Thursday, March 31, 2016

Runnotsohappy, Final Four, Florida Derby

Good morning racing fans, bettors, and others who if you are not one of those two are here mistakenly.

Open the floodgates! Runhappy has a bruise on his foot and his 4 year old debut will be delayed. There is a chance that comments on Internet stories, like the one above, will be so incendiary, computers everywhere may break into flames. Make sure your McAfee is updated. Stay safe.

The Final Four goes this weekend and most are expecting ratings are going to be down. No, not just on my twitter feed where everyone who lives, lived, or might move sometime to Lexington seems to be #bigbluenation fans. They've rejigged their TV deal, grabbing more hard dollars from TBS and others.

An Op/Ed in the TDN discusses this strategy from a horse racing perspective. As Mike Dorr on the twitter likes to say, gross transactions mean something in commerce. Fewer transactions, less hope to succeed.

The Florida Derby, easily the most looked forward to prep this season, goes Saturday for a million bucks (free PP's here). Although most have this as a coin flip with two stout foes - Mohaymen and Nyquist meeting for the first time - I don't think it's close to that. With a speed horse, with an inside post at 9f, on a track that supplies a massive historical edge to both those characteristics, I think Nyquist is a very strong favorite. If we had an exchange for the Derby, I expect Nyquist at 8-1 or so today would provide great value, because there's a good chance he'll be much lower than that come Saturday evening.

Frankly, I don't think KM and crew would mind Mohaymen making one run at the end as a prep. I thought the horse looked tired and not quite as sporty after his last tilt and I can't see them punishing him in a head to head match up. It's strange to say, but I think they might use this million dollar race as a true prep from that post.

We'll see come Saturday.


Handle for March, despite continued good weather and a strong Gulfstream pick 6 mandatory payout bet, looks to be flat or down slightly. 

Calvin Borel retired, and before the Derby no less. Calvin's career has been highlighted by two Derby wins where he skimmed the rail to win. I wonder, if he was shut off in those races (watch them, it was close at times), he would be more Corey Lanerie than Bo Rail. With jockeys, this business is results based, and at times very ruthless. Calvin is a good rider and deserves a good send off either way.

WiggleitJiggle It is back in fine form, destroying a solid field of older at Dover Downs. The four year old can't beat older narrative is slowly losing its way in harness racing. He goes Saturday in the Levy and should be tough in there against some salty foes.

Enjoy your Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

With Horses, It Appears No Doesn't Mean No

An article today in the Guardian detailed the tough fight people who want to do right by the horse have.

A man was charged via a law -  on the books for some time and passed by the people of California, having to do with the transfer of horses to slaughter - but those charges, for whatever reason were dropped. 

This was "exasperating" to horse welfare advocates, including our (and many of your) friend, Caroline Betts, who was quoted.
“Tons of horses are crossing the border every week for slaughter. This was the one chance to hold someone accountable,” said Caroline Betts, a University of Southern California professor, and founder of Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue. “I think this will embolden California horse traders. They’ve been getting away with this stuff for 18 years. The law’s well written, but with zero enforcement, it’s meaningless.”
When you read the article, the sickening nature of the practice is detailed, including, cases where

"the captive bolt – a cattle gun method of stunning horses – sometimes fails to render horses unconscious before they’re hung upside down and butchered," and "a California horse dealer who admitted to shooting horses’ eyes out with a BB gun to subdue them during transit."

I can understand why animal welfare advocates are upset. Your heart is made of coal if that doesn't touch you in some way.

This seems to be common, however, and as usual, there are laws, but since we're dealing with animals, those laws are not enforced enough.

Remember the trainer who, "was ruled to have “mistreated, abused or engaged in an act of cruelty to a horse” and used an “appliance other than whip for the purpose of stimulating speed.” The appliance was described in court documents as a “wooden stick with stripped electrical cords stuck to it.” A veterinarian and two assistants testified seeing a horse at Beulah Park “jump two or three feet in the air” and then witnessed Delahoussaye unplugging an electrical cord from the wall."

He was back in no time. Until he was caught again, and again, and I think a couple other again's. Ray's article linked above deals with the sordid mess.

Questions like this are not difficult for me, and are becoming more black and white, despite not being like Ms. Betts or others who are in the community. I might be tilted more than most, because I do help dogs when I can, but it's easy. Even when I watch videos like this (hard to watch, fast forward to 2:30 to see the better parts), which I did last week, I understand the realities in life, but there are better ways to do things that are kind and sensible; y'know, things we expect from a civilized society.

Enforcing laws people want, and have passed, and kicking someone out of racing (or even better, maybe a little time spent in the greybar hotel) for electrocuting an animal so he leaves the gate quicker is not the least bit radical. It's common sense in 2016. We need more common sense.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Parx's Downtown OTB Closed

Thanks to @boycottracefive on twitter, I saw this link about Parx's flagship downtown OTB being closed.

This article struck a chord with me, because back when I was in my senior year of university I did my research thesis on Philadelphia's strategy for off track betting outlets, and what effect they may have on total and live handle at Philadelphia Park. The policy was constructed and passed in the early 1990's.

Twenty some years later this one is gone.

Although the following description sounds like they didn't try - not putting in enough slot money to make it an attractive venue, for example - I suspect it's more than that.

"The Turf Club was not the most glamorous of properties, but it was one of those neat throwbacks. It hadn’t been updated in years; the televisions were all old CRT sets."

