Friday, January 31, 2014

"Marketing" Racing: It Ain't Like a Super Bowl Ad

Bacon lent some thoughts on slots and marketing in a tweet this week:

He elaborated a moment later......

Then George chimed in......

It's a nice progression of a number of tweets, in my opinion. It has validity.

This weekend a bunch of big brands are going to "market" at the Super Bowl. For $4 million you can buy a Super Bowl ad, and some people think that's ridiculous - even some in the industry who track sales after impressions -  and on the surface it might sound like it. But for some brands is it?  I don't think so.

Super Bowl ads are watched at a higher rate than every day ads (according to the WSJ) because the channel doesn't change and people are geared to watch them. These ads come in at around 3 cents per impression. When you add the hundreds of millions of hits on youtube and in other places, like on Morning TV shows, the impression per dollar spend rises considerably.

By average measures it can be argued they're cheap. Budweiser's cool Puppy Love ad has had well over 20 million impression so far, just on youtube, and the ad has not even aired yet. Try to get that with your $40,000 thirty second spot during Dateline NBC.

I was asked last night by a non-marketer business associate how a Puppy Love ad encourages people buy beer. We see it each Super Bowl, so it is a good question.

Big brands rarely sell their real product in these ads because the Super Bowl marketing is greater than the product. Bud gains goodwill and positive branding for being a big player, and GoDaddy's CEO has said the same thing. Over time I am sure Dorito's hopes that they become the defacto snack chip at Super Bowl parties because partygoers want to eat the 'branded' snack chip of the big game, not some other one. These brands get tremendous pull.

"Marketing" horse racing is totally different. Selling the product of horse racing (what is it anyway? The Derby? Watching horses go around and sitting at picnic tables? The betting?) can't happen in this way, or with this type of mass market medium push. It doesn't work and it never works. It's a non-starter.

As we've written before, selling the game of racing along the tail, without mass market appeal but talking to a certain demographic, I believe is the way to go.

Paulick's second tweet and George's rather comical follow up are right, in my opinion. Pennsylvania does not need mass marketing. It needs a product worth marketing that needs severe restructuring so it can be marketed. Then they need some good old fashioned benjamins (if the slots cash is still there) and a plan to attack a target demographic that they've built the product for. If that's done not with a Super Bowl ad, but with laser-like long-tail precision, something positive can happen.

I know that's not flashy or exciting, but I believe that's what horse racing "marketing" is.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Dumb Money, NHC and Slots

Jose Arias who won the whopper NHC last weekend spoke to the DRF about his big win.

Regarding the possible hedge, or odds-smack down on Fit to Rule rumor and innuendo, Jose said he, or people he knows, didn't have anything to do with it. Later on in the DRF, Peter Fornatale, looked at the situation a little more closely, and said he heard that the late hit Fit to Rule took was from on-track money.

A true Horseplayer or gambler is skeptical for one reason only (some track executive's will give you a less-flattering reason, but they are wrong): Because we have to be or we will never come close to beating this game, or any game. When you see a place-win pool size discrepancy, it triggers what it should trigger in a good horseplayer. The detective instinct.

Knowing how easy it is to i) estimate the final odds on a horse through analyzing horizontals and WPS percentages and ii) to get a bet down in this day and age by a sharp gambler who knows his math, it made some even more sure that something untoward happened. I mean, betting 10k on this horse at that odds level to increasing your chances to win this contest is not rocket science. It's barely 5th grade science.

Regardless, like any good horseplayer (for those on social media still flummoxed about this whole thing) you take the facts when the facts come and reevaluate. Some good work by Peter seems to give y'all an out.

I truly do believe, like CJ from TimeformUS, they should close betting for the last race in the future. Problem solved. With a little marketing before post time, handle for the last race might even be higher anyway.

We as seasoned customers want our takeout reduced so we receive higher payouts. One way we achieved that in the old days was having more dumb money in the pools.  In handicapping the Super Bowl this past week, it appears dumb money is alive and well in those pools.

The books opened at Seattle -2, but quickly moved to pick em, then to about Denver -2. The flash of an offence, probably the best quarterback of all time, and national exposure as the most highly watched team has made Denver America's Team.

Looking at the numbers, from those who do this kind of thing, the bookies original line is probably right. The public line is probably wrong. Seattle, who has a serviceable offence, has made top offences and QB's like New Orleans and Drew Brees look like the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But it just isn't flashy. Flashy takes the money.

The insiders believe Manning will struggle (not because he's a "choker" or by whatever sports radio stuff is spouted these days) because the D matches up perfectly against him. The outsiders believe "He's the best QB ever.... unstoppable".

In horse racing, we rarely see it. There is just not enough money out there from the public where the odds need correcting, or there is not enough money to even out the pools from the syndicates. A couple examples, off the top of my head: Zenyatta in the Breeders Cup in 2010 at 4-5 (she was probably closer to 2-1 or 5-2 fair; with her running style against good horses on dirt was not unstoppable by any stretch) and the Belmont Stakes place pool when a horse has a shot at winning the Triple Crown. There are others. If you remember some, shoot us a comment.

John Campbell recently talked about slots, and the horsemen. He believes the money should be used better before its gone. His comments were analyzed in today's HRU here (pdf page 5)

Have a great day everyone.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"You're a Bunch of Rich Guys"

In today's snippet driven world - where narratives are borne and fit better on the back of a napkin rather than through proper intelligent debate - once you get framed, it's hard to change that framing. Just ask Mitt Romney, or in Canuckland, Justin Trudeau.

In Pennsylvania yesterday a bill was introduced to add $250,000,000 to the treasury. That quarter of a billion is coming from horse racing.

It's not coming from the groom who makes $11 an hour, or the mom and pop breeding farm down the street, or the feed woman with a new truck with payments of $945 a month, or the racetrack teller or track maintenance person.

It's coming from, you know, those Romney type "rich guys", (and shudder some even with a last name that we stereotypically have a problem with):
  • In a statement, Stephens was critical of the racing subsides, citing purses won by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum... and “countless out-of-state racehorse owner millionaires.”
When trying to forward your narrative, it's always important to remember to use proper buzzwords. Rule number 32: Mention "the children". Focus groups tell us this, and focus groups must be right.
  •  “Rather than funding the pastime of the world’s wealthy and elite, I believe these funds should be used to fulfill our moral and constitutional obligations to our children.
Horse racing subsidies need serious debate, both inside and outside racing. How should racing be using this money while its there, how is it lobbied for and what it's good for from an economic and quality of life revenue driver. Things like that.

"Sheiks and millionaires" or whatever drivel you want to muddy things up with doesn't forward that debate an inch. In fact, it's insulting to anyone with a care in the world with regards to horse racing, or public policy in general.

Regardless, it's the world we live in. So get used to it.


It's tough to be a bettor. If you are one you nod. If you aren't one you wonder what the fuss is about. "I'm a Bettor" was penned here. 

Barry Irwin's comments on the Paulick Report seem to have made gamblers shake their heads everywhere. Why wouldn't they? I mean seriously Barry, price doesn't matter in gambling? Start up a Barry Irwin poker game and rake 30% from the pot like they do at Parx, and let me know how many players you have. You could give out free beer, pretzels and tell colorful stories about Animal Kingdom's libido and no one would show up.

Our friend Penelope Miller of ABR hits Times Square and asks Super Bowl questions with a horse racing tilt.

Nick Kling looks at a few things of interest in his weekly column.

A "surcharge" on bettors passes in Illinois. This industry will never learn.

This is how you respond to trash talk. Being a media-savvy veteran helps the cause. 

Chester might be in trouble with this Anthony Coletta accident. 

The raceday 360 wire is da bomb. Good links.

