Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Modern Technology Kind of Wrecks Things

I read an interesting column today at Around 2 Turns. It was in regards to the American Pharoah Triple Crown, and the assorted memorabilia of such.

"Ephemera, or at least the hobby of collecting it, is dead or at least seriously unwell. Sure, a dinner menu from the Titanic or a JFK campaign poster still holds some residual value to somebody somewhere. But if Antiques Roadshow is to be believed, the market value of such things has been in steep decline for quite a few years. The pet theory here is that technology – aka, the Internet – has made such things less valuable because digital images of them are so easily obtainable. Why spend money on the real thing, when a perfectly nice digital representation of the thing is just one free click away?"

I think that's so true.

Years ago, well in the 1980's when I was getting into horse racing, I would keep a lot of things. Program pages from races, tickets, souvenirs. I did so like so many others did.

I remember when VCR's came out. We bought one, but for some reason the store shipped us two of them, and for another some reason, when alerted, they didn't pick up the extra  - no matter how many times we called - for around a year. Having two VCR's was the bomb. I taped every race that was shown, even a few stretch drives from the nightly sportscast, and with a second VCR could make a mixed highlight race tape. If my friends in school liked racing I would've been the coolest kid ever.

I cherished this tape, and still do until this day. "They" said VCR tapes would die after so many years, but they were clearly wrong. That baby still works like a charm. First Breeders Cup, check. First Breeders Crown, check. Derbies, North America Cups, a grainy stretch drive of Cam Fella running down Millers Scout, Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, check, check and check.

Today, did I tape American Pharoah's win? I don't even think I've rewatched the race (honestly, it was - other than the obvious - not exactly a barnburner.)

We can watch any race on Youtube anytime. I can buy a program. I can order archived SI's. For $20 I can buy a $2 win ticket. Surf, click mouse, buy. It's all just there, as the writer alludes.

Simulcasting is a great thing. I can bet on a horse anywhere, anytime. Wonderful. But from a from a being-a-romantic-fan of great horses point of view, it sucks.

Back in the 80's, Greenwood/Mohawk (the now Woodbine Entertainment Group) had the Canadian Pacing Derby, the North America Cup and a few other races where we'd actually get to see the horses we'd hear about. Was Call for Rain any good? Was Jate Lobell? Who knows, because we'd never get to see them. A trip to the track for these races, for a racefan, was like a four year old going to Disney World. Although Woodbine rarely attracted US Thoroughbred talent, I could get my fill of the gaiters with no issue, and it was magic.

Now, I can watch any horses career with a click of a button. Why go to the track to see them? I know what they can do, because it's old hat.

People say it's easy to be a racefan now, and they're right. We can do and see almost anything, or buy almost anything right from our home office or living room. Seeing things we have not seen before at the track is gone. We live it, bet it, watch it and rewatch it each day, we can buy it with a mouse click. The 'old days' are indeed gone. But, nostalgia has a pull. And often times I miss it.

Enjoy your day everyone.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Shuffling Around the Recipe in Pennsylvania & The Dreaded 'Monetization'

Good day racefans.

Over in good old Pennsylvania there have been a couple of interesting developments.

First, Philly Park Parx is cutting winter dates and sinking money into a fall festival of racing.

"Parx Racing and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) announce the creation of a new, annual $20 Million Parx Racing Fall Festival that will commence on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, and continue through Oct. 20, 2015. By doubling purse levels throughout the two month festival, Parx and the PTHA have created a signature racing meet that will attract top horse racing talent in the industry, increase the field size of the races, enhance betting interest, and draw new fans to the racetrack."

What we have noticed empirically, is that when purses go up, it is not strongly correlated to increased handle. Some people inside the sport, and some pure fans, can't seem to get their head around that, but it's not really that much of a paradox. If you serve up six horse fields going for $50,000 instead of $35,000, while asking players to play into 30% juice, your handle probably won't increase much. It's like a restaurant increasing the wages of their serving staff and improving service, but still serving bad tasting pasta, at $35 a plate. The bump from better service does not fundamentally change your restaurant.

What Parx is doing is preferred, however. They are splitting off a meet and creating a separate meet with some buzz. I believe all slots tracks should've been doing this since forever. When I have brought this type of short meet up there were crickets; mainly from the argument "the horsemen won't go for it". But I did, and still think, it's a good idea.

Parx could really create buzz by lowering takeout with the shorter meet/festival. That's the Kentucky Downs model. But they won't because well, they're in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile in the Keystone state, we are seeing slots revenue further wean.

"Up to 250 slot machines could be placed at OTW parlors under certain regional restrictions. The state tax rate on the slots-only facilities would be 54%, none of which go to support purses and breed development programs."

Fewer dates and a decrease in revenue off new machines seems to be the general elixir.

Racing in Pennsylvania has always been a 'what might have been' for me. So many riches, so little long-term vision.

Moving on to the Mike MacAdam column about the changes to Saratoga, and NYRA and Chris Kay in general, it's been quite the buzzsaw (there are 50 comments on it at the Paulick Report).

It seems people have given up; that racing 'companies' can and will do everything that they want for the short term. That's fine, but the meme that this is taught in business school and it's just the way it is perplexes me. What a load of nonsense.

Companies market and position themselves in the marketplace with the long term in mind all the time. It's a massive part of business. Travelers Insurance doesn't charge people to use these charging stations (even non-customers), they do so because it makes for good business. Ball teams are not sponsored by the local mill because they're "monetizing", they do so to be a part of the community they reside in. In my town growing up, the big Toronto 'corporation' didn't have management deliver turkeys to miners Christmas morning to monetize some offshore investment in a turkey farm.

And Frank Stronach doesn't do what he often does in this sport to 'monetize', that's for sure.

NYRA seemingly wanting to charge for the air that someone breathes at Saratoga and CDI masquerading as the big bad wolf, are outliers, not doing "what everyone does".  Travelers Insurance could monetize a charging station, but it would hurt their long term business so they don't. CDI and NYRA might be hurting theirs too. There's no need to throw up one's hands and say 'that's expected' from these 'corporations'. It's not.

There's a fine line to walk between monetizing and pissing off people so much, the drip drip becomes a wave, and the wave becomes impossible to stop (think the long-term destruction of the betting base with seven decades of marginal takeout increases as an example) . Good "corporations" walk it finely and with skill. If you love the sport and want to see it flourish, demanding the same of horse racing entities isn't even remotely radical.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

MacAdam on Saratoga: The Modern Enterprise, Old School Game

The Gazette's Mike MacAdam penned an article today about Saratoga Racecourse that should get its fair share of tweets and retweets. He writes what oh so many in the sport would like to say - or more appropriate scream - but don't have a forum to. It's about the monetization (Mike, not wrong in doing so, calls it gouging) of almost everything.

"It’s one thing to look under every pebble in the quest to turn a profit. That’s all that a corporation is about. And it isn’t NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay’s job to win a popularity contest.
But NYRA is playing with fire at Saratoga. People are — what is a “P” word I can use for angry? — perturbed. Perhaps there will come a point when that starts to reveal itself through the kind of metrics Kay prefers, like hotel tax revenue."

You should read the article. If you like the romanticism, the feel, the everything that makes a racetrack a racetrack in a community, I suspect you'll like it.

This is nothing new, quite honestly; managing to EPS, managing to today. What's going on is not subtle or some grand experiment.

