Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Horse Racing Supply Chain

Horse racing, like any other business, has a hierarchy.
  • Customers bet, which supplies purses
  • A purse is offered, which supplies horse owners
  • Horse owners need someone to care of their horse, which supplies trainers
  • Trainers need help, so they supply grooms and vets
Customers allow for horse owners, trainers, grooms, and vets to exist.

In horse racing, it's curious that this supply chain is challenged with spurious statements like "without someone to train a horse there would be no horse racing"

However, for its truth one has to look no further than Ontario and its problems. Today, John Wilkinson said, (almost befuddled he had to say it):

“No consumers, no bettors, no industry".

The industry better take heed, and press releases like this need some serious rewording. 

An Interesting Saturday, By the Bullet

Happy Easter, Easter people.

I got a chocolate bunny this morning I see,  but I will be eating chicken wings, not turkey tonight. Me and the dog are bacheloring and we ain't cooking.

However, all is not bad. Yesterday, instead of having to run errands and read a white paper on conversion rates and click attribution for Monday, I got to watch racing from 9AM until the last at the Meadowlands.

Yesterday had just about everything . I know racing is not overly popular, and if you follow it like we do, we wonder why it isn't more so. It was a sparkling day.

Here are some thoughts, bullet by bullet.

> I was going to write something  about the performances in the Florida Derby, but I was on and someone wrote mine for me. I don't disagree with virtually anything he wrote:

"I was disappointed in both Bobby and Itsmyluckday (didn't play the race). It was obvious that Bobby might decline as the distances stretched out, but he was struggling long before the race got to that point. At one point Rosie was asking and there wasn't much there. I don't buy that he couldn't relax/rate etc.. IMO he flat out regressed. Had he made a run or been in serious contention at the 1/8th pole and then gave way it would be different.

IMO, Itsmyluckyday also regressed off his recent win. This "could" be a case of a horse peaking too soon.

Orb was OK. Shug brings them along slowly. So he will probably get better, but I think this win may have been more the result of the other contenders not firing their "A" race than Orb running so well."

> Revolutionary won the Louisiana Derby, off a wide move into a glacial quarter. His Beyer should come back okay, and he looked fairly good to me. I read that one player (whom I like) thought he came back looking spent, but I liked his gallop out.

> I think Palace Malice might've won that race going away if he had room. That would've improved the Beyer of the race if nothing else.

> Dreaming of Julia won the GP Oaks by 22 lengths in a fast time. I have no real idea what to make of it for a couple of reasons. One, Live Lively, her main competition, raced her 9f in a raw time of about 153 and change, which is awful, so the margin is nothing that should amaze. Two, Pletcher horses have won with monster figs at GP (remember Quality Road's 121 in the Donn?) and we don't see it again. Maybe she'll be a superstar, who knows.

> Orb was 6-1 at Betfair yesterday, and seemingly that was probably a smart fade at anywhere near board odds. If the race played like it should, with an inside speed horse on a speed track running near their last number, he was up against it. Instead, the pace was slow, he was close, and he made the most of it, like a good horse should.

> Shug on going to the Derby with Orb:  ""I never wanted to run the wrong kind of horse because I know what the consequences would be." I don't think Shug pays much attention to the modern mindset.

> I think Orb, unless a horse like Verrazano or Vyjack wins the Wood like Pegasus, will be the Derby chalk. Players don't trust Toddster horses in the Derby, and Orb has the pedigree, connections, running style and tractability that the crowd likes in a Derby chalk. He might be this year's Street Sense.

> Barry Irwin I, on Animal Kingdom :  "I hope this horse doesn't bleed like every American told me he was going to do without Lasix."

> Barry Irwin II. Yesterday he heaped praise on jock Joel Rosario for the win with Animal Kingdom, while reminding everyone he hated the ride in his last, when Joel shot through an opening at the rail through slow fractions, obviously trying to get a tactical advantage on his main foe at Gulfstream on its inside speed favoring turf course. Irwin is like most owners and some handicappers in this game when it comes to jocks. If they win, they get praise, if they lose they get hammered, no matter whether the tactics chosen are fundamentally right or wrong. I'd give you one to nine odds that if AK backs through the field yesterday and comes sixth, Irwin says "Joel had him too close. He likes to come from off the pace. We are going to make a jockey switch for his next race"

>  Without oil, the middle east would be populated by a few animals and National Geographic film crews. Instead, $93 oil has helped make Dubai a financial center and a hub of riches. And they sure know how to throw a party. 34 seconds of that pre-race show yesterday is pretty much the entire Beulah marketing budget for a year.

> Who's hot? Graham Motion and no raceday meds. Who's cold? The "racing horses without lasix is animal cruelty" crowd.

> Animal Kingdom has taken some lumps for not winning a big race after the Derby. That, in my opinion, was unfair. He raced awesome in the Preakness, looked great off a layoff in the Breeders Cup and always fires. He did a lot of it while coming off an injury too. If he wins at Ascot, he may become the most accomplished and respected Derby champion in some time.

