Monday, September 30, 2013

Internal Memo Uncovered: New Email Policy Sweeps California Horse Racing

Through a source I can’t name (OK, it was Cub Reporter), I got my hands on a new internal memo circulated through California racing this morning. As you know, there was a story in today’s LA Times, where two emails that referenced 1960’s sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” caused quite a stir for the CHRB Chairman. With this turn of events, California Horse Racing has announced a new policy.

Although I have been warned this is top secret and I should not post it publicly, I accidentally hit "post" so it's too late now. Here it is:

MEMO: To Everyone in California Racing. New Email Policy Announced. Destroy After Reading

From this point forward any and all emails from any participants or employee or fan of California racing will not be allowed to reference any television show, movie, actor or actress, past or present, when corresponding with each other. 

Here are some real world examples:

If Rafael Bejarano is fouled in a race and 'overacts' to ensure the stewards see the foul, this can no longer be referred to as an “Affleck”. This goes for all in-person or electronic correspondence. 

When the medical director catches someone with a high TC02 test, we can no longer say “he went Sam Fujiyama on his ass” in reference to the forensic genius in the 1980’s drama “Quincy M.E.”.  It’s just not right. Plus, I think the fellow who played Sam is Canadian, and this may anger horseplayers north of the border who like watching Quincy reruns. Or something. 

We can no longer refer to TVG’s Todd Schrupp as the dude who looks like Hangover Part I, Part II and Part III and Part IV and Part V and Part VI actor, Ed Helms. I never really understood that one anyway, because I don't think he even looks like him. 

For gosh sakes, even if you liked a Mel Gibson movie, don’t bring it up. Think, people!

Bo Derek can be referenced because she said it’s okay.

For those of you who have asked, yes we are working on a Trevor Denman policy. It is proposed that he no longer use his signature line “moving like a winner” as to not offend the horses who are losing. As well, “he’s about to sprout wings” will be eliminated so that horses who cannot fly don’t feel left out. 

We live in a sensitive time, and as we all know, California teeters on the brink of insanity even on its best day, so let’s all be careful out there. 

Racing Needs a Goal, With a Dash of Peyton Manning

Leadership and goal-setting are probably overused concepts. We read about it, we get shuffled off to some retreat to take seminars about it in the corporate world and it's one of those buzz-things that everyone studies or promotes. But they get a bad rap, because it is vitally important to any franchise, sport, team or business.

A couple of years ago the Denver Broncos were pretty much a 0.500 team. Then along came an aging quarterback off a severe injury. A year later, that aging quarterback looks like he is about 25, and the team looks close to unbeatable. The quarterback who was a four time MVP along with a Super Bowl MVP continues to rewrite records.

Not far east, the Kansas City Chiefs won two games last year and were in disarray. On the offseason they went and hired a CEO as head coach. A man who works hard and knows how to run an organization. This year, with pretty much the exact same player roster, the Chiefs are 4-0, and look to be headed to a great season.

Peyton Manning works hard and is respected. This rubs off on everyone else. If he spends an hour making sure he throws to a spot where a receiver is supposed to be, that receiver better spend an hour working on being in that position. Often times on offensive teams the defence feels under-appreciated. What a leader does in that case is give them the credit, not himself when things go good, and take blame himself when things go bad. This makes the 12 guys on the other side of the ball work harder too. It's not dissimilar with the head coaching position.

In the NFL, success is kept score by wins and losses. A win is the prize, a loss is a reason to hang your head. It's simple, really. And wins and losses do not come out of thin air. There is always a leader attached, with an eye on that main prize.

This week the Globe and Mail launched an investigative piece into executive compensation at the Woodbine Entertainment Group. Execs, as well as the rank and file, received some pretty nice bonuses over the last several years, apparently. I believe people should be rewarded for good work, so don't think I am going to go all Daily Kos or New York Times on you here with that. I also do not know how this story came about; for all I know it could've been egged on by a casino company, looking to sabotage Woodbine's chances at one. What I will comment on, however, is that horse racing keeps score with its leadership in funny ways.

Woodbine (or "insert name of casino company who runs slots at a track here), will have their success and bonuses guided by slot revenue, not attendance, or handle. The "win" is not a record handle, it's whatever the slot check says at the end of the month for racing's cut. That's where the money comes from.

Horsemen are certainly not exempt. At some tracks, where 95% of purses come from slot machines, the win was tabulated by looking at how many people enter the slot parlor, not the apron to watch and bet on the third. "We got slots, who cares?"

In 2007, the Sadinsky Report spoke about how racing must be improved for the end user (bettor), as a goal. Benchmarks needed to be set, and score needed to be kept on handle and attendance, not how much money a slot machine made.

In 2009, the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan was broached, detailing pretty much the same thing.

Both of those plans are currently gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

Those actionable reports were not shelved because they had bad ideas, or they were unworkable. They were shelved because the sport keeps score with slot wins, purse levels or how much one spends on a chandelier, and there is no leader to stand up - no Peyton Manning or Andy Reid - to say "whoa, folks, enough is enough, we have to keep score a different way, or we're finished."

Racing in Ontario, and the cuts previously to Pennsylvania and Iowa from slots, were not engineered because slot win was too low, or the paddocks weren't shiny enough, or purse levels were not up to snuff. They were cut because there were not enough people betting and watching racing.

Why our sport does not have a leader setting the goalposts in a different spot, after all the evidence we've seen, is simply beyond my comprehension. Peyton Manning does not get a bonus for the number of hot dogs the Denver Broncos sell, he gets a bonus for how many wins they get and leads 23 other players on the field towards that goal. Racing should be no different.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Saturday Fun & The Captain

Yesterday was quite an interesting day in racing land.

At Belmont there was a collection of stakes races, which (other than the coupling of entries) made for some good betting affairs. I got my butt kicked, but still enjoyed it.

In the Beldame, Royal Delta was a strong favorite at Betfair (1.33) but lost to the three year old - Princess of Sylmar. Junior on Roman Invader appeared to think the race was seven furlongs; how else do you explain the 22.4 second quarter, and that seemed to put Royal Delta in a precarious position. She wanted to engage, went fairly uneven fractions, and could not hold off the filly, who was stalking on the best part of the racetrack. The time was a sparkling 147 and change.

Someone on twitter said, she 'might be good enough to try the Classic', and that might not be wrong. She was full of herself at the line, and if one wants to extrapolate, she probably could've went another eighth in 13 seconds, which would have put her with Palace Malice in the JCGC. Princess of Sylmar seems to be an anti-Pletcher horse. She was not wound up early (she was 40-1 earlier in her career) and seemed to be behind a few others. She has matured, or left to mature (one of the two) and has become the best filly in racing, this fall.

