Wednesday, April 29, 2015

California Chrome and #Moobie, Notes

Good morning folks!

The California Chrome press releases of late have been pretty interesting. Yesterday it was announced that Chrome will not run in Newmarket as scheduled. He's too worn out. This change of schedule is what many folks on the twitter (and Sherman, I suppose) and elsewhere were worried about with him, and this trip to turf it in the UK. The horse has been in training since he was a two year old, with very little extended paddock time. If he does get beaten badly at Ascot on the deeper turf, then he has to fly home, have a few weeks off, and who knows where he shows up next. That sporting gesture (that might be more about stud money than a sporting gesture) could really end up messing up his year in North America. And with Shared Belief on the shelf, it might've been costly. Time will tell.

In addition, in the SI piece, you can see the overt references that the camp itself is not very in sync. 

Regardless, this horse has provided the sport with more than just column inches. I throw any bias with owners decisions or personalities out the window and just cheer for him. He seems to always show up and do his job, despite what's going on around him. Good, honest racehorse and a bit of a throwback.

I have read similar talk with #Moobie and his trip from Dubai to here to race in the Derby. That trip is too "taxing" and he won't run well because of it. I tend to disagree with that. Being acclimatized in a far away place, then shipping over to America to race in the Derby with a fresh horse is far different than what California Chrome has been asked to do. It's also far easier to do what he is doing than American horses who go to Dubai and come back and race do. If Moobie runs poorly, he might've not liked the track, not be good enough or 100 other excuses, but I think the trip and travel should not be one of them.


Super High Five carryover at Northfield tonight.

The Big M is running the 4 in 40, a pick 4 in forty minutes on Saturday.

I went through the Oaks last night. I am unsure who I will bet, but I am leaning towards the rail filly of Chuck Fipke's if the odds are okay.

Cool interactive of Derby results. h/t to Thorotrends.

The Derby draw is today. It's on TV in the US; up in Canada no one knows :)

Taken the Tbred Racing Survey? Filled out the IRS petition from the NTRA?

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

If _______ Wins the Kentucky Derby .......

Derby week is in a full court press. Everyone is getting ready, talking about their favorite charges. Everyone is pumped. Heck, no one seems to be even too upset with Churchill Downs Inc yet.  But soon that will all change.

As soon as the Derby winner crosses the wire, hyperbole, shock, amazement and other adjectives and some adverbs will ensue. The winner will have a place in history.

Here's a run down of the pull that each horse has, as a Derby winner, and what narrative might surround him (or her), post race. (hold it, not her, we don't like fillies in the Derby anymore.)

Anyhoo, here we go.

Dortmund - This one lights the Triple Crown fires on the twitter. There will be dueling articles about how it might save racing and help US viewership of a European soccer team's games. Since he's so big, everyone will want to buy giant sized yearlings. If he wins, it has coattails.

American Pharoah - Ditto with Dortmund, but perhaps with even more steam. Very little downside. Although, perhaps, Peta or the New York Times will write a scathing article about how racing people can't spell a horse's name. This, of course, causes the animal feelings of negative self worth because he is made fun of by other horses with properly spelled names.

International Star - Ken and Sarah Ramsey own this horse, and I've never heard of them. Have you? Didn't think so. This makes this horse the people's champ.

Carpe Diem - A win would allow Todd Pletcher to pass Chip Wooley in all time Derby training wins. 

Frosted - If Frosted wins, every owner in North America will be sending their horse in to get their palate trimmed. The American Veterinary Association's pick.

Mubtaahij - There are several obvious memes with this horse - he will have trouble trending on twitter because people can't spell his name, the most-excellent Candice Curtis-led hashtag #Moobie will get the exposure it deserves. But the big thing is that he will have won without lasix. The anti-lasix forces will have a big summer. UK racing writers will beam in pride that a dude from across the pond won the "American cowboy race". Plenty here.

War Story - This will probably result in a movie being made five years from now titled "75 to 1"

Stanford - From a branding perspective, it's probably not great for Thoroughbred racing to have a Derby winner named after a school no one can afford to go to. On the plus side, @notthetoddster would be fun on twitter.

Tencendur - From the buzz I am reading, I am not even sure this horse is in the field. This probably ensures that all post Derby chatter will be about boxing.

Materiality - This will finally end the gawd-awful Apollo talk; until next year when another one comes up and the Apollo narrative goes from "can't win", to "they don't win often".

El Kabeir - If this guy wins the words 'Borail' will trend on the twitter, Calvin Borel will start charging six figures for Derby mounts. And he'll get it.

Upstart - This one will not elicit too much of a reaction. Upstart is a hard trying, grinder, honest to goodness racehorse. The public doesn't like when those win. He's like cheering for an accountant.

Far Right - This horse ensures the words "new shooter" are heard for two full weeks. Since most of us want that phrase banished from horse racing, I can't see him having too many fans.

Itsaknockout - For about five hours after the Derby - with the big fight being telecast - this will be an insufferable win. By Sunday everyone will shift and the conversation will be about why Dortmund lost.

Firing Line - If this horse wins this comment will trend on the twitter: "He almost beat Dortmund and he was 8 times the odds. Me stupid head." Total Derby hand wringer.

Danzig Moon - This one probably ensures there will be no Triple Crown, and Chris Kay will have to draft a press release that despite Eagles cover bands and a full stakes menu for the Belmont, year over year handle was quizzically down.

Bolo - A good turf horse has not won the Derby since forever (or 2012). This one will cause mucho-consternation. 

Keen Ice - This will be the Mine That Bird reaction without Calvin Borel helping it.

Mr Z - "Coach" trends. 143,542 bettors who bet him in his last few and lost their shirts get really mad.

Ocho Ocho Ocho - McKinsey writes a press release about how this broadens racing's demographic. Otherwise, people will be just scratching their heads and talking about new shooters.

I am not sure who I am betting for the Derby presented by Yum brands (I think that's KFC and stuff like that), but there's my wrap of what you may expect post-Derby if your horse wins.

Enjoy your day everyone.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Steam!, Uncoupling, Quick Pick 4's & Notes

Good day racing fans and bettors!

