Friday, May 31, 2013

Racing's Pricing Evolution

Good morning everyone in racing land!

Bill Finley, fresh off his Sweden trip, dishes on Grand River's lower takeout plan in Ontario (pdf). Bill makes some excellent points, not the least of which is that in simulcast land, smaller tracks with small pools have a tough time making lower rakes work.

Pricing has evolved in racing over the last fifteen years. We've gone through several iterations.

For those who don't follow it like gambling geeks do, here's a summary.

First, was the 'no reduction in price, anywhere anytime; we are still a monopoly and no one cares about price' phase. This was when you'd hear things like 'pricing does not matter because I walked the grandstand and people don't even know what takeout is'. Near this time, slots were introduced to several jurisdictions, where all money went to purses and profits, with nothing to the customer. The customer did not matter in this phase, because they'd bet cockroach races at 30% rakes, according to mass thinking.

In the mid to late 1990's, the Ernie Dahlman episode occurred where he moved his tack to Vegas to play - where he got lower pricing. That first salvo into lower pricing was the first big opportunity for racing to learn about their prices being far too high (for some at least). The customer was talking.

Low takeout, independently owned shops, began to prop up, marketing and selling racing's product for them.

After these shops began to get a foothold in the market, racing moved to phase II, which was the 'we must stop them' phase. It was a war on people like Dahlman, Vegas, and other rebate shops. This was talked about in the Cummings Report way back when, which we reference on the blog quite often. Rather than analyze what people like Dahlman were doing, creating a new paradigm for racing itself in the halls of power, and looking at dynamic pricing model as an industry driver, racing went to war with them.

This lasted several years, but after some time, when these shops were bringing in billions of wagering per year, racing started to embrace some form of the same thing, which was phase III. It was not a new pricing model - the market had been doing it for many years - but to racing it was new. Places like Magna, CDI and others created their own shops to dynamically price.

Now we are in Phase IV. We have dynamic pricing where you and I can seek out lower prices and get them via ADW, but we also have tracks lowering takeout for everyone (mainly as a promotional angle). Low takeout pick 5's, 0% pick 4's with a Twinspires promotion, tons of points for a highlighted bet at HPI, guaranteed pools, and so on. As well, we have small tracks like Hastings, Grand River and Tioga Downs, trying across the board type reductions.

Racing, as a group is probably now where it needed to be at sometime in the 1990's. I'm not smart enough to surmise if the current landscape is anywhere near optimal. What I am smart enough to say, though, is that handle today is probably 20% higher than it would've been if racing had not evolved at all in terms of the pricing offered.

Ideally when slots were introduced in the late 1990's (like, for example in Ontario) there would've been a pricing plan attached. Instead of fighting over racedates or how racing would dole out billions of dollars in slot money, there would've been a betting czar with a grand plan on pricing and customer retention. There would have been a takeout 'cap' like Australia has done. If so, that would've made the Grand River takeout reduction news this week moot, because in 1998 or 1999, Grand River would've been on "Ontario pricing" with lower takeouts, or a massive rebate program. That would've been cutting edge for the time, as it turns out.

Regardless, we are where we are in racing. Things are moving along. Is it optimal? That's very unlikely. Should these things take fifteen years to get done? No. But it's moving along.

Such is the way things work in racing.


Tonight the Molson Pace goes at Western Fair. Their low takeout pick 4 is guaranteed, and it should be a whale of a horse race. Free program pages are available at the Western Fair website, and their simo show with Greg should be top shelf. Give them a look tonight.

Have a great Friday everyone.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Magical Racing, ABR, Grand River & A Big Northfield Carryover Tonight

Good morning racing fans!

Good racing is magical, and we saw quite a bit of it Monday at Belmont. A holiday card with good attendance, good handle and a big following on various forms of digital media. The Met Mile, which was the highlight of the day, did not disappoint. There's something about days like this that reminds everyone what it is to enjoy the sport.

Harness racing is not like that - a smaller following, less watched races and so on. However, it's that time of year when for people like me and many of you, we start to get excited.

This weekend the Meadowlands cards are outstanding, with NJSS finals.

At Western Fair, the Molson Pace is on tap, and Greg and Ian have a attracted a fantastic ensemble. Foiled Again, the nine year old iron horse goes for his third Molson Pace, against upstart Betterthancheddar and other wiley vets like Aracache Hanover.

At Yonkers, the Lismore and Rooney for three year olds is slated to go.

And at Mohawk, the Burlington Stakes Somebeachsomewhere Stakes, a North America Cup prep is on tap. Highlighting that is what I think will be the best three year old this season (don't fail me!) Odds on Equuleus.

For picks on some of these races this weekend, you can follow the Grand Circuit challenge at HANA Harness. 

What Thoroughbred racing has, that harness racing does not, is a big race plan. America's Best Racing, along with the marketing arm at NYRA, can not be doing a better job to get the word out for races like the Met Mile. Because they are out in the open for everyone to see, and they can only market and control a slice of racing, ABR are apt to get criticized, but I challenge anyone to say they've been doing a poor job. Penelope's work on twitter is worth her salary alone, and the rest of the crew - a crew who clearly treats this as a passion, not a job - are doing excellent work.

This weekend there's a column on tap at Harness Racing Update, about some of the things that might be needed to be done if a commish was hired by harness racing. Other than angering some people, it will probably be well received by you, the bettor and fan.

If you are a harness fan you've welcomed the news about Grand River Raceway slashing takeout rates. B tracks in Ontario suffer from low pools and high takeout. People like me and many of you simply cannot fight those two characteristics. At Grand River, one of those items has been attacked, and it should bring some handle and interest to the beautiful oval. With several tracks closing down, Grand River should have superb racing this season, and at cheap rates for the double and win pools, you'd have to be nuts not to give it a look.

Ballsy, ballsy column from Indulto on California racing's issues. He hits the nail on the head with a lot of his chatter. He's right, if the Breeders Cup does have some cajones, they'd race the two year old races in a state, at a track that will honor the lasix ban.

Massive carryover at Northfield tonight, with a $100,000 guaranteed pool for their pick 5. Study up and bet. The rake is only 14%, and the pool will have a ton of value. If you don't play this pool, don't complain about takeout rates, because this is as close to a positive expectation bet you're ever gonna see. Details and program pages are here.

Congrats to our twitter friend JHO on his promotion. Nice kid, hard worker, and he does a good job from what I can tell. Well deserved. 

Have a great day racing pals!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Intimidate & Old School Harness Racing

Yesterday we saw the Elitlopp, one of the World's most interesting and watched harness races, for trotters. Nahar, owned in part by the  Vancouver Canucks Sedin brothers, was a deserving winner.

Trotters are a unique breed of racehorse. Unlike today's ready made pacers, or thoroughbreds like a Shanghai Bobby (or it seems every Wes Ward trained two year old in April), trotters take some serious seasoning. There have been countless trotters who find their feet later on, and if they are not chewed from racing too hard too early, they can turn out to be world beaters.

In Sweden this occurs as a matter of course, which is why you see six and seven and eight year olds compete and win an Elitlopp. The horsemen, and the system, let's a horse develop.

In North America this is generally not the case. We go full boar from July of their two year old season onwards. By the end of the three year old campaign, with stud around the corner, some of North America's trotters have lost their edge. Dewey and Donato losing the Breeders Crown Final's at age three are prime examples.

For one horse this is not the case. Last year's Breeders Crown champion Intimidate.

He started his career very slowly, almost snail like. In his first start as a sophomore he went to the back, came home ok, and finished in 202.3. From there he was babied, until trying to show speed late in the year - when he got his feet under him - in the Simcoe, coming a good second in 151.4. He went on to win the Crown impressively.

This year we've seen similar. After a slow qualifier he made his debut for a $6000 purse in Quebec, winning in 203 or so. Last week he won again, in a pedestrian time.

