Thursday, October 30, 2014

Case Reversed on Appeal - Trainer Found Guilty of Fraud for Doping

Last year when we wrote about this case, we were pretty surprised the accused was not found guilty of fraud, e.g. fixing a contest. A case like this set some precedent.
  • On Sept. 28, 2010, Riesberry was videotaped by hidden camera injecting something into the neck of a horse at Windsor Raceway. The horse raced about an hour later, placing sixth.
    A few weeks later, on Nov. 7, 2010, Riesberry was arrested as he entered the racetrack. A syringe filled with performance-enhancing drugs – epinephrine and clenbuterol – was found in his truck. Reisberry was charged with fraud, attempted fraud, cheating at play and attempting to cheat at play.
  • After a lengthy trial that began in 2012, Riesberry was acquitted last year by Superior Court Justice Steven Rogin. Despite finding that Riesberry was a cheat, Rogin found him not guilty of two counts of fraud, saying the Crown had not proven that the betting public had been deprived of anything.
However, on appeal, the higher court changed that decision:
  •  In a decision released this week after a Crown appeal, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Rogin had erred in his decision. The appellate court set aside the acquittals and substituted guilty verdicts. The court has referred the case back to Rogin for sentencing. “The betting public was deprived of information about the race that they were entitled to know; they were deprived of an honest race run in accordance with the rules,” the court of appeal found.

    Full story here.

Pocket's Breeders Cup Classic Picks Based Purely on Science

Science is the rage these days; analytics, Cosmos, Bill Nye the Science Guy. They're everywhere. I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon and give a Breeders Cup analysis that is solely based on science. Not conjecture, not on workouts, not on if I spoke with Hank Goldberg. Science. Sure it's link bait, but that's what we do here on the blog when we're not someone really famous like Ray Paulick.

Here we go.

1. Prayer For Relief: When I was in university there was this really smart dude who graduated a few years earlier as a Rhodes Scholar. He was super smart and a nice guy to boot. He parlayed his brains and expensive education into being a ticket scalper. He was at the dorm one day and had to get rid of two Madonna tickets, 11th row. I went and it was a fun show, even though I was not a big Madonna fan. Anyhoo, during the show she played Like a Prayer. That's really the only thing positive I can think of with this horse. He's 0 for 2014. Some people like him, but I think they're Madonna fans who probably have not thought this out.

2. Cigar Street: Joseph Kennedy was getting his shoes shined in September of 1929 - so the story goes. His shoe shine boy started giving him stock tips. He figured it was time to bail, he shorted the markets and was able to buy, I think, the state of Massachusetts. Similarly, the kid who was bagging my groceries the other day told me to bet this horse. I should pitch, but since I have a futures bet on this horse I will keep positive.

3. Imperative: This is a west coast horse, like Best Pal, but slower. Steve Byk, the DRF and anyone east of Wheeling West Virginia will have a conniption fit if he wins. I am pretty sure that the powers that be will never let this happen. Pitch.

4. Moreno: I have not followed his trainers' story, I admit, but reading twitter I think I remember seeing Eric Guillot practices voodoo. That in itself makes this horse tempting. I think his JCGC is better than it looks, too.

5. V.E. Day: I have bet Normandy Invasion a few times and each time he lost, sometimes at low odds. I wasn't living when Man O War raced to bet him, and maybe this has influenced me, but I don't like to (scientifically) bet any horse to do with war.

6. Shared Belief: Jim Rome is worth like eleventry trillion dollars. If this horse wins this, he will be worth eleventry trillion, three million dollars. MSNBC is a subsidiary of Comcast, who owns NBC. It might be far-fetched, but they won't let this horse win. At 8-5 do we really want to take that chance?

7. Bayern: Back in high school there was a track meet held at my school. One kid that was supposed to run in the 400 metre was sick and unable to go. Although I played sports for the school I never liked anything to do with track and had never run anything to do with track in my life. But the coach needed a fill in and asked me. "Just stay in your lane and run", were his instructions. I looked at the circle and it didn't look very long so I figured I could just sprint the whole thing. I'm pretty sure I was leading at the half way point by about ten lengths, but then I had to google milkshake. Lactic acid built up and I began to slow down; a plate of molasses could've beaten me the last 100 yards. I think I ran a 1:07 and came last. I hate track. Anyway, long story short, I think similar will happen to Bayern in the Classic.

8. Zivo: I like this horse. It reminds me of Zito and we know he loves training long distances dirt horses. This is a play for me, based on that science.

9. Toast of New York: The locale in the name might make the DRF guys love him, but this horse is secretly a Euro. They don't win on dirt, even if they're bred for it. Chuckaroo.

10. Footbridge: I've never seen this horse race, and horses I have never seen race are 1 for 30 in previous Breeders Cup Classic's. That science says we should ditch this horse as a selection.

11. Tonalist: In harness racing I hate when a horse races well in a certain style, after being beaten - through no fault of their own - in another style. In Thoroughbred racing this happens almost as often. In the JCGC, one race after being near the lead, jockey Joel Rosario said whoa, and took the horse miles off it. He'll do it again and be too far back. Science will win out.

12. Candy Boy: Science says his trainer is 0 fer in the BC. Science also says he kind of beat a track bias last time. Science also tells me to turn my thermostat down or global warming will kill us all, but hell, it's cold here today. I am really confused on this horse, but I think I will use him somewhere.

13. California Chrome: OK, so let me get this straight. The horse has a great post in post 13, which is never a good post. He needs to be outside horses which from the 13 could mean he's 11 wide. He needs to have his foot issues fixed, he needs to run a race he ran this spring, and if all that goes to form he could win. And I'm supposed to be betting him at 6-1?

14 Majestic Harbor: Never seen this horse race. He's like Footbridge with a worse post.

 AE: If this horse gets in twitter will break and all analysis will be rendered moot. The half will go in 43, the last quarter in a minute and four fifths, Jose Canseco might hurt himself with a 9 millimetre, televisions will be turned off. Everyone will leave before the cross country daily double. The TOC might raise takeout to pay for the carnage. Let's all hope this does not happen.

If you've made it this far you know a couple of things to be true: One, I have thought this through scientifically, and two, when I take a few days off work before a Breeders' Cup I have too much time on my hands.

My selections: Cigar Street-Zivo-Candy Boy-Shared Belief.

Good luck everyone.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Breeders' Cup Handle Should Be Fine

This year has been fairly poor in terms of wagering numbers. Some tracks like Kentucky Downs and Woodbine have been up, others like Churchill Downs have been getting killed, but the downs, so far, have beaten the ups. It's blah out there.

What will happen this weekend at the Breeders' Cup? Will they beat last year's handle?

I have handicapped the races, with more work to do, but I have come to the opinion that handle will be good this season, surpassing last years numbers. The fields are much more interesting, field size is quite good, with a breadth from top to bottom that breeds confidence in having to go deeper. Sure there are potential keys, like for example a Shared Belief or Dank, but those potential keys have some serious holes (Dank's form is terrible and Shared Belief isn't faster on paper than several in the Classic). The fields seem so decent this year that even the scratch of American Pharoah does not change the dynamic much; instead of using he and Daredevil, smaller players will look to Carpe Diem, others will go deeper looking at the excellent Upstart, Calculator or Texas Red, should the pace still be hot.

This year there are contingency's almost at every turn. That makes for a good handle.