Yesterday we saw tweets about a Derby horse that might be 1-9 come post time if this keeps up - American Pharoah. Don't get me wrong, he's a nice horse obviously, but wow, have we seen this much steam in recent memory? I don't think Big Brown had this much, but then again, that was with twitter in its infancy. This is a steam-o-rama. I'm expecting.....
Boardroom Doug Savlatore then risked alienating followers as badly as when he posted screen shots of a circa 1995 Holy Bull t-shirt he still wears.
You know what - this is great! Silly season Derby week is fun, exciting and what horse racing is about on social media. If you think Carpe Diem will stop at the half and get a Bud Light from a drunk guy in the infield and win going away, go for it. If you think Dortmund is going to win the Triple Crown because you like him so much, have at it. If you think Moobie will end the UAE Derby curse and a late jockey switch to Urkel will only slightly depress his fair odds, right on baby. It's fun and it's what this week is about.

Back to betting jargon: New York looks to uncouple entries in bigger races. Amen! I remember, long ago now, chatting with a Betfair fellow at a conference and we were talking about uncoupled entries on that platform. The handle they brought in with two entries rather one was telling. He noted "why would we ever want to change it if bettors are telling us they want it?" Umm, yah.

I am seeing tweets that the Belmont Stakes card this year is going to have:

a) Concerts with cover bands
b) Dancing penguins
c) Party favors
d) As an aside, some horse races

I made up that list, but I think, from what I read, it's accurate.

Long gone are the Bemont days where we can bet two 12 horse maidens in the pick 4 sequence and try to get some prices before the big races start - some of them with heavy chalk. I miss those days, but then again, I'm a bettor. I don't look at PP's for dancing penguins. I don't go to the Belmont to see a cover band.

Canadian problems. We have like 7 sports networks here and in strange twists of fate, horse racing is about as popular to them as a tiddly winks world championship in Ulan Bator. We just see so little racing. But......
Survey! Take it here if you like if you bet the races.

New York state upholds and lays down the Lou Pena penalties.

This weekend, pre Derby, the Big M is doing a "4 in 40" - a pick four that only takes 40 minutes. It's being run while we wait for the Derby. I am sure there will be free PP's if you want to partake. Takeout is only 15%.

Have a nice Monday everyone!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

TVG & a Different Kettle of Fish

Unpopular opinion for $100 Alex......

Mention "TVG" and it elicits reactions ranging from angst, to anger to confusion. A Ted Cruz kissing booth at a New York Times Earth Day party would probably get better reviews. I never not find the comments fascinating.

Courtesy Horse Racing Nation
TVG, and other networks, like HPI TV in Canada, when it had an anchor or talking head,  are very different than an NFL Network or a Golf Channel. Those networks gain revenue from eyeballs, and/or help promote programming that give a boost to the parent sport. TVG and others don't get revenue from that - horse racing is a gambling sport - they get (most) revenues from people betting. So, it's different kettle of fish. We're not telling anyone anything they don't know.

TVG and horse racing is a heavily steeped online sport. Videos of works, online video shows, and the like are front and center. There are no real rights to such events, like there are the NFL combine or draft. Most importantly, you, me and anyone else uses online video to watch the races, because we bet on them. This video - thankfully, it did not used to be this way - is free and readily available.

So, if everyone in the sport - owners, trainers, customers and anyone else - can see a race, a work, an interview and everything else on demand (and in fact this is what makes the sport function) why does anyone need TVG? I guess that's the point.

TVG is not speaking to me or you. They're speaking to people who are not like me and you. They're encouraging new users to use their platform to become long term customers. They're pushing the fun office pool angle with spread tickets in pick 4's. They're trying to get new people and others to take a look at Timeform PP's. They're speaking to a 100% different audience.

Long ago now I was at a conference and was speaking about TV with a few other panelists, including a VP at Woodbine Entertainment. In Canada, the bought time on a sports network (not inexpensive) covered Monday action, with races which were fairly nondescript. The angle was to speak to everyone they always speak with and to - participants and the industry. It was some sort of inside baseball look at blacksmiths, a feed man feature, what a groom does, on and on. Insiders loved the show, but no one watched. What really was needed was a change to a TVG-type model, because it was deader than a doornail and a waste of TV time. They did end up doing that, many years later, and the new show was assailed by insiders, far worse than TVG ever was, or is. However, the numbers were good.
  • In the two-year lifespan of the network program, the total number of new sign-ups has reached 2,086, with over $5.7 million wagered.
  • The new format is proving to be successful as Bet Night Live’s audience is growing. This season there has been a 30 percent hike in viewers compared to the 2009 season of Race Night on The Score.
I wish they took the seeded, guaranteed pool 15% pick 5 suggestion back then (incorrigible that it took them this long for a pick 5, and then they make the takeout 25%, but I digress), because I believe Monday nights, especially with a carryover, could've been handle gold over time. Pools could've been huge and it could've branded the track to players. That was out there thinking in 2007 or so, so I can't blame them. But they did change and it was not a tweak, it was a complete 180.

Regardless, we can gripe that TVG does not speak to the every day player, the hard core. But they don't need the hard core. They need the newer player, looking to spend time learning and handicapping and having fun. It's what they do.

You and I do that on twitter. We do it on facebook; with comments at the Paulick Report or Bloodhorse. We do that with our friends in simo centers. We are already sold on the sport, and frankly, we provide little value added to the network.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Notes, GP Pick 6, Keeneland and #Chromies

Hello race fans. Again, I digress, I stole that.

Today there's a mandatory pick 6 payout at Gulfstream Park. The math, thanks to Mike, is here, showing just how good payouts like this can be. As the link alludes, there are also positive expected possibles at Prairie Meadows and Turf Paradise.

Full circle? A conversation took place yesterday:

In the early HANA rankings in 2008, and when Keeneland was number one the email inbox filled up with "how can a poly track be number one? It should be downgraded" It's interesting how so many are complaining now how bad the dirt meet was, and that it should be downgraded. It was the goal of the creator, Bill Weaver, that things like track, or food or what have you, was not included, because of subjective asks like this. I think he was right.