> Toughness and grit is probably in the eye of the beholder. Revolutionary did look like he dug back in at Fair Grounds, but he was in the final half furlong in a route race against a horse with a sprinting pedigree after all.

> Kawartha Downs had their last day yesterday, kind of. Garnet was there and reported about it in Harness Racing Update here. 

> An email, from the trenches, from a bettor who attended Kawartha's "last" day:

"Place was packed; couple thousand at least. They were parking in the mud under the hydro wires. Most were horse people, not betting. If they were gamblers there to bet they would have done 300K handle. They didn't 62K was it. I did my share about $600 thru the windows. If they had only 100 people like me handle would be the same."

> "The fact is what we need to do is get everybody’s focus back on what should drive the industry, which is the consumer,”. That was not said by an industry insider, but by a member of the Ontario Transitional Panel. This is why, I believe, bettors are not as much in tune with participants with hammering the government in Ontario for racings troubles.

Enjoy your Sunday and if you've had a lot of chocolate, you can expend some energy handicapping the mandatory payout day for the Black Gold. The pool should be monstrous.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Things You Won't Hear Said in Dubai

The Dubai World Cup card is ready to kick off. Here are some things you won't hear said at the races today......

"These short fields are killing this sport"

"I'm going to have to raise the price of oil to get these purses up"

"The casino side has to clean the floors, this place is a dump"

"What did the superfecta pay in the third?"

"We apologize to all our fans in Qatar who cannot watch the races. The horsemen group has not signed off on the simulcast agreement"

"I hate arriving early for a lasix shot"

"Jamie Ness has way too much chalk in today"

"We're concerned the races are on betfair, allowing our European friends an enjoyable betting day.  Someone might bet a horse to lose."

"An asterisk should be placed beside all the winners names. We're running on plastic"

"Pletcher might sweep the card"

"I can't handicap these races, knowing there aren't raceday meds being used."

"Horse racing is dead"

Enjoy the races everyone.

Note: Tomorrow at midnight, although the slots will keep turning, 20% of the revenues don't for horse racing. Harness Racing Update has coverage from Perry Lefko, Bill Finley and an interview with Eric Poteck (pdf).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Reporting from Ontario, Happy Friday!

Hello racing fans. I hope you are having a good morning this morning.

Did anyone watch the horse racing motion live on the floor of the Ontario legislature yesterday? If you missed it, I will summarize:

The Conservatives think the Liberals suck, and so do the NDP. That partnership didn't last long because the NDP also think the Conservatives suck, and with the Conservatives, the feeling is mutual towards the NDP. The Liberals sat around looking fairly smug, and it appears they don't like the other two parties either. All three parties have well dressed, presentable members, even the NDP, but they all act like they're 11 (some act 12 or 13) towards each other.

It was fun to watch democracy at work, and realize that these people are in charge of a $600B economy.

In the end, a motion was passed in favor of horse racing, which turns out means nothing, because it was a symbolic non-binding motion.

So, to sum up, the Legislature was in session, tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent for the session, and nothing happened. For a replay of the event, no need to scour the interweb, just pop over to your friendly neighborhood Chuck E Cheese and throw a pizza on the floor.

Now, on to more serious issues. Darryl Kaplan tweeted it best yesterday regarding Ontario:

Darryl is right. That right there is the new paradigm: The growth of the customer, innovation in products and distribution, tourism and being part of the gaming sector with the rest of the gaming sector, all led by the "Alliance" which may end up being a defacto-commissioner's office.  The sooner we start working with those ideals and structure in mind - and purge the contentious relationship between horse racing factions from the system - the sooner the industry can get ahead. If you're part of the old guard who only understands the old way of doing things, you're going to be part of the problem, not the solution.

What a weekend of racing for the thoroughbreds. The Dubai World Cup, the Florida Derby, the Louisiana Derby. People often say horse racing is boring, and sure they have a point because animals can't talk like Tiger Woods can, but if you like the sport and don't like this weekend, you're from another planet.

HANA Harness announced a Grand Circuit handicapping challenge yesterday. If anyone is interested to see some handicapping and possible free PP's etc for harness racing's biggest races, that's the spot.

Allan reported 16% of Pennsylvania purses come from pari-mutuel handle. That is not sustainable in the least, obviously.  Drop rake, sink more money into the customer, do whatever you have to do to get that number up, because as Ontario showed, it can go away in less than an instant.

If horse racing had a commissioner would he not mandate any slots track to have Trakus and HD pictures? More cameras, more TV innovation? If I was, I would. There's no excuse for hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of millions to just go into a purse.

This might be a sad story. Long ago, growing up, Sid Fernando had a friend he played with. They'd pitch the ball, hit the malt shop, talk about girls, learn to drive, play sports, build snow forts and have sleepovers together. Then they grew apart. And Sid cannot find his pal. He has been relegated to aimlessly call for him on twitter, almost each day, like a bear cub calling for his mother. It's heartbreaking.