My opinion stems from the fact that although racing handle looks dead - and you can say it is - it is not dead because players have left in droves. It's deader because we have not been able to find good bets, and that leads us to do something else. When you give us some decent races to bet, like on a Derby card, the Belmont card etc, we tend to send it in just fine.

Bigger meets have been hurt, some of it self inflicted, like field size issues at Keeneland. The signal fee nonsense and takeout hikes kills the game in a slow burn. But when racing gives us big days with deep fields, they stand out. Folks who have cut their handle return, and handle tends to increase, even in this environment.

Have a good Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Breeders' Cup Costumes

The Breeders' Cup is almost here, and for the first time that I can remember, day one falls on Halloween. In some circles this has caused hand-wringing because a dad or a mom with kids who go out trick or treating will not be watching the event live, like they usually do. Thankfully, only four or five people that watch or bet horse racing fall into the demographic with young children, so handle will be likely unaffected.

Anyhoo, I spoke this morning with Cub Reporter, and he told me something interesting. Santa Anita - on the cutting edge of promotion, with concerts like the English Beat and food trucks - is having a special Halloween weekend, to try and boost attendance. They've encouraged everyone to come dressed up in costume, and from what I hear, several people are. I've even got the scoop on who they will be going dressed as.

Here we go. Don't tell anyone.

Todd Schrupp
The first (and most obvious), actor Ed Helms will be going as TVG's Todd Schrupp.  That joke doesn't get older here on the blog, it only gets better.

Doug O'Neill will be going dressed as trainer Leandro Mora.

Breeders' Cup VP Peter Rotondo will be going as a hobo. "I will not be gelling my hair and will be wearing Tommy Hilfiger pants that I got on sale  at Macy's" he told me.

Dank will be going dressed as a morning line favorite.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will be going dressed as trainer Michael Stoute, complete with knickers. "I'm like 6 for a hundred in the Breeders' Cup and he's shooting at 20% plus so I have to change something up," said the nicely coiffed Pletcher.

Bob Baffert costume sneak peek
Bob Baffert is going as the dude who played him in the Mine That Bird movie.

The TOC's Mike Pegram is going as the Grinch. He will be walking the grandstand taking 23.68% of the french fries right off your plate. Watch for him being closely monitored by Jerry Jamgotchian. 

Track handicapper Jon White will be going as a math teacher. In between races he will explain how 141% morning lines make numeric sense.

Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi will be going as "some mother#$@#ing thing, I'm not sure yet," he told me.

Sid Fernando will be going as himself, the most interesting freaking man in horse racing ®

The Santa Anita track crew will be going as the Invisible Men. "At least we hope so," they said.

John Doyle, I think
 Handicapper and NHC Champ John Doyle will be going as that guy from Lost.

Santa Anita's Tom Ludt will be going dressed as a daily double; whatever that might be. God they love tinkering with those things in So Cal.

Rider John Valezquez Valesquez, Velazquez will be going as a dude who seems to have a harder name to spell than sire Loriodezenormeax.

 Chilean horse "Bronzo" will be going as every other South American horse we don't know what in the hell to do with.

I will be going as what I go as every year: Frank Stronach. Not only because Frank rocks, but because it's the only way I can enter a racetrack.

Enjoy your Halloween handicapping everyone. And have a nice day.


Last night we saw a tremendously interesting football game on Monday Night Football, where the Washington Redskins - ten point dogs - beat the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas. In the third quarter, probably the toughest quarterback in the game - Tony Romo - took a huge hit to his back and went down in pain. He returned to the locker room, fearing the worst (he had back surgery last year in a game, coincidentally against the Skins), but came back in and finished the game.

I watched his press conference last evening and he was asked if he took a painkiller "shot" to get back in.

"Yes, I took something", he said.

A shot for a track and field athlete can be worth a jail sentence, an EPO regimen for a cyclist has them on Oprah begging for forgiveness. For a hockey player or football player a lot of things are no big deal.

Meanwhile in horse racing, Doug O'Neill is getting (another, it seems it happens so often) holiday for a drug positive. On the Paulick Report last evening, it was reported that a jock was found with buzzers in his car during a parking lot search. 

The line I think is drawn in every sport, or every game, however - other than the obvious with horse racing; the horse is a living breathing animal who can't make decisions for him or herself - is if the infraction is dangerous to the athlete and integrity of the game.

In horse racing people bet to the tune of $10 billion a year, horse owners, stud farms and others invest millions into the horses. If the game is not on the up and up bettors leave, owners leave and the game goes poof. If a cyclist or football player has his blood turn to sludge because of bloodbuilders, that's bad for the game, too. They are not tolerated because they attack both the supply side (up and coming cyclists, horse ownership) and the demand side (TV viewers, sponsors and bettors). 

A pain shot for Tony Romo does not do irreparable harm to the game. In fact, it probably adds to the games lore.There will be watercooler talk about it, people will tune in for his game next week. The NFL - a sport where if you took a puff of weed or HGH and you're gone - loves this stuff. A jockey with a battery or trainer with a positive test does not add to horse racing's lore, other than being another chapter in a long list of ringers and rascals - those in the sport that try and get an edge, to make more money, at the expense of our equine athletes, and fellow owners and trainers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

If a Newbie Wants to Bet the Cup, There Are Avenues

The Breeders' Cup is a cray cray (I am learning this lingo from the youngsters and can't get away from it) time. There's information from everywhere, and as Mike Dorr said today on twitter, the more he reads, the more expensive his pick 4 gets. For us, we can weed through the information, the works, the data and the opinion because we've been at this for years. For newer players, it's intimidating.

The thing is, it does not have to be. If a new player, like we all know, or have had over for a Breeders Cup or Derby party, has an ADW account and wants to play from home, I think keeping it simple is sound advice.

A good avenue for such on the web might be the DRF Live site. Marty and the guys and gals do a nice job there, offering out quick stats or what have you on a days races; in real time. If a newbie was sitting at home, he or she does not have to listen to all the talking heads on TV talking about everything, nor do they have to buy a PP and read Swahili. They can tune in and see something like "the 4 worked well, looks good in the paddock and her trainer is 6 for 40 in Cups', and has won on this turf course before", or other such tidbits. Visually they can read it, comprehend it, and make a decision.

It's much more fun to read data or opinion, see something you like, and make your own decision; rather than listening to someone on TV say "I like the four". The essence of handicapping is trying to figure out something for yourself, and getting paid for it.

Betting sports' teams has always been like this. Before the internet someone would latch onto one angle they like, no matter if it was silly or not e.g. "Dallas is a fade in Atlanta because they are 4-11 ATS on grass". After the internet there are searchable databases and what have you, and this has made people in control of their own picks. It's satisfying.

The Breeders' Cup handle has kind of stagnated in recent years. It needs more newbies not only watching the event, but betting it. We've been through the myriad issues about ADW's and residency, etc, a thousand times here, but beyond that, keeping it simple, and allowing newbies information of interest like DRF live does, can certainly help.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Keeneland's Pari-Mutuel Checkers

Keeneland's fall meet is now over, ending with a handle decline and a big thud. I think these tweets from everyday type horseplayers summed it up pretty well:

The meet that everyone looked forward to, that everyone prepared for, that everyone was sad to see go, is relegated to just another meet now. The 2014 Fall Meet was very different than the ones we've been used to since 2006. Keeneland's edge with worldwide players was that it was pari-mutuel chess - a deep handicapping mind game with a stout payoff if you're right. This fall it moved to pari-mutuel checkers - a rudimentary 40%+ dirt chalk fest that has befallen track after track the last few years. 