I'm amazed at how many tweets and chat board posts I have seen saying "bring back polytrack". Absolutely fascinating, and it proves without a doubt that players will bet anything, on anything, if it provides good value and deep handicapping insight. When you lose that, you lose handle. 

Keeneland did have another tough meet (down about 14%) and the excuses were out in full force. The bottom line is Keeneland is no longer a track that has the characteristics where you can bet ~$10,000 or more a day at. It's more than just field size, it also has to do with spreading. It takes a lot of $10 or $20 per race players to make up for those losses. It's not a dissimilar principle to an Alan Woods and his team at Hong Kong. With a triple trio over two 20 horse fields, he would bet $2 million into them, looking to hit. Make those two ten horse fields and his handle would not go down by 30% or 40%, it would probably go from $2 million to zero on that wager.

Last up, I miss the Chromies. These are hilarious. Enjoy your Saturday everyone.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Buffalo!, Derby Stuff, Pick n's and #Moobie

Hello race fans! Since I stole that line, I will link the real site.

Derby talk: i) Funny, and ii) kind of funny (and informative). The latter is from Equispace, who is a de-facto Mayor of North Tonawanda, or Tonawanda. Give it a visit. Since Conner McDavid is going to the Edmonton Oilers instead of the Sabres, he needs a lift.

Woodbine's pick 5 juice is even upsetting to Southern California newspaper racing writers. We agree Art.

We sometimes forget......
The pick 5 is not doing very well at Woodbine (season low today, by a lot). On Derby Day, Churchill's Pick 5 will be fine. However, I saw the pre-entries for some stakes on Derby Day, and as Craig points out, we may seem some short field chalk. Last Derby Day there were some solid post drags (on a day quite frankly where post drags make even more sense), and they may be more draggy this year (if that's a word; as you know I bastardize the english language here daily).

For those who missed the chatter about carding short field chalk, the TDN had a piece up Tuesday about it, written by someone who bets.  (page 10, pdf).

Alphabets, industry orgs etc likely don't need to pump the Derby. But every one of them with a mailing list or megaphone needs to pump this.

I spent a half hour handicapping Moobie last night - really the only horse I have looked at in depth for the Derby. He strung together three 6 second 1/8's at the UAE Derby off soft fractions, the last 75 yards of them in a canter. And I think if he raced in the DWC instead, with any trip, he could've hit the board. There's something there, I think, but he is the quintessential horse that screams "need more data" to me.

Horse's like Moobie really add to the Derby. When the BG was on poly, and along with the Spiral winner, the turf leaning horses - Animal Kingdom, Dullahan for example - added to it as well. People want fewer Moobie's in "America's dirt race" but I like the added handicapping element. In the end, Moobie - because of the visually impressive win - will not be in my win slot. But he is a fun horse.

Fun article on Lincoln Chaffee, who is ready to throw his longshot hat in the ring for President, in harness racing update. If he ever did win and the lead horse in the inauguration parade threw a shoe, he could fix it.

Comment via email today about harness racing takeout rates from a Thoroughbred player: "Talk about depressing! I thought Thoroughbreds were bad but these takeout menus are awful."

7 questions with John Doyle, former NHC champ, and a pretty nice fella.

Keeneland handle, after a really poor 2014 meet, will be down again this year, despite running more races. But at least they got a dirt Derby prep, because, as we all know, there are not enough Derby preps.

I had a chat with Sid Fernando today - I like Sid, he is one of the good guys in this great sport -  and the topic of blocking people on twitter came up. I always wondered, why does someone block someone when they've never interacted with you to give you a reason to block them? Why not just not follow them? That brought me back to when Bob Baffert blocked me, because he thought I was tweeting in another account. Understandable, but oh so horse racing (rumor is huge in this sport, on shedrows and twitter).  I liked that when Bob found out the truth, he unblocked me and apologized on his feed. That was a classy move by Bob. I appreciated it.

Tomorrow there's a mandatory payout on the Gulfstream pick 6. That's pretty much a must play for small and big horseplayers alike.

Have you been following the DRF guys and gals on the twitter? I follow a few and they've been really interactive the last six months or so. I think so, anyway. Some decent folks to chat with at the DRF.

This Derby might be the most interesting Derby I've seen in some time. There's a lot of talent. I wonder, will wagering be up or down based on the many headline horses? You'd think up, but I wonder. Overall the card is an interesting experiment in handle as well. Shorter stakes fields, the fight that night.... plenty to wonder about in ten days from a business perspective.

That's all I got today, thankfully you are saying, I am sure. Have a nice Friday everyone.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday Notes - CO, Jackpot, Doug Squared & More

Good morning racing fans.

Some things I am not smart enough to understand; yes I am sure regulars know this and have a joke to insert. I just can't get the logic behind this:

Cobalt use, over 50 ppb, is being treated as a Class II.

Cobalt is a penultimate shady drug. Its uses are shared by innuendo, rumor, as are its benefits. It's the exact type of thing that kitchen sink trainers try to use to get an edge.

"Psst, try Cobalt, they are not testing it and it can build red blood cells like EPO and you can win races!"

"Is it bad for the horse?"

"Well they say don't use it, but they never want us to use anything. Here's some, inject away."

Because it does not apparently do what the shady man says it does - build red blood cells - well, we won't treat it as a class I. I say hooey to that. This is exactly the type of drug that should be treated as a game changer. There's no prescription, no guide, no nothing, and the people who use it are the ones who would probably lean towards getting any edge they can with a flavor of the week untestable drug. A cobalt positive is like a big flashing billboard sign: "I'm the type of person you don't want working with horses"

I get the feeling that if bad people on a backstretch get wind that battery acid is a good prerace and does not test, we'd say, Class II, six months off, because, well, battery acid didn't do what they thought it would do.

** Note/edit, a wrinkle announced just now and this is new. Via Ray Paulick: "#RCI model rules set 25 ppb threshold on cobalt for warning letter, 50 for Class B violation, 300 for recommended 10-year suspension." Much better.

Boardroom Dougie Sal wrote a pretty interesting blog on Twinspires today.  It's about suspended trainer Kellyn Gorder and it touches a whole lot of neat topics and angles. These are things we - mostly as handicappers - go through each day when we analyze what's happening in certain barns in this day and age. For the RMTC and others, it's a mindset that they don't get to see often from customers. But it's what happens.