In The Other Side of Innovation, Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, talks about traps that old-school enterprises can fall into. One of them - the strategic trap - is when the 'performance division' of a company tends to steer the entire ship. This process is a trap because it focuses solely on the marketplace of today, with little regard to past branding, or future, long-term ROI. It appears some racing companies are hell-bent on being married to this strategy.

I will disagree with Mike in one of his points: "turning over every pebble for profit is all that a corporation is about." The best, most successful corporations have innovation divisions, and creative branding that's a large part of the overall strategy. That's what stops the Kodak's of the world from being the Kodak's of the world. On the surface, and looking at the continued monetization of the nation's most storied, most branded Thoroughbred racetrack, unfortunately, as Mike ably and passionately writes, it appears NYRA is not one of them.

Enjoy your Saturday everyone.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bill Casner Knocks it Out of the Park

Bill Casner's op/ed today in the TDN regarding federal legislation didn't hit a single, he pretty much blew the cover off the ball. He laid out, with precision, some of the reasons he is for such legislation.

"Without having a central professional organization that is dedicated to creating gold standards for testing with the authority to conduct out-of-competition testing and administer punishment, we will continue to have those trainers who will seek an edge and we will continue our slide into irrelevance. Whether we want to accept it or not, the public views horse racing as drug-infested with impotent testing."

Casner is right, in my view, on several points, including, "The trainer’s mentality is that if it is not on the illegal list and won't test, it is okay to use."

That's right up there with my favorite quote from a trainer I know regarding soda and cobalt: "If a little of something works, a lot of it must really work."

We've seen bad things in this sport numerous times, and numerous times the perpetrators - who are cheating, no two ways about it - don't get sent off to suspension land, or probably more apropos, jail, they get year end awards. I think the worst part of the issue is not the sheer number of bad people in the sport - there are really not that many - it's that these people (after miraculously winning) have a barn full of horses within three months. Honest owners bang their heads against the wall, and just like a horseplayer gets ground down with high takeout, they just stop investing in horseflesh.

I don't love this legislation. I think the lasix angle in it is a red herring, and I worry about federal oversight. I especially worry about what happens if harness racing gets lumped into that legislation (lasix is not abused in harness racing because the horses race so frequently and only those who truly need it tend to be on it). But in the big picture I agree with Jeff Gural that fear - jail time, etc - is the only thing that will stop the bad people in the sport. As the Lance Armstrong incident showed, no positive test was needed to change the entire sport of cycling - the entire sport - when the feds had the bit between the teeth. I believe that there is a possibility that they will change horse racing as well.


Bill Shanklin wrote a good piece on Pete Rose, and horse racing. His last paragraph was a doozy:

"When it comes to provocative image-laden issues like race-day medication, insider betting, and aggressive whip use by jockeys, my opinion or your opinion is anecdotal and irrelevant. What counts is how such matters are viewed by the betting cohort and the general public. An enterprise that does not maintain a generally favorable standing is on a slippery slope if not doomed."

Slots and racing, why is it do damn hard to understand? Why is it do hard to do right? Plainridge, Tom LaMarra noted on twitter, cancelled Thursday's card due to casino traffic. You can make that up. It will never cease to amaze me that a track like the Big M - with no slots - is the number one promoter of the sport in all of harness racing; that tracks like Balmoral with no slots try have decent rakes, while Pennsylvania slot tracks are a scourge to every horseplayer in existence; Woodbine creates ridonkulous 25% juice pick 5's, cancels D barns while on the government teat, and on and on.  It's not dissimilar in Thoroughbred racing. I know it should stop surprising us - the harvesting business strategy is in use with slots, sadly - but if you like the sport and want to see it succeed, it's truly one of the most disappointing parts of the business.

Chris Kay, who seems to keep saying things that are just really, really odd, noted that Saratoga might cap attendance, say on Travers Day. I am for this policy for a number of reasons, but Alan's rant opposing my view is top-notch. 

DFS article about its future, and it's bang on. The rake will have to be cut or attrition will set in. Horse racing should've been doing the same thing.

Have a nice Thursday folks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Like in Baseball, Racing's Innovation Has Been Good, Except for One Thing

The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball club is going through a cable provider dispute, and this fight has resulted in a television blackout of their games in most of the entire Los Angeles area since last year.

But there's good news. As Mina Kimes writes in her ESPN magazine piece "Stupid Tech Tricks", they are innovating, for the "fans" and "fan engagement":

"On April 14, the team issued a press release. It didn't mention the blackout. Instead the Dodgers announced, in a statement brimming with enough tech jargon to arouse a roomful of MBAs....

"The sports industry is ripe with opportunities for innovation," the release continued. "There are countless ways for new technology to create more powerful consumer experiences, heighten fan engagement ..."

Kimes adds in her piece: "Such as ... finding a way for fans to watch games?"

Last evening I re-read the NTRA report, done way back in 2008, by their online marketing
task force (with a few people I know and respect and you probably do too). Some of the items in the report are brilliant and were very ahead-of-their-time in 2008. Some of these suggestions were implemented in some form (although it took many years in most cases, which is a shame) and they work. A good deal of the items depend on an industry working together, and that's not really a good thing for implementation. Regardless, the ideas and the will were probably there.

Since 2008, the racing industry's innovations for racefans has been decent, I think. TwinspiresTV, live video streams, some HD, the work of the tracks on social networks have all been pretty good.

But, like with the Dodgers and MLB, bells and whistles and "fan engagement" are something that's done in addition to the core product - which for baseball is being able to watch a game, for racing about consuming a good gambling product - and without the fundamental building blocks it's little more than noise.

In fact, the NTRA report in several instances references the issues that are holding it back.

In horse racing, if you want to consume the product online and support the industry long-term through wagering, you often have to resort to some mind-boggling sorcery.

If you reside in a state where the horse racing alphabet braintrust wants you at the racetrack, you can't bet online. In some states you can bet online, but with a "source market fee", which stifles your consumer choice and makes the game harder to consume. If you live in these states, or say California (where you might want to get away from high juice in exotics and get a couple of points back on your betting), well, you can use your grandma's address in Florida and sign her up. Just make sure you pay her tax bill.

 How about being in Canada? There's one ADW, and it's a monopoly. To sell their signal to other ADW's - in Europe and in the US - Woodbine made it a condition that these competitors kick out their Canadian clients.

And, hey, if you go through all of that, we have six horse fields at 17.5% juice for you. Pop the champagne!

Free video, free PP's, youtube replays (do you believe this industry once tried to charge for race replays?) are all good. Bells and whistles are good, but like baseball:

"What's ironic, though, is that MLB already owns some of the most impressive technology on the planet: the league's streaming service, which fans in LA can't access because it would jeopardize the team's multibillion-dollar TV deal. So Dodgers diehards must find their own workarounds, like paying for an online service that masks their addresses, a trick that lets them access local games on MLB.TV. Some might call it innovation."

Without a core product that can be consumed fairly, at a fair price, and in a uniform fashion, you don't really have a product, and no technological innovation can fix that.

Enjoy your Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fantasy Sports "Grows Dramatically". Can it Keep Going?

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association announced some new numbers today.

It is estimated that 57 million people in the US and Canada now play fantasy sports. This is up 40% from a similar study last year. All that advertising you see from Draft Kings and FanDuel is clearly working to get people in the door.

One in five play DFS, and overall per capita spending on fantasy sports is $465 per year which is up from $95 per year in 2012 . That translates to around $26.2 billion spent in fees, wagers, pools etc.

The two major Daily Fantasy sports sites are targeting an increase in handle this year to about $2B, from $1B in 2014 (that might be conservative). With an average of somewhere around 8% rake, that generates about $160 million in revenues.

