Friday, February 28, 2014

Horseplaying Synergy

I haven't bet more than maybe $1,000 since January 1st. I've had the blahs. Signal fee hikes, people arguing, short fields, low payouts, bad weather. Blech. I've downloaded a grand total of zero racecards in my software package, and looked at no more than six harness past performances.

But tomorrow we're ending this self-imposed exile from the land of Nobetsville.

Is it because Derby season is here? The weather is warming up? Food truck day at a track near me? Because Belmont added stakes races to a card that already has stakes races? Some track actually lowered rake giving us a better chance to beat the game?

Nope, none of those. I'm going to start playing again because of the synergy of my fellow horseplayers.

This past month I worked on the Horseplayer Monthly a little bit. That seemed to get me energized. I chatted with some friends who are talking about angles, bias, and data modeling. They're talking about an edge they may get at this track and one that they're not getting at another. They're sharing ideas about the Rainbow Six parlay on twitter, the inside posts at 8.5 furlongs at Gulfstream, or the outer at Oaklawn. They're talking about the pool size at the Meadowlands.

Dave Vicary over at started his social betting platform, and he's stoked (try it, it's free).  Software and betting geeks at places like TimeFormUS are changing their algorithms in their Pace Projector, showing hot and slow pace running lines, and rejigging some trainer numbers. My betting geek buddy has started betting with a new computer system he has been trying to perfect for two years. He launched it two weeks ago, and he's been making a little bit of money.

No, it's not food trucks. It's not even gambletainment. It's my gambling peeps doing what they do best: Chat, dissect, and bet the horses.

You have to be a very discernable horseplayer in this day and age. Short fields are poison. High rake is poison. Signal fee hikes are poison. If you are playing into that and expect to make money, good luck to you. However, there are things happening out there to help you and I get an edge. There are some good fields to be betting, at a decent price,; as my old boss used to tell me "gold is where you find it"

I mostly have the culture of my fellow horseplayers that brought me back into the fold. Without them, I'm not sure I would be back downloading, analyzing and handicapping. Thanks to all of them. It's infectious.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

#Horseplayers Is Something to Get Behind

I think Jerod Dinkin struck the right chord in his Horseplayer Monthly column that was posted on the Paulick Report today.

In it (read it please, it's a well-thought out tome), he looked at Esquire's Horseplayers - the television show - and gently told his fellow horseplayers who are not overly complimentary of it, they should be looking at the big picture.

I agree.

I was on the phone today with a professional player. He was grinding, like he usually does, trying to make a living. We talked a bit about the show and he didn't really get it. Why? They don't do what he does every day. I can relate, because the way he bets, is the way I do, and have for a long time. I don't spot play, and neither does he. I don't play tournaments, and neither does he.

But what we both agreed, is, like Jarod noted, although as Horseplayers we're rugged individualists, skeptical by nature, and a little jaded; getting behind this show is of paramount importance. It's not about how we play, how you play, what types of bets you like, what types you don't, what your tournament strategy is, or isn't. It's simply about following, watching, and supporting something that can help every single one of us. It's about getting people who may casually watch the show, interested in the fine art of handicapping. It's about hopefully attracting more people to the betting pools. This is a way to invite them into our home.

Similarly, I am a little flummoxed (as I often am in this business) at the fact there is such little buzz from the insiders in the industry. It's like the show doesn't even exist. Although the mainstream turf press avoids saying it too often, and we know track execs hate when we bring it up, but betting pays for this industry. It pays for feed men, and hay, and shavings and the shoe man. It pays for jockey's and trainers, and breeders and the salaries of everyone. It pays for Todd Pletcher's ties. It pays for just about everything.

The entire business - from me, and you, and everyone who derives an income from it - should be behind this show. We should all be hashtagging and facebooking it. We should all be calling our friends to check it out. If Esquire is not on the cable system, there should be emails flying from everyone.

We probably should all be doing that, but hey, life is busy. We have the kids, and the mortgage, and the dog needs to go out, and I'm really tired.

However, there is an easier way to help. The show is on Wednesday's at 9 PM. Turn it on and watch it. It's the least you can do for your industry.

Silence Does Not Mean Happiness

Good morning everyone.

I've been perusing the Gulfstream Park DQ story (which keeps getting stranger it seems) and came across an article by Paulick titled "Controversial Calls: Stewards’ Rulings Need More Transparency, Accountability." This was a mainstream article, that had no real controversy (I think most - inside and outside the industry - would agree with it.)

However, sometimes in the comments section you learn something.

A commentor, Kcollinsworth, wrote a pretty neat bit of prose about the business. 
  •  Mr. Paulick, you list those who have a vested interest in horse racing, and, last on your list are the horseplayers. This comes as no surprise, not because the horseplayers deserve to be in the back of the bus, but because despite decades of lip service, at the end of the day horseplayers are taken for granted, disrespected and sadly enough at some tracks, ridiculed by low to mid level track employees who ought to know better, since their paychecks are made possible by the horseplayers that they look down upon. The two best days in my 41 years of betting racehorses were (A) When ADW wagering became legal in my state, so I did'nt have to go to the overpriced, run down tracks in my area to make any bets any more and (B) When I started betting with a legal rebate shop that provided people who wager 6 figures and up a year a fighting chance to make a steady profit at this game....
He goes on to talk about his respect for others like participants, etc, and is a really good thought. Give it a read.