If you see Dave, please tell him to call Sid.

Have a great Friday everyone!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ontario News, Go For Soda & Wednesday Notes

Good morning racing fans!

In Ontario more transitional funding deals were completed, this time with Flamboro, Georgian and Fort Erie. All three might be surprising to some (I expected Fort Erie to race, but with the horsemen, tracks and White Knight of some sort pulling together $5M or so, not the government), but I think we've seen a pretty stout shift in the government's view.

Earlier this year they seemed to be focused on making racing "sustainable" with a plan, which was welcomed (I use that term loosely of course). It appeared the province would have six or seven workable tracks in 2013, spending time and (transitional) money trying to set the table for growth when the transitional money ran out. If there are going to be six tracks racing in three years, the first three with transitional funding should be a trial run of that. Instead we might have twice that amount racing in '13.

I am not sure this is great for racing in the Province in the long term. In New Jersey, the last year of casino money was used to prop up the tracks, then when it ran out, the Meadowlands was about to shut and Monmouth had to be sold to horsemen. If the Province and handle is only going to be able to support six tracks on its own in the long term, why do we have twelve or fourteen? With transitional money to places like the above, it seems they've moved to doing what government's do best - spreading the money around and politicking - hoping everyone puts a sock in it. It helps them, I think, but it doesn't help racing come to grips with what it has to do long term to survive when the taps are shut off, and we're back down to five or six tracks.

Shifting gears slightly, the more I read about testing and positives in other jurisdictions, the more I believe Ontario and the ORC (and to some extent Woodbine) should take a bow. In Florida, Jamie Ness just received a high TCO2 test and will be sent to the detention barn. Tampa Bay Downs tests for soda in house. Reading the comments section, vets are running around (seemingly) everywhere treating horses on raceday.

In Ontario the regulator took this stuff seriously. D barns were set up at Woodbine's direction and other Ontario tracks followed suit for big races. Out of competition testing was implemented and it worked, catching some with EPO. The ORC passed "no treatment on raceday" directives long ago, suspended vets and so on. They were also the first regulator to pass mandatory necropsy's if horses have died, and made trainers keep a vet passport too. They took their job seriously.

With slots ending and Ontario racing facing an implosion, the little lost fact of it is that this province has the best program for horse safety and drugs in North America, in my opinion. Other jurisdictions can learn a lot from Ontario, regarding the use of slot money for the long term health of the sport, and regulation.


We spoke about how trainers are very open for the most part with their horses in harness racing, and how the new Meadowlands initiaitve of asking them how their horse is off time off is a good thing. A trainer who does not mind sharing his horse's health in the runner game with the masses is Kenny McPeek:
Baconater made a funny today. Dale Romans, who has been a lasix advocate for horse safety and doing right by the horse, says he is going to race more overseas, where there is no lasix:
HANA and Derby Wars announce their second annual challenge. $10,000 is up for grabs. I am playing so feel free to take my money. But don't brag about it, money of mine seemingly gets taken most days lately! Also, HANA expects to have their updated track ratings out soon too, which most find a good resource on pool size, field size and takeout rates. Those things are rarely published by the industry for bettors to use.

The Big M is increasing purses for younger horses. That is a step in the right direction. This past weekend in Harness Racing Update (page 3, pdf), much was written on the harness stakes season, and how it could be better with a grading system, and structuring stakes with a "big tent" not a small tent feel.

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Dope On D Barns & Tuesday Notes

There is some chatter scurrying around the Interwebs and email that there is a suspected push for a detention barn by some for the upcoming Santa Anita Derby. I don't know how accurate or not that is, but from harness racing's experience with them, we have learned quite a lot about surveillance barns.

Detention barns - security barns where the horses for the upcoming race are housed for 24 to 72 hours - have been used by harness racing for many years for their big races. They were also extensively used at Woodbine for claiming races, and when a trainer (thoroughbred or harness) comes off a positive test.

D barns are not symbolic, or just used for public relations like some think. Those of us who've had horses in them for years had quite the chuckle when a trainer was caught with "Air Power" before the Wood Memorial a few years ago in D. At Woodbine's D barn no one I know even brings a can of Diet Coke in it. Security is good and these barns are serious.

Being a bettor I keep statistics looking for a betting edge and I found several by monitoring trainer patterns in detention. What ended up being pretty clear was that most trainers were just fine having their horses monitored pre-race, but some were not. The latter's horses, on average, could be anywhere from an approximate 2 to 5 lengths slower than when they were allowed to ship in at post time. (note: Nick Kling on twitter spoke of a similar experience at NYRA)

Some trainers would try to blame their horse's bad performances while monitored in the detention barn on them being "higher strung", but statistically that did not wash. First, some horses would race many times in retention and I can't remember even one who raced terrible in "D" their careers. Some trainers win percentage would actually improve over a statistically valid sample, too. As well, high strung horses are a random variable, and they can't be (by simple math) concentrated in one or two barns. This is kind of like the "natural high readers" for TCO2 tests we'd hear so much about, where one trainer would have several milkshake positives, while other trainers, some with thousands of starts and post race tests would have none. How can these random high readers all be in the same barn? It's probably statistically impossible, or at the very least, a trillion to one or more chance.

