Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I was going to write a post this morning about charging more money for a big event (in economics it does have a place, of course), but by doing it with imagination, as to not hurt the event, or the brand. It was also going to incorporate some thoughts on field size, etc.

Then I read this.

No post on reason or economics fits. So I won't.

I had to head to the place where we all get sleep last night, but I saw the tweets giving play by play of a radio show in Vegas on the Derby. Since the show was a betting show there was little talk about a favorite getting off a plane, it was bettor focused.

The tweet stream, relaying the thoughts of a New York gambler:

Systemic. Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fox Hill Farms Beef Is Not Out of Bounds & Thankfully Doesn't Happen Often

I read Rick Porter's post last night about the trouble he and owners have had in getting seats or what have you at the Kentucky Derby.

Frankly, I was floored. Days like this, especially with grade one and two stock with investors who put their money and heart on the line, are sacred. This is where the sport needs to cater to them, because it's their Super Bowl; it's where losing 50 cents on every dollar invested in horseflesh is buttressed to some degree; it's where a perk or two - with a good result on the track hopefully - eases the pain of the other days. It's where people who invest in horseflesh feel alive, like its all worth it.

There's a lot wrong with harness racing, just like there is in Thoroughbred racing, but one thing harness does well is treat the owners right, especially for big events.

I remember our stable had a horse in a big event several years ago. We were three nobodies - me, a guy who works for the government and dabbles and a professional bettor - and we learned we could head upstairs for a spread of food and drink, just for supporting the event. We stayed outside at the rail, but that was beyond the point. We actually felt we were wanted there.

Woodbine Entertainment, formerly the Ontario Jockey Club, is one of the best at making people feel at home if they invest in horseflesh. Own a horse there, especially for a big event, and you are made feel extremely welcome.

Even bettors there have felt welcome the last several years. I remember getting an invite on Queen's Plate Day with a reserved seat and a free meal paid for by the track. My better half, who looks good in a hat, unlike me, went and we had a great time. Why did I get the invite to these great seats? Because I bet there. Nothing more. I didn't even own a horse.

The Meadowlands in Jersey is another example. Their owners lounge is fantastic. As Justin said today on twitter:

There are countless other examples in our sport, even on big days like Hambo Day.

 Look, you're not speaking with Karl Marx the Pocket here. I fully understand that Derby Day is in demand and CDI is not a charity. However, if you can't treat a guy like Rick Porter right, it makes you wonder.
Harness racing has no such issue, most other tracks and days don't have this issue, and they should be proud they don't. If you can't treat your suppliers right on big days like this, why do you even own a racetrack?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Today's Notes - Letters, Hedge Hogs and Hikes

Good morning peeps!

It was a long Saturday (I was bacheloring with the dog) so I missed a lot of the news. I am sure you can read the trade press for those stories. Here are a few other things I found of interest.

Sometimes you read a letter that speaks to the industry and find it in a different place. One little letter to HRU today (pdf) exemplifies it.

"The tracks don't think that way, though. Instead of working with the online bookies to expand the off-track market, the tracks and the politicians they control put penalties on the online bookies so that they couldn't afford to offer large rebates anymore. I used to get a 5% rebate. Now I get less than 1%. Everyone loses. The sport doesn't get new fans, and the total handle is less. When I was getting 5% back I bet about $30,000 a year. Now, I only bet a few bucks here and there."

As signal fees go up, this is why handle goes down. This is not a whale, it's a fellow looking for a way to make racing slightly more enjoyable because he doesn't have to pay 22% takeouts and go broke.

Not dissimilar to this man, quoted on my blog: 
  • Because of a rebate I found a way to make place bets profitable. I wound up with a 3.2% loss, but a rebate of 7%. It actually was a rebate of 6.2% as they did not give a rebate on 2.20 horses. Now the kicker is, I went from betting about 30 to 50k to 1.3 million that year. It made the churn factor possible. If takeout is lowered it may have the same affect. 
Vic had an approximate 2600% increase in handle by getting some juice back.

The business looks to take margin at all costs, because of falling total handle numbers, but when you take a margin away, there is an opposite and fervent counter reaction which results in lower overall revenue over time. This truism happens at Wal Mart (if a Wal Mart executive proffered what racing does in these instances he or she would be laughed out of the boardroom) and it's true in horse racing too. That's why the business is in such rough shape as a gambling game.

Speaking of 22%, the Churchill Downs Inc rake hike (doing the opposite to the above and hurting long term handle and customer growth) was in effect last evening. A few of the guys held their heads low because handle was up about 6%. I don't look at it that way at all.

If you held a grand opening with a new celebrity announcer and a new $12 million dollar big board at your restaurant with a much better menu than last year to eat, would you expect it to be only half full? I expected a much higher handle increase, quite frankly. Last year the card was horrible (I checked and last year I only bet $1,200 because I could barely find a bet), and this year it was much better.  I figured handle with all that positive spin, a grassroots group of a few rabble rousers, and a general public that hadn't even heard they'd be paying more to be up even more. I.of course, did not play. I didn't even watch a race. The big board was too expensive.

Further in HRU (p7 pdf), the story of a hedge hog. Racing, with short term fixes not based on economics, science or numbers, continues to fox itself out of revenue. It has to happen this way, in fact, it could not happen any other way.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Customer Defections Are A Very Big Deal

It's not a newsflash that horse racing has lost customers. However, in horse racing, like some other businesses with repeat customers, that lost customer is not a dollar lost, or a fan lost, it's lifetime dollar value lost, and a lifetime dollar value fan lost. It's not like losing a family that patronized your restaurant once a month, it's much more like losing a cable or cell phone subscriber.

In horse racing, the lifetime value of a customer lost is not computed. And its a huge mistake for racetracks not to.

Take this example:

A large Plasma company wanted to learn what the annual value of a defection was costing the company. A defection simply means that a loyal blood donor stopped giving blood. What they found that in the short term, the value of one donor was about $5,000.

However, the average person donated blood for 3.4 years, so the value of losing one person - just one donor - was $18,040.
  • Determine your current annual defection rate. Determine the life of a loyal customer and how much they spend each year over their customer lifetime. Then calculate your total loss in sales and your total profit loss – and then the grand total of all losses. At this point you will probably have cardiac arrest. The losses for most firms will be in the millions. 
The above example uses only 3.4 years, because that's how many years a customer donates. Consider that horse racing's client base can last generations, this number for racing is staggering.

As the article above alludes, when you lose an existing customer, you have to fire up your sales team to replace that customer. It can costs thousands of dollars to land a regular horse bettor, so this industry smarts from filling the funnel, which is what was alluded to in the McKinsey Report. 

This is why Churchill's takeout increase - any takeout increase or anti-customer move - will end up, over time to be so bad for the sport. It's also why customer service (or nowadays "CRM" - customer relationship management) is so important.

Let's look at Doug, who said he will not play Churchill Downs any longer. He is 18 years old and he's in high school. Not having a lot of extra cash, he says his yearly handle is about $3,000. At 21% takeout, that's about $600 revenue a year from betting. When he gets a job and earns more money, let's say his handle quadruples to about $12,000 a year.

Over a 50 year time horizon of being a horseplayer, Doug's total handle would be $600,000, and at 21% takeout, that's  $126,000 in revenue.

Now multiply that by 10,000 Doug's. That's $126 million dollars of lost revenue if Doug and others leave.