I think American Pharoah - if he draws a decent post - will be a bigger favorite than many suspect come Derby day.

I think Carpe Diem will be - posts equal - much lower odds than Upstart, and I believe that last year's Breeders Cup Juvy showed that Upstart is a better horse than Carpe Diem is. 

That's all I got for the Derby because I don't start looking at it until a few days before.

I proclaim there will come a day when every new bet ever created is a jackpot wager. Going to the track, will be like going to an ATM that does not pay any money. It will just pay out six Saturday's from now. OK, not really, but Doug (a different Doug) looks at a new one here. 


With slots maturing and saturating, with casinos popping up like WalMart's, with lotteries and everything else being used for revenue, I have this weird feeling that in fifteen to twenty years you will not want any of those things. You'll want to buy a racetrack, where something different is going on. Hopefully takeout is not 44% then like in Italy. If it isn't, I think it has a shot.

Sounds about right.....

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bigger & Bigger Chalk, & Shared Belief, All the Right Buttons

Here are two pretty interesting charts:

The first one showed the degradation in field size in the US and Great Britain. The second shows that ultra-heavy chalk (those horses even money (1.0) or lower) in 2014, won a remarkable 43.4% of those races. In 1994 that number was 29.5%.

Handicapping has gotten "easy".

In the TDN, this was examined (pdf with charts page 10 here, without charts, web based here).

We hear, a lot, that a few minor tweaks here and there will create and foster a betting environment that can grow. I really could not disagree more. The game has gotten so chalky and so high takeout-low value, that a true vision is needed. Leaving takeout alone, even when Monmouth went to their Elite Meet, there was a sense that such meets were a novelty. That meet drew more gross handle than a meet four times its size. It might have been a novelty when compared to what the average North American meet is (and what horsemen and racetracks expect), but in reality, it was a lot closer to what needs to be done.

Racing is primarily run with bean counting. With charts like the above, ten years down the road there are fewer beans to count. In ten years, barring some real change and vision, there will be fewer beans again.

On to Shared Belief.

Just after he was pulled up in the CT Classic there was an aura of "this is not going to be really bad" - like life threatening - and that seems to be the case. Although details are not clear, it appears that he has a small fracture. I say small, because, again speculating, he was sent for a nuclear scan after the regular Xrays showed little. Because he is a gelding, there's probably a good chance 30 days stall rest or so could do the job and he'll be back. Or, maybe - being a thoroughbred - they might not want to chance it. Either way it was relatively good news.

It got me thinking....... these connections seemed to have pushed all the right buttons.

How many horses are off, or injured at two, or off before the Derby, where the connections, come hell or high water, have to get him or her there? With Shared Belief it was different.

How many times do we see a horse who is off, finish a race, regardless? Mike Smith, feeling *something*,or just figuring the horse was off, pulled him up. How many riders pull up horses in a $1.5 million race? Remember when Kent did that with Big Brown. He got thrown under the bus. Jockey's rarely make those decisions - like with Life At Ten - because there are millionaire owners looking on, along with trainers who an make or break them. Find a bus, insert jock.

I suspect Mike knew the owners and trainers had his back. They have, and they did.

If there's a person who is not a fan of Jim Rome, it's me. It's nothing personal; I just am not much for the yeller talk radio guys. I also like to see the little guy win some money. But I can't help but like him and the owners. They handled the BC bumping with class. They handled this horse with class. I truly believe there's some karma going on with this guy: Shared Belief may race again because of them and who they are. If Shared Belief makes a Breeders Cup Classic any time soon, count me as a fan. He's a great story and a great little horse.

Have a super day everyone.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Notes from a Relatively Wild Weekend

Good morning everyone.

First up, there are a whole lot of Derby bath pics showing up. Here's a really nice one.
Get ready for them. They're coming fast n' furious. By the way, Carpe Diem looks like a cool horse. I bet I'd get along with him.

As for other, less professional pictures, here's my dog.
Now that that's done.......

It was a pretty interesting weekend out there and a lot of  the fireworks was about Shared Belief. The commentary on twitter and on chat boards is what it is, and I guess I could wax on about it, but in the end I'm just happy the guy is alright. He's a classy horse and he always seems sound and happy. A stifle issue, if that's all it is, is not a huge deal, and every horse owner has had a horse with them from time to time. Let's hope he's back soon, because horse racing is better with him in it.

And I am obviously not the only one:

Moreno, because he seems to show up to everything like a Lukas horse (and sometimes throws in a mediocre effort), never seems to get much respect. He raced well, circumnavigating the bull ring in 148.4. He's made over $3 million now. 

I saw more and more of this, this weekend:

There are simply very few good betting races - and this has been going on for some time. Sure the heavily rebated teams are doing the whole hammer down to rebate thing. Sure the $2 bettors out for a good time are still betting into the So Cal four horse field superfectas; something that the CHRB should've long outlawed. But for the $50,000 a year player, who might one day turn into a $250,000 per year player, it's dead out there. When you add more and more short-sighted signal fee hikes, takeout rates going up, and all the rest, things are not palatable. 

Woodbine, who seems to do better with field size on the poly than most, is in the midst of a bad wave. Their serial bets, something they push constantly, are falling fast. Despite a big bump in exchange rates since last season, the pick 4 has not hit the guarantee yet this year. The poorly thought out Pick 5 is deader than a doornail. They took advantage of low takeout pick 4 frenzies and charging more for them (notice they never tell you the pick 4 rate), but players are different today; they notice things.

Over at Keeneland, short prices on the dirt have ruled the day. To card some dirt field size this happened:
I don't know the answer to that, but I would guess it has not happened? Keeneland is having a rough go. It's looking like the handles of 2013 will be their watershed; for the near future anyway.

At HRU this weekend:
  • There are those that say common sense can’t work, like somehow circumstantial evidence is not used in any case in the history of man, and it’s some sort of affront to due process. Nonsense. Horse racing is a privilege not a right, so using common sense should be easier in a sport, not more difficult.
In HRU I notice handles at Yonkers were brought up. The big purse New York oval usually does around $600k, while the low purse Balmoral does over a million. It is a fascinating part of harness racing.

