Friday, May 29, 2015

More Questions Than Answers

Good day racing fans.

Today it was announced another bill regarding the regulation of drugs in racing is being pushed in congress. "Bill Puts USADA in Charge of Drug Testing".

"USADA apparently would determine which medications, if any, can be used in racehorses on race day, including the commonly used anti-bleeding drug furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix. Horsemen's groups across the country vehemently oppose any efforts to ban furosemide on race day."

Horsemen groups don't like it, that's for sure, but this proposed legislation in effect, shuts them, and racing out, 6-5.

"There would be an 11-member board, five members of which would come from the racing industry."

This bill, like others we've seen, probably has some good and bad in them. They are not funded for one, and that's an obvious concern, since this industry rarely pays for things with slots, or fees on themselves, they add it to takeout. But no one can deny they are probably needed. If something helps a horse, there is a strong chance it will be abused to help a horse. Regardless, there are more questions than answers.

Speaking of questions and answers, Jessica looks at some questions (give it a read, it's a good post), some answers, and some things that do not appear to be asked. We do see this quite often in racing, and sometimes it's confusing. I remember awhile back, Jeff Gural spoke of banning trainers at his track - the Meadowlands - and noted this about thyroxine.

"This is a moral stand. With a lot of these guys we’re dealing with cobalt and cobalt is toxic to a horse. These guys are putting a chemical into a horse that is toxic. So they have to give the horse thyroxine to try to offset the toxicity so they don’t kill the horse."

Is his statement true? To offset cobalt use is this drug used as stable management? I don't know.  don't have the slightest. I have not seen anyone ask.



Remember if you are betting Penn National on Saturday 💊 20% exacta, doubles 25% P3, P4, P5 30% supers 31% trifecta Bettor Beware 🐴
I think the other way around is a good idea. But no one likes it.
Tonight's Molson Pace card is good. Free programs, selections and guaranteed pool information is at the ready.

 Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Culture, TV Audiences & the Opposite of Monopoly

Good day racing fans.

Lance Armstrong was interviewed recently about his love of golf, via Golf Digest:

"Cycling, when I was competing was the Wild West. Nobody considered doping cheating. Anything goes, and it was every man for himself. Golf is different from the culture of cycling. You might consider me the last guy to have anything to say about cheating but in golf I love adhering to the code of honor that we didn't have in cycling. If I moved the ball in the rough and got caught I just wouldn't regret it, I'd be heartbroken. When I think of reform in cycling, I think about golf."

Golf is not squeaky clean as a sport - just study what recently passed Charlie Sifford went through to play it - but the participants (in a recent poll, 92% of parents said they would be happy if their kid ended up a golfer, when compared to other sports) and the game itself are both generally beyond reproach. Tiger Woods, for example, didn't get skewered by tour pros and many others much for his human indiscretions, but he has had whispers follow him with some of his interpretation of the rules.

It's no secret that horse racing's culture is closer to cycling. Unless something radical happens, like it did for cycling, or baseball, I don't think that will change.

Dan Needham took a really deep, interesting look into television and the Triple Crown. Howard Cosell, the titan of sports, always quick to analyze what was happening in any sport when it came to its presentation, summed up something we all know, but hear plenty of vitriol about even today.

“You have to be willing to alienate - or at least talk at a sophisticated level they’re not at all pleased with - the serious horseplayer,” he explained. “You can’t be concerned with them. You have to worry about the 99 percent who are watching just because it’s the Derby.”

Today I do say I disagree. If TV is being used for ratings, like it is for the Triple Crown, expanding the audience with fluff has worked, yes, but horse racing does not run on TV ratings. A lady doesn't wear a floppy hat to Mountaineer, there are no zoot suits at Thistledown. But they do bet there. In my view, racing loses when it does not promote the interesting, deep, puzzle solving that is handicapping, as much as it can. 

Here's a chart. It's takeout rates in California from 1953 to 1989.

To the left of the arrow is a period that I would consider horse racing a monopoly, to the right of the arrow it was no longer a monopoly. That chart goes to 1989. Takeout is higher now in California and now stands between 20.5% and 21%.

I was trying to figure out how those in charge could possibly think raising prices 30-40% in a newly perfectly competitive market was wise? Especially when simulcast came in and allowed for rapid fire losing (take goes down for those games, or they die).

If four restaurants moved into a town where for 50 years you were the only one, would you double your prices and expect to succeed? Would you blame it on the weather if you didn't?

This chart helps explain why we see food trucks, begging for handouts, hand wringing and all the rest. Racing is trying to put square pegs in round holes when it comes to betting. That simply cannot work, so you have to do other things.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Insiders on Twitter Who Are Engaging, Respectful and Relevant

Insiders in horse racing are prevalent on social media, as they should be. There are many different types of folks who work with and for the horses, or racetracks, just like there are different people in all walks of life. At times - and this is true for any business on social media - there is a fine line between being a shill for something, and supporting something, while doing it with aplomb. It's hard to do on social media, and in my view, it takes a lot of skill.

As well, horse racing has an odd customer view at times, being described as the lifeblood, vitally important, or a necessary nuisance. Falling into trap three can be real out there for some, and it can be swarming from those who think that way. 

Here's a list of a few insiders I see that converse with fans, bettors, or between themselves that I have been impressed with. This is by no means a complete list, of course; I am sure there are others that I am forgetting (I don't follow a ton of people, like the TVG folks etc). As well, this is from my perspective with my interests - betting, racing and the business of it.  You might prefer others, as well, because this is just a personal opinion.

Larry Collmus @larrycollmus - Larry is a well-known personality who gets tweeted to quite a bit, but he handles himself like a true pro. He is good-natured and gets to fans questions when he can. He seems to take his job and place in racing seriously and is a good ambassador for the sport on twitter. 

Pat Cummings @dubairacenight - Pat is willing to express an opinion, which might not be embraced by everyone - his view on camera angles for horse racing, or the tweet below - but he is usually effusive about it, and doesn't get into long, drawn out battles should you disagree. He usually has something interesting to say and is a classy fellow.

Travis Stone @travisstone - Travis is one of the more engaging folks you'll find on the twitter and is a pretty bright guy. Travis works for Churchill, which does not have the best brand when it comes to every day horseplayers, but you don't see him taking much flak for it, like you might think. Why? Because he's likeable and tweets some good stuff, in a professional way.

Tom LaMarra @jerseytom - If Tom tweets something he means it, and that resonates well with those of us who appreciate honestly in the media. Tom generally knows the in's and out's of the business, and if he sees something he disagrees with, he respectfully and without equivocation will share his thoughts. He's a good representative on SM for the Bloodhorse.

Ray Paulick @raypaulick - It's tough for an independent person like Ray to be super-authentic with his public views because he, like most, depends on advertising for his livelihood. When you follow him you don't really notice anything of the sort though, which is evidence that he's an honest broker. The news he tweets - oftentimes not even from his own website - is interesting, and you tend to learn something.

