Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Horse Racing Mish Mash

Good morning everyone.

Ringer! Horse wins - at 30-1 - while racing under the wrong name. Although the win pool was higher that race (why, with 20.75% win take is a win pool ever higher at Turf Paradise is beyond me) than others, it looks like nothing untoward occurred. On the surface. I see the betfair starting price was 30-1, or right in line.

Cali Chrome I - When trainers make decisions with horses, there's a willingness to not believe them on face value. I understand that, because if I see another "he worked great", when he worked terrible and is pulled out of the next race with a suspensory I think my head will explode. But, I find it a bit odd that Art Sherman is now somehow called soft on horses (by some), for wanting to give California Chrome a little time off after Dubai

The horse has been in training, under a routine since he was two. He made nine starts at three and he even had a little stall time for a hoof that needed repair during it. The plan all along was to get a start into him before Dubai, then go, then give him a little paddock time afterwards to rest up for the summer and fall. Now that's out of the equation, so Art is a little worried about him. Chrome is scheduled to make, from what I read, two starts in the UK. For the machine horse crowd, he will certainly need paddock time after that, so don't complain if and when he misses Saratoga.

Cali Chrome II and Small Worlds- So I tweet out my Flipboard yesterday (I like Flipboard, wonderful on the iPad) because for the second time I see a story on California Chrome tagged as "Google Chrome"

It's kind of funny and no big deal. However, minutes later, the Flipboard CEO tweets back:

I once abruptly left an ADW where I had been betting for five years, and never even got a call from the owner. This Flipboard dude is like lightning.

Then I found out Mike was one of the early people involved in Twinspires.

Small world.

Speaking of ADW's - So I am chatting with a friend yesterday and I learn that a newer horseplayer (he plays the UK at Betfair the last several years) is driving some serious volume. "New" and "horseplayer" are words we don't seem to see very often, so I ask how he got into it. It turns out he was a programmer and a friend of his asked him to tune up a database for Exchange wagering. He said to himself "horse racing data looks interesting" and began to study data, built a model and bets daily now. He didn't see a race on TV, or a red carpet. He saw low takeout and data and a possible edge.

Things that would not happen in Hong Kong -  With Derby futures betting going on this past weekend, people were happily betting Far from Over. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, he was pulled off the Derby trail after a work on Saturday, and it was announced only this morning. If you bet him Sunday, you are rightfully miffed.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cali Chrome's Not a Regular Horse, the Racing Gene and Monopoly ®

Good morning everyone! I hope y'all had a pleasant weekend.

The big news this weekend - excluding the Derby preps - was that California Chrome is off to jolly old England to race at the Ascot meet. This caused some major consternation on the twitter box; mainly, I think, due to the fact that trainer Art Sherman will not be handling the horse.

But it's more than that. Others think this decision - in a sport that tends to treat horses like this as some sort of managed 401k - is batty. For the record, I would not go to England with California Chrome, I would go back home. But 1) I don't own him and 2) Who cares what I think.

The handling of California Chrome was destined to be different in the first place. This is not an ownership crew whose main goal is to maximize stud value, or do what others before them were expected to do. They don't seem to care what the high foreheads say they should do, either. What they are doing, it seems, is taking advantage of what this cool horse allows them to take advantage of. They want to go to different places with him and see the world; experience other racetracks, people.

In the 1980's there was a cool horse named Cam Fella. He traveled from harness track to harness track as a four year old, taking on every horse who wanted to race. During his 28 race win streak he visited the east coast, the west coast and places in between. He raced match races; just about everything.

The owners were not your regular star horse harness owners either, just like Chrome's owners aren't. These folks traveled on a bus - the "Cam Fella Express" - and invited fans along for the ride. If you liked Cam Fella and wanted to watch him race, the owners were your tour guides, and chances are you were enjoying a post race beer with them and Cam while getting his bath. 

Really, isn't that what racing is supposed to be about? Isn't that the big tent racing needs to survive?

I realize that California Chrome could not command big value at stud last year. And I realize that the method of operation in horse racing dogma (MOOIHRD ®) when that happens says they should try and win as many grade I's without facing Shared Belief as a four year old. Trust me, I get it. But, isn't it refreshing they want to actually have fun with their horse, making memories that will last forever?

I hope California Chrome does well in England. I will be pulling for him.


Solid tweet today from Joe:
Notice that the drivers were upset about where the increased revenue would go. That's the thinking that permeated the sport, because it was a monopoly: When monopolies raise margins, it does mean more money. That's why they're regulated. However, it's not like that any longer, but that thinking is still here: Raise takeout, make more money. It fascinates me to no end that a lot in the sport still think they are playing on Baltic Avenue.

The thinking that drives that thinking, is the racing gene. Racing is guided by the lizard brain:

 "Racing doesn’t guide with rules based on principle, it molds rules to mollify. It doesn’t make
decisions, it delegates. It doesn’t lead - realizing there will be winners and losers with any new policy - it searches for consensus, until the new policy is so watered down it has nary any effect at all.

