Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts on Tonight's TVG Pace & A Few Price Horses For the Card

Today is a great day for horse racing. In the afternoon, several exciting tilts are occurring at Aqueduct and Churchill. There's plenty of chatter about that. For harness fans, tonight's TVG card at the Meadowlands is very interesting highlighted by the TVG FFA Pace, featuring the Captain taking on older horses.

Can the Captain win this race? No use wasting too much ink, that was broached on page three of Harness Racing Update right here.

A look at the others.

Pet Rock is my most likely winner. He has a good post, is sharp, and is simply the most talented and effective horse in the older division this year. He is versatile, so iIf he gets any kind of a trip, unless he has an off night, he will be there.

Foiled Again is a horse who needs a trip of some sort. He is a grinder and needs to be in the thick of it. This is why his Meadowlands record is so poor - in many of his races he is coming from off cover, or from far back. That's not his game. I assume Yannick will place him on the front or first over, but in a field like this it is not guaranteed. He is surely going to be overbet.

The Captain. You can read the thoughts above over 1800 words, but this is a massive class hike for him - there will be no 55.2 first half strolls for him with a Lucan Hanover first up - and most importantly: he is sure to be overbet. As a bettor, I will let him beat me.

As for some others: Dynamic Youth looks over his head. First time Burke on Bettors Edge is something, and I would be using this horse underneath for a shot.  Bolt the Duer has tailed off, as has Sweet Lou in my opinion. Golden Receiver is totally up against it from out there, but if the track is speed favoring, I could see him hit the super. I can't give Warrawee Needy any more money after his last few from out there. With a lucky trip with some flow or a crazy half he should be fine, because he is amazing when he uses one brush, like he showed earlier in the year at Tioga.

The sneaky horse is Modern Legend. While at the end of the year the open horses have lost a little edge, he is as sharp as he has ever been in his life. He fought Foiled Again tooth and nail in the Breeders Crown, and last week he got an excellent prep off sickness. He has a really nice post to be in the race, and can use his speed and be first up if the horses settle, or sit back and let them go crazy, and pick up some cover. He is 15-1 morning line. I doubt you'll get that, but if you do I will be betting him right there with you. I will play him at anything 7-1 or over.

Most likely winner: Pet Rock

Blue Plate Upset Special ®: Modern Legend

Overbets: The Captain and Foiled Again

Superduper Longshot: Bettors Edge

Other (non-favorites) horses I will be giving a look on the card: Race 5 Dull Roar (15-1ML). In the Governor's Cup, Arthur Blue Chip (4-1 ML), in the Three Diamonds Act Now (4-1ML), in the 12th Fat Man's Alley (9-2ML), in the 13th Alsace Hanover (6-1ML)

Have a great day everyone. Enjoy the racecards and may you have good racing luck.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Football and Racing

We chatted a little bit earlier this week about the changing attitudes in horse racing. What was practice 30 years ago is practice today, but the lens has changed. This morning, I read this article (h/t to the Drudge Report, even though I think he doesn't read this blog) titled "Kids Flee Football in Light of NFL Violence"
  • participation in the country’s largest youth football organization, Pop Warner, declined 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012, as first reported by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
  •  “It’s a bloodsport, but in the proper context it can be played,” Mr. Fink said. “I love football. I don’t want it going anywhere. I’m not trying to ruin the sport — I’m trying to save it.”
This is probably not too shocking. As things change, attitudes change.

But it does play a role on the future of a game. What if in one or two generations, with fewer and fewer kids playing the game, interest wanes? The pipeline of parents watching and coaching their sons, their sons coaching and watching their sons is a reason some sports are so popular. Is football popularity at its zenith?

Although boxing's issues are ridiculous and self-inflicted for the most part, more than one person has said he or she cannot watch that sport because of what future the participants have. Rick Reilly, on NFL Monday Night Countdown on Monday said pretty much the same thing in his monologue regarding brain injury. He said (paraphrasing) that he has a little bit of trouble watching a game now; it 'doesn't feel right'.

I don't think this is a heck of a lot different than horse racing, and why its issues are so important. We had a little fun on Wednesday writing about how the sport compares to a baseball game. In that, Chickenhead wrote: "A bunch of old men come onto the field, and play slow pitch softball for 2 minutes. One of them falls and breaks his hip -- he rolls around near home plate in pain, and then they cart him off in an ambulance."

We're selling a "sport" where a few times a week one of the participants will die.  That's not easy is it?

Similarly, we're trying to sell investors - many of them like me and you, animal lovers in some form - to buy bloodstock, where a few times a week this happens.

Like boxing, or football, attitudes change. A sport (or any business) is particularly up against it when that change comes from both a demand and a supply perspective. Racing has that, and its issues are surely causing the game to wane. The sad part of it all is that the industry might one day fix high takeout, or lasix use, or the Interstate Horse Racing Act, but (like football probably) they are never going to fix the breakdown issue. For the sport to exist - just like the inevitable injuries in football - it's something that has to be tolerated.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cub Reporter Scoops Thanksgiving Wishes

In waiting for this football game to start, I received an email from Cub Reporter. Cub says, "hey Pocket, check this out. I got all these Happy Thanksgiving texts sent to my phone". Print 'em if you want to.

OK, I will.  Here they are.

"I give thanks for NYRA. And the people who work for NYRA. And the letters N, Y , R and A. I like NYRA. - Steve Byk

"I give thanks for my advertisers...... and Brad. I love Brad and I miss him. Come home Brad. We can go to a Bears game - Ray Paulick

"I'm quitting twitter and I'm thankful for that" - Gary Stevens

"I'm thankful for my deep pocketed owners. These guys keep giving me well bred Derby horses, and well, I kinda suck in that race. " - Todd Pletcher

"I'm thankful for the judges. Their poor eyesight this year bought me a new Range Rover." - Boots Tetrick

"I'm thankful for the bettors. I love the bettors. Have I told you, I love you. I want to kiss you. - Jeff Mullens' public relations firm

"OK, I know I quit, but I'm back. But I am certainly not thankful for asshats on twitter" - Gary Stevens

"I'm thankful that the bettors keep playing our high takeout, er, our high handle, er our growing slots revenue, er our great commission, er, well, at least the FBI is not investigating corruption here. - Pennsylvania, "the model for horse racing"

"I'm thankful that my owners think I can do more for the game by shagging hot mares rather than racing 10 furlongs with all that dirt and stuff." - Orb

"I'm thankful that Andymays has left me alone on his email list for the last 32 hours" - Mike Pegram

"I'm thankful for all the people in racing who adore me. All two of you" - Joe Drape

"I'm thankful for twitter. I truly love my followers. Said me almost never" - Andy Serling

"I'm thankful Royal Delta fans did not toilet paper my house" - Left at the Gate's Allan Mann

"I'm thankful I was woefully misquoted in my congressional hearing testimony. I mean, seriously, I didn't say that" - the HBPA's Phil Hanrahan

"I'm thankful the Dallas game is starting, so I can conclude this list. And I'm sure you are too" - PTP

Have a great evening everyone.

It Sure Is a Different World Now

Sid (@sidfernando) wrote a really neat piece last night, titled "History Lesson: Drug Usage Comes Full Circle".

In it he describes the 1970's, where lasix was being used, even though you were not supposed to. Gosh knows what other brown bottle backstretch pre-race was being used at that time as well. Some people today long for the old days of "hay and oats" but those days simply did not exist. When you add money at the end of a rainbow, there are always going to be some people who bend the rules to take advantage of that.

I was a little amazed at the brazen way this was conducted (the track knew what was going on, so did the vets and trainers), but I guess I should not be. Bettors - in the dark about these practices - were not given any respect. This was the only gambling game in town, they would keep coming.

Flashing forward to today, these practices and issues are here and they are not going anywhere. The clear difference of course, is they are not as acceptable as they once were.

Dovetailing on Sid's interesting look back, was this article from the Irish Field, (h/t to @horsemanlawyer).

In this article, the author looks at the difference between more rural Ireland, with the urban-centric English outlook on things with regards to horse safety and racetrack horse deaths. It's a great read.
  • Four equine deaths at a race meeting is a very big number, yet it barely warranted a mention in the Irish press. This marks a major contrast to the furore that tends to play out in Britain on issues of equine welfare in racing, with various animals rights and animal welfare organisations quick to seize upon any such incidents.
  • For anyone involved [in Ireland] in or connected to farming, dealing with the death of animals is a given. After all, much of farming involves the raising and nurturing of animals for inevitable slaughter for human consumption and this reality conditions country people to better deal with the death of animals.
  •  In Britain, on the other hand, as society began to become more urban-focused many generations ago, horses became less of a day-to-day part of British life and began to serve more of a recreational purpose, often being considered more as pets or companions. That is why the reactions from the general public there when horses lose their lives tend to be more emotional.
I can certainly attest to this. And I think we all can in some way.