Where can it go from here? Top line revenues will increase, in my view, because the industry is still in a growth phase, and it has significant capital to burn through. What happens next is where it gets really problematic. Lifetime value of a customer can fluctuate based on customer satisfaction (or utility) and that number is a function of hit rates and takeout. At the present time, DFS is pretty tough - though nowhere near impossible - to win at. The smart companies in the space will probably be trying to nurture these customers the best they can by keeping an eye on internals. Those who find a way to cultivate the customers that are coming in the door (increase their play rates etc) will succeed, in the short to medium term.  The long term - post IPO - I feel is much muddier to forecast.

Fantasy Sports' $26 billion dollar market is fractured, and big tent. At the present time the market is probably much bigger than racing's - when it comes to pure handle - and it will continue to eat away at it. How much is anyone's guess, but with finite gambling budgets, daily fantasy is a big player in the market.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Racing Can Learn From Fox's US Open Coverage

The critique of Fox's coverage of yesterday's US Open at Chambers Bay reminded me a whole lot of horse racing. From insiders, the laments centered on the lack of information given (what irons were being hit to what greens, what the break is on putts, what the yardages were), and what many thought were commentators not experienced enough to talk about what was happening. The features, like the one about the talking tree, made people ugh.

However, there was some good with that bad. The good happened in two main areas.

First, the use of technology to show the play was lauded. The "protracer", which shows the ball's flight off the tee was used on many holes, and allowed the viewer to see where the ball was headed, was fantastic. The split screen tracer was brilliant - this showed where the ball was headed, in real time, super imposed on diagram of the hole - and any one of us who have played golf on a video game, from Sega Genesis in 1989 to the PS4, knew what we were watching. Yardages, widths and other overlays on the screen were also given high marks.

Second, they showed us the money; the game. the match, the competitors; the drama. They let the event speak for itself. 

"Fox found its best moments in the final 40 minutes of Sunday’s play thanks to a thrilling finish between winner Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. The production thankfully let natural sound carry the broadcast over the final minutes. The coverage was also commercial free, which kept the tension and drama high. Of note: The on-course audio with Spieth and his caddy on No. 18 was great.."

Fox's use of technology, and letting the event and its participants speak for it were completely solid. I, like most, was enthralled and could follow the action as good, or better, than any golf event I have watched. On course mics were perfectly placed, and in a sport where not being able to see a white little ball traveling at 178 mph off a clubface, for this event I could.

Racing, in my view, can learn from the above.

I watched Ascot last week. And for the life of me I could not find my horse in any race with a field size over 8. The saddle pads are all the same color sure, but it was more than that. In the turf sprints especially, I had absolutely no idea where my horse was. None. After being frustrated about the whole thing, I called a friend who bets UK racing for a living. He told me "in 20 horse fields in short sprints I don't have a clue how the announcer gets through the race. For the most part I'm totally lost."

Here across the pond it's not a lot better. Watching the Derby on NBC I often see a blob of 20 brown horses. Watch the Orb win in the soup a couple of years ago; I couldn't find Orb and I've watched hundreds of thousands of races. Tom Durkin didn't even pick up Mine that Bird until late in his win, and Tom is a god, legend; use any word you want. Every year I watch the Derby at my ADW. Trakus, angles, I can actually see the race better.

Top TV production can't do the job, for the most part, and with racing paying to get onto television this is troublesome. On Saturday I watched the North America Cup on TSN (Canada's ESPN for those who are wondering). Close ups on horses heads, some sort of lights getting in the way? Odd angles? I was lost and I can only imagine what newbies thought. (watch it from 1:30 onwards here).

Racing, like golf, is hard to telecast.  But like Fox's coverage, it can do better with some imagination.

For huge events like the Derby I want a protracer. I want to see bubbles, or arrows or something showing me where the top four choices are in the betting, while the race is being run. I want to see an alert when a horse, like Frosted this year, makes a move that's worthy of paying attention to (think how that would work in a bar with the sound down). I want to see more.

As for the participants, I want more of that too. I want to hear strategy and chatter, just like we all wanted to hear Jordan Spieth and his caddie talk about what they wanted to do with a 279 yard three wood on 18, or Dustin Johnson asking his caddie what the break is to send the match into a Monday playoff. Bob Baffert talking to his owners or jockey before a race isn't a national secret. It's a big part of the sport.

I think that's exemplifed with my, and probably your favorite Derby TV memory. Carl Nafzger living the Derby moment with his owner, who was unable to see what's happening was awesome. It was the participants speaking for themselves. It was the filter free, pure, unbridled joy of horse racing; the culmination of years or more of work, all to attain a goal that one owner, one horse, one trainer shoots for every year.

"You couldn't get that with fifty takes", said Al Michaels.

Horse racing and golf are niche sports. The US Open, the Kentucky Derby and Ascot are jewels that need to be shined up, and presented with both us - the every day racewatcher - and the general public in mind. They need to showcase the game and grow the game. Fox, with its use of technology and letting the event play itself out over the last hour, gets it. Horse racing, in my view, needs to take that same lesson and apply it to its telecasts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Three Real Game Changers for Horse Racing

Horse racing is always looking for game changers; mainly to bring the sport some great buzz, get on the front pages and get people to watch and attend the sport more. Movies, TV shows, Triple Crown winners, what have you, seem to fit that bill with insiders.

Unfortunately they never seem to work.

The most difficult part of the equation is that bringing people out for X doesn't really pay the bills, because the Y is betting dollars. It's a leap to show people a new coke commercial, and getting them to buy new coke forever. It's a colossal chasm between watching a Triple Crown race, loading up an ADW, buying PP's, understanding them, and betting. Until the sport charges $100 a ticket, or earns piles of revenue from shoe sponsors, or from Victor Espinoza silk sales, betting is where it's at.

Because racing seems to throw up their hands with ways to increase the bet - sometimes we wonder if they even care - here are three game changers that could, or at least have a chance, to do what all other so called 'marketing' hasn't been able to do. Increase eyeballs who want to bet, through fundamentally changing the way horse racing does its business.

1. Draft Kings Buys Derby Wars -Derby Wars, the contest racing site, is doing well. It's a Draft Kings for horse racing. Draft Kings - a Belmont Stakes sponsor - is after new customers as they grow, and Derby Wars has those. They also have a lot of seed money in the bank, so acquisition is nothing new. Just this year Draft Kings added PGA Tour betting (you can see their commercials running on the Golf Channel all this week) and MMA, so they are on the lookout for new games to add to their menu, as well, as they try and gain market share on FanDuel.

Why not run to horse racing?

This is a natural fit and a major game changer for the sport of horse racing. Draft Kings has a younger demo, who are already prequalified to bet, and with Draft Kings promoting the sport, it can change the sport itself. For any televised event, the races would be grouped in a neat package for play. Scheduling - a long time complaint in horse racing - would be forced on the sport of racing, not unlike the way a TV network dictates to a televised sport.

Forced scheduling, new markets, a younger demo, a website with promotional dollars all playing a game that is incredibly interesting in a neat package? Sounds like a big win.

2. NBC Runs a White Label ADW - Yes, horse racing gambling is somehow taboo, despite having a carve out in government decree, and being as American as apple pie. But, if NBC ran and promoted a way to bet the races that will be on today - Derby Day, Preakness Day and Belmont Day for example - and gave out PP's, it will draw new blood. NBC would pay a regular price for the signal, and pocketing the margin, like any ADW. 20 million people watched the Belmont, with maybe 15 million of them with no wagers on the race whatsoever. If 5% of those 15 million signed up and bet a few dollars, it would bring a new demographic to betting (and make NBC and the sport money).