Beyer checks out the Florida nonsense. It really is sad the way they've fought there.

I know how to shoot a gun, and I played hockey, and I watch football, and I don't drink things with umbrella's in them, and in grade five I got into a fistfight with a bully (I lost). My toughness and fortitude is pretty apparent and knows no bounds. I'm a real man's man eh? Nonsense. I am a freaking softee. These hallmark commercials make me turn into sap.

Have a great day everyone. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Slots Dollars for Innovation: The RDSP Redux, With a Little Bezos and Google

 With the relatively (maybe not depending on your perspective) shocking news that it is a possibility that $250 million could be removed from Pennsylvania horse racing, a look back at the RDSP might be in order. It was a prescient, forward-looking plan, not seen anywhere in horse racing (in my opinion). Slots money to grow demand, explore new markets, new delivery mechanisms; a novel concept. One likely never to be embraced, but a plan that was well before its time.......

In 1998, founder Jeff Bezos made a trip to a Menlo Park, California garage.  In that garage, which was a make-shift office and workshop, sat two kids who were trying to sell a new way to search the Internet.  They were seeking seed money for their venture.

Bezos almost immediately obliged. He invested $250,000 of his own money into the concept.
Those two kids were Sergey Brin and Larry Page and the concept they were working on was Google. This year, with Google’s stock hovering around $600 a share, that investment is worth about $2 billion.  Mr. Bezos, way back in 1998, paid 8 cents a share for his stock.

Why did he do it? In his own words he said:

“There was no business plan, but they had a vision. It was a customer-focused point of view.”

He didn’t know what was going to happen with search. He didn’t know what his investment may be worth. He took a shot, because what they were building made sense.

That seed capital created a company; one who innovates and makes all of our lives a little more convenient, and at the same time opens doors for more innovation.

Harness racing, like seed capital investing, is for swashbucklers. It’s a sport that has always been for those rugged individualists who yearn for risk, with a probability for a huge reward.  We don’t ask for special treatment or to work an eight hour day with summers off and a cushy 401k. We’re different.
We see it at every yearling sale on the planet. It happens with the Cancilliere brothers who swing for the fences on a brother to Donato for the price of a Massachusetts beach house.  It happens with a couple of bettors who decide to take their superfecta winnings from last week to buy that Shadow Play yearling out of a mare they made a score on in 2006. It happens with little guys like me, who showed up at a sale with no trainer, and saw a horse I witnessed race a couple of weeks earlier not drawing bids at $5,000, so I put my hand up and bought him, never seeing the horse or even knowing how I get him from the sale to a stall. It happens with you too, almost every day.

It’s how we’re built. It’s what we do.

I had a recent discussion about the “Racing Development and Sustainability Plan” which was structured and tabled in Ontario a few years ago. The plan, which was created to buffer the loss of slots revenue should it be discontinued, asked for 5% of purses to be squirreled away and used for eight or ten previously studied and reviewed planks. These included items like new betting concepts, betting exchanges, pick 6 tickets in corner stores, and a few other pro-growth ideas that were new, fresh and innovative.  Each idea, like Google’s, was “customer-focused”.

I remember when it was constructed; I thought it would be a slam dunk. Almost all of these issues were complained about by those in the sport, and 5% of slots-fuelled purses seemed like a drop in the bucket.

After all, if you nailed a 5th place at Grand River Raceway, instead of cashing a $250 purse check it would now be about $238. It didn’t seem like it was an earth-shattering ask, especially since that $5000 purse could be $500 if slots were killed.

In the end it was rejected by the participants. It was “too risky”, “too vague”, “there was no business plan”, “we don’t know how much each plank would cost” and various other gripes were put forth to kill it.
Why do we have a love of risk, and hard work, and “taking a shot” when we throw $20,000 at an unraced weanling, but we can’t give up a paltry 5% of slot-purse money to do something planned to gain new customers and new markets?

I wish I knew, because I think it’s one of the biggest problems in horse racing.  

When we take a shot, we innovate, and when we innovate it opens doors. When we don’t innovate we stagnate and there are no doors to open.

I’ve often wondered of late: What if the RDSP in Ontario passed in 2010?

If the plan passed ‘go’, one of the main items – a betting exchange – might be up and running, with the participants of harness racing as its owner. It might be helping with the bottom line, but it could be doing more than that.

As everyone knows, all slots revenue is being (tentatively, there is a final report due next month) removed from Ontario racetracks in March of next year. The government has been looking for ways to appease racing, because the new gaming policy has pulled the rug right out from under it. Right now there is really no conduit for them to fund racing with some sort of bridge financing or restitution, as there are very few avenues that make sense. Currently, what’s being batted around is a $50M severance package to be paid over three years.

However, as a part of this new gaming policy, the government itself has laid the foundation to pass sports betting in the Province, which could be a huge business for them.

If a harness betting exchange was now running, with an existing fan base patronizing it, it is probable, or at least somewhat likely, that Ontario racing could ask the government this simple question today:
“Since you took slots away, how about allowing us to offer sports betting on our exchange?”

To allow for some pay back, or to allow the government to save face, a right of first refusal, or exclusivity may have been granted for sports betting via the medium. This would be a boon for the sport in Ontario. If others came in and tried to offer sports betting the same way, they’d likely have to go through racing. As Betfair has proven, betting games on an exchange brings in plenty of dollars, too. Those dollars could run into the many millions per year, and they could be used for harness racing purses.  The Ontario Sires Stakes may be funded by this exchange each year alone, instead of everyone wondering what a sires stake purse will even look like in three years.

The above is purely hypothetical of course, and it may have never occurred even if the RDSP was passed. But it shows that racing could be another example illustrating what many other businesses prove each day: If you are innovating and trying new things, it can spawn growth and uncover new comparative advantages and revenues; sometimes from unexpected places.

This maxim could be applied to all other ideas, like a V75 type bet in corner stores, new bets in new markets, scheduling, the list is almost endless.

In my opinion, racing needs to look at all ideas. It needs to fund working committees of professionals to bring these ideas to the fore. It needs to bring our swashbuckling nature from the yearling sales floor to the boardrooms to shake up the business and destroy the status-quo.  If so, we will at the very least be trying things that can help us learn and move the sport forward.

What we are currently doing, and our culture of saying ‘no’ to any change, is simply not working.

This article is copyright via Harness Racing Update 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NHC Chatter: Smart, Greasy or None of the Above?

In Sunday's final table at the NHC, the eventual winner Jose Arias picked a losing horse, but held on when his nearest foe's winning pick (the one horse, Fit To Rule) fell $1.20 short. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

What would be the end of the story wasn't, however.

As "Q Racing" explains here, Fit To Rule took a late hit on the odds board, knocking him down from 8-1 to 6-1. At 8-1 Mr. Arias loses, at 6-1 he wins. This led to some speculation that Mr. Arias or someone in his camp bet $10,000 to win as a "hedge" or to knock down the odds enough so he was a winner. First place was $750,000, second place was $200,000; a big difference.

Former NHC Champion Michael Beychok said:

"The whole possibility of some sort of nefarious hedging being done by Arias is a non-starter with me.
Of course he hedged. I would have and my cast members on Horseplayers discussed this possibility ad nauseum during the three day contest and immediately before the final race went off.
If the above occurred - i.e. it was a hedge - there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. When you or I have a pick 6 going, oftentimes we will scan the odds of the horse's we are not live onto, and bet accordingly. Sometimes we'll bet $500 to win, or $2000 to win, depending on how much we want to hedge and how much the pick 6 is paying. This is not a whole lot different. Mr. Arias would want to take as much home as possible if he lost. There was no malice to manipulate an odds board, and that's the salient point.