Speaking of the JCGC, inside speed bias or not, that was a great performance by Bill Mott's Ron the Greek. From the top of the lane home there was one horse raring to go, and it was him. Orb was asked before the three quarters and had zip, while some of the others, like Alpha and Palace Malice, raced their race. They just weren't good enough.

How did I lose the last pick 4? Like a lot of you, by not using Little Mike. If Little Mike walked up to me on the street Saturday and said "Bet me, I am going to win" my only response would've been, "holy crap, a talking horse". 

Over at Santa Anita, Mucho Macho Man was in fine form. He was about four wide on both turns and he was so much the best it did not matter one iota. 

On to harness.......

The Captain beat up on some also-rans at the Red Mile in his division of the Blue Grass. Normally you could not read too much into it, however, that effort was really, really good. Often times at this stage of a three year olds season he has trouble being sharp - the travel and the kinks take hold. If you thought you were seeing that with the pedestrian last quarter in the Cane Pace, that was extinguished last evening.

The Captain's season, bad crop or not, is looking more like the Beach's or Rock n' Roll Heaven's, where they are finishing stronger than they started. That's great management.

Many times early in the year, the Captain could be, and looked, easily beatable. The only time a horse had tactical advantage on him, in fact, he was beaten. Other times, like holding off a first over Vegas Vacation by a nose, or Captive Audience by the same margin at 40-1 in the Cup elimination, he held that advantage. The way he looked last evening, that Captain might be gone. He looks stronger and better gaited.

Last up in Harness, we have a column in HRU about the rules and regulaions, specifically the kicking fines at the Delaware State Fair last week. Give it a read if you'd like. PDF page 5

Have a great Sunday everyone.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Uncouple Everything

Long ago when purses were $250 at Dresden Raceway, or $400 at a meet in Oklahoma coupled entries had its place. If you can make $125 for the win, but can make $1,250 for betting the other half to win, there was some incentive. It's not that way any longer, and bettors know that.

For evidence, look no further than Betfair. They uncouple horses. There is no 1 and 1A and 1X or 2 and 2B/ They have done so because it encourages betting, and most importantly, their customers demand it.

A quick anecdote. I was watching the races recently and there was a 1 and a 1A at a major US track. I did not mind the one, but I feared a huge overbet. The 1A was more than solid and had great late pace numbers on a track that was playing to late. The entry was 3-1 and I sat on my hands. I flipped over to betfair. The one was 9-2 and the 1A was 18-1. There was $4,000 matched on the 1 and 1A uncoupled, instead of(in a short field) almost nothing of note bet overall. (the 1A won easily, and those who liked her got $8.20 in the pool, and $37 at Betfair for a $2 bet)

As a horse owner I admit, I love three horse fields, and non-competitive races. If I were a part of our old market (the one who now plays slots) I could see wanting not to change this rule as I would see a bogeyman behind every sulky or on top of every horse. But for us to be taken seriously in the gambling world it is about time this rule found its way out of racing. We are intelligent and need to be treated as such.

and marketing writer Seth Godin had an interesting blog piece about tackling problems. He says that we should envision our business as a big box with 16 squares. The problem comes when one of the boxes encapsulates our efforts and we wring our hands over that box and ignore everything else.

"If you persuade yourself and your friends that times are really tough and that you're bound to fail, you'll probably do the things you need to do to make that true in the long run."

Things are tough, yes, but uncoupling entries is one box of the sixteen and it should not take any time or effort at all. It won't kill us to fix it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

USTA Decision Short-Sighted

Today the USTA decided to reject the RCI model rules on medication.

I was not privy to these discussions, but this smacks of a "they're different so we should leave this to them" meme. What should have been thought of instead, is that, yes, we're different, but making this work is vitally important, because (in no small part) leaving this association makes us look like a bunch of chemical dependent  cowboys.

This, in my opinion, is terrible PR, and a short-sighted decision from a sport which is well-known for it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cub Reporter Sniffs out the Santa Anita "Tweaks to the Betting Menu"

Today it was reported that Santa Anita "will be proposing some modifications to both our wagering menu and associated takeout rates for the forthcoming traditional meet."

I know, I know, as a horseplayer this frightens you more than a late night text from Anthony Weiner.

I have called around and I found out some inside information on these takeout changes and 'tweaks' along with their promotions, though, as a public service. Cub Reporter, the underground reporter beholden to no one (not even that dude who bought the Thoroughbred Times), informs me he has clandestinely sat in meetings where, and I quote (because I am putting those little quote signs around it) "I've got the scoop".

"It seems everyone was invited for their opinion, in a big board meeting at Frank Stronach's compound, which strangely looks a lot like that place in Austria that Charles Bronson and Donald Sutherland broke into in the Dirty Dozen." said Cub.

"Some of the suggestions were not great, but some seemed to have merit. Even Stronach nodded at a couple while stroking a cat" he noted.

"As far as I can tell here are the ones that gained the most traction". said Cub.
  • An increase in takeout rates of 5% across the board, accompanied with a coupon for free extra hummus from Binder's Falafal Truck on food truck day. 
  • An increase in takeout rates of 4% across the board, but two free poster days a month. Poster subjects to include Bo Derek in her Tommy Boy appearance, and to stay cost effective, some leftover posters of Best Pal. 
  •  A new bet: The super high five five. You have to hit the super high five five times in a row. Takeout is 45%, with 44% of it going to the TOC to help make four horse fields five horse fields. This one had some opposition. The CHRB chair said "That's f*&#(@ stupid. M&#(@)$ f*#&@r."
  • An increase in takeout rates of 6% on exotics, but unlimited free balls for the Andy Asaro Dunk Tank on Racetrack Executive Appreciation Day.
  • An increase of takeout rates of 5%, but a free walk by the new 143 million dollar chandelier. If you want to touch it, it will cost you a dollar.
  • Frank's Energy Drink Discount Day. If you buy a $9 beer, you get a coupon for 35 cents off a Frank's Energy Drink. 
  • An increase in takeout rates of 2% in WPS to "be more competitive with Assiniboia Downs", along with a free autograph session with the after races band "Wang Chung". "We normally charge for this" said an unnamed exec. 
  • A 5% takeout increase on all bets, but at the end of the meet someone wins a new Blackberry. 
  • A new Halloween promo where kids can get dressed up as their favorite horses or riders and trick or treat in the Turf Club. Note: Kids will be warned beforehand that if they visit the TOC table they will have two thirds of their candy taken away.
  • "Rolling Doubles" where the daily double takeout doubles each race, so in the last race if someone hits it, they owe the track money.
If Cub Reporter is right, it will be interesting to see how many of these new items pass, and how fans and bettors respond to them.

The Snowball Effect

Today (dovetailing on our last blog piece) the Wall Street Journal reported "Blackberry's Slump in Four Charts".