Compare that to other North American trainers with stock inferior to this gelding. They're ready to go 154, off the shelf, and off the chooch.

Intimidate is better than probably any four year old trotter on the Continent. He might be better than any 5 or 6 or 7 year old trotter on the Continent. But don't ask these old school connections to show you that in May. Or June. Or maybe even July.

We'll probably see it late in the year and the next year and the next. For that we should be thankful, because when he does find his feet, and when he does season enough, his performances will likely be magical. If they do end up going to Sweden for the Elitlopp in coming years, you might start engraving the trophy now.

Intimidate's  connections may be French Canadian, but they certainly speak some Swedish.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday Racing, Orb (Again) & Memorial Day

Good Saturday morning racing fans!

Tonight there is some solid action in harness land, with the $200,000 Dan Patch. It's a good race,with returning four year olds, facing some seasoned champs. I'm looking at A Rock n Roll Dance for John Campbell in an upset.

Orb! Jeremy Plonk takes the same stance that PTP took here. Alan today asks a more important question. What do we do with him in the Belmont?

What do we do indeed.

If you chalk Orb's loss to inside paths, or bad trips, you will probably receive the odds needed to bet him. His average Derby and Preakness Beyer certainly puts him at or near favorite status. His breeding and running style likely means he should improve with distance, juicing up a fig, making that Beyer even more formidable. He's in your wheelhouse.

If you're more in line with me and Plonk, well, that's where it gets tricky. Does he bounce back? Does he have an issue we can't see? Will three weeks sound him up if so?

Like Alan is with Palace Malice, I kind of wish Orb not going to New York, simply because I'd like a different puzzle to figure out as a handicapper. Having said that, I hope he wins, because he's a nice horse, and he deserves it.

A Harness Racing Report card was given out on Thursday at HRU (pdf).

I, like a lot of you, have been watching the NHL playoffs this year.  I think the officiating has turned into something we are unfamiliar. It seems they can call literally 20 things a game the way its being called today, but they let 16 on each side go, then pick four of them to call when they feel it's the right time. The press is having a field day, and no doubt the NHL will have to do something about it.

Growing up watching the playoffs we always got stoked for playoff time, because there would be so few power plays. this allowed for a game flow with little momentum interruptions, and it let the players - five on five - decide games. The league decided they'd become a thoroughbred steward - if the foul took away a winning horse's chance, the horse would be pitched.

This over the years has changed - the stewards seem to be calling every nudge, or bump in a turf race -  indubitably to help skill teams score more by opening up the ice. But it is a far cry from old time playoff hockey.

I think I'll write a column on judging sometime in the coming weeks, just for fun. It's always a neat topic. 

Speaking of old time hockey, it's Memorial Day weekend in the US. People remember the folks who went to war for us in different ways. For me, I remember my 'defacto' Grandfather. He was a World War II vet who met my family when my father was coaching a Junior B hockey team in Northern Ontario, (who his son was playing against). As he told me the story, my father had sat his star player down in an important game for being too selfish with the puck which was causing turnovers. He promoted the hardest working kid to the first line and the team rallied around this, and won the game, and the playoff series. He liked that move as a tough-nosed Air Force vet I guess, and moved his son to my father's team the following year.

The rest was history. He traveled with us on road trips to horse races (he was a huge racing fan), and because my dad was so busy at work, took me hunting and fishing. It might sound funny in today's world, but when I was eight he bought me my first rifle and showed me how to use it safely. I learned a lot from him, and I will remember him forever, especially on holidays which remember our war vets. God bless you Mr. Burns.

Have a nice long weekend, my US friends. And to everyone, good luck and good racing.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Where Are the Professionals?

Yesterday on social media there was quite the brouhaha regarding yesterdays CHRB meeting. Apparently the CHRB Chair led what several called an unprofessional meeting. I can't really comment on it, because I have not listened to the meeting. Whether what was reported was opinion or fact, truth or fiction, doesn't really matter in the following post, though.

I was speaking with someone from California a few weeks ago about the situation there, and let's face it, it's a mess. A major track closing with seemingly no back up plan. Massive handle losses since 2000. Short fields, track changes; we can go on. This person spoke about the people who are running the sport in the Golden State and said they were good people. I have no reason not to believe this. If you love this sport you love this sport. You don't try and hurt it and I think no one out there is trying to do that.

What I said to this person was 'it's all across racing. We simply do not have CEO smart, experienced people running the good ship racing'.

Bob Evans is CEO smart, and by all accounts does a great job. But he works for CDI's shareholders and employees, not racing and they can probably be considered a gaming or casino company anyway. There are several (many?) others like him in our sport, like Nick Eaves at Woodbine.

But when it comes to the running of the sport, with vision, passion, hard work and smarts, we have a void. A big void. We have board appointments who knows someone who knows someone. We have horsemen group heads who I am sure do a good job, but are generally much better at keeping a horse sound, not making high level decisions to keep a billion dollar plus business sound.

In this day and age open a newspaper and you'll see CEO's being bashed left and right. Some of them deserve it, but most don't. A 'CEO type' does not get to be a CEO type by being what you read. It takes a lot of hard work, some serious book learning, 18 hour workdays that last many years, and some major time spent in the trenches. People like Meg Whitman of HP, which is in the midst of a nice business turnaround, are not your average everyday person. That's some talent.

This talent is witnessed in hundreds of good organizations with budgets ranging from tens to hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, from hundreds of employees to many thousands like at HP. In racing, (for example, in California) the racing business, in terms of revenues, can dwarf many of the companies you read about in the Wall Street Journal. They support more jobs than a Fortune 500 company does.

But who is making the decisions for this multi-billion dollar business? Political appointees in makeshift meetings.

I'm not bashing the people who are lending their time, who care about the sport of racing. I am not going to bash the CHRB members. It's just that they don't have the tools to succeed in this huge task. Not many do.

It's not their fault. It's our sports' fault for letting it happen by not ensuring a billion dollar business employs the people experienced enough to run one.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beyer Figs, Hidden Positives & Pop Bottles

 There was (is) some twitter chatter this morning about Beyer figures. As we all know, their creator, Andy Beyer used them in the 1970's to try and standardize racetimes in a number, to make it easier for him to see who was fastest on a given day, at a given track. These numbers, like most, have a lower win percentage than favorites, but had a very strong ROI.

Over the years, as more and more people used them, or created their own, their handicapping predictability does not change, but their value gets eroded. 35 or so years later, pure speed figures are what they are.

In handicapping, Beyer figures when used by Andy and a few other sharpies was the holy grail. They're still one of the most sharp, interesting and formidable items to happen in handicapping and will forever be.

That got me thinking to back when I was a kid. In harness racing we could not use Beyers or track variants because there really wasn't many. But we could make our own 'figures' in some instances.


I had just finished writing an exam; in I think Modern Symbolic Logic, at the downtown campus at the University of Toronto. I was 18. I had $1.50 in my pocket – streetcar fare. I sped to the streetcar stop and finally made it home.

I had to find some way to raise some capital and get to the track. I found a good bet in the Greenwood third race and since I was broke, I needed to make some sort of score.

My roommates were not home so they were no help. I'd scrounged up some change I found on the floor of my room. Then I found some soda bottles, then the coup de grace, a few empty cases of beer. The beer store was down the road about a half a block, and I was walking distance to Greenwood. After cashing those in I had enough to pay admission, split a program with a buddy (who was also broke and a student), and go to town with $11 worth of bets on my horse.

The horse was a mare. I think she was by Armbro Splurge, and she had recently qualified in fast time at a new track that opened up in Sarnia, Ontario. But there was something funny about this brand new track - it was dreadfully slow. I swore that horses there were turning for home in a pile of molasses carting a 300 pound driver, pulling several bowling balls made of iron. I noticed that once before at a B track with a Sarnia shipper who won at a bomb price, and I was hoping to capitalize on that knowledge.

