Sunday, November 30, 2014

Two Sports' Two Horse of the Year Votes

California Chrome won at Del Mar yesterday, trying turf for the first time. He was very impressive.

In the TVG, Sweet Lou - the sport's most dominant pacer - won easily, as dominant has he has been for some time.

California Chrome lasted the entire year at a high level, winning early fast, and late fast, on a new surface. He was only a couple of lengths from a Triple Crown, which makes his late season fitness and sharpness something not seen very often. As o_crunk put it on twitter, usually early season three year old stars are only found late in the year "on milk cartons." He won six races in nine tries in what can be described as a throwback type season.

Sweet Lou has won 11 of 19, set track record after track record, won ten in a row at one point, all in the hardest division to win races in - the older "handicap" division. It's not 1990 anymore, you have to go fast every race, and there are no easy ones for older pacers. O_crunk's words fit well here too, because a lot of older pacers are only found on milk cartons at the end of the year. 11 of 19 in this day and age is spectacular in this division.

In thoroughbred racing, Grade I's mean everything to many, and perfection is often trumpeted. Main Sequence, the talented turf horse of Graham Motion, has won four of four races, and they were big ones. Right now he feels like the favorite, especially with the east coast crew.

In harness racing, right now Lou is not the favorite either. The fans and some see the perfect two year old record of Jk She'salady and say "she has never been beaten, while Lou lost some races, so she's a slam dunk". The voters may agree, despite this sport, and thoroughbred racing, almost never giving Horse of the Year to a two year old. The division is not deep, two year olds can get on a roll. We've seen in both harness and the thoroughbreds, many, many two year olds go undefeated or near undefeated. Great two year olds like Artsplace and Somebeachsomewhere barely even registered a vote.

What we have here is two horses who have raced often, put their record on the line, have taken on most of the best horses in their midst, and have won many races, but weren't perfect. Against them are a thoroughbred horse who raced an abbreviated schedule - a more modern type season - and won out, and a two year old who was undefeated, like several before her were. In both sports', perfection is always something that captivates voters, especially if done at a high level.

That might be somewhat curious. Fans of both sports' lament that horses do not race enough nowadays, but then we give abbreviated schedules the hardware. A mixed message at best.It will be very interesting to see which way the votes in both sports' go.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday Notes

Good morning racing fans.

The TVG trot and pace is tonight at the Big M. Unlike last season where we had a three year old in the mix, this year these races are more traditional. The Trot seems a better betting affair than the pace, with Sebastian K possibly providing some board value - as strange as that is to say. Sweet Lou's last race is this evening over a very jam packed four year career. For the HOY watch, if Sebastian dispatches this field easily, I expect the voters to give him the nod over the two year old. This is a sport that rightfully demands more than just perfection from a two year old to win HOY. For reference, Somebeachsomewhere didn't even get a sniff.

"Grinding versus Rapid Bankroll Growth" - No that's not a story about racing, but daily fantasy sports. It shows just how similar the two games are. The article, in effect, says that one should bet win (play 50/50 games) to see if one can become a long term winner, then branch out to exotics (tournaments) if that occurs.

Further: "The Daily Fantasy Sports Takeover" is an interesting read.

Kentucky steward Veitch ordered to get his back pay because he was improperly fired. Although I have no Matlock skills, and no special understanding of that whole Life at Ten event, Veitch always felt like a scapegoat to me. Nowadays it seems to make people feel good if there is someone to blame, whether it's the right person or not. Honest thinking people should never want that to happen.

California Chrome races today, on turf. I like when horses of this ilk try different things. This horse is a huge star. If California was a country it would be the 8th largest in the world, and it shows. That state follows this horse, and their bettors bet races that he is in. Handle will be very high today.

The comments yesterday on the blog were, what I found, kinda funny. Three comments, three "if someone says they are winning betting 22% takeout they're wrong" comments. This is what this sport - for a long time - encourages. Twinspires, other big ADW's accept bets on Philly Park at 30% rake, keep about 20% of it, and watch their customers get killed. If you have a 1% hit rate on tri's, how you can possibly hit enough, with a proper bankroll at 30% juice to win is beyond me. I can't even do the math in terms of bankroll, it's so out there. It's a big reason why the skill game gambling market is over $500 billion worldwide, casino volume is in the trillions, $2B will be bet on Fantasy sports, poker still has billions upon billions bet, while horse racing in North America, in a place with $20 trillion in GDP, tracks with over a hundred supply points, 40k races, with a near monopoly on online wagering, can barely muster $10 billion.

Speaking of edge's and hit rates, I have been studying (ahem, honestly I am) the Canadian sports betting lottery market in my spare time. I began to dabble on some of these bets. At times the odds in some areas (usually three or four games a day) are out of whack from the super-tight Pinnaclesports odds. Because the general public who are more casual players overbet favorites, longshots seem to be worth upwards of 1% to 4% more than they should. Also, "tie games" - 5 points either way in basketball - show an edge if the spread is over 9 points. So, that's good.

But, you still have to hit the games.

I have taken 16 ties and won one, at 4.5-1 odds. Even in lottery betting you need to use Kelly, or a variation, because when you are trying to hit parlays with 5-1 type occurrences, you need to make your bankroll last. I think my experiment is over, even though I am sure I can dabble and make a few dollars. It just takes time that I'd rather spend on racing. Time is money.

Enjoy your weekend everyone. And a friendly reminder, if you are playing Churchill today and you're betting exotics, they raised the juice to 22% in April. That same 22% the bettors on the blog spoke about yesterday :)

Good luck and good racing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Good Gambling Play Should Near Always Reflect the Rake of the Game

Yesterday's post about Fantasy gaming sites led to an interesting discussion. These sites keep between 5 and 10% and payout the rest.

During the discussion, some felt that because they are difficult to win at - even though you may get paid near half the time in a 50/50 contest - losing can get old real fast. Others feel the market is so large, and a fair portion of users are used to playing props and sports lottery type games with terrible takeout, that that level can be withstood.

Currently, for example, if you bet $50 in a 50/50 game and land in the top half, you get back $45. One post on twitter noted this:
So, in effect, you would win $47 instead of $45. That's lower takeout. But if this is advertised, people would flock to it. Why would anyone want to enter a 50/50 game when they get back $45, instead of $47, even if it's "only $2"? They would, and they'd be flocking to "lower takeout", the big bad wolf that some think does not matter.

Meanwhile in horse racing, it should be that simple, but it's not. 

You are not betting a 3-1 horse and getting paid $8.00. You are betting a horse "around 3-1, that might go down to 2-1 at the bell, or might even go up". There are different races, you may have different opinions and different tracks, there are exotic bets, and sweeps and everything else. It's muddy. It's not in your face like this.

When we get down to it, however, the rake should matter a lot, and just like FanDuel and others, higher payouts should be used by any good gambler as a part of his or her play.

A serious fantasy player might play 2,000 games at $50 per game in 50/50.

At $45 win, with say a 53% win rate (slightly better than an average player)

Handle: $100,000
Return: $100,700
Profit: $700

At $47 win, with the same hit rate

Handle: $100,000
Return: $102,820
Profit: $2,820

Player B is certainly encouraged to bet more, get better and use the lower juice to his advantage.