The proof is in some of the numbers: Dirt field size below 7.75, almost 300% fewer shippers to the poly, from Presque Isle, Woodbine and Arlington Park. This killed overall payoffs. On poly in 2013 in the fall, the average mutuel was $17.38. On dirt this fall, it was $11.13. In a game with 20% blended rakes, $11 payout averages are horseplayer suicide.

Racing must learn what makes players tick. It's not about what type of surface a horse runs on, it's not about if your track gets a Breeders' Cup (we can bet a BC at another track, we really don't care), it's not about food trucks or bands, it's not about what the Daily Racing Form tells us to think. We need good races to bet. Keeneland last year provided it, this year it did not. If other tracks follow and make decisions that decrease field sizes or makes races "easier to handicap" it only drives another nail in this industry's coffin.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Breeders' Cup and the Non-National Pick 6

Dan posted a neat link from 1984 on the interwebs yesterday. It is an SI piece that looked at the inaugural Breeders' Cup on NBC and it lamented the television coverage. The fact that it did not explain the horses and races as well as it should've generally stuck in the writers craw. The piece went on to present a rather ominous future for the event, in terms of television ratings.

I guess some of it, at least, became true.

I am certainly not here to beat up on the Breeders' Cup - I think most of the criticisms of the BC are weak. It's a spectacular event, it draws betting and a crowd to the live venue.  3.1 million people watched the Classic in 2010 because of Zenyatta, and if she was in the Jockey Club Gold Cup against Blame and others instead, it would've not even been televised. It's a brand that has been built, and it is a big brand.

The Breeders' Cup - how the races are explained, shown or on what network - has never been, in my opinion, the problem. It's more about racing than it is the event.

8 races or ten, or twelve, are not like the Derby, where one race with a rich history can drive betting volume. The BC's edge has always been the whole event. You, me, the fencepost and anyone else who loves betting horses will bet; and we'll do it for hours straight. For others who are more casual viewers (the ones who watch on TV), they're stuck in the same system that befalls racing at every turn. The inability to quickly become a customer.

If we turn back the clock, let's think of what the BC ratings would've been with a national pick 6; a powerball for horse racing, not unlike what the "Equilottery" has spoken about. In a country like Sweden, with the GDP of an Ontario or Pennsylvania, tens of millions can be bet on their national pick 7. That bet can be bet virtually anywhere. No SSN, approvals, state restrictions, advertising restrictions, no credit card checks, sending in a check, signing up for a "PIN" service and all the rest. You go in, you choose seven numbers, or you give the machine 50 Swedish bucks, and it spits out a bet. You're in the game.

The Breeders' Cup would look very different with a national (or 43 state, where some form of horse racing is legal) pick 6 than it does today. Over 30 years this type of bet might've grown to $50 or $100 million in handle alone. With a carryover from Friday to Saturday, every betting syndicate in the world would be betting millions into it*, driving it even higher and higher. And with a pick 6 like that - for one day, probably with a carry - it's where 30% takeouts can make sense, adding money to the industry.

Casual fans - say some of the 15 million who watch the Derby - don't dislike horse racing. Casual bettors, now playing poker, don't dislike betting it either. This market just does not pay attention to events-other-than-the-Derby because they have no skin in the game.

On a Sunday a casual NFL fan opens his or her fantasy team, his office pool sheet, and participates. Participating in a Breeders' Cup is not like that. It's always needed a national pick 6 - easy to find, easy to bet, easy to consume the product. Racing has never reached that point for myriad reasons, and I believe it's the most important reason that the even has been held back. If a consumer can't consume your product, he or she will not watch. How an event they are not able to participate in is explained on TV, is pretty irrelevant.

If I were the BC or the NTRA or Jockey Club, I would be worried less about TV ratings, and more about working towards legislating a nationally bet pick 6. 

Have a nice weekend everyone.

* - To understand the increases in betting volume massive pools and massive carryovers generate read Gambling Wizards for the section on Hong Kong race bettor, the late Alan Woods. When the "triple trio" carried over, he would bet several million into it. A national pick 6 pool, with a big carry and casual money into Saturday's races would likely generate many, many millions in handle. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Racing's Sports Betting Conundrums

In the quest for more revenues, or more spinoffs in some fashion, some in racing have held sports betting up as another avenue for such. Most recently this looks close (close but maybe far) in Jersey, with Christie signing on.

Regardless what happens, there are several opinions about what sports betting at a racetrack does.

  • It's more competition and another drag on handle
  • It's a carve-out where racing could get more revenue, like comes from slot machines
  • It's an avenue to draw like-minded people to the racetrack, who may cross over and bet
I think I side mostly on the first of those bullets.

From the Paulick article we see the dichotomous opines on this issue. The first comment, by Fred Pope has some merit. Not surprisingly, I guess, Pope comes out for having control on sports betting and the carve out. "Are we going to allow our partners to throw us under the bus?"

Irwin has a more sink or swim opinion, "If racing cannot compete with these other forms of gambling, they better find a way to do it or perish."

Pope once again focuses on the slices, not the size of the pie, stating that under 2% of gambling revenue in the UK goes to purses (he's right).  But the UK does compete, like Irwin wants, by offering a good gamble on horse racing in a terribly difficult competitive environment. Is 2% of $20 billion better than 6% of $5 billion (where North America would probably be close to if all gambling was legal like in the UK).

The clock will not be turned back on gambling any time soon, so this new paradigm is something to clearly prepare for. And in a business that rarely prepares for anything in long term fashion, we might see - say in three years time - the policy dictated by letting the chips fall as they may.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Big Scratch & Other Cray Notes

Years ago now I went to a race in western Ontario - Clinton I think - where a trotter we had was in an OSS. We traveled quite a few miles, got lost and had a pretty frustrating trip. Post time for the horse was something like 1:45 and after asking someone on a dirt road for directions at about 1:20, we stormed to the track, arriving just before the off. After sprinting to the tarmac, we watched the trotter break stride, never get on stride, and finish last by about a hundred.

Fun trip!

Yesterday I was watching the interview with Michael Owen on TSN (so nice to see Woodbine in HD on the Sports Network, BTW). He took the red eye from London to Toronto - in his dashing suit - and took a $15 or so cab ride to the track to see his horse, Brown Panther, contest the Canadian International. He had to do TV work the next morning, so he would leave the track immediately after the race for London.

That, as we all know, puts my travel story to shame. Brown Panther was a runaway in the paddock and on the track. After racing a half mile or so before the start, he dumped his rider and was scratched.

Not only was that bad for Owen, it was bad for Woodbine and for the fans. Woodbine had to refund the wagers on him, and he was one of the favorites; fans got to see one less contender contest the big race. Despite that, the race was fair, and the handle on the card was up from last year's edition.

Speaking of Michael Owen - and injecting another silly story - I bet the former soccer star was treated well during his brief visit to Woodbine. Partially because he plays soccer, not hockey or baseball, but I think it's more than that.

I was watching 30 in 30 yesterday. It was about disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson and his relationship with Carl Lewis. As most who follow track know - certainly Canadians do -  Canadian sprinting was re-engerized by Donovan Bailey, in 1996, after that debacle. He won the 100 in record time, was the world's fastest man, and won another gold in the relay in Atlanta. He was big news.