Betting is pretty simple. If you know something other people don't you have a "hidden positive", and hidden positives can make you big money. I felt this one could be one of those. At least I was hoping so.

Race 3 was a tri race (not all races were tri's in the late 1980's), so of course I had to try and bet one of those. Plus, some win money was a good thought. My plan was set.

The odds board opened and this little filly shipper from near Detroit was 30-1. I played a $1 triactor key for $6 and bet $2 to win and $3 to place. My bankroll was summarily shot.

The race went off and she got off fifth or sixth, pulled and tipped off cover at the head of the lane. I was pretty confident because she looked super off cover and I began looking for my horses to fill triactor slots, which any gambler will tell you is a big mistake. Well not this time as the gods were with me. Maybe they felt sorry for me since I was so broke.

She stormed home and crossed the wire in first, by two lengths, and the tri was filled. I had won.

The prices flashed up: $830 or $840 for the triple and $44 for the win price.

It was exhilaration.

This was the way it was back then with betting. The Internet today would never have let that happen. Word would have gotten out about this nice filly. Word would have spread about the depth of the Sarnia track. I bet that mare today would have paid less than $10.

This is a very difficult game. Sometimes you can find a hidden positive or obscure angle, but it doesn't happen very often. In the days of Pittsburgh Phil (and he alludes to this in his classic book) you could be a railbird, pick your spots, watch races and chart them (there were not even past performances back then), and make a pile of money. Sometimes I long for those days, being the fan that I am.

Regardless, for one day – one brief moment- I felt like I was there, back in 1900, making a score with Phil.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Orb Excuse Chatter Revisited

My pal Left at the Gate looked at Orb's Preakness and the talk surrounding it. Namely, i) Orb was pace compromised and ii) Orb was path compromised.

The meme being that he was too far inside on a bad part of the track and he was too far back at the half to make a run in slow fractions.

To me, it makes not much sense at all, and is excuse-ridden, in a game full of them when horse's who should not get beat, do.

Here is the quarter. Notice what path the winner, Oxbow is in. Now, notice where Orb is.

What's Oxbow, maybe the 'one and a half path'? Orb is not in a much different spot, maybe in the 'one and a quarter path' (as we grab a our handy protractor and do some grade 11 math).

Later on in the first turn, the Bloodhorse "Race Sequence" confirms this (Oxbow 6, Orb 1), as both Gary and Joel drift slightly off the inside path. Note that Rosie on Mylute (5) is hugging the wood.

Now, at the half, let's have a look:

There's Oxbow on top again, in what looks like a two path. Behind him, about a half length from his tail, outside Goldencents, is Orb (he was actually closer than this, a fraction earlier). From this view it actually looks like Orb is slightly outside Oxbow's path. And obviously, he is not overly pace compromised here. He is almost on Oxbow's flank, and moved towards him in a slow 24.4 backstretch quarter. After briefly engaging Oxbow, in a half he can probably work in with Fat Albert on his back, Orb wants no part of it, and backs off for good.

Orb does not seem to be overly pace compromised, nor is he overly path compromised; he just seems uninterested. Add the fact that Mylute closed from well behind Orb, while racing the entire first three eighths along the wood, we have ourselves a real shindig. 

I've read the analysis, I've watched the replays, I've deciphered the pictures. I do this for more than just the Preakness, because in betting I look for pace and path compromised or aided horses for a rebet or a fade. I also run weekly path and speed biases in my software. I see nothing of the kind in Orb's case.

Like I wrote after the race - like Secretariat or Monarchos in the Wood, or Blame in the JCGC, or your average every day filly at Mountaineer or Calder - sometimes horses don't fire. Orb probably did not fire his best shot. I find no reason to change that opinion.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Paid Content At the DRF?

In Fast Company, the DRF CEO was interviewed and relayed the organization's commitment to leveraging their vast information and technology ecosystem, to gain revenue by initiating a paywall.
  • For the past year or so, Hartig and DRF have given away much of this coverage for free online. But as DRF pivots into even more specialized coverage designed to help gamblers improve their ROI, Hartig has come to feel he’s offering a valuable service for which users should pay. In July, DRF will launch a paid content area of the site. “It will piss off a lot of folks,” he acknowledges. “But it costs a lot of money to invest in this editorial, and in the technology to give you real-time information.”
This strategy is probably sound. The world has changed since Chris Anderson wrote "Free" , but many of the tenets still apply to the DRF and others. It was no shock that Churchill Downs Inc bought Brisnet for nearly the same purpose - to offer incentives to get you, the user, to bet with them by offering you added handicapping value, for "free". This is not really new.

In other businesses, or media, this is not so easy, and eminently unworkable. This morning for example, The Drudge Report linked a Washington Post story about the Justice Department monitoring emails and keycard entries of Fox News reporter James Rosen. If this story was behind a paywall, like so many, Matt Drudge and others on twitter or various social media outlets would simply find another story to link. The Post probably wants the traffic anyway, for impression serving of their ads.

In horse racing it makes sense.

Data, statistics, technology and its assorted spin offs is owned by entities. This has value and handicappers will pay for added value. That they sign up for DRF's betting interface, where the DRF can make anywhere from 10 or 12 percent to 20 percent plus on each of your dollars bet today, all the better.

With horse racing losing market and betting share, we often believe the sport is on its last legs. There is some truth to that of course, but it is still a $11 billion betting business. That's a huge market and DRF, rightly, wants a share of it for the work they do, the information they offer and the technology they invest in. It's not their job to grow horse racing, it's their job to make money.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Monday Morning Qu-Orb-erbacking

The morning after a loss at 3-5. It's a tough place to be in racing.

Orb, who many (me included) thought had the best shot to win the Triple Crown in a long time, as we all know, sputtered yesterday and came a terrible fourth. Yesterday and this morning the narrative developed that it was premature to think he had a huge shot to run the table, and do something not done in 35 years.

"The proof is in the pudding, he lost". Take that.

I think that's revisionist, and somewhat folly.

Each horse race is a series of percentages, a probability. Knowing what we know about Triple Crown losers in the past is the variables that befell them. Namely:

1) Did they beat who they are going to have to beat?

2) Can mother nature trip them up?

3) Do they have physical issues?

4) Do the connections know what they're doing?

and the Granddaddy of them all:

5) Can they get 12 furlongs at the Belmont?

Analyzing each of these with Orb, the probabilities said they were just fine.

Did Orb beat who he is going to have to beat? Sure he did. The new entrant to the Preakness was Departing, who was beaten by several in Louisiana who Orb trounced, and didn't exactly have 107 Beyers going for him. For the Belmont, Dreaming of Julia was talked about, who just lost a 9 furlong race at Churchill. There was no horse like Bodemeister who people thought was better after the Derby. There was no Red Bullet. There was just Orb and the horse's that Orb had beaten.

Can mother nature trip him up? Well, since he just jogged in the soup, there goes that one.

Does he have physical issues? A year ago at this time, vet records were being released, talk of hyperbaric chambers talked about and more, with last year's winner I'll Have Another. With Big Brown one wondered if his feet were made of glass. With Orb? Sound as a dollar bill, so it seems.

Do the connections know what they're doing? Um, do we have to answer this one?

Can he get 12 furlongs? People smarter than me thought it was actually a better distance for him, and if you watched the Florida Derby, or the Kentucky Derby, Orb looked like he could've went around again. He should relish Big Sandy, and the distance.

So yes, the offshore odds said he had a better shot than many, including Big Brown. The conditional parlay, at 3-5 and a probable 1-5 said similar.

Horse's lose all the time at 3-5 or 4-5. They have bad days, they aren't good enough, they get a bad trip, they have a cough, they bounce, or have 100 other reasons or issues.

The fact he lost plays no role in thinking beforehand he had a great shot to accomplish this huge task.  He lost. These things happen.

Saturday Harness Roundup

Last night at the Meadowlands and Woodbine, several big, interesting miles were recorded. It was quite the evening for those who stayed around after the Preakness Stakes.

