reported surging handle growth in the first half of 2012 showing an increase of 27 per cent in handle versus the first six months of 2011. Total combined Q1 and Q2 handle of $80,909,290 for 76 programs in 2012 was an increase of $17,469,771 compared to the 2011 combined Q1 and Q2 handle of $63,439,518 on 75 programs. The nightly average at Balmoral rose to $1,064,595, an increase of $218,735 per night versus the nightly average of $845,860 in the first six months of 2011. Going back to the successful model of the 70’s and 80’s , Balmoral Park went with only 847 races on 76 nights for an average of 11.14 races per program. The theory of creating more free time for the players as a result of less races to handicap proved successful again as the average handle per race in the first six months of 2012 was a healthy $95,524. This could not be possible without the solid support of the Horseplayers of North America.

Sister track Maywood Park trended upwards as well. For the month of June, handle on the half mile track was up over 12 per cent. $6,607,151 was bet on nine programs compared to $5,875,973 on nine programs in 2011. The nightly June average of $734,127 was $81,242 higher than the June average of 652,885 in 2011. Maywood Park offers a $7,500 Guaranteed Pick Four pool on Thursdays and a $10,000 Guaranteed Pick Four pool on Fridays.

The Balmoral Park average of 35 per cent winning favorites for the first two quarters of 2012 was the lowest in harness racing, a full 7 points under the 2012 industry average of 42 per cent. The Balmoral 35% average compared favorably to the top thoroughbred tracks in the country as well. In 2012, thoroughbred winning favorite averages at the top tracks in North America were Gulfstream 34 %, Santa Anita 36%, Belmont 38% and Churchill 38% respectively. The fact that three of the major thoroughbred venues in 2012 all sported higher percentages of winning favorites is a big reason why Balmoral Park has been able to get old and new thoroughbred players interested in harness racing because of the value being offered.

 Low takeout, guaranteed pools and low minimums allowed players to last longer and gave them a much better chance to win. A four horse super box for $2.40 instead of $24 and a three horse trifecta box for $3 instead of $6 was a sure way to get newcomers to the winners circle more often and make the pools much larger which made the gambling product more attractive to bigger players. Pool sizes swelled to record numbers, creating giant payouts. The biggest payout of the year was on February 22 when the Pick 5 pool grew to $170,627. Three winners each took home $44,675.10 for their winning fifty cent wager. The Pick Five is offered on Races 2 thru 6 nightly. $1,441,061 has been wagered on this bet thru June 2012 for a nightly average of $18,961. The average 2012 payout was $3,298.82 for fifty cents.

The Ten cent High Five is offered on the final race of the night. Thru June 30, $1,549,814 was wagered on the bet for a 2012 average pool of $20,392. The average winning High Five paid $1,112.25 for a dime. Four times this year the High Five has paid over $10,000.00 for a dime. The highest payout was on January 14 when a ten cent winning ticket paid $13,599.60.

 The Pick 4 wager at Balmoral continues to produce superb results, offering a great lesson in economics. Thanks to the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative, the Horseplayers Association of North America, Track Master for the deluxe free program pages and a low takeout of 15%, the Balmoral Pick 4 has become a must play bet in North America. The largest payout of 2012 was on February 11 when a $1 winning ticket paid $22,958.80. In 2009, the Pick 4 averaged $8,827 per night with a 25% takeout. 30 months later in the first six months of 2012 the average pool rose to $32,209 with the 40% reduction in takeout. Through the second quarter of 2012, $2,447,897 was wagered on 76 Pick Fours. The average one dollar payout was $2,819.81, among the highest in Thoroughbred and Harness racing. 33 of the 76 Pick Four payouts exceeded $1,000.00 for an average of 43 per cent. Since the Guaranteed Pick Four pools were introduced in April 2011, the Balmoral Pick Four guarantees have been raised an additional five times in the last fifteen months. Free program pages are available nightly courtesy of Track Master at ustrotting.com

A Meadowlands Casino Makes Sense

One thing I like about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is that he is a comparative advantage opportunist. He knows he is next door to a high tax, high regulation state and he is constantly talking about trying to draw both business and customers from New York, for his states' benefit. It's not rocket science, it's common sense.

Today, Jeff Gural spoke about what he thinks should happen with a Meadowlands Casino - he wants one of course - and I agree with him that it's inevitable. It's inevitable because it makes perfect common sense.

Atlantic City is a destination resort, and like Las Vegas, that's its draw. A casino at the Meadowlands (or slots) would be a completely different animal. It would likely not compete too much with AC, and the benefits (their proximity to Manhattan) would bring in a new market that is not spending time driving to AC.

Having a neighbor do something that your state cannot, or having a neighbor offer a service that your state cannot can be fine if there is a barrier to travel to that state or locale. A city ban on Sunday shopping in the middle of Minnesota, where it is a day trip to another state that has it, can work for its intended benefit. But when the proximity tightens, good bye merchants in your state. Border towns go through this all the time, and there is usually a reaction of some sort, to keep commerce running smoothly.

For New Jersey the choice is simple. And I think you'll see a common sense governor embrace a common sense idea, quite soon. "Inevitably" is a good word.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Letting the Pricers Price

I've always been a little bit fascinated with racings pricing model, since it isn't something that's done by virtually anyone else.