This, as far as I can tell a first time commentor at the PR, and his meme is not too different than what we discuss here from time to time, or what you may read on customer blogs. He thinks customers are not respected, takeout is way too high to hold his interest, and the customer experience in horse racing is not up to snuff.

What was a little different, was the popularity of this comment.

- It's the most liked comment at the Paulick Report.
- I tweeted this comment out yesterday and it brought 11 retweets, or shares.
- It spawned some conversation, from people I have never spoken with before.
-It got passed around quite a bit.

Racing executives, at times, will say "customers don't seem to mind I did ______ , I never hear from them." This is true for the most part (not hearing from them). I don't think I've seen another business  where people who are so engaged to be a customer, can leave so quietly, with nary a peep. A lot of horseplayers are solitary creatures; they rarely ask for marching bands.

Their silence does not mean they were happy with you; they just left and don't care anymore. Sometimes the silence is broken in a unique and interesting way. I think that person's comment - and the reaction from the almost-always-silent -  is an example of it.

Notes: The 32 page Horseplayer Monthly is released. I help out a little with it, so I am totally and completely, 100% biased, but I think it's a fantastic issue. If you download it, you should save it to your hard drive, because it can't be read in one sitting. Remember it's free.

Have a great day everyone.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Big Ideas Rarely Happen in Horse Racing.

Reading the tech blogs is fun. There are ideas that are neat, smart, dumb, ridiculous and completely unworkable - and sometimes they're even the same idea.

The culture is to think outside the mainstream, to think the stereotypical "big". Why is that? Because most of these ideas - even the crappy ones - can get funded. It pays to think big.

Godin the other day wrote a blog post that exempfied this. "We need a competitor to the Olympics"
  •  Ford, Nike and Netflix each put up a few hundred million dollars. The games would be held two years before each corresponding Olympics, benefitting both athletes (who can't always wait four more years) as well as curling-starved fans (not to mention advertisers)..... I think it's time to try again in a post-broadcast economy.
  •  To reflect a world that actually has electronic communications at its disposal, the games would be held in ten cities at the same time (each sport centered in a specific city), not one, reusing existing facilities. With multiple time zones, the games could be held round the clock, and the logistical challenges of rebuilding a different city every time go away.
Netflix might be interested; they think outside the box and are no more just a "streamer", but an HBO on the web. There's corporate money floating around, too. Still, that sounds a little cray, but it's how these folks think. 

Similarly, with framers and polishers, we've got the ideas, and the guys and gals who fluff things up:
  •  The framer asks the original question, roughs out the starting designs, provokes the new thing. The polisher finds typos, smooths out the rough edges and helps avoid the silly or expensive error. Too often, we spend our time on a little more polish, instead of investing in the breakthrough that a framer can bring.
The idea is framed. In racing, let's use something like "blow up the traditional win markets, because the odds change late and it's an archaic system". But in North American horse racing, there isn't even a chance to polish, because the framer is stopped before he or she finishes her second power point slide. The racing structure, the system, the fiefdoms, the world of "no", assures it.

Markets tend to be efficient and ruthless. You don't get an "A" for showing up, or presenting an idea. You earn your marks from making money, and that only happens when the idea is framed, polished, funded, brought to market and succeeds. 

Betfair took the idea of blowing up the win markets and created something through polish. That polish led to capital, capital appreciation, and a multi-billion dollar IPO. It's the way things work.  North America racing can not create the same thing, because it is not malleable enough to even encourage a new idea framework. Without the frame of the building guiding you; you can never build one.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gulfstream DQ's...... It's a Riot!

Ray Paulick sizzled an article on the Bacon Report this afternoon about the Gulfstream DQ, titled "Character Attacks on Gulfstream Stewards, GM Deplorable". 
  •  It’s one thing to allow mind games to be played inside your head, but it’s entirely another to start posting vicious allegations of wrongdoing by horse racing officials entrusted to oversee the game. That, sadly, is what happened in the wake of Saturday’s disqualification.
This is in reference to horseplayers, who in the wake of the DQ, began to form some X Files, Twelve Monkey's conspiracy theories about why the horse was DQ'd. In the comments section, its started a alphabetical riot.

I read Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath over Christmas. In it, he looked at conflict's and their resolution. He leaned on studies that showed when a Goliath looked at where a David was coming from, escalation of the conflict could be avoided.

The "character attack" on the GM or the stewards is not coming from people who dislike them personally (hell, most conspiracy folks probably don't even know their names), but the situation. I disagree with these people, but I can see where they are coming from.

A DQ happens that me, you, Tim Ritvo, or anyone else can see at another track tomorrow, where the winner will be left up.

That DQ, that at say Beulah is not a DQ, results in a massive carryover pool.

That carryover pool results in better business for the racetrack.

Since this business has seen pick 6 scandals, drug positives, jocks pulling horses, betting coups, and just about everything else in folklore and in newspapers, even since Ringers and Rascals was written.................. this must be true. 