Anyhow, that got me thinking of a story. Back in the late 1990's, or early 2000's I took an afternoon off early in the year to go golfing. I went to a rather cheap course ($35 or something) in Oakville that tended to attract hackers. It was no posh club and in fact I think the course is now a subdivision. After hacking it around a bit, I am approaching the fourth tee after catching up to the group ahead. The group of two includes, well, you guessed it, Donovan Bailey. I am sure he knows we know who he is, but we just talk about the course, our golf games; a normal conversation that we'd have with any other group.

As we tooled around the course I was amazed that no one - not one person, even after the round - approached him for anything. It was just another day at the golf course. I guess equally amazing, is that this dude who was worth a pile of money was playing the same course as me, and seemed to think nothing of it.

That's so Canadian. It's just kind of the way it is. Live and let live.

I hope, despite the outcome, Mr. Owen comes back with that nice horse of his.


Nice handicapping tweet by Dave. This is so smart.

Want better security? Better protection for betting and horses? Sign this petition. 

Great post by Pat Cummings about run ups.

People don't comment much on blogs anymore, since twitter and facebook came around, but I was happy with some of them yesterday on my last post. Thanks for commenting everyone.

Taris was as large as a horse could possibly be on Saturday.

One comment, from Barry Meadow, on the petition above caught my eye.  Barry has a way with words. "Owners and trainers are simply suppliers of the product (horses). In any business, when you find one of you suppliers cheating, you simply never use him again. Why these cheaters keep getting away with little wrist slaps is a mystery to me."

Have a nice day everyone.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Have the Volume Players Finally Had Enough With Horse Racing?

There was a comment on the Paulick Report yesterday from an unnamed source, purported to be from a US betting syndicate.
  • not in a position to discuss specifics but we have scaled back dramatically in the u.s due to margin compression. major tracks have priced themselves out as far as we are concerned and our returns are just not commensurate with the positions risks we take. 
What this commenter is referring to is what we've discussed at the blog here for years: The signal (Host) fee squeeze, and added taxation/fees in places like New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and  Virginia* along with New Hampshire**.  For years, the price that tracks charge for their signal has been increasing, some tracks have formed a consortium to have the Monarch's or Troutnets of the world negotiate for them (which is why you see some signals off your ADW in 2014... and some smaller tracks handle decimated); much to the cheers of racing insiders. Despite warnings of the damage this can do to handles and the long term health of the game by many players, it's gotten worse and worse in 2014.

When you squeeze a signal fee too high, a few things can happen: Takeout rates can go up and there is less incentive to lower them (like we saw at Churchill this year), innovation can stop, and player rewards can go down, which affects both small and large players.

When you add smaller fields - like we've seen at Keeneland - higher takeout and signal fees, and less incentive to bet, a negative reaction occurs. Handle goes down. In theory anyway.

Is this comment accurate in real life? Are bigger players pulling out, or scaling back? From my discussions with a few the last 24 hours, the answer is yes.

From one large player who has scaled back big in 2014, and is playing more poker: "Whale versus whale with high host fees has soured me"

From another betting vet, with some knowledge of the teams: "There is no doubt this is true"

From another: "I like horse racing and it is not a conscious decision  to play fewer dollars. Short fields and high fees make it impossible to create winning margins"

My handle is off well over 50% in 2014, probably 80% at Keeneland alone with the short field dirt fests.  I know many of yours is off as well, because it is getting really difficult to find good bets that any of us have a hope to convert to long term positive ROI. You don't have to be a whale to know you are not getting the best of it.

When racing concentrates on raising prices - whether it be on the top with a rake hike, or on the bottom with a signal fee increase - the result is less handle. The long term result is even worse because bettors who might have an incentive to play horse racing see it as a mugs game; a novelty to play on a big day like Derby Day. No sport can survive like that.

I don't have an answer to racing's ADW issues. What I do know however, is that what racing's braintrust is doing in 2014 with regards to pricing and signal fees is not the answer to increasing revenues to the sport. It's only making things worse.

* A 10% "source market" fee was supposed to allow live racing to thrive in Virginia.  Seven years later there are no racedates in Virginia.
** New Hampshire repealed their 2009 10% fee after handle in the state was decimated. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Keeneland Juxtapositons, the Anecdotal & Leadership Bogs

There was a fascinating article today on Keeneland's handle. Officials at the track are leaning on weather as the culprit as a major reason handle is down. I know you've been following, and before yesterday weather was really not that bad (they've had the same number of off the turf races as last fall). But because of bad weather, fewer people want to bet an off track, field size shrinks because of scratches off the turf and so on. You know the drill. (if you read the article, Matt cites other reasons field size is down.)

Quickly doing a juxtapose dance, here's a similar story from 2011.  "Keeneland's Spring Meet Thrives Despite Inclement Weather"

"Withstanding the rainiest April on record in Central Kentucky, Keeneland's 2011 spring meeting ranked among the best in the track's 75-year history, posting strong attendance and handle figures. "If it were possible to chart adverse weather with all the race meet statistics, this would be one of the top Keeneland meets ever," Keeneland President and CEO Nick Nicholson said. "Synthetic surfaces are known as all-weather surfaces in Europe and ours certainly lived up to that moniker this spring."
Despite the nearly 13 inches of rain at Keeneland, the racing was quality and formful with relatively few scratches. All-sources handle on Keeneland marked a 9 percent increase. Total meet attendance for the spring season was 241,684 -- the third-highest for a spring meet ever.

Over at Woodbine, one of the few places that is doing well this month in racing (through similar weather to Lexington), field size is through the roof:

Keeneland's dirt race field size - well over 9.0 on the fake stuff - is a half a horse lower than Hawthorne at 8.2; despite the anecdotal "quotes" from vociferous horsemen saying how they were flooding the box if Keeneland switched to dirt. Meanwhile, Woodbine, thrives. Handle is up over 11% this month, clearly stealing horses and handle from Keeneland.

The anecdotal "no one likes betting poly", "I'll send you lotsa horses if you do 'X'" and other such tripe is not data; it's not information; it's not actionable; it's simply noise. Field size means handle, lower rake means handle. If you have those two determinants and you're racing on cherry jello you will get handle.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Downs, which has seen an over 300% handle increase the last few years and is a horseplayer darling, wanted more dates and applied for such with the Kentucky Racing Commission. With more dates they could build their brand that one day might be a "September Keeneland" with $8M to $10M handles. That's good for Kentucky and it's good for horse racing. Regardless, to me, you and the fencepost, this seemed like a no-brainer. That didn't happen. Churchill Downs - the track having customer issues, short fields that few want to bet, and drops in handle - was today's big winner with racedates.

We see one track - Keeneland - building a big betting brand with big handles take a step backwards this meet. Another track wanting to be like old Keeneland, is thwarted. When decisions are made on the anecdotal, on the political, on listening to noise - everything but numbers and science and strong leadership it seems - how can we expect anything good to happen?

Wednesday Notes

Good morning folks.

Many of you saw Modern Legend win the Canadian Pacing Derby for small-timer Dave Drew. Keith McCalmont at Trot has a really nice article on the owner-trainer.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head. High percentage trainer Pat Sheppard was recently suspended for a positive TCO2 test (tubing). The ORC allowed him to keep the horses stabled where they were, but bring in new trainers. One of them, yesterday, was assessed  .... you guessed it..... a positive  TCO2. It looks like he had been training the stable for less than 10 days.