The three year olds are coming back in harness racing, and Saturday, Father Patrick's brother looked good at the Big M. He dropped 6 seconds off his Q. I am not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing in April, but the horse has some go. 

There was an interesting twitter brouhaha Sunday, started with a rather innocuous tweet from a DRF fellow who covers Hawthorne, wondering if the Beyer might be a bit high for the Illinois Derby. It was fascinating to read so many talking about it, but in this close-knit game, I guess it is should be expected.

California Chrome is going to be in tough. I am totally pulling for this horse.

Last up, and I know this is not a stretch: The woman has talent. Note that this was taken and tweeted before Shared Belief raced.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Can Horsemen Contribute For Growth? Just Ask the LPGA

I stumbled upon this headline recently. "LPGA Head Michael Whan Gets a New Six Year Deal"
  • Under Whan’s leadership, the LPGA has grown dramatically. In addition to increasing the number of playing opportunities from 23 in 2010 to 33 in 2015, Whan has been instrumental in boosting purses from some $40 million five years ago to more than $60 million this year.
    Television coverage has also skyrocketed under Whan’s guiding hand, growing from 200 hours of mostly tape-delayed telecasts per year, to 400 hours, with 90 percent of that as live coverage.
The LPGA, from almost folding, is now the World's fastest growing golf tour. I wrote an article about the LPGA and racing over two years ago. It explains how they helped achieve this. The growth mostly came from internal actions, not external.

Last week, I, like many of you, opened up the email to find the Battle Royale between track operators and horsemen group heads fighting about funding a sport.

 It seems, like most things in racing, we have the dreaded status-quo stalemate.

It's no secret where I stand. I believe all of us have a stake in racing, whether we train, own, drive, groom or bet. So I am certainly biased towards Mr. Gural's point of view. However, I think it's more than just a bias. I think its good business.

In late 2010 the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was severely on the ropes. Television ratings were down, sponsorship money was fading, and tournaments - which were already at an all-time low number - were being canceled for 2011. LPGA players, upset with the direction of the Tour, called for the resignation of then Commissioner Carolyn Bevins, with two years left on her contract. Tournament directors, long dismayed with her abrasive management style agreed, and she was relieved of her duties. Stepping into the job was a former executive with Proctor & Gamble, Michael Whan. Immediately things started to change. His management style was different, yes, but he also brought along a change in the culture of women's golf.

 It stemmed from his belief that the players needed to take ownership for the growth of their game. In fact, the letters of the word "growth" made up the bulk of his 2011 strategy. "G" was for getting involved. "R" was for reaching out to fans to make their day. "O" was for being open and honest to the fans and media. "W" was for "worldwide", where he sees the Tour going. "T" was for thank you's. "H" was for having fun, because when you're having fun, the fans are having fun.

Corny? Perhaps, but it was a big part of the battle plan moving forward.

Last year, the new commissioner ensured the participants followed these rules, gave them the tools, and they took up the challenge with a smile. For example, when perennial money leader Paula Creamer struck a fan with an errant drive at a tournament recently, she did not give out a customary signed ball, she gave the spectator her watch.

 On Tuesdays before an event, a "cheat sheet" is handed out to players, with bullet points about the sponsors complete with pictures of key personnel. They are then prepared what to say and do in front of a microphone, just like a NASCAR driver is. At the end of an event, players personally pen and sign thank you notes to the organizers.

And guess what? Shudder the thought - they gave up some purse money.

A tournament was created called the "Founders Cup" in 2011. The purse money for the inaugural event was nothing; zip, nada, zero. Yet golfers, from the stars to the journey-women, played. Any meager sponsorship money the event made went to LPGA junior golf and the rest went to charities chosen by the top ten finishers. It was a way to give something back to the greats of the game, while giving up something for the future of golf. In addition, the players taking ownership of the event hoped they'd spark some interest in the event itself.

 In 2012 it was announced this new tournament gained a sponsor, and gone are the days of no purse. It currently stands at $1.5M, thanks to the Donnelly Group. Give a little up, get a whole lot back.

This new professionalism and leadership with a vision has infected the tour with a huge
dose of optimism. Golfer Christina Kim told the Wall Street Journal this weekend, "Everyone
is very excited. It's been a roller-coaster ride, but we're past the dark chasm."

With optimism and growth, comes dollars. Two years ago tournament sponsors were dropping like flies. This season there will be over 20% more events than last year, and they all have good purses.

The players in the LPGA took ownership and pride in their game. They hired a true professional and did not dictate to him, but listened. They gave their time, patience and purse money. In the process they may have saved women's golf.

For those who say it's impossible for harness racing to achieve similar, I respectfully disagree. It can be done. It needs a budget, a leader, a new vision, and most of all, participants willing to take a leap of faith.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Horseplayers, Pay it Forward.

I was thinking about writing a post about some of the great horseplayers in this game awhile back, but Ed DeRosa's tweet finally got me to jot something down.
He is referring to the late Cary Fotias, a long time player who passed away recently, at an all-too-young age.

He's so right. Cary not only was a wonderful horseplayer, but he was indefatigably optimistic about the great game of handicapping. Cary advised HANA - the Horseplayers Association of North America - way back at inception in 2008 and I had a chance to chat with him a few times.

"This game can bet $100 billion a year if done right!!!!", he'd say.  He wasn't blowing smoke, he believed it. It was so infectious and he was so well liked; probably because he was so optimistic, and so in love with horse racing.

Rich Bauer, Mike Mayo, two fellas I got to work with on certain efforts both have left us, and they LOVED this game. Rich was a navy vet, and exactly the way you'd think one would be. Tough; and someone you wanted on your side. Mike was a businessman, but he too had some kind of fire about him. Both men were beyond willing to help you if you needed something, with regards to this sport.

I wish I knew the late Ron Rippey. It bothers me I did not.

What each of them had, and what others do in this great gambling sport, I think, is a willingness to pass on what they have learned in some way. I truly do respect that from some of our fellow horseplayers. It's strange, because it's a parimutuel game, but in my view, it's very, very real.