If somehow - and this is not as difficult to orchestrate, as some would lead you to believe - the bet on Fit To Rule was designed to win the $750,000 by driving the odds down below the magic number and blindsiding an opponent who is unable to fight back, then we get into a whole other area. It gets greasy. No real gambler I know would want to go there, although I am sure there are some.

So far we've seen nothing from anyone involved in the contest on this matter. Peter Fornatale has promised a DRF article on the subject, and it looks like he believes nothing untoward went on. Others like a Las Vegas horseplayer on Asaro's email list have commented that 'they hate to see Jose's accomplishment tarnished by grassy knoll conspiracy theories."

As TimeformUS's CJ said on Paceadvantage, there's an easy way to fix this (remember we might/probably be fixing something that did not happen, but it is what it is) next year:

"I just see no reason a track wouldn't agree to close a pool for one race one time a year for the last race of the contest. That way everyone can see the odds and the totals could be tabulated before the off time."

Strangely enough, this whole chatter about the final table, strategy and what could've mighta who knows what happened, has given the NHC a shot in the arm. That's probably needed.

**** Update: Jose talks about the win here ****

Monday, January 27, 2014

Social Media in Racing Is Far From Useless

The criticisms about social media's reach and ability to generate new fans are palpable, and they likely aren't going anywhere; probably because some of the shortcomings of social media are true.

It's very difficult to reach new fans through a medium like, say, twitter, and that's pretty obvious. However, I feel that's just a small part of the story: There is more to an industry's revenue stream than just filling the sales funnel with new fans, bettors, or what have you.

Although they are 33% more likely to spend money with you, supply referrals with 107% more sales, and it costs 600% more to sell something to someone new than old,  customers who have done business with you before are often forgotten. "We need new blood", the "game is too old", the "fan base is dying" are far more sexy than "I went to the track one time last month but I would go three times this month with a little push", I guess.

Social media helps bridge the marketing spend gap from that spent on new versus old, and it doesn't cost very much money at all. Racing has a huge edge in getting that one time user to go three hundred percent more, and spend money with you.

Whereas there are 60 or 70 players and coaches on a football team tweeting or chatting on Facebook, there are literally thousands upon thousands of jocks, drivers, trainers, owners and back-end support (vets etc), doing the same for horse racing. It is one of, if not the most, labor intensive sports on the earth.Go to SM on a Saturday afternoon - they are there, tweeting their upcoming drives or rides, chatting about a horse in their barn on the Derby trail, or posting pictures and thoughts.

And we have not even touched the revenue driver for the industry: The gambling part of it.

That synergy of information, opinion, is alive and well and formidable on SM.

You may be saying "so what, these people are all talking to each other. How does that grow anything?"

It grows it, I believe, in a couple of ways.

Engagement: There are 24 hours in a day, only a few of which are reserved for free time. We can spend that fighting traffic on the 401 to go golfing, spend it with the kids, watch some football, or take in the Grammy's. It's a dog eat dog world for our free time in this day and age. When we follow people on twitter or facebook who like racing, it keeps us interested in racing.

Cross-promotion: You are a harness fan and 'those' runners a) don't run often enough b) are too complicated to figure out when they run 54 distances on three surfaces and c) you are a harness guy or gal, so who cares.

Conversely, you are a thoroughbred fan and 'those' harness types are jugheads; pleeezzze!

But on SM you follow some harness fans and you follow some thoroughbred fans, too.

The harness player might see people talking about the Holy Bull or Fountain of Youth. Instead of flipping on "My 400 Pound Pet Walrus", "Here Comes Honey Boo Hoo" or whatever reality show is on TLC at the moment, you decide to turn on the race. You begin to learn the Kentucky Derby prep horses. A percentage of you follow the series right through to Derby Day. You've never done that before, but now you do. "Hey, I am going to watch that Cairo horse through the trail. he was wide and won easily". This "cross fan" is a new fan.

Being a harness and thoroughbred dude both on SM, I see this alot. The TVG Championship was watched on my SM feed as much as any harness race I've seen. Cold hard thoroughbred players were commenting on it and they got to see nine year old warhorse Foiled Again prevail to go over $6M in career earnings. They at the very least learned something, and might watch his next stakes final. A few years ago I asked a couple of thoroughbred fans which horse they knew most in harness racing and they said "See You At Peelers". She was going for 16 in a row and was being talked about by harness fans on the medium.

This happens on a daily basis.

There are thousands of casual racefans on twitter and facebook, or on chat boards. Those racefans, just like a "new" customer are doing different things in their daily life. Using social media to increase their interest in the game - to watch or play it more frequently - can help them move up the consumption curve. They probably don't like Honey Boo Hoo anyway.

Gaining market share as a "sport" is hard. Horse racing is not really a sport, per se, and there are hundreds of other sports to compete with. Gaining market share by increasing casual fan engagement in your sport is an easier and more cost-effective way to increase sales and viewership. Social media helps that immensely, in my opinion, and it's an arrow in the marketing quiver that should not be ignored by marketing departments.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Back in 2007 at a gaming conference an astute observer mentioned that he expected state by state gambling to have a life cycle, just like every other product. He thought the first to take a major hit were slots and believed that within ten or fifteen years, slot revenue would be a shadow of itself.

It wasn't really because slots are overly boring, it was because more and more gaming (including internet gambling) would spring up in state after state - in some sort of 'what can we pass next in gambling' death match - and the landscape would get so saturated, it had nowhere to go but down.

In Pennsylvania, this editorial seems to agree. 
  • In July, the state Gaming Control Board reported that for the first time since casinos opened in Pennsylvania, gross slot machine revenue declined in fiscal year 2012-13.
  •  That's because people realize that when it comes to gambling, someone's going to tap out. Probably the players. Government is encouraging citizens to gamble away their paychecks instead of growing Pennsylvania's economy and attracting jobs that pay a living wage.
  •  Average Joes realize this. A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that by 62-33 percent, Pennsylvania voters oppose online gambling in the state.
Ontario is currently ahead of that curve. The OLG knows both slots and casino games have had their revenue slashed. They looked to "modernize it", which as you all know, involved taking money away from racetracks.

Will Pennsylvania (and New York and Ohio and everywhere else) need to "modernize" too? They are at differing points on the product life cycle curve, but one would think so.

The Arts and Entertainment Network  has learned to push popular shows over and over and over again (Duck Dynasty marathon number 46 anyone?) because it adds their immediate revenue. Once the masses are saturated, the show dies and it's on to the next one. With casino or online gambling - country by country and state by state one-upping each other with more and more - the same thing tends to occur. But, in my opinion, just like with a television network, someone will be left holding the Jon and Kate Plus Eight bag.

More on gambling, @keenegal tweeted out this: "Fantasy Football is Gambling". It sure is, and it is definitely a draw away from racing bettors (more male, with disposable income, who like numbers and stats).

The Prix D'Amerique was raced this morning.  

"Complexity in anything can be a turn off. That’s why most of us don’t get involved in threesomes or options trading" . Derek is writing some funny stuff on racing (and threesomes) at his Medium blog thingy.

Santa Anita handle - for 2014 - has started to return a little bit. Is it because of great fields, better marketing? No, not really. Carryovers are happening, attracting more wagering. Like with casino gaming, horse racing in California (or anywhere) cannot survive on carryovers. In a sport that seems to be so scared of exchange wagering cannibalizing pools (which is, as the kids say, cray cray), no one seems to mind the cannibalization that carryovers do.

Finley looks at the bridgejumping/offshore money making scheme happening at Pompano (pdf here). Stories years ago were written about this phenomenon, wondering what the con is. Finley has been around the block enough to know.