I had a chat with a 50 something horseplayera few weeks ago and he told me a story of a young man he knew who liked numbers, like horses, liked betting, and was having some success doing it, betting hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. He was in his twenties.

Then one day he decided he had enough with horse racing - the issues, the pricing etc - and he quit. He took his multi-millions of lifetime revenues and left. This horseplayer said to me "he is an annuity ready to supply fifty plus years of monthly payments and no one even knows he's gone."

People often ask me why I draw a line in the sand on takeout increases and other anti-customer things that occur. Well, that's why. A takeout increase - and no one disputes this - draws less money, fewer eyeballs, and makes horseplayers go broke faster. Then they leave. Why would I, or anyone in good conscience support that? Why would you want a lifetime annuity to leave you for a minor short term gain? Why would you want customers who are generational to leave you in the first place?

There's a boycott happening this weekend, but if you ignore it (it's a free country), remember that when you fire up your Twinspires account or bet the Derby Trial.  Racing is not losing a "whiny customer on twitter who probably doesn't bet very much" who might be boycotting; it's losing some lifetime bettors and a whole lot of money. In a few years one of them might be you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Churchill Downs Taking Hits From Everywhere

When did I first notice it, was it the series on Churchill Downs and the Fair Grounds? The Paulick Report story titled "Holding Churchill Downs Accountable for Fair Grounds Decline"? The Takeout Hike? CDI executive comments? Their compensation? The tweets, the blogs, the opinion?

On a stand alone basis, none of those. But cumulatively, wow.

Just last week I was speaking to a friend in marketing about brands. We discussed the fact that Churchill was "racing" and it was their brand: The biggest, the best, a signature. But after they hiked takeout - allowing them to be considered a "smaller" Kentucky racetrack - they were pretty much telling everyone that they weren't "racing"; they weren't Keeneland, or Churchill Downs, they were Ellis Park.

Even in their annual report, gaming revenues trumped horse racing revenues for the first time.
This branded company name - of a signature track - has had even more issues. Their brand is taking it on the chin, with hits from virtually every nook and cranny in this sport.
From Horse Race Insider (emphasis mine, because this comment lit a fire on social media tonight):  "In spite of having more than 600 slot machines at the track, the turf course has been unusable more often than not the past two seasons due to poor drainage. The infield video screen broke and wasn’t repaired.  The responses of Austin Miller, CDI’s senior vice president of gaming operations, are revealing of the company attitude. Miller said if the turf course isn’t suitable for racing, horses and horsemen should adapt. “They all train on dirt. They should be able to run on dirt.”
From an 18 year old bettor: I am not a big money gambler. In 2014 I have bet $624 in total.[But] it's important to let any track that wants to raise prices on us know that we will not meekly accept a takeout increase that will do nothing but hurt horse racing in the long run. Bye bye, CDI. Thank you for hurting the sport we love.
From a seasoned bettor and Kentucky resident Mike Maloney: It's a shortsighted money grab by CDI and shows a total lack of understanding of the elasticity of betting handle by the horsemen groups who were sold this idea as a long term solution. You would think by now the horsemen groups would do more due diligence before buying Churchill's pick-up line.
From  Cliff Strider, the director of gaming at the Louisiana Department of Justice, nailed it when he said Churchill Downs officials have missed the point with their bottom-line approach. The neglect they've shown at the Fair Grounds erodes customer confidence and discourages business. Like the broken windows theory on crime, the broken TV monitors, empty teller windows and unkempt landscaping sends the wrong message to customers.
From a Las Vegas former sportsbook manager:Churchill Downs Incorporated announced they were increasing their pari-mutuel takeout from 16% to 17.5% on win, place and show bets, and from 19% to 22% on exotics.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
From social media...........
And hey, back to Horse Race Insider for a little extra; "asking for Magna":
 Frank Stronach has made several offers without success to buy Calder. All of racing would be better off if the billionaire Stronach took it a step further and bought all of the CDI racetracks. No matter what else might be said about him, Stronach cares about racing. This hasn’t been able to be said about Churchill Downs Inc. since the current regime took over, a reality that even the first Saturday in May can’t camouflage.
Oh, we have not even mentioned the grassroots players boycott, with a website and money, and customers who are lending their time for free to make sure everyone knows they raised the juice. 

I could go on linking and embedding (trust me, the above only scratches the surface, especially on social media), but I hope you get the point.

I think Churchill's brand - the brand we all know and grew up with - is on its way to being changed. Reading the opinion out there, from horsemen, bettors, fans, customers, legislators and whomever else I can find, it seems that CDI no longer appears to represent racing, but what's wrong with racing.

And my friends, that's very sad.

Wednesday Notes: Fall Guys, the Grassroots and PETA Ladies

Rusty Arnold's letter to the editor at the DRF is making the rounds.

He speaks about stabling beside Steve Asmussen and alerts to the fact his horses are well-cared for. I have little doubt they would be. The fella has millions of dollars in horseflesh and big money clients. Would you think they aren't getting name brand meds, good vet work and groomed daily to look fit and happy? Would you think he would risk that clientele and the living they provide by using backstretch supplied pre-race or magic juice? Not only is that not likely, it's probably impossible.

The complete mind-bend of all this, is something that's plagued many with their opinions on this situation. What Steve also has to do is be competitive, or he will lose clients. That's the grey area.

I tweeted out that I liked Rusty Arnold's letter and Kathy from PETA responded, in one way.
Rusty was not saying "if it's legal, it's okay". He simply said that Steve, within the existing framework of the "business", was doing nothing, in his opinion, wrong. Steve Asmussen might be on trial, but he shouldn't be. The culture of racing is on trial.  I am certain that if the rules were modified and changed, Steve Asmussen would change the way he approaches some things. He's playing chess against grandmasters. He can't handicap himself by taking his bishop off the table, but would more than likely be happy to if his opponents can't use the bishop either.

It's weird, because if you support Steve - in this one micro way - you are an apologist. If you slam him, you are probably using him to get your pre-ordained point across. Logic and fairness take a back seat.

I am in the position like a lot of you are. It's 2014, and the culture of racing must bend to modern society, not the other way around. Lasix use must be looked at. Trying to unload a lame horse on someone is a cultural change that should be eliminated and should never happen; that part of that video made me ill. Mistreatment of an animal that has happened on the fringes and we've all seen before needs to be addressed with tough penalties (if you don't feel for places like PETA and what they're up against, you should. You can watch your neighbor beat a dog to an inch of his life and report him. In many states he would be lucky to get a $100 fine). But using Steve to forward that goal is something I can't logically or ethically get behind. It just feels wrong.


A grassroots movement has started to try and boycott Churchill Downs. This has been festering for some time on the interweb. Churchill Downs is an easy target, because every time you turn around, it seems the press has been not kind to their moves. If you want to keep tabs on what's happening, follow Andy @racetrackandy or Players Boycott at @playersboycott .

I was a fairly regular customer of Churchill Downs. My couple thousand in handle a day will not mean much, especially to executives with all those stock options, but I won't be playing them this year. I have not fully decided about the Derby, but I sense I will more than likely just watch the card. I value my money which I work hard for, my own principles, and I can't support racing shooting itself in the foot for what feels like the bazillionth time. Supporting them is tacit approval that they can walk all over you. They will not walk all over me.

Lenny wrote a rhyme based on Green Eggs and Ham about Churchill Downs. Pretty funny.