I grew up rural, where before grade three you learned how to shoot, clean and store safely a gun. Hunting and fishing was what you did. Farming was big, as was the agrarian life. When I noted that my family had a "piece of a racehorse" the answer was always "that's neat, have you seen him race"

Moving south to Toronto at 17, when I mentioned I had a piece of a racehorse at a party or hanging around the dorm, some people would invariably ask me how I could be involved in a "bloodsport."

As Sid noted in his piece, things have come full circle - the same complaints and issues are there - but with one difference: Today they are looked at through a completely different lens. That makes sense, because it is a completely different world.

Enjoy Thanksgiving weekend everyone, and good luck at the windows.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Today's Horse Racing Sports Marketing Challenge

One of the toughest challenges for horse racing comes from the "we're a sport not a gambling game" crowd. There are about 50,000 races per year in North America, and 50,000 of anything is hard to sell as a sport. But the industry tries. And tries.

Chickenhead (not his real name) posted some prose regarding the challenge of that task on a chat board. I post it here.

As a sporting event, the average day of racing stacks up very, very, very poorly against an average professional sporting event. Let's take baseball.

I can get tickets to a baseball game for just about the same cost as a going to the track. Not good seats, but I can go to the ballpark for the same price. I can buy those tickets, and plan my trip, months in advance, to see whatever team I want to see. I know what I'm going to get. I can invite friends, plan a day around it. While I'm there, I know I am going to watch several hours of professional level competition.

If the average day of baseball operated as the average day of horseracing does, here is what I would get instead:

I would have no idea who was playing until a day or two ahead of time. It wouldn't really matter, as I'd have no idea who most of the players were anyway. If I wanted to find out anything about them, I'd have to pay extra.

I decide to go anyway.

I sit down, and they bring a bunch of toddlers out to play tee ball. Most of these toddlers have never played tee ball before, and the ones that have, have absolutely no skill at it. They appear to be the worst group of tee ballers they could find.

They play for around 2 minutes, and then they go back into the dugout.

The field is empty for 30 minutes. We sit there.

Then, they bring out another group of tee ballers, these ones are little girls. They play tee ball for 2 minutes. They are worse than the previous group. Then they go back into the dugout.

The field is empty for 30 minutes. We sit there.

A bunch of old men come onto the field, and play slow pitch softball for 2 minutes. One of them falls and breaks his hip -- he rolls around near home plate in pain, and then they cart him off in an ambulance.

The field is empty for 30 minutes. We sit there.

The "Feature" finally comes around, after several hours of this. It seems like it took an agonizingly long time to get here.

A bunch of Babe Ruth league teenager boys come onto the field. They are ok, but not great. They play for 2 minutes, then they go back into the dugout.

Then we all go home. The End


That's one tough gig folks.

TVG Pace and Other Notes

Who do you think is going to win the big race at the Meadowlands this weekend? The Standardbred Canada poll is currently running. If you want to have some idea of the odds board, these polls are sometimes decent to look at. This one, I think, is close to on the money.

Pet Rock and Foiled Again, around 2-1 each. Captain T around 4-1. The rest longer shots.

One horse that will not be 2-1 is Bee A Magician. She's slated to go for her last start of 2013 later on the card. She tries to make it 17 for 17.

Iliuvthenitelife was stopped with for the year yesterday, when she came off the track for her 2:15 training mile, lame. That's terrible news for a brilliant filly. She was certainly one of the best fillies we've seen since the clock changed to 2000.

A jockey in Hong Kong got an eight card banishment for not riding a horse to win. I know harness fans, we can only wish.

DeRosa at Brisnet is doing a hell of a job seeking out some of the big winners at Twinspires and interviewing them. Yesterday he caught up with a stats geek and pro bettor that nabbed the big pick 6 at Hollywood Park.

Game on Dude and Will Take Charge will face off in the Clark. One think I dislike about thoroughbred racing is that by racing so few times per year, a good horse can have an off day and be labelled a loser. Game on Dude, before the BC, was "a leader for horse of the year and a marvelous handicap horse." After his clunker you'd think he was a 10 claimer at Mountaineer. I hope he bounces back and shows his mettle.

Speaking of that, I am wondering if the Captain gets third over, with no flow, on a windy night and comes sixth in the TVG if he will be called a loser of some sort too. It's one start, so fortunately he will have next year to prove how good he is or isn't, like Artsplace, Real Desire, Art Major, Camluck, Gallo Blue Chip, Pet Rock, and dozens of others have before him.

There's a brouhaha on twitter talking about the New York Times number of "24 deaths a week at America's racetracks" or something like that. It might be closer to 14 a week, or maybe 12. If we add up all fatal injuries in training, including those that are unreported, it could be 40 a week, so take that. It's a death number cage match. My thoughts on that are pretty simple. In today's hyper-partisan age, scare stats are used and reused as commonplace. Before the health care law was passed I would think on my next visit to the States I would see everyone lying in the street without a doctor; it was so bad. Now because a website sucks everything was good before and new people are dying on the streets. This stuff just happens. The bottom line for me: Too many thoroughbred racehorses die on the racetrack. I hope someone helps them die less, because I hate watching it.

Alan over at View From the Grandstand gives us his Thanks list in harness racing. 

Have a good Wednesday folks.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

TV is "Dying", But Here are Four Reasons Racing Has an Edge

Today there was a Business Insider story (h/t to @joedrape) titled "TV is Dying and Here are the Stats to Prove It"

It's a good read, that broaches all topics related to the changing landscape of print, online, mobile and tablet. It also is neat because it shows how out of touch some of the cable companies have been for some time. The statistics are compelling and the evidence of that narrative are formidable. Both scripted and unscripted television are up against it. More people are watching via Apple TV and others by buying episodes, Netflix takes viewership away, and people are finding cable more and more expensive as they raise their prices.

Knowing the above is happening, one might be curious to see that in Canada, it was announced yesterday, Rogers Sportsnet paid magabucks to televise hockey in this country for the next dozen years. They are going to use their massive media platform to show games like they've never been shown, and leverage their brand to increase their bottom line.

What gives?

The big difference, it appears, is that TV might be dying, but live TV - when it comes to some major sporting events - still has a pull. Case in point, the NFL.
  • The top 16 most watched TV shows of 2013 are NFL games
  • A sixty minute weather delay for an NFL game this year drew more viewers than everything on TV, other than an episode of NCIS and the Big Bang Theory
Racing, through the Jockey Club initiative, wants to be on TV. They're spending money to be on TV. Churchill Downs' marketing is geared to event driven television. The Breeders Cup pays to be on it, and has also tried to copy that formula.

Are they crazy? Racing isn't the NFL is it? No, it's not. But, although I disagree this is a panacea of some sort, I don't think they're crazy. The rub is trying to create an event, for event driven television, that people want to watch. Racing does have a few things going for it in the changing landscape, in my opinion.

i) Old people watch television: Racing wants to run away from it, but it's there. Ask a 70 year old dude what channel the football game is on and he'll say "seven". Ask a 16 year old and he'll say "I don't know, I watch it on a pirated feed". My twitter feed sure hates Fox News, but they are brilliant. Bill O'Reilly helped make a billion dollar network on the backs of 50+ viewers (check their demos sometime) and continues to, while all other cable news organizations struggle to eat into one tenth of his viewership. The aging demo is not an enemy to a niche sport. Racing can, and should embrace it.

ii) Racing does not have the foggiest how to show live events: We see Beadles and the resulting twitter wars, floppy hats, a guy dressed as a man and horse, drinking a half Keg of Genny lager, and all the rest. We have human interest stories about the horse who ended up in Suzy's field who is running in the fourth. None of that has really worked, but so what. At least there is upside.

iii) Gambletainment: As gambling becomes more and more accepted, with poker being passed in Jersey and a slots parlor on every street corner, the gambling side of racing can be explored more and more on the air. This is a good thing, because this market has never been attacked with a live racing event. If in ten years there is a $35 million dollar pick 6 pool like they have in Sweden because we've made things easier when it comes to wagering lottery bets (like is likely to happen in Ontario), things can explode. In Australia they sometimes ran the "Fat Quaddie" promotion, which is a zero percent rake pick 4. It can draw millions and if it's on a TV event day, people watch.

iv) The built in ecosystem: 10,000 people showed up for the Gold Cup and Saucer in a town of 50,000. 15,000 attended the opener at the Meadowlands. 45,000 showed up for the Jug, 10,000 can show up on a Thursday at Del Mar. And those are not the Breeders Cup or a Triple Crown race. Horse lovers are everywhere, and so are bettors at simo-outlets, and in front of their computer screens all day. This is a demographic smorgasbord and provides racing with a ready made base.

I doubt TV, in its present form, will "save" racing. Nothing will save racing, clearly if the status quo continues to be embraced. However, there are a few upsides. People may be watching less of Oprah, but they can still be drawn to live events they can't get anywhere else, if that live event is compelling to watch.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In 2013, It's a New World

Today, this is the headline page of the Drudge Report, one of the highest trafficked websites in the World.

This isn't a PETA website, or a touchy-feely urban liberal weekly. It's a conservative leaning stronghold and has been since the late 1990's.