It’s why declining foal crops are still declining, despite purses at or near record levels. It’s why when handles crater, it’s the economy, or table games, or sports betting, or the lotteries fault. It’s why the words “we can’t” are not challenged inside the ropes of the tribe, they’re embraced like a warm blanket, or a hot cup of tea on a cold day."

To read the entire column, it's on page 6 pdf here. 

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

They Gotta Get it Together

Today was a long day, and at times it was excruciating.

I got a set of emails from a long time fan just now, which shows the frustration.

"Bleh, they take 15 minutes to circle but can't take 30 seconds to look at the Florida Derby stretch drive, add the whipping of International Star..... it feels like it's not worth my money anymore."

Make no mistake, this is not an isolated complaint from a "whiny horseplayer". This has been going on for awhile.

We don't hold our breath for stretch drives to watch the majesty of the horses, we do that because we're sure the horse we want to win is about to get bumped as he's cruising by, or taken into the outside fence. It's not like the stews call herding often, and when they do it's usually interpreted a hundred ways.  This has gotten out of hand.

We never know what time post time is because they'll drag a post by making horses walk over and over again in a circle. Today, unbelieveably, they stretched a post time at Santa Anita, while Gulfstream was 2 minutes to post, then they had to stretch the Gulfstream time to post, because they stretched the Santa Anita time to post.

Gulfstream and Santa Anita are run by the same management team.

Who's on first?

We need four ADW's to bet every track today - or we can use one, bet a half a million dollars into 22% juice, and get a toaster as a gift. If you wanted to bet from Pennsylvania today you found you were locked out of the ADW, because of ADW taxes. Same with New York.

If you're lucky enough to find lower rake, you suddenly look up and some tracks are now giving you no more than a toaster. Heck, this guy lives in California, and they don't even let him collect points for a toaster.

Lately, a professional betting friend of mine has not asked me for my thoughts on the races. CDI and Stronach have removed their races from betfair, and that's where he follows the sport. He used to bet six figures a year into the parimutuel pools. But now they're off betfair, and he doesn't follow the sport at all.

They are making it incredibly hard to be a fan, and a bettor.

Thank god for the horses, because watching them today we hold nothing but respect - International Star,  a true pro; Upstart who always tries his guts out. The performances in Dubai.

That's a deep respect that keeps us tuning in. But it can't last forever for some. They have to start getting it together.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday's Blog Post

I could not think of a click-worthy title today like, "If you bet these six angles you will be able to buy Grenada". I went pretty generic. Sorry, it's all I got.

First up, there were a lot of tweets asking for some help rescuing seven standardbreds from New Holland, PA on Wednesday. I heard this morning that all were purchased, are in quarantine, and will be at a home very soon. The social media push raised over $7,000 in less than a half day.

In HRU today (pdf), Phil Langley is interviewed. In a couple of questions he doesn't sound like a guy who won 38-13, but I guess a pass is in order. He was slammed quite a bit of late. 

I did find his point about an ADW interesting. I have been looking into something like this, but I think my harness ADW plan would look much different than theirs.

On the flipside, Jeff Gural is looked at in DRF Harness. The meme surrounding Jeff Gural at the present time is his self-admitted "kick in the pants" method of operation. This is very common in a business or industry that works with alphabets, and has decisions made through appeasement. When someone steps out of line, the tribe has to rein him or her back in, because it upsets the tribe. I believe the tribe needs to be led, not coddled - we can all agree we've had enough of that - therefore I am not overly concerned about Jeff firing a knee-jerk six-shooter if he disagrees with me on something.

California Chrome's exercise rider was a no-show this morning for a romp around the track.  I don't for a second blame the connections for being upset. They flew him around the world to be there for an hour in the morning and he didn't make it. Pat Cummings mentioned something about him being too late at a party at the Sheik's place (a problem many of us have, of course).

This year, the social media edge for the DWC is big. There are Derby preps galore tomorrow and several big race cards in the Thoroughbreds, but the DWC is taking center stage. This, I think, is different than most years.

The takeout for the DWC card is a very penal 20% WPS, and 27% all other. I have scanned the takeouts, and in a major racing jurisdiction, the only WPS takeout rate I have seen higher is at Turf Paradise.

RMTC came up with a set of cobalt protocols. Over 50 ppb is a class B.

Woodbine announced their mandatory payout for the Super High Five is April 4th.

A note about the big Super High Five pools at Western Fair. This bet should be on the radar.

It looks like handle will again be down in March. One fewer Saturday and fewer races, yes, but it's likely not going to be a great month.

Good luck to everyone at the Horseplayer World Series this weekend. J_dinks, charli125 and Mark Midland are three names I recognize on the scoresheet.

Have a nice weekend everyone. I will be going through the big cards tomorrow sometime later today, so if you want to play some racing tomorrow, I will probably be on the twitter. I think I might play a few.      

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Doesn't Lasix Free Racing Help the Envelope Pushers?