This was looked at in this week's Thoroughbred Daily News by one of those bettor people!.

I watched the CNBC special about Costco the other night. The story looked at what exactly the business does, how it brands, how it sells, and most of all, how it keeps prices low to grow.

One part of the show focused on hot dogs. Costco sells concession foot longs for $1.50 and when asked why the price is so low the (now former) Costco co-founder and CEO Jim Sinegal said (paraphrasing):

'Most businesses will sell a hot dog for $4.75, and ask themselves if they can squeeze the price up to get five and a quarter. We see a hot dog that we can sell for $1.50, but we ask ourselves "Is there any way we can get it lower?"'

Costco - a place that you and I go for TV's or cases of soda pop - sells over $100 million dollars in cooked hot dogs. 

As we all know, Costco’s share price has almost quadrupled in the last eight years, and it wasn’t by accident. They work on a simple retail business model: Low margins are a result of low prices, but high volume is a result of low prices, too, yielding tremendous top line growth.

This week in the UK it was announced that British betting giant Betfair has agreed to pay racing, through the British Horse Racing Authority, 10.75% of their revenues from UK customers. This replaces their voluntary contribution, and they are the first betting company to strike a deal to support racing. It’s simple, it’s efficient, and according to Marcus Armytage of the Telegraph newspaper, welcomed. 

“The deal is highly significant …. because the British Horseracing Authority, Racecourse Association and Horsemen’s Group seemed joined at the hip”

To read more please see this link (page 17, PDF)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Racetrack Appeals Come From All Ages

Our industry encapsulates just about everyone on the age, economic, and gender spectrum's.

On Friday at Woodstock, a trotter, Rubaiyat, appeared to break stride before the wire, and was placed from 2nd to 3rd. This is something that happens almost each day in harness racing, and judges have to make a bang-bang decision at times, making their job difficult.

Not long after the replay, the trainer of the horse in question and others watching the replay thought it was a bad call, and the walk to the judges to ask for an appeal was done by the trainer.

This time it was not your average everyday trainer who has been around for years; the horse was trained (and owned) by seventeen year old Hannah Beckett.

According to her dad (to be clear, I do not have both sides of the story), this didn't go overly well: "She was apparently deemed to be somewhat unimportant by the judge to whom she spoke."

If that's how it went down, I don't think anyone would be overly surprised. Our industry is very tight-knit and if you are a known driver or trainer, you are likely an old acquaintance who has been through the war many times. A seventeen year old girl can be, and probably sometimes is, treated differently. 

She shouldn't be, of course.

I know Hannah and she's a pretty nice kid. She's very smart, she volunteers, she cares about her horses and she likely has a good career ahead of her, regardless of her choice.  She is as important as anyone who holds a license to train a horse. She takes the rules very seriously and treats working in this industry as a privilege, not a right.

Her right is to appeal, which is what she did (it's her first one).  It may have not gone well to begin for her, but the Ontario Racing Commission tends to do a good job in these matters at the highest levels - and they don't much care if you're seventeen or seventy. I'll let you know how the appeal goes.

Notes for a Monday:

In what is probably the last Des Smith Classic with this kind of purse, Betterthancheddar beat the game Foiled Again by a whisker.

I saw Mark MacDonald answering questions on the twitter about his drive in the Pace on Bolt the Duer. It was nice to see him answer to his strategy, and it was nice to see twitter peeps showing some respect in asking the questions. As you all know, the interwebs can really degenerate.

It may be the last Prince of Wales stakes at he Fort too, and Gene was there with pictures.

High praise I see for the Meadowlands Pace crowd size and energy on Saturday. The promo folks did a good job. The betting numbers were low (off about $500k from last year). In my opinion, it was a function of the card itself.

I'll make a prediction that the Hambo numbers will be up across the board this year.

Saratoga and Del Mar open this weekend. As players seem to gravitate more and more to the big meets, with bigger pools, I suspect they'll both have solid meets.

Vegas news via Goatzapper.com : Vegas attendance up, betting down

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Meadowlands Pace Recap & Some Fisticuffs?

Tactical blunders from trainers, horse's who aren't what they used to be, bad drives, or it is what it is and that's racing?

Maybe it was a bit of everything.

That was a fascinating Meadowlands Pace, and it was pretty frustrating for bettors.

From the rail out:

A Rock n Roll Dance - A bike change which helps when you want to show speed, a score out and a pretty solid, handy horse. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Pet Rock - A pretty sound animal, who was also scored out, showing some intent to leave. Second place.

Heston Blue Chip - He was fired up leaving hard last week, so I bet dollars to donuts the barn did not want to fire him up off the gate. That was a mistake, and they paid for it, because this horse raced really well.

Sweet Lou - He had a head nod in the post parade and he was given words of a phrase that result in the worst ROI known to man for harness bettors: "he needs a helmet". That's code speak for, "we are not sure why he isn't racing as well, so we'll try him from off the pace." If you haven't been betting this game for awhile, trust me, run when you hear those words. Having said that, Lou raced pretty well off the no chance trip.

Bolt the Duer - I handicapped him to leave. He didn't. I don't know why. It's not like it's the first time I've been wrong.

Simply Business - Didn't leave, didn't get a call.