If you follow @insidethepylons , yesterday you got a glimpse into how price sensitive bigger players are. You also got an education on host fees. You rarely hear or read about this inside baseball stuff that has a huge correlation to handle. He's worth following.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 Nightmare Kentucky Derby Scenarios

We’re getting close to Derby day and as we all know, horse racing is under siege. Not really (that is quite melodramatic), but we can say with some certainty that things are not going overly well.

Let's recap. Those PETA people are mad, Joe Drape is writing columns, people with three names from the Jockey Club have been releasing memos, Churchill raised the takeout on long suffering customers, (along with twitter blowing up over their published 2013 executives compensation) and of course, the granddaddy of them all: Frank Stronach is building a pharmacy.

Horse racing doesn’t need any more bad press, and everyone is wary. Worried. On edge.

Here are a few Nightmare Derby Scenarios that I figure horse racing cannot handle. If any of these things do occur, it could mean trouble. For the love of horse racing, let's hope none of them come true friends.

  • PETA gets an early release of the bloodwork for Derby horses and protests on the Churchill grounds asking racing to rid itself of the drug “carotene”
  • A disgruntled horseplayer hikes the tote board and spray paints the Twinspires ad, changing it from “Where Players Win” to “Where Players Win Less”
  • Tapiture wins, and television analysts surmise the groom leading the horse to the winners circle is Scott Blasi in disguise. This is confirmed when the NBC mic picks up, “way to go Steve you glorious motherf*&@(&.“
  • The very popular Gusto the Greek’s infield food truck is actually a front to sign up customers to TimeformUS
  • Customers scatter as a fox or something is loose in the infield preying on customers, but upon closer inspection it's actually just a Churchill Downs executive looking for money
  • The crack security team fails to block Joe Drape at the entrance

  • Kegasus shows up dressed as the “Takeout Hog”
  • The “Where Your Takeout Goes” power point presentation on the big screen showing Churchill CEO Bob Evans shopping for a chalet in Aspen doesn’t go over exactly as planned
  •  “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Steve Asmussen Derby-Oaks Double Pays.....”
  • Tom Hammond finds out twitter has been blocked and asks a Churchill Downs exec if “this is a racetrack in Turkey”. The executive responds "no, tracks in Turkey have more reasonable concession prices."
  • Duracell reps are seen in the jocks room, trolling for sponsorships
  • The Web stall cams, installed to monitor the backstretch due to PETA concerns, captures a Churchill Downs manager walking the backstretch firing staff, while dressed in a black hoodie, carrying a sickle
  • The guy running the big screen misses the memo and runs the "Welcome to the Hall of Fame Steve" congratulations message

  • The "Let's Talk Pricing Q & A" pits two world class economists representing HANA against a CDI exec. A riot erupts after the economists present high level econometrics and elasticity models to prove their case, while the CDI exec responds "Who looks at prices when they shop for things? I just buy them."
  • Bob Costas says “Holy Maquina, what a ride by Santana!”
  • The tote algorithm malfunctions and takeout is set at last year’s takeout rates. Angry Churchill Downs executives arm security personnel with tip jars to shake down customers for extra money while they are leaving the venue
Ray Paulick (L), Kevin Bacon (R)
  • Ray Paulick and Kevin Bacon meet on the red carpet and this causes a break in the space time continuum. The exact same thing happened the year Mine That Bird won
  • A Churchill Downs executive arrives late to the “Mansion” after getting accidentally locked in his fully loaded 2015 Range Rover, and finds out that the kitchen ran out of imported Ecuadorian shrimp
TVG's Todd Schrupp
  • Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen is arrested after giving a seminar called “How We Gained Handle and Revenue by Being Customer Friendly” on Churchill Downs property
  • The CDI Tracknet boys set up a table to sign up tracks, but player friendly track representatives pepper them with Bob Evans sausage patties until they retreat back to the Mansion. Horseplayers cheer and jeer, and to try and quash the uprising, the suits upstairs hike takeout another point
  • Todd Schrupp gets by the main gate by telling them he’s Ed Helms from the Hangover, and broadcasts the Derby clandestinely for TVG
  • The seminar "How We Keep and Cultivate Bettors at Churchill" attracts only three people: The guy who runs the overhead projector and two patrons looking for a restroom.
  • Prolific tweeter Derek Brown gets into Churchill Downs – with a Bloodhorse press pass
  • CBS’s Undercover Boss shows up to film a CDI executive undercover at the Derby, but has to stop production due to lack of feel-good content
  • The general public gets word about the takeout hike, and no one shows up........... ah, that’s not going to happen, and seeing I’m a customer first who wants the sport to grow, and horse owner and everything else second, I would not consider it a bad thing if it did.

Have a great day everyone.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Gural, Bettors and Fans on a Sunday Smackdown

There has been a lot of commentary of the business in Thoroughbred racing of late. People have been complaining that handle is poor, PETA is mad, signal fee taxes and hikes are deleterious to betting handle and the Churchill Downs team has shown about as much vision as a bat who lost his sonar.

But this Easter Sunday, the sport of harness racing has one-upped everyone.

There was a story in Harness Racing Update on Saturday morning where Bill Finley reported that the USTA voted 13-1 to not fund a $75,000 Jeff Gural initiative to get a major race on television. This brought the letters to the editor to new levels.

Today in HRU (give it a read it truly is interesting), here's a sample of the reaction:
  • Since the late 1990's it's been estimated that over $7 billion dollars has been realized by harness racing from slot machines. Sometimes we lose sight of what a billion dollars is nowadays (it's 7,000 million dollars). In terms we might be learn something from, 7 billion seconds ago it was the year 1648. If you are stacking $100 bills and you did until you reached 7 billion dollars, your stack would be 1,437 miles high. That truly illustrates the theater of the absurd: With all that money, harness racing can't even raise $75,000 to televise the Little Brown Jug. 
  • Clearly my vision is almost polar opposite to the vision that Joe Faraldo and his friends on the USTA board have. All one has to do is go to the Meadowlands tonight where you will see a track with energy and young people along with quite a few old people and everything in between. Go to the two tracks that Joe controls and you will see a very different picture.
  •  In short I have personally invested over $50 million dollars of my own money in 3 racetracks, two breeding farms and probably 100 or so broodmares, yearlings, two and three year olds etc. When I spoke to Ron Battoni about televising their night of major races I pointed out it would require them to take $50 from the purse of every race up there to pay for it, but I guess that was too much. 
  • After seeing the USTA vote was 13-1, I mean, really?? Out of 14 voting members there was only one member who has the foresight to see that this would be a pretty darn good idea at a very reasonable cost?? 
and a comment from a bettor (remember those, customers?) 
  • You could put harness racing on TV seven nights a week, 52 weeks a year and it wouldn’t matter one bit. The American public is just not going to invest it’s time and money in a horrible betting game where the takeout at some tracks is 30 percent.
Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Weekend Is Here

Good morning horse racing peeps.

My email this morning from Racetrackandy (not sure when the man sleeps) said for the Derby, Churchill has: "A ban on laptop computers, cameras with detachable lenses, cameras with attached lenses measuring six inches or more, camcorders and tripods"

Jessica tweets that she thinks that's to protect CDI and NBC broadcast and photo rights. Silly me, I thought someone might be smuggling in "Air Power" or something for the horses in those big lenses.  Regardless, she's probably right. There is no word if Churchill will be banning bettors from the Derby, but as we all have seen, they're trying.