Bill Downes @billdownes1 - The track announcer at Indiana Downs is engaging, likes a variety of things, is active, and generally has good cheer. He's a handicapper too, and often gets into conversations about the game that some others may not have the ability to do.

Greg Blanchard @molson_gb - Greg is general manager of Western Fair Raceway and is one of the most passionate people I have ever met in the industry when it comes to trying to grow the bet. Greg will talk harness racing and the business of it with anyone, anytime, and it's done professionally and authentically.

Sid Fernando @sidfernando -  I speak with my twitter friend Sid from time to time on the phone, and you know what, what you see is what you get. If he says something about the business on twitter, he'll say it to you in person because it's what he believes. Sid is an expert on breeding, but he has a vast knowledge of all facets of the business, and he answers questions skilfully and with good cheer. A good representative for his craft and his business.

Craig Milkowski @timeformusfigs - Craig is the chief figure maker for TimeformUS and is a staple on the twitter since grabbing the gig. Craig shares his figures, answers questions about them, and handles himself well as a representative for Timeform. If he sees something he thinks is being done poorly in racing he will tweet about it, and respects differing opinions when answered.

Ken Middleton @middleton_WoMoh - Ken, the track announcer at Woodbine and Mohawk, is one of the best in engaging with fans you will ever see, bar none. Woodbine has been in my bad books because of their new pick 5 takeout (I am customer and handle growth-first, and don't apologize for it), but Ken (like Travis Stone) represents a classic example of not holding an employee to task on social media for something he/she has no control over. Ken is a super-good egg.

Being an insider in horse racing on twitter can be a monumentally tough task. Handles have been down by over a third, foal crops are down by a ton, customers have been leaving. Horse racing's current state is not one of growth and the masses tend to not tolerate a whole lot of insider sugar-coating. I think the above folks know full well about the troubles in horse racing, don't gloss over them, don't insult fans by arguing they don't exist, but they are keenly aware of their place in the game and handle themselves well. If you are new in the game, those are some folks I believe we can learn from.

If American Pharoah Wins It's a Disservice to Everyone to Shut Him Down

Triple Crown time usually brings story time. Often times it's about a trainers past, or an owner. Sometimes it's about the horse. A lot of times it's a whole lot of nothing. This time, a narrative is surfacing that I feel is actually a pretty important conversation to have. It's about the history of the game and what makes a great horse.

Today in the Beachwood Reporter, (h/t to Crunk on twitter) Tom Chambers cuts to the chase.

"The once-defeated colt's future has already been romance-arranged with the sale of his breeding rights to Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. Check your emotional investment at the door. Resist the hype run-up to the June 6 Test of Champions. When his connections announce a minor injury and retire him "for the good of the horse," you'll be left disappointed, at the very least, without answers."

The background to such an opinion is not new. It goes a little something like this.

In general terms (I have no idea what the AP deal is): The horse is worth $20 million, and already bought and paid for at that price. If he wins a Triple Crown, the price goes up, everyone makes a little more money as he is syndicated for more. If he races in the fall, races poorly, or gets exposed as not as good as advertised, it costs investors money. So, it's best to call it a day.

The above is the exact reason there was so much breeder and big horse buyer (flipper?) disdain for the Gural Rule in harness racing, where horses had to race at four, then be retired. Virtually 98% of the industry loved the rule, the minority who did business like this hated it. The result? The 2% won and the rule was changed. 

This is much more than just 'it's my horse I can do what I want with it' arguments. It's about the history of the game and the game itself.

Winning a Triple Crown comes with immediate accolades. "Best horse ever", "great horse", "coulda hung with Big Red I bet". Those are cash register memes. As Tom Chambers points out, these narratives can survive the test of time in some quarters with immediate retirement, when no one has the slightest idea if they're true.  It's impossible to prove the unprovable.

Chambers: "If he wins it and captures the Triple Crown, which is against the odds, nice, but his greatness will always be questioned. No epic rivalries, no Saratoga, no Breeders' Cup." he writes.

I am not in the slightest convinced that if American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown he will be shut down with a mysterious ailment. Curlin raced for a year worth much more than American Pharoah apparently sold for, California Chrome is happily plying his trade and he was worth a lot of money, and on and on.

If most who are predicting this are correct and they do rush to retire American Pharoah, however, they will have done fans and industry historians a great disservice. But perhaps most of all the horse itself is not being served. American Pharoah looks like a fine horse, a horse that might be great, a horse that comes around very infrequently, a horse who could do great things. "For the good of the horse," let him prove it.

Enjoy your Wednesday everyone.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Six Thoughts on the Excellent TDN Whipping Series

Today in the TDN several industry and media types looked at the whipping issue in Thoroughbred racing. This issue, primarily rekindled with Victor Espinoza's use of the whip in the Derby, is one that never seems to go away. It's this sport's elephant under the big top.

The series of articles, from different perspectives, is good and every one of the people who shared their opinion had some good points, in my view. I'll take a look at a few of them here:

1. It hurts the horse, so it's bad - I remember being at Woodbine one evening for the harness races.  A three year old colt stormed home nicely to come third. His gait seemed a little off but it was a stout effort. After the race, in the paddock, the horse collapsed and had to be put down. He had blown both front tendons during the race. I don't think whipping 'hurts' a horse at the time it is done, and the Aussie study by animal behavioural experts seems to convey that.  I suspect it may hurt later and looks like it hurts, and I realize the animal groups can make hay that it does hurt. But horses run through brick walls in the heat of battle, and I think that's not an issue.

2.  Lazy horses need it - I know we live in an Oprah world where everyone gets a ribbon, but sports is merit based and only the strong survive. If your horse bleeds too bad to race, or needs to be beaten mercillously because he's lazy, his problems lie in his gene pool, and he probably needs to be a pleasure horse.  

3. We know best - I've heard "let the participants decide what to do, the jocks know best". I think that opinion matters, but it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. If football players made up the rules, clotheslines and leading with a helmet would be legal and more and more players would be eating through a straw.  Participants hate change because it means they have to change the way they have always done things. The culture, as Chris Mac notes in his piece, is very strong and these folks need to be listened to for their experience, but they need to be led, not appeased. 

4. One Reminder or two are fine, more is overkill - I think common sense and the Aussie studies confirm this. If you yell "fire!" it's startling and you run. If you yell fire 32 times, you get a cry wolf response. Bang, bang, bang, bang successive times probably does nothing and looks terrible.

5. Bettors and owners think you're not trying - This has been proven to be much ado about nothing.  Vociferous bettors or owners might think like that, but not the masses. Racing in Ontario has little whip usage. In harness racing you can barely tap them anymore. No one is complaining, handle is not down, and more and more track records and lifetime marks are set each year. It's a scare tactic that's used for the status quo, with no empirical evidence to back it up.