With internet wagering, and gross wagering falling US-wide, it is probably just a sign of the times. I still believe however, that there is room for OTB's in horse racing, and making them customer-friendly can attract racing's highly held demographic of older men. The more outlets you have (in general) the better off you are.

While I'm jotting down the closing of this OTB, there's more news on the twitter box. Los Al's days appear to be numbered. 

Horse racing's forced contraction is moving ahead.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Crowding Out the Little Guy: It Probably Does More Harm Than Good

The pizza industry is going through quite the shift of late in the US, with the big chains dominating the smaller ones. With only 48% of the restaurants, 61% of the revenues go to the big shops, and that number is growing; last year at a rate of over 7%, while mom and pop's saw their sales fall almost 2%.

Why is this happening? Better pizza? Are Americans ordering pizza more? According to the author above, it's not that, it's that the big chains can invest more and more money in technology, bringing the pizza to the customer.

Domino's and Papa John's have been married to different ways to order over the web, including text, twitter and apps. Customers have embraced the new mediums.

Mom and pop pizzeria's can not invest in technology like the big dogs can. They suffer, and it's more than that - pizza sales can suffer as well. Despite the massive market share gains by the giants, pizza sales were down in 2015 versus 2014. It's shuffling the deck chairs, not growing new pizza fans.

Pizza restaurants are at least in a perfectly competitive market, racing is not perfectly competitive; nowhere near that. The same principles are at play, though, and to me they're troubling.

The big dogs of Magna, Twinspires and TVG have an incredible advantage (in Canada it is even worse, with one track owned ADW with monopoly power) and are taking more and more ADW market share. They have both forward and backward linked, and two of the entities control their own content, allowing them to pick and choose what resellers can or can not show their signals. It's a tremendous competitive advantage and is more oligopoly than not.

This system crowds out new competitors in a far more troubling way than Domino's is crowding out Joe's Pizza. Small ADW's have been offering players price breaks in a way the big dogs won't, and that's been their niche. The more they get crowded out, the price sensitive market - and especially the cultivation of that market segment - gets crowded out, eliminating a potential growth segment.

The above, in my view, goes a long way in explaining how that with a near monopoly on online wagering, horse racing wagering overall has not grown. The tent has not broadened like it should, with innovation and price leading the way, it's been about barriers of entry and growing the individual tents of the biggest corporate entities. This shuffles wealth, it does not create it.

I'm a bit of a pizza-geek and when I go to a new town I often look at the reviews of the local eateries, searching out that gem who might make the world's best pie. With those restaurants going out of business, I won't pivot my dollars into the Domino's store on the end of the block. Similarly, if more and more small ADW's are not allowed content, or leave the business due to prohibitive barriers in a stacked-deck game, my dollars won't pivot to them either. For the good ship racing, that's a big problem.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


California Chrome won the Dubai World Cup in convincing - if not dominating - fashion yesterday, picking up a cool $6 million and adding a jewel in what was already a tremendous crown resume.

I am an unabashed Chrome fan; I love his constitution, his toughness, his will to win. I expected him not to do what he did, and although I might not be the greatest handicapper in the world, the fact he blew away my expectations only adds to my respect for the horse.

With the win, as Sid Fernando notes so well today, not only was the smashing victory good for the horse, it was good for his stud career. The new owners who took a shot on this horse made out great, even if he is retired tomorrow.

Smiles all around.

Well not really. After the race social media exploded, not with last year's #bringhomechrome tweets, but with #whatthehellperry? tweets. Co-owner Perry Martin's post race interview made the rounds and the crowd was none too pleased.

In a nutshell, Perry appeared mad at Victor Espinoza for being "five wide" (he was four wide, but when trips go bad we owners are prone to hyperbole), and mad at Chrome for not beating the track record by more than two seconds. He said he didn't care about the money, but then went on to ask for a win so he would not have to pay for a Breeders' Cup entry fee, listed the horses who have made more money than Chrome that he wants to beat, and seems stoked for some "$12 million race" Stronach might put together at Gulfstream.

I kind of wish the interviewer asked him more questions, just to see if ol Perry truly is the most sour winner in the history of horse racing.

"What do you think of Secretariat?" - 'People like to talk about his Belmont win, but I can't get past his Whitney'.

"Thoughts on Tom Durkin?" - 'Good but too baritone'

"Other than you, who is your favorite owner?" - 'Mattress Mack'

I jest, of course.

Like many of you I abhor political speak and milquetoast answers from trainers and owners who say a lot, but end up saying nothing at all. Maybe Perry was trying to be cool, or funny, and maybe social media's reaction to his interview is all wrong and much ado about nothing. But it was, at best, a little odd.

Jessica Chapel yesterday tweeted that she hopes California Chrome gets a biographer with the talent of Bill Nack to write something about the horse. I agree completely. This horse, as an 1,100 pound beast is special on his own, but the stories around him tell an entertaining tome that needs to be told.

Perry Martin can say what he wants to say, any way he wants to say it. He owns the horse and it's a free country. It might rub people the wrong way and social media might not love him, but it doesn't trump how they feel about his glorious horse. And clearly, it's nice that people are talking about the interview so much. It proves there's passion out there for the sport of horse racing. I'd be more concerned if there was deathly silence.

Big races, great horses, and the sometimes circus that surrounds them makes us all feel alive; reminds us why we like this game. Yesterday's win had just about everything we could ask for. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

#Chrome, and Thursday Notes

Good morning racing fans!