When you look at it like that, can you blame some people?

Horse racing, and Gulfstream Park, should probably not be too upset with these folks. They certainly shouldn't sue any of them and be a chapter in Gladwell's next book. Just open your mind and see where they're coming from. It's not hard to comprehend.

Monday Notes, DQ's, Dan Patch & a Bit More

Good morning everyone.

There's still a lot of chatter about the Gulfstream Rainbow Six DQ in customer-land. Andy Beyer weighed in sensibly in the Washington Post today. I, like Andy, don't for a second buy the conspiracy theories and everything else in this situation. But like him as well, can surely understand it. Horseplayers have been maddened at the inconsistency for so long, that any time it happens in a public way, they blow up.

As for the rumor swirling about GP's Tim Ritvo being 'on the phone to the judges stand when the inquiry was taking place', well this should help:
If you don't know Racetrackandy, take it from me, he carries no one's water in the business.

I've spoken with Tim before too, and he is not a dumb guy. Only a fool would call the judges in that situation. 

The Dan Patch Awards were handed out last evening at Dover Racetrack, and there were few surprises. It was good that Bee A Magician got her due, because even after the Captain's loss to Dedi's Dragon, she was probably a slight underdog. The pull of the three year old colts is something that's hard for this business to break come awards time. She clearly deserved the honour. There's a chance we're looking at one of the best filly trotters in a long time.

The Pacer of the Year vote was much closer, with the Captain edging out Foiled Again. This too, I think was warranted, but am still a bit amazed the vote was that close. As you all know by now, I was not a Captain fanboy this year - close finishes against a half a dozen separate horses, some of whom I do not think are world beaters, plus three losses was enough for me not to be - but he did have a very good year. He won the big dances and lasted almost the whole season. Line by line, race by race, the Captain had a much better year, in my opinion.

I Luv the Nitelife won her division (and she is supposed to be back this summer off her injury) and that was good. She was a victim of circumstance this season. If the three year old colt class was deep like last year, with stalwarts like A Rock n Roll Dance winning only four races, and Pet Rock close to an afterthought in major stakes, perhaps she would've won pacer of the year. She is fast, tough and had a tremendous year against a good crop of mares. 

Speaking of ILTN, her owners, Richard and Joanne Young have begun to lobby commissions about the kicking rule. Via harnesslink.
  • To those people that say the “kick” is nothing and does not hurt the horse, I say all you have to do is watch what happens to the driver’s leg when he comes into contact with the hock.  The leg is forcefully pushed back and looks like kicking.  So whatever you want to call it, it looks horrible and the public perceives it as abuse.  For that reason alone it needs to be banned.”
Harness racing is an interesting sport. Twenty some odd years ago Walter Case had to have his feet fastened to the sulky to stop him from kicking. A quarter century ago commissons found it looked bad and had to be stopped. Today somehow it seems to be accepted. In a world where animal rights have taken a massive step, with a public more conscious of how they are treated, harness racing has gone backwards.

Sorry I ain't a NASCAR fan. Maybe it's the northern boy in me or something, but it has never been my cup of tea. However, I've really never watched it much. Taking care of some work, and having the Daytona 500 on the tube in the background, I must say, I ended up finding it pretty interesting.

We often hear from racing fans 'horses dont race long enough. How can the public latch onto them if they are only around for a few starts'. I tend to agree, but I brush it off as minor a lot of the time. However, I get the point.

Not knowing these nameless, faceless drivers, I had no real stake in the outcome. I found myself watching for Danica Patrick, because I know her, and I'd like to see her do well because I read she's been taking it from one or two of the boys that she can't drive; Kevin Harvick, because my long time horse racing buddy on twitter likes him; and cheering against Jeff Gordon, because I think he's won a ton of races already so I'd like to see someone else have a chance.

Other than that? I don't know these guys.Not knowing them made it pretty hard to get totally jazzed up about.

I thought about that for horse racing, and I think it's why the Triple Crown series remains watchable for casual fans, or newbies. A couple of years ago I got text from neighbors during the Preakness who were tuned in to see Animal Kingdom. Why him? Their kids liked the name. Regardless, they were tuned in because they knew the horse.

Just like in any sport, knowing who you are rooting for or against is a big reason why we watch.

Have a great Monday everyone.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Seven Figure DQ

Yesterday in the last race at Gulfstream, a bettor had one horse to win the jackpot Rainbow six.  The horse was disqualified, and one person got a bad beat of epic proportions.

I am not here to argue the call was bad, or good. There's enough opinion out there on that (in my timeline, the call being a bad one beats the people who think it was good by a decent margin), but it's not the point.

Bettors have been arguing for years that the system for inquiries, judging and its consistency have been a pox on racing's house. Whether it's been suspect and completely inconsistent calls on herding, to lack of transparency, to the Kentucky Breeders Cup stewards watching a football game on one of their monitors, this lack of professionalism and seemingly arbitrary standards has been griped about.

Although the industry likes to say "it's just those HANA whiners" or a bunch of complainers who lost a bet, that would be wrong. People who are complaining have a right to complain, and most of what they want should've been a staple in this industry for a hundred years or more.