The next time you see kicking brushing a horses legs with a foot and other things that are commonplace and defended in racing, I think it's incumbent to remember, it's not 1913 anymore.

The stories linked today all go to this feature in the Hollywood Reporter. 

People Seem to Be Wishing for Hong Kong

I remember, oh it must have been five or six years now, when a neat video was pasted on the chat board at It was a little grainy, but it showed a horse with his head out of his stall, watching the horse who was beside him, who was chowing down out of his feed bucket. When the horse finished, this little rascal stuck his head in his pals bucket and started eating too.

Maybe you think it was one of those funny youtube videos, but it was much more than that. The horse who stole his neighbors food was a Hong Kong horse that had to race the next day. His neighbor's horse was a fellow trainers. It turns out there was a supplement in that feed bucket and it caused a positive test, hence the brouhaha.

This video (and testimony) clearly showed evidence that the trainer in question did nothing wrong. After all, how can one account for that? There was no intent, nothing. It was a freak occurrence. Freak occurrence or not, the trainer was suspended. I remember being shocked and somewhat saddened for this honest fellow. But that's the way they do things.

When reading Arthur Hancock's plea this weekend (along with the Pennsylvania news), and the 101 or so comments which accompany it, it struck me. I think a faction of people - and not a minority - want us to be Hong Kong.

They seem to want five or ten or fifteen supertracks with backstretch stabling, where no one goes in or out, where trainers who don't watch what their horses eat will be sent on the next plane to the Singapore Turf Club if they mess up. They want supertracks under security where if a vet does something wrong they're on the next plane too, or even worse, in a Hong Kong holding cell for "screwing with the public".

They seem to want video surveillance done 24 hours a day. Where nothing gets put in a horse without bettors, management and fellow participants knowing about it. Where if a horse is lame he is not injected and jammed in the box he has to pass a test first to show he is sound. Where those same horses vet records are published so bettors can read about the health of the horse they are wagering on. Where a jockey not trying hard in a race can land him or her with six months off.

Forget about the logistics, and the lawsuits by horsemen groups and the fact that without a lot of investment and a probable shock implosion of the breeding industry it can likely never happen. When I read the comments, the frustration, the incendiary comments from insiders, and all the rest, I think that's what people want. And it appears they don't care what kind of negative shock that would have (in the short term) on racing.

I am not smart enough to know where things are headed. Maybe this is a blip and no changes for racing are in store. Maybe the status quo will prevail. But right now to deny there is a groundswell of anger towards the way this sport is administered and ruled when it comes to raceday meds and everything else, I don't think you've been paying attention. When some factions are so frustrated they are willing to blow up the game that earns them money, and is the game they've always played - and these people have the ear of Congress - this seems very, very real.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Big M Weather Throws Wrench Into the Betting Opener

Last night's Meadowlands opener, by most on-track accounts, was solid. The crowd was estimated at 15,000 and they bet a whopping $530,000. Total handle for the evening was soft, however, falling just short of $3M. The late pick 4 guarantee was also not hit, missing by about $12,000.

The card itself was pretty good, but Mother Nature did not cooperate, and that made betting these races problematic. The cold and swirling winds caused a pronounced speed bias, and even last quarters of 32.1 were hard to close into. While the handle for the first race was very solid, you could see the bettors cash leaving the balloon after we saw that one, and perhaps the first two or three. I did not hear a lot about the second pick 4 guarantee on the simulcast screen. Perhaps that's why it was not hit.

Funny enough, I was playing Mountaineer last evening and there was a stout outside closers bias in their snow and cold (they cancelled after race 6). The rest of the tracks were brutal last evening, so no doubt a lot of players were chased away.

In the end, if the weather cost the Big M less than $500k of handle I would be shocked. There were also too many races (13 is well above optimal; that's the type of stuff the Meadows uses to dole out slots money).

I was disappointed with something you complain about, and have complained about for years - drivers not trying while being very well bet. On that speed track Market Share, for example, was given a no try trip and had almost zero shot. He was 2-5. Somehow, in the Open, the favorite won from last (lucky there was no traffic I guess). When a horse is well bet a lot of drivers will give the horse a shot to respect customers. Some drivers (and it is mostly the same drivers) don't seem to care.Until lack of effort fines are doled out, this will not change. The chances of that are slim; this sport cannot get out of its own way.

I was surprised they went so hard in the TVG prep. We learned a few things in that race, in my opinion. One, Foiled Again enters the TVG sharp and two, Bolt the Duer looks like he might be done for the year. He has not been sharp the last four or five weeks. Looking at speed figures and depth of field, I would suspect the Captain would be hard pressed to hit the board if the field is in good form in the FFA division, but now I wonder. Only a few horses in the older division look sharp, and a couple, like Rocknroll Dance, are retired or stopped with.

As bettors we certainly give the opener an "incomplete". We learned very little about the reversed track and we should pitch last nights results when handicapping next week (other than the obvious - giving less credit to leaders and more credit to horses who closed at all), and go from there. Next Saturday is one of the better race cards of the year. 

It was enjoyable to watch the inaugural card and I am happy so many people came out. The Big M has budgeted for more on-track handle, and $530k gives them a nice head start. Even with the weather, there was plenty more good than bad, and that's a good thing.

Notes: I juxtaposed yesterday Scott Zeron's thoughts on the rules and judges with Tetrick's. Martin let Tetrick have it on a chat board.

How do you spell frustration? HANCOCK.  People like to think it's 'just Joe Drape' that talks about this in incendiary language. They're wrong. There are a lot of people fed up with this business - the rule breakers, the lack of foresight, the lack of big picture thinking, the culture. You won't read a more in-your-face diatribe from an insider, ever. 

We surmised on SM that Vegas Vacation was spent and had some issues in the Breeders Crown and would be shut down for 2013. He wasn't and returned to win the Matron. He is done now though. It's reported his issues need some time. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Harness Rules and Regs: I Never Really Thought About It Like That

I, like many of you as harness fans, was a little perplexed about judges fining "laying back in the bike". I know it's a little bit of showboat, and I figure it probably doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. However, a great point was made in this month's trot magazine. 

Laying back in the bike truly does spread the field out more. In a sport where heads and necks decide races, getting an advantage like is shown below (obviously when the horse is on the front end on a half mile track) is definitely something (can see the big difference with Tetrick driving the nine, versus Ron Pierce beside him)

Also in that piece, I love the juxtaposition with the old school and the new school.

When the commission before the Little Brown Jug announced kicking, whipping and laying back in the bike were being called before the races for the week began (in the drivers meeting), some took that for what it was, and some bitched.

Driver Scott Zeron:

“On Jug Day and that whole week, we were all told there’s no leaning back in the bike, even if you have a strong hold on your horse and you might be leaning back, that might be subjective to getting fined. And they had said that in the races, I want to say, with over $15,000 purses, that the fines would be doubled, so it’s a $500 fine... so it’s quite serious. I mean, I was sitting straight up,” said Zeron.

Scott is one of the new school drivers. At the Jug last year, Sam McKee threw him what everyone thought was a softball about the whipping rules in Ontario. Most of the old school drivers hated the whipping rules in Ontario and spoke up about it. Scott, when asked if he had trouble adjusting to the line in a hand rules in Otario said "no, I learned to drive that way so I have no issue". Softball not crushed.

Conversely, Tim Tetrick said the following:

" Tim Tetrick spoke out on Jug Day during a session of the USTA Speaker Series. When asked about making changes to the format of the Jug his response was, “The only thing I’d like to change is the judges. They always want to torture us for leaning back in the racebikes...I don’t drive dangerous and I try to put on a good show for the fans that support me. Like yesterday, I got fined $500 for leaning back in the bike and that’s not right."

Tim Tetrick as most know, was fined for kicking Captaintreacherous, three times (so far this year). If this was the NFL and he asked officials to be replaced, should be allowed to clothesline or horse collar, he'd likely be on the next plane to the CFL.

One driver shapes his styles to the rules or directives in a certain jurisdiction and does it with respect for the sport. The other driver bitches about it. Scott has embarked on a career south of the border (he is driving at the Meadowlands this weekend). If my marketing peeps down south at racetracks want someone to be a face of their track, who knows what to say and how to say it, you might have a good one with Scotty.

The Trot article is interesting and worth a read. You can here.

Big M Opener Has Some Bettable Races

The Meadowlands opener is on tap for around 7PM ET. I've been looking at harness PP's since I was about six and I must admit, I had a lot of fun with a few of the races. They are a really nice puzzle. The handle should be quite good for the debut of the meet, so if you like harness racing, it's a must play card.

There are free past performances right here from Trackmaster. 

The stakes previews will probably appeal to casual fans. Former Hambletonian winner Market Share is in race two. In race four, one of the sharpest fillies in that good filly crop - Charisma Hanover - gets a prep. In the Free For All preview, Foiled Again is back, against several good horses.

If one was longershot shopping in each of the bigger events I think I would lean to Uncle Peter in the Market Share race, simply because he should (or could) get a super easy lead. In the fourth, Carols Desire is a nice filly who may bounce back, second start in the new barn. Dynamic Youth has always been a favorite of mine. He is a cut below the good free for allers, but there's a chance he can get a two hole trip behind Golden Receiver.