Thinking Out Loud - Randy was thinking, and thinking pretty well. "No one is leaving, so I better get my ass in gear". I thought he could've tucked behind Brian instead of going to the three hole, but at least he left for some position in crawling fractions and gave his horse a shot.

State Treasurer - To the back, up the rail. No shot to win.

Time To Roll - Andy did not even make the gate. He went right to the back. I was sure they were going to take a shot. How can you win this race from last?

Allstar Legend - Jim Morrill, who was aggressive all night was again, and it paid off. It's not often in  a huge race you see a 99-1 shot on top and not back through the field. He came third. Well done. He gets a gold star.

What I think we saw tonight was a reflection of a few things:

You've got some very wary trainers and drivers, because horses are getting chewed and some look they may not last the year. The speed these horses have been asked for is pretty ridonkulous, and they ain't machines. As well, I think you saw some overthinking. Remember when everyone said whoa in Donato Hanover's Hambo win (he got a 58 and change half) because of a track everyone thought was closer biased (it really wasn't). I think that's what happened again.

Other notes:

There is no denying it, the card was poor for bettors. When you have a top track that's carding its best card and John Campbell and George Brennan are not even there, it spells trouble.

Googoo Gaagaa broke again. Perhaps he is sore after a few fast miles. Trotters are particularly difficult to keep sound when they go big speed.

Check Me Out showed some flash tonight, for the first time (in my opinion) this season. I didn't play her. I thought Miller's horse had some pop.

Remember last week when we talked about American Jewel not quite looking as good on the track at Pocono? I think she's not very sharp. She was beaten and had little fight. If you watch the last fifty yards, her strides are really, really short.

Despite the weird Meadowlands Pace, it was still a good betting race, and there is no denying that. Take for example if you handicapped the fact that so many would go to the back. You see Yannick and Brian score out from good posts, you take some 12-12's. Boom, you can make $25k with a modest investment.

Hurrikane King Cole again showed he's one of the fastest pacers, if not the fastest pacer of 2012. The problem with him, is that he keeps winning races with small purses.

The more I look at this crop the more I think Warrawee Needy - if they are not too hard on him - can kick everyone's ass from August 15th onwards.

Note from twitter tonight via Jody Jamieson:

That's some gossip there harness fans!

Have a great morning everyone.

One Big Issue, One Big Question

I like betting elections, and a friend asked me who I thought would win the US election later this year. I told him I have been betting Romney on dips. He asked why, and I told him, my political betting (I've bet every one since 1992), always hinges on a simple point and its worked for me. In this years case, if you get rid of all the yelling and screaming and tangential stuff about labels and such, and just put one dude's resume against the other dude's, it's not a hard bet. One guy ran businesses, has a market background, and one guy has not, and does not. The economy is the #1 issue with the mushy middle, ergo I bet the dude with the more applicable resume.

The problems at the Meadowlands over the last several years are similarly tied to one big issue, in my opinion. All the rest of the problems are noise right now, stemming from that issue. This was looked at today in HRU (on page four, pdf). To me it is stunning how places like Hong Kong, and even Ontario can address some of  their "one big issues", but the Big M can not.

There was a twitter battle last night between the New York Times' Joe Drape, and the masses. I got to doing some reading, and Sid Fernando brought up a nice end game point. It is the one big question about the one big issue.

Do you wonder like me, why the NRA stands up when someone wants to ban a gun that can shoot like 8,000 bullets a second (or whatever). It makes little common sense, in my opinion. However, they do because if the end game of their opponents is banning all guns, it is done incrementally and they don't want that to happen. I see their point, even though to me it seems silly.

Sid last night asked what the goal of the New York Times and others is, regarding the "24 horse deaths a week" they have promoted. He used the fact that Hong Kong has a death rate of about 5 per week, so double that (Hong Kong is a different animal all together) might be a very good goal.

If it was 10 per week, won't there be people still writing stories about mangled horses and maimed jockeys because 10 is too high?

What if they got it down to 5 per week, a huge improvement and better than all of the world.

I bet there will still be stories that 5 per week is barbaric. There'd likely be hearings on Capitol Hill, too.

When you see pushback against some of these New York Times stories, not all of the people pushing back are doing so out of anger, or irrational angst. Some want to see an end game- one that is an actual end game - so the sport can move forward. 

Enjoy your Saturday folks!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Time To Roll At Some Gambling

Tomorrow is the Meadowlands Pace Final (first post 6:35PM) and I figure I would throw my hat in the ring. If anyone cares to read a gambler's take, that is.

From the rail out:

1. A Rock n' Roll Dance - I think he has a good chance to win the race, but I fear the odds will not to be my liking. He has a big win on his card, and everyone saw him get locked in last time.

2. Pet Rock - I think his odds might be in my wheelhouse, but I don't think he will end up above my fair odds line. I think he'd need a lot of things to go well for him to win.

3. Heston Blue Chip - If this colt settles he would be my most likely winner. However, again, I feel he will be too overbet.

4. Sweet Lou - Like in the NA Cup (where my fair odds line was well above his board odds) I feel the same way this time. Sure he may improve in a week and be back to his North America Cup elimination form, but at his odds, there is no possible way he will be on my ticket.

5. Bolt the Duer - This guy never seems to get any respect, despite being (probably) the third or fourth fastest horse in the crop. I, like many of you, think he is just one step too slow.

