Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Headlines

Hello racefans!

Churchill Downs wants dates that Kentucky Downs wants. I know, I know, this is like the Death Star against Alderaan (with the princess with that goofy hairdo), so when Paulick calls it a "battle", one must wonder. However, giving Kentucky Downs those dates makes sense. They are slowly but surely creating a brand in September. Where else has instant racing machine money worked better - big fields, horsemen love it, lower takeout (lowest in North America, according to HANA) for customers. Handle has increased by about 300%. What's not to like? Expand it and keep working hard.

Handle at Churchill Downs was down again, also noted on the Paulick Report.  In the spring, where handle was down quite a bit, Churchill talked about declining foal crops as a reason, and this fall they did too. A few years ago when tracks raised takeout, or did something anti-customer and lost business, they would talk about the bad economy. I think "foal crop size" is this year's bad economy. From the media you'd think foal crop size only affects a square mile in Louisville, and is likely responsible for unrest in the Ukraine, ISIS, and pop group One Direction.

Two year olds in training sales in harness racing were not very well received. It seemed some colts and fillies were rushed, hurting them, and it was more about fast times than anything else (it's different than throughbred racing with times). In HRU, Tony Alagna says he is starting a pinhooking business, where they are buying several yearlings for sale, and selling them all, no matter if they're the best or worst in the barn. That's the way to do this right.

The sale in Lexington is well under way and it should be up once again; there are certainly some excellent colts and fillies selling. Despite partnerships, high costs and other barriers to entry, yearling numbers have been fairly good in harness racing. It's still a tough business for those who breed horses, however.

The disconnect between the hype and substance with the Captain's send-off is noticed. Not in a particular case like this, but overall in the big picture, I think it's good for harness racing to hash this out. Horses will race at four, they will have to prove themselves at four. The big yearling purchasers and syndicators must change the way they look at breeding stock at a younger age because of that. Quite simply: the modus operandi must change.

Enjoy your day peeps!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lasix, Handle, Fast Horses and Politics

Good day everyone.

Dr. Larry Bramlage's comments caused a bit of a stir on social media last evening.

He said:

“Let there be no doubt about what I am saying,” Bramlage said. “I believe furosemide is valuable to the horse when racing. But there are too many reasons we can’t keep it. The general public can’t understand it and the continual drumbeat of journalists, most of whom truly have no idea what they are talking about, will become a death knell if we don’t stop it. The connotation that has been created is unsavory to the general public because they can’t discriminate between furosemide and cocaine, they just read the headline ‘race-day medication’ and feel racing is proving itself ‘unsavory,’ if not ‘dishonest’ again."

There's a lot right and a lot wrong with that quote, in my opinion. The lasix narrative that it's a performing enhancing drug, allowing racehorses to compete which should not compete in the first place, is probably true. The incendiary prose that it's "like cocaine" is probably over the top, but I get his point, as well.

The problem pro-lasix folks have with their arguments is that other places do not use it, and things are just fine. It's like many of our problems in horse racing. A bogeyman is painted, sometimes made of straw, but in this interconnected, increasingly aware world, it's a bogeyman that's easily torn down. "Well, horses are not dying in the streets in Europe", is a stab in the heart.

I believe both (the fervent, and dogmatic) pro-lasix and anti-lasix foes are using bumper sticker arguments, when the policy that's needed is much more nuanced. If lasix is banned, other means will be used to achieve the same medicinal effects, but they will be done in the background, with everyone unaware. If lasix is not banned, purse strings - increasingly held by politicians - will be held back in subsequent rounds of slot subsidies and other help from statehouses. "We're not supporting this "drug culture" any longer, while our kids need better schools," says the bumper sticker politician.

As much as people want to seem to make it, it's not a my way or the highway argument. There are no off-ramps to some sort of lasix or no lasix promised land. 

Maybe horse racing is becoming more nuanced as time goes on. Maybe the trainers signed up to the no lasix use on two year olds, or the drum beat of graded stakes one day being lasix free is evidence of that.  Maybe we are moving at a slow but steady pace to some sort of resolution.  But in a world of dogma and demagoguery, politics, one side against the other, and wanting things done not over time, but yesterday, maybe that's simply not enough.


Speaking of nuanced, Dan Needham looks at the breakdown statistics and writes a heady piece about them. Dan usually looks at things dispassionately and we need more people like that in horse racing.

Greg got his hands on the Churchill Downs handle numbers and they aren't good, down 16%. Churchill raised the juice this spring and has had a tough time gaining handle in the wake of it. The Churchill Downs press release did not mention the numbers, but because it read like an excuse book from a member of congress, we could probably figure out on our own they got walloped.

In HRU today, a look at some fast horses and other items at the Red Mile (pdf page 4)

The Espinoza suspension.  Politics? Backbiting? Fair or unfair? I don't know, but I suspect it was not done to "protect bettors". Bettor protection is about priority 1,100 on a list of 1,104 things in this sport.