In 2009, the smartphone maker had a 50% market share in US Operating Systems. Now it is 2%.

In modern society, where tech is based on sharing and consumer decision making is quicker than ever, these kind of losses can be seen in a brief period of time (MySpace, anyone?).

In racing, which is built on a pari-mutuel system, it is not really that much different.

When a track loses handle, and it reaches a pool size inflection (or tipping) point, the snowball rolls pretty fast.

Remember "B" tracks with $700,000-$1,000,000 in nightly handles? A lot of those fell from a million to $500k, then to $300k and it happened pretty quickly. They did not lose 60 or 70% of their "fans" in that period of time, they lost that in dollars, as people shifted their play to other places with better pool size. Racing, like a smartphone maker, needs a critical mass of dollars in the pool to attract more dollars in the pool. When they lose that, their handle chart can look a lot like Blackberry's market share.

Woodbine/Mohawk is probably a good example on how that tide can be stemmed however. Only a few years ago some night's there were reaching the critical mass alarm, with handles approaching $800k on say a Thursday. They retooled: Instead of blocking their signal to ADW's, disliking better pricing etc, they changed and handle vaulted back up. Now Mohawk, even on a sire stakes night with grassroots horses can pull double what they were doing a few short years ago in handle.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Netflix, Blackberry and...... Horse Racing?

Last night at the Emmy Awards, Netflix- the online distributor of streamed content - broke through with a big win.

The Netflix created, funded and produced "House of Cards" director David Finch, won for best director Emmy for a drama series. Old time networks, and cable networks, were fairly stunned. I mean, House of Cards is not on "TV", how did it win?

Netflix has long been an interesting beast. From early on being a stock darling, they were signing up subscribers and charging them what the market thought was a pretty cheap price (around $8 a month). Analysts who did not like the stock constantly pointed to the fact that their content could go "poof" at any minute, and competition, through legacy networks or otherwise could crush them. In 2011 and 2012 that appeared to be happening. They lost suppliers, were being priced out by others, and places like Amazon started Amazon Prime, and the networks were working Hulu Plus.

It looked to be the downturn of the online streaming company. Netflix shares plummeted and we saw a whole lot of "I told you so's".

But Netflix was not stupid. They knew what the analysts were saying was correct and they knew they were disrupting the marketplace, without disruptive technology. Rather than rest on the fact they had 25 million subscribers who may not always be there, they evolved and adapted. They threw over $100 million into House of Cards. They produced several other dramas. Just like HBO or AMC was doing, they were producing in house content, to become a network that you could watch when you want, how you want, on what device you want. They weren't depending on their 25 million subscribers, they were leveraging them.

The jury is still out and the company has a ways to go, but through massive investment, they have given themselves a huge shot to change the way people watch television shows forever.

Conversely, back in the 1990's I was a kid who found himself out of a job during the start of the .com boom and I had to pay the bills somehow. I had a shell company with no debt I was trying to reverse takeover (an easier way to do an IPO) with a tech company. I met with the Kitchener-based tech company founder in downtown Toronto at a pub to discuss plans. A minute or so after we started talking his shirt buzzed and he pulled out this neat "phone" where he could get push email. It was a blackberry. It turns out he supplied Research in Motion something or other, and they gave him a prototype of some sort.

I was fascinated with this device. I could get email like that? In real time? I wanted one.

And so did everyone else. Not long after, the device was developed, marketed and it exploded the marketplace. The edge that company had with push email was remarkable. It built a multi-multi billion dollar company. And others like Palm who were trying to enter the market, were annihilated.

Just last week RIM (now called Blackberry) cut about a third of their workforce. They lost over a billion for the quarter and analysts and columnists are dancing on their grave. Most commentary focuses on the fact that RIM's edge on real time email was eroded and they never invested and evolved. Apple, Samsung, through iOS and Android kicked their ass and they can never recover.  A company that had more users than Netflix does by a factor of two or three, has them no more.

Horse racing is neither Netflix nor RIM, but it has a lot of RIM in it that we care to admit.

Horse racing had a gaming monopoly for years, and rarely innovated. Rather than increase reach or do things differently, or invest like Netflix did, they rested on that, hoping it would stay that way forever. Even today the monopoly thinking clutches to us like a leech. We lament the monopoly has been taken away and as restitution, we need gaming money back.

In one area where horse racing still has a de-facto monopoly - online wagering - the old thinking still permeates. All we have seen from racing regarding ADW wagering is that we should tax it more out of state (like they did in New York), or we want a bigger slice of it, because we don't have enough money, or it should be banned so people come to the track, like in Arizona.

Taxing something more makes people want less of it. Taking a bigger slice of a margin makes resellers invest fewer dollars into customer growth and innovation. Banning it, well, bans it. All of those tactics mean fewer customers. It doesn't mean you can't tweak your distribution and reach, to make it better or more equitable, but there is no denying that those things are the anti-Netflix. If we want fewer customers, good going.

Racing has always needed more investment and more long term vision on their end product that supplies purses (i.e. betting). It's always needed to realize that the end can come much more quickly than we ever imagined without it. But investment and vision has always taken a back seat - even in places like Ontario that had a fat $3B check written to it from slot money the last 12 years - to a purse and the status quo.

As racing's market share continues to shrink, we need not ask what things once were and how we may turn back the clock, we have to ask what to do now to move forward. Let Blackberry be a case study at Wharton about what not to do, let horse racing move towards being a positive case study one day. We need leaders with real vision to make that happen.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parx & California Fight Negative Branding

Yesterday I noticed an interesting "teachable moment" in horse racing. I found it fascinating, and maybe you will too.

Parx (Philly Park) has their big day today - The Cotillion and the Pennsylvania Derby. When Keeneland or NYRA or a dozen or more other tracks have a big day, most of the chatter on chat boards or social media is about, well, the big day. But with Parx it is usually different:

It never seems to fail. Parx's negative branding on some of their egregious takeout rates (it's not only Parx, it's the entire state of Pennsylvania's tracks) usually ends up trumping any good buzz. If a race is Fred Astaire, a horseplayer commenting on their takeout rates, or lack of respect for customers, is Ginger Rogers.

Similarly, yesterday Santa Anita, along with the TOC, were chatting about the upcoming meet. In the (original) press release they noted pick 4 guarantees and that one was starting in race 1. As we all know, the lower rake pick 5, which has been a success, is raced in race one. The pick 5 was a brainchild of the tracks, along with horseplayers. They fought the horsemen group to get it put in, and it's no secret the TOC was not a fan.

The immediate reaction?

The pick 5 (and I still do not have the foggiest why their most popular bet was not mentioned in the release, it's like McDonald's saying "come one come all for our Filet o' Fish), is alive and well, so they tell me.