California Chrome drew the 11 for the Dubai World Cup on Saturday. Despite a solid field, including American horses Keen Ice and Frosted, Chrome is the story.

As Claire Novak notes today, "there's something about Chrome" and there is. Yes, Kentucky Derby winners that race at a high level always have a strong pull (15 million people watch him win that race, more than any other in racing, by far), but this horse seems to have even more pull than that. He really stokes the fires in the sport, from the common fan to the bluest of bluebloods.

 As an aside, who was the last Kentucky Derby winner to win a grade I race on dirt at five? I ask because I don't have the foggiest. The list must be short.

I think Frosted is a better horse right now, but I too am a Chromie (although a lesser one than those found on Facebook!) and will be cheering for him. Sound horses with personality are always a favorite of mine and I think the colt deserves another big win, on the big stage.

Keen Ice will try blinkers for the first time on Saturday, which tells us his flat effort in his last was not explained by a physical issue (none they could find, anyway).

Trying something for the "first time" in a 10 million dollar race is always something that makes me chuckle (remember, this happened with Palace Malice in the Derby). Thoroughbred horses just do not race enough anymore, so experimenting doesn't happen in an allowance or overnight, it happens in a big race.

In old time racing, or in current harness racing, you could or can try things in a race itself as a prep. In harness especially we all went/go through the "try these shoes, or this headpole, or murphy blind, or hood with cups, or half cups, or sliding blind or blind" to experiment, and if it didn't work you just switched back next week. Harness horses are much harder to train, but easier to experiment with.


I'm not sure what exactly the hike is, but Racetrackandy says DRF PP's have gone up in price and he's going to try TimeformUS. I find PP providers are like cable TV companies. When they get you used to their service, it is really hard to switch, and if you do switch, you are so used to the old way, the new way is hard to embrace. My advice for anyone switching to anything in handicapping, whether it be data, or PP's, new ADW's, or whatever, give it two months and stick with it. Only then you'll know if you like it or not.

The March edition of the Horseplayer Monthly is out, and it's free. I save this mag to my iBooks on my Apple product (yes, I broke down and gave my money to the man) and peruse it as needed. It looks good on the iPad.

We had a fun little discussion last night on odd tracks - some of which are really odd. Tracks like Tyron, Grants Pass and Aiken all race in North America. So does the "Eastern Oregon Livestock Show" racetrack. Don't confuse it with the show on the west side of the state.

The Meadowlands ad in the Monthly magazine (above) is exactly what we should see from a racetrack trying to sell their place to bettors.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Two Streams of Marketing Racing, Monday Notes of the Weekend Racing

Good day racing fans. There's a snowstorm here, so I figured I'd take a break from work and shoveling to jot down a few thoughts. If you don't like this post, blame the storm, not me!

There was quite the chat on twitter yesterday about Doug O'Neill's social media marketing initiative. Most tend to believe that marketing to millennials often revolves too much around fashion and booze and too little around horses and betting. Since at your average racetrack, a consumer of any age can consume horses and betting, while they can get fashion and libation anywhere, it's not a bad point, of course.

In general, I find talk about 'marketing' the sport can disintegrate into bumper sticker slogans, when it really needs some nuance. There, in my view, are two marketing streams racing needs to pay attention to. The in-your-face, and the targeted.

In your face marketing is social media, wiener dog racing, booze, fashion, red carpets, Wes Welker and human interest. As much as you or I might dislike its efficacy in building new long-term bettors or fans, there is a strong reason it needs to exist: It speaks to the people who control more and more of the purse strings.

John Kasich might be running for President, but he's governor of Ohio, and when he sees Little Brown Jug headlines, news stories about people having fun at local racetracks, charity events, celebrity bouncy pony races, charity giving, greenspace arguments and all the rest, it's a signal that the slot money is working. Yes, that might be silly, but it's the way the world works, in more than horse racing.

Horses trending on twitter, and pictures with people drinking, wearing hats and having fun serve a purpose, don't kid yourself.

The targeted marketing arm is a whole different story.

$10,000 of marketing money should bring in X conversions and those conversions need to be measured. Those convertors need to be carried through a (a rather obtuse) buy cycle. Then those convertors need to be given a lifetime value metric, with hard dollars or handle. At the end of the process a return on ad spend target is apparent and the process is honed, perfected and hopefully creates a strong system in which to funnel marketing dollars.

That's hard.

Not only is it hard, the "business" is not a business at all. It's a hodge-podge of alphabets, ADW's, track owned internet platforms, and on and on. Horsemen groups feel tracks should be doing it, ADW arms try to do it, but don't have the backing of others who are part of the sales and product cycle.

Seriously, it's much easier to promote hats and booze, so that's what's promoted.

One day the business will figure it out; there will be a segment with "horse racing". The efficacy of $10 spent on free bet coupons versus $10 of marketing to poker players and other initiatives like that will be a known number. That day isn't here.


Hey, I liked this.
Grab a few shots of bourbon, eat four donuts, and head to the track. We have free parking!
No worries if the card starts at 11AM, it's 5 o'clock somewhere.

Quality racing? Well, at the Big M, the third race on Friday evening was for $10 claiming trotters with amateur drivers. The handle was $302,000. The Levy series with Foiled Again at Yonkers in the 5th race the same evening, did about $65,000.

Speaking of Foiled Again, I thought the 11 (is he 12, holy I think he might be)  year old raced super. Slow fractions are not his bailiwick. Even when he was 5 he was not a horse who could quicken.