A couple of weeks ago I contacted Andy Beyer for something. He could not have been nicer, and more willing to share his thoughts. This man is a true legend - after all, how many of us 100 years from now will still have a speed figure named after us that everyone will use - and speaking with him was a complete pleasure.

Mike Maloney - arguably one of the sharpest horseplayers in North America - is as welcoming as a down blanket in a Canadian winter. I remember asking him once if he'd give some pointers to someone who wanted to learn more about handicapping.

"Sure, tell her to come to Keeneland and I'd be happy to", he said.

Mike is not only a true southern gentleman, but a man who wants to leave the sport of handicapping in a better place than he found it.

Barry Meadow? Ah, don't even get me going.

I'm forgetting a hundred people, no doubt, but you get the picture. Like Ed, I have a ton of respect for so many in this game. For a bunch of "degenerates" they're pretty damn good.

What I have learned from these great folks - and try to do as much as I can - is pay it forward, especially with new people. I thought about it today.

Nicolle was asking about small bankroll betting on twitter and I thought I might help. I grilled her, like she was a salmon, about her play, but she merrily played along. I found out she was a win bettor, and might get some help with bet sizing through unit betting, so I shared. I did so, because in my heart I want to see her do well. We all want to see people do well. It's a part of this game, and it's something built right into its fabric.

I think everyone who plays this game has something to share, and some good cheer to spread.

For newer players, find some folks and ask questions. People like @DougieSal, or @dinkinc are two that I have seen answer questions about an obscure pedigree or gambling tactic and do so with a smile. Many others have knowledge and are happy to lend a hand.

For those of us who have played for so long, congratulate folks on their wins; be happy for them. Winning is fun and its a social game. If someone new asks for an opinion, share what you know. You know darn well that Cary, Ron, Mike, Rich and those who have left us would certainly be doing the same thing. Carry that baton and pay it forward. The game is bigger than any of us.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, April 13, 2015

In Racing, Principled Stands Can Take a Back Seat

I recently whipped through the book Men in Green on my iPad. It was an entertaining look at the sport of golf, through some of its known, and lesser known, legends.

One chapter really fascinated me.

Back a few years now, Tiger Woods was playing the BMW Championship and hit a ball on a Friday round, behind the green. It landed in a treed area, with plenty of pine cones, twigs, and pine straw. The only people behind the green were Tiger, caddie Joe LaCava and a PGA Tour cameraman. As Tiger moved a twig from behind the ball, the ball moved, and it was captured on film. Tiger played the ball after it moved. That's a two shot penalty. Tiger did not call the penalty on himself, and signed a scorecard for a lower score.

The Tour official in charge of making a ruling was Slugger White, who just happened to be married to a relative of Tiger's caddie Joe LaCava. Tiger was the biggest name in golf and he signed for a scorecard that did not include a moving ball. This is the guy who pays their paychecks, who signs posters and autographs at events for certain charities. He's a guy who plays the tournament and might not come back again. He's the guy who has a pretty bad temper and can make your life miserable. "Hell, I'm married to his caddies cousin." It was a big thing. 

None of that seemed to matter. Tiger was penalized two shots.

The "Rules of Golf" are a big thing. But with money, power, and all the rest, this might have been a prime time to see something funny being done. The ducks were all in a row for it. But it did not happen. A penalty is a penalty.

In the sport of horse racing, principled stands like this seem unattainable.

If someone breaks a rule, other participants can sometimes be silent, their representatives sometime stand up for that person, as do some friends in the media, and things seem to break down. No other Tour players came to Tiger's defense at the BMW, because they would've called that penalty on themselves and it's bad for golf. A rider with a buzzer seems to get as many or more mounts (funny how the rider gets yelled at in social media, but the trainer who uses him never seems to), a trainer with a string of positives more often than not has a full barn. It's the way it is.

One of the good things in horse racing for customers the last few years - Andy Beyer talked about it in April's Horseplayer Monthly - is the lower takeout pick 5. This bet has been branded by all tracks who have created it, as a value bet for the smaller player. It's also a great bet to promote to others who might not be looking at horse racing very often. As an industry, 15% takeout is the standard, and it has worked really, really well. Just last week Woodbine created a pick 5 with a takeout that is well above the industry standard at 25%.

Stepping out of bounds like this, which can sully a brand by hurting an industry standard and 'hoodwinking' people to play into a higher juice, when they are expecting lower, is simply accepted in racing. There's no commissioner to twist arms to hold Woodbine accountable to the industry standard. Other tracks, which this can affect, don't say much. ADW's don't much care - it's higher rake for them. Big players can get rebated more, so they don't seem to care much. Someone might know someone, like Joe LaCava's cousin, and things bog down. Woodbine advertises, and we can't get them mad. Move along, nothing to see here.

Pick a topic, virtually any topic in the sport. You'll see this phenomenon. Principles can leave the building in a hurry.

Golf is a closely knit game and has been since it began, just like horse racing is. But golf, unlike horse racing, is guided by a golden rule. That rule involves the growth of the game, with a respect for its history. A meekly paid rules official in this closely knit game can call out a golfing icon billionaire, and if he's right, he's right, and he will have almost unanimous support. In racing, hurt the brand, annoy customers with fine print, charge more when you should be charging less, give groups like PETA more ammunition, or a hundred other things? It just doesn't seem to matter very much.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Juice is Loose, The Masters, Gural, Friday Notes

Good morning racing fans.

As we head to the weekend, we've had some interesting chatter the last several days. Horse racing is never uninteresting.

Woodbine announced a new pick 5, at 25% takeout, and that's caused some consternation. The rake is clearly high, one of the highest in North America. New pick 5's we've seen created the past few years were at Santa Anita, Pimlico and NYRA, which range from 12% to 15%. Players have been accustomed and expect that level, and I highly suspect (because this new bet's high takeout will not be promoted), they will think they're getting a deal and they won't be.