In yesterday's HRU, equipment changes and reporting were looked at from a betting perspective, including the story of how the scratches and changes page was hatched, between Equibase and the Horseplayers Association of North America. (pdf page 5) 

Speaking of HANA, Paulick gave the mag a push:
Thanks Bacon.

To read the issue, you can here. 

A lot of people got their pre-Derby fix yesterday with Cairo Prince and Top Billing. I thought both of them raced really well.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Is CRM a Lost Art in Racing? Gene-o, Crist, and errrr Drones!

The Meadowlands has had a bit of a resurgence of late. on-track handle has been trending higher for some time, and this year that number has continued to do well, with the addition of a new grandstand.

There was an interview with Jason Settlemoir, the Meadowlands CEO in the Horseplayer Monthly released yesterday.

From the interview:

"Our fans have also noted much better fan-friendly service and how clean our facilities are, I pride myself with these operating principals and also integrity in everything we do. We have made a concentrated effort on fan friendly service and people see we are responding to all our social media posts, media e-mails (, as we return every one of them and we return messages as well. Our fans say to us sometimes I never thought you would respond to that e-mail or call me back, it never use to be like that. Fan-friendly service is the lifeblood and cornerstone of any good organization and without it you might as well pack your bags."

You can read the rest of the interesting interview here, it's on page 11.

Also in that issue, friends of the blog Mike Dorr, Lenny Moon, Jerod Dinkin and Melissa Nolan have articles. Veteran racetrack handicappers Barry Meadow and Bruno De Julio chip in with articles.

Steve Crist did not like the choices of races for the upcoming series on Fox, and he makes some good points. One race he specifically singled out.....

"A taste of the Triple Crown is fine, but why the Blue Grass, the weakest Grade 1 Derby prep, a race that has lost most of its significance since being switched to Polytrack, and one that rarely attracts any Derby favorites?"

... I do disagree. Horse racing on television should be done with the selling of the sport in mind; after all, serious bettors like me and you are watching the track feed. Where else to sell it than spring at Keeneland? Young people, a hopeful nice spring day. Keeneland is like the Masters- it signals spring. It's a setting we need to see on network television if racing spending money on such a thing as the Jockey Club is.

Blog pal, all around super-fan and a defacto Mayor of Buffalo Gene K's Friday racing notebook is here.

I am fostering one pooch, but next weekend I have to be a fill-in for another, while his foster person is on vacation. Ten year old Hunter. He's a freaking cute old fella. I hope he enjoys racing, food and football. So many good dogs need homes. Think of adopting if you are interested in one.

The PA commission stopped Chester Downs from racing. Bettors yawn, participants are p'od.

I'm working today, but Bacon makes a strong point. I think he was talking about tracks, but I'm game if he wants to move the day, right now, to Saturday.

The always interesting Prix D'Amerique is Sunday at 10:20E

Drones! Just don't put cameras in some barns, the win percentage might take a hit.

Loved the Manning-Manning article on Just a couple of brothers playing a game.

Enjoy your day everyone!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Re-Monopoly in Ontario?

Yesterday it was announced that Rod Phillips has stepped down as CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. 

Phillips was in charge of the modernization plan to increase per capita gambling revenue in the Province, where it lagged behind several other jurisdictions with gaming. That plan - to proliferate online gaming, more and bigger casinos and otherwise - was lauded by government insiders as a way to bridge the deficit and fund government initiatives.

However, so far it has failed to resonate (we surmised this might be happening last year). Casino votes in Toronto and Vaughn, for example, were not exactly pro-casino. It is reported in the piece that other municipalities will be looking at it. I guess there are some cities out there who will want a casino, but they probably won't be where the government wants them to be, to ensure max revenues.

What is going ahead with the OLG, is the amalgamation between it and horse racing; proposed in the initial brief almost two years ago. This amalgamation, and the resulting funding announced late last year, looks to provide racing with some sound footing to build upon.

If this softening of expanded gaming continues, either with this government or the next one, this could be a real boon for horse racing in the province. 
  • Rent payments may continue longer-term for tracks who house slots, like Flamboro, Western Fair and Woodbine.
  • With no municipalities stepping up to the plate, a casino is an easier sell at Woodbine than anywhere else near a big population.
  • Horse racing has always needed to be linked with the OLG to grow. It is, and should be for the foreseeable future. This link is essential to bring in new bets, exchanges, or anything else. 
  •  Horse racing always needed a central structure. $8,000 handles at a track giving out $60,000 in purses was not only unsustainable, it was a pox on racing's house and contributed to its downfall. These imbalances will not happen anymore with a central organization with power.
  • Customers initiatives will continue to trump others for the short-period. This is a "resetting" of the market from a supply driven one to a demand driven one. It'll take time to balance. Early indications, when looking at handles at smaller tracks like Western Fair and Grand River, are positive. 
  • Poor scheduling, distributing of the signal, home market areas built for a different generation, fights over slot money and many other sub-optimal issues dragged down the sport for years. We're already seeing the difference with purse-pooling and other initiatives that we have not seen in the history of horse racing, anywhere. It's a different world. 
What does the above mean?

It may mean that horse racing has a future in the Province.

No there won't be 18 racetracks; or racing for the sake of racing, or slot machines back at the track with 10% going to purses and profits - in today's day and age that's just never going to happen. But there will be revenue, there will be opportunity. Racing is already in the gambling fabric of Ontario, and with fewer and fewer Queen's Park foot soldiers to enact a massive expansion the public does not want, it's probably a good place to be. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Horseplayers Hate Everything Don't They?

Horse racing; it's a place where the other 'half' (which is probably about 94%, since purse money comes from their betting) complains. Takeout sucks, Twinspires is greedy. You're all a bunch o' cheaters with my money. He stiffed the six horse. Blah, blah, blah.

That's stereotypical of course, but it's a narrative.

So, I guess horseplayers must've hated "Horseplayers" on Esquire TV last evening?

As far as I can tell, that's a big fat nope.

Here in the frozen tundra we did not see the show. None of the cable or satellite companies carry this Esquire channel you all speak of. So, I followed along on twitter.

There I saw complaints about Groupie Doll not being twenty to one. I saw the artistic license questioned at times. There were some little things. But on the whole, all I noticed was a bunch of folks watching who seemed to be having a little bit of fun.

As my pal Dan says this morning:
Perhaps the show will have some legs. Caroline hopes so.
I do too.

Have a nice Wednesday folks.

Monday, January 20, 2014

If Horse Racing Went Richard Sherman

As mom's and dad's sit around breakfast tables trying to reinstill the long held sports tradition of winning with class after last night's polar vortex of the antithesis, it got me thinking........

What if Richard Sherman was ported back in horse racing history?

After winning the Triple Crown, Affirmed to Alydar: "Lionel Ritchie is gonna write a song about you, "Once, Twice, Three Times a Loser."

Shug McGauhey to Todd Pletcher after Orb's Triple Crown win: "Hey expensive-tie-boy, you can talk smack with your five entries, but you suck in the big one."

Calvin Borel to Javier Castellano after a BC race at Churchill: "I'm gonna pop you one in the nose" Whoops.

The Phipps Family to Sackatoga Stable: "Get these commoners out of the turf club, and take that gelding with them."

After Zenyatta won the Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita, John Shirreff to the DRF: "Eat my west coast bias, Mofo's"

Larry Collmus after landing the Breeders Cup gig from Trevor Denman: "Who's the best? I'm the best. Now go sprout wings and get outta my face."

Tom Durkin, about Larry Collmus: "I found Larry's comments disrespectful. Plus they were stupid....... like, really, who has two thumbs and calls Saratoga?"

Richard Grunder to Tom, Larry and Trevor: "Hey guys, what about me?"