Setting the odds with Garnet Barnsdale was good. A bettor was a guest this time.

Untapable does not have the go she once had, but with great horses, the will never goes away. You can see her trying, and that's what makes a lot of horses. It always fascinates me with the will to win types. It doesn't matter if they're a four claimer or a stakes horse; doesn't matter if they're a Thoroughbred or standardbred or quarterhorse. The ones who try hard are very special.

The Rebel was a bit of a head-scratcher to me (with some horses racing really bad numbers), although the odds-board sure was pretty right.

This is RT'd 16 times because it's not seen often enough. There's no with stakes races listed like start times to a hockey game. It's as above, a hodge-podge.

Have a nice day everyone. I'll go back to shoveling now.

Friday, March 18, 2016


This week everyone was (and is) abuzz with March Madness. The 64 team tournament is a television staple and has been for some time.

Other than the usual - the games on at sports bars and basements for a few weeks - there's some major league betting going on. The American Gaming Association estimates that this year, $9.2 billion will be bet on the tournament.

That $9.2 billion, with an estimated 40 million people partaking, is being bet on schools like Stoney Brook (I found out that's a school on Long Island) and Austin Peay (it's in Tennessee and is named after a governor of the Volunteer state). It will be bet on games played by players like Taniki Smith, Jimmer Davis and Craig Petrie junior. I don't think too many people could find Stoney Brook on a map, and I am 100% sure you don't know who the players I listed above are, because I made them up.

The brand, the event, the buzz drives the interest. It drives all that money.

This is not unlike the Triple Crown in horse racing. I have often said a Triple Crown champion won't do much for racing overall. I have often said that I think you could run 20 five claimers in the Derby, with a 89 beyer winning and people will still show up, drink juleps, and bet. The event trumps just about everything else. It is the driver of just about everything in terms of profitable, tangible interest in the sport of horse racing. The Triple Crown series is racing's March Madness.

Whether it's Grant Hill, or the made up Taniki Smith, or Mine That Bird or Secreatriat, it's the same series.

The sport of racing, or any sport for that matter, can't just create a new Triple Crown, or March Madness. That's silly. But there is some evidence that niche sports can create at least something that works. In Canada we've seen that with made for TV curling or junior hockey, in the US, extreme sports via ESPN is a strong example.

The key, according to many marketers, is that an event has to stand out. It has to tested, it has to be risky. The event has to be built for the niche market itself, not be created and then convince the market it needs it. It can't be mass, in a morass of mass.

Racing's current marketing structure and strategy leans to the mass market. That's probably not the answer.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Arguments Against Drug Disclosures are Built for Another Time

There's a good piece on the Bloodhorse regarding yesterday's meeting about potential drug disclosure rules that took place in California.

In effect, it goes a little like this: Horses move from trainer to trainer. When a new trainer gets a horse, he or she has no idea if it was injected in every joint last week, or last month, or last year. If the animal is being treated for allergies, or an ailment, it's a secret. If it had a hairline cryo'd, if it has an issue with his back, or stifle, it's "buyer beware".

Some jurisdictions have already dealt with this issue, like Ontario, but as often is the case in racing, SOP's are not created industry wide, but in each state, like they're on an island. It's California's turn to talk about it.

Not surprisingly, some trainers are vociferously against this.

"Ellis also brought up the competitiveness of the claiming game and how the potential requirement to disclose treatment methods and use would go against that competitive nature. He also brought up the cost of hiring extra staff to keep the records."I'll never ask another trainer, 'What did you do with this horse?' because I'm not going to get the truth," Ellis said. "They're not going to tell me the truth. This is a competitive game..."

That's the state of the claiming game for many. It's about, "unloading the rat" on unsuspecting owners. Some folks want that protected.

The business has to ask itself why - when purses are at all time record levels for most of racing, race dates are down, where average purses are up - there aren't more new owners at the grassroots levels.  The economics say there should be.

The business has to ask itself why - when the stock market is up 1600% since 1985 - there are not more people with disposable income, near retirement, who have not pivoted that money into a few horses like they did 25 years ago.

One of the reasons why, is that buying horses is an anachronism. It was built for a time when horse traders pulled one over on each other; when people "didn't tell the truth" about investments.

The used car sale business is huge, because when anyone searches for a used car it passes inspection first. Home sales work because if the house has asbestos in the walls, and a leaky basement, it's disclosed because the home seller doesn't want to go to jail by not disclosing it.  The stock market works because company "A" and everyone else has to disclose its numbers according to GAAP, and if that company lies, there's a good chance someone is going to the greybar hotel.

We, in the public, expect disclosure when we purchase something. It's how commerce works.

In racing, doing the same thing is "too costly", "too much work", and about "not telling the truth".

And people scratch their heads, wondering why the business has trouble attracting new owners?

I remember back about 15 years ago, a family friend - a salt of the earth type fellow - told me he'd get in the game when it was cleaned up. After some progress, he jumped in. He bought 25 horses over a year's period, and a farm, where he could breed mares. He went all in.

Today, when he sells his horses at a sale, he tells potential new owners everything they want to know about the horses; their ailments, their issues, their feed, their vet work, their idiosyncrasies. I ask him why he does that. He says "it's proper business."

This business needs more owners and trainers like that, and fewer of the Dodge City horse traders of the past. It's not 1886, it's 2016 and the modern horse investor expects more from the sport than it's getting. It's up to people in power in horse racing to deliver that to them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday Racing Notes

Good morning racing and betting people.