Ontario changed its thinking (was forced to change it with slots being taken away) and slowly moved towards adding dates to the tracks that brought in handle and were growing, and taking away others who weren't. Last season both average handle and total handle was up and that has continued in year two. Despite losing 10% of the racedays from last year, total handle is up over 2%. 

Churchill and Kentucky Downs are fighting for September dates, and yesterday the commission stayed the hearing for a few weeks, to let them work things out. Horse racing makes things far too complex at times, with business decisions. Like the Ontario situation, when in doubt, go with the track that people want to bet.

3 year old pacer of the year is an interesting battle. The early season stars JK Endofanera and He's Watching are still racing, but two new kids on the block are sharper and faster right now: Always B Miki and Limelight Beach. The former looks a lot like Toscano's three year old from two years ago, who spent much of the summer in sires stakes and swept the last two months with wins to take the trophy home. Limelight Beach broke last week but raced amazing after that, showing he is still sharp. If either of those horses sweep October through November racing, they can win.

Yesterday's accident at Indiana Downs claimed the life of jockey Juan Saez. Horse racing is often described as the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, but this is positively subterranean. Juan Saez was just a boy of 17.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Notes

Good morning racing fans!

Barry Irwin is stoked with the O'Neill thing and Bill Finley wrote a good piece saying what a lot of folks want to say. Bill is up for Barry's Award.

Tweet of the Day:
The decision on Kentucky Downs-Churchill Downs September dates might be today. Bettors want KD, some horsemen want CD. I scratched my head a little about the Churchill Downs stabling question. It's not like folks who stable at Churchill Downs with dirt horses have nowhere to race. When Turfway was on, the non-poly horses had nowhere to go, and for most of 2014, Indiana Downs has gotten them.

Santa Anita's daily double obsession is not really an obsession with fans. They did not meet that "guarantee" yesterday, and the cross country thingy is no great shakes. Both bets have a 20% takeout, which is higher than last meets 18% (and higher than NYRA's 18.5% in the cross country case). Seriously, that's odd folks. Do you ever see a company increase prices, then spend money marketing the item? "Hey, we upped our Big Mac to $4 instead of $3, come in and we'll guarantee you get special sauce on it". 

Balmoral Park's 15% juice pick 4 had a carryover (that we mentioned) on Sunday. With some good promo, over $100,000 in new money was spent, and the payoff was a whopper - a pool shot for over $120k. Some person from Brooklyn cashed.

There are very few tracks left without gimmicks or large carryovers where we can make a score. Did you notice that? Keeneland used to be, because you could get a fairly logical superfecta that paid $20k, or a good deep pick 4 sequence that paid good, and it would happen almost once a day. NYRA at times has that, but not really much anymore. Really all I see is Woodbine. This past week the handle is up 11.3% year over year, field size has been good, and if you handicap, you can usually find something to take a shot on. They're another track talking about going back to dirt. If they're smart, I don't think they will. Handle is up over 25% the last several years and with 'all-weather' they can keep field size up. Spring and fall in TO can bring a lot of poor weather at times.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Notes

Good morning fellow racing fans!

Last evening at Balmoral Park, the Am Nats were contested. After Odds on Amethyst broke, Father Patrick cruised. The hard luck Thinking Out Loud won the older split, and the most interesting and controversial race of the night was the older trot won by Creatine.

A few thoughts on those races......

Creatine was five or eight the best - proving once again a good four year old can win these races - but no matter how you slice it, there was a violation. What got many so upset was not the judges leaving him up, but saying he didn't go inside a pylon, when he clearly went inside at least two and probably three or four (judge for yourself). This was a strange situation. Do they throw out the best horse in a stakes race because the driver was impatient? Do they call it to the letter of the law? Pylon violations are this sports' nemesis when it comes to judging.

It was a strange race to begin with, quite frankly. The rail horse was 9-5, who could not come home quicker than 29 in his Q. Market Share was much lower odds than Wishing Stone, and he was nowhere as good in the Allerage. There were question marks off big trips - Creatine and Master Of Law. Maybe the race was supposed to end up like that.

Foiled Again had tough luck again, having to park out Tetrick, who tried to brush by a horse he was 99/100 times never going to get by.  He went a huge middle half on that cool night and was clipped at the end by Thinking Out Loud - another hard luck horse. He's a horse who is best coming from off it, in a sport that is early speed laden, and even when he is super sharp, he needs to be huge to win these races. He raced really well last night - getting bounced around like a ping pong ball at the half - and looked more like he looked in the summer.

Balmoral had an excellent pick 4 yesterday, where logical horses did win and it was extremely hittable, yet it carried over. $33,000 is carried over to tonight, so give it a look. Nice job setting up the races, race office. 

I played Thoroughbred racing in the afternoon, but mostly small. I had some work to do and really didn't feel like diving in full tilt (I played a Derby Wars game and made a few small bets). However, at Keeneland I am pretty sure I was not the only one taking time off. Handle was down again yesterday; this on a day with terrible weather at Belmont (there were 38 scratches).  Keeneland has been plagued by dirt racing's fields and style - if you don't believe that now, you never will - with (before yesterday) 58% of dirt sprints going to chalk, and over 70% of all dirt races going to the first or second choice. Keeneland's edge with players has been its lack of sameness - it offered field depth where 8 out of 12 horses could hit the board based on pace and bias. It was a spread track, like a track in the UK, not like Santa Anita. So far this meet it isn't.  It has hurt them.

Speaking of Santa Anita, they ain't doing great shakes either. The track who raised your double rake, but then created a couple of promotional double bets (you can't make this stuff up) had a meager handle, with a carryover in the pick 6.

There were scratches in the OSS Super Finals yesterday but they were late. Doc has a good point. 

Do you want to play a track that has been offering value? Try Woodbine.  If you are in the US you can get some okay rebates and the fields have been very deep. Prices are good. Handle has been good as well, more often than not over $4 million.

For those north of the border may I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. I will be eating turkey at 6, watching the Cowboys play. It's like American Thanksgiving, but a little early.

Have a super day everyone.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Innovation Through Reselling, Handle Notes, Doubles & Top Horses

Back in the 1990's a friend and I decided we'd create something that scraped the box scores of football games and packaged them in searchable form for fantasy football team managers. It never got off the ground other than in rudimentary fashion.  But the fact remained that a couple of guys who liked the challenge of fantasy football, could put together something that the NFL didn't publish on the web (yet); and do it for almost no money.

Netflix packages a series - a series that maybe 200,000 viewers watched live - and shows it to people interested in watching it in a new way; by binge-watching on the web. Amazon or Etsy or - well dozens of others - harness their technology to sell something for you, or with you in a unique way.

Racing often talks about "taking control of their product", but I think that's overused. When someone has complete control, stagnation can ensue, and customers can leave, because no matter what the product is, there are complimentary products elsewhere (usually outside the industry). When your product is not resold by companies who need customers, marketing and innovation can be hurt. Resellers mean something to any business.

I had a chat with one of the TimeformUS guys today (disclosure, I know a couple of them and like them; have for years), and I came away summarily impressed, once again, at some of the innovation going on over there. They're taking data, real time track feeds, and through a proprietary figure maker, displaying selections, PP's and data in a new way. But it's more than that.

People often wondered why Tiger Woods changed his swing when he was winning. He did so because he saw young guys coming up and an extra five yards - in length or through accuracy - could make a difference. He never stopped, never settled. That's what's going on over there. New products, viewing of said products etc, are all being looked at.