I'm not a status-quo dude, obviously, and I do understand the push from the higher forehead crowd regarding lasix use in Thoroughbred racing, but sometimes I wonder.
  • At its March meeting on Monday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted to approve a controversial measure that would allow the state’s racetracks to write Lasix-free races. The final vote was 8-4 in favor of the rule.
  • The proposed rule would allow tracks to write one or more races with conditions precluding entrants from having Lasix within 24 hours of the race, in contrast to the current statewide rule which allows administration at four hours in advance of race time.
If you were a trainer who tries to get every edge possible, would you not be entering in these races? Lasix is a performance enhancer, and there are plenty of other things that can be, and are, used to stop bleeding and dehydrate horses. Sure, using these products on raceday is a no no, but without detention barns who'd know?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Fast Obsession, Preps & Takeout Hikes

If you received a quarter each time you heard "young people want instant gratification, so we need to reduce time between races" in this sport, you'd have a lot of quarters. There's this strange obsession with fast.

Cricket has experimented with changing three day long events into one day, golf is always talking about speeding up the pace of play, and in baseball it's spoken about often. Most recently, "fast4", a new way to play a tennis match in one hour has been experimented with.

A lot of that makes sense. For the grassroots, playing a round of golf in Toronto is an exercise in futility. Fight QEW traffic, play a round on a course completely jammed, pay $80, and take an hour and a half to drive home. Oh joy. For tennis, which as a kid we all know took so long to play 3 setters, a game in a hour on Saturday morning sounds wonderful.

But horse racing? I don't really understand the obsession.

Sure heading to Woodbine or Belmont on a Saturday and sitting around for six hours might not be a quick experience. But we can bet dozens tracks while we're there, with races going off virtually every minute.  At home, this Saturday we can start betting at 6AM in Dubai, and finish at 1AM Sunday morning betting Cal Expo. Scratch that, you can shift to Australia or Hong Kong, and play almost all weekend.

And, with 90% of all wagering coming off track, that's exactly what everyone seems to be doing. Racing does not have a time between races problem. Actually, in the overall scheme of things - and witnessing post drags worthy of border crossing delays - it can probably be argued we have too little time between races.

That does not mean, in my view, racing can not capitalize on "fast".

Many years ago I brought the "4 in 48" concept to a racetrack that was racing late Saturday evening. The Meadowlands and Woodbine were done at 11 eastern then, so I suggested this small track run four races in 48 minutes and seed or guarantee a pick 4 (seeds or guarantees were not popular then, so that was a stumbling block that could likely have never been overcome). With little other harness product, I think spending 48 minutes is something that could draw people who were after a little more action.

I even spoke about the seemingly (and probably in reality) ridiculous Super Bowl Halftime pick 4. Hey, if a horsemen group and track got together, had an annual party that day, juiced a few purses for a four race card, and ran the races almost on top of each other, it could work. A small harness track looking for an edge, who sometimes does less than $200k handle on a whole card, could do that in a pick 4 if done correctly, in my opinion.

Racing - with its TV coverage, how it presents the races, and the betting game itself - is not fast. You can't be what you are not. But you can create compelling product, in a micro way, that serves that purpose. If it doesn't work, well, just go back to being slow, because with 50 racetracks racing, those who want fast can still find it.


There's been plenty of chatter about the recent Hambo and Woodbine decision to drop the provision foals only sired by horses retired older than three are eligible to their major stakes. Those who think this is a good decision for the sport (there are few) have a tough time explaining Neil's assertion ; generally, if this is such a good thing, then why wouldn't Woodbine and the Hambo issue a press release? The fact is, they'd rather no one know. Capitulation is not press releaseable.

Firing Line won the Sunland Derby yesterday in a romp. Derby preps can be like this, and the fan part of the sport likes horses to prep big, while handicappers want to bet good prep races. No other race will exemplify this more than the Blue Grass in a few weeks. As a poly prep it had deep fields, with a chance at a big pool and big payoffs for sharp players. This year there will probably be five horses, with a 6-5 shot. Until large revenue can be gained from the sale of Firing Line t-shirts, the industry needs to realize good betting preps trump 1-5 short field snorefests.

I thought Firing Line looked great, by the way. This season (until some start faltering and we hear "this crop sucks!" chants) the colts have some serious talent. California stock is particularly exciting. 

Cal Expo had a $11,700 carryover last evening in the Super High Five. The pool was guaranteed at $30,000 and a $60 tri, with chalk, followed by two other lower priced entrants, provided a $1 super payoff of $577. Value. Harness players should be betting any and all carry's.

We all say we'd love it if slots tracks lowered takeout. At some of them, 90% or more of the purses are paid from machines, so if a takeout was 10% instead of 20% on meager handle, who cares, at least you're trying to build a fan base. Pocono Downs, one such track, decides it should go the other way. Their 15% juice pick 3's were increased to 25%. There was no press release on that either, by the way.

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

As the Kids Say, Harness Racing - SMH

You've seen and heard some of the reversals in the sport of harness racing the past week. Some of those things are head scratchers and continue to be. They just seem to continue.

This was a letter to the editor in harness racing update today from a USTA Director:

So, harness horses - who race weekly - who are off two months, should be entered off no qualifier.  And if you don't like what you see - silly things like form - you should not bet.

In a sport where people are already taking her up on that, it's probably not wise.

This shows the massive disconnect between the people who bet a billion or more a year and the people in power. A race is not a horse, it is a collection of horses, which make up a probability of victory array. If you don't allow bettors to have an idea what form a horse is in, the whole array is turned on its ear. I mean, seriously, this is basic stuff.