Yesterday the US lost the Ryder Cup by five points, which is tantamount to getting slaughtered. Phil Mickelson, in a cringe-worthy moment (especially for a gentleman's game like golf) threw team Captain Tom Watson under the bus. I was stuck with a horse racing reference at that point. Just like drivers get too much credit when a horse wins, and take too much blame when a horse loses, it's usually about the horse, and when your team gets beaten that badly, it usually about the players. Daniel Dube might be captaining your horse and you didn't like the way he did it, but since you backed up by 12 off a pocket trip, it doesn't matter if another captain loses by only 9 3/4; your horse still needs to go to the scope barn.  The Euro's out-birdied the Americans 117-72.

There's a brouhaha about the new whipping rules in Pennsylvania, with some thinking this policy is new. It's not. Arguments made before were made in Ontario and Indiana. Consultation and public and participant discourse has occurred. It's old news, and I suspect every major harness racing jurisdiction will have the same policy within two years.

Have a great day everyone.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday Notes

Good morning everyone.

A few thoughts:
  • Shared Belief did well enough yesterday to become a solid chalk for the Classic, winning the Awesome Again. For bettors (that's what we kinda do here), this was welcome news. The hype he will receive from his record and his connections should make him solidly overbet. The win pool at least, should lean towards us.
  • The JCGC was marred by an incident to what seems to be a nice guy and a really nice horse - Rajiv Maragh and Wicked Strong. Word is they are both fine, thankfully. Those who liked Tonalist were worried we'd see an over the top reaction on being too close last time, by him being too far back, and early on that looked correct. He was, pinned and surrounded by bombs. We see that so often in horse racing. He won like a good horse should though.
  • At the Red Mile, Artspeak won easily again, only under modest tip taps. He looks like he is still learning and is a very nice horse. He has not raced anyone; which is rare for this time of the year. And the two year olds will start to get faster (as witnessed in the last race at the Red Mile last evening, with a solid 49 and change winner). So, the hype is probably unwarranted at this point. Until he gets some adversity in a race with big speed, he's a question mark for me.
  • Speaking of hype, the press and insiders who don't handicap every day like we do, tend to look at who wins races, rather than how they are winning horse races. He's Watching and others have had the press, but we know after the Meadowlands Pace, there is one three year old pacer who stands out talent-wise. Last night Always B Miki opened some eyes with a performance that we rarely see in the sport. He's had some greenness issues, steering problems, and maybe a soundness issue or two, but he is truly the most talented three year old we've seen in quite some time - probably since Somebeachsomwhere. He's not owned by harness racing royalty and is not bred like a champion, but if he puts it all together and keeps progressing, we as harness fans are surely in for something special. He's a complete freak who looks like he could time trial in 146.
  • Late in the year horses start to make moves who had huge speed, but had physical issues. Odds on Amethyst is one. He always had a giant motor but last evening he looked as sound as a horse could look (for new handicappers, watch the replay - that is exactly how you want your horse to look on the racetrack). Father Patrick has another foe, in a crop that is really sneaky good. By the way, Father Patrick races today.
  • At Scioto, Sweet Lou looked poor for the second (some might say third with the drift) race in a row. He has been a horse throughout his career that does have lulls and he looks to be in one. Last year this crop was stupid-good, but this year (despite what you read in some press releases) it's much softer. Who is the best older horse right now? Will anyone run the table late in the year? 
  • Another horse who was capable of making some noise in the older division didn't have it last evening at Mohawk. State Treasurer, of a couple week break for last week, had little zip in the lane. 
  • What's with these 29.4 first quarters at the Red Mile? It seems there are a lot of horses prepping this meet so far. In one race yesterday they came their back three quarters in 121.1 of a 30 second first quarter in a pretty nondescript race.
Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Harness Tries to Creep Out of the Dark Ages & World Class 4 Year Olds

There's quite a bit going on in harness racing this week. And a few of them are things that should've been done long ago.

It looks like there is more discussion on a marketing fund for harness racing in Ontario, from purses. Over the next few years the decision the sport in Ontario makes (outside Woodbine Thoroughbreds, which will last no matter what), will likely make or break harness racing in the province. Lotteries, better bets, more customer friendly wagers, and marketing and scheduling are vital to any long-term harness success.

In HRU today, Alan Leavitt, a Kentucky based long time breeder and owner, proposed a new set of kicking rules for the sport. The fines proposed are on a graded scale, where after a certain amount of repeat violations, up to a six month suspension can be handed out. Now if the USTA could penalize judges who look the other way when it happens (and it happens a lot), the sport would be getting somewhere.

Stories like Hollywood Bob's today in HRU about four year old's - in this case Captaintreacherous - don't sit well with a lot of historians, or those of us who love great horses who've proved it on the racetrack at 4.

I loved Real Desire. He had to play second fiddle for most of his 3YO season against Bettors Delight (for thoroughbred readers, this was Sunday Silence-Easy Goer), but was a top pacer with electrifying talent. It's not that he did not do well at three, he did, winning $1.6 million. But when there is another colt so good, it's tough to run the table. The connections were forced to race at four to try and get a better stud deal and the horse was magical, winning 10 of 13 with three close seconds. He pretty much ran the table, winning every free for all event that season.  No hype, no bull, 100% racehorse.