At the M, the handle was just over $3 million, which (considering the stock racing) was not up to snuff.

The race of the night was the Cutler, where no one could get by Sevruga. It was a blanket finish, providing us with one of harness racing's greatest win photos of the year:

I like the way Guccio has been raced so far this year. After he seasons a little bit, we might see something special from him. He can close like a train, in a sport where closers are at a supreme disadvantage.

The race, for interest, of the evening was the Meadowlands Maturity. Sweet Lou got a nice trip and nailed Warrawee Needy at the wire. It seems Burke is wanting to trip out Lou this year and I think that's wise. In his first two starts of the year he has paraded sound, and miles and trips like that help keep it that way.

The disappointment was the all world speed horse Hurrikane Kingcole. McDermott must be pulling his hair out because the horse again looked like he bounced. They have to find a way to trip that horse out, because he simply cannot go huge wound-up speed and come back and do it again. I'd love to see him buried for half the year, week in and week out. I am a huge fan of this horse.

Bolt the Duer looked happy and sound to me last evening. I think Mark and Peter would be happy with that performance off the bench.

My predictions sometimes suck, but it doesn't stop me from making them: The leader of the four year old pack, I think, will be A Rock n' Roll Dance. That is simply the best I've seen that horse look since the Meadowlands Pace. He was willing, paced sound, and made a tremendous first impression. If he is not beat up, watch out for this horse (a horse I still believe, due to his "grade I wins" should've been 3YO Pacer of the year).

Amadeus was okay winning the 3YO pacing stake, I thought, in his return back for Takter. He looked a little hitchy gaited to me, but it's only one day, and one start.

Ditto for Iluvthenightlife and Wake Up Peter. Solid debuts.

Over at Woodbine, this time of year is amazingly odd. Spring brings with it some rain and warmer temps, and sometimes it means a tight, hard surface. If you are handicapping Woodbine, ensure you chalk last night up to a tricked up track. Those horses did not go that fast, in my opinion, and 25.3 last quarters are more like 26.3's.

Having said that, former North America Cup winner Up the Credit made a wonderful pre race appearance and won in a fast time. He looked great.

I saw an interview with Tony Alagna, and I have heard similar from other old time horsemen in the past - we see inconsistent performances by horses who race too much, too hard. One week great, one week bad type of stuff. You'll often see this pattern with horses with 35 or more starts per year - as Alagna put it, with these types, they are telling you they need a vacation, because they are saving themselves by not going 100% each week (he was alluding to his horse in last night's 8th race).

It might be a little different with the four year olds this year, because they likely will not have 35 starts, but management is still needed. The trick is to find a way to space the races out enough whereby they can have the proper recovery time, while keeping them keen. With the speeds we're seeing this will be paramount for all the horsemen (and drivers) this season. One way or another, buckle up, it should be great. Remember: Close to a half dozen top colts from last year who could go very fast, have not even started up yet.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sometimes You Just Never Know

A horse who wins at 8.5 furlongs, 9 furlongs and 10 furlongs with authority. A horse who looks magnificently sound, who strides out in his last work like a Champion. He's got a great trainer and a great rider. The whole world seems to be cheering for him and he's 3-5 to boot.

But he races poorly.

Sometimes you just never know.

Orb, obviously a fine horse, didn't fire. Mylute, who (with respect) is not in the same zip code in terms of talent, not only closes from behind him, but widens on him. It'smyluckyday made the Florida Derby look like a mirage.

I guess the excuses can and may come. He had a trip like Union Rags had in last year's Florida Derby, which was (wrongly, in my opinion) blamed for his poor performance (and started the 'replace the rider' rumblings), but it probably wasn't that. People can talk form cycles and see a chink in the armor, but I doubt it was that either. Sometimes horse's just have a bad day. And I think Orb had a bad day.

As for the winner, the speed that everyone was speaking about didn't happen, and from pre-race commentary, that could've been deduced. The winner took advantage of that. Oxbow was a bet back horse for a lot of people as well, because he was the only horse that engaged the speed in the Derby who wasn't screaming with lactic acid build up with 400 yards to go. His Derby was a good performance.

What can you say. It's disappointing. It's kind of shocking. But such is horse racing.


The undercard was somewhat underwhelming with all the scratches. Players that I know get stoked for the Derby undercard as much as they do the Derby. In my opinion, Pimlico should work harder on their pick 4 and 5 sequences come Preakness day. It's important to bigger players. You need them energized each year, like they are for the Derby.

Speed was super on the Turf, which made the pick 4 easier. Pianist looked like an obvious leader. Skyring was going, too. Both won and paid well.

Speed was better on the dirt than it had been too, I believe. Although in some races they sure didn't go much.

Rudy Rodriguez who can't buy a win at Belmont, won three races the last two days at Pimlico.

Bob Baffert's horse, Zee Bros, hit a wall the last 110 yards in the Derby trial, but before that point in his mile, looked like a monster. Today, with the turnback, the horse was a gift. I say that after the race. I didn't bet him, which is my bad!

Enjoy your Saturday night everyone. I'm still an Orb fan and can't wait for his next race. I'm sure you are too.

Preakness Day & Some Notes

Well, today's the day. Whether you're looking forward to watching drunk kids getting thrown out of the infield, Beadle bashing, or to do something wild and wacky - bet and watch the second leg of the Triple Crown, there's something for you.

Orb might be fair odds at 7-1 in some blogs, but he looks like the horse to beat by most.

The Pimlico surface has been kind to closers, and on paper there is a great deal of speed.

However, as most pace models aren't showing, there is a strong chance the speed might not show up as expected.

Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents are coming off poor performances, so the pedal won't (shouldn't) be to the metal for those two. Titletown Five, the best E number on paper, is supposedly grabbing leather. The other two Lukas's probably won't gut each other either. We might not see a brisk pace.

Since Orb has shown he can race up close or as a deep closer, perhaps it doesn't matter either way.

If I were betting a speed ticket to beat Orb, I would probably try one with Oxbow on top and hope for an easy lead. But I honestly probably won't be wagering this race. I will be watching, like most, as a fan.

I have not done the requisite work on the undercard, and am not overly stoked to play it today, but from what I have seen there may be some opportunities. Hardened Wildcat looks interesting in the pick 4 sequence; I don't mind Posiedan's Warrior at 10-1ML. Pianist seems to be in a nice spot. I'm not thrilled with the outside posts on the Pimlico Turf Course.


Derek Simon wrote another bang-up blog piece at Twinspires. This one on Orb and former Preakness winners.

Do yourself a favor and check out Bill Finley's feature on an obscure harness racetrack in Eastern Kentucky (pdf). I half expected to see Deputy Marshall Givens in one of Bill's photos. Fascinating place, neat article.

North American racehorses are given prerace which consists of, on average, 5 and a half needles. So says Bill Finley's piece via Rick Arthur in the TDN (pdf).

Tonight at the Meadowlands, the $100k Maturity. Fantastic race.

Last evening at the M, the stakes colts came out to play, and one of the best looking maiden trotters I have seen in some time raced. He stormed home in under 27 seconds and looked like he possessed brilliance. His name is Smiling Eli.

What's missing this year from stakes season? 149 and 150 qualifiers. Thank goodness.

Have a great Saturday everyone. And let's go Orb!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Marketing Percentage From Subsidy Cash? And Some Preakness.

Probably one of the funniest things I've noticed of late is the "Petition to Stop Tweeting Horses" that's live at
  • We ask that Twitter be restricted to only humans and large, multinational corporations. And parody accounts. Some of those are hilarious. Tweeting horses minimize the contributions to the discourse on racing from actual humans. And corporations. And sometimes sports networks.
I'm pretty sure I know who wrote it, and I am also pretty sure I will not publicize that, because the man will get stormed by the IRS, or even worse, by the dude who runs the Orb account. Regardless, a hearty well-done to this person for giving us all a much needed chuckle.