If someone in the Thoroughbreds asked for a rule like this, well, sheesh. Hey bettor, here's a MSW with horses with no works in sixty days. There's a few 40 second breezes on the horses from this spring,so that should be enough. If you don't like what you see, don't bet! We might see a Korean-like riot.

Harness racing has been increasingly small tent. Small yearling buyers are almost non-existent, bettors are leaving almost daily. Yet again and again, we see not only a lack of direction, but sometimes a reversal of things that could help.

I understand everyone who is upset about the sports' direction of late, and I share your concerns. It just feels like the car is not going quick enough over the cliff for some people, and they're stepping on the accelerator. It's frustrating, it's maddening, and the worst part, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Harness Racing, as is Custom, Runs Back to the Warm Status Quo Blanket

Harness racing has suffered mightily with horses retiring at three. In a rinse, wash, repeat custom, a horse is invested in as a two year old, he races at three - in a tightly controlled and managed schedule - and profit is maximized for the two year old shareholders, by retiring the horse in the fall. It didn't matter if the horse was good or mediocre, great or poor. It's just the way the quid pro quo ecosystem, created and managed, worked.

Thoroughbred racing - although fans gripe constantly about it - is nowhere near as bad as harness racing with this issue. Horses like California Chrome, and Shared Belief (even if he was not a gelding) tend to ply their trade at four, unless they are so crazy well bred, or injured. The simple reason? Money. California Chrome will go for $10 million in a week or so in Dubai, after racing for $5 million just last fall. Shared Belief will race for tens of millions over the next year or two if he stays sound.

Trying to be more like the Thoroughbreds - with better aged "handicap" stakes - it was proposed money be diverted to the older division, and a rule was passed where horses would have to wait until 4 to retire (unless they were injured of course). Woodbine and the Hambletonian Society hopped aboard.

The fans enjoyed the experiment, getting to see wonderful horses like Pet Rock and A Rock n Roll Dance and others race at four. Handle on the older races was good. 

But the breeders really hated the rule. You see, when a horse leaves the protected divisions at two and three, they can get exposed in a hurry. That money spent at two on a "sure thing" sometimes doesn't look like a sure thing anymore.

So, as happens in harness racing, if you don't like a new rule (because it changes the way you've always done things) the easiest thing to do is complain about it and lobby to get it changed back to the way it was. The status-quo warm blanket is a captivating garment.

Today, quietly and with little fanfare, that happened. The rule is gone. Smoke em if you got em.

It wasn't changed with a business case, or high level metrics, multiple regressions, or spreadsheets, or handle analysis. No silly goose, real businesses do it that way. It was changed to appease people. That's the way things are done in harness racing.

What's sad - no matter what you thought of the initiative in the first place -is that the industry was already changing because of it. This year the Prix D'Ete, Graduate Series, Confederation Cup and others were all created for four year olds. As well, the Roosevelt International, and the popular TVG were continuing or enhanced. In addition, four year old Father Patrick is breeding and racing this year, just like it's done in Europe. Things were evolving.

But, as we all know, this is harness racing. Change something, the industry responds with stakes money to help it, and in a quiet afternoon somewhere, behind closed doors, the rule is changed back, making what the industry did to respond to it, obsolete.  Boom, just like that.

I'm tellin' ya, just when you think you've seen everything in harness racing, the business trumps it and does something that makes you shake your head more than the other 150 times you shook your head.

I have no idea what harness racing is doing. I really don't.

One day it will be studied in MBA classes, I am sure of that. And it won't be complimentary.

Rags PP's, User Interface, Top Notch

If you watch The Sting, you notice most scenes take place in what looks like a 1960's betting establishment. In the back of the room, behind closed doors I sometimes think there were dozens of handicappers studying the races, getting wind and weather updates, compiling scores for each horse, under the cloak of secrecy. If this was true, and they were making these figure scores, I picture the end result would look exactly like "The Sheets".

The Sheets have been published for over 30 years, and just last year they took the leap into offering their figures out, in partnership with TimeformUS. Although I am not playing regularly much anymore, I did take them out for a test drive recently.

A few comments:

Although I do not have the data to back it up (who does, really?), and never being a regular user over the last 30 years, my gut tells me the figures are very good. The Sheets "show how much quality the horse demonstrated on that day. Briefly, the rating includes speed, weight, allowance for unusual track condition, racing wide or saving ground, headwinds or tailwinds, peculiarities of track construction such as downhill areas, etc."

I am a big believer in the value of a performance figure based on a lot of those items. It takes a lot of time, and a keen eye, but it, in my view, means something.

What I was never thrilled with, with the Sheets and other similar products, was how they were presented. Fortunately, TimeformUS's interface comes to the rescue. The interface is very good. It uses the familiar TimeformUS basics, so you can see trainer and jockey stats, running lines and times, along with the pace projector etc, and it's lightning fast. It's not as data rich as the regular TFUS interface, and that shows with speed.