The Blue Plate Longshot Special of the night is Astreos Flash in race 13. 

Have a great evening everyone, should you be playing the card.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pennsylvania Racing Starting to Implode?

I'll spare the trainer deets. We've seen that movie before. But this was shocking.
  •  The Robertson indictment alleges that Robertson, in exchange for cash given to him by trainers known and unknown to the grand jury, would provide false workout times to racing officials and to Equibase. The times Robertson turned in allegedly, at times, included completely fabricated time for horses that did not workout at all at the track. The indictment alleges Robertson profited personally from the scheme, the betting public was defrauded and Robertson’s employer, Hollywood Casino and Racetrack, was denied of its right to Robertson’s honest services.
If that turns out to be true, let's get this straight: 

Not only do we have to beat some of the highest takeout rates on the planet in Pennsylvania, we have to beat falsified information too?

This story is likely to get a lot of play. Paulick and Matt Hegarty will be on it.

In other news, Finley reported on the safety of the track at Chester. Draw your own conclusions.

I know it was hyperbolic over the last several years to write or say that Pennsylvania horse racing needed to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch again. But sometimes the hyperbolic is the truth. It will be interesting to see if this is a blip, and things will go back to business as usual to take advantage of the slot money until it runs out, or if this is the beginning of the end of the way racing is put on in the Keystone State. As someone who likes this sport, I hope it's the latter.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Today's Pop-Racing Quiz. How Can You Score?

It was a wacky day in horse racing, and we have a pop quiz.

1. Today's hearings in Washington on horse racing resulted in:

a) A hearing which should result in a new horse racing bill
b) A big boost for New York Times racing page readership
c) Everyone learning that 99.993020402% of tests in thoroughbred racing are clean
d) A realization that Congress's 9% approval ratings are slightly too high

2. Alan Mann of Left in the Gate and Timeform US fame will lose:

a) His primary for GOP state sentator for district 4
b) His run for councilman of the Bronx, ward 9
c) His job as President of the Royal Delta Fan Club

3. Tonight at Penn National:

a) The three horse won race two
b) The four horse in race 5 had a late equipment change
c) There was a late jockey change on the seven horse in race 6 to Fox Mulder

4. With the report of the FBI racing probe of Pennsylvania racing today, rumors abound that they are investigating:

a) How a state with $200 million in slot money can have 30% takeout rates
b) How a state with $200 million in slot revenue can have so little handle
c) How a state with $200 million in slot revenue could have such bad simulcast pictures
d) How the state ever got $200 million in slots revenue in the first place

5. This weeks most hyped event is:

a) The release of a new Justin Bieber cologne
b) The release of the new Hunger Games movie
c) I'm not sure, but if I hear anything more about the opening of the Meadowlands grandstand, I'm gonna go postal

6. Today, the Bob Baffert horse death investigation probe was tabled. After hearing the evidence and the results the TOC & CHRB concluded:

a) Baffert did nothing wrong
b) Baffert was responsible
c) The takeout should be hiked

7. With the Pennsylvania horse racing commissions reportedly insolvent, a way to gain the revenue needed to run it can be:

a) Realized by taxing horseplayers who play on the internet
b) Realized by asking for a slice of slots money from horsemen groups
c) Realized by retroactively fining harness drivers for kicking, and using the leftover money to cure the scourge of world hunger

8. I saw a ballsy retweet and it came from:

a) Ray Paulick getting sassy
b) A cranky O_Crunk
c) A Royal Delta Fan tweeting to Alan Mann
d) Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong

Have a great evening everyone. 

Around the Regulatory Merry Go Round

I took a break this morning to read the live tweeting from guys like Baconator and Matt Hegarty regarding the testimony in Washington regarding this new-fangled horse racing act.

As far as I can tell:

Hearings are short on Thursday's because the work week in Washington is Friday's off. I may be wrong on that, but that sucker was quick.

Drugs in horse racing are bad: Even Adequan or a children's Flintsones vitamin.

Drugs in horse racing are good, because trainers would only use Adequan or Flintstone vitamins and would never think of using anything else. 99.999483902042042% of the tests (or something like that) are clean. We're awesome.

Someone said bettors don't consider possible drug use when they handicap. I have no words for that. 

One person submitted 75 pages of testimony that I am pretty sure no one read. Note to self: If ever giving written testimony to Congress, do it with power point.

One congress dude mentioned respect for "the bettor" in his opening statement. That's one more time I have heard the bettor mentioned than from the industry the last month, other than trying to get them to pay more for stuff through an ADW tax. 

This hearing was on the heels of yesterday's NDP motion in Ontario, where they passed a non-binding motion to give slots back. I don't have a political science degree and I don't know how the legislature works. But since I have an IQ higher than a tree sloth with a lobotomy, I am pretty sure that's a "please vote with us because we love you and we have an election coming up" kinda thing.

In addition, apparently the government in Pennsylvania is having an issue with the whole regulatory thing. Two horse racing agencies in the state face insolvency. This, in a state, which has about $200 million a year flowing to horse racing from slot machines. How does that happen? We're just not sure.

I guess it could be worse. I learned on twitter this morning that the Ohio State University newspaper seems really pissed about this whole paying for health care at a young age thing.

Check the stories on that page.

Whoda thunk that 20 year old college kids would be pissed having to spend their beer money on something other than beer?

Thank goodness we have the politicos to guide us. What would we do without them?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Margin Price Setting, Racing's Historically Huge Issue

A few years ago I was speaking to a racetrack executive, who ran both the track and the casino at his track. I won't say who it was because, this is a blog and I am not Woodward, Bernstien or anyone remotely close, and more importantly, I have not asked him if I could. He was speaking to me about how they tweaked their slot machine "margins" to make more money - they moved them down a half a point.

Inflation was happening - slots machine manufacturers were raising prices, the labour market was getting more expensive, myriad things all businesses go through were getting more expensive - but the margins were falling, to try and increase revenues. That's the way things work.

In racing, it does not work like that. When people want "more money" they ask for an increase in the margins (takeout) because they have control over that, through the Interstate Horse Racing Act and other mechanisms. This is why, while the margins have shrunk in slot machines (say from Vegas since 1970) by 50% or more, while inflation has caused prices to go up by 50% or more, they are all flourishing. Meanwhile in horse racing, the margins have gone up by 400% or more since the 1920's, and we can't compete.

Across the pond and in several other jurisdictions, the racing business (from a pricing standpoint) is run like other businesses. Gross profits are taxed for purses and other needed revenues, not gross margins. They can't walk in and say, let's take another three points of gross betting to fund me, the funding comes when more money is made. If the margins need to be brought down by three points to make more money, that's what happens, because, well, you make more money.

It's not a panacea and racing has issues almost everywhere, but it certainly is a better system. At least it makes sense to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of business.

In Pennsylvania, New York and other states we've seen surcharges or taxes instituted or going to be instituted. Yesterday it was announced that Illinois is going through some sort of funding crisis. What do they do? Create a surcharge on bettors.

It's gotten beyond the point of silliness. Skill gambling games depend on payouts to survive. The lower the payouts the less the value, the less the value, the fewer people are attracted to it. This game of "margin tweaking", started in the 1920's and alive and well today, is the single most reason racing has become a game for suckers. If fifty or sixty years ago someone decided that gross profits would be taxed instead, the landscape would not only look very different for horse racing, but would be in much better health, too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Video of the "New Meadowlands"; Ready to Open

There's a bit of a buzz regarding the grand opening of the new Meadowlands grandstand happening. The place does look pretty sweet:

Cub reporter informs me of a few new initiatives this season, as well as some rumors dispelled, right from management. These, to my knowledge have never been released to the public: 
  •  There is no truth to the rumor that employees will be docked $50 pay if, when referencing the Meadowlands, they fail to say "new" in front of it, says my source.
  • It is true that racing jack-of-all-trades Nick Salvi, will, daily, be dressed as a comic book character.