Seth Merrow of Equidaily about Ray Paulick: "The dick stole my idea."

Seabiscuit to War Admiral: "I'd say he fought the war until he saw the whites of my eyes, but he was too busy looking at my ass"

One of the things I like - no, I really like - about horse racing, is that as horse owners, and handicappers, or participants, we rarely forget to win with class.  Whether we are hitting a superfecta that our friend beside us got nosed out on, or when one of our fellow participants animals gets a bad trip, or is beaten off bad racing luck (where we've benefited) we've all been on either side of it and we act accordingly.

We all know this game is humbling. You can be on top of the world one moment, and at the bottom the next. Most of racing never forgets that.

When long ago I got advice as a horse owner I was told that when you lose, congratulate the winner, shake his or her hand, and move on to the next race. I think that's sound advice. I am glad I am involved in a sport that abides by it, almost without fail, and it's witnessed each day at racetracks as often in 2013 as it was fifty years ago.

Have a great day everyone.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Notes

It's like Rachel versus Zenyatta.

Today's early NFL game has New England traveling to Denver with the winner heading to the big game. All week, and even before then, the Brady versus Manning narrative has filled both the airwaves and in print. If you read some of the inside football press there is an us versus them narrative. You can't be a Brady fan and a Manning fan. You have to pick a side.

I'm not sure who the "synthetic specialist" is, or whether its Brady or Manning who "sucked at four", but it's out there.

In the mainstream press - e.g. the AP - it's different. This is one of the more well-balanced articles I have read on the two, and the game itself.

In Harness Racing Update today a letter talked about 'kicking':

"We have a great opportunity to present harness racing as the exception to the public's perception that horse racing is animal abuse controlled by petty criminals who win any way they can. Leo Burns is the model I would like drivers to emulate, not the aforementioned pretenders."

Early on, it was considered odd to talk about kicking (on twitter and elsewhere). It was like you were 'out there' or 'just didn't get it' or something. Over the last few months, more and more people are speaking about it. Jeff Gural mentioned it at a driver meeting. People know it's going on and are letting people know it has no place in the game. 

Also in HRU - a good look at the Pacing Machine, Cam Fella.  Cam Fella has been nominated for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

Todd Pletcher won trainer of the year, and in my opinion, like most trainer votes, it's based on sheer numbers. In the NFL there is a narrative that if you "can't win a big one" you are not deserving. In racing it's all about gross wins, not wins like the Breeders Cup, Derby, or Dubai World Cup or others.

Remember five or six years ago? We need free video, free pp's and a strong distribution of your signal and we'll bet you, cried many. Also, remember the "trap races" in pick 4's (that we still inexplicably see at some thoroughbred tracks). They're gone in harness racing too. Now, at places like Woodbine, deep pick 4's are carded and there's free everything. On a nondescript Friday two days ago, Woodbine did $1.7 million.

Have a great day everyone.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Handle Goes Up When You Create a Better Gamble

In HRU today:

"Making horse racing a better gamble has a lot to do with the price, but it’s more than that. Look at last week’s carryover in the pick 5 at the Big M. Over $100,000 additional dollars were bet into the sequence. It was not because of a free food offer, or a promotion was going on, or the Jets cheerleaders were trackside, it was because with the carryover, the pick 5 was a better gamble. It made the racing roulette wheel not have twelve zeroes, but potentially four or five of them."

The full article is here (pdf)

Mike Dorr looked at similar, in a kind of fun way yesterday on his blog. What's a more likely press release?

Where's DeRosa? There are plenty asking. I just started following Ed a few weeks ago and he leaves twitter. Coincidence? I think not. Sid looks at the story. 

7 Days of @itstheJHO Fashion Pictures on PTP's Blog ® continues today, for the very last day. For all other JHO pics, just scroll below.

Here's Justin relaxing at home with a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and Nautica Blue Jeans. The dog is not owned by Justin, but a prop, just to make him look extra cool and cuddly for the ladies.

He is still sporting the Tag Heurer watch and (not in the picture) he is wearing a pair of hand made slippers that he purchased on his last trip to Rome at "a lovely little shop on the south side, that only a few special people..... like me .... know of"

"The guy is already taken, but that picture looks like a perfect online dating profile pic" said his friend Dustin (in yesterday's day six photo).  "Justin can make everything look good though, which is a big reason he was hired as leader of the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon marketing."

With Justin looking this good, some are thinking that it's only a matter of time before he becomes Jason Settlemoir's boss. They might be right.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Happy Friday #BostonMarket

Good morning everyone!

Today's social media tip: Use #BostonMarket on twitter when wanting to promote something. Example: The Sunshine Millions is today #horseracing #Gulfstream #BostonMarket . Or, I once visited a #Bostonmarket to mull breeding my mare to the best ever, #WesternIdeal. Or, visit the Paulick Report. #DRFPlusstinks #Cummings. #BostonMarket. Landers might want to see a story on an NFL tight end getting lost and doing something that Larry Collmus talks about, but screw em; it's dog eat dog for traffic out there.

Money for aged horses is pretty bad, when compared to that of the glamor division. Slowly that's changing a little bit, and the Quebec Jockey Club threw their hat in the ring with a $200,000 Prix d'Ete for four year old pacers only. If you want the Captain at your track, this is a good way to do it.

Bill Finley writes "If Alex Rodriguez was a horse trainer".  

Breeders Cup dude, fashion-man, and all-around-nice-fellow, Peter Rotondo is a part of the upcoming "Horseplayers" reality show on Esquire. He spoke with Bacon this week about the show.

Superstar pacer and breeding powerhouse Cam Fella, has been nominated for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. He has a lot of similarities to Northern Dancer and he should certainly be there. Fans are encouraged to use #CamFella2014 on twitter and comment on the piece above. Here's Cam coming back on to beat It's Fritz, back in the day. This race was hyped quite a bit and added to Cam's legend.

That race above fascinates me on many counts and I got to thinking about it, and other big races this week. On Tuesday I watched a replay of the 2006 AFC Championship where New England played Indy for the right to go to the big game. It was a fantastic game, and NFL Films (like NFL Films does) illustrated it beautifully with interviews and strategy thoughts.

One part of it, where Indy was down by 3 with about two minutes to go was incredibly interesting. They interviewed Peyton Manning and he shared the play calls and what everyone was thinking. At times people think the NFL is a high tech game, where everything is managed to the letter. Manning proved this wrong, talking about how he chose plays during the last drive, like "Marvin thought we should run", or "Reggie said he can beat him on an out, so we called that", or "Fletcher always thinks he can beat someone, so he asks me for an out and and up; he cuts it up at five yards instead of ten and I almost throw a pick".

If harness racing had a commissioner, or some slot money set aside for such things, a harness racing films of the Cam Fella-It's Fritz event would be a great watch, in my opinion. Why the brush and crush? What were the fans thinking? All of those questions in a filmed event would be great.


7 Days of @itstheJHO Fashion Pictures on PTP's Blog ® continues today, for day five, with this:

 Here's Justin with a guy who I think is named Dustin who likes having two ice-cream cones at a time.

Justin is sporting sunglasses worth more than the GDP of Chad, and a knit Tioga Downs golf shirt, made especially for him in a "little shop in the garment district of Binghamton, where they know me".

The five people in the stands in section K were all looking to the right because a streaker was running across the track exactly the time this picture was snapped. If there was no streaker, the crowd would be staring at JHO.

JHO can be seen at the Meadowlands each weekend, providing tips on looking good and personal grooming. He also might handicap a race or two.

Have a great Friday everyone!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Competition For Horse Racing Is Always Expanding

Folks on my twitter timeline were marvelling at this year's Japan Cup. I was too. Tons of people in the grandstand and on the tarmac, a good race and mega bucks were bet on the affair.