Rich Eng let fly on the CDI takeout increase yesterday in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
  • Churchill has claimed they need the added revenue to keep its purses at their current level. What bean counters gloss over in their projections is they expect overall handle to stay the same. That never happens.
Most of us who care about adding eyeballs to the sport, because eyeballs can mean long-term revenue, don't necessarily automatically disallow any rake hikes. On big days like the Derby, things can be changed. We just want to see some imagination. How about super exotic handle takeout for Derby Day set at 25%? That is not a terrible price with deep fields and super-dumb money. Racing has little imagination. Like Mike Maloney, I have no idea how the horsemen groups bought this stuff.

Is there another industry on earth who is searching for people to patronize them who does more to turn people off patronizing them than horse racing does?

Woodbine handle is taking it on the chin so far this season. In previous years the 5/8's sprint races were filled top to bottom with pretty deep fields of 9, 10, 11 or 12. This season is blah. They will continue to struggle, like most would, with that horse inventory.

I played the Meadowlands last evening. Kudos to the race office there. I mean some of those races were filled with horses that can't do in a ten claimer, but they were exciting enough to bet. I spent 15 minutes on the last race because it was so interesting, despite the fact there was barely a horse that was able to beat 154. If there is a track that does more with less I'd like to meet it.

There was chatter on twitter yesterday about first timers who run without lasix. Those numbers as a whole are terrible, with ROI in the 0.60 range. It's true they, globally, are a bad bet. However, a lot of the time they are longshots anyway, don't have a great work pattern, or just aren't ready. As with any bet that shows a globally bad ROI, you have to adjust and look at the current race to make a decision. I have caught one or two nice priced horses who were overlooked sans "L".

I have been scanning TimeformUS pretty regularly now. Have you tried it? If you have not I respectfully suggest you do. After you get used to it, the ratings, dynamism and ease of use are readily apparent. I will probably write something about it next week if I have some time.

Enjoy the racing today and this evening everyone.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Frank's Passion

Oh that Frank!

Yesterday, Frank Stronach and the team came up with an integrity plan for Magna racetracks. I'll let you have a look at it and you can formulate your opinion (if you have not seen it).

Frank is an enigma. He is an excellent businessman, obviously, but at horse racing sometimes we wonder. I have often felt he has not done as well in horse racing because of his passion for horse racing, if that makes sense.

One comment on the link above at the PR kind of mentions it.
  • Mr. Stronach is trying to restore integrity in horse racing. And if anyone wants to view how he treats his own horses, he takes good care of his retirees. None of the horses that he personally owns end up in slaughterhouses. He even has had retired race horses have surgery to make them more comfortable; and I am speaking of geldings and not stallions.
That does not surprise me one bit. If a Magna car parts plant is suffering and production has to be cut, Frank is very capable of doing what has to be done, as much as he may not want to. That's business.

If a horse he owns needs expensive surgery to live comfortably, that might not make "business sense", because after all, everyone tells us "they're not pets". But he does it anyway.

I don't think horse racing is a business to Frank, nor has it ever been. It's a passion. That can get him into trouble sometimes. However, judging from the early reaction of his plan, he has a lot of people hoping he, and his passion, succeeds.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Plenty Going on in Horse Racing

Good morning horse racing friends.

There's a lot going on of late in horse racing, and after an early morning work shift, I took a moment and got caught up......

It rarely surprises me. When a track does something cray cray, a lot of people gripe. But with takeout hikes, the people who gripe are oftentimes the most well-spoken and very smart. I just saw Mike tweet this:
Mike is a bright dude; one of those geeky MBA math types who looks at numbers most of the day. He, along with economists, gamblers and industry analysts like Mike Maloney and Lenny at Equinometry are all on one side. Horsemen groups and a corporation, whose CEO said that horse racing is 'no longer a business model' is on the other. It's not difficult for me to pick a side.

The twitter and social media verse blew up a little yesterday when Asmussen said Tapiture would be ridden by Santana in the Kentucky Derby, if he goes. I don't really know the full story because it's on DRF++++, or whatever it's called. If this colt wins, this will be the only time in history that some in charge of a major TV sporting event would actually hope that after the horse crosses the wire, NBC goes to Heidi.

Mike Maloney - good egg, level-headed and knows racing. He has some excellent thoughts on the Churchill Downs takeout hike on the HANA Web log. I wonder if Mike is right and the Kentucky Racing Commission can step in and do something for the good of the sport. He says he is not optimistic, but who knows.

I think Mike is right one one thing for sure: Some of these horsemen groups have to do more due diligence when they are agreeing to pricing decisions. The aforementioned Lenny over at Equinometry showed what happened in California after their rake hike with a huge deep dive into the numbers. Using google to get information on takeout is not too much to ask.

Todd Pletcher announced Constitution will miss the Derby with a hairline. This is minor stuff; stall rest for a bit and back as good as new probably, but selfishly for bettors, this is better than in previous years when horses like Uncle Mo and Eskenedreya were scratched after everyone handicapped them to be racing. If you remember, I Want Revenge and Esky were scratched very late, and both those horses were favorites.

Speaking of I Want Revenge. It's only been five seasons since the "Air Power Detention barn" debacle on Wood day. I remember the reaction at that time from insiders was muted. If this happened this year, if you think it would be muted, I have a takeout hike to sell ya.

Todd Pletcher had 42 or 43 Triple Crown eligibles. I guess for the Derby he is down to three. 

Good name for Zenyatta's new colt: Ziconic. That fits.

Tweets like this are not uncommon. Jim is an every day player that's been around racing forever.

Larry Collmus starts at Churchill Downs soon, embarking on a dream gig. It's a shame that so many good people who work the trenches at Churchill, get lumped in with bosses decisions they have no control over.

Rusty Nash has a blog going about the National Harness Handicapping Championships this weekend.

Have a super duper Wednesday everyone. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Either Want Travis Tygart Or You Don't

Good morning everyone.

We'll interrupt our regular coverage of Churchill Downs and their juice hike for a moment. Just go to social media if you want to be kept informed. Or read a Vegas sportbook fellows view about it here.

The Bloodhorse reported today that USADA head Travis Tygart spoke in Lexington, KY yesterday to about 50 horse racing stakeholders about federal legislation and doping. The USADA is one of the organizations that federal horse racing legislation has tabbed for overseeing horse racing.

To readers of the Bloodhorse column, the reaction might be "ho hum, another legislator without teeth". However, I think that would be wrong.

Travis Tygart was the man who brought down Lance Armstrong.
Despite three death threats and Armstrong’s accusations of a witch hunt, Tygart guided a staff that compiled 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony from 26 witnesses, 11 of them former teammates, to bring down the cycling icon.
“We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean athletes deserve and demand,” Tygart said.
I recently read Tyler Hamilton's (world class cyclist and Olympic Gold Medalist) book The Secret Race, and he spoke quite a bit about Travis Tygart.

Tygart may have looked like a coolheaded lawyer, but underneath he was a passionate advocate for the rights of the clean athlete and the importance of changing cycling's win at all costs culture. To let Armstrong walk away with anything less than the required penalty would be a signal that nothing had changed.
When people speak about change in horse racing, some think you are the unabomber, some think lip service is fine because nothing will really happen. Let's face it, this is horse racing; a place where people talk about change but watch nothing happen because an alphabet, or those who yell really loudly, needs to be appeased.