We all complain that TV doesn't show the races on the undercard, that they talk about everything but the betting. Well, if they're making 10% or so on each wager, you bet they'll show the undercard. And they'll talk about handicapping.

ESPN looked into fantasy betting. NBC Comcast owns a hunk of a Daily Fantasy Sports betting site. Yahoo is looking at developing their own DFS betting site. This is not far fetched. And it's a major league game changer. 

3. TVG Implements Across the Board 5% Rebates - Racing's pricing is out of whack; it's too damn high. That's the reason for a lot of the so-called 'issues' in the sport. The upside down pricing model that folks complain about, offshore pirates, beggar thy neighbor economics, are all illnesses borne from a goofy priced product. When the juice is too high, what does racing do? Well, they raise it more of course, making things worse.

The takeout rates are not coming down, so stop hoping. The only hope to move the sport to the next level with handle increases from lower rake and higher churn will come from an ADW. Right now the small ADW's help out the cause, but some tracks won't sell their signal to them. It's a mess.

TVG can game change racing tomorrow: A 5% rebate to everyone; big players, small players, everyone. This churn will help their handles, yes, but it will game change by doing more than that. If they move away from "points for clock radios", or some promotion for points, to real money back, others will follow. The Xpressbet's and Twinspires of the world will gripe and probably try to block signals (TVG will have to have the anti-trust lawyers on speed dial), horsemen groups will yell and scream, but sooner or later those ADW's will have to fall in line by giving cash rebates.

This will spawn a new type of customer. By getting 5% deposited back every morning to play with, it will instill a sense that the game can be beaten. A portion of the people getting the rebate will pay more attention to horse racing. Instead of playing once a week they play twice, instead of playing three times they play four. The game - the hardest gambling game to win at on the planet - will get a little easier.

Getting horse racing to lower rakes is like asking PETA to start a racing stable. This is the only way it happens, and when it does, it will change the gambling part of  the sport in a way it internally cannot.


On Saturday, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah paraded at Churchill. 7,000 more fans this year turned up than on the same card last year. The NBCSN telecast, in primetime at 8, brought in 133,000 viewers, which might've been 10,000 or 20,000 more than usual. That's great, but it's not a game changer.

Game changers are things that increase the sports main revenue driver, handles. The three things above would do that. They're a longshot to happen, so let's not be naive, but if they do, we won't need to wax poetic about Triple Crown winners or Secretariat movies. We can look at real handle metrics increase, and through that momentum decide how to capitalize on them, and increase them even more.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Body of Work, the Yabuts, The Buzz Dichotomy, and Danzig Moon

Good morning racefans.

I was reading Golf Digest this weekend, and came across an article about Tiger Woods. Woods' legend is pretty well known, but some of his records are not as well known. And some of them are impressive. One of them is consecutive rounds where he "beat the field", i.e. where his round was lower than the average score of the field.

Over an 89 round stretch, Woods' scored better than the field average. It might not mean much to you if you don't know golf, so we'll put it in context. The second place score is 35 rounds. In fact there are a cluster of players from 25-35 rounds rounding out the top 20. Tiger Woods is an outlier. That spread is mind-boggling.

What Tiger Woods has done is separate himself from the field through a body of work. There are the Majors, the tourney wins and all the rest, but these records - like this one - have cemented him as a golfer for the ages. It allows him to be included in the greatest of all time narrative.

For we as racing fans, this, today, is made very difficult. Horses are not allowed - in most cases nowadays - to create a body of work, so, we are left to speculation, Beyer figures, quotes grandizing horse 'X' over horse 'Y' etc.

American Pharoah is the prime example of that now.

"Once stud fees are set his value can be estimated, but still unanswered is whether American Pharoah will ever be pushed enough to know just how good he can be."

Baffert: "What he's done is he's just shown us that he is so much better than we really thought he was," Baffert said. "He's just getting keyed up now. He's just getting better."

How good is American Pharoah? He won a Triple Crown, so that's pretty good. However if Victory Gallop was Bayern'd at the start of the Belmont, Touch Gold got sick like seemingly every horse in the Pletcher barn has the last week, or Birdstone stepped on a safety pin - all vagaries in this amazing sport - that could've happened a few times in the last while without any issue.

His Beyers are on the lower end, and people point to that. He did beat some good stock and people point to that. He was all out in the Derby, off a great trip and people point to that. He won the next two legs like a machine and people point to that.

How good is American Pharoah? I don't think anyone really knows.

A golfer can play for a short time and build legend, like Bobby Jones. For others, they need time, like Tiger Woods, to create legend through remarkable statistics and wins. For American Pharoah he has been here for a short time, and he has legend - winning a Triple Crown does that. However, I guarantee that there are handicappers and historians out there who - if the horse shuts down tomorrow - will have a case of the yabuts. Ya but he beat up on crap. Ya but he beat a defacto maiden in the Preakness. Ya but his Derby was slow. Ya but it rained before the race and everyone else stunk in the mud that day.

American Pharoah won't be Tiger Woods - he won't race at four. But he could be a Bobby Jones. I for one will be pulling for him, because I think he's a grand steed and doesn't deserved to be sullied with the yabuts. A big win in a Pacific Classic or Breeders Cup would quiet any naysayers for generations. Let's roll dude.

Freakishly fast horses with a limited resume don't come along very often but in this past weekend's North America Cup eliminations we got to see one; a horse named Wiggle It Jiggle It. He toyed with his field, and I don't think - with a 52.4 last half and 25.4 last quarter - we've seen a horse win more impressively in some time. I am the first to admit I didn't think this guy would make it this far - that hitch in his giddyup is was worrisome at speed - but I was dead wrong. He is in Somebeachsomewhere territory right now, and if you're not wanting to see what he does going for a million on Saturday, you live in a world I am unfamiliar.


On Saturday night twitter was abuzz with the big horse parading at Churchill. It was a nice gesture by the connections and these things need to be done for the sport. But it does display the difference between the sport and the gambling game. A little over 28,000 showed up, around 7,000 more than usually show up for a Foster card, but the Foster's handle was down 18%. This horse is doing well in the media, and that's good, but the sport of horse racing runs on betting.

Speaking of buzz, American Pharoah, by my calculations, had 2.5X the number of searches than California Chrome did last year, post Belmont. But it was still below the Women's World Cup in the US. I, honestly, found that odd because it was the Triple Freaking Crown. It's not like it happens every year:

Danzig Moon was put down yesterday after a racing accident in the Plate Trial. The race was shown on national television in Canada. I was wondering how the sad event was going to be handled, and the TSN crew - despite being paid by Woodbine to show the race - did not try and gloss over it in any way. It was the story, from when it happened to the end of the telecast; in fact, the Oaks was almost an afterthought. We were discussing on twitter last week how racing telecasts move on after something like this and turn the page, unlike what happens with human tragedy in other televised sports. TSN did not. Some people might've not liked it (better to sweep things under the rug, you see), but I did. They respected Danzig Moon's human connections. They respected our sometimes heartbreaking love for the animal. By not passing Danzig Moon by - like he was a replaceable hip number, and not a horse loved by his fans and those who worked with him - they respected him, and in doing so, they respected the sport.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/06/13/3899578/american-pharoah-enjoys-kingly.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Cuz (S)He Isn't Going to Win" and Friday Notes

Good day racing fans.