In racing, we as players should act exactly the same way. By keeping track of bets we learn what our hit rates are, what our ROI is, and can learn from it.

If you have a hit rate of 27% on 3-1 shots on $4,000 a year bet at a high takeout track:

Handle: $4,000
Return: $4,320
Profit: $320

At a lower takeout track, say that pays $8.60 instead of $8 for a three to one shot:

Handle: $4,000
Return: $4,644
Profit: $644

If you multiply this by thousands of bets, that profit difference, just like at FanDuel, can be huge.

This is why win bonuses work to encourage play. It's an increased payout on that $8 horse, and can turn a $50,000 a year bettor into a $500,000 year one in a a flash.

As for non-bonused players, I often hear, "I know this track and I can beat the 22% rake, rather than at that other track at 12% takeout". I am sorry, but if you are profitable, that's nonsense. If you are good enough to have a hit rate of 27% on 3-1 shots over a long period of time at the Big A, you should be able to translate that to Gulfstream. If you don't and are that variant between tracks, it likely means that hit rate is inflated due to smaller sample size, or it doesn't exist in the first place.

If you are good enough to win at a track with 22% takeouts, and one opens next door with 12% takeouts, run as fast as you can and bet the lower rake track.

Most players aren't good enough to win at 22%+ rake racetracks and push volume - I'm not that's for sure - so in reality almost 100% are losing. I am not comfortable with losing and neither are you. We have to take every edge we can find if we want to make money.

I, for one, take a page from the FanDuel users and flock to those '$47 games, instead of the $45 games'. It might "only be $2" like at a racetrack it's "only 2%", but over time, as things regress to a mean in my hit rate, I end up making more money.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Newbie Racing Marketing - Why Fantasy Sports Betting Sites Succeed

The Existing Betting Customer Is Racing’s Best Hope

-- When compared to ease-of-use and churn focused fantasy sports startups like Fan Duel and Draft Kings, racing is simply not built for the newbie skill game gambling market -- 

Fantasy sports – drafting, fielding and managing a team made up of players in all major sports  – has been on a tear. Back in 1988, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, approximately 500,000 people were playing games in some form.  In 2003, with the help of the Internet and a growing set of dedicated websites, magazines and software, that number grew to 15.2 million. In 2014, it is estimated that over 40 million people this Sunday will be fielding NFL teams as the NFL Fantasy playoffs approach.  This market will spend upwards of $1.7 billion this year on the craft. 

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Breeders Crown Wrap Up

The Breeders’ Crown is never uninteresting. This year was no exception.

We had driver choices, where the top driver in North America booked off a horse who just might be Horse of the Year. We had a fellow (you’d know him, he has a moustache and has won a lot of races) who has not gotten as many stakes drives as we usually see him get, taking a few of the younger boys to school and winning two Crowns. We had a form reversal, where the most hyped trotting colt of 2014, looked more like his old self than he had looked the past few months. Meanwhile, his nemesis was the one who came up flat. We had a Euro win the Crown Open Trot, and his name was not the usual Euro trotter we think of, but Commander Crowe. He was 11 years old.

We saw a horse named after a character in an AMC show who was supposedly not very good; so not good he might’ve been entered in Harrisburg. He won his Crown at even money. We saw a scratch of a Jug Champ early in the day and in the same race, the fastest horse we’ve seen at three in some time, be a scratch at post time.

Like I said, it’s never uninteresting. Unlike past Crowns where things seemed to be settled immediately after the big night, I really don’t know how much was.

Who is the Three Year Old Trotter of the year? Do we make it Father Patrick for winning the Crown, or does Nuncio’s performance since Hambletonian Day trump that. I really don’t know. All I do know is that EL Titan was probably the best trotter tonight – he was hung in no horse land with a brutal trip and put a scare into the winner, with a cheap middle half – and Nuncio has been the best trotter for awhile. Before him, well, let’s not forget about Trixton. It’s a shame we never saw each of them at their very best, by the way. I love all three.

JK She’salady slammed the door, if we can call slamming a door that was already pretty much shut, slamming, for her division. Is she Horse of the Year? I really don’t know. We’ve always wondered what her bottom was and it was kind of her mystique, but you found out tonight. Tetrick went to the well pretty hard. The bottom was 50 and change. We don’t give this award to two year old fillies unless they do something crazy good and generational do we?

As for the two year old pacing colts, we saw an excellent race, but it didn’t really settle much did it? Artspeak wasn’t there, and the “new” divisional leader (In the Arsenal) lost after getting a pretty nice trip after the three wide flashing of the swords that occurred near the half.

The Three Year Old Colt pacing trophy is as muddled as it ever was. Mcwicked won, almost not holding off a 40-1 shot. JK Endofanera looked a little lost out there tonight and Always B Miki joined the Jug Champ on the bench (since then, out with a surgery for a P1).

How about what I think is the most talented trotter to set foot on North American soil since possibly Varenne, Sebastian K? Well, he wasn’t there because he is prepping for the TVG, so we hear. If he wins that race lights out, is he not the Horse of the Year?

The Breeders’ Crown Saturday was entertaining, not even remotely dull, and once again reminded us all why we love this event; especially when it’s at the Meadowlands. But did it all come down to the Breeders’ Crown? I don’t think so; not this year. We have a little ways to go to compile our final tallies.


 -Darin Zocalli was happy with the handle: “The two night format was a proven success producing a combined handle of over $7 Million. Both Pick 4 pools on Saturday were over $100,000. We couldn't be happier with how these races were received by the betting public.” He noted via email. I agree. That’s a pretty good number and the races on Saturday were compelling. In addition, the undercard was quite good, spawning some decent pools, along with a fairly well bet Pick 5. It’s important for this event to be bet, because it’s how the sport is showcased, and how well it is bet is the way we keep score.

 -I postulated last week that I would like to see the Trot Crown races raced in the morning, to export the signal overseas. One of the reasons for that was because of the chalk we see in the Trot races; overseas won’t care as much as North America does when it comes to these payouts. We saw a little of that again on Friday. The first three races were 5-2, 2-5 and 1-9 and they were the trots. Filling up a pick 4 with those prices is generally not what the sport wants to promote. As well, the Open Trot was carded on Saturday very late – like 4 in the morning in Sweden late. That’s something to think about, should this ever be exported in earnest.

 -I believe that the industry has to get together and set a plan in motion to get Breeders’ Crown handle up to $6 million for the assorted races. Getting people together, on the same page, rowing the boat to a destination, is important for any business.

 -I was sorry to see Gallie bythebeach scratched Friday. She was scratched for last year’s Crown final, too. She’s a really nice filly. I feel for the owners of Limelight Beach and Always B Miki as well. How disappointing for them. As a horse owner I know how hard everyone works to get a horse to the races, and to have them not make it on such a big night is downright sad.

-Entertainment value of Saturday versus Friday? It was off the charts. The fractions were big, the racing was tough; a middle half of 53 in the Open pace, and a huge battle in the Open mares, for example. That was electric.

 This was originally posted at Harness Racing Update.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Breeders Crown Friday Longs and Fades

Tonight is the first night of the dual evening Breeders' Crown. I'll be playing live on the twitter so if you want some picks that will probably scope sick afterwards you can follow me there. As for the Crown races themselves tonight, here are a few thoughts.