Oh if it was only like that here, we heard, as we often do.

That's probably about to change. Japan is ready to pass a casino bill, and it's expansive.  The market which primarily is racing oriented (with a dash of some game called Pachinko -  which I thought was the Price is Right game, but it's not), will no longer be, in the coming years.

In North America, there is so much competition for the horse bettor it ain't even funny.

I spoke to a friend last week who was playing a real money game with head to head fantasy football. In a couple of weeks at the Super Bowl, magic squares games, and other bets will surface at bars, at parties or on the web, near you.

Years ago, I worked a little for a start-up that was making real money head-to-head video games a reality.  How's that for getting at a younger demo.

This competition is ingrained in the fabric of North American society. I was watching that show last week with the Magnum PI dude who fights crime. Near the end of the show - after fighting crime - he an associate sat watching the football game together because she "had $1000 on the Saints".

Competition is here, it's real and it is not going anywhere.

The litany of reasons racing has not been able to compete in North America have been discussed. But what tends to amaze me is the sport's response to it. Rarely is there a "let's go get them" mentality. Maybe the industry is unable, or its beaten down, or the slots lifeline allows tracks to add an "h" to the word slot, if they have them.

In Jersey this week, exchange wagering has been passed and it will be up and running this summer (only for New Jersey residents, mind you). It went through the usual criticisms, mainly from industry stakeholders regarding "their share of the pie". This is long overdue, but at least it's a step in the right direction. Expanding the way your game can be played and opening up newer markets is clearly something that football, or video games, or sports betting or lotteries, or poker has done for a decade or more. It's about time racing tried something to counter it.


Who has two thumbs and dresses better than McKee? JHO!
7 Days of @itstheJHO Fashion Pictures on PTP's Blog ® continues today, for day five, with this:

Here's Justin sporting a look on the set of the Meadowlands pre-game show last month. "He pulled out the big gun" said the Knight Sky Blog's Norm who snapped this picture. "It was a Ralph Lauren jacket, I am sure of it, and I think it cost more than Jeff Gural's butler's salary for a month" he noted. 

Sam McKee, who clearly has nowhere near the style of the talented, finger-on-the-pulse of fashion-sense JHO, has been trying.

"That morning I knew Justin was going to be on. I don't know what to shop for to compete, but I do know a barber in Secaucus. I took JHO's picture in and for $12, he cut my hair exactly like his. People think I am his less well-dressed brother," said the voice (well, one half of the voice) of the Meadowlands.

Two minutes for looking so good, JHO.

Enjoy your day everyone!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top Ten Things That Will Happen After Today's Paulick Report Column

In this morning's Paulick Report article, Paulick looked at the divergent management paths in California between racing and the lottery. The lottery increased handle by increasing payouts to customers. Cali Racing, as we all know, has lost handle since the they decreased payouts to customers in late 2010.

Being in a major publication, this could change the way the world works, and could cause some problems for Paulick. Here are my top ten things that may happen in the future.

1. Ray: "Hi, I am Ray Paulick and I have a reservation for table 11, right by the window for today's Santa Anita Derby"
Maitre'd: "Excuse me, Ray who?"

2. The annual Christmas card from Pegram doesn't come, but it's replaced by a thirty cent Horseplayers Association of North America pen with "Happy Holidays" written on the back of an old program.

3. The chances of the Strub being renamed "The Ray Paulick Stakes" just went down to below zero.

4. When Paulick gets invited on TVG for an interview his introduction will be changed from "Purveyor of the Paulick Report" to "Takeout Hawk".

5. Brad Cummings might not come over for dinner again.

6.  Horseplayers frequent the Paulick Report en masse, and in the comments section start calling Bacon, "Dear Leader".

7. The DRF drops its paywall because of the threat of an upcoming Paulick Report past performances section. "He's become one of them", utters an unnamed DRF executive.

8. Ray replaces the life-sized cut out in his bedroom of Bob Baffert with one of Andy Beyer.

9. Ray and Andy Asaro start having daily conference calls to strategize ways to "screw the man"

10. Dustin Hoffman, incensed, tells E-magazine "google the Bloodhorse"


7 Days of @itstheJHO Fashion Pictures on PTP's Blog ® continues today, for day four, with this:

Today, Justin is sporting a tailored Armani suit, while telling people they could win $1 million at the Meadowlands, and with the new found riches, dress exactly like him.

He has a "hanky", made of Persian silk, which was inspired by him watching a 47 hour Mad Men marathon on AMC. His watch is a Tag Heuer and his tie is by Ralph Lauren.

You can see Justin each weekend at the Meadowlands, talking to patrons, offering marketing and handicapping tips, and standing beside people like this, making them look fashion challenged.

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Common Sensibilities

Our pal @sidfernando tweeted out a link to a New York Times column today about how we all look at animals in this day and age.

I know what you may be saying: "Ugh, The New York Times and animals....... gee I wonder where this is going". You may be right, but I thought the writer made some excellent points.
  • Greater scrutiny of food production has prompted keener disgust over the fate of many farm animals, along with state legislation to spare them florid suffering. This is only going to build, because at the same time that scientific advances force us to gaze upon the animal kingdom with more respect, the proliferation of big and little cameras — of eyes everywhere — permits us to eavesdrop not just on animal play but also on animal persecution. 
One might think this is just an urban or left of center thing, but I disagree. This behavior is being noticed almost everywhere, and anywhere, with just about everyone nowadays.

I was out last week with a friend I grew up with, who could never be confused with an MSNBC watcher or New York Times editorial page reader. We lived in a smaller town where there were four guns per household, everyone hunted and, unlike some of us, he still does. We got on the topic about how animals are treated for slaughter and he was pretty appalled. "There's no need to treat them with disrespect," he said. He relayed this while eating a burger, and three weeks earlier returned to work after his annual deer hunt, where he "bagged one".

I think we see this with a lot of bigger ticket issues - we just, no matter what side we lean, have some sort of sensibility. Global warming is a fun topic to get charges out of people. I am not particularly in the man-made camp. I don't know why, but maybe its because I worked with a mathematician years ago whom I found to be an apolitical stats geek, and he has become one of the most popular "skeptics". Maybe it's because I learned during grade school there was a little ice age coming, or that overpopulation of 20 billion people will cripple the planet by 2013. Maybe I am just skeptical about these big ticket things because at times the alarmists have been way off base, and it's ingrained in my nature.

Having said that, it does not stop me from stuffing my blue box, paying an extra few dollars for regulation, or other things we all do in 2014, by being a steward of our environment. Just like my friend, who can hunt or eat a burger, but at the same time be wary of the treatment of what's on his plate, I can too.

There's a camp in horse racing that believes you're never going to appease the PETA types, so whip and kick and inject away. I think that's true; you will never satisfy the unsatisfiable. However, in my opinion, it's not just the PETA types you have to appease. In 2014, it's everyone else. 


My man Left at the Gate was back to blogging this morning (he now works for the "man" as we all know) and was particularly interesting and a bit ornery, I thought.

I must not follow the right people on social media, because I had no idea there was a big David Jacobson bust up. Mike over at Turfnsport informed me nicely about what's what. 

7 Days of @itstheJHO fashion pictures on PTP's Blog ® continues today with this:

Here Justin sports a Ralph Lauren dress shirt and a Gucci name tag that says "Who has two thumbs and is named JHO.... Me".

Below the fold, Justin is wearing Prada penny loafers and one of his many pairs of Tommy Hilfiger khakis. Above the fold Justin is wearing a chesire cat grin.