 6. They're horses, they know what they're there for - I remember hearing from the trainer of Bettors Delight, a really good horse and sire in harness racing. He was a terrible trainer, at times unable to train in company in 2:25, no matter what you did. On race night he got his game face on and would be almost unbeatable. In Thoroughbred racing, bad morning trainers no matter what whip use, are very common, but on raceday they were new horses. I think this explains why track records are set without much whip use. The crowd, the other horses, pack animals and being conditioned, over and over and over again for that moment trumps a few whacks almost every time. Horses are horses, they're bred to race in packs, and they and animal physiology experts that tell us this fact should not surprise us.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Big Days, Mo Money and Poltics

Good day racing fans.

The Gulfstream Park Pick 6 jackpot thingy is not a jackpot thingy today. It's mandatory payout day, and should provide some good value. I'll throw the hat in the ring.

Charlie Hayward examines "big days" in New York racing land.
  • If racetracks devoted the same time investment to researching the efficacy of their betting menus and estimating optimum takeout levels as they did planning “Big Days,” I believe the time spent analyzing wagering options would yield a higher return. Well-balanced race cards with good field sizes may not be as glamorous as “Big Days,” but I believe that they – combined with lower takeout to improve the economic return for customers, tracks, and horse owners, and more effective drug testing and stronger penalties for cheaters – would go much further in improving the future for Thoroughbred racing.
The whole article is quite good. I agree with much more of it than I disagree with. Big days water down every other day, and the last thing horse racing needs is to water down already watered down days that no one seems to watch much anymore.

Speaking of Big Days, CDI's Derby betting is good - I think we can all agree that slice of Americana can sell itself  and is really hard to mess up - but after an increase in juice and about a 25% drop in handle other days last season, this season is not faring too much better. Field size is up about 9%, handle is down about 5%. There goes the ol field size was the reason for a 25% drop excuse last season.

It's being reported that CDI has joined the online poker market in California. It will be interesting to see if their partner will let them raise juice to 22% if they want more profit. Likely not.

The online poker fight in California is pretty interesting, and according to Adam 'there will be no bill until all the lobbying money is spent'. Groves estimates the profit (for the entire industry) will not be big - $8-$12 million per year - but getting a foothold in this market is more important, as the online gambling market could or should expand more. Currently the racetracks seem to want a share, and so do the native casinos. It looks like a typical lobbying minefield. According to that twitter feed, the odds of this passing in 2015 is 2-1 against. Regardless, whether horse racing gets a small share or not, it's likely peanuts, and I can't see any possible rationale that this can help horse racing in the state.

Some rumor was shared on the HRRN radio show yesterday. One of the hosts disclosed that Carpe Diem bled pretty bad in the Derby. If so, you can draw a line through that race, and if you like the 12 furlong breeding, you might get a price.

It's neat to me that two horses that won the Belmont Stakes the last two years - Tonalist and Palace Malice - are favorites for the Met Mile. Also supposedly in the race is Bayern, a winner at 10 furlongs in last years smash up Derby, Breeders' Cup Classic. I am more and more convinced that distances over 8.5 furlongs are not a preference for any horse in America anymore.

In harness racing update last evening, the historical look at racing at four is tougher than racing at five meme was again spoken about. It's not 1985 any longer, when this was almost prevalent. Nowadays, 2 year olds can scorch an oval in 1:49. Seasoning in harness racing is overrated. If your horse is fast enough he can win at four, if your horse isn't, he won't. The problem in harness racing is that with stakes at three, some horses who are not very good on a stand-alone basis, get headlines.  When they fail at four, it's supposedly because they're four, not because they weren't fast enough to begin with.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nice Ideas, but Not the Desired Results & Notes

Back in 2009, Evian Water's ad agency released a video on YouTube. The "Roller Babies" ad was quite successful, so successful in fact, it made the Guinness book of World Records as the most watched viral video for a brand of all time. With 50 million views in 2009 alone, all for the most part free advertising, it was quite the coup.

Or was it? In the same year, Evian sales went down by 25%. 

This is not uncommon. If your ad, or video, or the patrons you bring in to your establishment are not linked in some way to the product itself, the product's sales often do not follow. No link, or reminder, no sales.

This phenomenon was explored today in the TDN.  Will bands and food trucks convert into handle? Like water purchases, I just don't think so.

Flipping over to marketing the real product, Pompano Park set a handle record last night; with about 80% of the nightly betting on one race one bet.  The $202,000 Super High Five had a mandatory payout. With a negative 1.5% effective takeout, the bet was again a winner, with over $1 million of new money.

That bet and those like it are successful because they provide value, and a chance at a score. North American bettors are conditioned to take advantage of such pools, and they've been responding (it was not always like this, some tracks have tried to seed pools earlier on, to no avail). In Australia, they might have 0% rake bets that they are conditioned to bet that garner $3M pools, here we have 0% rake bets that garner big pools, too.

With so little value out there - high takeout and field size, along with ADW messes and signal fee problems - a lot of people have been chased away. I, for example, have bet four days this month - Derby Day, Oaks Day, and two days at Pimlico. The only other two bets I made were the carryover Super High Five Monday at Western Fair (-10% takeout) and the Super High Five last night. There's so little value every day (horse racing must understand that playing every day is a second job, and people don't take the time if there is no value), so like many, I just mess around when a good bet pops up. Too bad there aren't more of them.

Last up: I guess it's started. We were waiting for something to pop up in the news for the Triple Crown trail and I guess we've got it. Joe Drape examines the legal issues regarding the primary owner of American Pharoah.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

7 Reasons Why the Triple Crown Buzz Is Muted

We're less than three weeks away from American Pharoah entering the gate for a Triple Crown try. Maybe it's just me, or maybe I am wrong (no jokes about the frequency of that please), but it just doesn't really feel like it. The buzz feels muted.

Here are a few reasons why I think that may be.

1. Someone around the horse might be a dumbass partner, but they ain't a majority owner - Last year Steve Coburn was the figurehead for California Chrome. The man who could play the lead in a CBS remake of the Beverly Hillbillies was a part of the Triple Crown; maybe as much as the trainer and horse were. This drove some eyeballs for sure, because it was the ultimate fish out of water story. Hollywood has made blockbuster movies with that genre, so it's likely that worked for the Triple Crown buzz too.

2. The horse looks like Big Brown, might be as good or better than Big Brown, but right now he's no Big Brown - Big Brown won his preps like Pharoah did but the superhorse buzz surrounding him was much more stout; in my view anyway. Maybe it's the margin of victory in the Derby, the fact that almost the entire field in the Preakness seemed to throw in a clunker, or the easy preps, but Pharoah still seems to have to prove himself to some.