There was another barn fire in harness racing, this time in South Florida, claiming 12 horses. Thankfully about half the barn's inhabitants ended up escaping the carnage. There's a gofundme link at the end of that story.

Trainer Peter Moody has been cleared of the serious cobalt charge that he knowingly jacked the horses. I don't know about you, but that was never in doubt. A successful stable like that, with all that money flowing through it, is not conducive to such things. He will no doubt serve time, as he should for this infraction, but many years it will not be.

We have spoken before about the strange stakes schedule in harness racing, primarily with three year old colts. It's just odd. DZ shares just how odd in the DRF today. Harness racing is one sport that is badly, badly in need of a commissioner of some sort. So many riches, so much purse money, so much potential.

Northfield will have a big pick 4 pool tonight with that carryover. Details here.

An NFL evangelist. It'd be great if racing had people like that pushing it on the Interweb.

If you are doing any in-running betting in this political season you've probably noticed how difficult it is on the republican side. Using county results, by demographics, has been an exercise in futility, thanks to The Donald. I've been playing it early instead. The D side is much more formful in-running.

Passing lane is introduced at Hoosier Park:

“We are committed to making Hoosier Park harness racing one of the most competitive racetracks in the country,” said Jim Brown, Centaur Gaming president and COO. “This enhancement will not only stand as the longest passing lane in North America, but will be sure to bring even more excitement, amplify the driving strategy involved, and ultimately make for an even greater racing product that our fans are sure to enjoy.”

It surprises me how in harness racing - and racing in general - such proclamations from above are not felt from below, at the customer level. Harness racing is plagued by two main complaints, which hurts its business - no flow or action and low priced winners. Passing lanes only exacerbate those two issues.

I was always a huge fan of Uncle Mo, as a racehorse. I thought his distance limitations are and were overblown, and he had tremendous talent and athleticism. I have loved the way he seems to stamp his foals. But, the number of colts who retire early in Thoroughbred racing, where they never get to show what they can or cannot do are many, and Uncle Mo commanded quite the fee for a horse with the Juvy on the resume.

In harness it is not like that, and never has been like that. If your horse can't make it through the grind at three, he will not command a big fee. More likely, an abbreviated campaign at three, for whatever reason, will result in a campaign at four, to get your syndication value up. Artsplace, who might've been the best two year old the sport has seen, would've never commanded a big fee after that season, and had to race at four to be considered.

It makes me wonder: How many great sires have been overlooked in harness racing who were well-bred and super fast, who never got a shot after retiring early? I bet there's been quite a few.

The Big M is offering high definition streaming broadcasts of its product, the first such track to do so in harness. There is some complaint they are folding their free non-HD stream on their website, but in this day and age I don't think it's a big issue.

Have a very nice day folks.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"It's the Ideas, Stupid", Derby Buzz, and Handles

I was reading an article about an SXSW panel which was focused on big data and marketing through digital mediums. The panelists were political marketers.

The gist of it: Although people like to give credit for "big data" and digital marketing for political victories (in this case, 2008's election where it received effusive praise from the mainstream press),  unless you have a message, it's all pretty useless.

The panelists talked about this cycle and the Jeb Bush campaign (who had the ultimate digital strategy and tons of money), versus the Sanders and Trump campaigns. As most know, Sanders' campaign has been fueled by the grassroots and Trump's is similar. It would be completely foolish to give any credit to digital marketing in one case, considering Trump himself (not likely) or his group sometimes tweets out, and then has to delete some bizarre things.

Both men have a message that is resonating. Both men's digital marketing and 'big data' arm are a method to get out that message, but clearly aren't even remotely responsible for their poll success thus far.

I think this is important for horse racing - especially those in shedrows - to understand. There is a faction in any business who believes "getting your name out there" is real marketing; many companies who embark on branding spend do it for internal morale for this reason. But for real efficacy, it's about ideas, and a strong digital and big data plan is simply closing the deal.

So, videos are like this are wonderful and should never be not encouraged, but without a message and pipeline their effectiveness is muted.

From Marty McGee:
This surprises me. The favorites all seem to be sound and ready, and there are some interesting horses. Plus, we just had a Triple Crown winner stoking the fires for the most popular season in horse racing. OK, I am a little stumped. Are you?

A harness racing pop quiz, with some items that might be of interest to you as bettors.

Sid Fernando tells me the $400,000 yearling price for Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin was the 3rd highest for Giant Causeway of 41. With so many people wanting Derby horses, the price still seems a little low, to my untrained eye. A sibling like Creative Cause who was precocious, along with a pedigree that can run all day is a flashing billboard. Seems like someone would've bid that to the stratosphere after selling 4,000 shares of AAPL. But, WDIK.

Speaking of the Tampa Bay Derby, handle was through the roof, at around $12M. Meanwhile, Big Cap day was down and a little blech. Florida tracks continue to show some moxy in this environment and there's no way around that.

If it was another Derby points era and in April Songbird was eligible to run in the Derby, and looked like a solid 5-2 shot, would they go? I think so. It'd be hard to pass up.

I was glued to last evening's Men's Curling final, because the game was so damned interesting. In one end, the permutations, strategy and game theory was so difficult it made my head hurt. Even the announcers seemed to make mistakes and not be able to think more than one shot ahead. This game is incredibly difficult to understand, hard to learn, has no clock, and seems slow paced. Why, at its peak, do 2 million people watch it in Canada? It's not because we all did it in grade school (we did not, we play hockey and baseball) or it's some sort of maple syrup rite of passage. It's watched because it is so cerebral. There's a lesson in there for horse racing.