6. Simply Business - He seems to have only one gear, and I can't bet one gear horses in this type of field.

7. Thinking Out Loud - He's still the top horse in this division, in my opinion, because he's fast and he can grind all day. He is no longer a sleeper, and I don't want to bet a horse from a bad post off a good line in this Final.

8. State Treasurer - He'd need a lot to go his way. Not for me.

9. Time To Roll - He has tactical speed, is fast enough and will likely be overlooked. Last week's race was an aberration for this horse, and I can see him bouncing back bigtime. If he gets ahead of Thinking Out Loud, and looks to follow Sweet Lou, Pet Rock, or A Rock n' Roll Dance, he could be dangerous at big odds.

10. Allstar Legend - Nice horse, but wow, would it be a shocker if he somehow won this race.

This Pace Final is one of the best betting ones I've seen in a long time. As you may have noticed, I am playing the odds board in this one, because there should be some decent horse's overlooked.

Good luck tomorrow, and enjoy the card.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday Was Drug Day

Here are a few thoughts on a Thursday. Since everything seemed to flow from drugs today, we'll talk about that. I didn't even watch those hearings though. I figured they'd be a lot of rehashed entrenched positioning.


I wonder why people at Congressional hearings on racing decide to take a slap at harness racing. For comparison's sake, I guess, like somehow if a horse runs, it's drug free, but oh those harness racers! Regardless, it strikes me as a weak-minded argument. Maybe it was at home in Congress. OK, that was too easy...... I apologize.

I wonder why, too, that a statement like that would even find an audience. Really, a few years ago when there was that Aranesp/EPO/DPO raid in Kentucky that found a pile of it, does anyone really think it was all for harness horses racing for $1450 purses at the Red Mile?

Speaking of raids, I wonder what happened with the DeFlorio thing. Remember:

"Aranesp, the potent form of EPO was blatantly being advertised on the Web site involved, and strong analgesics, bronchial dilators and other performance enhancers were found in the raid."

He got fined $600. I sure hope he never did anything like that again, because, yikes, that's a pretty draconian penalty.

Further, with that, and other busts, or trainers with snake venom in their fridge, or frog juice (or many other things they have no test for, or had no test for), I wonder if anyone other than me cringes when racing brings up that '99.875483621% of tests come back clean', thing again and again? I guess it plays well in the media, but gosh, that's embarrassing.

Speaking of Frog Juice, a couple of trainers today blamed it on the vets. Interestingly enough, according to them, for $103 a dude would apparently inject your horse with this concoction one hour before race time. Isn't there some sort of ban on vets giving stuff on race day? That's just in Ontario I guess. Regardless, I'm just a dumb bettor, but if some dude wanted to inject something into my horse one hour before race time for a Benjamin, I think it may be a red flag. But I'm just a dumb bettor.

I wonder if that is true and some bad vet was giving $103 shots before race time. If he did 15 horses a day, that's about $1600. This mystery man might do something for breathing or bleeding too, at maybe $200. Maybe a drench. That could be something like $5000 a day in revenue, and with vet markups, he might be pulling out $4200 profit a day. Not bad, if true.

I wonder why when talking about changing the way drugs are used in racing, some people against it bring up stuff like:

'In 1939 in racing you should have seen what kind of bad stuff was going on'

Holy moly, in 1939 some dude who wanted a race to be purified was invading Poland, in some areas beating a spouse was considered part of everyday family life, and drinking and driving was called "Friday".

I wonder: This sport is very clean for the most part, and it's not much different than any other sport or business that gives away billions a year in revenue. In addition, most everyone I know, and you know, love horses and would never do anything to hurt them. Why is it, then, when someone is caught with something bad, many participants seem to rally around the dude if he's a "nice guy", or because "he gave me a ride home once". I have never been able to figure that out. You don't hear too many say "Bernie Madoff bought me a drink once, so I hope he doesn't go to jail"

OK, enough about this crazy drug stuff.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at the M Pace (a super interesting card) and a few other things.

Have a great night everyone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More New York Times Chatter

Twitter went kind of ballistic this morning when Joe Drape's latest piece in the New York Times hit the wires. In the article, the writers looked at vet records for I'll Have Another, before he was scratched two days before the Belmont.

What they found was nothing that would not be found in many horses a week before a race. Since most horses have ailments, like humans do, they are treated for it before starts. It's not cruel, it's not illegal. It's just what's done.

I was not a fan of the article as is based on its (what I think) lack of clarity, but in my opinion it does bring up a discussion that racing can have, and should have.  How much is too much?

I read an article not long ago where a trainer was interviewed and he discussed what he did when a new horse entered his barn. "Inject everything" was his main thought. Of course, add some jugs, joint meds etc. Then he raced the horse, to try and get back all that money he put into him.

With slots money that is all made much easier nowadays. There is an economic reason to do it.

Long ago, older time horsemen would give more time to horses to heal. The meds were not as good, and time was a great healer, because you wanted to try and move your horse up the ladder, not for one or two starts before being reclaimed. It's the way owners thought as well. We didn't claim or buy a new horse to be a commodity, we bought one to try and race for awhile and see if he or she could do well. Today, partnerships even exacerbate this phenomenon, because they need to do something rarely done in racing for all of us, show a profit.