3. Bob Baffert is not the Devil - A couple of recent Triple Crown trainers that created buzz had some serious stuff swirling them. If someone wrote a New York Times article about Rick Dutrow spending vacation time on Baffin Island at a seal hunt, people would believe it. Doug O'Neill - the John Calipari of horse racing - had some wondering if he was smiling while he googled milkshake. The anti-steam those boys brought - fair or not - encapsulated the insider buzz. Baffert has some detractors, but in the end he's vetted, he's been here before, everyone knows him. Plus, when a guy who looks like your fifth grade history teacher plays you in a movie, you can't be half bad.

4. Zayat's - People can go on about the Zayat's on the twitter, but really. They just seem like your average every day rich people who own horses. There's thousands of them around, we're used to it. Plus, when I brought a new owner into racing ten years ago, he was cheering for a five claimer for his first live race (he scared everyone around him) exactly like these guys cheered for Bodemeister. Don't lie, we can relate to that video no matter who we are. It's why we buy horses - any horse. As much as some want a villain, there just doesn't feel like there is one this year.

5. The New York Times has taken a month off - Joe Drape is hanging around, chatting about the Triple Crown like a regular horse racing fan. No Times writer has found evidence of something they find really bad, like positive tests, or trainers who have bad carbon footprints. It's just kind of blah out there in legacy-media land.

6. The Golden State didn't latch on - Last year it felt like there was one horse the massive state of California could get behind. This year there were several - Dortmund and Firing Line but two. It had to have made a difference.

7. It's Early - Maybe there will be some buzz to come, that will trump other tries, like I'll Have Another or Big Brown, or California Chrome. Maybe it's just early.

Enjoy your Wednesday folks!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wanna Bet? Sure, if You Can Find a Way

Handle keeps going down, but sometimes I wonder how it isn't down even more.

Today it was announced that Churchill Downs is suing the Daily Racing Form because they took bets on the Derby. Why it is an alleged crime that a major, 100 plus year old business with an accredited ADW, powered by Xpressbet, can't take a bet on the major raceday in all of horse racing tells you about all you need to know about racing's handle growth, or lack of handle growth.

Eight years ago now Ellis Park with help from the late Cary Fotias, wanted to create some buzz for the sport with a 4% takeout pick 4. Unfortunately, bettors had to navigate the protectionist, bizarre minefield that is racing. Some major ADW's didn't accept it, the Woodbine hub in Canada didn't accept it, some tracks didn't accept it. After bouncing a ball on your nose like a trained seal, some bettors did find a way. Average handle for the bet was $42,000, up from a shade over $15,000 a year earlier. Mission accomplished. Sort of.

In 2007, the 10 day mini-takeout experiment at Laurel was tried. Handle didn't get a bump. It's hard to get a bump when myriad tracks shut your "low takeout" signal out, rebate shops say take a hike, Canada says no through Woodbine, and says we ain't allowing our players to play it.

Back in 2001 or 2002, Nick Nicholson, the visionary head of Keeneland, wanted to drop Keeneland WPS rakes to 12%. The NYC OTB's rejected that, because they'd only make about 9% on that signal. Think about that. The NYC OTB's - the politically driven, bankrupt mess that is now defunct had control over what Keeneland wanted to do. 

Most recently one of the better bets offered out by a track - the Pimlico 12% pick 5 - is not accepted north of the border. If you are from Canada and want to sign up somewhere else to enjoy that takeout it's like you are exploring the life of an international smuggler. Oh, you can happily bet into the 25% takeout pick 5 at Woodbine though.

Do you want to play the Derby at your ADW? Chances are you couldn't. Do you play at an accredited ADW that has done everything right and want to play all tracks so you don't need multiple accounts? Fat chance.

Horse racing cannot and will not break free from its monopolistic roots. It's not a monopoly any longer, but it clings to it, like some sort of life preserver, while being battered by the waves of non-protectionist, market-driven, customer-focused gambling enterprise.

Handle will not grow from policy that's driven by fear. Handle will not grow by inconveniencing your customers. If you expect the betting base to bounce balls on their noses to play your product, you will continue to be disappointed. They happily move on to something else, just like any rational customer does. In the long run these inconveniences add up.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Round Up, Racing Dichotomies

Saturday's Preakness is in the books and the usual racing divergence of opinion is out in full-force.


Depending on who you ask, American Pharoah's Preakness win was dominant, fast, slow, a joke, brilliant. There are probably ten or twelve more opinions I forgot. 

I suspect it was pretty brilliant, simply because you don't see too many horses push hard in the off going like he did in the first quarter, try and grab a rest, start back up and dominate a race. Sure, maybe Tale of Verve is a "future 25 claimer", Dortmund and Firing Line had horrible outings, Divining Rod is just no damn good, and the rest of them aren't in the same league; ergo American Pharoah stumbled home in a slow time beating nothing. But I am having a little trouble believing all of it.

I don't have a problem with opinion like we've seen because that's what racing is - opinions. With the infrequency the horses race, along with the fact there are different distances and surfaces and everything else, opinion can, will, and probably is assured to be all over the map. In a few weeks we'll find out how good the horse is, because the field should be quite stout. Winning a Triple Crown ain't easy, obviously.

Racing Is Not Dead
Racing Is Dead
The dichotomy between some fans/insiders and those who play the game seriously is so, so wide. It never ceases to amaze me.

Free American Pharoah Poster Giveaway!

NYRA sent out an email today talking about the Triple Crown.
Leaving aside the typo, NYRA is pushing i) The Triple Crown attempt and ii) The concerts.

Hint, when you have a triple crown attempt, have capped attendance at 90,000, you don't need to speak about the concerts any longer. Rumble in the Jungle, 40 cent hot dogs,  Free seat cushion day for game seven of the World Series, Cal Ripkin sets the iron man game record tonight, come get your bobblehead; not really needed.

I understand that they had to plan, and concerts are a good way to promote an event that without a triple crown try suffers, but I found it kind of ironic. We're here for the horses and history, and you could offer a promotion where everyone who enters gets poked in the eye with a hot stick and you'll fill the place in three weeks. I think a case can be made to not want people coming for a concert. The American Pharoah Triple Crown try should be left to the true fans, to enjoy in peace.

The Goo Goo Dolls at the Belmont to push attendance where history is ready to be made says a lot about the struggles of modern horse racing. 


Marketing triggers for horse racing were discussed on page six in Harness Racing Update. Also, a feature on Bee a Magician, who has come back sound and beat the colts last night in the Cutler, is the lead. 

Have a great Sunday everyone.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rumor, Ringers, Rascals and Other Notes

Good day racing fans!

DeRosa wrote a blog post today about negative buzz with Kentucky Derby winner and likely 3-5 Preakness chalk American Pharoah.
  • "American Pharoah was working awfully hard out there” and “He looks worse here than he did Kentucky Derby week; He’s a different horse."
This prompted a response from the connections. "AP best he's ever been".

Well, that's that, right?

No, not really.