But branding trumps all.
If Keeneland puts out a press release with a mistake on takeout rates, customers say "that has to be a mistake" because Keeneland has branded itself on being customer friendly. In fact, in the early 2000's they wanted to lower their takeout to 12% in the WPS pools, but partner tracks said it was too low. We rarely if ever, worry about Keeneland not having a customers back.

When California does the same thing? Customers immediately think they're getting screwed.

It's a lesson for racing - or any business really - when you have negative branding, it hurts you and it is something you need to pay attention to. There is a way to fix it, however. If you do customer friendly things, over time your customers will stop thinking you are out to fleece them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Driver Unhappy..... With Following the Rules of Racing?

Harnesslink reported today that a driver who was fined for breaking the rules of racing didn't seem to like it much. 
  •  Before the start of the Delaware State Fair on Sunday, the Little Brown Jug, in a letter, re-issued the OSRC rulings in the race paddock that state: Penalties Mandated by the Ohio State Racing Commission.. No Excessive whipping; Whip cannot go behind the shoulders; No whipping below the shafts; No excessive laying back in the sulky; No kicking—feet must remain in the stirrups unless pulling the plugs.
That's fairly straightforward one can think. You can't kick a horse, whip the stifles where it cuts them, or in the genetalia, which is well, flat out cruel. All are against the rules.

  •  The problems began on Sunday when driver Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. was fined for taking his foot out of the stirrups multiple times during the race card. He was not kicking or touching the horse but there are times when your foot does split out.It was reported that when Wrenn, Jr. found out that he was fined and how much it was, he promptly told race officials to take him off all his drives at the Delaware State Fair.
Do the words "cry me a river" come to mind?

If you are alerted to the rules, alerted to the fact that they will be called and still break them, you only have yourself to blame.

It's like being alerted that there's a speed trap ahead, blazing through it doing 85, and being pissed off that a cop gave you a ticket.

It's time for harness racing to clean house. Racing is a privilege, not a right. If you don't like the rules, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Wise Dan Enters Zenyatta Territory

Yesterday, as almost everyone knows, Wise Dan galloped to an easy win in the Woodbine Mile. He sat slightly behind a fast pace and romped home with ridiculous ease to set a new track record.

What was also ridiculous was the buzz this horse is generating. While winning his 9th in a row, he is finding himself in that rare spot in racing: A horse who can draw viewers, handle and some serious interest.

Woodbine set a new handle record for Mile day, and just about everywhere yesterday afternoon, almost everyone on my twitter feed was watching one racetrack, and that was Woodbine. Often times the Paulick Report puts a topic up on a race result. Very rarely there are too many comments, even in a sparkling victory, but at the link above there's a lot of congratulations.

If we compare all of that to Wise Dan's last win at Woodbine last year, well, there is no comparison.

When horses race longer and longer, and win and continue to win, they create a following. Wise Dan has that following. He's starting to look more like Zenyatta in terms of fan support - the trainer and owner's choice of races notwithstanding - than any other horse we've seen this side of the Atlantic or Pacific of late.

When you see events like this it proves that racing still has that fan draw, if we have a horse worthy of it. The sport can move mountains with such animals, and it's probably why so many were disappointed Frankel called it quits last year without going to the Breeders Cup. Could you imagine that buzz?

This year the Breeders Cup has its star to promote, there's no question about it. His name is Wise Dan. He's clearly the star of the show.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Exchange to Debut at Cal Expo, Harness Racing's Social Media Stars, & Get Your Wings!

What do @jerseytom , @gingras 3 , and others on social media for harness racing have in common? According to an article in today's Harness Racing Update, they're stars on twitter. (pdf, page 5).

Also in Harness Racing Update, Chris Schick talks about exchange wagering being approved for Cal Expo.

He said:
  • The commission on winning wagers will range from 5 to 10 percent, depending on the volume of play of the customer. That is considerably higher than the rate paid by European customers. Betting will also continue as the race is
    progressing, with players having the opportunity to bet on or against horses as the race unfolds.
If you have not tried in-running betting, you can there. Let's hope there are market makers, because if so, it is extremely entertaining. It should be up and running by January 1st.

19 have entered the Little Brown Jug. It goes next Thursday. 

There's a huge card tonight at Mohawk highlighted by the Canadian Trotting Classic. I like Your So Vain to win it.

The other big news is that Bris's Ed DeRosa is heading to Mohawk today to take in the action. Have fun Ed, and I have it on strong authority the chicken wings are pretty good at Mohawk. Enjoy!

Have a nice Saturday everyone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Upcoming European Op-Ed Piece Will Anger American Horse Racing

I opened my inbox today and I found something pretty shocking.  It appears an unnamed European horse racing executive, or participant (the details are sketchy at this early stage), has written an op-ed about American-European horse racing relations to be released in a top American newspaper. This was uncovered by the dogged work of a man or woman only known as "Cub Reporter". This appears to be a first draft, so when it is released it might look much different.

Cub asked me to not publish this - just to let it play - or I quote "I'll go Snowden on your ass". Since I don't know what that means (I rarely follow the news) and I already cut and pasted it below, I'm going to let it fly.

A Plea For Caution, by an unnamed source

Good day American Dirt Cowboys. I come to speak to you with honor and deep respect.

Horse racing in Europe and horse racing in America have had a long history. We have had such stars as Frankel grace our racetracks, and you have lots of horses who go really fast and then get tired, like the ones who race four and a half furlongs at Charles Town. We share, well we share not much really, but we do share horses that have four legs, most of which are brown or bay. 

Since we're both (kind of) in horse racing, I'd like to set you straight, offer up some suggestions to help you get through the trouble you are having.

First, you must get rid of lasix. You must do what we do: that is, treat the horse with a lot of other things to help them not bleed, and tell everyone we don't use anything. This allows us to make fun of you, so it is a good policy. If you eliminate lasix, you too can make fun of places that use it, like China. I am unsure if there are any racetracks in China, but if there are, I am willing to bet my salary (after my 82% tax rate, not the gross salary) that the Chinese are using lasix. Join us and let's band together against the Chinese.

Second, you must get rid of dirt racetracks. Dirt is dirty and it's unsafe. I read the New York Times ,and they said so, and I know how everyone follows the New York Times in America. Well everyone except people in all those states no one lives in. Regardless, this must be done and this policy must not be mangled. There will be pushback. The Daily Racing Form won't like it. The speed figure makers are going to revolt. But you must stand strong.