Art Major had to race Mach Three, McArdle, Red River Hanover and others at three. He was more than fine - he was excellent - winning 20 of 31 against that group, along with $1.8 million. Choosing to race at four, he proved his place in history, going 11-8-3-0, winning almost all major stakes and over $1 million. His fights with Four Starzz Shark Mini Me, Gallo Blue Chip and others, including the always underrated McArdle, were amazing races.

The list this century is not short, but long. Rainbow Blue before being injured was dominant, winning all her starts. Art Official and Shadow Play, both well less than 100% off injuries, won Open stakes and money against top multi-millionaires like Mister Big. Last year's four year old crop - probably the best we've seen in many years - were flat-out awesome. The only problem with Pet Rock or A Rocknroll Dance and Warrawee Needy and others, were that they were born in the wrong year. Market Share beat salty Euros in the Breeders Crown, and ironically, Bee a Magician has not come back well, but horses like Classic Martine have, and have pretty much dominated (in the Miss Versatility last week, 4YO's went 1,2,3).

Four year olds in history, both recent and modern can do just fine at 4, providing they're good enough. Those who are - like those listed above - should be held in high regard, and forever be remembered for what they were - solid, hard knocking, tremendously fast racehorses.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sebastian, Polls, & Wagering

Good Thursday everyone.

Sebastian K's off-track loss last weekend didn't budge him from atop the Hambletonian Poll this week. He still leads the venerable Sweet Lou and Father Patrick - two very good horses. I was happy to see that result, because Sebastian has been the story this season. He's probably the best older trotter to set foot on North American soil since Varenne, and could likely beat 99.8 out of 100 pacers week in and week out. He seems to get beaten by only himself, or his shoes, when the track gets soupy.

The Hambo Poll has been skewed to only wins and losses - a horse could get hit by a flying beer can, go offstride and lose, and lose votes - and I guess that makes some sense. However, when all the top horses have losses, it's pretty easy to ensure we have the best horse on top.

Similarly, yesterday was an odd day that started with a twitter conversation if Captaintreacherous was near as good as his sire, Somebeachsomewhere. Yes, you read that right. The Beach is an odd duck with some. He, still to this day inexplicably to me, never sat atop the Hambo Poll until October of his three year old year; comfortably in an average second place to Deweycheatumnhowe. Only after Dewey began losing, did he budge. I would like to think the night he beat Shadow Play off bell boots flying and a park job in 52 in change in the Messenger in that storm (a night where Foiled Again went two seconds slower and the fillies in the comparable 3YO stake went 4 seconds slower) might've made some take notice, but I really don't know.  People had, and continue to have, a tough time judging horseflesh - not so much pure handicappers, but certainly the press.

Regardless, there are similarities between the Beach and Sebastian K. Despite having to race some excellent horses, like world champions Shadow Play, Art Official, or multiple millionaires Market Share, each of their races are not races, but exhibitions. When they are in the box we're not handicapping, we're wondering how much they will win by, will they shatter a world record, or how much the track record will drop. There are very few of those horses in this sport's history. They are the ones that are not compared to others, but others are compared to them.

The only way we'll see Sebastian lose the number one spot - and rightfully so, in my opinion - is if him beating himself is a trend, not something that sparks $50 show prices.


A hearty congratulations to Kentucky Downs. The track that bucked convention and offered the lowest takeout in racing, rather than the government allowed top level (what Churchill is charging),  had a stellar, record meet. Although they've had tremendous growth - well over 300% in only a few years - it will be interesting to see if they can take it to the next level next year. With some improvements, I would not count them out. It's a place where an exacta with a chalk onto third choice can easily pay $50 - and with a lower two horse exotic rake, that's very attractive.

The Ron Rippey handicapping article award has been sponsored by Brisnet. Do you know of a good article that should be nominated?

Have a super day everyone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Last Kentucky Downs Card Today, and Santa Anita Raises Takeout

Good day horse racing peeps!

Kentucky Downs puts on their last card today. As usual, there are some good betting races, and 113 drew in before scratches. It looks like the meet will be up for the third year in a row - and not by a tiny amount. Doug has a synopsis on their handle this meet here.

On the flipside, Santa Anita announced their betting menu for the upcoming meet and it includes a 2% takeout hike for their daily double pools from 18% to 20%.

One track is going the right way; the other hopes you don't notice.

The two largest entities in racing which own the most tracks are Magna and CDI. Both have shown a willingness to increase takeout, or offer pools that are egregious to betting bankrolls, like the Rainbow Six. Although my Frank-love for some of his proactive measures on horse welfare and medication is documented (I might even change my twitter avatar to my favorite Austrian-Canadian auto magnate again), we sure see some short-sightedness on all-important pricing.

Being a customer is hard. And any companies, or tracks that make it even harder, are doing a disservice to the game. Racing must make it easier to be a customer, and until that happens the obvious will occur: Racing will continue to lose them.