Horse racing handicapping is not easy, and was never meant to be easy. We're not pulling a lever on a slot machine, and beating this ridiculous rake is very difficult. What I try to do is use as much information as I can, to try and form an opinion others might not have. Last weekend for instance, I looked at the regular TFUS interface, my jcapper sheets, and the rags PP's in tandem. I like to see some sort of link with form, form cycles, workout score and the final figure numbers. I try to picture how the race will be run, and find a horse who looks to improve, who is overlooked. There were times all three worked well together and the race was easier to see.

In the end, the Rags PP's at Timeform are not for everyone and they are not cheap. However, if you are a serious player looking for a little more, in my opinion, they might be something worth checking out. I will probably return to racing again sometime in the future, betting on a regular basis, and if I do, I will likely be using the sheets served via the TFUS interface.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Breeders Cup Ratings Aren't Half Bad Y'know?

Boxing is a sport devoid of leadership, which was sabotaged from within. It lacked central authority and was surpassed mightily by newer, fresher pugilistic pursuits like MMA.

Boxing is dead.

Sound familiar?

NBC ran a special boxing card, in prime time last week. Being a big boxing fan for like forever and I didn't even watch. I did not know any of the fighters, and, well, the game is dead. So they tell me.

Despite a three hour long show, it attracted 3.4 million viewers and won the night, even with the coveted 18-49 demographic.The press was giddy at the massive number.

Horse racing, another old sport, seemingly on its way out, has a prime time event once a year on NBC as well: The Breeders Cup Classic. Last year the ratings for the hour long Bayern win were up, and an estimated 2.6 million people watched.

I must admit, I was flummoxed. Our best show in primetime versus boxers who many have never heard of, in a completely dead sport, and we got our goose rumps kicked. I kept thinking this is some sort of conundrum.

Then I checked google and .....

Boxing interest red, horse racing blue

If boxing is dead, horse racing is deader than dead. Its interest is huge compared to our sport.

In a nutshell, people really like to slag the ol Breeders Cup at times. They are apparently doing something wrong - those show tunes, Richie Sambora giving love a bad name and a lot of other things. But 2.6 million viewers for a sport that is several times less popular than boxing, is not too bad at all. The Breeders Cup, in prime time, is probably onto something.

Chris Borland & Breakdowns

Yesterday, Wisconsin product and promising sophomore Chris Borland, announced he was retiring after one year in the NFL. Borland, who is 24, and slated to earn tens of millions through his playing career in the game he loves, is retiring "out of concern for his long-term mental and emotional health, citing the sport’s irrefutable link to concussions and serious neurological diseases."

Breaking it down, he is saying "Football is so inherently dangerous, so obviously flawed, that the incentive of living a childhood dream after a lifetime of training and for millions of dollars isn’t strong enough to continue."

The NFL knows about this issue and has met it with dozens of rule changes. Fans, some coaches, and others lament the "changing of the game", but over the last five years there have been seminal new policies: Running backs can not lead with the head, any hit above the shoulders is called, tacklers can not lead with any part of the helmet, concussion protocols and much more.

Only time will tell if those changes are enough. Chris Borland does not seem to think so.

Horse racing is in a similar position as the NFL. In this day and age treatment of the animal and breakdowns are a huge issue. 2015 is a lot different than 1915, where horses were looked at as a means to an end. Circus's are being cancelled, Sea World has its issues and on and on. There are people, like me, who are reticent to invest in thoroughbreds, because we fear breakdowns. I would not sleep for a year if one of mine ever broke down.

While the NFL is more proactive than most - it, to me, is stunning how it's held its place in Americana, as such a rough and tumble game - racing is not. Even minor policy change is met with a shrug, because people know it may take years to pass something meaningful, or it will never pass at all.

Keeping vet records to pass-on when a horse is claimed was met with, "that's a lot of paperwork, so I don't know how we'd do that" by some trainers and commissions.

If a racetrack made of cottage cheese showed it cut breakdowns by 90%, there would still be a massive contingent in horse racing who'd be anti-cottage cheese racetracks, trying to sabotage them at every turn. 

Vet inspections are looked at as intrusive, and hurting ones ability to make a living.

Out of competition testing has, will, and will continue to be protested by horsemen groups.

Breeding does not change. There is no policy to weed out bleeders, or those bred for speed, or those families who may have an issue with sesamoids, for example. There are no rules to breed for stamina and endurance, which should result to fewer breakdowns and physical issues in a generation or two. It's Adam Smith on steroids.

If a trainer was caught using pain killers on his horse, which could result in breakdowns, appeals and stays are granted, jockeys are still lined up to ride for a high percentage barn, and the trainer will have a barn full of owners.

In the NFL, high level change is done pretty swiftly, and felt right down the chain. When rules are changed at the top, a Pop Warner coach immediately starts coaching it at the bottom. It's a fast process.  Amazingly, the NFL - with 300 pound men who can run a 4.9 40, throwing themselves as human projectiles in body armor at each other - could possibly be safer and in better shape in 20 years than horse racing is for its athletes.

Regardless, racing in many ways has been at a crossroads for years. The NFL has been walking a perilous tightrope as well. There's a chance that both could be a shadow of itself as a revenue driver in a generation. But at the very least, football has some sort of structure that realizes a problem, and puts some policy in place that will have an effect on the future within a matter of months. Racing is not there yet, and from what I see, might never get there.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

So, Where Can I Watch That Big Race?