I would submit a large majority in the game of horse racing lean towards Ed's "sources", and take the connections' word with a grain of salt. Not because they are lying, but because it's the way it is. Horse racing in the 1920's and 1930's was partially branded as the game of "ringers and rascals". We are conditioned to believe nothing, or very little that people close to a horse or barn tell us. Over the years we remember this branding whenever we see it ("International Star usually takes Thursday's off!"), and discount the times the connections really were telling the truth ('he worked great, he was fine', from a winners circle interview).

This type of branding most recently has entered the fray with the New England Patriots football team. After the 250 page Wells report was released, telling us Patriots' QB Tom Brady was fibbing about his role in deflating footballs, very few level-headed, unbiased fans ran to their defense. It's the Patriots after all. Don't they all cheat? Just today it got even sillier in that camp, when the Pats released a rebuttal that the texts from the man who is responsible for deflating and inflating footballs were not referring to said crime, but to the fact he is fat, and when he spoke of deflating he was referring to himself losing weight

I think I need to google milkshake while I eat this poppy seed bagel.

Horse racing's present structure will not change. This is not Hong Kong with 1,000 horses, all monitored by video camera and where every vet visit, supplement, and injection is logged.  With that, and with horse racing's history, ringers and rascals prevails. The Zayat's, or anyone else for that matter, can shout from the rooftops things are perfectly fine, they might just be and probably are, but it really won't matter. The thousands of horses, the thousands of owners, and hundreds of thousands of races before them set the bar that they have to live with.


Preakness weekend always feels muted, but we should remember, this is a big deal. Last year, 9.62 million watched on TV, $84 million was bet, and the infield was like a rock show. This might feel like smaller potatoes after the Derby but in the grand scheme of things, this is huge. This weekend's bets for me? The 12% pick 5 is a must play. For Canadian fans you will need to look elsewhere to play that. Woodbine's hub doesn't carry the pick 5 (takeout too low!). 

Draft Kings moves on to NASCAR. And the Kansas legislature has moved to allow fantasy sports as a skill game and "un-ban" it. It makes you wonder, in only a couple of years state laws have been changed for Draft Kings and FanDuel, but there are states who have not allowed horse racing betting for generations.

Much talk about Kentucky Derby increases in handle, but little about daily overnight handle at Churchill. By my numbers it's down, with field size up. Most everyone with a sense about gambling said they would not lose for a big day(s), but would get hurt on regular days. That has occurred, because takeout hikes are a slow burn on bankrolls, not a quick slice.

If only horse racing appeals worked like football ones. Brady's will be done in a month or two, and have no effect on him starting under a cloud. In racing someone gets a stay and can race for years. 

Why does over-whipping matter? Because horse racing depends on earned media, the public controls the slot purse strings, and strange articles like this can be written by people who don't know the game. It's not about what insiders think. The general media doesn't care about "hitting a saddle pad", they just see a horse hit 32 times. If AP loses on Saturday, you know darn well that column will be written again saying "told you he'd lose because he was whipped too hard".

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

IRS Response Rates Show the Power of "It's Not My Job", Leadership, Malaise

A few weeks ago the NTRA began asking for signatures regarding a petition that would benefit the industry. The IRS withholding changes are long overdue and, in a word are vital in many ways. After all, they could add a half a billion dollars a year or more to handle. The margin directly to the industry from that money is tantamount to the yearly slot subsidy in some states.

The petition barely gained 2,000 signatures. This from an industry that supposedly employs 4.3 million people.

Horseplayer groups like HANA shared the link with a list and got a decent response rate. Steve Crist wrote a story that was no doubt well read. There were a few other links or mentions I saw, but really things were pretty muted. I expected the 100 or so harness racing and Thoroughbred racing racetracks to be running the link on simo screens on track, and adding the information to their racing programs and mailouts. I expected it on hour on the hour on TVG or HRTV. I expected anyone in the sport with a mailing list to be mailing out the link, encouraging their readers - from every discipline; vets, horseplayers, contest players, PP providers, horse care, everything - to sign. For goodness sakes, CDI and NBC just had the Kentucky Derby watched by 16 million people. You'd think 15 seconds from a b-list celebrity's screen time talking about his hat and putting up a web link would've been the right thing to do.

That, for the most part, didn't happen.

Horse racing has a dearth in leadership and direction and that flows from the top to the bottom. Those underneath the NTRA in this episode appear to have used the "it's not my job" fall back. They could've helped more, should've helped more, and it is and was in their best interest to help more, but someone else will do it.

Those at the very low end - horseplayers - are so disenfranchised from years of not being listened to that many of them clearly felt little, or cared little. As management consultant Gary Hamel once wrote: "Not only are employees disenfranchised from most policy decisions, they lack even the power to rebel against egocentric and tyrannical supervisors." If you don't think you can replace horseplayers with employees in that statement, you need to pay more attention.

In the end there is a massive malaise in this sport that's real and palpable. Something as simple as increasing handles overnight through getting behind an IRS reform weblink can barely muster a whimper of a response. Fixing this won't happen quickly, but in my view it's something the industry needs badly to get their head around. It has a chilling effect on every decision the business makes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday Notes, What I Feel Disease, Carryovers & Rules

Good day racefans!

"It’s a big reason why other sports tend to be on the move. Whether it be the NFL with its myriad rules changes, the NHL with scheduling, the NBA partnerships with Fanduel, or push for legalized gambling, these sports study, survey, model and enact. They aren’t ruminating, or thinking off the cuff, they aren’t kicking the can down the road because they are hearing what too many ‘feel’ and think it’s more trouble than it’s worth, they aren’t “feeling” anything; these decisions are made with a business case."

In HRU, page 6 pdf. 

Little The Raceway at Western Fair (I think we're calling it that now), had a small carryover in their SH5 the other day. After all was said and done, $55,000 was bet into the Super High Five pool, in a race that generated $2,646 in the win pool. That's tantamount to a Super High Five pool of about $2 million at a big track with a big win pool.

Carryovers are a North American ideal of a low takeout or zero takeout pool. In other parts of the world they run those as a promo and garner big revenue. In my view, TVG and the networks that broadcast the sport should push them, instead of churn killing pick 6 tickets. It would do the game some good. 

I remember going to Top Gun at the movies that year.
We poke a little fun of harness racing and the interpretation of rules here on the blog. Why wouldn't we with the big talk about fixing kicking in 2013 after headlines about fixing it from 1986. But harness racing might want to step aside.

The chatter about Victor Espinoza's 32 whips on American Pharoah in the Derby has gone loco. Reading the industry insiders I see if a whip breaks the skin it's bad, but apparently the new whips are so soft they are unable to break the skin. So, even if you hit a horse 1,540 times, like a rubberband man, it's okay because, well, you didn't break the skin; because you couldn't, you see. Confused? So am I.

I know I am just dumb, but it seems to me if you hit a horse 32 times over about 400 yards, it's probably too much.