Have a great day folks!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Improving Handle is Not as Difficult as it Seems

In this falling demand environment, handle increases are looked at like some sort of unattainable goal. In reality, a good old fashioned asset allocation model, from your average every day financial planner, can help quite a bit.

I was not surprised this week when I saw the Los Al handle numbers. About $400,000 per race was bet on this new meet, while last season - at the Fairs - only $265,000 was bet per race. The Cal Racing Fairs are a meet that simply - no matter what they do, really - could never drive serious handle. By allocating dates to a place people (somewhat) like, more handle was driven.

In Ontario over the last 15 years, slots changed the landscape appreciably. With 17 harness tracks - all with slot machines - the short-sighted legislation (and even shorter-sighted alphabets) demanded that the money from slots was doled out at said track, with no real organization. A lot of the tracks did not simulcast, didn't spend a lot of money on live cards, and were nothing more than a vehicle to redistribute gaming money.

These handles are well-known. $110,000 in purses at Woodstock Raceway for $8,600 in handle, and on and on.

At that time, a lot of us were begging the industry to allocate their financial resources where the most revenue could be gleaned from each dollar of a purse. For example, if London was generating $3 for every dollar of purses, where 50 miles down the road Woodstock was generating 8 cents for every dollar spent on purses, more dates, money or infrastructure would go to London.

If that did happen, handle goes up overnight. With 20 Woodstock dates generating $200,000 in total handle. those 20 dates go to London, and boom, like a magician with a wand, handle generated is $6 million. A 3000% increase.

The above sounds simple, but it isn't. The business is not structured to do that, because there is little central authority.

When, in Ontario, that central authority was created (ironically, after slots money was taken away), we see much more of this, by giving the dates to tracks that generate betting dollars, and culling those who did not. It's one of the reasons that for the third year in a row, per race handle is up 13.91%, and total handle is up 1.6% (despite a large drop in overall dates).

This being suggested now for states like Pennsylvania and New York is still considered blasphemy. But it's how any business tends to work - invest in areas that bring you the most ROI, and divest in areas that bring you the worst. Horse racing should be no different.

Monday, September 22, 2014

An Attitudinal Sea-Change on Marketing & Racing Under Saddle

I watched an SC clip with interest this week. The questioner asked dozens of trainers and participants "What Percentage of the Purse Pool Should Be Taken Out For Marketing"

This question was asked 5 years ago - before slots were taken away - through the development of the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan. At that time, I did feel there was grassroots support, but this was none echoed by the alphabets that represented them. The plan was never passed, and was placed in the dustbin; where plans tend to go in horse racing.

This last week, I was a little surprised at some of the numbers thrown around. From the 1% or 2%, to the "25%" or "as much as we need to give."

This is a sea-change, quite frankly (the original RDSP called for 5%, most of it out of slot dollars).

Here's the clip

We're probably seeing similar with Racing Under Saddle. The old guard is wary of using purse money for this type of racing (despite it being the same horse population, and trainers supplying the racing stock). It's new. To some, it's not an enhancement to offering a new live product to patrons, but a type of competitor.

Racing under saddle has driven handle when it's offered. At Flammy last week, $13,000 was bet on the under saddle race, which is a big amount, especially for something brand new to the wagering public.

We're seeing a change in the way harness racing - and throughbred racing too - operates of late. The protectionist and confrontational older guard - those who fight for higher takeout, lack of change, lack of experimentation, all to protect the purse money the sport has at this very minute - are losing their grip a little bit.

It's a realization that if harness racing was doing things right, it would be popular. Since it's not, maybe some new things, and a new direction, is in order.

Enjoy your day everyone.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Jug Day in the Books, Captain T Looks Done for a Career, & Yodeling

Yesterday's Jug is complete. It was another Jug day, that is just like other Jug days. Tons of people,  too much food, too much libation, a gazillion races, and what it means to enjoy the sport of harness racing. For a full recap, bullet by bullet, head to Harnessracingupdate.com for a column by a bettor, and a picture of beagles.

Also in Harness Racing Update, Captain T head Myron Bell says his career might be done. He's been sick since his Preferred race at Mohawk, and, according to Bell, there looks to be no use bringing him back. As most know, the Captain was syndicated for $12M, and they have to 'protect that investment'.  American Ideal, owned by the same crew, had a bone bruise early as a four year old and was also shut down in similar fashion. This is nothing new with four year olds, or even three year olds who get bought early for stud.

Buying live racehorses before their careers are done is a relatively new phenomenon. Before, they were purchased after, or near the end of a career. With the "Gural Rule" where a horse must race past his three year old year, breeders have not changed tactics - they're still buying horses early. This, in no small part, probably makes racing careers more managed now, where losses are exacerbated, and its most important to avoid them. Even ten years ago a three year old would not race only 14 times a year. As well, even if there's a hint of a bad four year old year coming, it's easier to shut them down.