Players have been complaining, and Woodbine seems to be, well..... This player was told this when he complained:
  • Thank you for inquiring about the new Pick 5 at Woodbine. We regret that you are unhappy about our takeout rate. If you are not satisfied with how the takeout rates are being implemented, please feel free to voice your criticism to the Ontario Racing Commissions office (416-213-0520) or the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (1-800-268-8835). 
That's interesting, because if you call the ORC, they will say "we don't set Woodbine takeout rates, so call them", and the CPMA will say the same thing. This whole episode smells really bad. Woodbine had been doing some good things since Nick took over. This is a step backwards, and in my view they deserve the bad PR this is bringing. Good for players who are standing up for themselves.

Conversely, a track that is making some positive noise leads the Horseplayers Association list this year - Kentucky Downs. This track was an afterthought. With instant racing revenue they've done what all tracks with that revenue - e.g. Woodbine when they had it - should do. Create great races for horse owners, with good fields for customers. Then, lower the takeout to the lowest in North America. That's how you go from $900,000 handles to those over $3,000,000 per day in only three short seasons.

The 30 page Horseplayer Monthly magazine was released Wednesday.  It's the de-facto "industry issue" with rankings for 62 tracks, set by nothing more than math, comparing field size, juice, signal fees etc. There are also some dandy interviews, with people like Andy Beyer, gambler "Dink", and track insiders. One of my favorite parts of it is the "7 Questions" segment, because it touches on different types of horseplayer and fan. This game is ridiculously big tent, and that should be an asset, but in my view it is not exploited. Download it and give it a read if interested. It's free.

There was a fun discussion last night on twitter as some folks who have been playing Keenelend were saying "I miss polytrack". Strangely, there wasn't even a flame war. Let's face it, those fields are short, and chalky. I have a column coming out on what I think is an ideal future for horse racing, so that it can drive handle and more players. It has nothing to do with surface, per se, but it does involve the types of races Keeneland used to serve us as bettors.

Jessica has a "doing it right" post up, which highlights a couple of areas that are good news. It is interesting, with racing so down in the dumps, with handle falling, new bets that make little sense etc, you can get bogged down and feel there is little hope. But there are things that are positive. There are some companies trying. It's just unfortunate that she could write a post like that only once a quarter or so.

I have been watching the Masters coverage and it strikes me how storied the event is. The Masters has made a conscious decision to embrace history and goes out of their way to preserve it. I saw player interviews from past champions. Nick Faldo talked about how he gets excited for three weeks before it, and he is not even playing - champions dinners, the par three, hanging out with Palmer and others. Pimento sandwiches are still $1.50, because they think that's a tradition worth losing a little money on. Fans and players are respectful. It's a real treasure and part of the brand that will go on as much as they want it to.

Conversely I look last year at the Derby complaints. I am not a corporate basher, never have been, and never will be. I understand CHDN has to beat a $XX EPS target, and I understand that they're a corporation. But I wish there was more Masters for the Kentucky Derby. Churchill is a business, but it is also the steward of the signature event for an entire sport. With that comes responsibility.

Jeff Gural responded to trainer Corey Johnson last evening in HRU (pdf). Johnson is currently under a 13 month suspension in Canada for blood gas, and raced a couple of starts at the Meadowlands last year, where two of his horses tested over thresholds for cobalt. In true Gural fashion:

"The fact that his horse won a Breeders Crown at my track made me feel sick, as I imagine what a horse injected with a toxic substance might feel."

Just a personal note. This last week or two I have had to talk to many people in the business about various things and it always strikes me how many have similar long term goals, and are, in general, just decent people; smart, engaging, and generally have a love of the sport just like everyone else. I never need reminding of that; however, because I am tough on them sometimes - I am unabashedly pro customer, because I believe more customers are more revenue, and deserve to be listened to in a sport that doesn't seem to - that bears repeating. Thanks to everyone I have spoken with the past while. You were a true help, and I never don't enjoy it.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gural Keeps Fighting & Wednesday Notes

At Chuck Hayward's site today, Dave Briggs has an extensive interview with Jeff Gural.
  •  “I say to myself, ‘Let’s see, I stand for integrity, I built a brand new building, I try to market it, I have good food,’” Gural said. “‘What am I doing that should be polarizing?’”
The polarizing argument is one that I often have a chuckle at. If Pete Rozelle wanted to clear up the dangerous rules in football; because one day concussions would be hurting ex players, if a czar wanted to clear up EPO in cycling, or a baseball commissioner steroids in baseball, they would not be polarizing. They'd be doing their job. Some, maybe in 30 years or more, would be credited in history books for saving a sport.

In racing, Jeff is "polarizing". I think that says more about horse racing than it does Jeff Gural.

The biggest complaint I've heard about Jeff is not that he's wrong - make no mistake, people know he's right - or that he's some sort of evil one percenter. No, it's that he "doesn't get along with people."

Let's see. These issues that he is tackling are not new. They've been around for 15 or more years. He's been 'getting along with people' for awhile, but when the people you are trying to get along with drag their feet, are unable or unwilling to make progress, well, sooner or later you break away and try a different tactic. It's insanity not to. Who wouldn't?

The interview is well worth a read on many fronts. Give it a look if interested.


What Gural is dealing with: NZ labs send out bloods to test for Xenon and Argon gas, which is rumored to be used by trainers to performance enhance. 

Arizona investigating "abnormal" results.

It's not drawn yet, and I'm sure they'll get more horses, but right now there are four probables for the Lexington Stakes. Are we having fun yet?

March's handle figures were down. Reading the Paulick Report comments, it's only because of racedate cuts. Note: Cutting dates in half does not mean handle will be cut in half; handle is still a function of horseplayer bankrolls. That's why if Hong Kong doubled racedates, their handle would not double. Racedates are more on par with field size as a handle generator, or eliminator.

Average daily handle at Turfway was up 8.2%. Great meet for them, especially because even still, in this day and age with contrary evidence, we hear nobody likes polytrack.

The Horseplayer Monthly magazine should be out soon. From what I hear, it will be a solid industry issue, with commentary from customers about what's right and what's wrong on the demand side of the sport. It's also the track ratings issue.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Wild Weekend of Horse Racing

This weekend was, perhaps, the first weekend of the year where things felt alive. The Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby were all run, and over at the harness races, an $847,000 Super High Five pool was paid out at Woodbine.