This isn't the first time Kentucky has looked strangely backwoods on an issue like this. A couple of years ago after a harness driver repeatedly kicked a horse in the stretch and was not fined for it, a Red Mile judge said, "Unless the horse is being abused I don't have a problem with the kicking." Alrightee then.

We'll have to get Cub Reporter on this to see if this is the case.

 It's kind of like stub hub, without the internet.

On site slots takeouts are around 10%. Offline are around 1%. This is needed for various reasons. Racing, with the IHA and fingers in the pie economics, have online and offline priced the same. A major scourge in growing the betting.

The Preakness week card, drawn for Friday, is a good set of races. The pick 5 at 12% with ok fields shows a good possibility of value.

Right on Brad Thomas

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Whips and Lasix, Two Peas in Different Pods

There have been some fascinating discussions within the business itself, post-Derby, with the whipping of American Pharoah. This was not really outside led, there were no stories like this on activist websites, it's all come mostly internally.

Lasix, another favorite topic for the business, has been hotly debated. But it's hugely different. Lasix use, or the banning of it, has a number of pros and cons, as a pure business case. If Lasix is eliminated, field size may go down, some small tracks where our less than blue-blooded animals race could suffer. From a horse welfare perspective, no one denies that lasix works well in terms of what it is supposed to do - stop bleeding. From a pro-business case, if lasix is eliminated the horses may be healthier (less weight loss race to race), it brings the breed into line with everyone else, and from a PR perspective - certainly important for government support and purse strings - it's the right thing to do. Race day meds are about as popular with the betting or general public as an overdue tax bill.

Like any proposal with a business case, a business weighs the good versus the bad, and makes a decision. This is why lasix is a very difficult topic: There are some good business case, cost-benefit points on both sides.

Whipping is completely different. There are a number of business case reasons to pare back its use, as many jurisdictions both in the US and Canada (and the rest of the world) already have with no negative issues whatsoever. On the flip side, for "pro-whipping", we mostly hear anecdotes, stories, or the dreaded "this is the way we do things" from insiders that plagues racing and has for decades. This side can't hold up a study, or business case that says people will watch racing more on TV, buy more horses, come to the track more often, or increase their bet,  if only the horses were whipped more.

I wrote a column about similar to the above recently (that should be up soon). It's about governing a sport by extrapolating our personal feelings and letting those "feelings" lead us in decision making. There's no room for that in a big business like horse racing. The sport needs to be governed by a strong business case, with real cost-benefit analysis, not whims or feel. Unlike Lasix, when it comes to whipping it's a no-brainer. Although some might "feel" horses who are whipped 32 times in a stretch drive is no big deal, the facts say there is no business benefit to it, and an anti-business detriment to it. I am certain, maybe not this month or next year, but sometime, the whip rules in Kentucky will fall into line like most everywhere else. We likely won't be having this conversation too much longer, in Kentucky, or anywhere in the world for that matter. It's mostly just common sense.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday's Horse Racing Chatter

Good day racing fans.

Bill Shanklin (rarely a bad read) ruminates about how hard it is to win the Triple Crown. It's an interesting hypothesis. Winning this series of races has gotten more difficult; I do not think there is much question about it. In a way I think it helps the series (with the general public), rather than hurts it. Winning the Triple Crown seems elusive and it draws people into the story. When a horse has a chance to win you tune in to watch history, rather than something that can happen with regularity.

Lots of chatter about whipping, and Victor Espinoza's 32 cracks on American Pharoah. I don't know why we make things so difficult in horse racing. 32 is excessive by any measure. That's against a rule, thus you penalize him. Next year, if you don't want to see the same thing on national TV, you pass, or alter the rule beforehand and let the jocks know in the room that excessive use will result in a 14 day suspension. That would not allow the jock to ride in the Preakness. The jock's - who are professionals - will fall in line and your problem will be solved.

The Preakness cards will have guarantee's for their pick 5 next weekend for both Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Day. At 12%, that bet is a must play if you are looking for some value. There is a nice carryover today in that pool, by the way.

Horse twitter accounts. I might be in the minority, but I think if done right, they can be fun, entertaining, harmless and at times informative. When they turn human I tune them out.

Monmouth Park opens, and they have been near break even in recent meets.

Bug/Windshield. Political bettors really took a hit in the last election in the US, with the polls being almost perfect, but we forget the times they aren't, and the unbelievable value to be had when that occurs. In the UK last night, the polls were a few points off and with a parliamentary system where there are several parties splitting said vote, a few points can mean a lot.  Early on in the evening this was apparent, yet you could still get over 10-1 on some bets that had a strong probability to occur. Fascinating.

Another fascinating point, I think, is that when people have perceived value they send it in. My friend is a professional bettor and before the election he had access to available data, did some spreadsheets and made lines based on them. He's not from the UK, but he learned what he needed to know and made plays. I suspect he bet between $40,000 to $60,000 on the election outcomes. As for last Saturday, he bet a grand total of zero dollars on the Kentucky Derby. "Too much work and I can't find value." Disagree if you want, but in reality, that's the perception of US horse racing with many bettors nowadays.

Forest for the trees. I was watching the Players Championship pre-game this week and in 1992, then PGA commissioner Deane Beaman increased European participation levels into the event to 15 from 12. This, as reported, almost caused a boycott. Regular US players did not want others into "their event". Now, 23 years later, Rory plays Jordan, Martin is paired with Tiger and there are no "quotas" other than good golf. The event cards the best field of the year, and many consider it to be on-par with a Major Championship. Its TV ratings are good, and the event continues to grow. When those in racing don't want deeper fields, or to change to make the racing better and more competitive, I think the sport loses out (especially as a gambling game), and has trouble growing.

Dave Briggs is doing some work for Ontario Horse Racing. If you are a bettor, fan or insider, please give him a follow

With a hat tip to Pacead poster Valuist, why does Andy Beyer get ripped so much? Whether the article is tongue in cheek or not is not the point. It happens often. Speed figures are predictive, a handicapping tool, and with a Wood Memorial going :53 and a Sunland Derby going in :47 at the same distance, are extremely valuable. That Beyer was doing it when few others were, it gets one on the Wall of Handicapping Fame and deservedly so.

Biggest winners Derby Day? Travis Stone, American Pharoah, CDI earnings, maybe in that order.

Enjoy your day everyone. And have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Vets Standing Up For Horses, Not as Easy as it Seems & Other Racing Notes

I remember many years ago now we had a horse in to go, and when visiting him in the paddock an hour or two before race time, the trainer was a little concerned about his right front. There was no pain, he walked and jogged fine, but he thought he felt a little bit of heat. He called over a couple of old time horsemen and the track vet. Nobody thought anything was amiss and nothing was. The horse raced well, coming a bang up third, and won his next start. I looked up the horse recently and noticed he is happily racing at age 12.

When the trainer did mention he thought something might be amiss I said the words "well, if he is off in any way, just scratch him". But I remember how hard it was to say them. People were out to the track to see him go, he had a shot to win, he had been racing well. He had trucked a couple of hours and been prepped. It's easy to do the proper thing from afar, but up close it's different.