Many trainers liked detention barns and they still do in harness racing. They are likely not treating their horse before post time with anything (as they are supposed to) and feel others may not be doing the same thing pre-race. They feel detention barns give them a level playing field. I don't blame them for thinking that, whether it's correct or incorrect. When we hear of frog venom given four hours before a race, or any number of other things, it naturally makes one wary of their neighbor.

If this goes ahead for the SA Derby and any trainer wants some security barn tips for making your horse feel at home, give your local harness trainer a call. To him or her these barns are second nature. And remember - leave the Air Power at home.


Calidescopio, last years Breeders Cup Marathon champ, raced Saturday with a repaired quartercrack. The hoof injury was deemed minor and the horse raced, coming a listless fifth. I don't think anyone can blame the trainer for entering - he knows his horse and if he thought it was fine that's what he gets paid for. What was a little odd was the dissemination of that information. Some people heard about it, some didn't. I really like what the Meadowlands is doing with their layoff information of late. Thoroughbred racing can't even seem to report first time geldings properly and it shows, perhaps, just how far down the $10B betting market is on their importance totem pole.

Eric Cherry, manager of the VIP Internet stables wrote this today:
  •  Let's not forget that takeout is a FEE! We don't pay our bills in percentages, we pay them in dollars. It costs the same to put on our show, the races, no matter how much is bet. Our main concern should be how much money is available to convert into purses and not the percentage of takeout!
Bill Finley says "suspensions don't work", and he is probably right. Even on the small scale they don't. In 1980 a top driver made $80,000 a year and would get about a $200 fine for feet out of the stirrups. Now a top driver can make ten times a much; and his fine? $200.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Takeout Rates & Bets for $20B Handles? I Think So

We discuss takeout rates here quite a bit, and we have for some time. There certainly is a sweet spot for takeout rates - just like there are for any other gambling game - which maximizes revenues for racing, and as a result increases bettor participation in the sport.

As we know, there is more to it: Any change has to pass horsemen groups and others who only know high takeout, and think any reduction will mean "less money". It's, like a lot of things, political rather than math or science based.

As well, we probably have not maximized different types of bets, like exchange wagering or lottery bets, which could help sell horse racing to other gamblers.  That seems pie in the sky too.

Regardless, here are some levels for each bet, and type of bet, which I think can make horse racing a more popular gambling game again. Of note, these rates are meant to be workable. This might be a politically appealing enough mix where it has, say, a 0.1% chance of getting passed, rather than a 0% chance.

Win, Place, Show : 6%

When we eat at a restaurant we look at the prices and they can help us decide what to order. The tote board is racings restaurant menu. When you see a board with lower takeout, you are advertising value to the masses. This is very important to any sport or game. A football game with a -1+1, -150 line is not appealing, and when racing, for example, has a match race with two horses at 3-5 each it is not very appealing either. You don't have to be a mathematical genius to realize you are getting a coin flip bet, at terrible odds. A low rake tote board let's everyone know you are open for business, it allows bettors to churn more money. It also allows (along with low take two horse exotics) for racing to say "our game is beatable" to sports bettors and poker players (see comments of sports bettors here, for what I mean). Because the WPS pools are a smaller and smaller component of total betting, 6% is about right. I have never, in all my dealings with racing, understood why they have high WPS takeout. It used to be 5%. It should've stayed there.

Ex and Daily Double: 8%

Two horse bets should have churnable takeout as well. People will bet more and get a bit more back. A player who bets WPS at 6 points and DD's and ex's at 8 points can become a serious player and churn millions into the pools. Casual fans can give it a go too.

Trifectas : 13% (50 cent or less minimums, can be slightly higher with $1 minimums)

With short fields and low bet increments, a 13% takeout for tris should suffice to maximize handles. Rebated players can currently get lower take than this at most tracks, but I think one can make a go of it at this level.

Supers and Pick 4's: 15%

With ten cent bets this might not be optimal for supers, as low denominations make this a tougher bet to beat, but I bet it's close. As for pick 4's there is plenty of value to be had with $1 mins at 15 points.

Pick 6: 20%

There's nothing wrong with a higher rake on a $2 minimum pick 6 pool. Tracks and ADW's can use a little of the juice to offer rebates, and for the love of gosh, small players shouldn't be wasting their money anyway, unless it's in a partnership for pure fun.