There are literally 10,000 or more factors that can go into handicapping and it's a game for people who like that sort of thing. In current form, much of what we use for our handicapping has been presented in a dumbed down format in an old-school way. TimeformUS has regular type PP's, and you can use it as you wish, but it also has more. And to them, just more is not good enough. They want to try even harder to innovate and be successful.

Racing needs companies like that. It needs resellers, selling data in new ways, or offering you a break on takeout at an ADW (there are several), or making the viewing experience better (like Twinspires). Many things. It's not bells and whistles, it's the air the industry's customer breathes.

One of my fave, and often used quotes on the blog comes from Godin's Free Prize Inside. It involves talking about the satisfied customers, the unsatisfied ones, and the ones who are satisfied, but don't even know they have a problem. Companies like TFUS are going after the unsatisfied, but primarily those who are satisfied but don't know how much better it can be.

Racing needs that kind of thinking to survive, and hopefully thrive.


I'd be remiss to mention another type reseller, Bris. Ed and the team created a Handicapping Media Award named for the well-liked and recently passed Ron Rippey. Barry Meadow won the first installment of the award yesterday.  This award took into account articles written independently, on blogs or newsletters and was judged by a person like Jessica Chapel, an innovator and forward thinker in the space herself.

The NFL - much to our point above - has been very innovative.  Here's something new.

Yesterday's Cross Country double thing only had about $26,000 in the pool. This needs some rethinking. Steve Crist, in a fiery set of paragraphs, talked about the bet yesterday. This was vintage 1990 Crist. Not unlike Beyer, for quite a period in his writing, before I suspect he got tired banging his head against the wall.

Keeneland's handle was down to $4.6 million yesterday, a bad number. When the meet is over, and if handle is down, no doubt they will mention field size as a culprit, but much of it is self-inflicted. At this point in the meet in 2013, 57 shippers came from Presque Isle and Woodbine. This year that number is 14. As well, off the turf races will have fewer runners this year. Be careful of red herrings in the racing media.

Today in Harness Racing Update - an appreciation for what we've seen from the great horses of 2014. Thoroughbred racing has retirements, horses that race a handful of times and sometimes never meet. Harness racing is fortunate to have plenty of fast, excellent horses, who meet each other and decide things on the track.

Have a great day everyone.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stakeholders Are Customers, and Racing Better Consult Them

The historical definition of a stakeholder generally leans to those factions who are directly correlated in the corporate umbrella; the company itself, and its shareholders. When we hear of "stakeholders" in horse racing we often hear about the usuals: Racetracks, horse owners, and trainers, through horsemen groups. Those are the legs of the stool.

Through evidence of shocks to a business, industry or corporate entity, stakeholder theory was broadened in the 1980's by R. Edward Freeman.  He believed that there was more to it than advertised. Stakeholders could be governments, customers, employees or others, should they possess a few characteristics; namely, characteristics answering the question, "do they matter?"

He or she who yells loudest does not make a stakeholder, although those who yell do possess characteristics of a stakeholder. A customer, or groups, begin to be stakeholders who need to be taken seriously when they fit a profile, as detailed by the Venn diagram to the left.

If someone has power of some sort - say by being a customer and spending money - you can be a stakeholder. By definition, you need to be able to take an issue, tell someone else, and get that person to act to be a worry for the corporation to have real power, however.

You also need legitimacy. If your argument is not good, you won't get anywhere.

Lastly, if the issue is urgent - i.e. it is causing the corporation the need to draft a response or policy change - you're into the nitty gritty.

An example of this might be, say, a protest of a shoe maker who uses child labor. A person or group starts a Facebook page, gets likes; that's power. They have a legitimate gripe: They do not want their money going to child labor. And their story is resonating to the point where it's in the news, and the company needs immediate action or their business will suffer. This problem lies in the "Definitive Stakeholder" category of the intersecting circles. Companies spend millions on this circle in Corporate America.

In horse racing, customers were never in that circle. Maybe a couple had power, Lord knows many had legitimate gripes, but there's never been urgency in any way, shape or form. Nowadays, however, things have changed.

We all remember Santa Anita or Churchill Downs takeout hikes. In the past these were met with a whimper, but now, with power (the ability to tell others, withhold wagering as a group etc), legitimacy (the rake is too high, we don't have enough customers, why are you moving it higher so we play less and handle goes down) and urgency (the handle for a track can go down tomorrow if this passes), definitive stakeholders made a difference in the bottom line. You can't live in a vacuum, or you get swept up in it. 

Last evening, for a brief example, there was an announcement about a daily double at NYRA, overlapping to Santa Anita. Insiders, "the entity", love these cross track bets, for some reason, and they come and go at times. This bet was immediately panned for its high takeout rate and other reasons on social media.
Later on, there were tweets to the Horseplayers Association feed asking to "boycott" the bet.

This is not 1980. It's not the pre-Freeman era of stakeholder theory. Things happen fast, and the stool has more than three legs.

Racing has not come to grips with this yet. It's old-school, some corporate tracks can focus on ignoring issues, because they get so much of their money from gaming, etc. But as customers become stakeholders - because they possess power, legitimacy and urgency - a new paradigm is needed. The stool needs to have four legs. The tracks that embrace that fourth leg, like for example, Kentucky Downs or Keeneland, will move forward. I believe the tracks that don't, not only will not, but it will probably get worse for them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hong Kong Kinda Resides at Keeneland

I got sent some numbers today comparing Hong Kong to US racing. As we all know, Hong Kong last year, for the first time, drove more handle for their small, abbreviated meets than United States racing had for the entire year. This year their betting topped $US13B. This is up from 2007, where approximately $US8B was bet, and probably the mirror opposite from the US again, which has seen precipitous handle drops since 2008.

I know what you may be saying, "Pocket, how does that place drive handle without the horses using lasix?", ok, I kid, but that's pretty remarkable. Especially since this business tells us that recessions, and stuff like the Winter Olympics (that Los Al excuse never ceases to make me laugh) can really kick some handle-butt.

All kidding aside, my response to said emailer was pretty simple, "What about Keeneland in the Nick Nicholson era?"

In 2013, Keeneland drove over $302 million in handle to its races. In the last year before Nick Nicholson joined the ship in 1999, the handle was $207 million.  Since year one of the so-called gambling "recession" in 2009, Keeneland drove $266 million in handle. The last year of dirt, that some hold to high esteem in terms of driving handle (I think pretty much everyone at the DRF except the night cleaning lady who digs closers) , was $254 million.

Handle at the storied racetrack is up by about a third since 2000 and about 12% since 2008, no matter what has been thrown at it. At the same time, real handles at some places have been cut in half.

This has been achieved with falling foal crops and fewer purse dollars (about $580,000 per day in 2013 versus $620,000 in 2000), too.

I think Nick does not get near enough credit for Keeneland's success as a gambling destination. Keeneland is the closest thing to Hong Kong that we've got and the numbers themselves - on a percentage basis - are not dissimilar. 

Suffolk, Chicken Dancing, Doug Squared & Pet Racing Issues

Good morning racing fans.

Here are a few things I found interesting this morning.

 Paulick gives the skinny on Doug O'Neill here. Mitchell in the Bloodhorse talks about it as well.

Another Doug (McPherson), even though I can't relate to him much since he's younger than me, writes a good blog and looks at some Keeneland numbers and handicapping stuff.