I went back - out of curiosity - and looked at my exacta ROI, year over year. I know one thing, without rebate, I have zip, zero, nada, no chance to ever beat California's 22.68% takeout on two horse bets.  Me not taking even one exacta there since 2010 was not some principled stand against a takeout hike - although that was the catalyst - it was self-preservation.

There's a big drug scandal in sports in Russia and none of their athletes hit the board in the biathlon (that's where they shoot guns, ski and I think bake a cake .... not sure about the last one) where they usually dominate. Don't get mad at trainers, owners and bettors who comment when they see similar happen from time to time in horse racing.  

Have a great day everyone.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"That's it Buddy, We're Going to Try and Save You"

Sometimes you come across a story in horse racing that reminds us about the resiliency the animal, and the innate goodness of the humans who care for them. We have that and more with Phoo's Boy.

In 2012, a two and a half month foal and his mother were dropped off at a farm they would call home until the foal would hopefully embark on his training career. At ten o'clock on a Friday evening, everything was fine.

At some point overnight, something wasn't fine. The next morning they found the little foal with a two inch bullet wound in his neck, with an exit wound ten inches in diameter. He was still alive, doing what most of you who work or deal with see animals in pain do, soldiering on, with a will to live.

"He’s such a little fighter, he kept walking the field. He just kept walking and walking and the mom was right behind him keeping anything else away from him.”

The little colt was brought to a clinic and the owner-breeder (one of those crusty guys who you'd think would make a decision he's made before), decided differently.

After surgery, Russell Equine Photo
“When I got to the clinic the hole on the right side of his neck was the size of an egg and the hole on his left side of the neck was the size of a football. I put a flashlight to his neck and could see his vertebrae. I kept thinking, he’s going to have to be put down. But I walked into the stall and he came over to me and put his head against my belly and I said, ‘that’s it buddy. We’re going to try and save you.’”

After a long road, Phoo's Boy made it, and began his racing career in earnest, just last month.

To the idiot kids who shot this poor horse, you failed to get the job done. The toughness of the standardbred and the good hearts of the people who care for him, won the day.

To read the entire feature please visit here.  It's a nice ending to a terrible story.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


This weekend the Big M is carding a $7,500 claimer. In some corners of the interwebs this is like some sort of shock and awe. These "cheap" horses at the flagship track?

In reality, the Big M, surrounded by slots tracks, is doing exactly what it should be doing; carding competitive racing, while at a competitive disadvantage. And when you card competitive racing, it brings in handle.

For the low level ten claimers, the Big M has averaged about $225,000 in handle per race in 2016. Bettors want a deep field of claimers over a short field of conditioned horses, especially if the favorite is solid, and this is proven over and over again with handle.

Thoroughbred racing is a bit different because stakes racing is pretty interesting in that sport, with shippers, cutbacks or stretchouts, and horses trying better for the first time. However, the good old deep claimer holds its own there, too.

Last weekend:

GP, $6,250 claimer, 12 horses, handle $1.4 million

Tampa, $5,000 claimer, 9 horses, handle $560,000

Santa Anita, $8,000 claimer, 10 horses, $880,000

Don't discount cheap claimers, they make this sport go round. Bettors like them a lot more than you think.


Remember a few years ago at the Big A - horses were breaking down and things were looking horrible for our four-legged friends? Several actions were taken, like capping the claimer purse price, vet checks etc. A few years on, NYRA reported a 1.09 per 1,000 catastrophic death rate. That's much improved and that's good work.

It, to me, proves when the sport works together on something like this, with science and statistics to back it up, and they stick with it, good things happen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Racing Popularity By Region, Stats and Analysis, Horse Rescue Notes

Good morning racing fans!

There was a chart whipping around the twitter yesterday, which showed Thoroughbred racing handle by state, as below:

The current leader in handle is New York (primarily NYRA) in yellow, taking over from California in blue. Florida handle, in grey, has been rising, while Kentucky handle in red is trudging along.

The above graph does not take into account dates, nor does it look at inflation. For example, since 2010, the compound inflation rate is around 10%, requiring a $2B handle to be $2.2B, just to hold even.

A few points.  

New York handle taking the lead might be a little bit surprising, but there have been some positives for that signal.

OTB's were closed, for the most part, and those users were cycled into more modern means, like NYRA rewards. More rewards (and no OTB surcharges) help churn and customer retention. They had a takeout decrease, which surely helped a little bit through added churn. The negative - an ADW tax - has probably hurt somewhat. Regardless, their signal continues to be strong, and their race office's have been hard at work (trying to) putting on bettable racing.

They have also used alternative gaming money for more "big days", which can anger everyday players, but have added some zip to a fading product on weekends.

California has had major issues. That's been obvious. Unlike New York, the vision in the state tends to be more protectionist and insular (the amount of tracks that can beam in their signal is regulated, for example), and heavily tilted to horsemen interests, not customer interests. Despite purses holding firm, handle has fallen, and perhaps by this year Florida handle will overtake them,knocking them to third place. 

Customers in the state have lived through a large takeout hike, which has hurt. Trying to offset this loss there has been some move on rebating some action, and the addition of the 14% pick 5 has surely helped in plugging the holes in the boat, even a little. As well, the closures and pivoting dates into higher handle signals has helped. They have a long way to go.