The way inquiries are handled is insulting; to everyone, from participants to horse owners, to bettors.

Although it's folly to compare everything by saying "look at Hong Kong" because it's one jurisdiction with only a couple of tracks and few racedays, well........ look at Hong Kong.

From the HK Racing Post:
  • “The Eliot Ness-like Kim Kelly and his team of racetrack law enforcers ruthlessly cross-examine the riders of good things beaten, or bad things ridden cold, and painstakingly investigate replays from myriad angles like it's the Zapruder film. The level of detail is welcome - and the incident reports are another example of "world's best practice" for the Jockey Club.”
Judges are judged as well, they must update their skills, and the rules themselves are constantly monitored to ensure they are working properly. It’s above board and it’s professional.

In the US and Canada there's over ten billion bet on racing. Ten billion with a "b". The way that money is watched over by racing for its customer base would never be allowed in any other business.

How hard is it to set standards, how hard is it to establish some form of consistency, how difficult is it to do what Hong Kong does and explain it to bettors like they are what they are - someone with a huge stake in the outcome?

Monopolies like horse racing was for generations allowed it to stagnate on many levels. Because of that, we as customers hear: "that's the way we do things in racing", constantly, whenever any issue comes up. Well, the way racing does things - many, many things - are wrong and bad for its business.

An airline executive said something recently I found apropos, "customers don't expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to fix things when they go wrong". Racing has had fifty or more years to establish a transparent, open, respectful and accurate system when it comes to inquiries. Like with most issues like this, customers got tired of waiting and headed for the exits.  Who can blame them?

Related: Today's Update.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Governments Doing Some Good for Racing?

Good day folks.

Before you decide to flame me, hear me out :)

In New York, the government-racing partnership seems to be a little suspect. In Ontario, it's suspect too, but mainly because the current, sitting government pulled the rug from under the sport with an unexpected move that decimated many livelihoods. However, two plus years hence, the partnership between to the two to try and move racing to a more demand led (handle and attendance) sport is well underway.

From SC, tracks have reached an unprecedented agreement:
  •  "This is a unique in-the-world agreement between eight tracks to share resources, coordinate schedules, to provide a consistent level of racing and purses year-round to the benefit of both the horsepersons of Ontario and also for the horseplayers, so that we'll be able to put a signal out around the world that's consistent good quality racing and a great product for people to wager on."
This coordinates racedates, scheduling of off times, purse pooling from a central source, marketing and other synergies. 

Horseplayers of course, can focus on this line most: "we'll be able to put a signal out around the world that's consistent good quality racing and a great product for people to wager on."

You don't hear that comment anywhere in a racing jurisdiction. Some tracks try, yes, but not an entire 8 track, multi-billion dollar industry.

Unlike in Iowa, or New York, the restructuring is demand led, and it's much more forward thinking. There are no Belmont Stakes days with $3 million added to purses, and holding that up as some sort of triumph. This cuts to the core of the sport: Putting people in the seats, maximizing handle and the resulting revenue, and intertwining the sport into the fabric of the gambling economy, on a year round, consistent basis. It took thought, hard work and planning. It didn't come about in an afternoon on the back of a napkin.

Horse racing had a decade to do this itself in the Province and did not. This is clearly a step in the right direction.

Monday, February 17, 2014

North American Soccer Must Be Big, It's on Apple TV

So, I break down and buy one of those iPad things. I don't know if it's because I am tired of seeing Apple Fan Boy Sid Fernando basque in the amazing Appleness of his electronic products, or I am just stubborn. Regardless, I buy one.

At the same time I decide I will buy Apple TV, because I am getting annoyed with plugging in my laptop or fiddling with my android TV box to watch the races on the television (that beam thingy, or whatever the youngsters call it, where you can play your iPad on the TV is cool).

Surfing around the Apple TV interface I see there are various apps. You know, Youtube, or Vevo - those type apps. Then I see "Major League Soccer". Because Apple TV apps are prime real estate, this intrigues me.

I know nothing about Major League soccer - I think that guy who married a Spice Girl plays on one of the teams, but I could be mistaken - but there it is. You can watch games n' stuff, look at stats, that kind of thing.

 Doing a little research I find that Major League Soccer revenues are $490 million.

A paltry $490 million. The entire league, all (I have no idea how many there are) teams.

Major league horse racing revenues, based on $11B in handle, and not including a pile of other avenues, like slots, admission sales, selling us little past performance lines on pdf's, DRF plus cubed, extra "guest" charges at Toga and everything else, has $2 billion in revenue.

Where's racing's Apple TV app?

I know, I know. Magna won't allow their races to be shown. The TOC would get mad because they can't see it adding to purses. HRTV and TVG would believe the world would be coming to an end. Some horsemen group would boycott Apple until they pay their fair share. The phrase "put on the show" will be used, ominously. I've been around the block in this sport about a hundred or so times so I know how it works. But that does not belie the fact that Major League Soccer has an Apple TV app. And racing doesn't.

As the kids say, that's beyond cray.

Twitter Judging, Not Just for Horse Racing

There was some griping yesterday about judging. Ya, there was some race at Santa Anita - which I don't watch - and my twitter exploded, but there was something else on twitter, too.