"How Suffolk Missed the Chance to Cultivate new fans".  It ain't Suffolk's fault. The industry that sells 1980's rock concerts and chicken dance contests tends to be surprised when people show up to the track for 1980's rock concerts and chicken dance contests. Then they hear from those folks that 'there's too much time between the races and that the racing form is too complicated'. Then the industry says "there's too much time between races and racing is too complicated, so we have to fix it." The problem as I see it, is fairly obvious, and a good start to rectifying some issues : Racing shouldn't be making policy decisions to do with gambling based on the advice of people who come to the track for chicken dance contests. 

More on Suffolk Downs. Sure they're gone (I still think that they will race next season, but could be wrong), but they did a lot of good work protecting the horse. If only all tracks were this good.

What we expect from Graham Motion - professionalism. He talks about US racing and surfaces here.

Red Mile Sunday was pretty huge. Nuncio beat Father Patrick. Creatine beat Sebastian. State Treasurer beat Sweet Lou. In harness racing it's hard - especially for trotters - to stay sound through so many tough miles, if you are dealing with quality stock in behind you. If it was two months ago, none of those horses probably get picked up. Speed takes its toll.

A four year old won the open trot, four year olds swept the top three positions in the filly open trot. Four year olds, just like through harness history, can win open events if they are faster than the horses they are racing that day.

The ol amateur driving race. The third place finisher got set back for whipping with one hand. It's probably best if you are planning to drive in one of these to know the rules of racing. I would think.

Jerry Brown on the lasix issue. I disagree with the premise that my betting will change when horses go off lasix. Over time - a short period probably - normalcy will return. And, as we all know, Lasix doesn't prevent bleeding, even in the majority of cases. Horses race and bleed every day.

Everyone has a pet issue in racing. And the argument is usually mixed with "this will kill the sport". However, racing will move forward when the fiefdom's in the sport move forward by backing reality, science, numbers and good sound policy. There's probably a place for lasix in racing, there's a place for higher rake bets, there's a place for synthetic surfaces, there's a place for a lot of the headline issues that people hard line against or for. My way or the highway just assures more of the same - stagnation.

Have a super good Tuesday everyone.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

September's Handle, The Big Keeneland, And Pure Speed

Good morning everyone.

I saw the September handle figures released yesterday, and down double digits is not a good metric. There was one fewer Sunday in September this year.

As we've talked about before: Giving us worse gambles at higher prices is not a recipe for growth. It's not about days or number of races (yes, there is a correlation), because when fewer races are carded on a card, the races should be better gambles, bringing in similar handle. This is not happening.

In 2014, racing has put forth three major changes:

1) Signal Fee Hikes and ADW taxes
2) A Churchill Downs takeout hike
3) Changing a surface at a track which achieved record handle after record handle on the old surface

Maybe the people who fear change are right. With change like that we can't stand anymore of it.

Yesterday, Keeneland showed its new colors with an assortment of Primed Pricy Pletcher Speedballs ® (PPPS, or for the digitally inclined hashtag PPPS) and other such sameness. It's looking more and more like the new Keeneland will be Gulfstream North. And yes, that is a bad thing. People love tradition - "I want to see good dirt horse show what they can do on dirt" - and that's fine, but there are 74 racetracks to see that (flip over to Santa Anita if you want). Old Keeneland, a very unique Kentucky Downs and meets like that attack malaise by being different; by attracting entries who don't want to play Pletcher-ball, by providing deep competitive fields which are tough to handicap. This sport, as a gambling game, cannot survive with sameness. It cannot survive with gate to wire 7-5 shots. It cannot survive by "making handicapping easier". It needs more meets which create a better gamble, not fewer of them.

In twenty years time this sport will have wished it had Nick Nicholson running it, because he was one of the few in this business who believed in Einstein's definition of insanity. 

At the Red Mile yesterday (see HRU today for ideas on changing that meet to drive handle), Always B Miki won his Tattersalls "division" in a semi-rout over He's Watching who looked to have his issues (the same one he had at Yonkers in start one?). Miki went a 53.3 middle half, 27 flat of it into the wind, so he was a little soft at the end (for thoroughbred players, energy distribution is important in harness racing, too), but he showed his chops. And he showed his greenness (he's hard to stop when he wants to go, and gets on a line).

JK Endofanera won the other split and seems to be sharp once again. Newsflash: Lateral driver changes - which in any simo center or in the turf press seem to be tantamount to a three drop class drop - make little difference. Despite being googoo about Tyler Smith to Sears on Let's Drink on It, Brian did not carry the horse home on his back to victory.  This happens like 99% of the time when good drivers with fast bikes sub for other good drivers with fast bikes.

Today is a good spectating day at the Red Mile with Sebastian K and Father Patrick in. The weather should likely be better.

Enjoy your day folks!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

O'Appeals, Keeneland & ABM's

Good morning racing fans!

Apparently the Breeders Cup is not allowing Doug O'Neill to race in the Breeders' Cup this year because of his Class II suspension from 2012 (or 2011, I lose track). This is really all the Breeders Cup could do, despite it being nothing about nothing. As we all know, some ghost trainer's name goes down, the money is still funnelled into the stable.

As we said yesterday here on the blog, when comparing this penalty to what would've happened in Ontario we showed holes in the system. Again, in this case another hole is exposed. When a trainer is suspended in places like Ontario, the horses must be moved to an accredited trainer with no connections to the suspended trainer. The trainer must be approved by the racing commission. With California's reputation of a less than penal pentalty system it's likely this will not happen, but I think we can all agree it should in this case, and all other cases like it.  As long as the system is considered a joke, horsemen will laugh at it and keep doing what they are doing. 

Yesterday's racing at Keeneland was kind of "meh" and the races on the main were about what I expected. You could eliminate some of the back half of the field in sprints, the fields were spread at the wire; the usual dirt racing stuff. The track did look good though, and although two horses walked off gingerly and might have issues, it seems they've done a good job.

Roger Breuggeman and Kirk Ziadie in the sprint was eye-opening. Build dirt, build sprint and stagger, they come. I can honestly say, and I don't think I am alone, that sprint with Mark Casse and Graham Motion sprinters is a race I'd rather bet on. 

Handle was down a ton compared to same day last season - about $2.5 million - but it was a poor card and without "all weather", the fields were shorter (people seem to forget that poly was originally constructed for UK cards in winter). Today's card is good and handle should be solid.

In HRU this morning, kicking fines were announced in Ohio for Miller, Gingras and Miller. Two days, $500. You remember those races; it was obvious.

Also in HRU, Always B Miki has been an ABM lately, and he faces He's Watching today at the Red Mile. As trainer Joe Holloway noted, the colt is still immature. Let's hope today is another building block to his potential. He's the fastest horse I have seen in a long time.

Enjoy your day everyone!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Top Ten Things I will Miss About the Keeneland Poly

Ceramic frog sitting on lovely dirt
Tomorrow we embark upon a new era at Keeneland; the polytrack, which replaced the dirt track, is now dirt again.  It's a melancholy time for those of us who liked betting the poly, but I'll see if I can pull it together and share my top ten things I will miss about Keeneland polytrack.

Number 10 -  Every time I wrote something about a Keeneland poly race on the blog, a dirther (guys who really, really, really like dirt) would respond "POLY SUCKS YOU IDIOT" in my comments section. I will really miss those guys.

Number 9 - Off the turf - no scratches!

Number 8 - Rider race strategy based on pace in sprints.