  • It is not true that Director of racing person Darrin Zocalli has been named head of social media for his fan deference, humility, and all around happy-go-lucky nature. 
  • It is not true JLO will be performing the national anthem and a medly of hip hop and country hits opening night, says Marketing King of Marketing Justin Horowitz (@itsthejho). "I tried to get cousin JLO", he told me - fully aware that the only reason he holds the job is because of this connection, "but she has another engagement, at Yonkers". 
  • It is not true that to make things more interesting, and to spread the wealth around, "New" Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural will be taxing Ronnie Burke purse money plus 5 grand for every win over four he gets per evening. "This is a bad rumor, maybe started by those mean guys over at Yonkers" said Gural.
  • It is true that to get the scourge of kicking out of this sport, and to stop making it look like harness racing folks are all a part of the cast of the movie Deliverance, Jeff Gural has instituted a new kicking policy. "If I see a driver kick a horse, after the race a retired racehorse will get to kick the driver" said Gural. This should raise some money for retired standardbreds and stop the banjo music on youtube whenever someone puts up a harness racing video", he said.
  • It is not true that for the Moni Maker stakes, driver Brian Sears will be staying at Yonkers, because he has four drives in the winners over 25k class; thus giving Bee a Magician a driver change to Robert Krivelin. "I'll probably drive at the Meadowlands - I mean the "New Meadowlands" that night", Sears informs me. 
  • Conversely, driver George Brennan will take advantage of getting a few more even money shots across at Yonkers. "I could easily make another $400 with Brian gone" said the Minister of Greed Speed. 
  • It is not true that to stop half in half out, drivers will be fitted with a small device, giving them an electrical shock when they try the move. "Too drastic" says my source.  
  • It is true that Team Treacherous will be giving all USHWA Dan Patch voters a free meal in the new Pink restaurant on November 30th, if they sign, in blood, that they will be voting for the Captain. This holds, even if Bee a Magician wins the Moni Maker by 31 and a half lengths in 149.2, while being catch driven by Robert Krivelin. In response, Bee a Magician trainer Nifty Norman said "hell, I'll vote for him for a free meal in Pink. The place looks great".
The "New" Meadowlands opens this Saturday. It should be a fantastic night.  And I'm not getting paid $50 to say that. Good luck to everyone involved. May they have a great week.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Notes

Happy Monday everyone.

Here are a few notes that caught my eye.

In the Matron Stakes yesterday the big story, as usual, were the three year old colt pacers. This stake, unlike many others which have the elimination winners picking their posts, had an open draw. It immediately made the race more exciting, because the two best horses drew the 7 and the 8. What happened was an exercise on why not allowing post picking is so much better for the racefan.

Vegas Vacation, who showed in his line in the prep that he was back to his old self, would have to leave a little bit to get into contention. It was also paramount to keep tabs on his rival from the 8. John Campbell, driving the 4-5 favorite Sunshine Beach, needed to secure the lead, or something near the lead. He did, but got stung by Simon Allard driving Emeritus Maximus. This resulted in a park to the clubhouse turn and a 53.2 first half, on a cool evening. That fast first half set up a 55.1 back half for Vegas to close into, and we saw a pretty good battle to the wire.

 If "picking posts" was allowed, Sunshine Beach gets the rail and a probable easy lead in 27.2, 55.4. Good luck catching him if you are four or five off at the half. It results in a $200,000 snoozefest.

I have been impressed this year with Sunshine Beach. He jumped a shadow again yesterday (it did not cost him the race, in my opinion, he was beaten), and he seems to not completely to have found his feet yet. I sense some upside with him (could be wrong) and I expect he might be a three year old that can graduate and make a little noise next year, if he stays sound, and seasons. 

Shebestingin won easily in a fast time yesterday. She is the fastest three year old - male or female - this season. But she is lowly ranked when compared to Iluvthenitelife. The filly division this year is a very good group. I suspect a few of these mares will do next year in the Open class. Shebestingin is a fast mare who has finally been finding her feet. 

Nuncio looked good. I would like to see him race Father Patrick right now. He's better than he was this fall.

As for Dover Downs, I have no idea what that betting menu was about. Sure there was chalk after chalk after chalk, but not allowing superfectas and not having some sort of pick 4 after race four is head-scratching. Maybe it's a "rule", maybe "we can't ®" but if you don't try and get handle, you certainly won't get any.

Bill Finley asks "Can Racing Save Itself?" (he thinks not) and looks at federal intervention. Some people are so fed up with drugs, shockwaves, raceday treatments, kicking, whipping and general looking like Neanderthals, that they are running to the feds for help. That's how bad things are.

Lance Armstrong (thanks to @gatetowire), says that a commissioner buried his positive tests because the Tour De France was getting some bad press in 1999. Read this and ask yourself if there are racing parallels.

The New Meadowlands grandstand - and winter meet - opens this week.

I was chatting with a few bettors the past 24 hours about the Top Ten Horses of the Decade list.  Upon further review I think they are right - Muscle Hill should be higher than five, probably three. Also, today's big horses: Pet Rock, Captain, Iluvthenitelife all have a bit of an incomplete. But if they continue to deliver (or in Pet Rock's case if he was racing one more year and had a year like he had this year), all three could be on that list.The only other horse - a horse I believe is faster than some excellent three year olds like the Captain and Well Said - is Rock n Roll Heaven. He probably should've been on there, I think.

There has been a lot of chatter about Big Data of late. Sports folks, managers and even job searchers have been leaning on it. One person who likely does not believe it is Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Bill Barnwell looks at one of his calls in last night's big Sunday night football game (scroll to the end) against the Broncos. We do similar in horse betting - the decisions we make have to be fundamentally sound, backed by a probability of success versus the odds board, to have any chance at success long term. 

Saturday we saw a pretty good set of biases to try and exploit. Churchill seemed tilted to outside closers and the Big A similar. As for the Big A, Rudy Rodriguez is back winning races, and taking a beating on the odds board.

Driver Anthony Coletta suffered a serious injury yesterday in an accident. We wish him and his family the best. This is a tough, dangerous sport.

143 years and now gone. The Canadian Sportsman - a go to harness publication for almost everyone who cut their teeth in this sport - is folding. The last issue will be December 2013.  We wish Dave and the crew good luck in their future endeavors.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

It Takes a Complete Racehorse

I was handicapping the NFL this week. Tonight's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos is highly anticipated for both fans and handicappers alike. On one side of the ball, the 9-0 Chiefs have a solid running game, a quarterback that kind of dinks and dunks and a stifling defense. On the other side of the ball you have well, a passing game. The 8-1 Broncos, at home, with that passing game, are 8 point favorites.

It's a fun match up to handicap.

Overall, and to build a dynasty, the passing teams, who rely on one player, never tend build that dynasty. Conversely, the teams that exhibit some class on both sides of the ball are usually the teams that win in the playoffs and are remembered. Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer have two more Super Bowl rings than Dan Fouts and Dan Marino. It's not an alternate universe, it's the way it's done.

I think it's the same for racehorses. You need brilliance - you need to be a Fouts or Marino - but you need a lot more than that. You probably don't retire to stud at three. You probably have to face tremendous adversity at some point to show how tough you are. You have to race and win through lameness or sickness. If you are defeated because of those things, you better have the constitution to bounce back in a hurry. You have to beat horses who beat other great horses. You need a passing game, but you better have a whole lot more than that.

Today in HRU, the top horses from 2000-2013 were surmised. 

They all have one thing in common: They have more than just a passing game.  They might be so good that others who race against them do not look like they're in the same species. When you compare most of them to others who have raced the last twenty years, they did something to stand out. They show no bottom. They go a quarter another horse can not go. They go a trip others can't. They are simply better than 99.9% of the other horses in their division each year.

I hope you enjoy that list. Remembering some of the excellent horses we have been fortunate enough to see this century is always something I enjoy doing. I hope you do, too.

Oh, I like the Chiefs and the points.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Comments & a Little Branding

Happy Friday everyone.

I received a comment on the "Marketing Paradox" post from a couple of days ago (thanks for all the RT's, and thanks for the link Seth). It's anonymous so I don't think this person will mind me highlighting it:
  •  I've never understood the focus on how much a customer bets versus how much that customer loses. If Linda's handle does not multiply by 3.5 when her ROI rises from .93 to .98, then she is actually paying less to play the game. That reduction has to come from somewhere: purse reduction, lower ADW or racetrack profits, or another customer losing more money. If Linda manages to get her ROI above 1, then she becomes just another mouth for the game to feed. What the game really needs is more people losing more money, so that Linda's gain doesn't come out of the pocket of the horsemen, the ADW, or the track. That should be the (best unspoken) focus of marketing efforts. 
This person's math is fine, and he or she makes a point that racetracks, horsemen groups and others have focused on for some time. It's one reason we see Jackpot high fives and Pennsylvania track takeouts. It's 'squeeze the lemon disease'. These efforts are being followed, this very day.

"What we need are more people losing more money"

How does a business get "more people losing money"? You attract more people by getting them to lose at a lower rate. Then you hopefully tweak it and grow. It's not about more people losing more money, it's about more people losing money.

When Vegas takeout on slot machines was 20% in the 1960's and 1970's, a few folks played them, and those few people lost a lot of money. When they dropped that takeout, it attracted more people to the slot floor. They were losing money - but losing money at a lower rate. When the volume exploded to where it is today, you are not multiplying 4,000 or 5,000 people times 15% losses, you are multiplying millions of people at 2 or 5% losses.

Betfair espoused this early on. From their annual report when asked how they arrived at a low takeout (or "win") rate:
  • "Racing knows that customers who go racing, and a) feel they had no value for money at the racecourse, and b) don’t win a single bet all day, don’t have much fun. They may not come back. In just the same way, we know that the least valuable customers to Betfair are the ones who lose all their money quickly. They go away and never come back. So, we are happy to take less off our customers per bet. Business is all about offering your customer the product he wants at the price he wants. If you can do that, he’ll spend his money with you."
Betfair has their own issues. They have data and premium charges because they don't like bots to squeeze the exchange and squeeze the average punter; they don't want big bets overhanging the market, nor do they want bookies laying off action, clogging Joe from Wales from trying to get a nibble at a price. But the fundamentals are there.