Oh that Ice Dance.

The two best ice dancing teams - honestly I only know this because of twitter.... honest - are the American's and the Canadian's. It's a pretty big rivalry. The short program was contested and the American's received some high marks, with the Canadian's in second. When the judges scores came up, it appeared that the Canadian's lost their marks for this scoring gap to the American's on something called the "Finn-Step Sequence". A few of the judges said the American's kicked some maple syrup eating Canuck ass in the Finn Step, and that's that.

Since I don't know a Finn step from a Danish Danish, that's fine with me. Good on ya, Americanos.

But, interestingly enough, after the Canadian's went, and before the American's did, the dude who invented the Finn Step sequence in the 1994 Olympics, tweeted this:
After the American's finished their "Finn Step", he tweeted this:
When Thomas Edison says you, Sally, makes a better copy of his lightbulb than Jim, usually Jim gets kicked to the curb.

The main difference between Santa Anita judges-griping and the Ice Dance is that people aren't losing their paycheck betting two people dancing on blades, with make up. Well, some people are, because betting the Olympics is available, but you know what I mean.

I don't get too jazzed for Derby prep season until the Fountain of Youth, usually, but today's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn is interesting to me, mainly because of the presence of Strong Mandate. This guy is a nice looking specimen and seems to have some real raciness and will. Doug has a preview. 

The Boots' comments about how he wants the rule changed so he can nudge, kick, whatever horses with his boots, has been making the rounds. I am still flummoxed as to how this interview even hits the mainstream. Would you not cut the interview? Where is the common sense? If there is a God in heaven, please send us a commissioner. This sport is frigged up.

Enjoy your day everyone!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Harness Racing Bubble

Finley wrote a blurb on the Tetrick Meadowlands interview from Friday.
  • Some four months after being fined for kicking Captaintreacherous in the stretch drive of the Tattersalls at the Red Mile Tim Tetrick still isn't apologizing for his actions. Appearing on the Meadowlands' "In the Sulky" program Friday night with Sam McKee Tetrick said the anti-kicking rules in the sport need to be changed. ""The way the rule is written now, I think we need to change the rule," Tetrick said.
Interviewed on a major telecast, a harness driver said he thinks kicking, nudging, striking a horse with his boot, or whatever you want to call it, is not only no big deal, it should be allowed. And amazingly, the interviewer seems to be just fine with it.

Outside the bubble, "boot" and "horse" should never be used in the same sentence.

Harness racing is not a popular sport. If it was, the New York Times would have a story this morning titled "Racing's Leading Driver Thinks Kicking Horses Should Be Allowed", or some such other "big headline"

But it's not a popular sport. The paradox is, that those inside the bubble continue to be oblivious that they're a reason why it isn't.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

That's a Neat Tweet, And a Good Blog Post

Peter Rotondo, fashion dude, horseplayer, reality TV star, Breeders Cup employee, son of a guy named Peter, and all around cool guy, retweeted the funniest tweet on my timeline today:

For those who do not know European trotting, this might sound funny, but to many of us it ain't. It's a huge game across the pond. Years ago, when the chances of seeing a harness racing commercial in North America were less than seeing an Andy Asaro and Mike Pegram hug, the Swede's were hiring top firms to create some amazing advertising. 

Speaking of making me laugh, Cangamble has not been blogging too much lately. Maybe he was giddy his Fort Erie racetrack is racing this season, or something, because he had a good post yesterday.

Powerboat racing is big stuff in Japan, handling almost as much money as horse racing. And yes, when CG said......
  •  Power boat racing has to be the most boring betting game I've ever seen
..... I must agree.

I too, must agree with Polarcritter.

Enjoy your day everyone, and remember if you are buying stock, the Stronach group might be decent today. GP and SA are racing, while a gazillion other tracks aren't. Their handle should be up. I hope there aren't food trucks, a bikini contest or an English Beat concert today, because surely that would be given strong consideration for the year over year handle bump. At the track we'll be watching 80's bands, bikinis and eating Bing's Falafel's for at least another three years to entice you to bet a superfecta in the 8th.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Branding Tree, Tech and Racing Culture

Seth's Blog had a neat post on branding yesterday.

"Over time, for some brands, it has become something significantly more. A mirror on our identity as consumers, tribe members and citizens."

- This is racing. It's not Wal-Mart. It's a living being. It's feed men and grooms; riders and drivers and trainers; bettors and bet takers.

"When someone criticizes one of these brands, these 'us' brands, we take the criticism personally. So, if you're a Harley tribe member, someone criticizing Harley Davidson is like a personal attack."

- "NYRA made a mistake with the takeout snafu." Saying something so obvious can get you labelled a hater in some quarters.

"The risk is that when your brand stumbles, you won't have to merely confront those non-customers that might have thought less of you. You'll need to understand that when you fail, we all do. It's personal, and you might need to do more than mutter an apology. High stakes."

- High stakes indeed.  When you do stumble, you have a push-pull in an us versus them fight, that is completely unhealthy for the business. Apologists allow management a free pass - "no matter what we do, they'll have our back, so do it". When factions fight, it's not numbers on a spreadsheet they're fighting about - it's the brand; a way of life. It's personal.