In Canada, with slots, it was proposed that 5% of the purse share of slots go to marketing & bettor/fan development, back in 2009, with the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan. Some factions deemed this "too much", "crazy" and "a laughing stock". Well, Canterbury Park and racing in Minnesota in general, has their plan set up, and lo and behold:
  •  Under the provisions of the agreement, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community will provide $75  million over 10 years to fund purses. An additional $6 million is being set aside for marketing initiatives designed to increase attendance and handle at Canterbury. 
 That 8% of the total purse cash being used for marketing.

Other businesses spend and spend to get people in the seats, or in their place of business. Casino's spend upwards of 20%. Bingo of all things spend close to 30%. Racing? Spending 5% is like pulling teeth. Good for Canterbury.

Not too many folks are willing to fade Orb this weekend, and rightfully so I guess. If there's something the past has taught us, it's that where the Derby is a crap shoot, form from the Derby holds over very well with the 14 day wheelback of the Preakness. It's usually a chalkfest.

Orb is susceptible to what all horses are: Bad trips, a cough, a bad ride, not liking a surface or fifty other things, but fading him at anywhere near an okay price is probably not an ROI positive situation. Add the fact that he galloped out well, and looked fit as a fiddle and happy as a clam with his work on Monday, it's hard not to believe he will perform like so many have. Even mega-Derby winner bombs like Mine That Bird, or Charismatic have.

I have not done the work yet, but this year a couple that may jump up are the steam Departing, and Itsmyluckyday. The latter I believe hated that surface and the soup (he was not keen at all on it, and he is a keen horse who likes to race), and I will probably take him on top of Departing and Oxbow as my "non-Orb" supers, trying to get paid. But it's not like I'm confident taking it.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sharp Cookies Serve Up Some Preakness Fare

There are some sharp cookies out there in horse racing land.

One, Dan Needham wrote an incredibly interesting piece about Preakness viewership, with several great arguments. It's a must read. Funnily enough, it is probably the only horse racing blog article retweeted by someone with 750,000 followers.

The second sharp cookie in today's horse racing bakery is my pal @keenegal:
I think she is so right. As Shanklin wrote about, that we linked yesterday, the storyline between Orb and Departing is as compelling as anything in our sport, and many others. It is so horse racing. It is exactly what this sport was always about, and for purists like me and many of you, what it will always be about. This is horse racing, not horse coronation, and even if it hits someone in the pocketbook, you bet that person or persons will try and beat you.

We usually rely on tangential storylines with Afleet Alex or Funny Cide (and I do not belittle them). This storyline is pure horse racing.

This year's Preakness might not have the sheer brilliance and magnificence of a filly trying to stop a Derby winner. It might not have a Sunday Silence, Easy Goer rivalry, but it has a lot going for it. I will be glued this year and I feel no matter what, I will not be disappointed.

Ontario Horse Racing Policy Evolves

It's been about fifteen months, but the gaming strategy in Ontario is finally evolving; some might say, as it should've done before any hard decisions were made. In Monday's Globe and Mail, Premier Kathleen Wynne seems to be backtracking:
  •  Ms. Wynne is questioning the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s privatization and expansion strategy endorsed by her predecessors, according to government sources. She is no fan of the proposal to build a downtown Toronto casino, the sources said.
The OLG plan - strong on principle, but in my opinion, poorly executed - involves expansion of gaming across the province, to increase "$ per capita" spent on gambling. To achieve that, it needs something that some folks find wild and wacky: The support of taxpayers who pay everyone's salary.

That last part is the sticking point. The citizenry, through their municipal elected officials, seem to want more gaming in their backyards about as much as having an appendectomy. This plan is not selling, and when a major plank of the plan isn't selling, the whole house can come down pretty quickly.

For her part, the Premier appears to see the writing on the wall, and she also (for political reasons maybe, but who cares, that's life) wants to right some wrongs regarding our business - horse racing. She alluded earlier this spring that horse racing should be amalgamated with the OLG - much needed for our sports' future - and this week she took an added step:
  • To stem the political backlash, the government appointed a panel of three former cabinet ministers, Conservative John Snobelen, Liberal John Wilkinson and New Democrat Elmer Buchanan, last June to review funding for the horse-racing industry. The ex-politicians delivered their final report in the fall, but Ms. Wynne is now turning to the panel again, asking it – not the OLG – to take the lead on developing a plan to integrate horse racing with the province’s gambling strategy in time for the 2014 racing season.
This is absolutely huge, in my opinion. Horse racing will not be integrated with the OLG in some sort of lip service appointment, but will be represented with verve.

Horse racing can benefit in a number of ways, not the least of which could be a Woodbine casino. Its chances go up immeasurably, I believe.

Horse racing needs this, and so it appears does the government. Fifteen months ago there was a policy, some might think written on the back of a napkin. Fifteen months later, this policy has evolved, and horse racing is in a much better position than it was a year ago. Much better.

The future won't be filled with $50,000 purses at tracks with $100,000 handle. We won't have 17 tracks racing in Ontario. But what we will have, it seems, is a fair shot.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Obsequious Orb? Maybe Not

I've been following brown animals running around in a circle for awhile, and I'm sure some of you have done it a lot longer than I. I can't remember, though, another Triple Crown seeking animal that has seemingly got the whole industry behind him or her like Orb has.

He's impeccably bred.

His trainer, as people from my small hometown used to say, "is good people".

He runs a hole in the wind, looks sound as a dollar bill, and is magnificent.

He looks like he can go the distance with Hidalgo, in a storied sport which seems to be breeding fewer and fewer 10 furlong horses.

His works might have to be renamed "ohh and awww" affairs. 

And he's pretty darn fast.

This feels like the one.

Having noted the above, I read the following piece by Bill Shanklin, and it looks like not everyone has thrown in the towel and finally hopped on the Orb coronation. And (if you don't follow owners in this game) who hasn't should surprise you.
  •  ..... instead of rooting for Orb to complete the Triple Crown, Mr. Hancock is going to try to beat him in the Preakness with a gelding he co-owns named Departing (Adele Dilschneider is the other owner). 
This sport was created on the backs of people who looked at each other one day and said "I bet my horse is faster than yours is". I, like Bill, found this refreshing.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Some Interesting Chatter From Thoroughbred Players About Harness Racing

I'm like a lot of you. I bet both the thoroughbreds and the standardbreds and they are two similar, yet very different games.

The thoroughbreds, with distance changes, breeding, surface changes and so much more, present a unique (and some might say unparalleled) gambling puzzle. Harness racing, with its 'sameness' (standard can mean a one mile standard) is also unique in a completely different way.

Why don't more thoroughbred players look at harness racing? That was a question posed this past weekend to some serious betting peeps; people like Mike Dorr, and Mike Maloney, and Dan Needham, and Ed DeRosa, and Seth Merrow. In case you missed it, it's here (pdf).

Originally when thinking of posing this question, I assumed that the piece would have a snippet of an answer or two, followed by a lot of commentary, but this was not the case. The answers were so comprehensive, so well expressed and so bang on, there was little of that needed.

It always amazes me how into it horse racing people are. You don't have to draw a paycheck from this business or own 57 horses to be enthralled with it. All you have to do is be a part of it, as a customer, watcher, follower or participant. I think that's why the answers given were so good. People love expressing their opinion about a sport they enjoy.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy reading it. I certainly did.

Have a great start to the week everyone.

Stakes Season Is Fast Approaching & Other Notes

When the second week of May happens in harness racing there's a different feel in the air.  Sophomore pacers and trotters begin to qualify and the four year olds and older are beginning to swing into gear.

Last night at the Meadowlands the first real stakes-type night occurred and we got some answers, and maybe even more questions.

In the first TVG FFA Leg, Golden Receiver won in what looked like was a fairly leisurely 149.1. It was a weird race, with Warrawee Needy bottled up in the pocket, hot as a summer day. Outside Razzle Dazzle made a charge, then proceeded to almost walk the last fifty yards. Sweet Lou, whom I thought would show more flash, was kind of flat, coming third.