Rainbow 6, Super High Five: 25%

With big pools and a low hit rate, 25% is not a terrible rake, even though my low takeout friends will hate me for this. Racing needs to make some money off the rake if lower takeout is offered in high churn areas, and it makes much more sense to make it off of these type bets. Casual players will not become, or stay race fans and bettors if these bets are 10% takeout or 25% takeout. The "Scoop Six" in Britain is 25-30% takeout and it works. Field size has to be large to make a pick 6 at this takeout bettable.

Lottery Bet, Like a V75: 30% 

A lottery bet, like the V75 should've been created something like ten years ago. The bet, which is alive and well in Sweden, yields upwards of $10 million per week of handle, and it's become a staple for horse racing. The Swedish GDP is no larger than the GDP of Ontario or Pennsylvania, so any lottery bet in North America could dwarf those handles. This takeout can be high (a power ball takeout can be high, whereas scratch and win tickets need to be lower), and some of it can be reinvested to marketing the bet.

The power of a pick "n" bet with a distribution channel can recreate the sport of horse racing. Can you imagine, even if a couple of jurisdictions allowed it, and they added regular ADW and at the track players, what handle might be per week? In addition, what about a pick "n" lotto bet for Derby Day? 15 million viewers and millions of bettors worldwide could provide such a bet with one hundred million or more in handle if it was a staple like the V75 in Sweden is, in my opinion. Instead of showing just the red carpet, racing would show some of the pick "n" races and promote the bet. It could rebrand racing to the masses as a gambling game.


With the above we have an enticing betting mix, that provides horse racing with a much needed boost, attacking many of the issues that the $1 trillion or so gambling market hold dear.

With low takeout two horse exotics and win pools, we "That 70's Show" racing, where the tracks of the 1970's did not have supers, or pick 6's and churn was possible. If you are a player who cares about making money, this allows you to have a chance.

If you're a poker player, who like in the linked article above said "when you see a 4-1 and a 7-2 double pay $26.50 do you think horses are worth playing" you have a better payoff.

If you are the player who above said "Horse racing just seems impossible to beat. I'll throw a few bucks down on the big races sometimes, but, it's just for fun and I don't really expect to win. I'd love to see someone have a great day at the track. Like "Trotter" in the movie Let it Ride. But, that seems like great fiction." - it might not be fiction.

As well, we dynamically price exotics and super exotics, to try and bring in more money for purses and profits. The rebate system can still function of course, and the reselling system is not affected. Hitting or not hitting a $47,000 pick six rather than a $51,000 one because of lower takeout will not change the culture or grow, or hurt the game. That takeout is probably fine where it is.

The kicker of course, is the creation of the lottery bet to attack yet another demographic - the lottery player. This is not pie in the sky. Within two years it will likely be functioning in Ontario with the new Ontario Lottery Corporation/Horse Racing partnership.

This system attacks three important segments who are not playing racing, or playing it as much as they should. Handle would likely improve.

In places like Australia and Kentucky the commission or state sets a max takeout so tracks do not cheat. This of course would have to happen here. One track could not set their rates like the above on an island because this would never work if only one track did it. It would have to be industry wide. Remember, if it is not mandated, we have what happened over the last 100 years. In 1907 when takeouts were 5% there was no one to say no when someone wanted to raise it. A century later takeout has increased by over 400%.

In the end I guess it's not really applicable. I doubt we'd ever see anything like this implemented. The business is too far gone to make any collective decision. Regardless, from being a gambling geek and attending and presenting at conferences over the years, I find the above a pretty decent mix that could grow the sport. At Pull the Pocket Raceway, we'd make it so.

Have a nice day everyone.

A Fun and Interesting Weekend of Racing

The weather is warming up, and so is horse racing. OK, horse racing is warming up.

Yesterday, Turfway put on a great day of racing, culminating with Black Onyx's win in the Vinery, Horseshoe Casino of Cincinnati Spiral Stakes. Also on the card was Crop Report, who wins a race each time I call him "too slow" on twitter.

I don't think I learned too much yesterday, did you? Uncaptured probably had a nice prep off time, the Spiral winner looked fine and seems to be an improving turf type. Crop Report looks like he'll have a nice career racing in those 14 furlong turf races we see a few times a year.  Did anything catch your eye otherwise?

Today's prep race is the Sunland Derby. Before you laugh hysterically and ask where Sunland is, remember Mine That Bird won there a few years ago for his Derby prep. Sunland is a fun racetrack to watch and bet. I'll probably have a look at the PP's later.

The Levy Series took off last night at Yonkers. Brian Sears won with Razzle Dazzle, who many of you bet off the qualifier last week, only to have him locked and loaded. Nine year old Foiled Again lost his debut, but he looked just fine.

Statesman, the recent purchase from downunder impresses the heck out of me. He won the 12th last night at the Meadowlands at 3-5. He only made $90,000 in Australia, and maybe he's not much, but he moves beautifully on the racetrack and has a wicked kick. I'd like to see more Christian Cullen's here - if that horse is any indication, he sires some great gaited animals.