Doug O'Neill didn't do anything wrong that I saw. He just used modern vet work, and legal drugs to get a horse with some ailments ready to race. Out of the 20 starters in the Derby, for example, I bet about 18 of them did similar. It's the way the game is played today. But it makes one wonder: Should it be played this way?

The reason I don't think some of these New York Times articles are 100% hit pieces, is because other sports have evolved and gone through the same periods, with the same critiques.

I remember my stable partner relaying me a story. His father played professional football in the 1960's, and there was a lineman who was always getting hurt.

One day the coach told him:

"If you come out of the game one more time this season, you're released."

After a few plays during their next game he came back to the huddle and said he thought he hurt his leg badly. He could barely stand.

My friends father said "get off the field".

He replied, "I can't or I'll lose my job".

He stayed in the game for as long as he could, but finally, he had to come out. He had a compound fracture of his leg.

If that happened today, a lawsuit from a players association, or a New York Times article or two would certainly rule the roost. Coaches telling people to play with a broken leg or be fired would make the bounty story look tame.

Football has changed, boxing has changed, hockey has changed. Head injuries are looked at differently, you can't fight once a week like the old days if you're a boxer, equipment has changed, doctors and drugs have changed, what's allowed and what's not allowed has changed.

Many sports have evolved and have gone through many of these discussions long ago. Racing appears to have not evolved virtually at all, and it doesn't matter if "this is the way it's always been done". Discussions about patching up horses to get them sound enough to make money, might not only be inevitable, but needed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tale of Two Studs

You have to colts that won some big races. They both reached the pinnacle of the sport as sophomores, but they didn't have big names behind them. They were inexpensive yearlings, were not bred to the nines, and aren't brothers to some out-of-this-world colt or filly.

One of them had breeding farms fighting over him, and the other, well not so much.

I found it kind of surprising that I'll Have Another could not get a serious offer well over $5M for his 'services'. I guess I was equally amazed that Somebeachsomewhere got one of the biggest stud deals for a pacer that we've seen in some time - somewhere in the $10M range.

The thing is, maybe these farms know exactly what they are doing.

Somebeachsomewhere has exceeded all expectations early on with his first crop. At $10M - this colt by the Ontario sired Mach Three with no super-duper brothers or sisters - looks like a bargain. To say his offspring have his speed might be an understatement, and if someone said to you now that we might be looking at a supersire, you'd be hard pressed to argue.

It will be interesting to see how I'll Have Another pans out in the shed. But after looking at the way they handled the Beach deal, I would not be surprised if they were right on in their valuations.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Harness Racing Stakes Season Becomes A Puzzle

Last night the Meadowlands Pace elims were held - there were only two this year - and we saw a pretty curious two races. This unbelievably fast group is being whittled away a little bit (Warrawee Needy is out, and Hurrikane Kingcole was not as his best it appears), and we are seeing the "super" taken out of the word superhorse for a few pacers.

It tends to happen each year (I've relayed it several times on the blog), unless the horse is a true superhorse. The modern trainer has the screws tightened in April, and a couple of months later the horse's do not develop quite as much as people think. Sometimes they even regress.

This prompted a tweet from a bettor:
Whether that turns out to be true or not, we'll see, but there is certainly something going on.

The jury is definitely out on Sweet Lou. Apparently he trained in 49 and change last week, so the tightener excuse is out the window on that one, but he still raced like he needed one. A lot can change in a week with the modern racehorse with a modern trainer, so count him out at your own risk. But any way you slice it, on your hands and knees off cheap fractions in 149 is not a stellar effort. He was likely 8 lengths worse last night than he was as a two year old in the Breeders Crown at cold Woodbine.

I thought A Rock n' Roll Dance was good, even though Gingras noted he did not have quite as much pop as he had last week at Pocono. Who I think is the fastest horse in the division - Hurrikane Kingcole - has a no try trip, hoping to qualify. He had too far to come to make the final, and probably was not 100%.

Horses that were considered also rans a month ago, are starting to get noticed. Simply Business raced well from off the pace, and even State Treasurer (a horse some thought 10 lengths worse than the 2012 best) is in the picture off a first up effort.

In the second elim, the antithesis of the modern trainer won her elim with Heston Blue Chip. Linda Toscano is not one to care what the teletimer says, she seems devoid of muscle flexing, and she points them to big races rather well. This was the first real test for Heston Blue Chip and he passed, leaving in 26.2, and pulling pocket to win nicely. Thinking Out Loud was really good, coming home in 26 flat, and Bolt the Duer was locked and blocked with Pace.  Pet Rock - the horse who is always there but gets few headlines - was a nice third.

Who is going to win next weeks big one? Holy moly I don't know. If we are handicapping on paper and on paper only, I surmise Heston Blue Chip, A Rock n Roll Dance and Thinking Out Loud look to be the three who had some pop yesterday. But like I said, holy moly.


Googoo Gaagaa broke twice last night in the Yonkers Trot, and Hambo potential chalk Stormin Normand looked like that last tough mile took something out of him.

Game on Dude won the Hollywood Gold Cup, but he came home about as fast as a turtle stuck in a mixture of mud and mollasses.

Conversely, Mucho Macho Man won in a fast time, and looked like he is nicely on form.