In any other business a change in tactics would likely occur - i.e. instead of stud farms buying a horse at two, where they don't know what they'll be at four, buying the horse later, when you know if he's a true, not paper champ would occur. But in harness it's easier to lobby to have the rule changed. Or get mad at the guy who suggested it.

I am of the belief that racehorses sent to stud for big money should be the pinnacle of the sport, and should be able to race and win at four.  If your horse can't do past three, that's not Jeff Gural's fault.

Having said that, I completely agree with Myron Bell's selling of the horse. He will get great mares, and he is probably one of the most can't miss prospects we've seen in awhile. He's a good grinder, and those make excellent sires, his bloodlines are flawless, and he's the best son of the beach to set foot into the shed. The fact that handicappers like me were flamed at times for pointing out last season that he was beating up on a poor crop was nothing more than that - handicapping - and had absolutely nothing to do with his success in the shed.  He'll get to prove his mettle, deserves the chance, and has a high probability to sire many $200,000+ yearlings.

I noticed a funny last night. Churchill Downs for Downs after Dark is having a yodeling contest, and some sort of chicken dance (for en francais readers, that's 'dance poulet'). Considering that Kentucky Downs touts big fields, low rake, and good racing to get people out to their product, the northern neighbor has some work to do.  If they're trying to get people to bet, not dance, they should not have raised the takeout in April.

Have a nice Friday everyone. Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Trixton & Great Horses

Hambo Champ Trixton broke Saturday evening at the Canadian Trotting Classic, and his future is in doubt. He might have re-injured the ankle he had surgery on last year. In HRU, Takter noted that this horse, off that surgery, has had to be babied a little bit. It's "one of the reasons I drive him", he said. Catch drivers can be incredibly hard on horses - the aggressive drivers win more races - and with a horse like that, Takter (wisely, imo) took matters into his own hands.

I was reading a book recently (A Few Seconds of Panic) about being inside the NFL.  It was a good tome that touched on the fans and media, and their proclivity to bumper sticker the intricacies of the game. Often in the stands or in the media, a guy is a dummy for throwing a pass or missing a block, but we have no idea what happened behind the scenes. With zone blocking, 150 plays a game, dozens of schemes and reads each play, players in the book said the breakdown often occurs with a player or mistake that the media does not see. Funnily enough, some of the players said in the book that 'former players are as bad as anyone' because they have to pile on to get noticed.

We see it with talk radio guys, and others all the time. There are some people out there who believe Eli Manning is better than his brother because "he has two ringzzzz". Football, a team game with 60 players, is never about one guy. Bounces, defensive plays, thousands of other factors result in wins and losses. There is no universe, here or in fairyland where Eli is "better" than his brother - a brother who fought through an injury that should have him at a stud farm somewhere, too - but it's a narrative. 

Racehorses go through the exact same thing.

Trixton is judged with wins and losses. In the stands people scream "put a driver on him Jim". In real life this is a horse with issues that has fought through them to become an 8 for 11 winner this season, who captured the World's biggest trotting race for three year olds in 150.3. He did it on talent, guts and mettle. He did it on the toughness that standardbreds are known for. The story with this horse is not Jim Takter's driving, if Father Patrick is better, or how he did last night. Trixton's story is Trixton.

We see this with plenty of horses with or without issues. The bar is set by a "he's got ringzzzz"public, and it's completely unreasonable.

Zenyatta was looked at by "speed figures" and people were talking about her "racing on plastic". This mare, growthy, not manageable early, who really should not have amounted to much, raced twenty times, won 19, came second once (where the winner got a beyond perfect trip) and raced for close to four seasons. She won 13 Grade I races over that period, on two surfaces (she probably could've won on three if they tried). She did it by being a closer in a speed game. She did it by being babied (does anyone out there really think she wins more than one grade I race in a factory stable rushing her, or trying to race her 12 times a year?). She didn't have a down year like so many. The "transition" from year to year was similar, not an anomaly. She never threw in a bad one like happens almost all the time, and an excuse is not needed when horse's show up every race, at any racetrack, on any surface.  That's a remarkable career.

Suntracer won the Kentucky Turf Cup last weekend. Byron King noted on twitter the colt lost an eye and wears googles. He fought through it.

There have been good horses who raced with bowed tendons, off knee surgeries to take out chips, off sickness, or allergies or 100 other maladies. Some of them became very good or great horses, and we have never even known about their issues. When a colt throws in a clunker, some fan with a sports radio sensibility might call him a "rat", when in fact the knee he has fought through his whole life to run those big speed figs was a little sore. He's the exact opposite of a "rat".

Father Patrick might be a better horse than Trixton. Maybe if Trixton had a top driver he would've won in 1:49. It all doesn't matter, because what horses like Trixton do and what they've gone through to succeed is often remarkable in its own right. A lot of time we just don't know about it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Don't Jurisdictions Ever Talk?

A whack of years ago the continent was surely not as connected. If a business in New York tried something new, and it worked, California businesses might learn about it in a magazine article or through some sort of word of mouth at a meeting (a meeting you drive to, at a physical location, with muffins). If an innovation is worthwhile, its diffusion happens, but it takes awhile.