This race was a $15,000 non winners of two. I can only imagine it with a Derby or Breeders Cup starter. You've gone through preps, lived breathed and ate Derby. Your friends are all here, you spent thousands on travel. You've been thinking about this day and winning the Derby for months, or years. The lean is to race and hope for the best, and I am sure throughout history that's exactly what has happened dozens or more times.

After 2008 with Eight Belles, post-Life At Ten, and probably with a little bit of PETA reports mixed in, the Kentucky Racing Commission (and presumably Churchill Downs) changed protocols. There is a lean for track vets to wield more power, in Kentucky and elsewhere. We'll never know if the Derby scratches the last few years were because of track vets, the connections themselves, or whatever, but there seems to be a change in the way horses are inspected and vetted out in this day and age. A track vet is now expected to say "no you cannot race" more than ever before in these cases.

That's an incredibly hard thing to do, and the pressure on them must be enormous.

In the NFL, a player can be sat by the NFL doctors because of concussions. Players generally don't like it, get upset, but that's the way it is. These doctors have that mandate, but it is different with a human being. Horse's can't speak and tell you when they're not well, the owners might want to run, it's a free country and free business; the old "it's my horse how dare you tell me what to do" comes into play. That they, the business and track ownership have been more vigilant than ever in this regard is not a small thing, in my view. It's pretty big.

On twitter or facebook or on Paulick Report comments, "they should scratch him if he appears off" sounds like something as easy to do as tying ones shoes in the morning, but for a track vet, it's not as easy at it sounds. I think they deserve a lot of respect from us as fans, and bettors. The business, I think, has moved in the right direction on this topic.


Speaking of whose right to know what, when in horse racing, the Dortmund bout of supposed colic before leaving for Louisville is a hot topic in some quarters. Was trainer Bob Baffert supposed to telephone the press after the episode so everyone knows? Some think that should be the case. I think most episodes like this before races can be fixed with releasing vet records, as was done in the past, but not in large part this year. If the horse was treated with anything for the colic, it would be released in the vet records, and when asked on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the connections would likely respond why.  Problem solved.

TimeformUS's site has really sped up. I was speaking to a fellow who works on the website and he told me something was coming down the pipe and it has. Timeform is doing good things that cater to modern bettors. No, I still am not jaded enough to think that's an oxymoron.

Handle was up 5.9% in April. A few tracks did better than expected, and Gulfstream ran more dates with better horses. I would suspect that $10 million or so of the handle bump was due to the Rainbow Six mandatory, which did not happen last April. Horse racing, for some time now, has been running more races at better signal tracks, and fewer at low handle ones. We really have not seen what would be expected with that, however, i.e. more gross handle. That's likely to have occurred because bankrolls are not rising.

In harness racing update, social media and the openness of racing in that regard was looked at. We got a neat reminder this week about how other sports handle it differently. A PGA reporter was banished for showing some practice round shots via periscope, the twitter streaming app.

Monmouth has a new pick 5 at 15% boat for the new meet (there are two now, Monmouth created the 50 cent pick 5). Polarcritter says it's right up against Woodbine's pick 5, and he doesn't think it bodes well for the Bine.

Supposedly exchange wagering is coming to Monmouth in Jersey sometime this summer. This has been a topic discussed for years. Hopefully Betfair is the one with the keys to the bus. They have a big interest in making this work, know how to, and we'll likely see it work well, in my view, if they're left alone.

Enjoy your Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Post Derby Chatter Different Than Many Expected

A week ago if someone told you that American Pharoah won the Derby, you'd expect the hype would reach fever pitch to the power of nine. Pre-Derby, we all saw the quotes about him being the next great one, the best mover since so and so. And he had to beat Dortmund, who himself was being talked about in similar terms. If he won, one might expect that those opinions would be justified and away we go.

Margin of victory and final times (or figures) are still a benchmark used by the business in terms of buzz and greatness. American Pharoah won the race, but he won it by a small margin, after a relatively good trip. He did so with a relatively short Beyer and he was all-out to do that. He just beat Firing Line, who was not even Dortmund. Flying late was Frosted, who was far back in par fractions, making up ground - "if only he had pace to chase!". Materiality had a terrible trip and some people think he might've won the race with a good one.

In effect this is nothing new. It's a classic case of expectations not being met. American Pharoah showed up, won the race, but did not do it impressively enough.

Last year, like in some previous years there was a post-Derby buzz. California Chrome looked to be toying with the field, Orb ran by them like they were tied to a pole: Margin and ease of victory. This year no such thing.

American Pharoah will likely be a 3-5 shot in the Preakness. There's probably a 50/50 chance he goes to the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line. Chris Kay will be pumped, some fans will too, but the buzz still, in my view, will not be like other Triple Crown tries. Expectations rule the day in this sport.

The post-Derby chatter has been much different this year in other ways. We have stories about Dortmund's colic, and International Star's scratching. There's also quite a bit of chatter about the "32 time" whipping of American Pharoah. Even 20 years ago these stories would not even be a whimper, but now life and society is much different. Whipping a horse 32 times resonates and it makes little difference if it's explained, or justified in some way. As an industry you cannot trumpet the fact that 170,000 people show up to a race who never go to horse races, or 15 million people watch it on television - millions of them who know nothing about the sport - then wring your hands that they don't know they're watching a "soft whip".

Everyone wants horse racing to go mainstream and be a sport like the NFL or NBA. Mainstream means you have to deal with whipping, or foot bruise or quarter crack, or lasix, or horse safety questions. You can't have one without the other. As Derby viewership grows as the population grows, expect more, not less of it. And frankly I am not sure it's a bad thing.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Racing, the Kentucky Derby & the Strange Case of the DisappearingGambling Dollar

The Kentucky Derby has been growing. As the sports' premiere event, it has a built in cachet that other events (outside the Triple Crown, certainly) do not have. In a word, it's Americana. Saturday's raceday possessed what should end up being a record $194 million handle, and the TV ratings were the best since 1992.  In addition, let's not forget Friday's Oaks day, which is a success and has been for a number of years now.

It's easy to say this is expected, and that it would take a lot to screw up a Derby or Oaks (just like it would take a lot to mess up other niche events like the Indy 500), but I think that's very unfair. Remember the Oaks on Bravo? Special coverage, Derby draws? Johnny Weir and Tara Lapinsky? Hats, suits, red carpets? Some of those things were met with consternation inside the industry. What they do, are doing, and have done is present the event to a new audience in new ways, hoping the people come back each year to watch, one day come in person to buy $11 Mint Juleps and possibly bet a trifecta into 19% 22% takeouts. That's hard work, and it means something.