Last night's Meadowlands Pace handle was short of $2 million.

The Gold Rush card at Georgian had some good racing, with over $1m in purses given out. The handle was $254,000.

I really love Daylon Magician, and I tend to like Jackie Mo. But I wonder (maybe you are too?), why does he insist winning by 7 or 10 lengths each time he races, in a fast time? Why not say "whoa" and win by one?

I was never a huge Tetrick fan early on, because I thought he made some odd decisions, but I have been of late. He leaves something in the tank, and it's marvelous to watch. That guy would win by an inch each time if he could. He along with Linda Toscano, have a real shot with Heston Blue Chip.

Mel Mara has two wins under 1:50 this year, with Luc Ouellette and Mike Lachance, the latter grabbing the colt's lifetime mark, where he likely could've went even faster. To think, the two sub 150 dudes are considered "washed up". Take some time and look at what driver holds the lifetime mark on some of your favorite horses. It may surprise you.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Meadowlands Pace Elims & Saturday Notes

Here are a few things that caught my eye this Saturday.

The Meadowlands Pace elims go tonight (next week's is the $600k final, yes $600k) and they are a puzzle. This year, unlike many others, there are no standouts up until this point, and this Final can go any number of ways, in my opinion.

In elim one, there are in-form horses, capable of 148 type miles, including Bettors Edge, Allstar Legend, State Treasurer and A Rock n Roll Dance. There are two freaky speed horses, Sweet Lou and Hurrikane Kingcole. Who shows up? It's a guess.

If we are trip handicapping, the horses who will likely show speed are All Star Legend and Sweet Lou. Hurrikane King Cole will likely head to the back, or mid pack, and A Rock n Roll Dance will want some sort of covered trip I would guess. I surmise Sweet Lou is my most likely winner, but I wouldn't be betting much if he was under 8-5.

In elim two, it's as - or even moreso interesting. I mean, you've got a horse like Heston Blue Chip that has not shown a bottom yet, and he's 9-2ML. You've got a talented horse like Bolt The Duer, who fires all the time and people consider a bit of an also ran. This crop is so deep. For good measure, this field also includes the first and second place finishers in the North America Cup, and another horse who just won by 5 in 49 for a tune-up. Wow.

I think Pierce may try Hillbilly Hanover, so I'll use him underneath in some exotics. Otherwise, it's a tough, tough race for this cat.


Crist wrote a cool column on So You Think. The horse's trainer, Aiden O'Brien said the following:

“Basically, it’s taken me a year and a half to learn how to train him properly, and up to now I’ve made a right dog’s dinner of it. What was I doing wrong? Working him too long, too often, and too hard. Yes, three big ones. “There’s loads of horses we destroy as trainers,”

I'm sure you can think of many who were compromised with crazy decisions. But you won't find many who admit it.

How good a mare was Kikikatie? She was a Real Artist, a $37k yearling purchase, and she won 19 of 31. She was a good horse. But how many of the great mares fail in the shed with records like that. She is not one of them, and she is becoming one of the more underrated production mares we've seen in awhile. Her last yearling colt just qualified in 154 and looked good. Her previous foal is Time To Roll, and she has also thrown the superfast Gram's Legacy and the nice Rockin Image.

The Betfair/BHA deal was a good one for all parties. Punters get their low rake protected, purses get some money and life goes on. That's the way it is supposed to happen.

Have a great day everyone.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

M Pace And Injuries & Sickness

One thing a horse owner does not want to hear before a big race is about lameness or sickness. Racing a lame or sick horse is right up there on the insanity scale with poking yourself in the eye with a hot stick, because not only will your horse race terrible, it can have season long ramifications.

Yesterday the Meadowlands Pace was drawn sans Warrawee Needy. He's sick, and after have a day or two of (I'm speculating) antibiotics and a lung flush at the U of Guelph, he's still not making the trip. This is a nice horse with some physical issues. They might as well get him right, because in this crop you have to be at your best. Just ask the 2-5 Sweet Lou in the North America Cup, or 3-5 Hurrikane King Cole in the Hempt.

Speaking of Hurrikane King Cole, he's in the Pace elims, despite rumors swirling he was sick too. I hate to see driver switches on a top colt, because it has some shades of panic, or at the very least, that they're looking for excuses, and 99 out of 100 times the driver has nothing to do with it. However, there is one from Tetrick To Brennan. Yawner as far as a driver change goes, if you're the type to put credence in them at the top levels.

As for the Pace itself, it's a real barnburner. I *guess* based on history and last week, Sweet Lou and Thinking Out Loud need to take money, as does A Rock n Roll Dance. But this field is so deep, it's scary.

I'm a longshot player and have been for years. A horse I think is tons better than he's showing right now is Hillbilly Hanover. I wish this was like last year, or the year before that, because if it was, I'd bet this guy at bomb odds. His brother won the Pace way back when and payed boxcars. I just don't feel he is fast enough quite yet. I will be using him on Saturday however.

Last up, it was announced that Horse of the Year San Pail will miss the Maple Leaf Trot because of a slight injury. Ever since his first start it's been my opinion he has not looked like the horse I am used to on the track. I think (pure speculation) this is something that may have been pinching him for awhile. Either way, I find it is a lesson that we need to learn in handicapping. Horses movements, their last quarters, their head tilts and gaits tell a huge story with regards to fitness and soundness. San Pail was 2 for 4 this year, and in one of the wins he was much less keen that he usually is. In the post parades he has not looked as bouncy as usual as well.