Similarly, it does not mean racing cannot have a high takeout V75 or Rainbow Six. It just needs to fundamentally offer a punt that puts to rest racing's negative branding of "you can beat a race, but you can't beat the races".

You can never attract bettors to a skill game by asking them to lose more, without attracting them first by letting them know they have a chance to win more.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Inside Scoop on the Paulick Report Changes

This evening we were alerted to the following tweet from Ray Paulick:
We have heard this tweet was accurate, and not from a tweet bot pretending to be Ray Paulick. We also, and don't be spreading this around, have a plant at the Paulick Report where we learn the inner workings of the website. For a small fee we get fed information that is to be kept top secret. Yes, we have the scoop on some of the planned changes. I post them for you, in part here.

Tuesday Feature: "What's Cooking with Mike Pegram"

In this new feature, Mike Pegram of California takeout hike fame conducts a cooking class, via youtube. You'll learn the secret of making McNugget's and other fare from someone who knows. Contestants will cook a dish and Mike Pegram will take 22.68% of the food on each plate and give it to, well, himself. The contestants will be happy about it, because, according to Mike, giving him their food is good for them.

That Kentucky Race In May Horse Retirement Future Pool

Paulick has spoken to his legal team and found out he can offer a future's pool for the Derby, as long as he does not call it a Derby future pool. In this pool, bettors will bet on which horses will be retired before the Derby's gate springs. This is sure to be fun, and at 10% takeout, possibly lucrative. Currently, horses trained by Graham Motion, Shug McGaughey and Jack Van Berg are all over 1000-1.

Ed DeRosa's Brisnet ® Minute

In this feature, the little known and not at all ubiquitous Ed DeRosa - Brisnet marketing chief - will share his opinion on a race using tools from Brisnet. We have heard from someone I won't mention (Brad Cummings), that in some articles he will also make fun of DRF Formulator.

A Day in the Life of Sid Fernando's 1970 Porn Star Mustache

Once a day each Movember a big picture of Sid's head will grace the Paulick Report. This will only be done one month a year, but for men's health, it is a worthwhile feature.

 The New Horseplayer Forum, Hosted by Jeff Mullins

This is sure to be well-received. Supertrainer Jeff Mullins will field questions from horseplayers in a new weekly feature, but Paulick has given firm instructions he is not allowed to call questioners "doofus", "idiot", "degenerate" or "asshat". Come see what adjectives Jeff uses, and if horseplayers respond in kind.

People Who Read My Website But Don't Read the DRF

This weekend feature talks about some of the celebrities who read the Paulick Report. Those include, Bo Derek, Bobby Flay, former minor league baseball star Andy Asaro,and of course, Dustin Hoffman. Each week the celebrity will share what they love about Ray, and also provide a horse tip for one of the weekend's graded stakes races.

I don't know about y'all, but some of those features sound great. We'll be tuning in, and I can honestly say, I will continue to send my hundreds of thousands of readers to the Paulick Report stories if any of the above truly come to fruition.

Remember, that good looking dude has a Movember page. You can donate right here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Bird in the Hand Redux

As an addendum to today's post on racetrack marketing, here is an example to what I am referring.

This player was one of those people who played at a smaller, but worthwhile rate. When he was catered to by a wagering company that was responsive to his needs he bet more.

This year he lives in a place that has been taken over by a track run ADW.  He is unable to bet as he was accustomed.

Shutting out good customers should never be done. If you don't understand them, try to. For goodness sakes, do not enact legislation that sends them away.

Horse Racing's Self-Made Marketing Paradox

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush - Unknown

The big push for racing of late is trying to get you - the horseplayer - to play into their track owned internet betting systems. Like racing has done over the last century, when they can't compete properly, they look to change legislation. In New York and Pennsylvania for example, there are new "laws" being pushed which help siphon off competition, in hopes the lack of competition helps their bottom line.

Racing customers need to be cultivated, and marketing efforts for internet wagering have kept a lot of players around through cultivation. There are ADW's right now at this very minute that will take a $100 a month player and give him or her a few dollars back as a rake reduction. These ADW's large and small, provide a service to those actively looking for a better deal and they have helped (this is not an opinion, it's math) handle.

But they are starting to look more and more like a thing of the past.

If you are not a whale, you're in serious trouble.

Already in California you need to (apparently) "establish" a high wagering level to get a decent deal. I am unsure if you get put in a room, deprived of all your senses and get force fed McNuggets or not to come clean with your wagering, or if there is another way, but it has to be done.

In New York, with this new legislation "Applicants must assure that the rebates are determined "solely'' by how much a bettor wagers."

Sorry to be a curmudgeon (my new favorite word), but what a load of crap. This misses the point entirely.

A fellow who bets $20,000 a month did not get there by playing into 22.4% blended takeout, he or she got there by getting a better price and and using it to bet more and more over time. The small ADW's - the ones that are being shut out - were the ones providing this cultivation.

New players, smaller players who are getting better and want to get even better aren't going to join you, show a million dollars in handle and say "yes, please take me". They are not at a million a year yet, they are at $50,000 or $100,000 or $150,000 a year. They are there because they have gotten a better deal and when they don't get one any longer, they are going to take their ball and go home.

This to me, represents the biggest marketing paradox I have seen in any business I have studied.

A casino cultivates their existing customers. So does a restaurant and a health club. So do countless others. Racing does not cultivate them. They don't have the same mechanisms in place.

The paradox lies with racing's marketing spending, and the constant will to get brand new customers.

America's Best Racing, food truck events, billboards and Wang Chung concerts at Hollywood Park cost a ton of money. They're there to get new customers. They are fishing in an unstocked pond, obviously, because there is no prequalification for liking Wang Chung and betting the sixth with a TimeformUS speed figure and your favorite Brisnet software package. For branding, and getting people out to a horse racing event this spend is fine, but it's folly to think it is going to cultivate betting customers. The cost per acquisition of actually turning this demographic into a once a week or more bettor probably runs into the tens of thousands of dollars per capita.  But, that spend is happily approved at all meetings.

Meanwhile, Linda from Des Moines plays a few races each week and she's getting better. She has a 0.93 ROI and as her ROI goes up so does her enjoyment. She is close to getting hooked. She sees an ad for an ADW that gives her a break on price, upping her ROI to 0.98, and she enjoys racing even more. She's betting more and winning a little more often.

Then the horsemen groups, governments and whomever else tell her its their way or the highway. She's not betting "one million or more" so she is back to playing at lower volumes. She's back to where she was.

You have Linda. She's sold. She's doesn't have to be prequalified to be a customer, she already is your customer and will likely be one for a long time with a little bit of investment. You just chased her away by not giving her a few dollars back on her wagers because she is not a whale, while at the same time you as an industry pay millions of dollars with the hopes of getting a Linda; by renting a giant bus, or sending her to a felafel truck on food truck day.

For racing, a bird in the hand (Linda) is not worth two in the bush (two drunk kids watching an English Beat concert). What's even worse, when you squeeze the bird for more, she flies away. And the two drunk kids in the bush head to the nearest casino.

That's today's paradox and I think it's a huge reason why racing can never seem to compete as a gambling business. They spend so much money attracting customers to attend and brand live events, while not spending nary a dime to help existing customers bet more. How can racing possibly grow with that formula? It can't.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday's Notes

Hello everyone. It's your co-racing curmudgeon (I joined @gatetowire) here with a quick look at some stories that caught my eye.

Turf Paradise seems to have a timing issue. No times on the toteboard.  In my best racing curmudgeon prose :well, at least they have a $13.99 rib eye steak deal. Betting, times, reasonable takeout, a picture that does not look like its filtered through a lens Thomas Edison once owned...... all overrated.

I was watching the San Diego-Denver game on the weekend. With about nine minutes or so left San Diego narrowed the gap to 28-19, pending either an extra point or a two point conversion. The play there is to go for two, clearly, to make it seven points. As this article points out (h/t to @insidethenumbrs), if you go for two and miss you then have ten minutes of playing time to plan your attack.  The paid commentators were aghast anyone would even think of such a strategy.

A parallel was noted in a Patriots game a few years ago, that is in a horse racing handicapping article published today on the HANA Blog. Bill Belichick went for it on fourth and two on his own side of the field against the Colts, while up by six with only two and a half to go. People called him cray cray. He explained that the Colts, with the venerable Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, were "x" percent likely to win the game if they gave up the ball on a punt, which was a better percentage on what would happen with a fourth down conversion. He tried it and missed, and the Colts took the ball into the end zone to win, but the call was the right one. I wonder why people have so much trouble with statistics?