Today things are much different. The World is connected, and innovations and improvements - or any experiment really - moves through a business or community like wildfire.

A business that isn't horse racing, I guess.

I am perplexed watching the California debate about their whip changes. The criticisms and arguments against are the exact same arguments Ontario went through in 2008, the UK went through, Hong Kong went through, and probably a few more jurisdictions I am forgetting. It's like this debate is brand new, and California is doing something ground breaking. I've got an idea: Call Ontario and ask how it went, get the FAQ beforehand, and stop asking the same questions. The questions have been answered a thousand times.

For the record, the whip rules in Ontario work just fine and have for years. Handle is even up over 25% since they've been put in, so you can put a sock in the handle debate questions at least.

Similar happened with exchange wagering discussions in the Golden State a couple of years ago. The same questions, already answered.

In New York, when slots came in, even on this silly blog we spoke about what happens when 10 claimers start going for $30,000 purses - hundreds of claims, horses jamming, bad racing, unsound horses thrown in for the big money, and on and on. It happened in Ontario when slots were brought in and the commission had to address it. Did New York racing not get the memo? It shares a border with Ontario for crying out loud.

Racing reminds me of a Bill Murray movie. We wake up and the same debates happen, like no one speaks to each other.

It's 2014. It's completely unacceptable.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saturday Round Up - Trixton, Kentucky Downs and a Little More

Good morning racing friends.

A lot happened yesterday.

In harness, Father Patrick won the Canadian Trotting Classic, with Trixton appearing to be injured, or at least sore.( Harnessracingupdate.com has a really good synopsis of all the festivities. ) That made the CTC one of the more anticipated races of the year, to just another race. The trotting field, outside Takter's big three, is not very deep. They just can't go with them.

Trixton is a wonderful horse, and we can only hope he's fine. Whatever may happen, he sure does have a stud career ahead of him. The owners, and him, will be clearly okay.

The sad part about matchups in horse racing is that we rarely get to see them. I am not convinced that Father Patrick is the better horse, and I know some of you aren't either. He's handier, flashier, and he makes his own race - if you bet Trixton against him on a half mile track demand odds - but I really don't know. Trixton has never had a two hole trip against him so we could see who fires home quickest.

Handle last evening at Mohawk was over $2.3 million, which rarely happened four years ago. Woodbine Entertainment Group is a long way from being bettor friendly (those rakes, and taking more takeout out of simulcast like they do is anything but), however they have come a long, long way. They've turned into a betting company by offering signals, asking for handle, and putting some thought into what they're doing. For years I documented what I thought they were doing wrong on this blog, and right now that list has grown shorter and shorter. The days of $800,000 of harness handle on a Thursday and a $1.3 million Saturday being considered "good" are long gone.

For a track that executives might want to look at as bettor friendly, take a look at Kentucky Downs. They had a record handle of over $4.2 million yesterday, and as noted on the HANA blog,  not long ago they did only $4 million for their entire five day meet.

Churchill Downs yesterday did $3.1 million. Los Al Thoroughbreds $3.9 million. Both those tracks raised rakes and made bettors feel like a necessary evil the past couple of years. Kentucky Downs, who could have as high a rake as Churchill (by Kentucky law), chose not to. They offer the lowest blended takeout nationwide, and had the largest takeout decrease this sport has ever seen in 2012.

They also used their instant racing money smartly, again with the bettor in mind. Creating races with full fields is most important. Four horse stakes races are not allowed.

Rome was not built in a day and neither is a racetrack. But those who actually do their best to cater to customers, end up getting them. Those who shoo them away end up doing exactly that. Sam Walton would say that being customer friendly is not rocket science, and it isn't.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Churchill Downs Withholds Signal & The Meadowlands Super High Five

Good morning everyone!

I am getting emails from players informing me that Churchill Downs Inc has withheld their signal to (at least one) ADW. I will dig a little deeper into this to see what's been happening (edit - just got a note saying "CDI might not be the bogeyman here").

Churchill is in a unique position of owning or controlling several racetracks as well as a national ADW (Twinspires).

Players have long-complained that they need more than one ADW account to play all tracks, and this is another example of that. Churchill, its tracks and properties, have been under a boycott by the Horseplayers Association of North America, since spring, when they raised takeout. That boycott continues. For more information, you can visit playersboycott.org. 

On the flipside of the coin, the Gural-owned Meadowlands has bowed to demand and created a new Super High Five. Rather than go with the egregious 50%+ effective rake route like many have with jackpot bets, they start with a seed, an 8% rake and a 25% hold.

For an analysis of that bet in HRU, please click here (pdf page 5) 

Enjoy your Friday folks. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Odds Changes Are Just Silly & a Little Twitter Gambling Talk

Well, we've all seen it:
It's annoying. But part of the game, so they tell us.

The problem is, it strikes right at the heart of what a true gambler needs to do to survive.