In the second leg, fresh off a really nice closing effort, Hurrikane King Cole went a monster third quarter, just like the old days (when he usually gets himself in trouble). He was nipped by Fred and Ginger in a sparkling 148.1. Both horses raced really well.

This is the first salvo for some of last years stellar three year old crop to be racing older. For non-harness fans, this is a year where, for example, your Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and Travers winners, runners up and third place finishers are all 110 Beyer horses and none of them retire.

Two of them, Warrawee Needy and Hurrikane King Cole have brought last years speed back, but they look like they need a ton of seasoning. They're the type of horses who look like they could use three months of racing from nowhere but the back of the bus. For Sweet Lou, one race does not make a season. We'll see what he does next week, and thereafter.

Still to come from last years class? Horse of the Year Heston Blue Chip, and Panther Hanover, and Thinking Out Loud and Bolt the Duer, and, and , you get the picture. It could be a super year.

Many of the three year olds have qualified and are ready to race. Last years 'big two', Captain Treacherous and Odds On Equuleus both look to be doing very well.


Where did the mile from Whirl Monroe come from in race 5? I have no idea. I hated that leg, and used an all on a couple of my pick 4 tickets, and Whirl ended up whirling me out of my pick 5. Wow, he looked like he could've won in 148.4.

Notice the comment by Nick Kling - Churchill is withholding replays of all things from the DRF formulator? Are you kidding me?

One thing I like about harness racing - the slop doesn't affect things much. Yesterday at Belmont (off the turf and some major mud after several days of rain) it wreaked havoc with the card. The Peter Pan winner, Freedom Child (I bet him, so no sour grapes or anything) was probably moved up a half dozen lengths due to it, and several others regressed. You could also not win from very far back (a similar bias was seen at Monmouth for their opening day). Oftentimes, unless I see some sort of strong bias, I turn the page when it rains. I know from my statistics I do poorly when the track is off.

The Meadowlands handle was over $3M yesterday and Monmouth's opener was up 30%. New Jersey racing is a shadow of itself, but without slots it's taught them how to work to achieve handle.

Sid Fernando picked up on Jessica's slam of how the Paulick Report summarizes their links

I had a chuckle at this:
I don't follow enough people to know either way, but (like each of the twenty entrants most years) you can find some good about any horse. Animal Kingdom and Golden Soul were bred to 'get' 10f, so people like O_Crunk who likes betting pedigree could've easily had each (I think he bet AK, not sure about GS).  It probably wasn't that difficult for those types (although Golden Soul did not win of course).

Have a great Sunday everyone!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Follow Friday & Remembering Everyone Shares A Love for Horses, And Horse Racing

Social media has changed the world, and horse racing is no exception. How we talk, communicate and relate, has never been easier. With that comes the expected spats, arguments and protracted chatter we all seem to either feel bad about later for acting so stupidly, or complain about. A lot of us are as guilty as the next person.

I had a chat - through a new crazy invention called a "phone" - the other day with someone I had heard about, not personally, but from social media. Like all too often, what we hear about a person, or what we see about them with one tweet or one facebook post, was not accurate. Our preconceived notions can be dispelled within about 30 seconds of real life communication.

I don't think I am a bad judge of character, and many people I speak with on social media are exactly as advertised (e.g I met my long time horse buying partner in the stable on a handicapping chat board, immediately liked him, felt he was honest as the day is long, and to this day he is exactly that). However, with 140 words or one heated discussion I can be as wrong as I am when I proclaimed Alpha was going to job in Derby 138.

This has happened to me a number of times, so I have tried to do better - to be more open minded when dealing with folks in the sport, via these new mediums.

I get a nice reminder each week from Penelope at America's Best Racing. She compiles a weekly "Notebook" of tweets and pictures and videos tweeted out by horse racing fans from not only America, but around the world.

Each week I read the assembled messages; those from Greg, and Claire, and Sid and Ashley, and Rosie and everyone else (many of whom I do not follow on twitter). They all show a common denominator that brings us all together. A love for the sport of horse racing.  It doesn't mean we should all get along and knit peace quilts, or never have strong opinions and discussions - that happens in your local bar, in person on the street as well as on social media. But I try to never forget, no matter how frustrated I am with this business, no matter how much I want to pull my hair out at times, we're all on the same team.

Have a great Friday everyone.

Note: I don't really want to mention it, but I probably should. Trainer Bob Baffert received some bad information a couple of months ago about someone posing as his son on twitter being yours truly. I didn't take it personally, and try not to lose any sleep with these things - there's some single mom cashing in food stamps in New York City this morning, so things like this are so, so minor in the game of life. However, yesterday he tweeted to his followers he had made a mistake on it, apologized, and I want to say that I appreciated that very much. Thank you Bob.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


It was announced that Hollywood Park was closing down at the end of the year.  The southern California racing meet will now, apparently, be split between Del Mar and Santa Anita.

One of the unique aspects of thoroughbred racing is different meets. It allows both your customers and your horsemen to start fresh, and it is a part of the thoroughbred racing brand, in California and elsewhere. Kentucky racing is not Kentucky racing without a Keeneland meet. New York racing is not New York racing without Saratoga.

Tom LaMarra summed this up with a tweet tonight, that I thought was pretty sharp.
I am not sure those who are analyzing the loss of Hollywood Park have thought about this. Without Hollywood there is a "sameness" for your customers and horsemen. I believe, like Tom, it can hurt your brand, and cost you revenues.


This weekend in Harness Racing Update, there will be a story on "Why Thoroughbred Players Do Not Look at Harness Racing". Hint: One of the complaints was about "sameness". To the people who participated (the response to the question was huge), thanks for helping out. I think it turned out to be a really interesting piece. If you want to sign up for Harness Racing Update, you can here. It's free.

What About Palace Malice?

Brian Nadeau wrote a summary of the Derby on the Xpressbet blog this week where he looked at three horses he thought raced better than they finished.  I agree with his choices.

But I think the most overlooked horse in this years Derby field in terms of how he raced and where he finished was Palace Malice.

Palace Malice, first time blinkered, was as close to a complete runaway you are ever going to see in the Derby. He was keyed up, fractious and really a total mess. Usually when you and I watch such horses race, they are walking across the finish line, even in a sprint. They expend so much energy, they have nothing - not an ounce - of will left.

Palace Malice didn't really do that. He was first through a suicide quarter of around 22.4, then ran off around the turn in about 23 flat. His 3/4's was near the same speed of the winner of the Sprint two races earlier. The horses who were dealing with him were Goldencents, Falling Sky, Vyjack, Verrazano and It'smyluckyday.

Those horses all finished behind Palace Malice.

During the Kentucky Derby coverage, one of the commentators (I cannot remember which one) spoke about Palace Malice being a horse that Pletcher loved early on; a horse that showed the most talent of all of his stock.

They might end up being right. If Palace Malice is not so mentally dusted from the experience, they get him sound and happy again (and probably take off those awful blinkers), we might see more than we expect from this runner. This despite the records of a number of Pletcher trainees who have faltered post-Derby.

I haven't heard too many talk about this colts Derby, in other than a derogatory fashion. I think he raced well.

That's my 2 cents anyway.

Enjoy your Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Solving the Puzzle

Yesterday I called Jeff Platt, the dude who created Jcapper software, to ask a quick question about something.

As per usual with a handicapper, the quick chat turned into a longer conversation than that.

After talking about the Derby, the pace scenario, what he missed and I missed, what he saw and I saw, I asked him "what are you up to"?

He said he was going through handicapping books and looking for obscure ideas, angles and such, and running them through his extensive database. One of the books he was getting ideas from was a totally unknown binder book from 1936. Yep, 1936. He said he found a couple of nuggets in it, and they seem to work.

How about that?