If you are thinking Tygart is a guy who would care about who yells loud, after dealing with Armstrong, his minions and the sport itself, you may be disappointed.
“Clean athletes appreciate us not bowing to political pressure or the personal attacks. If we’re going to cave to attacks by those attempting to cover up their sporting fraud, we might as well shut down,” Tygart told the newspaper.“That would mean we’re afraid and don’t have the courage to support clean athletes. You have to endure those attacks."
So, in my opinion, just from reading a little bit about the man, if you want him in as a leading force for horse racing, expect change and expect lip service to take a back seat.  If you're the rank and file who kind of like the way things are going and hope for tweaks to the system, not big change, you surely don't. And if you're looking for in-between - someone to slog in the bog of the mushy middle, trying to make everyone happy - I think Travis Tygart is probably not your man.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oh Those Mixed Reactions

Today the Bloodhorse has a story up on the Churchill Downs takeout increase. It's titled "Mixed Reaction to Churchill Takeout Increase"

This is kind of funny, especially since everyone who pays for purses - customers - are one side of the "mixed" reaction. In case you missed it, or ICYMI as the kids say, they think it sucks.

Marty Maline and David Switzer - both horsemen types - well, they think it's okay I guess.

This strikes me as odd, because in no business in the entire universe would that title be used in any article about a price hike.

"Mixed Reaction to Horse Trailer Price Increase." I don't think Marty and David would be too happy about that one on the Bloodhorse and I'm pretty sure the trailer making corporation would not be quoted.

"Mixed Reaction to $100 Price Increase in Adequan", would not be a headline on the Paulick Report tomorrow, with the "mixed" reaction from a drug conglomerate saying "we feel bad for Marty and David but this has to be done so we can make more money. Our stock price depends on it"

"Mixed Reaction to $6 Gas" would not scream a headline in USA Today, because a sheik in Saudi Arabia really likes $6 gas. Even if the purses are upped $100,000 for each race of the Dubai World Cup.

You get the picture.

There is no "mixed reaction" to this from horseplayers for two reasons: 1) They get screwed, just like Marty and David would when the price of Adequan skies and 2) Horseplayers paid attention what happened in California with the takeout hike in 2010, which promised huge purses and revenues that never materialized.

Having said that, there should be no "mixed reaction" anywhere. If you like the sport and want it to grow, you have only one reaction to the Churchill Downs takeout hike: You hate it.

This _______ Will Be the End of Horse Racing!!

I was checking Drudge this morning and came across this headline : "Week of the Blood Moon". I didn't read the whole article, but as far as I can tell, it pretty much says everyone is doomed.

We're doomed in horse racing, too. Just look at the headlines.

The New York Times and the "24 a Week " story. We're doomed.

PETA. We're doomed.

Churchill raising rakes while they build a new giant TV. We're doomed. 

Lasix: Doomed.

Declining foal crops that result in lower field size. Doomerino. 

And of course, one of today's missives: If you want serious reform, you might not be doomed. But maybe you'd be boomed, because you might be the unibomber. 

This - fill in whatever you want - is the end of horse racing.

There's one problem; that's not the way it works. No one issue will sink or swim a business like horse racing. What grows it, or causes it to shrink will be simply done incrementally and its based on the industry's goals, and reactions to said goals.

In Good to Great, business writer Jim Collins speaks about the Hedgehog concept. Top companies who have succeeded - even in horribly tough industries - often have displayed this concept. It's about analyzing what you do well, having a passion for it, and growing incrementally with guiding goal (s). He says it's a battle between the hedgehog and the fox.
  •  “A hedgehog is like a strong consistent fire, whereas the fox is more like a flash fire. Short term the fox looks better, but long term the burning fire still burns with the passionate hedgehog.”
  •  The fox keeps coming up with new ideas to eat the hedgehog, but the hedgehog handily defeats him by doing his one trick: rolling into a thorny ball.
The fox runs horse racing, and he's the main reason it has slowly and surely lost market share.

Need a few dollars right now? The fox wants to raise takeout.

Raceday meds changes? Racedate shrinkage? The fox yells, "we might shrink field size next week at Mountaineer and we need 1,254 racedates to survive. Keep it like it is, we'll work it out."

PETA? "They're nuts", says the fox.

Spend money from slots on lower takeout and marketing? "I am barely scraping by so we can't take a small reduction in a purse," says the fox.

"Those darn ADW pirates! They need to pay more money", the fox tells us.

All of those incremental attacks on customer betting bankrolls, branding of racing, or square peg and round hole economics with foal crop and number of races, are problems that may not be felt in a month, a year or a cycle. But they are felt.

There's no hedgehog worrying about the incremental losses that each of them - among others - bring to the sport. Don't believe me? The main revenue driver for purses - which is the economic driver of the sport, is betting. Can you name five major policy decisions that have been enacted since 2000 to increase betting dollars from gamblers? How about three? Or even one?

There is no one thing that will be the "death of racing"; not Keeneland going to dirt, or lasix or takeout hikes or signal fee hikes, or PETA. But by letting the fox loose in the hen house instead of being guided by a passionate little unassuming hedgehog, each day, each month, each year things get a little slower. It could not happen any other way.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Golf and horse racing have something in common.

Today at the Masters there's a 20 year old kid in the final group and a number of compelling story lines, but, like always, you find people cheering for people they know. The Lee Westwood's of the world. If Tiger Woods, who makes the Churchill Downs execs look like paupers, was in the final group, scores of people would be pulling for him, even if he is against a guy singing for his supper. Same with Phil. The movie Tin Cup played well on TV, but if Kevin Costner's character was in a final group against a big name, he'd be heckled, not cheered for being the longshot. Canadian's will well-remember the 1999 PGA Championship when Mike Weir - a zero time Tour winner - was hammered by the Medina crowd in the final group with Tiger.

Yesterday, Danza overcame the odds board, won the Arkansas Derby, and the reaction was similar. "Danza who?"

In racing we want to see the best and we want to see them win. We cheer for Secretariat, Zenyatta, Spectacular Bid, Curlin; the list is endless. Seabiscuit might've been an excellent story in 2003, but in 1938 there were people pulling for the blue-blooded War Admiral to crush that west coast ill-bred colt.

The Derby especially is an interesting creature. We want to see great horses do battle, and this year, it just doesn't seem to be there. There's no spark, nothing to get behind for some.
Maybe they have spoken. Maybe God is a PETA fan. Maybe he really likes horseplayers and dislikes the little guy getting skewered with another takeout hike.

Or maybe the joke's on us. Maybe this unassuming, sprint-bred colt from California will win the Derby in a fast time and maybe.....
You just never know. It might be the year of the underdog, and in six months we won't be looking at a horse like California Chrome as a surprise, but the big horse everyone cheers for. Just like Phil in a final group.


Foiled Again was sharp last night in his Levy leg, firing home in 27. If you don't like Foiled Again, you don't like horse racing.

The Blue Grass was one of the more interesting races this spring on paper, and it didn't disappoint. 14 horses in that setting, how could it? Bobby's Kitten has had a hard time settling his whole career and he seemed to pay for it yesterday. I remember Frankel acting like that early on too, and he turned out okay, didn't he? I hope this guy learns what he's out there for. He is one wickedly fast horse.