California Chrome's connections announced his schedule for the next while, and if all goes well, the races for the rest of his career will be next week at Ascot, the Arlington Million, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic. That's an ambitious schedule. In fact, his whole career has been ambitious in many ways.

But, some people don't like it. Probably because people think he is not going to win those races.

On the flip side, Frankel was criticized for racing most races at a mile, not tackling the Arc etc. Zenyatta was butchered for not tackling the males almost every month, a la Rachel Alexandra. In many ways, those champs did play it safe.

We - me included - tend to think we know more than we do about a particular horse. We think a horse "can't get 10 furlongs", "can't race on dirt or turf", has "no chance". Ergo, the damn horse's connections should be listening to us. But this is a horse race, with thousands of variables. You don't know what is going to happen unless you try.

Timeform's preview of the Prince of Wales says it well.

"California Chrome’s turf proficiency is in little doubt after his Hollywood Derby win last November, but his position as a truly world-class performer is assumed rather than proven."

If a horse's connections want to prove them world class performers by racing out of their comfort zone, isn't that what we, as fans, clamor for?

I'll be cheering for Chrome on Wednesday. He has a 12-1 chance, so it is what it is, and if he gets beaten it should not surprise us, but in a game where connections want to be 2-5 each week, in short, unbettable fields so they don't get beaten, I think it's refreshing. 


In a harness racing trade mag yesterday Mac Nichol, owner of Madefromlucky said both his horse and Materiality were under the weather after the Belmont Stakes. I thought MFL was going to be very good at 12f, so maybe that explains him spinning his wheels. Materiality came last, was all done in 1:14 for 6f, and was beaten by 15 by horses he is better than, so that makes sense to me, too.

The North America Cup elims are Saturday. Horse of the Year JK Shesalady is racing on the card as well. I think there's a chance she's handed the first loss of her career tomorrow night. Foiled Again, 11 years old and off a month to clear up some issues, is in the Battle of Lake Erie, one of the cooler races on the calender each year.


"Currently racing seems to want to slot machine or lottery the skill-based gambling game it is. What new bets are created? Lottery bets that are almost impossible to win at day to day, and then promoting a jackpot, like a progressive slot machine. Lottery bets are fine, in small numbers, but, in my view, this is exactly the opposite big picture strategy that’s needed to move forward.

I didn't expect the mainstream media attention for the Triple Crown to show just how niche our sport is. 50 years ago horses were on SI covers all the time, and you could not run into anyone who liked sports who did not know at least something about handicapping and racing. Now, we've got stories on how horses showing penis's can win races and others. I guess we can look at that as glass half full, or glass half empty.

Kentucky Downs is slating $120k maidens and other good purses for its abbreviated meet this fall. If you are a searcher for value, it's a must-play meet.

Betfair has betting on AP's stud fee at a defacto over-under of $175,000. I'd be betting the under. It's also a gentle reminder why he might not race again, should even the slightest something go wrong.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yep We're a Skill Game, the 'MSM' & Horse Racing Messaging.

Good day racing fans!

Something to chew on:

"NBA commissioner Adam Silver seems particularly bullish on the potential of real-time data and in-game betting. So does Mark Cuban, who said the league will "charge the casinos for information sources [and] video sources" and cryptically told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling that "... as technology gets better, we will invent new things." Wizards owner Ted Leonsis concurred in a recent SI.com interview: "People are now going to start to make wagers in a real-time way. You know, 'I think he's going to make a pass instead of take the shot.' And you'll be able to instantly move money back and forth. So it's better to get in front of it."

So, a league that doesn't depend on gambling, where gambling is not legal, is investing in gambling related software and infrastructure. A sport that depends almost solely on gambling has a tote system that, with late odds changes, might be worse than the one that was implemented in 1907.  See why a lot of people in the game of racing are flummoxed when you blame the competition for lost handle?

Fantasy sports, interestingly enough - an industry around since way back in about 2011 - got a bill done in Kansas to allow fantasy sports wagering  betting league playing-for-money in that state. Horse racing is allowed in what, 43 states, and some are going backwards in allowing it over the web, like Texas and Arizona.

I know, it's the weather.

Slot machine usage:

"Over the past 15 months, Maryland’s three largest casinos — Maryland Live, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and Hollywood Casino Perryville — have kicked 1,350 slot machines to the curb. That’s a 16 percent cut to their slots to make room for more table games, restaurant space, entertainment and other amenities, all of which are increasing in value.......

"This bill allows gaming manufacturers to use cutting-edge technology to meet the challenges prompted by a younger, more technologically engaged visitor demographic,” Sandoval told the Las Vegas Review Journal. Casinos and machine manufacturers are now free to pursue slot games that would mirror video games and introduce some level of skill rather than pure chance into the slot experience."

Slots are moving from games of chance to games of skill. Skill games are clearly the rage. Racing is a skill game, so you think it has an edge? I think so.


" .... it’s also representative of an orthodox tendency within racing media, a group increasingly dominated by trade-affiliated outfits (Blood-Horse, Daily Racing Form, TVG, etc.) and freelancers, who move between journalism and public relations within the industry out of necessity. It’s a tendency that makes room for unchallenged narratives"

The mainstream media is kicking some major ass on this American Pharoah story. Victor Espinoza has moved into a Kardashian territory.  And, the word is getting out that this is a skill game you can bet on, via the size of penis's. I dont know about you, but my handicapping software has 740 factors, and I can't find any data on penis size. Get on it Equibase, like the NBA is.

Back in 2008, or maybe it was 2012, there was a dude that broke into the diving venue at Olympics. He jumped into the pool, splashed around, and was arrested. Millions saw it, on youtube and via television. Heck maybe billions did. He was wearing a T-shirt from an online casino. Some might think that was a good way to get impressions, but when asked later, no viewer even remembered what the casino was, nor did they care. Long story short, MSM coverage like this doesn't do anything for the sport, just like the Bruce Jenner news did nothing for the sport of decathlon, or a streaker/pool jumper does for an online casino. Racing needs a message - a retargeting message, backed by some moola - and right now, for the most part, there isn't one. Over the next 4 or 6 months (or whatever is left of AP's racing career), I respectfully submit they might want to come up with one.

Yonkers carded the $1M International Trot the same day as Futurity Day at the Red Mile. In other news, the last episode of the Big Bang Theory will go opposite the Super Bowl, and game seven for the NBA Finals will be played at 2:10 AM eastern. 

Alan Mann, lover of bands that no one has ever heard of, and an all around decent fellow, goes wild on his Left at the Gate blog yesterday about the Triple Crown and other musings. It's worth a read. 

Satire (h/t to Crunk) but....

 "Except that the moment the race was over, we began hearing nothing but economic news. We instantly began hearing how valuable this horse will be once he is put out to stud. Money. It was all about money. Potential earnings, return on equity, future profits."

He's right. In no other sport does the end result require chatter about how much money Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt is going to make. Racing is a large, large part business, and a small part sport.

With MSM stories like that, it seems there's not much written so far in this cereal box world about the pure sporting accomplishment of Pharoah.  Luckily we can share it amongst ourselves and that's been my favorite part of this TC. As a horse owner many times over I have gone through the coughs, the allergies, the sore stifle, the curbs, the kicked stalls, the paddock accidents, the clunkers and just about everything else. This horse, in a time where it's fairly rare, went through a three race stretch and finished it, in my view, better than he started it. He's a great animal, and I don't particularly give a care what the final Beyer was.