 CJ is (presumably) betting a TimeformUS horse he likes at 4-1. At 4-1 he is making his play on the assumption that this horse will win more than 20% of the time; probably thinking he will win 25% of the time, so it's a green light. Instead at 8-5, his horse - to break even - has to win 38% of the time. In other words, he made an absolutely terrible bet.

This is like betting a 4 point line on a football game and realizing you have just bet an eight point line. "Hold it, I like the other team at 8 points!"

Several years ago Mike Maloney lobbied to have the odds shut off at one minute before post, so the real odds could be shown with that late money. This would help with past posting and offer the consumer a better odds board. That died because handle would be hurt. It's true it would, in the short term anyway. However, if racing cares so much about gaining handle, one wonders why the take of 22% blended is not lowered.

Regardless, there are some things players can do. Look at the pick 3 payoffs and do a quick calculation. Is this horse who is paying $32 in the pick 3, really 5-1, when the 8-5 horse is paying $44 in the pick 3 with two minutes to go? Also, check the exacta payoffs and see what you can come up with.

It's a shame we have to do this to make a bet in this day and age, but without fixed odds betting (don't hold your breath, racing here hates the idea) it's not going away any time soon.


I guess I am one to get a little worked up with the industry, but it's simply because I want players to enjoy the game more. People who play once a week can be enticed to play much more if their ROI approaches flat, of course. That's basic. And it can attract more dollars.

When asked about playing into a high rake pool when you think you have a good bet, versus a lower rake pool where you are not sure, I choose the latter. Why? Because in the long run, the odds board is very close to fair. If you think you have an edge into a 20% win takeout pool, you might that day, or a few times that week, but over time beating 20% is almost impossible. This is because we truly do not know if that 5-1 is an overlay because we have him at 2-1, or he is dead on the board, or we read the race wrong, or literally 1000 other reasons why we are wrong. We can't predict the random. We only have our long term edge numbers to go by.

Conversely, with low rake pools money can be made much easier.

Take Peter Webb playing into Betfair. He knows nothing about "circuits" or riders, or trainers. He just knows some math. Trading and betting into a pool with 3% takeout he bets $500 million dollars per annum. At 20% at Turf Paradise, he bets zero dollars because he knows it's unbeatable.

This is why rebated action takes off exponentially. It has nothing to do with handicapping knowledge (I know dozens of better handicappers who are betting $10 a day than a few that make a living at horse racing), it has to do with math. You can bet so much more when you get a lower price, because your edge goes up. When your edge goes up, you can bet more money.

Ask yourself why there are so few long term (probably none, quite frankly) winners who bet into track owned ADW's here in North America. It's because even the best players in a world of 7 billion people, with all the technology, skill, know-how, knowledge and everything else, can't beat track owned ADW rakes of 22%.

Have a great day everyone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Notes - Those Dreaded Customer Conversions, Free Publicity and Hogtown

Jarod Dinkin has a really good article up on the HANA Blog about Summer Meets and the barriers to entry. Racing has tremendous issues converting customers and I believe it's a systemic issue caused by a moribund industry that was raised on not having to ever convert customers. There is no easy fix and it will take some time, and very much effort to shake this mindset.

The bottom line is, if you spend $10,000 to get 1,000 people in your door, 90% of them don't bet, 98% don't repeat and only 10% of the remainder open up a betting account you just paid $5,000 to land one customer. With a cost per acquisition that high, you better be able to have them play for years to break even, and at 22% takeout, good luck with that.

Speaking of shaking a mindset, there is much talk in Jersey about sports betting. Mention sports betting or poker in racing and the powers that be perk up. I have no idea why. Would the only car lot in town be happy when three other car lots move beside them? Racing seeks carve outs on new competition, when new competition should never be embraced, ever. As JD notes in the above piece, the infrastructure is not in place to compete with them. In the long run, unless racing completely changes their thinking, sports betting and poker will hurt, not help racing.

Roxy noted on twitter today that sports betting will be taxed 2% on betting volume. This is another snafu when governments get involved in taxing betting. In gambling jurisdictions - like the UK where its had hundreds of years to perfect systems - taxes are on gross profits. This way the bookmaker, or what have you, has incentive to increase handle. A 2% tax on a football bet makes an 11/10 odds game 44% more expensive. That will be passed on to customers and is not profit maximizing for anyone.

Note that racing does the same thing: Everything is taken out of handle, not profit. This decreases customer margins, and horse racing is back to the state house begging for purse money.

Some free publicity happened at an Ohio casino recently. Everyone was winning jackpots! I bet the free press they get, along with the word of mouth that the casino was giving away money, help it as much or more than the glitch hurt it.

This weekend's Canadian Trotting Classic at Mohawk only attracted 7 entrants. That's weak, but it's what might be expected when one barn - Takters - controls the three strong favorites.

Kentucky Downs goes again today. Best takeout in racing, and deep, full fields that adds value. There are races there that are giving away money like a casino. It's the closest thing you are going to find to a positive expectation racetrack in North America, and its a strong reason handle has gone up from less than $900,000 a day a few years ago.