Enjoy your day everyone.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Playing With Stats Is Fun, Sometimes

Playing with stats can be interesting, no matter what we do, but these stats always have to be looked at through some sort of statistically significant lens.

For example.....

The NFL playoffs are upon us, and the airwaves are filled with narratives. This weekend, the Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady story is one of them, when the Manning led Broncos meet the Brady led Patriots at Mile High Sports Authority Field in Denver. (I always find curious the who versus who in football, because the two players never actually play against each other, like say one of those MMA fighters do.  Anyhoo, I digress.)

Manning has won 4 of 14 matchups and Tom has won 10 of them. That's the big story in the media. But what if we looked at the last decade, and only examined home records? Well, you'd find out that only three of those games were played on Manning's home turf, and he's "won" two of them. Maybe we can start a new narrative? Tom Brady is 1 and 2 on the road against Peyton Manning over the last decade. Yippee, that's solved. Let's see if it catches on.

You can do a lot with stats, but most of the time stats are meaningless if not used in some sort of context, or with causality. This was the major point made by Barry Meadow in last month's Handicapping Monthly. Give it a read if you are interested. 

One set of stats I do like to lean on for broad generalizations, are those which fly in the face of long-held handicapping logic. One of those, in harness racing, is layoffs.

Talk to any old timer, read a handicapping book, or head to the OTB and ask an opinion on a layoff horse. Time and time again you'll hear "he'll be short", or "she'll need one". For some trainers that's true, but for others, you are costing yourself money. In today's day and age, layoffs of thirty days or more are much different than the old days.

At the Meadowlands trainers like Burke, Takter, and Julie Miller win with these types with regularity, equalling their regular starts hit rate. Betting them brings in more ROI though. Julie Miller has a whopping 22% ROI over the last four years with those types, for example. Mark Ford is sneaky good with these too, yielding a positive ROI.

Overall, long layoffs might be Manning versus Brady, or whatever media narrative you want to assign them. But subsets of those can be profitable and underbet.

Harness racing does not use stats much in their programs, or as a rule, and to find them you have to dig a little bit. When something is not used as much as it should be, or is available to everyone, there could be some gold in those hills.


7 Days of @itstheJHO fashion pictures on PTP's Blog ® continues today with this:

Justin is sporting a backwards hat, like Tony Romo. He is also wearing a pair of knit khakis and a (tailored) Cane Pace golf shirt. You can't see his shoes, but they are probably Armani's, made for him in Southern Italy, purchased on one of his many trips to Europe, where he likes to spend his time hob-knobbing with the stars, and eating Italian.

You can see Justin each weekend at the Meadowlands, talking to patrons, offering marketing and handicapping tips, and standing beside people like this, making them look fashion challenged.

Have a great day everyone!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Big M Carryover and Lower Handle Really Means Less Purse Money?!

Hello racing fans!

@itsthejho says "Come bet the pick 5."
Tonight there's a Big M carryover in the pick 5 pool, beginning in race one. I'm on a betting hiatus, so my dead money won't be in the pools lowering your takeout, but that should be a good pool (probably well over $100k) and a good sequence.

Great question (page three, pdf)

"Why would any sport, any business, for that matter, any society, stand by and do next to nothing when its rules are routinely violated?"

The kicking stuff is truly one of the more bizarre situations you will see in any regulated sport. How it has not been addressed is a scourge on the business, and it gives no one any hope virtually anything positive can ever get done.

There's also a good update on the horrific harness racing accident at Freehold yesterday. You don't wish this on anyone, but what a shame for a class driver, Cat Manzi.

I got a poignant email from a seasoned every day player yesterday about why he has not been playing racing so far in 2014.

"I'm tired of the ADW debacle and other barriers to entry"

I really think this is a bigger problem, and will continue to be a bigger problem than several other self-inflicted issues (in a business of self-inflicted issues over the years). As I'm sure you know if you read the blog, I have not been bullish since I began writing it, because of so many customer problems, and have called the reductions in handle we have seen, but I have never been a total doom and gloomer like some. The past several months have pushed me further into the doom and gloom category, though. Customers are not taking it on the chin like they used to; they're leaving.

My handle in 2014 so far is $0. The first time I have not played in a one month period was well over ten years ago.


Far be it for me to defend Churchill Downs Inc, but boy they are really getting slammed on social media the last 48 hours or so. At Fairgrounds, handle has fallen so purses are being cut. Remember three or four years ago when the signal fee problems were happening there, with protectionist and horseman-track nonsense that pissed off customers? And the shorter fields, and higher takeout? And bad distribution to ADW's so they had to jump through hoops to bet FG, with tracknet, or monarch or troutnet, or haddocknet or whatever the hell was pushed upon them? Apparently customers do, because they aren't betting the place like they used to. That's everyone's fault, not just Bob Evans'

I'm not sure who I would be betting in this weekend's football action, but I am leaning to the Colts, Broncos and Carolina, ATS. I think the Broncos (despite that completely horrible Dallas-like D that usually sucks in the playoffs) will solve the problem they had last time with the Chargers run game. New England seems to be running on a few smoke and mirrors, with close game "Fooled By Randomness" wins that should've been losses. Carolina's D is flat out awesome, and CK, to me, last week looked about as accurate as an inaccurate Robert Griffin. If I had to bet the Saints-Seahawks game, I would take the Saints with the points. Good luck if you are betting.

Ed DeRosa has not been tweeting much. Too much hot wing sauce on the fingers? No one seems to know.

Joe Drape might be no longer enemy number one. It probably goes to this writer of this hit piece on Bob Baffert.  You can argue back and forth about details and who said what and who did what, but man oh man, that article seems grossly unfair, in my opinion.

Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Western's Handle Resurgence, Some Stones, and Nice Work on Customer Segments

Good morning racefans!

From Harness Racing Update (page 4 PDF)

"On Friday January 7th 2011, Western Fair brought in a nightly handle of $108,640 and gave out close to $70,000 in purses. Last Friday evening they handed out a similar $70,000 in purses, but garnered a handle of $531,000.  That was the highest handle night at the oval in over a decade."

In Ontario (and many other places with smaller tracks and slots) you'd often hear - when a track with $200k in handle was racing for $100k in purses - that "the handle doesn't even cover the purse".  This metric is intertwined in the fabric of racing. The takeout from the handle does not just have to cover a purse and its much more complicated than that, with fingers in the pie, other costs associated with a dollar in handle, the way its split, slots etc, but that number stands the test of time. Several years ago Standardbred Canada even added handle to purse numbers in its reporting. 

At little Western Fair, handle to purse ratios are skying of late. And it is not because purses have fallen dramatically, it is because handle is starting to rise. To read about them and other tracks in Ontario trying new things, post slots, give it a click. If you are a horseplayer who worried about smaller pools in London, you might want to rethink that and give them a hard look.

Also in HRU, Finley looks at Cobalt stuff in a chat with Gural. 

Mike Dorr is writing some really good stuff - for the Horseplayer Monthly and on his own. Today he looked at the third "customer segment" in his series: The everyday, or near everyday player. What sharp guys and gals do is create their own way of looking at things. His average field size numbers were pretty cool, but the whole article is great.

Ohio is the new slots capital and its showing at Northfield. They created a $500k stakes race for three year olds, which takes the place of the Battle of the Brandywine. Northfield has always had a decent handle to purse ratio without slots. It will be interesting to see what it is with them.

Have a great Friday everyone.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Neat Ideas, Rolling Doubles and Some Transparency

Hello racing fans. A good Thursday to you all.

Last evening the Meadowlands issued a press release speaking of "Cobalt". I am unsure this is really about cobalt (it may be about loading B12 to get the red blood cell count up so horses do not get tired as quickly), but a couple of tests showed sky-high readings recently. This prompted Gural to boot those trainers from his tracks.