Race 7 - Aged Mare Trot

Last year's Horse of the Year Bee a Magician has been a shadow of herself this year, despite being in contention, or favorite almost all year. She reminds me a lot of four year old Rachel Alexandra; she's raced okay, but she is not herself. She was particularly flat last week and adds lasix. I suspect you might get odds if you like her, but she's been a fade for me all season and I can't change now.

I am not overly thrilled with anyone here, because they all look a little flat. Classic Martine is an obvious use and if somehow Charmed Life can race like she did a month ago, I think she airs, because at her best, she is probably the best horse in this division. I will have a look at her in the post parade. If her head is straight and focused, not on one line, that will be my cue to bet.

Race 8 - Two Year Old Filly Trot

For those of you who like handicapping, you hate Mission Brief. For those of you who like math, you might as well use it to handicap her. She has broke 3 of her last 7 races and when she breaks it's over. The other four were cakewalk wins. I don't think there's ever been a horse like this in harness racing history. If she's 2-5 she is mathematically a poor bet. End of story. She did drift out last week and should find it a bit tougher this time. 2,3 and 9 are uses for me in the sweep.

Race 9 - Three Year Old Filly Trot

Shake it Cerry stands out and should win this race at a short price, keying a low paying pick 4, if so. I have been very impressed of late, however, with 30-1 Morning line filly Riveting Rosie. I will use her in the two and three slots underneath, and in the pick 4.

Race 10 - Three Year Old Filly Pace

This is probably the most interesting race to bet of the evening. The star of the division is 6-5 chalk Colors a Virgin, but I will be looking elsewhere this evening, because I feel she will be too short a price and I expect some fireworks here off the gate.  I won't be betting the farm, but I will be looking at post ten starter Precocious Beauty, and last week's winner Gallie By the Beach.

We'll be back tomorrow with a look at the Saturday card.

In the meantime, for more Breeders' Crown thoughts there is a 10 page pullout in this month's Horseplayer Monthly magazine, for free, here. (includes a free pp link)

Good luck and Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Margins & Profit: The Difference to Betting Growth Depends on Where You Take the Money

I've been doing some reading based on NBA head Adam Silver's recent comments about betting, and his partnership with Fantasy sports stalwart Fan Duel. It's of interest for a number of reasons; primarily because from a revenue perspective it provides league's with a number of options.

By partnering with a fantasy site, part of the 800,000 or so users can be promoted to watch games. Since many NBA, or NHL games do not even get 800,000 viewers for one telecast, the potential is obvious. However, what is interesting is the revenue end. Fantasy sports revenue has been estimated at several billion dollars, and they are using teams and players to generate that money. There's some potential meat on the bone for the league's themselves.

Coincidentally, yesterday we saw another CHRB meeting, where we witnessed what we usually end up witnessing at them. A fight over who is betting what, where. According to a few items I read on the twitter, the board was asking ADW's to somehow have location based IP blocking, so when customers are at the track they would not be allowed to bet with the ADW. Of course, the track and purses in California gets about 20% of the action in revenue, for a guy betting on Xpressbet at the track they get about 10%.

Although those two examples highlight the same thing - going after at least a portion of revenue that a league or track think they rightfully "own", there could not be more stark differences.

In the NBA's case (and other sports' leagues as legal gambling or fantasy move along) they would ask for a slice of this revenue (call it monetizing) in a number of ways:

1) A share of gross profits. This is a form of licensing fee.

2) Because states would be taxing legal sports betting or fantasy, the leagues would get their share, or kickback, from stadium deals, rent, and tax breaks.

3) Advertising partnerships, like Silver is doing with Fan Duel - Fan Duel has a lot of eyeballs, and eyeballs are worth money.

When a racetrack or horsemen group wants money or the ubiquitous "fair share", it's done quite differently.

1) They ask to stifle competition, so they get more. This is the CHRB example above. They're asking players to pay 5% more to bet at the track; if for example, the ADW player is getting 5 points back.

2) They ask for an increase in margins. This is a boost in takeout, not an increase of a share of end profit. California did this in 2010, Churchill this year, and hundreds of tracks and commissions have, since the original takeout rate (again, margin) was increased from 5% in 1907 to about 21.5% today.

In case I, the sports leagues would get paid their fair share, as they see it, and as the reseller sees it. It's not based on anything but a profit motive. i.e. when the sports' league takes a share of net profit, they are a partner in Fan Duel growing their net profit numbers, and their revenue numbers. As Fan Duel goes, as the popularity grows, so do revenues.

Fan Duel's average margin (takeout) is about 8%, which is where they need to be to maximize their growth and profit. The NBA would not ask for 4% of margin, because that margin increase would be met with i) decreased top line revenue ii) fewer eyeballs and iii) less long term profit for both the NBA and Fan Duel. This is not hocus pocus, it's just business. Wal-Mart would love 5% margins I am sure, but it would put them out of business, so they can't. Just like any other business, it's in the NBA's best interest not to touch margins, because increasing margins does not mean more money.

Not only that, the state itself won't want that to happen. You don't see the state of Nevada taxing 4 cents of a $1 token on a slot machine, or asking Steve Wynn to add zeros to a roulette wheel. They'd make less tax money. They leave that to the resellers and tax as revenue and profit grow. 

Contrary, in horse racing, this is all that's touched: Margins.

As margins are fought for, at Churchill or with the CHRB, or otherwise, top line revenue falls, racing gets less popular, and in the end, it's detrimental, and everyone makes fewer dollars.

Horse racing was not built to grow, because revenue has never been taken off at the gross profit level, but at the margin level. It's been a fight for a slice, where when the slices get bigger, the pie gets smaller. It's fundamental, entrenched, and racing simply knows no other way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No Easy Answer to Breeders' Crown Conundrum, Notes

Crown elimination winners Voelez Hanover and Traceur Hanover are set to go this weekend, despite their trainer getting popped with a positive this week. Trainer Corey Johnson, according to harnesslink, had a blood gas positive (he also had one in May of 2013), and all of his horses have been scratched in Canada, and he is under a full suspension.

This is clearly not ideal for the Crown, and rings similar to the Doug O'Neill situation in the Cup, but I doubt there is too much that can, or should, be done. I suspect that it being a full suspension, the NJ commission could honor that, or Jeff Gural or the Crown could, and ask that the horses be entered with another trainer (I believe his father is under a two year probation as well, so someone outside the stable), but time is clearly of the essence, and I don't know how fair that is either way.

Racing is never boring.

As for the Crown, Friday and Saturday night are the races, and there should be some better than average races to watch. Most of the stars are there, and despite the end of the year when some of these horses are a little chewed, many are not. JK She'salady, Always B Miki, the aged pacers, and Commander Crowe trying to win the Crown for Europe all provide good storylines. Harness Racing Update will have several big issues this weekend, highlighting the Crown.

The Crown will also be featured in Horseplayer Monthly with a special section, coming out tomorrow. Also looked at will be the DQ situation at Santa Anita from the BC Classic.

I saw on twitter today purses will be rising at Hawthorne because betting is up. That's doing things the old fashioned way.

November will be a down month for horse racing, but by how much? That's the question. There are some tracks  - Aqueduct, Churchill - doing poorly.