Scott Jagow of the Paulick Report checked out Toronto and documented this via video today. He's at Woodbine and I think the grand pooh bah (Paulick, not Cummings) might be heading up here as well. When I speak with my American friends who have not been to Woodbine, the often used reason is that it's "too far", but that's not really true. It's within an eight hour or so drive of tens of millions of people south of the border, including those in NY or Chicago.

Woodbine is a lovely track with the nicest turf course you will ever see. Toronto is crazy busy, especially the highways and downtown, but it's a lot of fun. If a small town kid like me could come down here to University at 17 and live downtown for 20 years, it's not a stretch to visit.

If you have not downloaded and saved the Horseplayer Monthly yet, you can here. 25 pages of handicapping and commentary from some neat folks (I even have an article in there, but don't hold that agin em.)

Enjoy your day everyone. Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back in the Fold

After a week or so with no posts (no applause please) I'm back in the fold. I hope everyone is enjoying the extended summer here in the north east. It sure is nice considering August was in the dumper for most of us.

Anyhow, here's a quick recap........

I decided I needed a little break from wagering and working the last week so I traveled around a little bit. We truly are fortunate to live in such a nice set of countries. Working through Maine I was struck by its reserved beauty, 75 mile per hour speed limits south of Houlton, and its laid back people. I didn't make it to a racetrack (Scarborough Downs) but did see the casino. I guess nowadays we all see casinos instead of racetracks.

People in Maine probably have little time to bet horses. I figure half of them hunt, fish and camp (judging by the license plates) or shop. In fact, I think outlet malls have taken over the Earth. One of them, in a place called Freeport, was quite nice, except for a non-shopper like me it was hellish; people shopping everywhere. It felt like I was in the middle of an ant hill, but the ants were people from Maine, and I was a little stick they wanted.

New Hampshire is another kick butt state I spent some time in. It's a place where you can get a 66er of Jack for $33 and fill up the car for $65. In Canada that costs us a mortgage payment. New Hampshire has outlet malls, too, but near one of them there's a machine gun shooting range, which probably can pass the time for non-shoppers.

Vermont is a state I had never been in. It was pretty and very sparse. I wiki'd it and found out there are barely 700,000 in the entire state. I think I saw about 11 of them, and traveled most of it. Maybe they all live in Burlington, or in the hills, probably near an outlet mall.

Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all voted for Obama, but from the four people I spoke with who were talking local stuff (n=4), they don't like him now. So I will conclude New England does not like Obama anymore. Racetrack execs do that when they talk to three old ladies in the stands who "don't even know what takeout is", so I'll throw my statistical hat in the ring.

I'm probably the only horse racing person on Earth that goes through Saratoga two days after the meet ended, but that's what we did. It just worked out that way.  I wanted to make it to Tioga for the Cane on Monday, actually, but I didn't even time that right.

I can't believe that in New York, where taxes are prolly as high as Canada, it costs you $12.95 to get from Albany to Buffalo on the Thruway. New York state is pretty much as I remember it. I had not been there for awhile. I was a bit bummed I could not stay in Schenectady because I would've liked to have hooked up for a beer with Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam), but it was early, so Syracuse was the target.

Back towards Hogtown, traffic gets worse, gas goes up. You know the drill. Southern Ontario is an absolute sea of people; people going nowhere in particular but a lot of them doing it.

I spent a day at Woodbine, and have not done that for quite some time. I am so used to playing on the computer, I forget what the place is like. It is such a nice racetrack and the crowd (on a cooler, slightly overcast day) was large. The finish line bar was busy, as was Champions upstairs (there was no cover, or you did not have to show your ORC to get in). For those who do go to Woodbine for the first time, check out Champions and sit outside if it's nice. It's a super spot to watch the races.

I ran into Keith McCalmont (@tripledeadheat) who does Woodbine's marketing on the web (among other chores) and chatted for a bit. I have always liked Keith but had never met him in real life.  If Jamie Martin is reading this, Keith did not stay long because he was busy with work. Give the man a raise!

I also ran into Normie (@normf66) at the rail with his camera. Nice to see Norm again.

I had an awful betting day and they were off the turf with the thunderstorms the night before, but it is so nice to enjoy a day at a beautiful racetrack like that. I did not make it out to Mohawk that evening for a double header, which is what I do like to do when I am in live racing mode. Maybe because I didn't cash anything but a place ticket on a (hanging) 14-1 shot at Gulfstream. I still can't believe that horse didn't win.

I hope everyone had a good week. I'll be back spewing some racetrack drivel on the blog this week.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kentucky Downs Opens & Some Excellent Handicapping Literature

Kentucky Downs, one of the most unique and bettor friendly tracks in North America, opens today. Most of my friends who enjoy the art of handicapping are stoked. I am hoping to play some today as well.

Speaking of handicapping I was really impressed with the New edition of the Horseplayer Monthly. As someone said on twitter, "I can't believe it's free."  I didn't have anything to do with putting it together this month, so great job folks. Enjoyable.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

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