Churchill keeps getting hammered on social media. My pals at HANA re-did the 2014 track ratings and the takeout hiking track dropped stoutly in the rankings.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pocket Answers Some Churchill Downs Takeout Hike Questions

Boy, wasn't that a kick in the gut, huh? Churchill, in a very bad environment, raised the juice, in what seems like the highest juice game this side of the Turkish lottery. Your reaction has been acerbic, vitriolic, quite plentiful and frankly I can't argue with a lot of it. In fact, I bet there are hundreds of Churchill employees that can't argue with a lot of it.

Interestingly, or maybe not so, for some reason, I'm getting emails, like somehow my opinion means something. What's going on Pocket? Well, I will tackle some of these questions right here, to the best of my ability.

"Husker Fan" in Lincoln, Nebraska asks: Pocket, I am having trouble understanding this move. Why would they raise takeout when it hasn't worked so many times before? And in this market, when they are losing handle and customers are leaving in droves? It doesn't make sense.

I've been struggling with this as well, so you are not alone Husker Fan.

I got to analyzing all the innuendo and theories the past day that I've seen on social media and elsewhere. Did they do it because they don't like racing and want their dates to fail? Was it to make a statement that they need slots? Because they just switched from Lotus to Excel and the sheets are messed up? Because not having customers they can lay off cleaning staff and tellers?

Those may be all good theories, but I think they're all incorrect. I think the real reason  - and I admit this may sound a little out there.........  I think the Churchill Downs executive team are space aliens.

I don't make this hypothesis on a whim. My sources tell me that dogs bark at them constantly,they're rarely seen eating regular food, and of course, they raised the freaking takeout. I think - again, this is only a theory and I may be wrong - they are from outer space.

 Churchill CEO Bob Evans (left) & COO William Carstanjen
Josh from Edmonton Canada asks: Hold it. They paid $12 million for a big video screen and they say they want to raise the rake to make $8 million? Pocket, they want beaten up horseplayers to pay more in takeout, get terrible PR, and even if the volume stays the same (not happening!) the proceeds won't even pay for a television?

Rumor: This puppy ain't no more.
Josh, Pocket agrees. There is so much strange with this whole policy, but I think your point is important: They're still $4 million short to pay for the big screen, even if the laws of economics (and earth) are suspended and this makes them $8 million. You know what that means - more taxes and higher fees. A few I have heard bandied about: A new Bris program (pdf only) will cost $28.50, (or $57 for two). I heard down the grapevine that is changing their players reward structure. If you bet $200,000 in one month you don't get a clock radio anymore. This move alone could save the company $74.

As well, perhaps you'll see fifty cent betting fees on TVG might start a twitter account called the Half a Buck Hog.

Bill from Brooklyn asks: I saw Sid Fernando on twitter say that John Asher [Churchill PR] is a nice guy and Sid feels bad that his bosses put him in this position. Can't we yell at Asher on twitter even if he's a nice guy, Pocket?

Bill, Pocket does not like yelling, and I think you have to feel for John Asher. How would you like to show up for work each day and get bossed around by space creatures?

Angela from Davenport Iowa asks: Pocket, I am only 18 and just started to bet horse racing. Can the Kentucky Commission step in and protect me as a customer?

Protect customers? Oh Angela, so young.

Susan from Richmond Virginia asks: Pocket, should we boycott Yum brands?

No, because if Yum brands raised the price of chicken and people stopped buying it and they make less money, they would lower the price back down to the proper level. We need companies like Yum Brands to show racing that that Adam Smith was not a big weenie and the laws of economics aren't just for Big Crunch sandwiches.

Roger from Muncie Indiana asks: Pocket, CDI is a public company. Can we go to the shareholders meeting and vote by proxy to stop this madness?

Hi Roger. In theory, yes. But I was a corporate secretary for a few public companies when I was a young lad and saw how they worked. The little people pool their shares, there aren't enough of them, the board votes them all down, then the executives close the meeting and leave for cocktails. Chances are the same would happen at a CDI meeting. Well, other than the leaving for cocktails part. In the CDI executives case they will be beamed to the mother ship and tip back some sort of green space juice.

Dave from Decatuer Georgia asks: Out of all the tweets, which was your favorite?

I think this one. It's that classic, "What are they complaining about, it's not like 8 million is a lot of money" grin.
Julie from Venice, Italy says: "Hi Pocket. They raised takeout in Italy to over 40% and now we have no more racing left. You look like you're on your way to reaching us. Hahahahahahahahahaha.

Screw off Julie.

Davey from Green Mountain Vermont: Pocket, they did this exact same thing in California, and revenues last year were $639 million, and in 2010 they were $689 million. Why would they do what California did when they know it didn't work.

Hi Davey. See answer one.  Xfiles, Super 8, that crop circle movie from that M. Knight dude who made only one good movie with that kid and Bruce Willis. You know.

Greg from St. Louis asks: Pocket, what's become of horse racing?

Greg, I wish I knew. It will be studied in MBA textbooks (not in a good way) for hundreds of years. It's not too big to fail, it's built to fail.


That ends today's question and answer. I hope I answered some of your questions.

The bottom line for me, is that no, I will not bet Churchill anymore (I was a regular bettor there), and no, I will not use Brisnet products or, if I was a member, yes, I would close down my Twinspires account. That's just me. However, I know it would not do much. Even when we leave, like the last decade has blatantly and obviously shown the sport, tracks and horsemen keep doing the same anti-customer things.

This episode from Churchill is not revealing, or surprising, nor is it anything new. It's just a reminder to customers, or an education for newer ones that they are simply pawns in the game; a means to an end for a purse.

Customers don't mean much, and we have never meant much. If anyone tells you differently, they are probably from outer space.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dirt, Dirthers, Plastic Lovers & Comments

I read Beyer's column this evening on the Keeneland switch to dirt. I found the article a little disjointed, but, whatever, it's an opinion column.

One thing struck me, though. Five years ago, or even three years ago, the dirt guys would dominate the comments section in these columns. There'd be an Army of Asaros, yelling and screaming about "plastic" tracks or bringing out some obscure statistic or anecdote about how kickback makes the track infield geese wheeze, or how some dude in the race office works at a rubber factory that supplies some of the track surface so he can't be trusted.

Scanning the comments on Andy's column - and other columns like his the last few years - the vitriol is not there anymore. The easy answer is because some of their favorite tracks have switched back to dirt, yes, but I think it's more than that.

Dick Powell wrote a post somewhere years ago about polytrack. He shared stories about when the Meadowlands opened for harness racing in 1976, and how the mile track was received so poorly by players used to playing harness racing on bullrings. Horses would come from everywhere, there was little post bias; the game was completely different, and the old guard were Asaro'ed. "There's no way this racing could ever catch on," he said he heard from players, over and over again. That didn't happen, as we all know. 40 years later everyone wants mile tracks to compliment the half mile and five-eighth's ovals. They are a staple of the sport and by far the number one handle driver.

I wonder if this third surface was given a chance, something similar would've happened. Three surfaces, three styles of racing - something for everyone. Offering choice is not a bad thing. It's why there are 149 types of cheese.

Frankly, I think the comments section answered my own question. I think people were coming around to these surfaces and the neat handicapping puzzle they afforded the discerning horseplayer, just like the mile track did 40 years ago with the Meadowlands.