Thanks to Joe F for the link, the city of Halifax has a special bond with the people of Boston, and they've sent the usual November tree. When the massive explosion happened during WWI, killing 1,600 from the city, the city of Boston came to their Canadian friends aid and people in this part of the World never forgot. It's a big reason why there are so many Bruins and Patriots fans out this way as well. Generational.

Analytics on NFL telecasts do not happen. This was looked at today on MMQB. Long held narratives continue, while they simply should not. You get a real sense of this with in running betting. When a coach makes a mathematically poor, but politically right decision, the odds on the team will drop. Meanwhile on TV, the commentator says, it was the right call.

Courtesy Emma Vare EL Titan readies for his Crown try in the three year old trot, in the snowstorm that hit the northeast yesterday. Have a great day everyone.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Changes in Sports Culture Is Felt in Horse Racing

Yesterday there was some big news in drug land. The DEA in the US conducted some surprise visits of NFL teams, sweeping for illegal prescription drugs, poorly or unethical record keeping and otherwise. A long held belief is that the practice (among others) has been going on in the NFL with the athletes:
  • “They know there’s a problem. I’m sitting here with stage 3 kidney failure because of concealment of my medical records. And the lack of responsibility on the medical professionals’ parts,” former 49ers player Jeremy Newberry told KPIX 5.  “I would be very surprised if they didn’t find exactly what they wanted to find in those locker rooms.”
The NFL has had a reputation for doing anything at all costs to field a team. I remember reading "You're Okay It's Just a Bruise" about the Raiders team doctor in the 1980's and believing every word of it; even if some of it was embellished, it just fit. I heard the story from a friend (my stable partner and long time university betting pal) whose father played pro in the CFL; where one particular player who was getting hurt "too much" continued to play in a game with a compound leg fracture because "coach is going to cut me if I don't".

It's a part of the league's culture.

Nowadays things have changed. Looking the other way is replaced with DEA raids. Bounties get you in trouble. In the 1970's, clotheslines, gauging out a man's eyes in a scrum, dirty play, leading with a helmet, putting a QB in the hospital is becoming not the norm, but something that the public, the league and the players association is handling much differently. Old time players and some fans (in some cases rightfully) gripe about the new rules and the new way of doing things ("it's not even football anymore!") but it's the way it is.

That change of culture is starting to make things better for a league that needs every inch of good PR it can find, to both keep the money coming in, and to keep mother's and father's sending their kids to football camps when they're eleven. It's not 1970 anymore.

Horse racing is going through many of the same challenges. We see stories about Cobalt, or Indiana vets, or Class II penalites or overages, or googling for milkshakes. We see talk about raceday drugs, Dbarns, shock wave therapy machines, hyperbaric chambers, jugs and "compounds". On one side we have some folks who say "no matter what we do, PETA will not be happy" or "it's only an overage, and a bookeeping mistake", or "they're out to get me like OJ". On the other we have zero tolerance, where anything remotely outside the law is worth booting someone out for, for a hundred years, with due process at all.

Like the NFL, the answer for horse racing probably lies somewhere in the middle. And changing the culture gets any sport to track a proper path - where things like honest debate and trial and error replace demagoguery - and I think that's happening.

When an NFL coach says "I can't send him in because he is hurt and we may do irreparable damage long term" the culture needle is moving. When a player who gets his bell rung tells his team doc he needs to be looked at, the culture needle is moving. When a 235 pound safety pulls up before creaming an exposed receiver on a cross route with the ball five yards over his head, the culture needle is moving.

Similarly, when a vet who does not keep proper records gets sanctioned and most say "that's good" rather than "he's a nice guy, let him off", the horse racing culture needle is moving. When a guy gets his tenth overage and the sport doesn't say "it's just for banamine" but "we have to ensure our stable managers are cognizant of the rules so he needs to be set down until he can do this correctly", the culture needle is moving.

When whipping rules or kicking rules are enacted and there is barely a peep about them anymore from participants, that's the culture needle moving. When track vets scratch a lame horse at the gate, when a guy who uses a shock wave machine on race day gets called out, when a Quarterhorse track owner cancels a race, when a dude like Gural hires his own investigators, when thinking twice about jamming a lame horse into a claimer who can't walk, and a hundred other things we've seen happen of late happen, the culture needle is moving.

Horse racing is not the first sport to be under fire for "this is the way we've always done it, so leave me alone." It was like that in baseball, cycling, track and now football. Those sports had to act in very public ways. But perhaps - probably because horse racing is so fractured - it might be the last to truly act through some sort of federal reform. However, in my view, the sport has a better chance to get meaningful reform done than ever before because in 2014, the horse racing culture needle has been moving for some time. The sport is beginning to do it all on its own.

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fan Duel Demo's & Growth & Racing's Big Sleep

The cash game fantasy sports avenue that has been growing recently - Fan Duel, as well as Draft Kings and others - has been making a lot of noise. Interestingly, the NBA is certainly on their side, as witnessed by the comments of commissioner Adam Silver in the New York Times.

These sites are not new, and Fantasy sports has been played for money for ages (not to mention office pools and other forms of betting) but they've since gone mainstream. People who love sports are playing them, and those with a particular affinity for stats, advanced analytics, like Chase Stuart, are devoting time to it. 

This is clearly the aggregation of a phenomenon.

What is most interesting, is that the game appears to have value. Takeout rates are not penal - in fact Fan Duel have some of the worst (if you can call these bad) - and winning is an option. Piggybacking on the popularity of sports in general, is not difficult.

The demographic also reads like a who's who, for Madison Avenue or any gambling game. Approximately 4 in 10 players are women, and the demo skews young and relevant when it comes to technology, with approximately 7 in ten playing on a tablet or mobile device.

 In other words: A fun medium, low takeout rates, ability to win if you are smart, a growing demo with a high marginal propensity to consume, skewed younger, who use modern technology to survive.  What's exactly not to like?

Other than the obvious political risk (what gambling game does not have that), the sky appears to be the limit. Fantasy sports, like Horse Racing, has a carve out in the UIGEA of 2006.

Racing's carve out in that same act has not seen the same trajectory. There are "source market fees", regulations led by horsemen, infighting, penal takeout rates that only go higher. While Fan Duel and others have maximized their carve out be being entrepreneurial and forward thinking, racing has, unsurprisingly, gone the other way.

The usual response to such issues is that horse racing relies on betting revenue. That is barely partially true. Slots make up close to 40% of the purses, and Fan Duel is not a charity. They set their rates and work their business on a marginal cost and revenue basis like any other to maximize profit. Horse racing should be run similarly.

Although it really is an untrue statement in the first place, responses like "horse racing is expensive you know" only show how little racing understands the modern gambling consumer. It's not a customers job to care about the health of any business, it's a business's job to care about a customer. If Steve Wynn is having union issues and wants to charge more for the use of his gym, consumers just go next door to use another casino gym. If players - and I believe this is, has and will happen - move to skill based Fantasy Sports, it's not their fault horse racing can't get it together to attract them.