Coincidentally, I had been doing similar one evening last week. I skimmed through Cary Fotias' book, Blinkers Off, and noticed again some of his interesting ideas on new pace tops, pace lows, when grouped with certain efforts. I started digging more and more to see if I could find an angle that worked.

We then moved on to discussing figs and runups, turn time, form cycle mistakes, bankrolls and the psychology of betting.We pretty much ran the gamut.

At that point I said "is this the most interesting game in the world or what? Why isn't it more popular, I can't figure it out."

We had a post on Monday about promotion of the Derby with reporters like Michele Beadle. Serving this demographic on television is all well and good, and 16 million people tuned into the Derby. Handicapping is so complex, such a puzzle, it makes it almost impossible to relay to that audience, and it is also difficult for them to embrace. It's not for everyone, it's not even for most people. But for the people it does have a hold of, it truly is one of the most interesting and complex mental pursuits you'll find anywhere in the gambling world.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday Notes: Handle, Derby & Boy Are We Stupid

Good morning racing fans!

Times Are Changing

Handle per race day was down in April, with purses down, and I think, even with Ohio, getting slots, this narrative will go on for some time:
  •  Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by casino revenues. In most U.S. states, revenues for casinos have fallen this year as more and more states have legalized casino gambling, leading to increased competition for the gambling dollar.
The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

I've been caring for my dog who is getting on in years, so I've tried to stay around and watch him pretty closely. I've been getting some down time by reading. Instead of reading business books, which I have on the night table all ready to go, I foolishly went through my handicapping library last week and pulled out several to read again. Last evening I read Bet With the Best, from DRF press, published back in 2003. In the first section, Beyer noted nuggets of information that you could glean with trainer moves (this was before Formulator of course). One he mentioned as 'gold' was trainer Eddie Plesa Sr, "stretching out after a one mile work". I did chuckle at that, because Eddie Plesa Jr worked It'smyluckyday one mile before stretching out to 10f in the Derby. 

What, Were We Stupid?

Kicking oneself is a part of wagering. There is much more than usual this year in twitter and internetland I think, because Orb truly was a Derby horse. He had almost everything you wanted to see - looks, breeding, stride, connections, workouts and a winning feel. I rewatched replays before the Derby and I flipped to the Florida Derby, to solidify or eliminate my feelings on It'smyluckyday, not Orb. I felt  vindicated about my IMLD bet, as I expected he was less keen than earlier in the year and he'd return to his form. However, I looked up and watched Orb in the lane for my second watch. At the wire he looked like he could've run another two furlongs in 24, he was that fresh and happy, and I noted it. Did I hammer the all too obvious Orb? No. So I'm with y'all.

Casino Please?

Woodbine needs a casino.  I'm convinced they could have a decently solid thoroughbred meet without one, but for their overall health, and the overall health of the harness racing industry I could not agree more. It makes little sense to have a casino in Vaughn, or North York, or whereever. Woodbine should be the place.

In the Money

Props to JJ Hysell who runs the In the Money blog. She nailed the Derby exacta cold. The only person I saw who had that exotic pegged before the race. That's great handicapping.

Where's the Data?

"Sell Puts" is a stock trader with 11,000 or so followers that I follow. He is a young guy who depends on charts, computer screens and mathematical formulas to survive. He also is a very casual horse racing fan. It turns out he went to the Derby this past weekend and tweeted:

This is why exchanges with open API's like Betfair tend to attract people like Sell Puts, and this fellow.


The "new shooter" (yes, I agree with @keenegal and hate that overused phrase) is one the masses say we have to watch in the Preakness - Departing. I agree with the masses. His Illinois Derby was spot on, and I think he beat a couple of decent colts. Can he beat Orb? I don't think so, but we'll find out soon, and it will be intriguing I think.


We've spoken before about it, probably when fading Super Saver in the Preakness, but Toddster's charges not making it to Pimlico should be no surprise. I don't know what his methods are, but returning within a couple of weeks continues to be a rare thing for any of his horses.

Have a great Tuesday all.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Beyer's Old School, Half Mile Tracks and Beadle-Bashing

Good morning racing fans!

Andy Beyer wrote a fantastic article today in the Wa-Po/Drf, about Orb's Derby win being "old school".
  • The old school believes a trainer should not manage a horse to fulfill the personal ambitions of the owner or trainer. The old school believes a trainer should be guided by the development and the capabilities of the animal. The old school believes judicious handling will eventually bring rewards.
The way he characterized the 'new school' was amazingly accurate, and so well-written
  • Every year he was a general masterminding an all-out assault on the Derby, and he threw his troops into battle knowing they would have to sustain casualties in the pursuit of his objective. 
"Sustain casualties" in the pursuit of the Derby. Think about that the next time you see a horse off the Derby trail with a hairline or bow.

Factory stables have commoditized horses to be pawns that are used to achieve a Derby win.  Does the horse need time to get sound? How can we, we won't be on schedule for the Derby. get the vet, spend $5,000 and send him to the Hypa-chamber.  Is the horse good enough for 10f and we have a chance to hurt his career if we race? Maybe, but let's go.

Maybe I am a fuddy-duddy, maybe the game has passed me by, maybe I am a softee, but give me the old school each and every time. The old school lets an animal tell you when and where he wants to race. That, to me, is not old school, it's common sense.

There's a new sport this weekend on twitter. It's called Beadle Bashing. Michele Beadle, the entertainment/fun/goofy-stuff-to-do-at-the-Derby NBC reporter is taking it on the chin from some (a lot) of racing fans. I've seen complaints that she knows nothing about racing, got terminology wrong, and didn't belong on the broadcast.

I must admit, it's flummoxing.

NBC and Churchill Downs, since about 2007, have made an all-out assault to increase the viewership for the Derby. The brand is huge for Churchill of course, but it's also formidable for NBC Sports. One of the things they've done is go after new demographics, as Seth Godin puts it, "the people who aren't looking at you".

To achieve that, they've sold the Derby spectacle. The parties, the red carpet, the pageantry and the tradition. Something to not go after you and me, but the new people watching, and to create a branded event that is a must see.

Ms. Beadle plays her role well, from what I saw. She's a fish out of water, along with millions of others watching who don't know a fetlock from a fraction, or a Beyer from a blinker (there are about ten people on the telecast to explain those things). She makes those people feel at home, and she does it in a comedic, fun way. It's not dissimilar to what happens in the Olympics, where many are watching the biathlon for the first time. There "fish out of water" reporting is key to ratings.

So far this strategy has worked. Ratings are up for the Derby, with well over 15 million tuning in. Prep races, even on the main network, draw less than one million. She, and before her entertainment reporter Billy Bush, have played a part in that, and don't expect it to change anytime soon.


Half mile track racing is an enigma for harness fans. The Jug is probably the only race, and track, where it can hold a bettors interest. A fans too. Yonkers and other tracks are up against it. Why? It was explored this weekend in HRU. (Pdf page 3). 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

An Industry Derby Win For Orb & Way Too Many Notes

Yesterday we had, as is almost always the case, another interesting Kentucky Derby.

The winner, Orb, has brought an almost giddy like glee to the sport. It's been said in racing 'when you lose, shake the winner's hand, say congratulations and mean it'. This year everyone means it.

Orb is not a factory stable horse, or a horse rushed to just race in the Derby. The storied connections have said many times, if the horse tells them he belongs they will race, if not, they won't.

The trainer, long known for pointing horses to big races only if they're ready, and carrying a deep respect for the colts and fillies entrusted to him, is well respected and a marvelous horseman.

The horse; what about the horse. He's pure class. A beautiful looking animal with readily apparent soundness who clearly appears to like his job: to do what he was bred to do. He's not a flashy speed type who rolls and tries to hold on. He magnificently has poise and can seemingly do whatever you want him to do. He's a 10 furlong horse, in a game which is breeding fewer and fewer of them of any quality.