In his qualifier I read a few people mention that he always qualifies slow, so it's no big deal. Clearly that was not the case. When horses are not quite 100% they show it, and while some handicappers use rudimentary explanations like driver changes to explain bad and good efforts, in my experience, 9 times out of 10 look no further than the horse. He'll tell you how he's feeling by how he parades, how he travels and how he races.

I hope San Pail comes back good, because he is clearly a favorite horse of many, me included.

Have a great day everyone, and to my American friends, have a nice 4th.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday Notes

Here's today's pop quiz:

Which of the following is true?

a) A top sprinter tests positive in an Olympic Trial race for steroids, appeals, and is still favorite for the London Olympics 100m, where he races and wins.

b) A School Bus driver gets his second 12 hour suspension for drinking, found with an open bottle of Jack Daniels under seat of school bus while driving toddlers to kindergarten. While waiting for a trial, the school board and parents groups allow him to continue drive children to school.

c) Tour de France leader gets caught swapping his blood with a cow's in his trailer before the seventh stage. He appeals, and Tournament organizers allow him to finish the race. He wins by 84 minutes, in a record time.

d) Florida doctor gets arrested for distributing Oxy pills to people with a small scrape on their finger. Drugs turn up on streets at $30 a pill. Doctor allowed to prescribe pain killers while awaiting trial.

e) Horse Trainer is caught with positive test for a drug 40X more powerful than morphine that endangers horses, riders, the betting public, and sullies a $100B+ industry. While under appeal, the trainer is allowed to race, work with horses, and earn money.

Answer later.

Cangamble slices and dices a Watchmaker DRF article, regarding the fact that horse racings demo is "old". He's not a statistician, or a marketer, but he writes an article worthy of it. He describes "funnels" quite well, I thought.

Word via twitter is that Warrawee Needy and Hurrikane Kingcole both scoped sick last weekend. If this was an NFL injury report, I guess we could card them both as "questionable" for this weeks Meadowlands Pace.

 I love it that Hansen raced in Iowa for the Iowa Derby and is now off to Mountaineer for the West Virginia Derby. This is a really popular horse, and the owner wants to win races and bring him around to some races the big colts rarely go to. So what if he wants to go to places like this, rather than all the big Grade Is. If it affects his stud value, the owner doesn't seem to care.

There has been a lot of talk about the history of drugs in the sport of late. O_crunk tweeted this out today.
I get the same feeling when I read a lot of these pieces.

I'm out in Eastern Canada at the moment and on the weekend I went to a restaurant for some takeout. While there, I noticed the placemats had reprinted stories from the small local paper, from yesteryear and I began reading. The big story on one side of the mat was about the large hurricane that hit the area in the 1950's. In the corner of the front page, was a snippet on the harness races that day, at a small now-closed track. During the hurricane, the horsemen raced the first six races, but then the wind, the track and the weather got too bad, so they had to stop at race 6. Yes, that's about right: Racing for about $50, in a hurricane, and they were probably pissed they had to cancel before the 9th. That's old time harness racing.

Answer to the pop quiz: I suspect it's e)

Enjoy your day everyone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Does Harness Racing Need a New Triple Crown?

In literally hundreds of racing articles, both standardbred and thoroughbred, we’ve heard that racing is one of the few sports that don’t have a season. There seems to be no beginning or end, and those who say that seem to have a strong point.

However, I was doing some office work a few weeks ago and took a look at some internet traffic stats on the bellwether Daily Racing Form website (DRF.com), via Quantcast.

What we notice is a large spike in traffic and interest starting in late April, and it lasts to about late June. This coincides almost perfectly with Triple Crown. If we go back and look at years past, it’s exactly the same.  There is a season in thoroughbred racing; the fans are telling you when it begins and ends. 

If we pull up the same graphs for harness racing, whether it is website statistics, search terms, or news mentions, we do not see such a spike throughout our calendar.  Even storied races like the Little Brown Jug, Hambletonian, or other big money events like the North America Cup barely seem to register in any tangible way.

It can be argued the Triple Crown series in thoroughbred racing keeps that sport on the nation’s radar, and has for many years. Handles for the three races (and race cards) can make a track’s entire year, and it’s one of the few times that the television networks pay racing to show the races, not the other way around. 

Is harness racing missing out?

I asked some fans on Twitter if they could name the three races that comprise the Pacing Triple Crown, and only a couple of them even knew what I was talking about.  I’ve followed the sport since I was 11 years old, and I can’t honestly tell you with 100 percent accuracy where the Cane Pace will be held this year, or when exactly the Messenger will be scheduled.

“The Pacing Triple Crown is obsolete and has been for decades,” said Perretti Farms’ Bob Marks. “No one can decide what to do, if anything, and they’ve talked about it.”

In the 21st century in racing, I believe we don’t really need board meetings and votes to decide what races should be in or out of a Triple Crown, we should simply let the market decide.