I believe we will see AP at two of the three of the Haskell, the PA Derby and the BC. I'd bet on that right now if given decent odds. If the colt was on his hands and knees Saturday, looked spent, had an issue, or was not dominant, I suspect the connections would be very wary to race him even once more. But with the way he won, and how sound the happy dude looked, I am comfortable saying I think we'll see him two or three times. That would be a lot of fun.

Enjoy your Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Saving Horse Racing? Wrong Question, Wrong Answer

Today in the Atlantic, "Can American Pharoah Save His Troubled Sport?":

"In 1973, the year that Secretariat won the Triple Crown after a twenty-five-year drought, attendance at North American race tracks topped seventy-six million. (By comparison, the combined attendance for American League and National League baseball that year was just over thirty million, a high-water mark for that sport.) Attendance at race tracks has since plummeted to a small fraction of those numbers."

All true, and for various reasons (some the article touches on), no one is ever going to see that again.

"Save" is a word that doesn't fit right in the first place and we really should stop using it. An oldie but a goodie, but apropos for many industry's losing market share, or who have lost market share due to disruption
  • "What means 'save'?
  • If by save you mean, "what will keep things just as they are?" then the answer is nothing will. It's over. If by save you mean, "who will keep the jobs of the pressmen and the delivery guys and the squadrons of accountants and box makers and transshippers and bookstore buyers and assistant editors and coffee boys," then the answer is still nothing will. Not the Kindle, not the iPad, not an act of Congress.
  • We need to get past this idea of saving, because the status quo is leaving the building, and quickly. Not just in print of course, but in your industry too.
Nothing will bring back racing to where it was in the 1970's for certain, but even 15 or 20 years ago. That ship set sail.

The burden placed, by some, on a little horse who won three races borders on the silly to begin with. 

Back in 1996, golf was on pretty solid footing; purses were okay, TV contracts were fine. But along came Tiger Woods and everything changed. That one player energized a new fan base, and over time purses went up, and more and more kids were playing golf.  Today, Tiger is competing against the same kids who at four or five years of age were emulating him.

American Pharoah might be Tiger Woods, but he's a novelty Tiger Woods. He will race once, twice or maybe zero more times. Picture Tiger Woods' influence on the game if he played two tournaments and left.

Racing will not be saved, using the wish and hope meaning of the word. Nothing will do that. What it needs to do is address issues that gives it a chance to regain lost market share; so some of the copywriters and pressmen and delivery buyers survive and thrive. To set the table where when a horse does win a Triple Crown in the future, its fundamentals are such that it can use the free press as a catalyst to a longer term increase in revenue.

Horse racing's potential growth won't come from a Wheaties box, it will come from making hard, long-term and likely unpopular business decisions, and acting on them. The same as it was before June 6th.

Can't pick and choose

With mainstream column inches comes column inches we don't like. 

"...  despite its blue-blood reputation, the "sport of kings" is really just the sport of vice, kept afloat by a system of gambling and doping that amounts to institutionalized animal abuse."

Well how do you do.

And, have you met the above writer?

"Horses may very well love to run. Some may even enjoy racing. But it's hard to imagine any being on earth who wants to die for it"

If that pair host a Breeders' Cup party I don't want to go.

This one is causing some consternation on the twitter. Big Red can beat AP. Don't they know fractions and speed figures? Well, no, they don't.

Brett Coffey warned, take heed!

Last up, for those who always wondered how stud fees are ballparked, Shanklin helps.
And now you know.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Belmont Day Musings

Hello folks. I hope the weekend went well for everyone. Here are a few thoughts from Saturday's Belmont.

- American Pharoah won the Triple Crown (in case you missed it) and in my view it was very deserving. Often times cold, hard handicappers disagree on the merits of a colt that could win the Triple - is he worthy. We saw that a little bit last year with non-Chromies battling the Chromies. This year there are very few who are trying to undermine this colt. I had a chat with professional horseplayer (and no dummy) Inside the Pylons about it on the twitter and he makes a good point - that is, horses he raced against didn't fire their gun against him (sans Firing Line in the Derby I suppose). But, that's nitpicking. This dude is a quality animal and I don't know how anyone can think differently. 

- I was summarily impressed with his victory, like most. We can say the fractions were dawdling on a lightning fast strip, that Materiality threw in a clunker, that a few others weren't there who might give him a tussle. But, really, would it have mattered? Watch the half mile, AP is strolling along like he's cantering on a Sunday at the beach, while the others look like they're in a race. When Victor pressed the button it was over. If anyone is new to in-running wagering on the exchanges, look at what AP looked like from the half on and for the love of God don't book horses who are traveling like that.

- Coolmore made a cool deal. In a game that is based on gambling and rugged sink-or-swim individualism, that move was risky, but it paid off in spades. All the questions - speed, stamina and soundness - were answered. Forget the Triple Crown, forget the bloodlines, is there a better looking prospect for stud to come out of the Triple Crown races like this in awhile? Smooth move.

- Speaking of soundness, some props for Baffert please? This was the colt that was scratched from the Juvy, wore some sort of protective knee plate (or whatever the hell that is), that was worked too many bullets, that had to survive a whipfest in the Derby and a rainstorm (with a 22.4 first panel) in the Preakness. There he was Saturday, bouncing like a happy clam, the soundest looking racehorse you'll see on any given day at any racetrack. Congratulations to the Baffert barn.

- I was interested to read the narrative - not even a narrative, it was a supposed done deal - that American Pharoah would not race any longer if he won the Triple Crown. I thought it was a little cray. He'll probably race twice more unless something strange happens.

- There's a lot of talk about "appearance fees" for the colt. Last year that got the Chrome connections in some trouble with traditionalists, but I didn't have a problem with it then and I don't now. Chrome upped handle at Parx of all places last year, a likely $6M, and attendance followed. Why shouldn't they get a cut? I understand the owe it to horse racing thing, but if they're shipping a horse to your track and you are going to make a half a million or more, it's not the end of the world.

- The giddiness post Belmont for Pharoah was understandable, but some of it borders on the silly. This horse for two more weeks and possibly two more starts will get column inches. Column inches ups some attendance, and the owners of the horse might cash in on more Monster energy drink or Burger King deals. Then he will go to stud. Then no one will talk about him much.

- Someone asked me what this win means for horse racing - like I have a crystal ball (I don't, I bet a mortgage payment or four on Materiality). All I can come up with is Zenyatta. Queen Z raced 20 times and had a tremendous following. Her last seven or eight races were shown on Sportscenter; her last three on ESPN newsbreaks which has never been done for any horse. She was on 60 minutes where 11 million watched her. She took attendance for a Grade I at Santa Anita that might normally be 5,000 and turned it into 40,000. She drove handle, and she was solely responsible for the TV ratings for the Classic in 2010 (about 2.5 million more watched than usually do).  She did as much or more than any horse could expect to do for a sport, over a two year period. Can American Pharoah do what she did? I expect his next start will increase attendance and handle immensely, and if he races in the Breeders Cup more will watch. After that? I don't know because at that point we're in the 'did the Secretariat movie help horse racing' realm.

- An area of potential growth that might have some merit, is with the one percenters. Foal crops are falling and a Triple Crown win is a nice commercial for an ego-drivenso (as pointed out to me on twitter, ego probably not a good word. Saying that someone with copious cash says "that could be me on a front page of the newspapers")  sportsman or woman to spend some money at the sales, helping that metric.