Speaking of trying something, Captaintreacherous is supposed to be on-track for the TVG FFA Championship at the end of the month at the Meadowlands.  This no doubt makes Jeff Gural a happy camper. This, if it happens, will be a compelling race. The Captain is slower on speed figs than the older horses and normally with a three year old who on paper is up against it, the connections balk at such a task; especially with stud money at the end of the rainbow. If this happens this a ballsy move, and those connections should be commended. Rainbow Blue tried older late in the year - beating the salty Carolina Sunshine and Glowing Report to name but two - but she was faster on paper, and a 1-5 shot. This is completely different.

The Hambo Poll is out this week and I was a little bit surprised. The crowd did not drop Iluvthenitelife as much as I thought they would. I mean, they should not have - she just went a trip that no filly I have ever seen in twenty years went and still almost won - but I was surprised they didn't. Similarly, the bearcat mile Foiled Again went over the younger and tripped out Pet Rock did not drop him below his younger foe. Very good.

The only horse I think that gets zero respect in that poll is Sunshine Beach. He barely registers and he is arguably the fastest three year old around. But I guess that's nitpicking. He has not won much of late. And when he does race in overnights against older he is generally dismissed at the windows. He drew the 8 post at Dover for the Progress Pace this weekend, by the way. Despite that, he looks like he should win easily. It'll be interesting to see if he is this years Heston Blue Chip and sweeps the late stakes.

In the same race, with the seven, is Vegas Vacation. He, after a couple of clunkers in the Breeders Crown, looked to have some zip back in a tightening off the pace mile. He still seems to get on a line though.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I'm Happy You Comment to Me, But It's Probably a Waste of Time

Over the past twenty four hours I don't know how many comments I've gotten on harness racing. I wrote a post about the American National card and the comments were filled with nothing about the American National card. Via email, I have gotten some comments, too. Most of them have to do with the products' presentation to a national audience.

Here is a smattering.......

"How do you play that game?"

"I told you once, I told you a thousand times, it's built for the 10th century and will never change"

"Every time I see a harness trainer in the news it's for drugs, why would the drivers be any different?"

"Why anybody would bet on the fiasco that is harness racing is beyond my comprehension. RIP."

"its horrible how they abuse these animals, should be ashamed of themselves, no wonder the sport is dying and Balmoral was only full of hillbilly inbred drunks sat night."

"For entertainment, do you go to the movies, or attend cock fights?"

Pacing guy noted today, regarding the lack of rules in the sport: 
  •  The driver at the Meadows who has 15 violations for kicking a horse this year.His fine for violation #1 $100.; His fine for violation #15? $100. Clearly a fine of $100 is not a deterrent to this driver who has earned $2,187,880 in purses
We know most of the above is not true. Most people care about their horses. The people who get caught for drugs in harness racing are usually supplied them by vets, who are the same vets thoroughbred trainers use. If it's in one sport, it's in the other. Thoroughbred racing cares for horses too, but when they stop racing they sure don't seem to, do they?

But the fact remains - with harness racing run like it is, the perception is the reality. The lack of structure has branded it so, and it's taken many years for this branding to take hold.

One wonders, however, where has the pride gone?

If someone thinks my restaurant food is bad, or my employees are chasing customers away, I try to fix it. I want my restaurant to succeed. My employees take the criticism personally and do something about it.

If my car company is getting slammed for bad workmanship and people are telling others to "buy Japan", pride comes into play. The union, the city, the car plant - everyone - bands together to help the brand. "Imported from Detroit" is one of the best ad campaigns I have ever seen.

Not only do I see a lack of pride in wanting to put out a product the public wants to see, I see apologists for it. And that's even worse.

Some industry employees say "I am tired of hearing about it and I wish everyone would shut up"

Some apologize and deny anything is happening. 

Recently when discussing rules with a harness racing power dude, he noted "We get complaints about things like kicking and whipping in the genitals and they look bad, but it's hard to change them".

It's like harness racing has Baghdad Bob as a spokesman saying "the Americans aren't here", as he ducks bombs emblazoned with apple pie logos. 

Where is the workmanship, the pride, the wanting to get better? The wanting to put out a product that people can be proud of? The sausage making to make a better sausage? The getting the hands dirty to make people feel optimisitic and passionate about the sport again?

Where are the people who lead, that people can get behind?

I don't understand it and I don't think I ever will.

In the meantime, I will continue to write blog posts about an event in racing, and people will comment and comment and comment to me nothing to do with that event, but about the presentation of it. They'll email. My thoroughbred friends will think I am a hillbilly. Maybe they feel they can comment here and someone will read. Maybe they are jaded like that.

That's fine, I don't particularly care.  They can do, and comment, about anything they want to comment on. I have not stifled opinion, or been a blinkered cheerleader for anything here since 2007, and I never will.

But they should all wise up.

The sport is unwilling to fix these things you complain about. It's the way it is. I certainly can't do anything about it, and even if I could, I would be unwilling to. Harness racing made its own bed. The people inside of it are the only ones who can fix it. If you are waiting for them to fix it, you'll be waiting for a long, long time.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Big Night at Balmoral

Yesterday evening the stars of harness racing were out, and we saw performances and storylines that were anything but uninteresting.

We'll start with Maven. The ultra-talented Glidemaster miss proved she belongs with any trotter by virtue of her second place finish to last year's three year old of the year, and this years probable Dan Patch winner, in 152.1. It took a track record to beat her. Well done Maven. Hopefully she gets more respect for being a world class horse.

I have been on the fence with Iluvthenitelife for this entire season. I think she's an excellent horse, and I know the three year old filly crop is decent this year. She beat them twelve times in a row and I am sure she is above the median of three year old fillies the last twenty years. But I have yet to see her do something you don't see other three year old fillies do. Until last night.

As handicappers who don't sing for their supper we are taught to watch the race within a race, for a couple of reasons: 1) Because we need to know how a horse or horses are getting a setup for a bet back or a fade and 2) We want to know if our money is safe or ready to be burned up. As cappers watched the Am Nat for fillies unfold at the quarter pole, we expected an off the board finish for Iluivthenitelife. She was getting brutalized in a 53 half on a cool night. A good horse was inside of her and a sharp filly, capable of huge speed was on her back to boot.

How that mare held on to almost win in 149 is mind boggling. I went through some filly trips in a database from over the years to see if I could find a parallel, but I could not. Iluvthenitelife is all world. They should be incredibly proud of her and it was easily the performance of the evening for me (of the year actually. Sunshine Beach's Crown effort was, but this not being a parked out back half sprint was infinitely more impressive). I think she'll fit just fine with Open mares next season, and they better bring their running shoes to tackle this lady. This also tells you why they want that match race with the Captain: Because they think they can beat him.

Bee a Magician. We never learn much when she races because she is too good for any trotter, more than likely male or female, in the sophomore division. She's like Peace Corps. All we learned last night was that Brian Sears must've been paid extra to make it interesting. Seriously, Sears had no choice really to do that, and he skillfully got her out, she exploded and did what she was supposed to do. I hope she goes to Europe next year and burns the place down. Other than the possible traffic trouble losing her the undefeated record, this race was a yawner.

The Captain was next, and after getting a snoozy half of 55.2 last week and being unable to come home in 55.2 to seal the victory, he was back to his old self. He got the cheap half and sprinted home in 53.3 winning by a half length at the end. Lucan Hanover, fresh off a loss to a horse I have never heard of, also bounced back and sprinted with the Captain home.

I have said it the second half of the year and it continues. The Captain confounds handicapping senses. I don't know what to make of him. Lucan Hanover joins Vegas Vacation, Sunshine Beach, Wake Up Peter and Captive Audience as horses who were first up to him that almost beat him. People like to say "he likes to only win by a bit" but that's nonsense. He won the Meadowlands Pace by skipping away from inferior horses like a good horse does. He won the Wilson by ten lengths. He won at Hoosier by sprinting away from them, winning by four. For some reason he has not been able to shake horses he should be able to, and has shaken at times.

The fans love the grittiness and substitute that for greatness and they may be correct. Conversely, cappers like me look at the race within a race. I had to chuckle because I got this email from a multi-million dollar player after the race:

"I laughed at all the zealots talking about "gameness" of CT.  Please!  He couldn't have an easier trip and was life and death to hold off a supposedly inferior horse."

I, like the handicapper above, will learn and decide how good this horse is next year if he races next year. This year I have no idea where to rank him with some other three year olds who race each year. People say I don't like him. It's actually the opposite. I think he's better than what he's showing and I believe he is better than these horses, even though he is life and death against them so often. I want to see if that's right or wrong so I hope he races in 2014.

One horse one has no such trouble judging is Foiled Again. He, like Iluvthenitelife before him, shocked handicapping senses from here to Chicago. He was in the thick of it through a 53.2 half, and still almost hung on versus the World Champion Pet Rock, who was third over with a 55.1 back half to close into.

This horse will likely lose aged pacer of the year to Pet Rock and I have no quarrel with that, but no one can walk away from that race being anything but impressed. I am currently making a top 12 horses of the decade column for publishing. He is on it. That horse amazes me - not only because he is 9 years old and doing it with style - because he is the toughest racehorse I have ever seen. Cam Fella had that mantle held with me for a quarter century (since I was a kid), and I think Foiled is tougher. He's the only horse in harness racing that I think could be parked out in 51 and hang around for a photo.