I don't think anyone is going to miss the end of the Big A meet. Short fields, pretty poor racing. To think one year ago people were absolutely giddy with the increase in purses from slots. The industry has to wake up. Slots money adding to purses is not the be all and end all.

If you chat with me on twitter you know I've been waiting for Sky Tantrum to be in a spot to take a poke at him. Last night - off a vet scratch - might've not been that time, but at 20-1 why not? All he did was race from an impossible spot, go four wide and fall short by about three quarters of a length. That was a heartbreaker. Like most live horses in harness racing (with replays and the like) he'll be 7-5 next week and you'll have to bet someone else.

I was looking at the driver stats at various tracks and I think George Brennan needs to fire up the "Free Lou Pena" t shirt printing press. This is a trainers game and without stock, great drivers can look like crap and okay drivers can look like the second coming of Joe O'Brien. I'd personally love to see Lou, if he comes back, use Robert DiNozzi on his stock. I bet Bob would win at about 20%.

Harness racing stakes season needs a massive overhaul. Horse of the Year candidates can race in overnight sires stakes,  the top races has horse after horse skipping them, looking for easier money, and if you buy a colt or filly that isn't the top of the crop, you're fighting for scraps in most races.

In HRU, (page three) this was discussed this week:
  • Grade I’s need to be scheduled and structured so the purses are high enough to make these great horses pass over other stakes, and they need to be spaced out so that our horse’s are not pushed too hard. A season for a top colt might be a Hempt to start, a North America Cup, followed by the Meadowlands Pace, Battle of the Brandywine, Adios, Jug, Tattersalls and Breeders Crown.  With slots in Ohio, and possibly with Yonkers changing the Rooney, a couple of others might be added to the mix. Dover might be able to offer a Grade I late in the year as well if they combined their two big stakes. Racing needs to ensure the purses are high enough and the prestige is high enough to encourage participation. If you want to win a stud lottery, or to be honored at the end of the year, your horse should be good enough to win four or five of those Grade I races.

    Have a nice day everyone!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Turfway's Big Day

One of the tracks I enjoy playing is Turfway Park. I like the surface and at times the deeper fields provide with some good payoffs. Their pick 4 is good value for casual players, because their payoffs are high, with a very low takeout.

Today is their signature day - headlined by the Spiral Stakes, which looks like a handicapping juggernaut.

For those playing today, here are some notes:

The inside is a little less effective than mid to outer:

The track has been speed friendly:

However, if the pace is fast, the closers can close. We might see this in a couple of the deep field races today.

In the Spiral I think  My Name Is Michael may be worth it if the odds comply. Others I will use, who are long, are Giant Finish and Black Onyx. The first two have run good figs already on the poly and the latter is improving. All should be some odds.

In the last leg of the pick 5 Cup of Joy is a top fig horse who is 8-1 morning line. El Gran Sol has a step up trainer who can shock at anytime.

I'll go deep in the 8th, just because everyone seems so enamored with Crop Report.

In the 9th, you're looking at a key or a spread I guess. For the spread I am intrigued with Martha's Moon and Awesome Mama. In a lesser way I will use Corporate Culture.

Enjoy your day today everyone, and good luck at the windows.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Finley Let's Loose About Rebates & the Juice

In HRU, Bill Finley let fly on Joe Faraldo's criticism of the Meadowlands rebate program, calling the New York Horsemen group head's math "all wrong".
  •  So what was Faraldo thinking when he penned an incendiary column the other day criticizing what
    he called "cartel wagering" at the Meadowlands? Was his calculator on the fritz? The handle from the player didn't triple. It increased by 700 percent
He then goes on to talk about lower rake:
  •  The primary reason why betting on race horses is not more popular is because the takeout is so enormous that, really, no one can win. There just aren't enough people out there willing to consistently lose their shirts, especially when every other gambling game but the lottery offers fairer odds. By
    giving the player a rebate you are essentially reducing the takeout and making the game beatable.
We've discussed the topic here for many years so there's no need to rehash all the sordid details. However, just as a note, a 700% increase in handle is something the industry or non-bettors tend to think is hyperbole, or an exaggeration. It is not. The power of lower rake is absolutely amazing, if you've ever been a serious player.

I remember back in 2008, talking about Ontario and how (when slots were introduced and the 7% parimutel tax was taken off wagering pools) they blew it not giving that 7% back as a rebate, or takeout reduction.

I harken back to a friend of a friend who posted this in in the comments section of that takeout article:
  • Because of a rebate I found a way to make place bets profitable. I wound up with a 3.2% loss, but a rebate of 7%. It actually was a rebate of 6.2% as they did not give a rebate on 2.20 horses. Now the kicker is, I went from betting about 30 to 50k to 1.3 million that year. It made the churn factor possible. If takeout is lowered it may have the same affect. 
Vic had an approximate 2600% increase in handle by getting some juice back.