Third, we do not use steroids so

Third, we'd like you to change the Breeders Cup. We'd like eight races, seven on turf and one at 3 miles on polytrack, tapeta or cushion, possibly over barriers. If you do this, we might even bring Frankel out of retirement and race him. We also might arrange that top boy band "One Direction" plays the Grey Goose party. The Breeders Cup is too long anyway, so this is probably what you Americans call a "no brainer". The World is asking you to do this. You must listen, like all countries do with the UN.

Fourth, we think having two horse racing television stations is no good for the sport, and we think you should consolidate them into one, like we do with "Sky Sports". When I was in America the last time, I watched HRTV at midnight and all they had on was some sort of something you call "Rodeo". This won't fly over here because we are very cultured.

Fifth, and we ask this as a personal favor, please take back Frank Stronach. He's been here all summer and it's starting to wear on us. 

In conclusion, I heard that cowboy-hatted fellow Larry Jones the other day say that American horse racing is "great". It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as great, whatever the motivation. We ask that you, American horsepeople, think of yourselves as okay, but flawed; a work in progress, much like your young country is. This will allow you to grow and evolve, so that one day you can write an op-ed piece like this to another horse racing country that needs help. Good luck, and God bless you.

For Racing, Newspapers Are More Than Firestarters

My cottage neighbor behind me has a neat little house he built that has a nice sitting area, screen room and old cast iron stove. On cooler nights he lights a fire and invites everyone over for a couple of beverages if they so choose. He's always after newspapers - flyers, the dailies whatever - not to read, but to use to spark a fire. There are a lot of people today who think that's about what they're good for. Who needs a cumbersome paper anymore; after all, I have an iPad!

Bill Finley thinks that the lack of newspaper coverage of the sport can hurt attendance figures and did hurt them at the last Saratoga meet.
  • The subjects of the News and Post came up at a NYRA Board of Directors meeting in the late spring, but the problem was dismissed in the time it would take for one Board member to say "It's no big deal. No one reads newspapers anymore." OK, so newspapers aren't what they once were. But the combined circulation of those two papers is still at 1.5 million. That's 1.5 million people who no longer read about horse racing, no longer are reminded every day that Saratoga is going on and that it is special. 
Being a digital marketer myself, one might think I disagree. But I could not agree more. I've felt this way too, for a lot of years.

Newspapers are still read by a lot of people, especially in urban centers like New York and Toronto. Take one trip on the subway for evidence of that.

If you are a visitor to a town, what do many do? They read the paper that the hotel graciously sends up. If on page A3 there is a story of a race going on nearby, they learn about it. Google makes billions by 'targeted marketing', i.e. people are searching for products and services that they are looking for and aware of. People are much less likely to search google for a local racetrack if they don't know one exists.

Google and other digital marketing mediums are adding mucho-revenue from something called "retargeting". These are the ads that follow you around on the Internet nowadays. What better retargeting than a newspaper that people are reading to remind you that yes, there is a race this weekend and here are the entries and analysis. There's a $12.99 buffet special too.

Horse racing runs away from the fact that a lot of customers and racing fans are over the age of 60. Sometimes I wonder why. They're the ones going to the casino, bingo, or taking bus trips to Atlantic City. They've got money and time, exactly what a racecard and racetrack wants and need. And a lot of them still read the newspaper. In baseball it might be good to hit them where they ain't, but in marketing it's the opposite. I am pretty sure there's a retiree that might be enticed to go to Gulfstream if they read about it in the paper each day of the meet over their morning coffee. Without it in the newspaper, they might not even know there is a meet.

Newspapers have taken it on the chin the last ten years or so and those issues are much more important than little old horse racing. However, leveraging what they are is still important for the sport. What they once were has no real relevance.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Premier Wynne Talks "5 Year Plan"

In a letter sent to the racing industry in Ontario, along with the transition panel, we saw some new prose. Specifically we see talk of a "5 year plan".
  • I require that you establish the specific amount of recommended government investment required during the Five Year Plan to achieve a vibrant, sustainable horse racing industry that is accountable, transparent, customer-focused and of net benefit to the taxpayers of Ontario. 
In year one of this process (cancelling the slots revenue from racing) this was a "one year plan". A year later it was a "three year plan". Now we're seeing "5 year plan" floating around.

Most observers were shocked - not that slots were cancelled, most might say that was inevitable - that a massive industry like horse racing was given only one year to change.  Five years is more like it.

Whether this plan includes funding for five years or more is the question. However, it appears this is a step in the right direction and it is happening near the harness yearling sales that were off 30% or more last season.

It seems everyone is on notice. The industry is because after 5 years it will have to show sustainability, and the government (and future governments) are, because this is a plan that will likely never be cancelled in year two or three if done correctly.

I suspect this is a good day for Ontario horse racing, but I've always been an optimist in this, so maybe that's jaded.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In a Betting State of Mind

Jerod's a good horseplayer and a sharp dude. In this month's edition of Horseplayer Monthly he wrote a super-good article on making sure you set the table to be a good player. If not - if you are distracted, are not comfortable, have not done the work - you are probably going to fail.

He wrote:

"As a father of two little ones, in a two person working household, with a job that requires a fair bit of travel; free time is at a premium. In my own experience, this game requires a huge time commitment to be effective. Even with the aid of a sophisticated handicapping software provider, time is the single most key ingredient to successful play. Perhaps this is not the case for others, but my best results have been in years where free time was abundant. I’m sure many of you out there in Handicapping Land are in a similar situation in one form or another. I’ve found myself quite frustrated over my recent handicapping results, but only have myself to blame as no one is putting a gun to my head and placing these losing bets."

In a recent interview with Mike Maloney, this was echoed:

"A lot of that is pressure and just the grind of being there. And it's very labor-intensive work. I work 80 or 85 hours a week when I'm playing seriously. If I don't work those hours, I'm not successful. It's that tenuous for me: If I don't do it at a certain level of effort, then I can't be successful."

A player who is juggling a job change, a couple kids and a wife who is doing the same has the exact same feeling as a pro player who has been doing this for years. This ain't smoke blowin'.

I don't play poker and maybe there is some overlap in "being in a zone" of some sort, but I don't think poker players go through the same process we do, in setting the table to be comfortable and confident. Their brain has the tools needed to sit down at a table. They choose the table - bet size, limit or no limit. The variables are much fewer than what your average horseplayer does each day.

We have to be firm on what's playing at a track - speed, no bias, closers. We have to be firm on the horses we like. We have to know if a trainer is tearing it up or cold. There are literally thousands of factors we have to be happy with before we make a play. This is what makes handicapping the greatest game in the land, but the most frustrating at the same time. As the title suggests, it is "Work, Life, Handicapping Balance"

To read the rest of Jerod's article and to sign up for the Horseplayer Monthly e-magazine each month for free, please click here.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Booting is "Out of Control"

John B on twitter last night said the current harness driver practice of booting the hocks has gotten "out of control."