When something fails, all hell breaks loose. Customers are lost, factions get entrenched, nothing gets fixed, it gets argued about, and the overall business suffers. It's been the way the racing brand works, and is intertwined for a long time.

I was watching - ahem - curling last evening. Because of the storm, my satellite had some hiccups so I decided to pull out my tablet and watch it online. What I found was an absolutely amazing experience. Not only did I get the actual feed, in crisp HD, I got numbers and stats, and interactivity.

 That pic shows the live feed, with the "lineups" tab open, on screen.

You can also look at full stats, the "house", play by play, shot percentages and a number of other things.

This is curling. The technology, numbers and interaction is better than anything I have ever seen for horse racing, and horse racing is a game that depends on gambling, and the above branding.

Twinspires TV is pretty wonderful, but overall, the business has a long way to go when it comes to data, presentation and holding a viewers interest.

The Sydney Seelster story in harness racing captured its interest the last week. A number of questions - here on the blog and on twitter - wondered why people were so up in arms. Trying to explain small time harness racing in 140 characters is tough, but this article at HRU tries to tackle it. Claiming that girls horse, by people like this, is a non-starter. It's just the way the business is. That's why so many were so upset. pdf here.

Sid looks at Triple Crown breeding on his blog....... Ray looks at the trail from China to New Mexico of the Viagara suspension..... Japan bets almost as much as North America does on horse racing, on motorboat racing.

Have a great day everyone.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


If you pop onto twitter or chatboards, or if you are at your simo-center in front of a bank of televisions, you'll often hear thoughts about race scheduling.

"Why is that [a grade 2 or 3 race] going off at the exact same time as that [another Graded stakes]. How hard is this to schedule races not on top of each other?! This business is frigged up!"

Like you, it makes me wonder. With 15 tracks, let's say, racing on a Saturday afternoon, this is close-to-impossible, but it seems to happen mid-week, or with stakes. It's like clockwork.

Who you gonna call?
I do a little work with Horseplayer Monthly (check it out here for a free copy) and for the next issue I said to myself "let's ask someone about scheduling, why this happens, and what can be done to fix it."

Then it dawned on me, who in the hell do I ask?

As @o_crunk puts it on twitter "who is "racing""? Is there a head of scheduling races at some head office? Maybe Stronach is in charge and he can schedule races better - no, he has only a couple of tracks.

When a sewer pipe is broken on your street you call the city and then someone comes to fix it. He or she is in charge of fixing sewers. Maybe the workers don't show up for hours, and your neighbor gripes about "lazy government workers", or maybe you get put on hold and that makes you mad, or maybe you get passed around.

But at the very least you talk to someone who fixes these things. The job gets done.

How can racing fix their broken sewer pipe when you don't even know who to call? How can racing fix issues when the person who could fix the issue does not exist? In a nutshell, I believe it is racing's number one problem. And their unwillingness to put someone in charge is why it has had the same broken sewers for more than a generation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"I'm Shocked to Find There's Gambling Going On In Here"

I did not get to watch the Fox Sports 1 coverage of the Donn Handicap this weekend, but I used a focus group to tell me how the coverage was: Justin Horowitz's mom.
Selling gambling during broadcasts ruffles some feathers in the sport, but this is a sport about gambling.

We should not be shocked McDonald's sells hamburgers in their commercials, and we should not be surprised that a telecast would sell what racing does; because the purse of the Donn was not paid for with Will Take Charge tee shirts, obviously.

Probably the number one rule for marketers - ever, but particularly in this day and age - is that you have to embrace and sell what you are. For years racing telecasts did not do that; they tried to be everything to everyone. You can do that with the Kentucky Derby, but for a race on a Sunday at Gulfstream (and a year long series of races), that's problematic. Fox Sports appeared to try to embrace what the thousands of people were there for. And that's good.

Alan shared some of his thoughts on the telecast today, even though he was asleep for the first 10 minutes. 

The mainstream picked up the Sydney Seelster story in Canada.

Charles Hayward, former NYRA CEO, has the shackles off and can talk turkey on takeout.

We have a little yearling (whoops now three year old) with Neil doing the training, and Neil got a  photo with someone famous infamous yesterday.

I'm not sure he can handicap yet, but we have a new pooch. After fostering Copper for almost two months, the youngster found a great home. We're happy, he is a good dog. However, as Copper left, Hunter came in. Hunter is ten, lived only with one family, and unfortunately had to be put up for adoption due to his owners illness. We were going to foster him, but he should really not be passed around any longer; especially how long it will take for an old fellow like him to be adopted. He's a great dog, and we'll get to learnin' him how to pick the horses. I hope he's good.

Have a wonderful day everyone.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chris Makes Me Go Hmmm

With apologies to @jerseytom, Chris Kay makes me go hmmm.

In Bob Ehalt's column today, regarding the massive shuffling of slots purses to Belmont day stakes:

"We wanted to create a day that will grab people's attention," said Chris Kay, NYRA's CEO and President.