We need more people upping their handles by 2600% or 700% like those two people did.

Why does the industry cling to higher prices which results in lower handle and fewer people enjoying the sport of racing and the fine art of handicapping? I honestly don't know. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Change! And Other Notes

Hello horse racing fans!

Let's say at Pull the Pocket Downs I had a bet customers really liked. They bet into it in droves. It upped the handle in the races it was offered and it was one of the better bets around. It also gave a spark of goodwill because takeout was raised a couple of years beforehand. I would not want to touch it, would I?

Rumor had it the horsemen group in California wanted to up the rake on their pick 5, and/or not give the track a fair share of it, whereby the bet might be pulled off the menu. Apparently that either was not true, or they came to their senses because the pick 5 rake will remain at 14%.  

There was an interesting article by Godin today about communities, or his coined phrase "tribes". He says we do not but in front of a line, or grab seconds at a church dinner, because we're part of it. Meanwhile, a lot of people won't report an undercharge from a bank because well, they're a bank.
  •  When we steal or disrupt or game the system of a community we care about, we hurt everyone we say we're connected to, and thus hurt ourselves.
Racing, like most things, have tribes, but at times those tribes either infight where we don't like them, they mess around with each other, or (if you're a customer) you feel no one is looking out for you. We should be a "tribe". We like to think of ourselves as one, but we're not.

This is why I believe, customers balk when a track says:

"Bet at the windows while at the track please because our horsemen get more money"

They say "your horsemen group just raised takeout on me, why should I care?"

Or maybe when a commission says you should not use that vet or move to a "grey area of ethics", a horsemen might say:

"You gave that trainer a month off who was beating my brains in by milkshaking his horses every start. Why shouldn't I join him? I can't beat him."

It's nice to think of we in horse racing as a "tribe". But I don't think that's reality. It's sad, because this is a great sport filled with great people for the most part.

Speaking of "tribes", yesterday we saw a press release from the head of a New York horsemen group, talking about (and not in a nice way) a New Jersey racetrack's business.  Today, the Meadowlands and the New Jersey Horsemen Group head said, kind of politely I guess, get out of our business. 
  •  .... the S.B.O.A.N.J. and it's leader, Tom Luchento had this to say: "The Meadowlands Racetrack and the SBOANJ have an outstanding relationship. We support each other in everything we do. The Meadowlands Racetrack is an industry leader in moving this sport in the right direction and utilizing new ideas to make The Meadowlands successful. The idea that the management at the Meadowlands and Jeff Gural would ever do something that would harm the horsemen of New Jersey is utterly ridiculous and offensive to both The Meadowlands and the horsemen of New Jersey.”
I guess it was good they responded, because Faraldo did talk about payoffs at the Swamp, but they probably didn't have to. From what I read on twitter and elsewhere, Faraldo's press release wasn't going over very well with the masses.

Other parts of the world do things a little different than we do. In Britain, the gambling part of the sport has had a long and storied history. For example, bookmakers run the win markets, and bettors can usually get some nice odds on likely winners, with takeouts as low as 5% or 6%. Of course, betfair and other exchanges offer punters myriad advantages. It's a true supply and demand betting market, and has been for centuries. This is probably a good reason why Britain bets $18 billion or so a year on racing and why if a horsemen group ever went to a bookie convention and asked to raise the juice "to make more money", they'd probably pelt them with fish and chips.

With other items like scheduling post times, sponsorships, targeted race meets and the like they're pretty good too.

Today, (hat tip to @keenegal) we see they do things differently in the commissioners office as well. They grant private farms, individuals and others who are trying to do something positive for racing money. This allows the private sector to hopefully move the sport forward.

We're seeing politics at its finest (worst?) in Ontario of late. It looks like there will be a private members bill with the Conservative's and Socialist's joining forces put on the docket before April 1st. The hope is that somehow the government will put the modernization plan on hold. I think it's a crock of you know what. We have two minority parties trolling for votes. If anyone out there thinks either of the other parties would be doing much different with a ballooning deficit, I've got a horse to sell them, cheap, who's gonna win the Travers. Honest.

I advance bet a couple of races today, and I think I've made better bets. One horse looked so lame she could barely catch the field. The other, who I bet at 20-1 handicapping an early lead and a good chance in a cheap field, did exactly that. Unfortunately he blew the turn and ended up in the east end parking lot.

Happy March Madness! My pick to win it all is Houston, because I like Hakeem and Clyde. Quite the team!!! I don't really follow college basketball - I have enough trouble following racing and working. However, since I saw a preview on the Wall Street Journal, I am going to cheer for Saint Louis. Go Saint Louis! (I'd say their full name, but I have no idea what it is.)

Enjoy your Thursday everyone!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meadowlands Continues to Experiment With Customer-Centric Initiatives

This week the Meadowlands announced they were taking yet another step to cater to the customer base.