Hock kicking involves dropping the feet out of the stirrups to sting or scare a horse into going faster. As one poster put it, "it's for hillbillies" and built for another time, but it's going on each day. It's illegal, it always has been illegal; in fact, all you have to do is ask Walter Case about it if you want to know if it's okay or not.

After John posted that (he was referring to Winds of Change being booted in the Champlain Stakes at Mohawk), I went to a chat board where an everyday bettor said "check the boots in the Scioto race on Pet Rock"

So I did.

As John pointed out "I am surprised his leg was not broken". Watch the video here (the leader at the 1:50 mark) for some of the most blatant booting you will see.

Last year's Jug (if you remember twitter chats at that time) was a bootfest, and its just around the corner. This has been going on for some time. And the judges seem to be watching a football game. There is rarely, if ever, a fine of any kind.

Harness racing is a messed up sport. There's no commissioner, no leader, it's like no one minds the store. We all know that and it's a primary reason it is so screwed up. However, this is probably not hard to fix.

1, Judges have to get off their ass and call it
2. Fine the offenders $1,000 and give them a week. For any added infraction double it.

If that's done, booting will be stopped in a week. We know this from experience. In Ontario in 2009 the Ontario Racing Commission received complaints from the public about this (it's the 2000's and booting a horse's hocks is not copacetic with the public, who pay everyone's purses) and they acted; swiftly and without any equivocation. The nightly occurrence of feet out of the stirrups was gone in no time.

Other states should've learned from Ontario. But like most of harness racing, it seems asleep at the switch.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Luc Blais and Intimidate Stay Old School

In thoroughbred racing, horses off a handful of starts - much fewer than years ago - head to Kentucky to race 10 furlongs in a 20 horse field in front of 100,000 people, in May. In harness racing, years ago a trainer would let a horse race into his or her own, and they'd let them tell you when they were ready to go faster. Now, trainers have their horses peaking in qualifiers in April, ready to go fast in start one.

Modern racing seems to be all about throwing a horse into the deep end of the pool.

It is that way, unless you are trainer Luc Blais, and your horse is a trotter named Intimidate.

Last year the industry was shocked that this Quebec bred gelding, racing very cautiously in slow times most of the early year, won the Breeders Crown. This year the industry was shocked when the horse came back to prep in Quebec, racing in 2:01, or ten full seconds slower than he was racing in. Like, isn't he supposed to qualify in 1:53 and be ready to go 1:51 May 10th? That's the way things are done. What's with this guy?

Lo and behold, after fie or six starts, he was finally ready. Blais shipped the Crown champ to Vernon last night for the Credit Winner and he beat the best in the World in 1:51, a new track record. 

This horse, just like last season, went fast when he was ready to go fast, and he seems to be on his way to contending in another Breeders Crown.

Enjoy your Saturday folks.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Inside Scoop on the ABR Fan Pool: Why is the Dude So Low?

Good morning everyone.

I opened my email thing this morning to check the electronic mail, and lo and behold I get an article sent to me from Cub Reporter. Cub Reporter is an independent turf journalist who touches stories others will not touch. He fears no one - not the Jockey Club, not Joe Drape, not even the King of Austria, Racing, Frank Stronach - so he generally has something interesting to say.

Today he has been focused on the America's Best Racing Fan poll, out this week which shows Game on Dude in 5th place.   Game on Dude, as most know, has been stellar this season, and eminently unbeatable, while running fast times. According to Cub Reporter, this made him say "Cub, you must dig deep and uncover what's going on with this poll". And he wrote about it.

He told me not to publish this here under any circumstances. So I post it for you now.

Game On Dude: Oversight or Sabotage? By Cub Reporter

This week, America's Best Racing published a fan poll showing Game on Dude in 5th position, behind Wise Dan, Kettle Corn, Royal Delta and Big Blue Kitten.

Despite the obvious question - there's really a horse named Kettle Corn? - this result is perplexing.

"We're very comfortable with our poll. We've had auditors in to look at the results and they have passed the stringent tests that auditors do when they audit things. Alex Waldrop even looked at it and gave it the seal of approval" said ABR/NTRA Vice President of Acronyms Stephen J. Panus (who should not be confused with Michael J. Fox, who is Canadian.)

"I checked the poll too, and we're good," said Director of Social Media and Fan Polls, Penelope J. Miller (we're not sure about the J).

"I looked into the logs and I saw nothing untowards" she elaborated. "There were quite a few votes for Wise Dan from email addresses ending in "" but we think those are legit. There were votes from someone named "" for all horses other than Game on Dude. We did get a lot of votes from a website that rescues kittens, and another place that's called "The World of Corn", but all of that looked fine to me."

From in and around racing, this result was curious to many.

"I have not seen him on the turnback, but I probably would've voted for Game on Dude, Eric" said NYRA racing analyst Andy Serling. When I asked why he was calling me Eric he said, "thanks Eric".

"I was very upset," said New York Times racing writer Joe Drape.  "The Dude should be on top and this is a mangled poll", he noted.

"The Paulick Report has polls. We have lots of traffic. We were up over one trillion uniques last month," said Ray Paulick.

"I voted for Zenyatta," said Tampa Bay Downs announcer Richard Grunder. 

Others seemed to be fine with the poll, and agree.

"I want to bet him with a 1% reduction in takeout before I am convinced, so I would've voted for Wise Dan.  But I am 100% sure this horse, if he so chooses, should be able to breastfeed anywhere," said horseplayer activist Andy Asaro.

An anonymous source with an email ending with "attheraceswithstevebyk" said, "I heard someone comparing him to Best Pal the other day, and not in a good way".

Trainer Shug McGaughey said he was very impressed with Orb's work.

No one at the DRF was available for comment, because it appears all of their email addresses are now behind a paywall.

We will probably have to wait until the next ABR poll is released to make any firm conclusions. However, the poll has caused some questions throughout racing and Cub Reporter will not stop digging for the truth.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sometimes I Wonder If Anyone Bets

When a 'new' idea comes about in horse racing, it always seems to be an old idea that's repackaged. Today on the Paulick Report, Fred Pope talked about NYRA raising their signal fees to get more from the people who show their races. So, in effect, Woodbine or Beulah would have to pay more to show the NYRA races, as would Twinspires, Keeneland and others.

Racing usually ends up talking about splits, like somehow giving team A more cash from team B will make team A and B richer. I never quite understood it, but each month, or quarter there it is. It pops up about as frequently as a Kardashian on a cover of a magazine in a grocery store check-out line.

Reading comments, or hearing racing's bigwigs talk back and forth, it usually makes me wonder: Does anyone who makes these decisions even bet?