Interestingly enough this is apparently nothing new (if you read the chat boards or talk to some backstretch types), but this drug was not on the list of drugs tested for. I am guessing, but it seems that with Gural sending these samples to Hong Kong, the labs test for more than the drugs that are simply on the list.

Why is this bad? It appears it turns horses blood into sludge, like EPO does, with prolonged usage.

Anything for an edge, I guess.

There is a new petition going around with a horseplayer asking for Rolling Doubles back in California. What happened was this: Cali racing has been having a tough time, especially since the takeout hike a couple of years ago. To offer some incentive on price, they decided to lower the daily double takeout. Instead of keeping the rolling doubles, however, they only offered a few of them a day. The petition is asking for rolling doubles at the reduced rake.

The rolling double rake, even at 18%, is not exactly a huge bargoon (So Cal has short fields for the most part), but it is better than it was.

If you play So Cal (since that rake hike I do not, so I have not signed) you can have your voice heard there. Some horseplayer heavy hitters like Andy A, John Pricci, Steve Davidowitz and my buddy Dinkin have all signed. They need more signatures.

Want to read a neat idea? VFTRG talks about having a field drawn, allowing drivers to make their choice of what horse they want to drive, and then doing the post draw. Right now, especially on half mile tracks, this is an issue. It's a neat idea. One that will probably not happen, but a neat idea nonetheless.

Kudos to TimeformUS. They have written an article on their numbers.  I know what you might be expecting - "our numbers are the best, we're profitable with no handicapping and come sign up with us and make millions" - because we see that so often in horse racing, or sports betting, or even with stock picking services. That didn't happen. The article showed what their numbers are: They are very good in predictive terms and return on investment terms, but they are no black box.
  • While we are largely pleased with the results of this study, they are a reminder (as if we needed one) that there is no totally satisfactory substitute for handicapping horse races in the most thorough manner possible. Much as we love our Spotlight Speed Figures, and much as we are pleased with their performance in much of this study, we always find it important to remember that what they are, more than anything else, is a convenient way to get INTO races. They are a quick and easy way to spot races that have potential for the handicapper. But getting into the handicapping of a race is not to be confused with being done handicapping a race.
Hear hear. This game is hard, especially with its punishing takeout. There is no need to sugarcoat it, or dupe potential customers. Timeform figures are good, they are predictive, and they are an excellent starting point.  It's nice to see the openness and transparency. Well done boys and girls.

Have a great day everyone.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Where is Handle Going in 2014?

2013 handles are in the books. There was a decrease in racedays, a decrease in field size and flat handles.  Purses, which generally have little to do with overall handle, were also flat.

Like we've seen over the past several years, the decrease in racedays causes handle to fall. A decrease in field size causes handle to fall. The other main driver of handle - the price, or takeout - has generally been falling, because rebating has not been a bad word like it was early in the decade.

What will happen in 2014? Well, we are likely to see a further reduction in racedays. With slots revenue falling, as well as handle stagnating and foal crops receding, we aren't pulling out our pocket Kreskin to make that proclamation. Some tracks have finally concentrated on field size, like Keeneland, and made it a go-to metric, but overall (see NYRA or So Cal), short fields continue to be something this business seems to crave and cling to. I can't see that going up either.

The last metric - takeout - is probably going to be a big determinant the next year or two, and right now, this does not look pretty for customers who bet.

Lower takeout through modestly rebated handle is becoming extinct for the mid sized and smaller horseplayer. In New York and Pennsylvania, many rebated players are being shuffled into high takeout regimes, and signal fees are being increased. Right now as I type, some tracks are withholding selling their signals to smaller ADW's who rebate, with the hope that players don't care about price and will continue to play in their systems. They won't. This will not happen.

As Mike Maloney noted in this interview: "All we’re doing when we raise takeout is driving away people. The regulars are coming less often or they’re coming just as often but getting ground down. People within the game still don’t understand how destructive takeout is." I think that's true and I we'll see this hurt handles in 2014.

So to sum up: If field size continues to fall, if racedays continue to fall, and if takeout is hiked as we've seen happen the last month, (along with making it harder and harder for players to conveniently bet the game by stifling choice via resellers, via higher signal fees), it doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict handles will be lower in 2014. If all three main determinants of handle growth are negative year over year, handle can't go anywhere but down, no matter how much racing tells you otherwise.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Integrity, Western Fair, Short Fields and a Little Football

Hello everyone.

In HRU today, a second look at the phenomenon of "not trying in a race" with a well-bet horse was examined, via some reader comments. (pdf page 4)

The NFL supplies perfect information to bettors so they can handicap and decision-make, based on a spread. In harness racing this does not occur. A “no try” or “try” effort does not occur with such perfect information. It simply occurs based on the connections view of the race, or a driver’s decision making before, or right behind the gate. Did you know for sure Market Share was going to the back on a speed favoring track at 2-5? For sure? Of course you didn’t. But you did know the Chiefs were sitting their best players. Industry insiders like to say “well, its buyer beware and that’s why they call it gambling.” That’s nonsense. You’re not running an industry where customers have to guess if a magician is pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or if a little spinning ball will land on six, it’s a betting skill game with statistics, and impact values and past performances."

It kind of amazes me how - in a 2 billion a year betting game - things like this are kind of glossed over. If you do this in the stock market, or any other gambling game, it's taken very seriously.

Western Fair did $539,000 in handle last evening with about $70,000 in purses. Simplistically, at 20% takeout, that's $110,000 in revenue. If we add a $30,000 charge for putting on the show, the betting in a  way, paid for the night's costs. In previous slots fed years, $100,000 in purses were paid for at a place like Woodstock Raceway, with $7,000 in handle. It's a new world.

A quick note: A special kudos to Western Fair. They've worked the betting angle hard since Blanchard got there and I think it's paying off. With Grand River lowering rakes and having a good meet, a few harness tracks in Canada are really trying hard.

Woodbine took a brief break and I am not sure that's a bad thing for bettors. On Monday they have carded each race with ten horses and also eligibles. That's a deep card.

Other than rebated handle, overall handle has been getting killed the last ten years. One reason why? Short fields. O_Crunk showed that in 2013, one of every four races had fewer than seven runners.  In 1991, only 12% were. Short fields make the high takeout even more punishing. This business rarely understands that. In the UK, 15 horse fields with 6-1 chalk, with takeout rates of 5% or less on those short shots allows for a beatable betting game. Five horse fields with 16% rakes are impossible - not almost impossible, but impossible - to win at in the long term.

Anyone taking a punt on Super Bowl champ? If you are, you might want to read this: It's an article that shows what a team make-up looks like which succeeds in winning the Super Bowl. In this day and age where the media focuses on individual player narratives, most inside who play the game talk of a team concept.

It's striking, because it feels like picking a Super Bowl champ is not unlike picking a Derby winner. Is he fast? Sure. Does he have talent? Sure. But does he have the pedigree, the soundness, the connections, the tractability, the demeanor, the luck and everything else it takes to win at a mile and a quarter in May?

 The conclusions in the article are pretty neat - no team with a suspect pass D has won a Super Bowl in 23 years. In addition (beware yet again Manning fans), the number one offensive team tends to suck in winning the big game, with only one over the last thirty years (the Rams). If you do believe defense and balance win the big game, you are a Seahawks fan.

I think we might see the Seahawks and the Colts, because they seem to have the best balance. I will bet accordingly. However, I would like to see Denver win, because Manning probably deserves two Super Bowl rings. It might get the NFL Network media ninnies off his back for at least a year, when they move the bar again to ask him to win three championships instead of two.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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