Putting aside the fact that some of the purse hikes are obscene (here's one guy who is more than perplexed) and probably won't create differing field size, or be ROI positive in virtually any way,  let's just look at that statement.

'We want to grab people's attention'

It's the Belmont Stakes. It's a Triple Crown race. You do not need to grab people's attention, you already have people's attention.

Here is google trends for the Belmont versus the Breeders Cup.

This event already dwarfs the Breeders Cup; on Triple Crown tries even in 2010, when Zenyatta was on 60 Minutes and her every move was making the rounds on earned media like she was a female human version of Bieber.

The Belmont Stakes will always be an attention grabber, and you could card 5 maiden claimers with Jacobson off the claim horses on the undercard, and you will still have everyone's attention.

I understand the importance of big days. I have been advocating this strategy on the blog or at various conferences since 2007. However, adding more and upping stakes purses of existing races (and the Belmont) to a day which is already one of the most popular days on earth seemed last week to me to be puzzling. With the double down in the press, now I can say I'm doubly puzzled.

If somehow we have to add to a Triple Crown card to "grab people's attention" everyone should pack up and leave, because this business is toast.

Stepping Up to the Plate & Sydney Seelster Updates

For those of you following along on social media (or if you read my blog piece; thanks for the shares everyone), there seems to be a nice final chapter brewing for Sydney Weaver.

Social media reported the current trainer will be selling back the Camluck mare to Sydney on Wednesday at Flamboro Downs.

That does not diminish what we saw last evening. People whom I have never even conversed with messaged me to know more. Messages like this:

Joe Bellino, of the Bellino family who owns Jug winner, tremendous racehorse and new sire, Rock n' Roll Heaven, offered out this:

Rock n' Roll Heaven - as he should've - had a good first crop year at the sales. This isn't pinching pennies, folks.

That's only a smattering of the reaction.

Some people don't seem to understand that reaction, and that's okay, because the way small time harness racing works is not the cold, hard calculated way racing works as a whole. It's built into the culture that you don't kick anyone when they're down, you help others who are having a tough time, and you band together. Sydney Seelster (who was being moved up in class this Wednesday) is one of those cases. Just like you don't claim a family horse who has been having a tough time financially, or dealing with an issue like a sickness, you don't claim this horse. This is why people are so perplexed.

To watch the video of Sydney, please check my last blog post for a link.

We'll keep y'all updated when updates come. It would be great if Flamboro, or the Weaver family take and post some pictures or video when she is reunited with her horse. I think that would make everyone smile.


Sid Fernando popped a link on twitter today from the New York Times, which argued that twitter is losing its luster. I have always used twitter for what it's made for - finding and following good people for links, along with social interaction. The social interaction part for me is important, because I, like so many, work in a home office for a large part of the month. I often feel bad for not following back more people - people I do like and interact with at times. It is nothing personal, it's just that when I add more than several followers, my timeline loses its luster and I get into overload. Going through a thousand tweets is really hard.

We live in amazing times. Twitter is the new chat board, or email string, or usenet group. Perhaps things will come full circle, good people will leave twitter (or facebook) and we'll go back to one of those as critical mass falls to dangerous levels. Or, more likely, in ten years there will be something new.

Like most things on the web - or philosophically in the bigger picture - I think you get out of them what you put into them. Twitter, in my opinion, is not "bad" or "a waste of time" or "useless" or "the best thing ever" or anything else. It depends on what you want from it and use it for.

One fellow on twitter, that Sid wrote a "gif" for on his tumblr page, is Inside the Pylons. ITP is brash, sometimes loud, and doesn't mince words or pull punches. I must admit, at times, I love watching him chat with industry types, especially when they dismiss what he says as "wrong". Despite his  bravado, he is a very sharp professional horseplayer, owner and knows the gambling side of business as well as anyone I have met. He's also a pretty decent fella. If he says something, it might be said in less than warm and fuzzy terms, but dismiss it at your own peril.

California racing trumpeted their handle increase in January, which I found comical.  California - who raised takeout in 2010 on several bets - is up this month primarily due to a large increase in handle for the pick 5 (which they added at 14% takeout to stop the bleeding of the takeout increase in spring of 2010), the races that make up the pick 5 (yes horse industry, there is a spin off with this bet) and pick 6 carryovers which are (this industry is slowly figuring this out) a takeout decrease. The state that said 'takeout doesnt matter' is having success with lower takeout and writing press releases about it. You can't make this stuff up.

Enjoy your day everyone.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Not Your Average $5,000 Claim

A horse was claimed at Flamboro this evening out of a $5,000 claimer. It's not often that would be news, but this claim was different. It spawned what I saw were hundreds of tweets, facebook and chat board posts, (and gosh knows how many texts).

Sydney meeting her horse on Xmas Day
The horse in question was Sydney Seelster, a six year old mare that was purchased last year as a Christmas present for 13 year old Sydney Weaver. Sydney, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, has been described by some as harness racing's number one fan. She achieved her grooms licence, and wants to be a horse trainer when she grows up.  She was surprised last Christmas by a friend of the family (one of the good guys in this sport, who has been around forever) with her namesake horse.