It started with the dismantling of offshore internet wagering (and before then at Woodbine, where getting "rid of offshore pirates" was the big policy of the day). Racing was after them (rightfully so I might add) but had this strange idea that eliminating them would get all these customers back to the track, and we'd be tripping over $100 bills on the way to the shedrow. Players said it was not going to happen like that, but that was the prevailing thought.

You knew why you were playing offshore. You were there because after twenty years of not being able to come close to beating or enjoying the game with super-high takeouts, you found somewhere that helped you. You played more, you bet more and you at least had a shot. Going back to high takeout and getting your head kicked in was never even a remote option. Some of you tried, but it got old quickly, and you left.

I think the UIGEA was passed in 2008, when handle was $15 billion dollars. It'll be about $10.5 billion this year.

Customers are not crazy, or out there, or greedy. They are perfectly rational. But racing never has never been able to understand them.

I guess that's why split changes make so much sense; somehow the customer is "not involved", they say. Shuffling the money can work, they tell you. How? No one knows, because they don't understand you, the customer.

Increasing a signal fee by 5% from NYRA to Woodbine sounds like a great idea I guess. But when the signal fee goes up, Woodbine's revenue starts going down. The horsemen split the home NYRA handle 50/50, so their share for purses goes down as well.  Rebates are the first thing to be eliminated, followed indubitably by cuts to the innovation of the HPI betting platform and other customer growth and centric mechanisms. Then, horsemen groups feel that cutting off a high priced signal is better to 'force customers to bet into the high margin live pools' so that gets discussed. Some tracks may even drop the signal; California today only allows a certain number of out of state races, so don't think it can't happen.

That of course sends customers away in a slow burn. It gets them to bet offshore if they can, where they can bet a signal they like at a decent price. Or they try and bet the home signal, don't like it and stop coming to the track as much.

What's worse, then the obvious happens: If it's good for NYRA, it's good for Keeneland and Gulfstream and Santa Anita. It snowballs and there is a tit for tat signal squeeze, and that will benefit no one.

Taking a bigger (or different) slice of a shrinking market is bandied about constantly in horse racing. I recently was reading an article by a Harvard Business professor titled "Five Self Defeating Behaviors to Ruin Your Business" and number one, with a bullet is "Demanding a Bigger Share of a Shrinking Pie".  Tweaking something to shift money from one hand to another has been tried in a lot of businesses. Usually the customer is the one holding the bag and it never works.

Shuffling the deck chairs cannot save a ship from sinking. Horse racing has a customer problem. More customers will mean more money. There's no way around that.

The Buzz Around the Boutique Meets

The past month or so has been a whirlwind in Thoroughbred racing. In July, both Saratoga and Del Mar began their meets, that run through the beginning of September. Those two short meets provide a lot of the bang-for-the-buck revenue for both horse racing states. $15 million handles are the norm, with big days even bigger than that. At a 20% cut they supply whole lot of purse money, and that doesn’t factor in the daily attendance, which also brings in a fair amount of sheckels.

I guess it should not surprise us that much, in this day and age where time is so precious.  Bigger events in all sports seem to be getting bigger, while the lesser events – the everyday grind – can stall. Ratings for the Super Bowl continue to sky. The Reds against the Dodgers on a Wednesday afternoon’s TV ratings aren’t much, but put the two teams in a playoff battle and it’s a different story. It was released just this week that by 10 AM on Monday, ticket sales records for next year’s PGA Championship at Valahalla were smashed; this as regular weekly tournaments struggle to sell out.

We notice that concept with harness racing’s big days like the Hambletonian, where the handle and attendance has not moved downward too much, while regular harness handles have fallen precipitously. In Thoroughbred racing, where handles have fallen upwards of one third in eight years, the big events like the Derby keep busting attendance, handle and television viewer records. 

What you notice from the major short meets in Thoroughbred racing, like Keeneland, Saratoga and Del Mar, is a hard push to keep and foster the buzz. Keeneland’s marketing money is spent over a four or five week period, where they enlist partners in local business, sponsors, add handicapping contests and more. NYRA’ s marketing budget is huge during the Saratoga meet with giveaways and television coverage on NBC. At Del Mar, they market big events seemingly daily. When you spend that much money over a short period of time, rather than over 250 days a year like some tracks must, you can move the needle. It creates buzz, for an already buzzworthy event.

This is not dissimilar to racing in the UK. The Royal Ascot meet, among others, drive eyeballs from willing customers, paying upwards of $50 a ticket to attend. The sport there survives on lower takeout rates where customers bet over $20 billion US a year, augmented by sponsorship and ticket revenue. It’s an ecosystem built upon wanting to attend events and horse racing, and giving customers a good betting proposition at the same time to keep them interested year after year (going broke with high takeout rates gets old real fast).

Harness racing, through tradition, a reliance on the past, intransigence, or whatever other adjective we want to use, has not seemed to prescribe to the boutique meet concept. Horsemen, especially in slot jurisdictions, want purses, and they want them spread out over as many dates as possible. Slot tracks don’t feel too differently and want racing as many months of the year as they can. So do the states. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of product is put on, as long as it’s put on. 

We all know we need big, long meets – especially in slots states – but we don’t need every meet to be a 365 day one. We need to be much more creative on how we spend money, and paring off some dates and some marketing money for a boutique meet helps sell the sport in a way in which your on-track visitors are telling you they want to be sold to.  The customer is right, even if we ignore them. 

One boutique meet, done in a way that makes total sense from a marketing, branding and revenue perspective, is “Old Home Week” in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “Old Home Week” is a homecoming week of sorts on the Island which is home to 140,000 residents. The week, with the tagline that fits harness racing perfectly – “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” – attracts over 90,000 visitors at the height of tourist season.  Piggybacked on this influx is the Gold Cup and Saucer Free For All pace. During the week, double cards are run in tandem with the festivities, which attract eyeballs and betting customers. In addition, the $20 entry fee, with thousands of paying customers, adds to the revenue. For one week, culminating in one race, harness racing has an enthusiastic, willing and paying audience. 

That buzz is palpable, and it goes beyond your average everyday harness racing fan. In fact, just this past week, actress Anne Heche, vacationing with her family, took in the sights and sounds at Charlottetown Driving Park, tweeting pictures to her followers. Can you see her, or anyone else for that matter, tweeting a regular night at Northfield the same way?

We see the handle numbers in harness racing and they are not pleasant. We’re never going to create the buzz like a Saratoga and generate $15 million handles a day. At small tracks we are not even going to do one tenth of that regularly. The sport in the old days was run on handle and attendance revenue. Like Old Home Week shows, you can charge $20 a head and get people inside your venue, if the table is set properly. That $20 a head can dwarf revenue from a 4% signal fee on $200,000 of handle, and give the sport a new revenue stream. It’s not elusive; it’s not pie in the sky and it’s not impossible. Creating boutique meets should be a staple for this sport, not just a happenstance occurrence at one or two racetracks.  Slots money and meagre nightly handles alone can only support the sport for so long.