- Racing and column inches, as a topic, interests me. First, column inches mean little now, but other than that, with a Triple Crown win, racing is serving an impression like a banner ad. A few people who see an impression of a paper with a TRIPLE CROWN front page will convert, and come to a racetrack, or bet a few races, but this is a sport with huge troubles. Not long after people give betting a go, they realize it's virtualy impossible to win at. When they open the headlines they see the sport being regulated in congress. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought a lot of eyeballs to baseball for their home run battle. But the sport still had issues to work through, and until it did, it could not grow again.

- Belmont's surface was quick. 140 and change for 8.5 furlongs? I thought the races themselves were not as compelling, but the bigger field races held their own. I wonder about the 5 horse field Easy Goer. The Met Mile on Belmont Day still, to me, is flat-out nuts. But I am a lowly bettor.

- I did some scanning on the interweb and saw American Pharoah/Triple Crown was the number one searched term in Canada and the US on Saturday at google. In the UK it did not register in the top twenty. Canada and the US are linked in a lot of ways, and horse racing is certainly one of them.

- I saw some tweets from people stuck in traffic leaving the event and blaming NYRA. Oh c'mon. It's an event that happens once a year, you might get stuck in traffic for an hour, so suck it up. As for other complaints, I saw and heard of few that seemed to have merit. The 90k cap seemed to work well for them.

- With handle down, I sincerely hope the "big day" thing tempers a bit for next year. Early in the day give us some deep fields, let people find their seats and their wagering footing. There is no need to give away over $2 million in purses before 2PM. As for the menu, a pick 5 would fit nicely later in the card; if you're asking me what I like.

Last up. This is horse racing, and it's glorious.
Have a nice day everyone.

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Marketing", CLV & Trainer Troubles

Good day racing fans.

We've all seen the troubles of harness trainer Bill Robinson. The Hagarsville area trainer was given a 5 year suspension back in 2003, handed his stable over to his son and assistant, and they were both given 10 year suspensions at different times subsequently. It's been, well, interesting.

In HRU today, Perry Lefko looked at the very short-lived Bill Robinson "comeback". Just three months ago he decided to begin training again. And:

"Controversial Canadian-based trainer Bill Robinson has been hit with another positive drug test, less than three months after he returned to racing following a retirement of more two years and a ban at Woodbine Entertainment Group’s tracks for more than 11 years for repeated drug violations."

“I can’t explain where it came from, I can’t explain who gave it,” Robinson said. “We (have done) nothing wrong here. These horses, I’ll just tell you straight up, when I came back they were racing like they came out of their mother. I didn’t want to take any chances."

Honestly, I tend to believe him. It's stupid to give something so blatant when you know they are going to be after you.

However, Bill, to many, is bike racer Tyler Hamilton. Back at the Olympics in 2006, Tyler tested positive for EPO, but swore up and down he did not take EPO (he took EPO hundreds of times, but just not for the Olympics). It turns out he was telling the truth. Around that time he moved on from EPO to blood doping, and in a weird twist of fate, the blood he doped with was switched and the person's blood he used did take EPO.


There are people out there, in the ORC and elsewhere, that might believe Bill as I do. But because it's Bill - his sordid history apparent - there's a sneaking belief that he must have used something to trigger it.  And that's a mountain that I think he will find hard to climb. Fair or not, I guess it depends on your perspective.
Horse racing has done wonderful work marketing big days, and with deep fields and better racing, handle has followed. This is a win, in many respects. But Eric's tweet, from a conference this morning, should not fall on deaf ears. The product, i.e. the pricing and puzzle that each race is, which drives betting volume, has been very poor. The business - from an every day gambling perspective - simply can't get out of its own way.

Further to that, on the Paulick Report today, reprinted from Horseplayer Monthly magazine (it's free here), the every day product was looked at in terms of "lifetime customer value."

The handle losses from $15 billion to around $11 billion the last dozen years are not just $4 billion. They aren't just because of lotteries. It isn't because of the tawdry economy or fewer races. Fifteen to eleven, with population growth and GDP growth are understated for the first part, but the races being contested are simply non-starters. You can't win - can't - betting six horse fields with 16% win takeout. You can't beat - can't - a Woodbine 25% pick 5 with a twenty cent increment. You can't raise juice like CDI did and expect business not to drop off even more. 8 of 10 races and 9 of 10 bets in racing are quite simply unbeatable. In a skill based gambling game, this is suicidal.

These are fundamental issues that no song and dance, big day, dance party, floppy hat, Goo Goo Dolls-a-thon can fix.

Good luck this weekend everyone.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Belmont Odds Lines, Big Days and Quick Quips

Happy Thursday people!

" If you go five deep in all four legs of a 50 cent pick 4, you will on average hit it more than half the time, but you won’t recoup your $312.50 ticket cost because the average payoffs won’t be enough to make you any money"

"Frosted is the only runner with lineage on both the sire and dam side with proven distance ability at the Belmont Stakes distance of a mile and a half"

"Any reporter who knew about the colic and didn’t report it, I’d say dropped the ball and let the game and the players down

"I realize that NYRA is taking some serious flak for capping attendance - they should be squeezing every last dollar out of the event, so people tell me. To them it’s clearly much more than that. They are being driven to create a better customer experience on Belmont Day so fans can come back in non -Triple Crown years."

"Business was good at the drugstore but not that good. Doc needed a supplementary source of income to support these expenditures. Enter Hall-of-Fame trainer "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons"

 "The bettor flattened the owner, shoved his tickets in the guy’s mouth and by the time security got there nobody saw NUTTIN..."

Those are some quotes and quips from articles in this month's Horseplayer Monthly, the free emagazine. It can be downloaded here. 

Zayat's lawsuit is thrown out, as per Matt Hegarty.

Western Fair's handle was up over 20% last meet. Well done Greg and crew.

The Belmont "big day" is a little bit of a juxtaposition. The first five races have about $2M in purses, but the fields are short, the chalk formidable. The last seven races are good betting affairs, for the most part. Handle has been up on "big days" which is to be expected. Handle, by culling low handle racetracks, or cutting dates in some areas for larger tracks or days, does tend to work to grow handle, marginally. The key word is marginally.

The Belmont Stakes field was drawn yesterday and everyone knows who's who. Here is my fair odds line for the race.

#Moobie 12-1
Tale of Verve 20-1
Madefromlucky 15-1
Frammento 70-1
American Pharoah 9-5
Frosted 6-1
Keen Ice 25-1
Materiality 5-2

My Belmont line will be off the board line, but it's always off when there is a Triple Crown try. I suspect American Pharoah will be below even on the board, but much closer to 2-1 in serials.

Doing an odds line for the Belmont, I believe, is a good idea. With all the public money it's easier to see what's what, and it helps you design your plays. It's pretty obvious I will be playing Materiality in the win pool. I expect I have Tale of Verve, Madefromlucky and Moobie a little lower than they should be, but that's the 12 furlong at play. Keen Ice is a horse who I don't really like, but he did some good stretch running in the Derby. If something strange happens from a pace perspective, who knows. When I have AP at only around 35%, there's some room to play around.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday Headlines - Ambivalence, Good With the Bad & Short Term Thinking

Today on the twitter, a response to some articles like this from SI's Tim Layden about American Pharoah:
I have been trying to get my head around this Triple Crown try and the seeming lack of true buzz, or pull, from the business. I was slowly moving towards the camp that believes the more Triple Crown tries we have, the more we are desensitized to them. But maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe that does explain it. Regardless, there is a real, palpable difference this year, in my opinion.