I've been around racing for a long time. People were happy for Street Sense and several others. People respect a Derby winner no matter whom it is, because everyone knows how hard a feat it is to accomplish. This year it feels different. Maybe it's because of the recent headlines, with positive tests, trainers under security, raceday drugs, you name it. Maybe we all love racing so much, that when a shining star who has done things the right way wins a race like this we can feel pride and say "take that:.

Whatever the reason, everyone is happy for Shug, everyone is happy for the Janney's and Phipps', and everyone is happy for Orb. Everyone is happy.


The Pace is the story of many Derby's and it was in this years. Palice Malice first time blinkered, as well as a couple of other colts, raced like scared cats into the first turn, were unable to settle and scorched the opening half. This set it up for the closers.

How about Oxbow? Post one (technically not because stall one was left open), a strong move into a blistering pace and a good gallop out and finish. When someone said they liked Oxbow before the Derby they got looked at funny. That horse raced a fantastic race.

The "what the hell is he doing here horse", Giant Finish, was not even saddled by his trainer, who supposedly missed a connecting flight, but who also didn't look to want to be there either, if you believe the chatter on NBC. He came 10th, and raced really well.

Who did that 'joke entry' of Giant Finish beat? Only Verrazano, Overanalyze and Palace Malice, three fifths of team Pletcher. There was a lot of talk before the race that many bettors believe the numbers, and don't want a Pletcher horse on a ticket in a Derby. Derby 139 did nothing to change that feeling and it probably solidified it. Other than a non-threatening third, his horses raced like they usually do. They seem to leave the big Beyers in the preps, in a race where you have to rapidly improve a previous top.

It'smyluckyday didn't look comfortable at all. My speed choice and bet, was struggling the whole way around. When I saw the pan shot at the half, with the rider tapping his shoulder, you knew his race was over.

Java's War did what everyone thought he would: Walk out of the gate. He would probably be an amazing horse in the 1920's when they did those standing start things.

Normandy Invasion, the "skinny looking horse" after the Wood, looked fantastic in the post parade and raced it. Maybe it was a premature move by the jock, maybe it's the breeding, or maybe he just wasn't fast enough, but he raced really well.

Orb was the horse who was bred to get the distance. He was the one who was working like a champion, was happy, was fast, had a resume, and great connections. He was not the chalk until the last jump. 

Speaking of bets, I did something differently this year with the slop. I played for speed on a set of tickets (It'smyluckyday with Goldencents, and Oxbow wheeled in tris and supers) and a closer set, (with Orb, Mylute, Java's War and Golden Soul). The latter was obviously the best ticket, and I feel good about my flat bet on Golden Soul. I gave myself a chance to take home the track and making a score with him on top. When I saw how relaxed and sound he looked in the post parade, I increased the play. But unfortunately for me, he came second.

The Derby odds board is insane, and frankly, so are all the other races. There's always been a favorite longshot bias in horse racing, but on Derby day it's exacerbated to the extreme. The longest Derby shot was under 50-1, when he should've been 150-1. Some horses on the undercard who were likely 40-1 shots, were half that. It's an amazing day.

TVG could not show Churchill Downs races yesterday to their online customers. This is shameful and the industry (i.e. Churchill Downs) has to ensure that others - even their competition - who serve this sport via television and online can give their customers unfettered access to video 365 days a year, not 364. Customers are not there to be stepped on, inconvenienced or used, just because you own one day a year that will garner lots of handle.

Derby ratings were reported up in overnights, proving once again that American viewers love big events, no matter what they are. How can we turn some of that audience over to watch a Breeders Cup? I don't know, but the Derby is the Derby, and the Breeders Cup is the Breeders Cup.

Each year someone says we're going to see a Triple Crown winner. Each year I chuckle and bet against it. This year, count me in and make fun of me all you like. This sound, gorgeous, versatile, well-trained animal, has a good a shot, in my opinion, to take all three legs that I have ever seen. Go Orb.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Derby Day

Derby Day is upon us. It's the biggest day of the year in horse racing and has been for a gazillion years. It will likely be for a gazillion more.

It's a day where people out of the blue call you and ask you who you like because they're making their yearly bet....... and you're that cool dude or dudette that knows horse racing.

It's a day where horse racing people are all friendly; even to Joe Drape. It's a day when you don't get looked at funny for wearing a floppy hat. Where you can hear a newbie say "I think Sadler's Wells is a good dad to distance horses". Where you see celebrities at the track, doing, well, what celebrities do.

It's a day where after you've spent months looking at who is in the race, you finally look at the past performances, post positions, weather, pace scenario, workouts and say "I have no idea who I am going to bet."

It's a day where Dan at Thorotrends can tweet, "famous May 4 birthdays include Hosni Mubarak, Audrey Hepburn, George Will, and Java's War", and it seems perfectly fine.

It's a day where Churchill executives lose sleep, not because their weekly take at a slots parlor in Louisiana is down, but because they want a safe, happy, great day of racing.

It's a day where the hopes and dreams of the rich guy or gal who owns a horse are realized or dashed, but the grooms, farriers, feed men and everyone else who has a stake in a horse is right there with him or her.

It's a day where we forget about the work that goes into putting it on. From the track workers to the ticket sellers, to the custodians - everyone who makes this huge day happen.

Derby Day is not Churchill's day, nor is it Mike Repole's or Todd Pletcher's or the Governor of Kentucky's. It's all of ours.

Enjoy your Derby Day everyone, and may good racing luck be with you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Old Horse Racing Books, Same Horse Racing Problems; TV & the Derby

With apologies to Messers Beyer, AInslie et al, my most favorite handicapping book is Thoroughbred Handicapping, State of the Art, by William L. Quirin. Quirin's work was outside the box, whereby he was one of the first to look at a handicapping angle, and instead of showing a race where a horse won using it, drilled down into the data and created impact values and profit ($net).

Rereading the book, I had to chuckle at several instances, when we compare racing to today.

In one section, Quirin looked at the angle "closer to the lead". This angle did provide a flat bet profit, but did even better when filtered with "returned within ten days". One would think out of the 267 horses he looked at with this angle very few would have "returned within ten days", but 66 of them did. The horse he used to show what the angle looked like in the PP's was Crockford Lad, who in 1982 raced 22 times. He was making his fifth start on February 27th 1983.

This is a far cry from today, of course. I think even Richard Dutrow might say "those are some quick wheelbacks"

In another section he looked at supertrainer Oscar Barrera. Most New York fans who played in the 1980's will remember his stock vividly. He was the "off the claim move up" guy that we see so often today.

Here are a couple of gems:

"Ardent Bid who was 2 for 23 before being claimed won his next five of seven, the first of which four days after being claimed, two classes higher"

"Hot Words was 3 for 23 before being claimed for $7500. He won his first start four days later and won an allowance race two weeks later"

The more things change, in this case, the more they stay the same.

A few pages later, Quirin writes a short paragraph on drugs.

"When a claiming trainer develops a hot hand suddenly, the question of drugs arises. The trainer will ride the crest of the wave until the streak is broken, when a racetrack's chemists devise a test to identify the drug. Although patently unfair to rival horsemen, situations like this actually favor the astute handicapper."


"Florida is attempting to ban bute and lasix, and the trainers are boycotting the entry box in protest. What this country needs is a uniform set of rules applying to all states, and full disclosure in the Racing Form past performances of each horse's prior and current use of drugs."

It was coincidental that today a Joe Drape piece popped up in the New York Times that said the USADA is looking to take over medication rulings and reform in the US for horse racing. 

Joe Drape didn't create this problem, and neither did Senator Udall. It's been around forever, or at least since 1984 when Quirin's fine book was published.


Indulto looked at some solutions in response to one of my posts here at PTP, on TV and the Derby. He has some ideas that I agree with - namely software and giving fans more so they can make their own picks.

Steam-o-rama: Orb is the horse that clockers and the industry are both in love with. If this horse wins, horse racing will be a happy puppy.

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