Disruptive technologies have changed businesses throughout history. In the late 1800's people were upset that loud steam "cars" were scaring the horses and tried to ban them. Sotheby's was no great fan of Ebay, newspapers not supporters of the free information flow of the net, companies selling $20 CD's with one hit and eight bad songs really, really dislike iTunes. Fantasy sports were long a back room pursuit by gamblers, statistics junkies and sports fans; but with entrepreneurship, the embrace of risk, and the hope to generate rates of return, this has been brought out into the open. Racing has done almost the exact opposite with their carve-out, and it is emblematic of the industry at its very core.  It's no way to run any business in the 21st century, and in no way can this industry be successful in terms of end-use gambling demand if they continue with such strategies.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Here's the Unvarnished 2014 Horse Racing Handle Story

As we all know, handle will be down this year - by what amount we are not yet sure - and there have been plenty of reasons given. Some tracks like to pull out every excuse in the book when their handle goes down (it's not our fault), or up (it was our brilliant management) and some tell the truth, but usually it's an array of scattered reasons which are difficult to decipher.

Let's take a quick trip around the racing globe for a summary.

Kentucky: Churchill Downs has been terrible; we all followed that story. Keeneland also had a down year (nowhere near as bad as Churchill on a day by day basis, but down). Ellis Park, well, they were up. The star of the show in Kentucky has been Kentucky Downs, with another big year.

So Cal: This year is one of big transition in So Cal. Instead of going to lower handle places like the Cal Fairs and Hollywood, stalwarts like Santa Anita and Del Mar (and the higher handle Los Al) have been given more racedates. So, it will be a little like comparing apples to grapefruits. Handle in the Golden State, although nowhere near good, should be fine because of the new track mix.

New York: New York had about the best thing they could've hoped for: A Triple Crown try. That generated millions in handle on Belmont Day, because people always follow a TC horse. Lately, bad weather and poor fields have really hurt. Yesterday, for example, according to @LDMcpherson on the twitter, about $1,000,000 was bet into the pick 6, versus $90k last year on this day, and handle was up only $260,000 for the day.  Despite the weather, New York looks like it may be having issues beyond that and should be watched closely.

Florida:  Like So Cal, there has been a sea change in the state, with more racedates going to the branded signal at Gulfstream. As well, instead of Calder we're seeing "Gulfstream Park West" with lower rakes and a better signal. Apples to grapefruits, but I expect they will have a good year.

Canada: Woodbine had a terrible April, but stormed back nicely and they should have a decent year. Canadian harness racing - as an aside - has been doing better. Despite a large decrease in racedays post slots, handle is up overall and has increased nicely (over 15%) on a per race basis.

Breeders' Cup: BC handle was up slightly in 2014 versus last year, with a good set of races when compared to 2013. 

As for other tracks, it's the usual mixed bag. Indiana Downs had a decent year, tracks like Mountaineer are struggling for horses. Suffolk Downs is no more, there is no racing in Virginia as well. In Ohio, with glorious slots, something positive will likely occur, but really, the state is not on the player's radar yet in any meaningful way. I never know what to make of Louisiana, but Delta Downs sure tries hard, and we'll see if CDI improves Fair Grounds. Who knows. 

Regarding 2014 handle, everyone likes a bumper sticker reason; maybe that is societal I don't know. But to do that is folly. Handle did not go up at Keeneland because of "dirt" - an argument can be made that field size went down because of dirt, in fact. Handle did not go down at Churchill because of  "small foal crops" that have an effect on all tracks, not just them. The "economy" or "offshore gambling" or a hundred other reasons held up as poster boys over the years really never held water, and don't hold water now.

I'll take a shot at what's happened thus far.

1) The number of races have fallen - Although this does not work one to one, percentage by percentage (e.g. a 5% drop in races does not mean a 5% drop in handle), this is clearly a factor. If McDonald's cuts stores, same store sales - barring any other changes - will fall by some amount, more than likely. It does not have to be this way - with some direction - but in the current state of racing it does.

2) The game has gotten more expensive - Sure the handle tanked at Churchill after the rake hike, but that tanking does not generally have to do with the price (price hikes are a slow burn on handles), more to do with people fed up with price hikes and not being respected as a customer. Regardless, the game has gotten more expensive to play and takeout matters. It's just math. When the price of a bet goes up, bankrolls gets degraded quicker, en masse - the walk of shame to the ATM can only happen so many times before you keep right on walking through the exit. Less money to bet, fewer happy customers and less churn. Things like high rake jackpot bets only adds to this. For a parallel think of the decade golf has had. $500 clubs, an hour drive for a six hour round, gas prices up, working harder for your money, more taxes to pay: Fewer golfers.

3) Crappy races - I had a chat with an every day player on Tuesday. He said he ran a filter to find races to bet (he runs this each day) and out of all the cards on Tuesday, his filter told him to bet a grand total of zero races. I've heard this from more than one player. Short fields at higher takeout is no way to attract bettors.

4) Signal fees and protecting signals - I used to bet Finger Lakes, now I can't even find it to bet. I don't know how many ADW's are being shut out from signals - some tracks have asked larger entities to distribute their signal for them "to get a better price" - and that usually means a signal is stifled. In addition, some tracks are pricing themselves too high, and this is causing players to look elsewhere.  "Source Market Fees" (you will hear more about this in the coming year because more horsemen groups want to do them) are an absolute scourge for the betting customer, and additions of those in 2014 to NY and PA certainly have not helped handles. There's only one pie and cutting it up so the non-betting side of it has more results in fewer dollars bet.

5) Whales and big players - There are rumors that a few larger players have passed on, that some computer groups have left the game, and so on. The latter, if true, probably has more to do with #4 above.

Racing has done some things good: Like allocating more dates to tracks where there's handle, like So Cal and Florida have done. If everything was equal and static, that in itself should've caused handle to rise in 2014. However, it was pulled down by good old fashioned elastic betting factors like rises in the price of a bet, fewer number of races, more fees, and a lower number of bettable races. 

That in a nutshell, is my view on handle, so far, in 2014. It's a slow burn and it probably will continue for the forseeable future.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday Notes

Good morning racing fans.

It's been a big news cycle. We've got symbolic deals signed with China and M and M, or Eminem, or whatever, is swearing a blue streak on HBO. Just to be topical - being topical is how I get as much traffic as the Paulick Report - I am proud to announce I have signed a deal with both Magna and CDI where they promised me they will begin lowering takeout in 2030, and I have successfully taken the job as Scott Blasi's agent to get him hired to host the 2015 Eclipse Awards. "Nice moth@#%*(*&$ job Pletch!"

Now with that out of the way......

The Breeders' Crown has attracted over 150 entries. Elim's are this weekend (Friday and Saturday) and the Finals are next Friday and Saturday. This year looks a little more competitive than last, and if the races are carded right next week, we might have some playable pick 4's or 5's. Often times at the Crown, chalk tends to dominate with picking posts and strong favorites. There is a handicapping contest live for those who are at or near the Big M.

There was some chatter on twitter this morning about the Betfair "API" which allows for developers, bettors and anyone else, access to data. This encourages growth in a number of ways - vendors can build software to sell to users, data can be scraped and used by bettors, betting bot programs can be created so you can bet and lay by system, and not have to be playing live. Betfair has had this strategy for a long time, and has been commended for it a number of times. Most recently, right here at ProgrammableWeb.