Keeneland handle up. Woodbine handle up for five straight years. Del Mar handle up. Santa Anita, when moved from poly to dirt, handle down. Nothing is that easy, and those stats might not be about surface, and probably aren't. But the mass exodus of handle you'd read about in the comments section of articles four years ago was a statistic racing uses often to make decisions: Statistics of the phantom variety. The supposed mass exodus of handle on poly is something that does not exist. While the dirt guys were on chat boards complaining, your average horseplayer was studying the third at Keeneland.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cub Reporter: The Big Churchill Video Board Insider

As you may or may not know, there is a big giant video board being installed at Churchill.

 Here's a huge picture from twitter.
Word is, the board will be paid for by advertising, and will also be used for internal Churchill promotions, notes, announcements etc especially during the Kentucky Derby.

Cub Reporter sat in on a special meeting this morning in the Churchill Mansion. A short breakfast was served (he loves free food) which was not unlike a continental breakfast at those mini-Marriot's, and then the Churchill braintrust got down to business to approve and disapprove the ads, announcements and big screen notes. Cub was forbidden to make them public, but he didn't overly like the breakfast sausage ("Bob Evans is no Bob Evans", he laments), so he sent them my way.

I publish the ones rejected for you here.

1. "Churchill Downs, Where Dirt Lives, Unlike at that Other Track" ad - REJECTED

2.  A live tweet stream of @insidethepylons - REJECTED
3.  "Churchill Downs Inc executive compensation update"  - REJECTED

4. A Magna spy picture of Twinspires VP Jeremy Clemons playing the races in his underwear on - REJECTED

5. A video mash up of Churchill Mansion patrons to John Mellancamp's "Small Town" - REJECTED

The "Mansion", Casual Friday

6. A giant Frank Stronach ad with him surrounded by a bunch of ladies selling Energy Drink to "keep you yodeling" - REJECTED

7. A New York Times half off subscription for horsemen ad - REJECTED

8."Eat Chicken, Handicap at Bris" cross-promo - REJECTED

File photo

9. "The Kentucky Derby, brought to you by NYRA rewards ad" - REJECTED

10. 'Straight Talk with Bob: I'm not that Bob Evans' - REJECTED

11. "All media to that tent a half a mile away from the finish line please" service announcement - REJECTED

12."Beer $12, or $24 for two, on special" ad - REJECTED

13. Kegasus - REJECTED

14. "Churchill Downs Takeout rates are 16% and 19% for exotics. The state makes us do it. At other CDI tracks where we can charge more, we do" promo - REJECTED

15.  'Welcome Hall of Fame Trainer Steve Asmussen' promo - REJECTED

16. A live shot of the Stews, where they may or may not be watching a football game - REJECTED

17. "I know we're a competitor to Brisnet, and we think it's pretty big of Churchill for letting us run this ad" TimeformUS promo - REJECTED

18. "If you see this man broadcasting, call the police immediately" - REJECTED (replace "police" with "security")


19. "Please, no drinking or rowdy behavior in the infield" announcement - REJECTED , because no one would ever follow it

Enjoy your Tuesday everyone.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What do the Yearly Numbers Tell Us?

You see lots of numbers from this industry pretty much each day. My meet went great. My meet went bad -  but we had 59 more people in the stands per day. My handle per race was up when we had seven or more starters on Sunday's when there was not an NFL game on. The Olympics killed us.

That's not even mentioning the numbers that come out of California, which to me, at times, look like Swahili.

What's that all mean?

TimeformUS completed a quiet look at the quarterly numbers for 2014 on their blog last week. It's probably the best look at the numbers I've seen in some time.

Handle is down.

Field size is down.

In March, where racedays were reported up, the number of races was actually down.

Q1 supplied higher class racing than seen in previous years.

So, maybe this is all just what's supposed to happen. We have smaller fields, fewer races run as negatives, and higher class racing as a positive. It should be near a wash right?

If only things were that easy.

Racing has told us that the economy was the issue for oh, about five years. This, curiously, after some in racing telling us that betting was "recession proof" when the economy was tanking. The economy is better the last year, so where are the punters?

It was reported yesterday that the Santa Anita Derby had a 7% bump in attendance, with a 0.4% increase in on-track handle. The divergence was even worse for Wood Memorial Day.  That's something to trumpet. Please let us know the next time Wal Mart writes in their annual report that they had a half a million people more through their stores, but 499,282 of them didn't buy anything. Millions have been spent on TV and attendance drivers the last two years. Maybe that worked but where are the people who pay the bills, the bettors?

We were told takeout hikes in California (four years ago now) would allow for huge purses and larger field size. No one will accuse them of being Nostradamus.

We were told "just wait for slots" at NYRA and watch the great racing we put on. They should throw the head office crystal ball in the trash and hire that Long Island Medium lady, apparently.

In 2014, thus far, we've seen a few things, in my opinion, and they are a systemic reason for the stagnation.

One, in NY and PA, the price of the bet went up due to the passing of what I feel was a foolish new ADW policy. Some of your most price sensitive, biggest every day players, are affected by this. When a policy like this is instituted, bankrolls shrink, and that (ask Issac Newton for confirmation, not a dumb horseplayer like me) results in fewer dollars bet.

Two, in NY and PA (remember these are both slots states, too), they made it more difficult for longer term customers to play racing, due to the same newly passed law.

Three, the industry is holding on with their outstretched fingers to the "we can't contract" trapeze bar. It simply will not adjust to things like numerators and denominators. This slaps a governor on betting choice. It's not much fun to study the cards for five hours and find five races you like out of hundreds.

Despite the noise; despite some attendance figures up, or the Olympics being over, or kids suddenly interested in horse racing because Beiber is less popular; despite the Dodgers and the Giants playing opening day; despite the economic numbers; despite the weather: The fact remains. The trend has been downward, and policies which make the price of a bet more expensive, the game harder to bet through the internet, field sizes to shrink, and bettable races to go lower in number, can not result in a growing bettor base.

Until racing embraces much needed systemic change, don't expect the handle numbers to change much. It's something, in my opinion, to remember when reading the industry numbers released each month.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Notes & Chatter

Good day everyone.

Yesterday was a pretty interesting day in racing. So, we'll quickly share some thoughts.

The Wood, on paper probably the best betting and most interesting race of the day, delivered. Social Inclusion got the trip I thought he would, and to be honest with you, if the race was available in-running at Betfair, when he let it out a notch 7 furlongs in, I thought there was no catching him. I think the Aqueduct track yesterday was very fair (kudos to the track crew), and that fairness probably certainly did not help him. He got leg weary the last 150 yards after a pretty tough trip and fought gamely, coming a game third.

The winner, a logical horse, got a dream trip and returned to his good form, paying a really nice price.

How did that race clear up the Derby picture? In one way. A horse who many thought was a solid under 10-1 shot come Derby Day - Social Inclusion - will not be in the Derby. He's ranked 21st, and unless he comes back in the Lexington Stakes (not happening) it's off to the Preakness, where if sound, he has to be considered a strong contender.

The other betting race of the day was on that dreaded polytrack some seem to want to see go, the Ashland. Boy, did that race deliver. In a world where airstrips rule the day, like we saw at the last two Breeders' Cups, in the Ashland something eminently handicappable came into play - if your field is led by longshots through fast fractions, the front end should crumble. Two extremely logical off the pace horses dead heated in a thrilling and completely logical finish, given the fractions. Sharp players, as we often see on polytrack, were rewarded with a nice payout. Next year if this race draws six and finishes like a similarly classed dirt race at Aqueduct yesterday did, remember the 2014 Ashland.