The Blue Grass Stakes, with an increased purse and the first time on the glorious dirt since 2006, was a short field, snoozy affair, with 2-5 shot Carpe Diem winning rather easily. I don't think we learned anything we didn't already know about that horse, or his opponents. The figure came back okay, but Carpe Diem really didn't seem to have to do much running. I don't make Derby selections until near the race, but I don't think he'll be on my tickets.

Handle for Blue Grass day was poor, and the fields surrounding the race were what we have come to expect at Keeneland in the new dirt age - short and tough to wager on. It looks like handle was down approximately 22% year over year. In the poly years, of course, 14 horse Blue Grass fields were prevalent.

The handle on the Blue Grass itself was down. The win, place show pools were the smallest since 1998, when there was only a five horse field with no show wagering (although last year's were not great either). The exacta pools were down to $712,000 from $905,000 last year, and were also the smallest since late the last century. I highly suspect Keeneland did not expect the handle to be down this much when they switched to dirt. Some also expected a fuller field with the $250,000 purse increase, but that was never really possible, in my opinion.

Of note, Nick Nicholson's last Blue Grass day at the Keeneland helm set records: Wagering of almost $22 million, attendance of 41,000 and a real buzz. Compared to the 25k and approximately $15M in handle Saturday, it's a big drop. Nick, in my view, was one of the best executives this business has ever had.

The Wood was a fun race, I thought. I, like some of you on the twitter, wanted to bet back Frosted, because he looked like he wanted to run home like a Pegasus Gulfstream statue in the Fountain of Youth, before clearly having something go wrong. Unfortunately, he was 2-1. Daredevil, the massive fig horse from last year did not fire a lick. Distance concerns aside, he was fried after 7 furlongs and had no go.

Wood day handle was down as well, and one of the reasons why was that last pick 4. There just weren't enough combinations. It felt like we were betting Yonkers. The business has to be constantly reminded that if we don't have good races to bet, we won't bet, no matter what the purse is.

Over in So Cal, the hype horse, Dortmund, got the job done nicely once again. He could be the Derby favorite. He's a big lumbering dude, who has been beating overmatched horses. I think he needs some seasoning so he won't be on my tickets either, more than likely in a month. I think he has a chance to be a really nice horse, win or lose on the first Saturday in May.

At Woodbine, the Super High Five paid out and it was the largest pool in Canadian horse racing history (about $3 million). The Queen's Plate has print and TV advertising, national TV coverage, Queen's themselves come out for a wave, the stands are packed and it's been a staple for like 130 years. But no single race handle came close to Saturday's final race with optional 30 claimer pacers in the snow. One day in the future, the powers that be will realize this game can thrive if it's a betting game.

The effective rake on the Super High Five bet was nil, and value was aplomb, so the money flowed and flowed and flowed in.

Here's a snapshot of just how good that payout was (standardized to 20 cent payouts).

I saw a neat conversation on the twitter today.

I gotta side with Bruno on this one. If Wise Dan was racing instead of a bunch of three year olds most have never seen, do people stay? I think so.Secretariat's Wood Day might've been an afterthought for a casual fan, but after the Belmont it was wall to wall people. It takes time for Zenyatta to be on 60 Minutes and it takes time for any horse to gain a following.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The 7 Best Horse Racing April Fools Jokes

Ah, April Fools, where we ignore almost all news because, well, April Fools! Over the years there have been some downright dandy ones in horse racing. I thought I'd share some of my favorites here.

Parx Changes Wagering Menu - I saw horseplayer advocate and all around horse racing guy Ray Paulick tweet this out yesterday. 

LOL! We all know Parx cares about customers, so any wagering menu changes will be of the takeout lower variety. They will surely be dropping the Uruguayin betting menu for a US one before any other changes. Paulick is a funny, silly goose.

Keeneland Goes to Dirt - This knee-slapper was filtered out last year by someone who's surely a descendent of funny-man Shecky Greene. Record handles, during and after the so called 2008 betting recession, monster field size on the main in the face of declining foal crops, impeccable safety records to say 'take that' to PETA, huge field stakes races bringing in big money, record attendance, a meet everyone shoots for ..... please.*

Gural Rule Rescinded By Hambo Society and Woodbine - This one cracked me up. Probably the number one complaint by fans has been that we don't see good horses race longer, and the "Gural Rule" cures this nicely. The older divisions have been really fun to watch lately, and fans are liking what they're seeing. Sure other sports don't do this. I, for example, was enjoying watching Canadian NBA product Andrew Wiggins' rookie NBA season with the T-wolves, but with them not making the playoffs, he only has a few games left in his career. Although there's a chance we'll see his babies playing in NBA in 19 or 20 years, it's crazy he can't play at least one more year. It's nice that harness racing is leading the way. They'll never change this rule.

Churchill Downs Increases Takeout Rates - This one happened last year. It's not 1954 folks. No one does this anymore. If an April Fools joke is to succeed, it has to be remotely plausible.

Keeneland Gets Breeders Cup - This little gem filtered out right around the same time as the dirt thing. Look, at Keeneland, sure the Breeders Cup Classic will feature Shared Belief, California Chrome and Palace Malice, but on the poly it will not feature those three, plus a 25-1 Nick Zito dirt plodder. He'll stay home, make a stink on Byk's show, people will call it disenfranchisement, all hell will break loose. Plus, we all know the last poly Classic winner. She stormed home to win in one of the least exciting Classic's ever, and she was a really slow surface specialist, not worthy of the crown. I have not even mentioned the venue. People come from all over and would have to eat at Malone's. They might have to catch connector flights. Hollywood stars like Urkel might not make it. Let's face it, this is simply too un-bee-lieve-able.

FBI Dragnet Nabs Penn National Racing Participants -  I've watched the racing at Penn National over the years. I am pretty sure I've never seen any evidence of this. Everything looks on the up and up there. Nice try April Fools comedians.

Frank Stronach Builds a Giant Horse Statue Costing the GDP of Chad -  Whoops, this one actually happened.

Have a nice afternoon everyone! And don't get fooled!

* - The Keeneland poly meet opens Friday.

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