“The Meadowlands Racetrack announced that its past performance programs will now include enhanced information on horses showing no race lines for three weeks or more.

In the comment section for each race, those horses with 21 days or more away from racing will have some explanation of the reason for the inactivity and remarks on their level of preparedness for the upcoming race, provided by the trainer. Much like an NFL 'team report' that indicates why a player missed practice or a game, this report will provide bettors with a little more information that they would not normally find in the past performances.”

This is one small step to help customers understand the readiness of a horse and allowing them to make better handicapping decisions. It also goes a long way into helping shed light that horses are not machines, and that our participants have to work through myriad issues to ensure they are ready to go.

Although this seems new, it really isn’t. In Hong Kong if a horse is off, or races poorly, on condition of entry the stewards demand a full vet report. This report is then placed on the Jockey Club website and in the racing program. If your horse was eased and lost by 30, the public knows the horse scoped with sickness. The horse is then scoped again by the vets after it’s cleared up, and reported to the stewards he’s clean. This too is reported to bettors via a website and the racing program.

Betfair in the UK was one of the first companies to hire trainers and jockeys to blog their thoughts on their charges. It’s worked fairly well, and some of the top trainers in the sport have been more than happy to oblige.

Why does it work so well? Because when it comes to their charges chances the people in this sport are for the most part completely honest. I’ll type that again, because the racing press often reports the opposite: The people in this sport are for the most part completely honest. 

I, like many of you, hang around a paddock time and time again. I’ll talk to a trainer or a groom or the driver and ask them about their horse.

“He was a little sick and he might need a trip in here, but he has a shot”

“I think she should be good in here this week. He’s been kicking down the barn”

“He warmed up on one line, so I don’t know how it’s going to go. But he fits in here.”

“Not much speed in here and I think he can make front. He’s got a big shot”

Invariably all of those things are completely honest. Invariably there are six or seven sets of connections in the paddock for the exact same race who think their horse has a good chance and are trying (and hoping) for a win. If their horse races any differently as they’ve told you, they are as surprised as you and I may be.
We see this over and over again with paddock reports. 

Wendy Ross was talking to Nick Surick at the Meadowlands last week. He had a horse in the last race that had a bit of a quarter crack and was off for two weeks, vet scratched. 

Nick reported that problem to everyone and said (paraphrasing) “I trained him up good and I think we have a good shot in there. We’ll be charging”

The horse raced really well. Any handicapper in the world would’ve probably thought about putting a line through him, but Nick’s reporting helped. If Nick was trying to catch odds and cash a bet, he sure isn’t very smart about it.

When we are open about the above we let customers, potential horse owners, and the general fan into the sport. We go “inside baseball” and it is a tremendously interesting part of racing. The races are not pre-determined, they’re races with many variables. We should never run away from being open. 

We also see much of this on twitter. One of the best drivers tweeting is none other than Yannick Gingras, the leading driver at the Meadowlands.  He regularly shares his thoughts on whom he thinks is live or not live. He took tremendous pride on twitter the other day when three of his best bets all won:

Yannick also chats with trainer Ron Burke and some fans on twitter too, sharing more insight into the game. English is not even the man’s first language, but there he is. Bless him, I can barely spell “cheval”. 

Not every one of his tweets works out exactly as he states, and he can’t be expected to answer everyone at all times, but he states them, tries and is honest about it. That has resonated with his followers, from what I’ve seen.

Of course there is a different opinion about being open, and that’s what happens when a person gives the Meadowlands, for example, false information in these reports. 

I really don’t think that will happen and if it does it will likely be rectified in a hurry. 

First, if someone wanted to mislead someone about something with their entry, it would’ve happened many times already. They would’ve already exposed it in a paddock interview or pre-race chat. Can you think of any time that’s happened out of the thousands upon thousands of interviews? I can’t. 

Second, if a trainer really wanted to put something over on someone, and give false information, I think it’s great. Please do it. If he does it once, he’ll get a call from Gural. If he does it twice he’ll probably be exposed for what he is: Someone we don’t want around. Go race somewhere else.

This is what happens with Betfair in the UK. Recently, some less than honest participants were betting their horse to lose, just like they’ve probably done hundreds of times in the tote system. But when you do it on Betfair, there’s an electronic trail. Now they are uncovered, and kicked out. Betfair is the bait car for corrupt participants.

Regardless, trainers and drivers have been doing paddock interviews for some time now. Even if one of their horse’s races differently as they reported, the public has for the most part understood. 

Having said that, the onus is on the trainers – many of you who read this publication – to do the very best regarding this new Meadowlands initiative. You’re a vital part of marketing the sport of racing. 

Listening to customers and respecting the betting base are good things. With policies like the above, bettors not only get respected, they get to see the people behind this sport much more clearly and openly. When that happens, the sport can’t help but win.

This article originally appeared in Harness Racing Update. You can subscribe for free here.

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