While racing has been arguing about splits, banning internet wagering on horse racing in some states (to get a bigger slice and to "get people to come to the track"), the rest of the gambling world has been working hard. Racing saying "we need more young blood" when they are offering 20th century things to a 21st century world is like the aforementioned HBO saying they are shocked M and M swore at a Veterans Day concert.

Driver change on JK She's a Lady. I cringe when I see these sorts of headlines. If the horse comes back bad the driver will jump ship, and in the superstitious game of horse ownership, it just does not sit well. If she's good enough, Verlin Yoder could catch drive and win.

Bitplayer left a comment on yesterday's post:

"I've been reading the book Gambling Wizards you mentioned in an earlier post. One of the threads that jumps out as I read about experts in different games of skill is how much computers have changed each of those games, increasing the level of skill required to be competitive. That dynamic is certainly at work in horse racing, increasing the commitment (in terms of data gathering and analysis) required to win (or even lose slowly), which in turn reduces the game's appeal to more casual players."

Strong point. We want information to make decisions, but holes in the information marketplace allow us to make sound bets with an edge. I'm sure Pittsburgh Phil could survive in some form today, but being a railbird and clocking race times by hand sure helped him. No one else was really doing it.

A little story on that I shared with Dink last week. When I was about 19 I noticed a track opened (Hiawatha) where the qualifiers were really slow. The surface must've been terrible. One horse raced and dropped six seconds from his qualifying time (I saw it in a local trade paper). Lo and behold, a filly was making her first career start that qualified in 2:04 there, all the way in Toronto at the top track. I raised $12 or $14 to go play the horse. She was 22-1, tipped off cover and won in 58 an change. Great effort. That could not happen today. Bias beaters, bad tracks, and all the rest are available for everyone to see. She was probably 5-2 fair odds and would be much closer to that than 22-1 today.

The WSOP was on last night (I did not watch) but a couple of peeps were talking about how boring it was in real time. I agree, and I think TV did not do as much for the poker boom as people think. I think being able to be introduced to a game that one can win at played more of a part. In poker you can be a poor player and make some hay through the 5 cent/10 cent tables online as you learn. At least you can churn a bankroll. In horse racing new players are thrown in the deep end. What's a new player supposed to do? Bet show and get raked to death with breakage and 16% juice? He or she ends up playing Pick 6 tickets promoted on TVG or the Santa Anita feed and not having any fun. Losing money sucks.

That's it for today folks. Have a great day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Event Meets to Event Days to One Event

There was an interesting diddy on the Paulick Report regarding Breeders' Cup handle versus Kentucky Derby Day handle. The Cup's handle has been stagnating (or falling per race) while the Derby handle has been growing. Many comments have focused on what the Cup might be doing wrong (too many races, bad marketing to upscale etc) and what the Derby has done right. But I am of the opinion that we're comparing apples to alligators.

What we've seen over the last five to ten years in racing has been handle degradation on the overall 365 "game" of horse racing. Some of it is field size related, some of it takeout related, some of it due to the fact that fewer races are being contested. But that degradation has been real.

Buttressing those handle losses has been the "big meet" increase we've seen at places like Keeneland, and to some extent Del Mar and Saratoga. Your average every day player might not be finding races he wants to bet on a Tuesday at Arlington, but he or she was finding it at the bigger meets.

Until recently. Those meets - outside Kentucky Downs - have recently been befallen like the longer meets have been since 2008.

The Breeders' Cup is really one big, super meet. It's two days of some of the best wagering on earth, but just like Keeneland or Del Mar, it's a slave to the current betting market - a betting market that has been shrinking. They're still putting the line in the pond with a really nice, juicy delectable feast as bait, but there are fewer fish in the pond.

Conversely, the Derby - one day, branded and a piece of Americana - doesn't need to fish in a pond of bettors. It fishes in a pond filled with people wanting to play the Derby. The TV ratings for it are not up because there are many millions more racing fans, it's up because of things like population growth, and well, people "watch the Derby in May". This is why many (me included) felt it made perfect sense to increase the Churchill rake for the Derby, but leaving it the hell alone for the rest of the meet.

Similarly, Belmont had a great day Belmont Day, but what do they do without a potential Triple Crown champion? Probably still okay because the Triple Crown races are branded to a mass audience.

Racing has gone from being a skill game with a massive four or five day a week betting market to a market which waits for big meets, to one that seems to show up in the pools only on big Triple Crown days. The Breeders' Cup finds itself caught up in that.

Perhaps next year will be much better. People may be excited for Keeneland as a new venue and they may open their wallets a little more on a fairer track and better turf course. I don't know. But the long term trend in Cup handle, in my view, will be correlated more to aggregate yearly handle statistics than parties, pick 6's, Richie Sambora, or anything else.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Skill Gambling Game's Competitive Edge Has Always Been Clear

Using your mind and your competitive instinct to win something or get ahead is as old - as far as gambling skill games go - as life itself. Hundreds of years ago in the UK this primarily fell to horses, but since then competitive chess, backgammon, scrabble, video gaming and dozens of other avenues have entered the fore.

Most recently, though, I do not think there's been a game quite like Fantasy Sports. Strat-o-matic baseball could not quite cut it, but today's Fantasy sure does.

According to this article in the New York Times, 41 million people are playing fantasy sports. And they're doing so for money in daily or weekend leagues, unlike the fantasy sports you and I grew up on which were season long affairs. This has not only boosted companies like Fan Duel, it has boosted the leagues which embrace it.
  • Fantasy players consume twice as much sports as the average sports fan, according to Paul Charchian, the president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA). Charchian, who says fewer than five million people played fantasy sports pre-Internet, believes fantasy players have been the impetus for the big-money television deals leagues like the NFL and NBA have inked.
Right now the medium seems at its zenith, although I guess there is room to grow, as long as mistakes are not made.

The knee-jerk reasons given to why this is succeeding are custom: It's new, younger people like it, it's fast action like slot machines, it's marketed well, and on and on. For the most part, I believe that's a bunch of hooey. The primary driver of Fantasy sports is no different than the primary driver of poker or horse betting or any other skill game: the aforementioned ability to win by using your head.

What can stop the growth? The same thing that stops the growth of other skill-based games: Squeezing margins or not knowing your client, so the game becomes a game to benefit the house, not people who are good at it.

Case in point, this thread about "Poker Stars".  The post, from a newbie, is related to the increase in juice at the online poker stalwart, in addition to new "games of chance" that are added (at higher margin, to somehow attract newbies) that a true skill player wants nothing to do with.

"As a "rec" player myself, I thought I'd write a post on what I personally feel about the whole thing. I got into poker almost 13 months ago to wile away my commute here in Japan, which runs to around 2 hours a day. In addition, I have a new baby, so I'm not going out much anymore. My focus is on filling in the time I must be sitting somewhere (train/couch) and unable to do anything else.
Before I played chess and had managed to get into the top 7-10% (by ratings) on My poker goals (which I was prepared to spend some money on) were: Learn new game. Get better. Start to win.