Harness racing has long lost its way. The industry is a complete mess. However, when we get to watch horses like some of these ply their trade we thank goodness for them.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Harness Racing Fans Get to Watch a Good One Tomorrow

Tomorrow evening, Champion trotter Bee a Magician goes for another win, trying to make it 16 for 16 for the season.

The almost perfect trotter is pretty much a joy to watch. Trotters, almost without fail, don't go two straight years without some sort of difficulty. They are a breed, with a gait, that can go off at any time. So far she's been pretty magical.

I read this evening something pretty cool that I did not know. This season she is not only the fastest three year old filly trotter, but the fastest three year old trotter, by virtue of her 151 flat world record performance in the Del Miller at the Meadowlands. In the past quarter century, this has only occurred two other times. Those two mares were the incredible (probably on everyone's short list as one of the greats of all time) Peace Corps, and C R Kay Suzie.

A few other Bee a Magician tidbits:

She is the first female trotter ever to win over $2 million at two and three. This year that's even made more impressive with the purse money reductions in some major stakes, especially in Canada.

She is 25 for 28, and in her three losses she either beat herself, or had a drive not put her into the race. She broke stride once at two, found herself 16 lengths back from a bad post on a half mile track (she still came second by a nose) and had a brutal trip later as a two year old, coming third while being placed 13 and a half lengths back (three wide no less) at the half.

She's won on every sized track : Mile, seven eighths, five eighths and half.

Back to back at Mohawk she won from the 10 and 11 posts, with relative ease.

She has been 5 cents on the dollar in her last four starts.

Horses can and do lose. They lose all the time because of many things, and maybe tomorrow her streak will be stopped. But you'll want to tune in if you are a harness fan, because she is a filly that we don't see come around too often.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Money Shows Why Going to Stud at Three Is Such a Draw

Today in Harness Racing Update:

It’s a huge dichotomy that Ray Paulick (he was speaking about Thoroughbred racing) noted this past week on social media:

“Retirements of "sound" 3yo's like Verrazano and Orb remind me that business part of horse racing causes major disconnect with sport & fans. Few top 3yo's have improved their stature at 4 (versus declining stature), so retirement is usually a "sound" fiscal decision.”

In Thoroughbred racing it’s probably better than some season’s past where Triple Crown hopefuls were retired during or just after the Triple Crown. In harness racing it has been better of late, with the industry trying to keep horses on the track after age three, but one wonders if that will keep going. Why; because of money.  There is simply not enough big money for older pacers and trotters, and as Paulick alluded, it’s not close enough to offset the risk that your value as a stud is more likely to go down than up. 

On-track in harness racing, never is that probably more apparent than this season. 

Pet Rock has raced 16 times in 2013 and hit all the big races. He is arguably the most effective racehorse in the older division this season. On tracks rated as fast he has paced 15 miles lower than 149. He set a world record on a five-eighths mile track, a half mile track and was one-fifth away from tying the all age race mark on a mile.  Remarkable. 

For all that trouble, Pet Rock has earned $883,584. 

To show you just how hard it is to make money in the older division, Pet Rock had this stretch of races in August and September:  He paced miles of 148.4, 148, 148, 148, 148, 147.2 and 148.1 – something many would consider to be impossible several years ago.  For all that work, for all those earth shattering back to back to back miles, he earned a whopping $170,434.

There's a good night of racing on Saturday at Balmoral. Maven (who gets no respect for such a great year, imo) goes against the boys. The Captain, who me, you and a lot of people thought would be shelved for 2013, is trying it one more time in his Am Nat, and Bee a Magician is also out, in a race where it looks like she can only beat herself (like all her starts this year). Rounding out the races, Iluvthenitelife tries to extend her winning streak to 14 against the sharp and willing Charisma Hanover.

Thoroughbred racing has cooled off, but harness is still rolling.

Note: For the American National card at Balmoral Saturday there is a $100,000 pick 4 guaranteed pool.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cub Reporter: Major Changes Coming to Next Year's Breeders Cup Telecast

It's all over the interwebs: The ratings on NBC for the prime time showing of the Breeders Cup Classic were down by a fair amount.

During the 8PM to 9PM timeslot, it came third to a football game, another football game, and some show I have never seen called Mike and Molly. It beat some of the cable sports on at that time, like the National Whiffleball Championships.

Ok, I made that last part up.

This is not great news and there probably are some excuses that make total sense. For example, Thorotrends posted  "[the] Big drop in 2013 primetime Breeders' Cup viewership likely/mostly due to 2012 being artificially high with Notre Dame/Pitt OT lead-in."

That is likely true, so I will end my post because there is no need to continue it. The ratings are fine and this is just a blip.

But that would make it a more boring post than I usually post.

And of course, I just received an email from Cub Reporter.

He wrote "don't use this because I am still working on it, but that Thorotrends guy is crazy. There are issues with the telecast. Plus the guy is from Maine. All they have are fish there. I don't even know if they have televisions in that boon-dock. Here's the scoop, hot off the presses."

Since I always miss the "don't use this" line when he sends me something secret, I print it for you here.


On the heels of Saturday evening's television ratings for the Breeders Cup Classic, Cub Reporter has learned that next year's showing on Fox will be quite different than the one we saw this year.

"We're going to shake it up" said an unnamed Fox Sports 1 insider.

Picture this, with horses and whips
Right now there are some leaders in the clubhouse on the idea front.

"We loved changing the hockey puck to make it glow, so we're going with glow whips" said my source. "The only people who complained were from Canada and they complain about lotsa things. Plus I don't even think they count in our ratings. A glow whip will help us show where the horses are and which jockeys are trying, and which are mailing it in."

When I asked if he worried about highlighting whipping and angering PETA, he said "This is Fox, we don't give a crap."

The on-air team will be getting spiced up as well.

"We've hired Beadle from that crazy show where she talks to those Amish people," he said. "For the Derby we went on twitter and horse folks were going ballistic about Beadle talking horse racing. It was like Ted Cruz walking into a New York Times editorial board Christmas party. This controversy brings ratings and ratings are what we're about. Plus, you watch Fox news, right? We like blondes."
Beadle talks to Amish people

When asked about keeping some on-air talent like Randy Moss, the executive said "I doubt it. Why they have a football player as a horse racing analyst is crazy anyway."

Fashion and fedoras will still be a part of the show, angering some viewers perhaps, and the on-air talent surely might surprise everyone in the sport.

"We got in contact with this Peter Rotondo guy, who I think runs marketing for the Breeders Cup" said my source.

Peter, in his casual Sunday morning attire
"So I go look at this guy online and he is some sort of fashionista. Like really, hats, sharp coats, ties that cost more than a new set of tires. He looks like a shorter version of that Clinton guy on What Not to Wear. So I say to myself, why not save some money and hire this dude?"

When Cub Reporter called to get a quote from the Breeders Cup someone answered the phone and said "Shhhhh" so I am pretty sure this is going to happen.

There are some cost cutting measures in force for next year too, but fans might not be too upset.

For example, Bobby Flay will not be back.

"He costs a lot of money" said my source. "Right now we're looking at replacing him with Frank Stronach making an Apple Strudel, the Official Pastry of the Breeders Cup ®"

Analysts will be Joe Drape because "he talks smack and comes cheap", Ray Paulick because "he is good friends with the guy who played Tootsie", pedigree guru Sid Fernando because "I think he has 47 million twitter followers which can boost ratings" said my source.

For lead racing analyst an alternate source told me Richard Dutrow "has the job if he has nothing better to do".

Larry Collmus fans will be very upset to hear he has been replaced. "We're getting that guy from Tampa Bay Downs to call the races. He cracks me up" said my contact.

As for the NTRA and Jockey Club, they are planned to being used in a new way.

Bad kids drinking
"We need to zap some energy into the Americas Best Racing Bus or whatever the hell that is." he said. "We're going to replace a couple of those ambassadors with some of those bad kids from MTV's Campus PD and do some cross promotion. We hope to have it turn into a party bus with the cool kids mooning people on the interstate, getting pulled over, and assorted hijinks. There are too many people named Chip on that bus to drive ratings. We need earned media, too, and bad ass kids can help." my source noted.

The timing between races are always a concern so Fox plans to throw up a trial balloon by extending the Breeders Cup Marathon to 26.2 miles. Apparently scantily clad women will be sponging and pouring water on the horses and jockey's each time around the track. "It will sell good to the Kegasus male demo," said my source.

Other changes are relatively minor. 

"Turf Paradise has a great $13.99 Rib Eye deal, so we hope to land them as next year's venue. Plus there are tons of old people in Arizona who like the races," he said.

"We're ditching the Best is Yet to Come song and instead inviting Milli from Milli and Vanilli. He can lip sync something. We should be able to land him for a Hotwire hotel room and a free Rib Eye." added my source.

Cub Reporter is not sure purists will like the changes, but it appears this year's ratings have really shaken things up for one of horse racing's signature events. It will be more than interesting to see what if any of these changes do take place for next year's Cup.

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