Reprinted with permission from Harness Racing Update.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Pull of the Horse

I saw a tweet from @thorotrends the other day and he said something like 'twitter is not doing a perfect job, but it is a good medium for horse fans'.

It always amazes me. When you talk about the horse, or horses, or their care, or retirement, or anything along those lines, social media explodes.

Yesterday, we had some chatter about the Drunken Spider needing a new post-race career, after I saw a tweet from @railbird notifying me of it. She knows I liked that horse and bet on him a few times, and had some fun with his name on twitter when he raced. I wrote a post asking folks to share the info of this cool horse and his quest for a long term home and that was that.

Not long after, I log in to see my hits through the roof. Retweets, more retweets, some Facebook hits and all the rest. In two hours it is probably my most popular post of the week in terms of traffic.

An hour or two after that I beg for a few more retweets and my twitter friends respond; the Baconator, Dan, Sid, Connie and too many to mention. Traffic goes up again. Not only that, Dan and a few others offer some donations to Canter NE, the retirement group that hosts the horsefinder webpage where the Drunken Spider is being advertised.

I guess I should not be surprised. People who love the horse - handicappers, bettors, trainers, grooms, fans, horse lovers, farm folks; the list is seemingly endless - seem to be everywhere. Whether its those who raised money in the name of Monzante, or Caroline Betts needing signups to a webpage to get a grant for non-profits, which her rescue is, to back before twitter was even around for the "Friends of Barbaro", it's just the way the community is. It's something rare in racing: A Same Page.

The horse is a cool beast. They've been around for awhile. They've mowed fields to feed families, fought wars and built railroads to help settle the west. They've delivered mail, been companions, given us thrills on the racetrack, and supplied a lot of people with a relaxing ride after a tough day at the daily grind.  I honestly believe that bond, forged and fostered through generations, is as strong as any human-animal bond you'll see.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

You Could Own the Drunken Spider!

Drunken Spider, completely sober and happy.
One of the coolest horses on the planet is for sale as a riding horse: Drunken Spider.

The Drunken Spider raced at Tampa this winter, and he usually tried his best, but he moved to Suffolk in the summertime and looked even more marvelous, winning a race.

The racing wars have passed him by and he is now for sale, to a good home.

No, we won't be cheering "C'mon Drunken Spider" as he comes down the lane, and that's sad, but we can call him from the field for a nice dinner.

For folks in or around New England, this is a rare opportunity to own this fine horse for a very low price.   Please visit CanterUSA, or pass along the link to friends who may be interested. 

Cane Pace Kicks In Some Questions

Yesterday's Cane Pace was a pretty interesting affair, that might've provided us with more questions than answers.

The first jewel of the Triple Crown (really it is) was a hard fought race with the season leader Captain Treacherous coming out on top in 149.2. The last three quarters of 1:23 and last quarter of 28 seconds, might provide us with a few clues. Are these horses a little bit tweaked? How could no one get a win in that slowing pace, from off it? Is this crop any good at all?

It seemed, while watching, Vegas Vacation had a ton of pace, but other than him the result was pretty surprising. We're used to seeing bigger speed and fractions, so something must have been up.

We'll have to wait until Lexington more than likely, to see these horses meet again, and that should provide more evidence.


Harness racing, as most know, is a sport without a leader. And a sport without a leader lets things go, when they should've been taken care of long ago. There is a picture released of the Cane Pace winner that is everywhere on the web, with his hocks being kicked by a leading driver - a driver that does it in about every close race with a close finish, with any horse, so it's not like it's new. Hock kicking apologists say "it's just scaring the horse and no big deal". Others see it as cruelty that should not be in the forefront, and since it's against the rules, those rules should be enforced. To add insult to injury, the driver's whip is in the genitalia area, which is also an offense; and is another trick used to this day by many drivers with impunity, as well.

The sport has chosen, out of not caring, because no one has any balls, or because "it's harness racing" to let this go on. It's almost like they hope no one notices. Now the picture has surfaced on chat boards, last evening on twitter and just about everywhere else with people wondering if anyone is minding, or even has a care about the sport.

It's ironic that in thoroughbred racing there is a big brouhaha about buzzers being used by jockey's to scare a horse into performing, and if they're caught, the sport lowers the boom; sometimes kicking the participant out for months. Meanwhile in harness racing, a leading driver boots them to hell, and no one says a word.

Ladies and gentlemen, in case you didn't know: Harness racing is one frigged up sport.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Controversy, Cubed!

Throughout horse racing history there's been a ton of controversy; it's kind of a big part of the game.

The past 48 hours have us in throw-back mode, with talk about non-DQ's in a huge race, a leading trainer's help administering something before a race, and an oldie but a goodie: A jock with a buzzer.

Last evening in the $700k Metro Stakes there was plenty of contact in the lane (video here), with Some Major Beach taking the bulk of it. Many observers felt the winner forced his way out and caused the brouhaha, but he was left up. Reaction from twitter (in HRU, pdf, page three) was quick and forceful.

Via the chart, seven horses were charted as having, or causing interference. One guesses - we don't really know - that the horse who came last was the culprit, which is the reason we saw no placings? Again, since judges decisions are not reported, we don't know.  This, in my opinion, was a curious decision, and I feel in such a rich race, they simply let the contact caused by the winner go.

Our Thoroughbred friends are responsible for the last two controversial happenings.

Doug O'Neill's assistant of some sort gave a pre race treatment to a horse who was getting ready to race.
  •  CHRB safety steward Luis Jauregui saw an O’Neill employee “enter the stall of a horse with a detention sign on the door and administer a product in its mouth,” according to the published stewards’ minutes from that day. “He confronted the person, who turned out to be the foreman, and confiscated the tube, which had the brand name CB2A and contained amino acids, which are illegal to give on race day. The horse turned out to be Cinco de Mario, which was scheduled to run in the fifth race.”
According to the Paulick Report, O'Neill called this a "human error".

That may very well be completely true, but when something involves O'Neill and "mistakes" it tends to cause some controversy.

For many it begs the question regarding things we see in several barns: "Why do mistakes seem to happen in the same barns?". "Why do TC02 overages and 'bad testing' always happen to a hot off the claim barn?". "How is a trainer the only trainer on earth not to know that you don't give "Air Power" to a horse in detention?". How does some hot barn have 5 or 10 overages for medications, but hundreds of other barns with even more starts not have one?"

I saved the best for last: Buzzers. This is some major-league old school horse racing stuff, and that makes this a super-cool story.  Here is the recap on the Paulick Report with link to the video.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

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