START TO WIN. Why does anyone play any game OF SKILL? I notice you and Poker Stars have an actual legal obligation to prove that it is, in fact, a game of skill right? Unlike, say, roulette. So, just like playing chess, video games,tennis what have you......rec players play to WIN. So, what is the best way to increase "rec" players? INCREASE THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO CAN WIN AT POKER. Does this mean introducing some stupid-ass gambling games like Spin'n'Go? No. If I wanted to gamble, I'd play slots on a casino site for gods sake. Where's the sense of accomplishment in that? "

We can all see horse racing parallels with that discussion. Over the years this skill game - this glorious skill game - has been made harder and harder to win at.

To "increase" business, we've seen jackpot bets at 50% rakes as a means to attract more betting dollars, which in the end, sucks money out of the aggregate pools by reducing churn. It makes the game harder to beat. It's horse racing's version of "Spin n' Go"

And the price? Well, that's been obvious. In 1907 rake was 5%, now in some places it's over 30%. Signal fees are up, pari-mutuel taxes that are in effect after you actually win something are penal.

Short fields have made this problem even greater by spreading more juice over fewer combinations (take some 50 cent trifectas in a five horse field and let me know your ROI at the end of the year).

There's been a sign in front of this sport for a long time now. For skill based players, it's octoganal, and red. 

Right now everyone is giddy over fantasy football. 41 million people, seed cap and series I financing's for websites, money changing hands at electric rates. Like any game, it's only as good as long as players feel they have a chance to win. In a few years let's see if they make the mistakes that some skill games make. If they're smart they will use horse racing as a guide, and never let their customers ability to win erode.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Judges, Political Betting, Ex Post Facto & the Line

Maybe it's just my nature, but when someone(s) does something(s) I may disagree with, or at times find particularly egregious, I try to keep an even keel. It doesn't really matter what it is.

I abhored the NFL's pre-Ray Rice policy on domestic violence of only two games. And watching a video of a guy in an elevator did not sway me. I was not upset with the punishment, because Rice's actions called for two games in the CBA and that's what he got. I was more upset that he got some sort of counselling as a punishment from the courts. Anyway, I digress. The point is, when a law is on the books and precedent is set, I can't be upset at the decision of the person in charge. He or she is just living by the set of guidelines placed in front of them. The policy needs changing, and to me, it's a simple as that.

Similarly, watching the Breeders' Cup Classic, when Bayern came over on the field, what I saw is what everyone saw. But I was 99.9 to about eleven significant digits percent sure that he would not be taken down; simply because horses in Cali are never taken down for doing that.  Just because I was watching the elevator video of horse racing bumper cars on national TV, my opinion was not swayed.

Those who did want Bayern taken down for that infraction are in full force. And like the Ray Rice situation I understand it. But, as above, ex post facto does not work with me. Asking the Santa Anita judges to throw Bayern out is asking them to be inconsistent, the exact opposite of what I want them to be.They should not be thrown under a bus for doing exactly what they always do, whether the race is a 12 claimer or a $5 million one.

Judges have a tough job, and it's made tougher because i) There is no judges school nationwide that someone graduates from, and is updated regularly, like the NFL officials have and do, and ii) there are about 46 states with 92 different ways to judge something subjective.

Policies somehow need to be enacted in racing about judging and setting rules that are clearer and easier to enforce rationally and consistently.  How, I do not know. It's probably not a "foul is a foul is a foul" and it's probably not "the rider has to fall off for it to be interference". A hybrid of such, called consistently and fairly throughout the 50 states and Canada, would be a good start.

Last night the political betting was not very exciting, because many of the races were not offered out to play, but again, after the fact, for those of us who bet, make lines, and look for edges, just like we do in horse racing, it was an education.

Back in 2012, Nate Silver was the bomb. ESPN came calling. If you said anything remotely bad about him you got flamed. And If you were betting against his line, you were not bright. Nate hit almost all of the races. I, of course, doing a little research, looked for holes in that, and tried to bet against some low odds "horses". I have done that in the past because county by county results can show a picture that can be acted upon, and I've never made money betting by being one of the "can't lose" crowd.

Well, I had some egg on face, and more importantly, I was a lot lighter in the wallet. Those counties in Indiana that went Romney big when compared to McCain? Those districts in Florida that looked similar? Red herrings, the polls were right.

Fast forwarding two years, the analytics guys and gals today - the "sure thing" types - are the ones with eggs on their faces.  If there were markets for some of these races, you could've made a boatload of money. Polls that said 10% spreads were 10% wrong. 99% probability races were more like 50%. Last night was worse in terms of accuracy and betting lines than 2004 after the exit polls leaked.

I was speaking with @dinkinc last night on his radio show. I like Alan, he's a nice dude and you should follow him. It was a gambling show, and gamblers never talk in terms of "sure things" or "picking winners" and ex-post facto is a disease. The above is a good reason why.

Every bet or opinion has a chance it will happen, and a chance it won't happen, and there are odds associated with each potential result. If we handicap it and stake an opinion, knowing full well two things - that there's no such thing as an expert who never failed, and sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield - I think in the long run we'll be okay.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

4 Horses I Am Excited to See in 2015

Here are four horses (two thoroughbreds and two harness) I am really excited to watch in 2015.

Tonalist - How many horses can win at 12 furlongs from behind and get in a duel to Bayern at 10 furlongs in fast splits the Travers and still almost win? How many 3YO's are seasoned enough to stick handle around a half dozen horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, just miss a spill, and win going away? How many horses look as sound as this one does approaching a four year old year? How many horses are trained by connections that can likely keep him that way by not overreaching? How many horses can fire home like he did, off a no-chance trip he had on the speed-favoring Santa Anita strip on Saturday against good horses like that? He's not a closer, or a speed horse or a stalker, he's not one paced or needs a specific distance between 9 and 12 furlongs. He seems like a horse who is getting better. I am excited to see how he develops in 2015.

Always B Miki - There have been a few three year old colt pacers that have made us say "wow" over the years, but not since 2008, when Somebeachsomewhere took the sport by storm, winning 20 of 21 races and setting four world records and a half a dozen track records in the process. But, boy, this guy makes you say wow. In the Meadowlands Pace he went one of the toughest trips in harness racing history - three high the whole way around, and four and five high at the top of the stretch and still fired home in 25.3, coming just a stupid-good second. He heads to the Red Mile, gets chirped at the head of the lane and opens six in literally three blinks of an eye. This guy is still green, still gets on a line, and is still learning what racing is all about, yet he is this good. I'm excited to see if he can put it all together, keep getting better, and finds his feet in 2015.

Bobby's Kitten - From his first couple of races as a two year old he made some noise. You knew he had wicked speed, but he was high-strung, could not settle, and didn't seem to know what he was out there to do. That, unfortunately carried on through most of his three year old season, but at Woodbine last month something appeared to click. He made the lead, didn't look too settled, but raced really well, never giving it up until late, and ran a really nice TimeformUS number. Tried as a sprinter last Saturday he made one of the most exciting moves we'll ever see a horse make in that race. He flew home in under 22 seconds, in a jaw dropping performance. Maybe he'll be a sprinter, maybe he will learn to race and settle, or maybe he won't. But I am excited to see him in 2015, because you can't teach that kind of athleticism; horses are only born with it.