Florida is an interesting case study. Tampa Bay Downs has seen handle increases, and have for some time. They've lowered juice since 2002, when the top end had 28% takeouts. They're a strong winter signal and they're up again in 2016, last time I checked.

Gulfstream is the big enchilada and we've seen a few things happen with them. First there are more dates, which have helped overall handle a great deal. They also took over the Calder signal and that has shown massive increases.

In addition, they've done a good job, and we have to give credit where credit is due. Tim Ritvo, and Steve Calabro before him, seem to actually care about raising handle. From the race office right through lower management, there seems to be an eye on handle and they use it as a KPI.  Sure their menu can use a few top end takeout reductions, sure the Rainbow Six is beggar thy neighbor and not overly good for the horse racing ecosystem, sure we can nitpick; sure there is room to grow, by being more customer friendly. But this class signal is stronger than ever, and that deserves some recognition.

Kentucky has some good and some bad. The big signal - Keeneland - lost some luster of late, with shorter fields and shorter prices. Their poly brand was super-strong and stood out in the landscape. Churchill raised juice and that signal has suffered, and it dominates the race date landscape. The stop gap on handle flow has been the Derby of course. With about $250M in handle in one week a year, Churchill revenue and handle goes as it goes. Let's hope it doesn't rain this year.

Turfway keeps trudging along and Kentucky Downs keeps breaking handle records by doing almost everything right from an end-demand perspective. They don't race enough, so overall they do not move the handle needle.  

Kentucky racing, to me, feels like it's at the crossroads in many ways.


There was a discussion last evening about horse rescue that I found really interesting.

I don't say it enough here, but should - I admire everything you guys do. To see a horse no one wants going from a slaughter truck to a paddock, romping around like a new born colt and blossoming to being a horse again, is pure magic. To see those of you who take time out of your busy days with cap in hand, trying to raise $50 or $100, or $200 to feed one for a couple of weeks, I am in awe. To everyone who gets up on a terrible morning to feed unwanted horses, or stay with them when they're sick or on the mend, or help them trust again after escaping an abused life, it's amazing.

To the larger industry organizations that support aftercare to the small guy or gal who drops a twenty into a jar at the track, everything you do is appreciated.

One horse isn't the world, but to that one horse you saved, or donated to, you're his world.

Perhaps there will come a day when, as floated about, $500 per foal and 1% of purses are set aside to care for horses after they're done. But that day is not here. Until then we have you folks, and we're fortunate that we do.

Have a nice day everyone, and please consider helping out your local horse rescue, should you have the means to do so.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Party of No, Complicated Bets and a Tuesday Catch-Up

Good day racing fans!

Paulick has a story up on exchange wagering - the buy and sell market that people call new, but is in fact old now - as well as a poll. The poll, "do you want to see exchange wagering in your state, yes or no", has the no side winning.

Question: Does any poll in horse racing that offers customers something new, at a better price, (or something else they want) ever not answer "no" from insiders?

I don't remember too many; which makes the lament, the hand-wringing, and the wonderment from insiders why handles have been down for 15 years all the more perplexing.

Racing builds walls, and customers pay for it. And I don't think Mexico will help.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, sports betting is growing, by giving customers what they want. This has been happening in tandem with the massive rise of Daily Fantasy Sports (which did $3B in handle last year).

Las Vegas sports betting seems to keep setting new handle records each month.

It amazes me that Daily Fantasy Sports - which did not even exist in any major way five years ago - and sports betting has grown so much in this space. At the same time, racing, with an Internet betting monopoly seems to be losing more and more market share. 

Cangamble believes that horse racing should "market the heck out of the trifecta".  CG believes that horse racing being "too complicated" is a bad argument and I tend to agree.

What's easier to understand than 'pick the top three in this race and win money'?

To me, slots are complicated. I have no idea how to play those games; you know, the ones where you win on diagonal lines, or four corners, or whatever. I was at the convenience store the other day and had a look at some of the lotteries while I was waiting in line. I had an easier time understanding first year calculus. No, racing is not complicated; I think it's just another excuse.

CG also talks about drug use and it not having an effect on the players. Maybe so, but drug use has an effect on horse supply and ownership depth, which does influence handles. Three horses from one trainer and two from another in a seven horse field is commonplace and it makes for some pretty boring betting. 

This weekend I enjoyed the racing, including the most-excellent performance by Songbird. There's some wondering if the Derby field will ever be fewer than twenty horses. I think not, because the ego gratification of having a Derby starter is too much, but what about the Oaks this year? I could see that being a six horse field. Who wants to face her?

CJ on the GP handicap this weekend, where Valid was badly interfered with by one of the Pletcher horses.

This is a little known rule, that could be enforced (but wasn't nearly enough) with coupled entries.

Peyton Manning retired and a lot of folks said "ho hum", as is often the case with some athletes. The sports world is filled with narratives, and if a negative narrative takes hold, it's hard to appreciate what we just watched.

By all means, Tigers Woods, Peyton Manning, Wayne Gretzky - whomever - can be disliked for whatever reason, but we can't forget how great they play or played the game. I find this is similar with horses. Sure we'll never know how good American Pharoah might've been, we see California Chrome not win a dirt race for awhile, and Zenyatta win some races on "plastic". But appreciating great horses - for their speed, longevity, moxy, will to win - is never a bad thing. When they're gone we miss them.