The problem with all of that is the horse racing industry - not all but a good deal of it - tends to lean to glass half full, rather than looking at the big picture. We see this almost on a meet by meet, or month by month basis. If a handle goes down for six meets, but goes up the seventh, things are improved. If handle and attendance goes down each month, but one month it goes up, we're turning a corner. It's similar with the Derby, or other big events. A small spike in TV ratings are trumpeted, a small hike in handle is warm and fuzzy. But the real story is not these incremental increases or decreases, it's what's not being done that's worrisome.

Pinnacle Sports is a website. It's in Curacao and takes bets on the NFL, MLB and other sports. It's not an elaborate website, nor is it very difficult to run. You can't bet into it from all countries, it doesn't have easy-peasy deposit or withdrawals, it's just an offshore website.

Pinnacle took in $40 billion in bets last year. Yep, $40 billion.

The Kentucky Derby has the power of a long time brand, millions from industry groups spent to show Derby preps on television, mint juleps, Bravo, Johnny and Tara, hats, free media, a year of planning, and an attendance of 170,000 in house, and 16 million watching on TV. And it generated about $120 million or about 0.3% Pinnacle's yearly handle. Overall, horse racing in North America bets about $11 billion a year, with 40,000 races, 50 ADW's, 70 racetracks, hundreds of OTB's, all the rest. That's barely one quarter of Pinnacle's handle.

How does a website take in that amount of gambling money with no slots subsidies or government help? How do they survive with all the competition from casinos, racetracks, lotteries? The obvious answer is that they don't have much overhead and don't have to put on a race or game, but if you run to that as an explanation, you're missing the big picture.

Pinnacle takes in $40 billion of gambling dollars a year because they focus on attracting gambling dollars. Pinnacle has the best lines, best value and does not try and hoodwink anyone with high rake gimmicks, or hat giveaways. Each player at this site has a chance to win, and they're open for your gambling business. Betting five cent baseball lines attracts money, and people's bankrolls can last.

Horse racing events like the Derby are the exact opposite when it comes to gambling economics. They deliver 16 million viewers and $200 million in handle. That handle comes, for the most part, from increased deposits at ADW's, and both on-track and OTB juiced bankrolls. That's a good thing. What happens next is not. The day after the Derby the folks who bet and cashed on American Pharoah either take their money immediately out, or bet it into egregious takeouts that they have no shot of beating. They get ground down and lose their money quickly. They then tell their friends "the Derby was fun, I cashed, and you should come with me next year, but you know the old line: You can beat a race but can't beat the races."

While the Pinnacle customer deposits money to bet the Super Bowl, makes a cash on the Patriots, then looks to bet a little hockey, then baseball, then the NFL the following year, the horse racing customer - with apologies to Steve Miller - takes their money and runs. Can you blame them?

This probably explains almost all you'd need to know: The average sportsbook customer in Australia bets 6 games per week, at around $30 per game. Pinnacle's average customer bets probably double that, for about $400 handle per week, each and every week. Horse racing's on track handle for ten races at a big event, like the Arkansas Derby last month, hovers somewhere around $40 per capita, and most of those people come once a year.

Handle at some events, along with good attendance, prove that horse racing still has relevance. Horse racing is not the proverbial 'dead'.  But it is unfortunately delivering gambling customers who are dead on arrival. Because these high and mid-funnel customers are needed to support a labor intensive industry and are being converted at microscopic rates, the glass is not half full; it might as well be shattered. It might be relevant for a Churchill Downs exec's bonus check what the Derby handle is, but for everyone else it's probably one of the most useless industry metrics you'll ever see.

Horse racing needs to change to attract gamblers, just like Pinnacle Sports has, or it will never become a gambling game that allows racing to generate the long term revenues needed to support it. That mountain is not climbed with Derbies, hats, drinks or TV ratings. That goal is achieved with a complete restructure of horse racing as a gambling game.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Odds Board Rules in the Kentucky Derby

I won't wax too much about the race racing fans, because, primarily, there isn't much to wax on about. The Derby is in the books, and I better drop my "I'm never betting a chalk again" after betting Mr. Frisky mantra, because the odds board is getting good. Way good. This baby was formful.

There will be a lot of talk about times and figures, but the top four finishers, to me, looked like quality stock who would've hit the super in 46 or 48, 110 or 113. I think they're good, deserving horses and they performed while others did not. It's not like horses had to close into a 49 back half (it was 51 and change), nor did a lot of them have huge excuses. It was what it was.

Watching the replay I did see Keen Ice - a laughing stock pick to many on the twitter - come home nicely. I also saw Materiality have what looked like some trouble and fire home fresh and fast. Maybe if he raced before Christmas he would not have gotten jammed up. Just kidding.

Upstart was a concern. If you thought Zenyatta looked uncomfortable at Churchill in the first quarter, Upstart blew that away; high stepping, head moving. I hope he's alright. He's a nice little horse.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about US breeding not producing stayers. This Derby will do little to change that. Like last year where California Chrome did not (and still does not) look like a 10 furlong horse, I suspect the top four finishers will not be considered as such either. They're fast horses, obviously, capable of 1:47 Sunland track records for 9 panels, but beyond that, I don't know. 

I am not sure what to make about the Triple Crown. My gut says there will not be a Triple Crown champion this season, but who knows. American Pharoah did win, as he was supposed to, and some in the business are bestowing some pretty big accolades towards him (e.g. I saw him compared to Sunday Silence on a clocker report). I lean not, but they may be right. 

We saw some scratches the last few days and I think that's a good thing.  After the Life At Ten fiasco things were overhauled a little for the safety of the horses and it was a step forward. In addition, with PETA making noise, it makes business sense to ensure everything is taken care of.  The Derby is a strong brand and Churchill needs to protect it. From what I saw, heard and read, I think the vets are doing a super job and the industry should be commended.

Travis Stone. I thought his call was superb. "Frosted warms up" was a great line. In a race where not much action occurred, and where he was probably very nervous, he sounded like an old pro and I give him huge props. 

I found, like I always do, the Derby was fun. We get caught up in attendance, or handle or what have you with these big events (those were good this year), but up 5% or down 5% it means little. The Derby, along with the Indy 500, Little Brown Jug and other like events for niche sports brings us all together. People might look at us funny, but it's what we do and enjoy. the Derby is the pinnacle of the sport, where for one day we can laugh at a bath picture, share a story or two, or watch NBC coverage that most of us pull our hair out over.  Unless PETA bans racing, or Greenpeace stops allowing us to race cars, these events will be here forever. I had fun with everyone in the virtual world today, and despite not cashing anything on the Derby but consolations for scratched horses, I had a marvelous time. In 365 days I will again. It's a great day, win or lose, and it always delivers.

Have a nice evening everyone and congratulations if you did well at the windows today. And congrats to the Zayats, who finally finished one spot ahead.

Most Trafficked, Last 12 Months


Carryovers Provide Big Reach and an Immediate Return

Sinking marketing money directly into the horseplayer by seeding pools is effective, in both theory and practice In Ontario and elsewher...