I noticed this slide from Rob Key's presentation yesterday to the USTA.

New fans and some old, have a hard time finding where to watch a major racing event.

For us, who know the sport, know exactly where and when to watch, for example, yesterday's Rebel Stakes. But, put yourself in the shoes of a newbie. If a newbie said "I really want to watch prep races for the Derby and get to know the horses, can you point me in the right direction?" How would we answer them?

Do you get TVG or HPI TV on your cable system?


Do you have an ADW account?

What's an ADW account?

I think the DRF might stream it, one second. Oh, no they don't. One second.


- Person asks " where can my friend watch the Rebel tomorrow, on twitter-

OK, I will give you my logins for my ADW account. No one knows where you can watch it.

OK, what time is the race?

5:42 but that could be delayed.


They drag post times a lot of the time. There's really no schedule.

OK, so I have to use your logins to watch and you can't tell me the exact time the event is going to be run?

Ya, kinda. 

No big deal. Can you point me to where I can watch the replay after its done?

-Person asks on twitter if Oaklawn has a youtube account that puts up replays-

I don't know. Maybe the Horse Races Now app. Download that, and if the content is not managed by certain companies, that should have the replay. If not, email me and I can find it for you. Or I can give you my ADW logins again.

OK, thanks.

Sometimes I wonder how this sport ever generates new viewers. It makes it hard to be a bettor, and hard to be a fan. I did not even get to the point where the person asks for the "menu" of what horses are in the race and finds out she has to set up an online account and pay for it.

Tough game to manage. Tough game to promote.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rainbow 6, Not Innovative, But Lucrative

Yesterday, the Rainbow Six was hit at Gulfstream Park. The sequence, which did not look overly difficult on the surface (I didn't handicap it, so I don't know for sure), only had two bomb winners. Not a bad deal for the winner who spent $336.

The Rainbow Six has been a very successful bet for Gulfstream. Although many lament its churn killing tendency, it has drawn headlines and bettors to the south Florida oval, and has done so for some time. Of course, the Rainbow Six is not Gulfstream's idea, it's the idea of someone else. The Jackpot Six was first introduced in Puerto Rico, then Beulah in Ohio tried a "Fortune Six" and that did have some success for that little track.

Business author James Suroweiki said, "Intellectual-property rules are clearly necessary to spur innovation: if every invention could be stolen, or every new drug immediately copied, few people would invest in innovation." He's right, and when it comes to horse racing, there are no rules.

If you own track A who is trying to grow handle (like Beulah) and come up with a great bet that bettors flock to, the bet will be at NYRA, or Gulfstream tomorrow. It's not your bet, you get no benefit from innovation. You were just used as testing ground.

Ergo, without any monetary incentive for a track to innovate bets, horse racing has little betting innovation. Such things would be fine if somehow the sport worked together, but it is fractured.

I'd love to see a grand experiment in pari-mutuel land: For ten years if you create a new bet, the bet is protected as intellectual property for your track.  I imagine the landscape would become a fertile testing ground, and at the end of the period, this sport would have a some new, exciting, ROI industry positive bets to guide it into the future.

Instead, even if you do decide to take a shot, big tracks copy your work, and get the chocolates. 


A look at the Rainbow Six - the math behind it - took place in this month's Horseplayer Monthly. It's free, and is jam packed with handicapping and betting insight. The bet is an excellent one to study, due to its odd tendencies. Clearly it's the only bet in racing that has the characteristics the author describes.

In HRU "Harness Racing is for Old People, So What" looks at the age demo and why it should not be an albatross. This is not really a column about it, however, we might look more deeply into the thought behind this tweet, in the future:
Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Niche Inside a Niche

Today Woodbine announced they were replacing the much-needed-to-be-replaced polytrack with Tapeta, another synthetic surface.
  • “A surface that will endure racing and training through hot and cold climate extremes for more than eight months a year is critical for our horsepeople,” said Lawson. “We also considered racing fans and horseplayers through this process. Field size, the number of quality races and wagering on Woodbine’s thoroughbred racing product has grown appreciably in the synthetic track era. We see those metrics continuing to improve with the installation of Tapeta.”
This is a much different response that we've seen in the past when racetracks have made a switch. It took into account handle figures, which through demagoguery for the most part, were never used to buttress a synthetic track, but something that didn't seem to matter much.

Horse racing is a niche sport, and polytrack has been a niche inside a niche. There are players - like me, and many of you who continue to read this silly blog - who play seriously. To beat the egregious rake, we need deep fields with plenty of choice. We need nuances in an array of races, to hopefully glean better ROI decisions. We need races in pick 4 sequences that when it rains, can still pay money, instead of being a mugs game with three off the turf races with four horse fields. 

Polytrack has done that for the most part, and many players - witnessed with the huge handle gains at places like Woodbine and Keeneland - were regularly supporting the product.

For Woodbine to mention handle growth a field size, along with weather - three things that polytrack are helpful with - it was a huge step forward in helping the sport realize that it's more about slots, truck and hay buying, and what a price of a yearling goes for this year.