This story - obviously a heartwarming one - was captured both inside and outside racing's media and made headlines. WEG's video recap of the story, which was broadcast nationwide, won a Hervey Award last year, and is well worth the watch. Seeing Sydney call her horse "my sister" as she fawns on her in that video is pretty heartbreaking, knowing she is not going home with her this evening.

Sydney Seelster, who as you can see in the video is a kind and lovely mare, was not a world beater, winning $16,000 last season, which as you all know does not cover the bills. This season, as sometimes mares do, she caught a bit of fire and had already made $6,000. That probably enticed the claim.

It looked like she was entered for $5,000 this evening - where she came 4th by 10 - to possibly get her a start off a vet scratch. She was entered for a higher $7,500 tag in her next planned outing for Sydney.

Greg Gangle, who works for Woodbine and has a picture of Sydney as his avatar on twitter, was none too impressed.

According to driver Bob McClure, Sydney was in tears after the race.  Hopefully if they can claim her back it will be a nice reunion.

As for the fellow who claimed the horse from her, well, let's just say he is not very popular around the Ontario harness racing community this evening.

Update: A quick update in today's post, as well as a few of your reactions.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fixing What Isn't Broken

There was a rumor going around that NYRA had a "big announcement" coming. Well, it was announced today that purses were upped and some races were shuffled around for Belmont Day. (sorry bettors, nothing for you from slots, like you may have been hoping).

The first reaction in board rooms around racing is "great idea, a big day for us to watch and get excited about". Inside baseball folks live for this stuff. It's warm and fuzzy and energizes us as fans - who are not the target market, but it's who racing appeases more often than not.

However, it smacks of bean counting to little old me.

As Godin wrote awhile back, what we're seeing is a tweak. 
  •  The reason is that these [corporate benchmarks and doing something to do something] numbers demand that you start tweaking. You can tweak a website or tweak an accounts payable policy and make numbers go up, which is great, but it's not going to fundamentally change your business.
They've tweaked Belmont Day to be a bigger day, with the hopes of gaining a bit more revenue. This is nothing new, or groundbreaking.

What makes it curious, is that Belmont Day is a day people already watch and bet - and further to that, if there is a Triple Crown on the line already has no-cost marketing.

Belmont Day is not broken.

Here are the google searches the last ten years for the Belmont Stakes.

It's actually (when you filter out Triple Crown years) growing.

With all those other stakes, all that slot money, all the possibilities, a virtual 365 day carte blanche, and all the assorted problems in horse racing, this is the best idea they could come up with; a tweak of an already branded raceday, that's entwined in racing's fabric?

For those of us who want slots money - which will likely be taken away soon - used on bold initiatives to create new markets, new days, used to test new ideas, to help racing move forward in some tangible way, this is truly disappointing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Myth's Busted & Old Time Racing's Roots

Back many years ago now, yours truly (believe it or not, I was actually invited) presented things from a customer and gambler perspective at an industry conference.

While insiders talked about the "sport" in almost every instance, I was talking about what a lot of us like to bet. At one point at the harness conference I presented the heretic point of view that we liked i) full fields and ii) we don't care who is driving the horse.  This was not said too often - the prevailing thought was big "names" and "stars" draw handle, even if in a five horse field where one of them is 2-5 -  but as serious horseplayers you and I know that to be true.

Tonight in HRU (pdf), Jeff Gural in one paragraph shows how far the game has come.
  • "Gural said he has also changed his mind on the impact name drivers have on the betting handle. When Sears and Brennan left he said he thought their absence would lead people to bet less on the Meadowlands product. "It doesn't affect the gambling end of it as they don't seem to care who drives," he said.
  • [on field size] "Saturday is a disaster; way too many short fields," he said. "It is disappointing and I don't know what happened. Having a Saturday night card with all these short fields will cost me a half million in handle, which we can ill afford with all the bad weather we've been having and the negative impact that's had on our business."
Jeff is not a gambler, but he runs a racetrack well. Over time, simple handle metrics regarding field size and what's what with names in the entry box are analyzed and used to run that business. It, in my opinion, is a big reason handle has returned to the Meadowlands.

The Big M is not carding races with the best horses, the highest purses, or the best drivers. But they are carding bettable races. Just this evening they made sure they had 10 horse fields for their pick 5 carryover. You can count on one hand how many tracks worry about things like that.

In thoroughbred racing it is slightly different. A top stakes card tends to be bet more than a regular card of claimers; however, a pick 4 with three trap races with 1-5 chalk still tend to be a disaster. A lot of tracks need work when scheduling their pick 4 and 5 races. They could take their cue from the Big M, and begin to lose the old time thinking that affected harness tracks for years.

Also in HRU, a marketing thought on what makes harness racing different is a strength, not a weakness.
  • This summer the “sport” of harness racing will do best where it always does best. The Little Brown Jug will attract thousands of State Fair goers with small town sensibilities, good food, and beer in paper cups. Charlottetown, PEI, will pack them in for the Gold Cup and Saucer and you won’t be able to walk down the street of the city without someone asking “who do you like in the big race?” The big race is a $60,000 Free For All, of course, which is tantamount to a regular feature on any given Saturday at Yonkers.

To read that, it's on page 4

Enjoy your Friday everyone.

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