If I love animals how can I love horse racing?  An answer might take a philosophy degree, or a trip to Dr. Phil. The chasm between racehorses being pets and livestock is something that is hard to digest for almost anyone in this business.

Beyer takes a look at the lack of stamina in the breed. It appears he is on to something, and it generally has to do with the economics of breeding. Having precocious horses who race at two and make money fast, is good for the farms. Purses can be earned before the sales in large quantity and then spent on other horses. If everyone is waiting on a pedigree horse to season, there's less quick cash to spend back. Breeding, ironically, depends on churn, so they do their best to increase it.

It does interest me that this short-term view probably breeds less sturdy horses, which has allowed for bad headlines, more breakdowns, polytrack, race day medication bans and a want to ban lasix. If the sport bred Zenyatta's instead of 8 furlong specialists would some of the real issues go away? Perhaps.

Lenny Moon has a great betting piece on the Paulick Report today. It's filled with some good gems. The problem with change in racing's betting menu is that, like with breeding, the results will not be felt immediately.

American Pharoah will be even money or less come Saturday, just like every other horse who is going for a Triple Crown. Why? Public money and buzz. I would submit that every modern horse going into the race with a chance at history has been overbet. The Belmont is a strange animal, and needs to be looked at as such. When you do that, the odds on these chalk are probably five or six ticks too low.

"It’s probably better to think of Pharoah as a comet", yep.

Gambling is bad. Very bad. Unless it's a lottery, or government run slot machine, that can use the money for something really good.
NYRA forced you to sign up at NYRA to watch the post draw? Really? I, like most, can wait for the post position tweet storm. Interesting, since this is fresh off the news that Yahoo will be streaming an NFL game to over a billion potential users.

American Pharoah's connections secured a marketing deal with Monster Energy Drink. A racehorse promoting a stimulant, that if he gets tested for, he will lose his purse and his trainer will be suspended. That's like Amgen sponsoring a long distance bike race.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cub Reporter ® Goes Inside Racing's War Room

I found an excellent email in my inbox this morning from someone I have not heard of for a long while - Cub Reporter. Cub, as he is known to his friends, got his hands on a piece of audio tape. This tape is a long, rather drawn-out meeting of racetrack braintrust, trying to come up with ways to increase horse racing handles. He transcribed a few parts via Wordperfect (yes, Cub still uses that), and told me to not release it to anyone; that it was just for my eyes only. So, I post it for you here.

Exec1: Hi Everyone. It's time for our monthly meeting. Before we start I'd like to introduce [redacted]. He's here to add some new blood. Tell us a little bit about yourself [redacted]

Redacted: Hello and thanks for inviting me. I have little background in horse racing, but I like gambling a lot. I have studied statistics and gambling economics at Wharton, and play all sorts of skill-based gambling games as a hobby and vocation. I hope that maybe I might help you along, giving my opinion on what bettors may want so we can improve horse racing handles for the long term.

Exec2: Who do your parents train for? What tracks have you worked at? What year did you get your Racetrack Industry Program degree?

Redacted: Oh no, I don't have a background in the business at all. My dad is a plumber, my mom is a law clerk. I have never worked in horse racing, but did work consulting for some gambling websites.

Exec3: OK, thank you.

Exec1: Let's discuss some new bets and what we can do to steal them, or piggyback them, if you will. I see Grand River and Georgian announced a new jackpot bet today, at the behest of Woodbine. Woodbine announced a new jackpot too, a month ago, at the standardbred Mohawk track. What should we be doing.

Exec2: Those are good ideas. Woodbine had some big pools with their jackpot bets. They also created a 25% pick 5 bet, and they don't tell customers the takeout. I bet people think they're at 15% like everyone else and bet happily, not knowing they're getting a raw deal.

Exec3: Smart.

Exec2: Yes, surely. Some publicize takeouts, like the HANA magazine and twitter feed, but they don't even have as many followers as people like Sid Fernando. Not many know.

Redacted: People might not know, but they know when they are paid $400 instead of $450, because they have $50 less to rebet, so it is a big problem in horse racing when we look at the long term.

Exec3: I'd be happy with $400. I never win. Horse racing betting is hard.

Exec2: Yes, $400 is fine. It is hard.

Exec1: Well back to it. Following Woodbine's lead on jackpots, how about a win pool jackpot bet? If no one has the winner, the whole win pool carrys over.

Exec3: I like it. If we get some longshots we can have a carryover a lot. More than Woodbine does.

Redacted: I don't think there would be a win pool carryover. Plus, the win pool is this sports' main advertiser to bettors, and number one bet for churn, I don't think we'd want to mess with it with a high takeout jackpot bet to take money out of circulation. Longer term our customers will lose money quicker, and slowly leave. We might want to look at lowering win takeouts instead, or dynamically pricing. Other gamblers see a tote board with two 4-5 shots in a 10 horse field and know there's no value for them.

Exec2: I'm not sure about that [redacted].

Exec3. Sounds mathy. Let's form a committee and look into it. Win pool jackpots could help handles.

Exec3: Now, what about Frank Stronach's idea of a quadrefecta twin superfecta tri super quad. As he detailed it, it might be hard to hit, but what if we add a jackpot component?

Exec1: Jackpot it? Interesting.

Exec2: People love the jackpots.

Redacted: If a bet is too difficult and with too high a takeout, people would not play it in big numbers, so there is an opportunity cost, and a problem with churn. Handle and customer utility is a function of bankroll health and the inflection point is real. New money can't come in any gambling game if the marginal utility is not there.

Exec3: So you're saying the twin superfecta component is okay, but we should probably ditch the tri super quad?

Exec2: ... but keep the jackpot.

 Exec3: We need to keep the jackpot component.

Redacted: No.... we should look at these bets as churn killers, and only use them sparingly, as an introduction to new bettors, or bettors out for a good time who like lotteries. They can't be a staple. As Andy Beyer said these bets are like crack cocaine, they can feel good short term, but long term they can be deadly.

Exec1: Beyer is still around? He must be getting old.

Exec3: He is, I read his columns and to this day I don't have the slightest what he is going on about.

Exec2: OK, Let's make this happen.

Exec1: Now, last but not least, big days. Big days are the rage. Churchill Downs upped the takeout good on the Derby and handle was up. Belmont had great handle on their Belmont Stakes day last year. We can charge a high signal fee on big days too, which can earn us a few extra dollars.

Exec2: Did they have jackpots those days?

Exec3: Probably, people love jackpots. But they had big days. Big days are good. They're the future.

Exec1: I propose we make every Saturday a big day. People will bet a lot of money. Because it's a big day.

Exec2: We'd need a jackpot bet. Use both of them, in tandem. Captain is better with Tenille.

Exec3: Maybe this is where we unveil our new win pool jackpot bet. Do it on a big day because a lot of people show up for big days.

Exec1: Hear hear.

Exec3: OK, so, we'll create a win pool jackpot bet, push the new super quadrefecta super high six jackpot, and promote our other jackpot bets, we'll create a new 30% pick 5, don't tell anyone the takeout and hope no one notices it's a rip. And we'll do it all once a week on a big day.

Exec2: That should help handles. What sports bettor or Daily Fantasy Sports player could resist?

Exec1: If it doesn't add to handles it's probably because of small foal crops.

Exec2: Solid point.

Exec3: So what did you think of your first betting strategy meeting [redacted]?

Redacted: It was interesting. I'll say that.


There's your glimpse inside the betting war room courtesy Cub Reporter, folks. Expect more big days, more jackpot bets and a whole lot of handle. Racing is in good hands.

Enjoy your Monday everyone. 

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