People that enjoy dirt track racing, handicapping with speed figures and whatnot can still do that. There are 65 tracks in North America running on dirt. For those of us in the niche inside a niche, there's something for us as well at Woodbine. In a sport desperately in need of engagement, and customer retention, this is a good thing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

5 New Exciting Horse Racing Features of the New Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is here, and for horse racing, the innovations are as exciting as the introduction of the Grand Slam.

I have some of them right here, on my cutting edge blog.

Perhaps the most useful for horse racing aficionados is the new "Minutes to Post" feature. Apple has a built in time estimator - using proprietary electronic sextant technology - which can tell you, at various racetracks, what zero minutes to post really means. It can also estimate, through big data, how long a Frank Stronach track will drag post time to hit a pool guarantee. This will be a great help to horseplayers who cherish silly things, like their time.

The most excellent "Time to Penalty" feature will be used by both insiders and casual fans. When a trainer gets a TCO2 positive, we never know when that person will be finally suspended. In some states it could take months, in others, like California, it could take two Presidential terms. The new watch can estimate, within 11 hours, when the suspension will commence. Apple is also working on a special addendum to this feature, which alerts when a barn change is made from the offender to a beard trainer, like the trainers' cousin Pete.

The new "Time From the Gate" feature in the new Apple Watch will be something many of us will use. As most know, tracks have run ups, and the teletimer starts at rather capricious points. No more. When the gate opens, the Apple Watch times the race right through to the finish. Currently this feature is not being trumpeted because, as we all know, time is something racetracks find proprietary, and they are trying to find a way to charge Apple for it, who will likely pass it on to horseplayers. However, I have heard rumblings times of races may be linked in the dark web, for free.

One feature that I am looking forward to is the  "Grunder Translator". With new language technology, the Apple Watch can listen to a call at Tampa Bay Downs, and correct pronunciations, and sometimes fix entire horse names. This is not only informative, but entertaining.

An excellent new feature that's sure to help our bankrolls, is the new "Horseplayer Buzzer". A controversial training aid for Fido is the e-collar, which can give your dog a small vibration to train him not to leave the yard, or eat the postman. Apple has taken that concept and done the same for horseplayers. If, for example, a horseplayer wants to make a bet into a Penn National high rake trifecta pool, he or she will get zapped. If someone want to support the Churchill Downs takeout hike and make a wager, you will feel a gentle reminder. Apple has also completed a deal with Facebook and Twitter, where if you post your picks to these tracks on social media, the watch goes full blown eveready on your wrist.

It's pretty clear this watch is not for everyone, but for horseplayers and horse racing industry junkies, it's sure to have some pleasing and useful features.  You can buy yours through the Apple website for $300, or for $450 through any state with horseplayer source market fees.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Racing a Niche Part VIII

 Dan posted an article today on the twitter.  It's from Australia and is critical about the way racing is mass marketed. You could read the same article in some quarters here across the pond.

"Maybe the VRC has done market research and worked out that the least promotable thing about horse racing is horse racing."

I was reading an article recently about the promotion of niche sports.

"Recent research has indicated that niche sports cannot borrow directly from the sport management literature focused on mainstream sport. Distinct differences have been found between mainstream and niche sports with respect to sponsorship, fan related attributes, spectator expectations, and participant motives"

Racing does "borrow directly from sport management literature" - mass TV, concerts, food trucks, cross promotions etc - to market itself, when, if it is niche, that's probably exactly what isn't needed.

Is racing a niche sport, or is not, is probably the most important question it needs to ask itself, and answer. If racing is niche, a complete marketing 180 should occur, because this is not something that you can tinker with; you're not almost pregnant and you're not almost niche.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

For Those Who Seek Change, Reality Really Bites

Two of the more strange, weird, wacky and asinine policies in horse racing involve uncashed ticket revenues and breakage.

Uncashed tickets from you, the customer, happen when you forget to cash a 25 cent voucher, tear up a ticket, or take one home from the track and don't get back to cash it in time. Breakage involves taking a tote price down from say $2.57 to $2.40.

It has been proposed time and time again, that uncashed ticket revenue be returned to its rightful owner, in some form. This could be done through a seeded pool, player rewards, or what have you. It's also been proposed that breakage be eliminated. The technology is not only there, it's been there for 40 years to pay to a penny.

Both should be slam dunks.

But when you dig deeper, reality bites. Horse racing is like congress. Everyone has a finger in the revenue pie somewhere, so bad policy can keep right on rolling on.

Take for example, California.

The state used to get a portion of uncashed ticket monies, but in 2009 that was changed. No silly goose, not to right a wrong and give that revenue back to you, but to give that revenue to people who lobbied the law to be changed. Last year, $986,678 of your uncashed ticket cash went to a horsemen fund. $1,681,759 was given to purses, and the track, each. Further, unclaimed refunds went to jockey's, and this amount totalled, $871,311 (source 2013 CHRB Annual Report).

Breakage, the thing that happens because a horse racing Commodore 64 can only round down, yielded a tidy sum of  $5,272,744. This money went into purses and into commissions, like the CHRB.