Across the pond, California Chrome won the Santa Anita Derby in a flashy performance. I don't know what to make of that horse. Maybe twitter is right and he's the next Secretariat. I don't know. All I do know is I will let him beat me in any super high five slot come Derby Day.

This next weekend, all that's left to sort out the Derby picture is the Arkansas Derby and to a lesser extent, the Blue Grass. The Arkansas Derby has the Mark Casse steam horse racing -  Conquest Titan - which is tops on a lot of people's Derby lists, should he make it in. All eyes will likely be on him.

Speaking of carding better betting races, no one really seems to care when they are assembling stakes races. It seems more important to Keeneland that their three year old stakes race is a Derby prep, and not a good race to bet. In harness racing, short field stakes race snorefests with lots of "tweets" occur from time to time, and the Levy Series is the poster boy for that. Bill Finley looked at that today in Harness Racing Update. "A Bettors Nightmare". He's right, it is.

There's some excellent chatter on twitter about who racing should market to. Of course, the ABR live initiative is talked about in this vein. The plan, based on the recommendations of the McKinsey report (which is the exact same recommendation around horse racing watercoolers), is that racing needs to get "younger" so they have taken that goal, and created marketing around that. As I have said here, their normative marketing is very good. They do exactly what they are supposed to be doing, with the goal in mind. However, what about the people with money to spend and time to share for horse racing? They are underrepresented.
Yes, truly gold is where you find it. If racing, with finite marketing dollars wants to earn more money from betting dollars they should probably not be ripping up Poly at Keeneland, care about stakes grading, or worry if we're marketing right to 19 years olds. They should be carding good betting races, and marketing to the over 50 crowd. If racing wants to appease the masses with bumper sticker "we need to get younger" chatter, or "I can't handicap polycrap" talk, where attendance that fit a demographic, bettor choice stifling and parties at the track mean something as a metric, then they probably are doing the right thing.

What's right? I land on the side of the bettor (shocking I know), because I think bettors, not food trucks pay the bills and act as an "annuity" for racing for a generation. However, the point remains. The Jockey Club and other marketers in racing are doing a good job, in my opinion, in trying to attract a crowd they were told they needed to attract. If you disagree, don't throw the fine work they are doing under the bus. It is good work. Probably the best we've seen in a collective measure for a long time.

Have a great day everyone!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Saturday Horse, And Ontario Racing

Penelope Miller of ABR published her travel web blog (I believe the kids call a web log a "blog") for the Santa Anita Derby today.

"Hoppertunity is a totally sweet horse, and I think I’m a little bit in love with him."

Getting to know a horse is one of the neatest things ever.

 I remember when I was a lad I found myself backstretch at old Greenwood Raceway in downtown Toronto. The family and friends stable (I say that and cringe, because it sounds bigger than it was; at that time I think it was a stable of one) had a homebred in to go, and I wanted to go meet him.

I walked and walked, looking for him, and finally someone said "a couple of shipins are over there", pointing to a barn. I turned a corner and there were two horses. Our little guy and this pretty filly with a big head. I said hi to both.

Our guy, the little homebred, versus that gal was striking. She was majestic. She was friendly too. She'd nuzzle up and was like a big brown dog, with a long, long face. I, like Penny, fell in love with her.

I found out that horse was Sara Loren Rd. She went on to make $1M, when $1M was big (no slots) money. I watched most of her races and wanted her to do well; I followed her career, for no other reason that I met her.

Horses are hard to get to know, for the general public. There are liability issues, and they can't speak English. But for people who like animals, it can create a bond. The industry has to do a better job of sharing that, in my opinion.

The, Bob Evans Sausage, Yum Brand, NYRA Rewards Wood Memorial brought to you by goes today ( is sponsoring it, but I like to share the love)  and it is absolutely, flat out the most interesting Derby prep of the season.

A horse who reminds one of Big Brown, Social Inclusion, has an outside post, but he, on paper, is so fast. The field includes undefeated Samraat, and capable Uncle Sigh. Everything about the race is intriguing, from the pace scenario to horses like Schivarelli, Kristo and Harpoon.

I think Social Inclusion is the most likely winner, and by reading twitter, he might even have some board value (everyone has him getting in trouble from out there). I could see Schivarelli, Kristo or Harpoon being bets for me, if the odds board cooperates.

Ontario Harness Racing was looked at in Harness racing update today. pdf

Derek Brown has one of the funniest fashion articles, ever, on today. Have a look, and a laugh.

Enjoy your Saturday everyone, and good luck at the windows.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Notes

It's Keeneland opening day. And it's supposedly raining cats and dogs, or for my amateur French hobbyist Frances, chats and chiens. Sometimes I have to remember what the track is made of with all the chatter, but since it is poly, the field size should hold up some. So, I am handicapping to play the card.

Rich Nilsen has a "7 Reasons to Play Keeneland" piece up, that I found pretty good. Keeeneland's website usually has some great handicapping stuff up too, and is always worth checking for gems, that may help wade through the big pools.

 Fred Pope is back on Paulick, looking for revenue. This time he doesn't want to tax players through higher signal fees, where magically handle stays the same (I call it "California Dreaming"). He's really on his horse though, and it appears he is not a huge fan of some power brokers in this sport.

At Keeneland, rumor (none of it makes a ton of sense, this is racing, so we'll use rumor) has it Keeneland wants the Breeders Cup, and that has a better chance of getting approved racing on dirt. That in itself, from a business perspective, is slightly annoying. What's wrong with once every five years or so having it on Synth? Europe might bring a few more horses, especially with weather they're used to, and it makes it a slightly different event. Really, was the 2009 Breeders Cup at Santa Anita bad? No, nothing of the sort. A few dirt horses didn't show up, but the races were awesome to bet, handle was good. The last two years all we saw was that ridiculous speedway.  Racing should be more open minded, it's not like this sport is growing.

The Church of Joe Drape wrote an article last night on Keeneland's surface switch. I must say, as much as people in this industry love to dump on the dude for his articles, this one Keeneland could've foreseen from a hundred miles away.  Racing brings most of its problems on itself.

Most people I've spoken with about the Keeneland switch are bummed from a forward looking perspective. With last week's news, a new focus on breakdowns, and racing getting hit from just about everywhere in this new urbanized, connected world, they were expecting more. Instead they feel like Mark Casse does in today's TDN (page 8 PDF):
  • With the Asmussen deal a few weeks ago and with this, I feel beat up. I do. And if anyone shouldn't feel beat up, it's me. I am very fortunate and train for some wonderful people that stand behind me. But I don't really worry for me; I worry for my son Norman, who
    has devoted his life to this. And I just don't know where this industry is going.
People pine for a commissioner in racing, but sometimes I think racing already has one. His name is Rod Serling.

Aside, I find the difference in reaction from east coast trainer to west coast when Santa Anita switched pretty telling. Some east coast reaction is "I thought we were building something here" versus the west coast "weee, yippee racing is saved". There apparently is an east coast, west coast bias. 

Long time trainer Jerry Silverman calls it quits. I liked Jerry's training and horses. Good egg.

Enjoy opening day at Keeneland everyone.

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