The market says the $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup should be the first leg of the Triple Crown. Not only has the race been endorsed by horsemen and horse owners as the first big tilt for sophomores, it has been endorsed by fans. Over $3 million is bet annually on the card, and Woodbine Entertainment Group promotes it well. On-track attendance, since moving the event from cavernous Woodbine Racetrack to cozy Mohawk Racetrack, has swelled. Last year, just like the previous few years, I had to dodge fans on the tarmac, ensuring I didn’t spill any of my drink, which we all know is rare for our harness events.  Canada’s Score Television Network, which is available in millions of homes, televises it each year, too.

The Preakness Stakes tends to keep the buzz going for the thoroughbred Triple Crown because it is held only two weeks after the Derby. The $1 million Meadowlands Pace fits that to a “t,” and it should be our second leg.  Jeff Gural has been trying to grow the Meadowlands and perhaps the public, the media and government will take us more seriously if the Meadowlands Pace is more than a stand-alone event.  It has a big purse, it has cache, and it has a good history. In addition, punters love the Meadowlands, and earlier this decade it was not uncommon to see over $5 million bet on this race card. This is an easy choice for leg two, even if the purse has to come down over the next few years.

My final leg will be the Little Brown Jug. If you ask people outside racing to name a harness race, chances are this race will be mentioned.  The event plays well on television with heats and a final, and the huge crowd is a massive bonus for us. This enables us to leverage crowdsource and buzz; two items vital for a strong event nowadays. It’s on a half-mile track as well, which adds to the flavor. It is a unique event.

There are pluses and minuses in choosing the above three races, but when we group them together, I believe they work.

Marketer and 21st century marketing consultant Seth Godin in All Marketers are Liars researches the reasons we buy a $200 pair of sneakers that feel similar to a $50 pair, or pay $3.50 for a coffee when we can drink the same brand from a coffee pod at work for 40 cents.

Godin wrote, “Successful marketers don’t talk about features or even benefits. Instead they tell a story. A story we want to believe.”

The three races that make up our new Pacing Triple Crown tell a wonderful story; one that fits the image of harness racing and harness horses like a glove.

“Three races, three size tracks, culminating in a final leg where an iron tough harness horse struts his stuff in front of 40,000 fans in Ohio, having to win two races on the same day to be crowned champion.”

Try and top that story.

It’s been a long time since racing was a monopoly. In the old days a gym bag giveaway at Greenwood Raceway in downtown Toronto would ensure an overflow crowd. In 2012, it’s not that way at all. We need events and a story.  A new Pacing Triple Crown might help us usher in a new era, give us something to promote to the masses, and bring more fans to our wonderful sport. It’s a story that I think needs to be written.

 This article originally appeared in Harness Racing Update. To subscribe for free, please click here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Harness Gets More & More Interesting

It sure has been an interesting year so far in harness racing, and if you've been following along, there's been some high drama, and a whole lotta shakin going on.

Last night at Pocono, the three year old filly and colt pacers, and the older pacers were all in action.

American Jewel continued to impress. However, if I told you she woulda been sitting off a 54 half, with a back half of 55.2, you would tell me "Pocket, she must have won easily". That was not the case. She had to really work for it, and looked to be possibly beaten for an instant near the top of the lane. Regardless, even if not at her best, that was a nice job by a nice filly.

A Rock n Roll Dance finally showed what he can do, when at his best. The colt has not seemed to put it all together this year, but last evening he sprung beautifully off a covered trip and won in a fast time. The chalk - the mind-bogglingly fast Hurrikane Kingcole - was out of it after being first over. He is a quirky horse and all, so I guess these things are expected from him. If you're taking a short price in any of the three year old stakes so far, you're likely not doing very well. This is a fast group, and if someone has a bad night, they're going to get soundly beaten.

Last year Betterthancheddar showed early he was very fast. After a torch trip in nw2, and a race-sick the next week, he needed time to get better, and when he came back he could go with anyone. This season he has not been messed up at all, and he's carried on. He and We Will See look like the two best older pacers, and they fought it out in a good tilt last night. Foiled Again, who most of you saw as losing a step earlier this year, is no longer the king here. He's still slugging away at age 8 though, competing. Amazing horse.

Warawee Needy came second last evening at Mohawk in his comeback race. He raced okay, but probably should've won (remember, this is the horse who qualified in 149.2 in April). Jody Jamieson reported on twitter that he scoped sick, and that's pretty believable. This horse reminds me a lot of Betterthancheddar - looked like superstar, then had some bad luck/ sickness/torch job. If he gets some time to recover - like Cheddar had - he's my pick for the "September onward" big horse.

The Meadowlands Pace elims are coming up this weekend, with more questions than answers. If I was making a line I have no idea who I'd make the early chalk. The fastest horses are all coming off question marks, and the grinder types (Thinking Out Loud and RnR Dance) are in form. Bolt the Duer and Pet Rock - two consistent types - are ready to go too. As I mentioned last week, it's a great time to be a harness fan.

What I think we're seeing this year more than ever, is that with younger horses, the speed they're going is hurting them week to week. 148 is different than 149 and change, and it can be a demonstrable difference. I think by the end of this year we'll see more bounces in harness racing for pacers and trotters under the age of four, than we've ever seen before.

It's why I always hold horses like Beach in the highest regard. They went 148, and came back the next week and went 148 again. That is difficult to do.

Have a good Sunday everyone.

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