Let's say me or you - and someone smarter than me or you - put together a business case. Handle would go up by 10% over three years, and revenue would go up by 5% over three years if breakage was eliminated. In addition, if uncashed money was given back through seeded pools, this carryover (takeout reduction) would yield a handle bump of 5% and a revenue bump of 2%.

So, the jock's would get more money than they received from the old policy, so would purses and the CHRB. Yippee, right?

Well, it would not pass. Never. Not even close. You'd have a better chance to hit one of those Frank Stronach triple superquadrefecta's he talked about a few years ago.

Money that is earmarked - even if you can prove there would be more money in the future - is too strong. It's good old-fashioned entitlement.

That's why reality bites. That's why horse racing stagnates. And that's why trying to change it is an exercise in futility.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Those Dreaded Losing Streaks

Much has been talked about regarding the similarities of daily fantasy sports and horse racing betting. I agree more and more each day.

After several months of normally distributed results of my play in DFS, I am currently in the middle of what we've all been in the middle of with horse racing - a losing streak.

It feels remarkably the same. You are looking at a set of players (a horse), who on paper is exactly what you want to see (good trainer off a drop, looks great on the track, good early speed, chalk is a deep closer from a hot overbet barn) so you bet it. And the team stinks (you sent the horse to the scope barn).

This breeds the usual doubts: What am I doing wrong. I can't pick a winner even after the race. Has the track changed? Is the CIA plotting against me? It's like you know you are going to lose before the race is even run.

Usually a streak can be explained with math. When you are betting a 50/50 proposition, it can go against you for a perfectly acceptable streak. There are formulas for it, but anecdotally, this was exemplified by a famous stats discussion in a university long ago:

A professor asked a group of students to write down what they thought 20 coin flips would be, and another group would flip a coin and write down what actually happened. In reality there would be streaks of HHHHHTHT, but for the students who were writing down what they thought would happen, there were never any streaks.

If you are betting 5-1 horses, this streak can be deadly long (they higher the odds of the occurrence, the longer the potential streak), even though you are doing nothing wrong.

If you analyze that you are doing nothing wrong, there are a few prescriptions for this madness.

i) Take a break
ii) Bet Smaller
iii) Concentrate on high hit rate bets i.e. bet WP small for awhile, then move on to exotics when you feel more comfortable

The past couple of days I have concentrated on ii) for my DFS betting. I am sure my line combo will click, rather than watching another line combo on the same team I was going to use click. I am sure the horse team I am concentrating on will not be sent to the scope barn tomorrow, or the next day. I'm pretty sure my coin flip players will flip my way. It'll change.

But for now, just like in horse racing and just like in any other gambling game, the dreaded streak really, really sucks.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I'm With Stupid & It's a Killer

"Customers are stupid" is a familiar refrain, or lament, in some businesses; and those businesses usually have one thing in common: They are failing.

Seth Godin today listed ways to make your customer feel stupid. Because of this, they tend to leave and never come back, or don't purchase in the first place. I'll list a few of his rules and offer some thoughts to them as it pertains to horse racing.

"Collect money as though you're in the long-term relationship business, but in every other way, act like you don't expect the relationship to last."

This is like getting a split fingered fastball that's not split or fast; an easy one to park. We love you very much, and despite us signing a billion dollar slots contract, your concession prices are going up, takeout is being hiked, we're adding new ADW taxes, and please give me $1,200 for Derby seats. I know racing's demographic is not young, but a few people might be around for at least a couple years to remember how they're treated. If you try to build a relationship instead of hijacking it, it might actually last.

Talk about your customers (students/clients/members) behind their back in a way you'd never talk to their face

A 54 MPH knuckler that doesn't knuckle. There are database geniuses, business owners, Phd's, professionals and many others playing this game. Some of  the board of the Horseplayers Association are business turnaround specialists, work in corporate America, developed marketable software or have run successful enterprises. Yet everyone is a dumb bettor who doesn't get it. It's stunning, and no I am not being too harsh. This business doesn't just speak poorly of customers behind their back, they do it right to their face. 

Assume the worst about a customer's intent, intelligence and background.

See above. Customers want the business to search for optimal takeout rates, for example, which will increase purses, handle, and make horse racing healthier. And we're the bad guys?

Charge different prices at different outlets and shrug your shoulders when you get found out.

Want lower takeout in California? Show them you bet $1M a year. And don't tell anyone. If you say "I bet $400,000 last year but would easily bet $2 million with lower juice", see above: You'll be called a dumb bettor who doesn't get it. 

Give your customers a product, idea or service that causes them to be ridiculed or shamed by people they hope to impress.

This one is too easy. The greatest gambling game ever invented - a game that if you can beat you'd likely do well on Wall Street, poker or any other "glamorous" pursuit - has been relegated to "you can beat a race but you can't beat the races". The people in charge did that, and it's sad. 

Horse racing does not have a purse problem. Purses are up the last twenty years. It doesn't have a revenue problem either; those slot machines are humming like never before. What racing does have is a customer problem. That problem won't go away tomorrow or the next day, but it can at least start to get better. If you have a track or run a horsemen group, read Seth's blog. Digest it, think about it and understand it. And start putting it into practice. That's free advice from a dumb bettor.

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