Number 7 - I'll miss the dirt focused TV talking head. He'll mention that speed at Keeneland sucks today because the horse who just went 45 flat to the half for six furlongs did not stagger home and hold on.

Dirthers getting ready for the meet
Number 6 - Presque Isle shippers. With just a teeny bit of form they'd show up, especially from a good barn, and pay some prices.

Number 5 - I'll miss the dude who handicapped beside me at Keeneland one day. We talked about outside speed being good, inside being no good, and that there were 2 outside speeds who fit perfectly, with good poly form and breeding who were both big odds. He bet the inside Pletcher closer who had a big dirt fig, the horse lost miserably and he exclaimed "How do people handicap this polycrap!"

Number 6 -  I'll miss the people who were totally lost when Keeneland would set handle record after handle record with the poly. They just could not seem to figure it out, because all of their friends hated it.

Man influencing youngsters to love dirt
Number 5 - Betting the top poly figs. The crowd was conditioned that "poly was inscrutable" and that speed figs "didn't work on plastic". Top poly figs had an excellent ROI because of it and you could catch some prices. 

Number 4 - I'll miss reading the blog pieces after the Derby which talked about the winner of the Blue Grass losing, and that if Keeneland switched to dirt, Blue Grass winners would be gold in the Derby. Just like those most-excellent Wood Memorial winners, Eskenedreya and I Want Revenge.

Number 3 - Big fields, big payouts.

Number 2 - I will miss my poly loving handicapping friends and the challenge of handicapping the place. We had a blast figuring out these races, some of which could take hours. When you spent so much time and effort and found a nice $30 winner, it felt like you were alive.

Number 1 - I don't care what the breakdown stats were, if it worked or not, if it was the right or wrong thing to do; all irrelevant. I will miss the fact that at least it was racing trying to think forward - to change the way the sport is run, and raced. When horse racing thinks like that, I feel they are moving a sport in much need of it, ahead. When they reverse course, rather than pivot, I can't help but feel they're giving up.

I am no dirther or plasticer, or whatever you want to call it. I will be playing Keeneland tomorrow. I hope the track plays fair, the racing is good, and the horses and their human attachments have a safe first run over the new track.

Good luck and good racing tomorrow everyone.

(PS: I'd like to thank o_crunk for coining the term dirther. He's very creative. Most people who still own a turntable are).

45 Days, Class II?

With all the talk nowadays about race day medication like lasix, one sees the headline today about Doug O'Neill and must wonder. I am of the belief - I realize it's asking a lot - that a multi-billion dollar sport can do two things at once, but maybe it can't.

Doug O'Neill, as reported by the DRF, was suspended 45 days and given a $10,000 fine for a class II drug called Oxazepam. Class II drugs are deemed "non-therapeutic" by the RCI and other jurisdictions.

A few thoughts:

The positive occurred in June of 2013. About 15 months ago, and is only now being administered.

If the violation occurred a few hundred miles north, in Ontario, the suspension would be a minimum one year and maximum five years, even for a first offense. In some other jurisdictions (twitter tells me, but since this dude works in racing, I will link it) it's two years minimum.

If the violation occurred in Ontario, the horse would be suspended three months, and the trainer would not race. If he filed an injunction of some sort and won, he would have to race in the detention barn. At Woodbine, he would have to race in detention after his suspension as well.

This is Doug's (according to the DRF) 18th offense and 9th since 2009.

Doug, according to the New York Times, has had four TCO2 violations.  For his 4th, he received 45 days in 2012 in California. Four offenses in Ontario is two years. TCO2 is considered class III.  New York threw the book at several TCO2 offenses last year.

Doug O'Neill is on probation  - they said "don't do anything again, even though this is your 4th TCO2 - back in 2012.

I know nothing about the details of this case, what happened, how nice a guy Doug is, or whatever. I doubt Doug is using derivatives of valium on his horses as a prerace, because that would be stupid. I don't know if the levels of the drug showed contamination which would not performance enhance a mosquito or what. I realize giving Doug more days in a place he doesn't race is not optimal, so they went the high fine route. But whatever happened, the 45 days - when compared to other states/provinces is a headscratcher. The lack of uniformity is a head scratcher. The fact he has raced for over a year without restriction is a head scratcher. The 15 month process for this to get done is a head scratcher.

I know people are up in arms about lasix on raceday, but while we argue about that, the above shows this sport continues to drop the ball. It continues to look silly. It continues to look like a sport in need of an intervention.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday PTP Notes

Good day racing fans!

There's quite a bit going on in raceland, so here are a few thoughts.

Alan over at LATG does not have trouble holding feet to the fire in New York. Despite listing bands on his blog that I don't have the foggiest about even if I google them, he plays NYRA down the middle.  NYRA, like some other entities in horse racing, is at a crossroads. It's profit maximization versus politics and some of it is head-scratching.

The Paulick Report story about Kentucky Downs versus Churchill Downs on September dates, ended up yielding a defacto poll in the comments section. When I was a kid I remember watching the Reagan-Mondale election results. This might be more lopsided. For a synopsis on this brouhaha, please read Matt's article here.

There's a drumbeat, which has been active for some time, about racing needing to be operated by more non-profits. That might sound Khrushchevian, but in this day and age it does make some sense. Racing is a strange, regulated, public-private entity, that involves alternative gaming, and other subsidies. Churchill Downs Inc is a company that acts exactly like it should - based on profit maximization, control, increasing market share etc - so that the next quarter will show an EPS that meets or exceeds analyst expectations. Capitalism doesn't suck, it's why we pay $400 for flat screen TV's or go to Costco to get a 458 pack of gum for like $40. But in racing's case it kinda does.  Places like Woodbine are "non-profit" and they do some good work (except for the evil rakes). Other casino companies that dot the landscape? I really don't think they have the best of intentions for the sport in the long term.

Speaking of subsidies, the Bloodhorse reported that 35% of purses are funded by alternative gaming etc. That obviously won't go on forever, but it's a huge reason why racing keeps having horse sales where the who's who spend thousands like Kim Kardashian on a sugar high.The advent of such gaming certainly shows up in the entry box and it messes up the end product. In harness this has been obvious with the Big M versus PA tracks and Yonkers. In the thoroughbreds, boy does it show up in Illinois. There, dates have been decimated and purses are falling quicker than something that falls really fast (I try to use only one simile per paragraph).

Meadowlands announces a few races for the undercard on Breeders Crown nights.

This guy got banned for steroids this week in the NFL. Maybe he was framed? That's like a trainer who wins 56% off the claim over a large sample and trying to convince regulators and bettors it's the shoeing.

Weather is saying rain for Keeneland's opener. Lucky they have an all-weather track this time of year.

I really wonder sometimes about those in control of horse racing. We often hear how we have to "dumb things down" to attract bettors, while we should frankly do the opposite. The edge that was at Keeneland on the poly was similar to the edge at Hong Kong, and some UK tracks on the turf. It made handicapping more complex, tougher and worth putting your time in for because you might find nuggets to get paid with. This characteristic is vital for a gambling game without very small takeout rates. If dumbing things down worked, harness racing and dog racing would have handles dwarfing that of the runners. Horse racing is not a casino, or a scratch off ticket game, and never has been.

As for my long lost friend Keeneland, I will be playing tomorrow, but I won't dig overly deep in the PP's for the dirt races, because I likely won't have to (unless some strange track bias pops up).

Enjoy your day everyone and good luck at the windows should you be having a punt.

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