JK Shesalady - This freshman pacing filly has done nothing wrong in 2014, and she has been handled with kid gloves. Always settling, coming from just off it, never speed compromised; she has been allowed to learn what being a racehorse is about. She has not been beaten, never really been too close to being beaten, and she looks far ahead of the current crop of fillies. Because she has not used her early foot you are left wondering what's in that tank. But since she looks so sound and happy, and handles whatever seems to be thrown at her, you can't help but be excited by her. It'll be fun to see what happens in 2015 if she comes back sound and is stretched out.

I guess the above list is different than a lot of people's. But for me, seeing horses realize their potential, or having them season to the point where they might do something special always catches my eye. Those are four horses that I really think are in a position to do something neat next year.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Beyer Is Right: Pari-Mutuel "Chaos"

Props to Beyer today for adding a semblance of common sense the nationally televised Breeders' Cup Classic, involving a semi-controversial figure to some, Bob Baffert.
  • There was no DQ because stewards almost never disqualify a horse – in any race, big or small – for actions like Bayern’s.  Horses don’t run like trains on a track. In the first stride or two of almost every Thoroughbred race, there is inevitable jostling and bumping. Penalizing horses for one unavoidable bump in the first stride would create chaos in the sport.
TimeformUS's Justin Finch also adds to the discussion when he said this happens "1000's of times".

Both points are incredibly strong.

Horses are not machines, and when a gate breaks, high strung thoroughbred's - probably 1 of 15 or so races - can make right or left turns on one line. When that happens, jockeys who are well versed professionals to their finnicky mounts, immediately try to correct by pulling the opposite line. 

Yesterday in the fourth race - the Juveline Fillies - jockey Miguel Mena on the five made contact with the Mark Casse filly by taking a hard left turn out of the gate. He tried to correct by pulling on the right line and ended up doing so, but not before the filly was sandwiched and wiped out.

Garcia trying to straighten the inside break
A few hours later Martin Garcia on Bayern did exactly the same thing. His mount veered left hard, and then he, like Mena, did what he's done hundreds of times before and pulled on the right line to straighten up. But the damage was done.

By calling an inquiry on this (I personally think there would've been no inquiry if Larry did not alert people it happened in the Classic, the opposite of the Juvy fillies when nothing was said) it sends us into pari-mutuel chaos. We as horseplayers can function if contact the first few strides out of the gate happen because they are random occurrences, based on no malice. We can not if there are inquiries every third race, and fouls with no malice or control get penalized. That's the definition of unfairness.

Fouls need to be penalized in horse racing fairly, uniformly, based on intent or doing something while under control. Jockey's can not be asked to keep, as Andy Beyer notes. straight lines out of the gate like they're riding a mechanical train on surveyed steel tracks. With a thoroughbred racehorse unleashed with pent up power, with bells ringing and crowds roaring, that's asking the impossible.

The capricious needs to be looked at exactly in that context. Some issues in racing - just like in other sports' gambling or otherwise - are simply part of the game.

Breeders Cup End Notes

Here we are at the end of another eventful Breeders' Cup. I can't write like @alanLATG on my best day, but after playing the races for about 20 hours the last two days I can barely muster that, so I will use some bullets.

Here are a few thoughts from today (and yesterday).

Breeders' Cup handle was about flat, when we take into account the pick 5 carryover from last year, along with the fact that there was one fewer BC race this year (they ditched the Marathon, which I was the only person on Earth that found a good betting race). I suspected it would be up, with the field size, but alas, the business ain't what it once was.

Unlike in harness racing, where four or five guys control all the good mounts, there were 13 races with 13 different jockey's handed the hardware.

The Euro's - long thought to have a big edge on the green - were shut out on the turf this year (as I have been alerted, the Japanese bred who races in France is a Euro; don't blame me I look at speed figures). Maybe they were not good enough, maybe that hard, speed favoring turf course was not up to their standards, or maybe it was simply random. For whatever reason, if you were leaning on those speed figures with no pace figure past performances of the Euro's, you got bit.

The aftermath of the Classic was surprising; to me anyway. After seeing what Bayern did happen in 1,000 races at Mountaineer, or Sunland or a half dozen other tracks that I play (including in So Cal, a couple times costing me money over the years), I just thought it was a non-starter. I was kind of shocked they even looked at it. When something happens on national TV I guess it gets more play. Regardless, the masses were upset and asking for an "explanation". The only explanation that's true is "this happens a bunch of times, horses get wiped out, and we do nothing, and since it happened today we're doing exactly what we always do." That probably wouldn't have gone over well.

Speaking of Bayern, that's one good horse. He was lights out at Belmont, lights out at Monmouth, at Parx, and at Santa Anita. A couple of those wins were world class. Ironically, if he didn't get wiped out at the Preakness out of the gate, California Chrome probably has no shot at the Triple Crown. Since that helped NYRA gain about a hundred million in handle for Belmont day they should send the two riders that wiped him out at Pimlico a Christmas card.

California Chrome, well, good for him. He showed up. That horse is important for this sport, as all charismatic Derby winners are.  The Parx handle was through the roof when he raced there, and so was the Classic handle today (up 20% or sumptin as reported by Hegarty). He took a ton of dumb smart money from the masses.

I can't stand betting Santa Anita and it's more than due to the fact that taking 22.68% of two horse exotics is insanity. In my view, that dirt track is worse than any dirt track that I know of and the turf that doesn't even look like it has grass on it isn't much better. I have been a huge supporter of the BC at Santa Anita - the setting, the weather, how it plays on TV - but I am happy the BC is moving next year. I hope Keeneland is better for betting.

Two of my three big plays this weekend were Wonder Gal and Upstart. I didn't like either ride and I think those two horses will end up being quite good. In their respective races there was a lot of fireworks. In the Juvy fillies, a bomb (a horse that traded at 140-1 at Betfair) went gate to wire, which made social media really mad. In the Juvy colts, Daredevil must have bled or had some sort of issue and Pletcher's other colt didn't race any great shakes either. He looked blah, although he did get up to nose me out of a very nice exacta and tri.

For the first time in years I watched the TV coverage that everyone complains about. OK, I know why you complain now. I know what the BC is trying to do, but wow. Being a bettor who watched the coverage in the 80's and 90's, it was a culture shock.

I was happy to see Bobby's Kitten win. He got pushed on the front last year by a horse and rider who came last by like 100, and he raced super. He was coming around big time when he grudgingly gave up the lead in a brisk pace a few weeks ago at Woodbine. He's a good athlete who deserves to find himself.

Tonalist memo: Don't go back to last by 27 because it worked last time. You were racing at Santa Anita. Go out for some position.

Rich Tapestry probably had some mucous or otherwise to explain that result. No lasix, and 72 hours. 

Dank turned out to be a bad chalk. Sometimes you can't train a big Beyer out of them. The connections were confident and so were the bettors. Off those lines, those of you who said she was massively overbet, were correct. She was flat as a pancake.

Wesley Ward, off long layoffs with two horses, had them "cranked" however. One of them - Hootenany - was panned by every expert on the internet, including, I think, the woman that sings that Best is Yet to come song.

The Goldencents' crews after race interview on NBCSN was hard to watch. Compare it to Graham Motion's interview after he won the 12f Turf for a juxtaposition.

I hope everyone had a great weekend. I'm tired now. Lucky we're falling back, not springing forward.

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