Unless the announcer idol thing in California was pre-determined, I think Michael Wrona will win the job.

Congrats to Red Mile, Hialeah and Pompano Park main man Gabe Prewitt for winning the rising star award at the Dan Patch on Sunday. Deserved.

The Meadowlands has a tough time this time of year with entries. They don't have slots, but the slots rich tracks that orbit around them do. One thing the Big M has, though, is handle. They keep leading the sport with customers, regardless, and it's not really that close.

Election betting is growing and it's never not fascinating. This year, however, the swings in the states have been flat out incredible. I've been doing this with a bankroll since 2000, and I have not seen anything like it.

Horses are animals and sometimes they lose their edge, sometimes something is bugging them where the world's best vets can't even find it. Sometimes they just need a break and that's what's happening with the Pizza Man off a couple of flat efforts. Horses are incredible beasts because they want to please and they run through maladies. But sometimes they just lose that punch, and that can mean a lot at the highest levels.

Harness racing can increase purses and bring in betting dollars, but grabbing a slice of those dollars for a CRM plan, or to sink some money into owner and customer cultivation seems like a non-starter. This was examined in Harness Racing Update, page six.

Have a nice day everyone.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Seamless Consumption, Today's Betting Sites Need to Compete, Allowed all Content

Dana passed along an article today on the twitter about marketing on the web. Generally, it's about the buying process and how things have to be pretty seamless in this new world we live in. Give it a read if you're interested.

For sports' properties, this is paramount., MLBTV, all work towards not only keeping you engaged, but allowing you to purchase their products - tickets, jerseys etc - and, if you wish, watching their games right on the web. It's a one stop shop, and they do what needs to be done for you as a customer to maximize your utility (and their bottom line).

In racing, It doesn't quite work like that. is the granddaddy of all racing websites. Not only does it have a history, it supplies past performances, news, up to date betting information and of late, through, a betting platform.

What every customer wants is included in their offerings, and just announced, it gets even better. DRF will be offering lower takeout to their customers.

So, this is great, right? An industry portal - in effect a face of the sport that's extremely recognizable, even to newbies or non-fans - has everything everyone would need; has everything an, or MLBTV, or has.

Not so fast. It doesn't have Churchill Downs content; Arlington, Fairgrounds, CD itself. CDI doesn't sell them their signal.

You can signup, want to become a fan with a flagship website, but you can't bet the Risen Star or the Arlington Million. To do that, you as a customer, have to sign up for another ADW account. This isn't a website that isn't working seamlessly, with a poor landing page, or a hard to find button to complete a call to action. This is having to go to a complete other site and signing up all over again, depositing money, and all the rest.

Back in 2008, when the Horseplayers Association of North America was formed, one of the planks, written by members and confirmed through polling, was that all racing companies should sell their product to all ADW's - you can't pick and choose, as long as they are accredited, legal sites -  so customers do not have to have three or four accounts to bet all tracks.

8 years later, - the biggest site in racing - does not even have all tracks.

We understand why; we get it. This is how racing works, and I don't want to get into legal mumbo-jumbo about anti-trust. But in the big picture (which in my view racing pays little attention to) : When your sport is trying to compete for gambling dollars, when you are trying to keep money onshore, and not going offshore (where all sites take bets on everything, with a nice rebate), where today's internet customer demands seamlessness and a great user experience, you're poking them in the eye with a stick.

Customers win when sites like the DRF and many others have all content - these sites promote, offer price breaks to cash-starved players, and compete for betting dollars and new customers. If you, as a racetrack, are not selling your signal at a fair price to all other legal outlets, you should be. When customers win the sport wins, and the sport of racing needs to start winning a hell of a lot more often.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Handle Numbers Show a Maturing Landscape, Some Learnings

Soon enough, February handle numbers will be released showing an approximate 6% gain. While people tend to focus on the top end, and get down in the dumps or giddy about the short-term big number (in this case, giddy), it's much more enlightening to look deeper into them.

What we have seen, of late, is the bigger signals doing better, while the smaller ones are stagnating. The big signals are doing several good things, along with an obvious handle boost - racing more races.

Case in point Gulfstream. In February 2015, GPX raced 216 races and garnered $176M in handle. In February of 2016, handle skied to $219M on 240 races.  Handle per race rose from $816k to $915k, a nice increase.

The approximate 6% increase in handle for the entire sport from 2015, came almost solely from this Gulfstream handle increase.

Other big signals, concentrating on carding some better racing, have done well, too, though. Aqueduct raced 17 more races and gained almost $18M in handle.

Overall, January and February date adjusted handle for the entire sport is up by about $60 million, or 3.9%. Since January 1st, Gulfstream is up about $62 million, Aqueduct is up $39.7 million.

Keep in mind the above numbers are from a database, and not official Equibase data.

What does this tell us? I think a few things.

i) When we see gross numbers, we have to take them with a grain of salt, because the make-up of industry supply is changing. We're not comparing apples to hand grenades, but we are comparing apples to a lightly less appley fruit.

ii) Big winter signals like Gulfstream and Aqueduct are working hard at their product and should be commended. I don't think you'll find many tracks that fly Serling down to do commentary, or spend so much on their signals, or spend time in the race office carding better fields like GP does. Money is pivoting into them.

iii) There is money on the sidelines for bettable horse racing. i.e. if you give people something exciting and worthwhile to bet, they'll bet.

We're not seeing industry "growth" here, in the true sense of the word. But I think we're seeing a maturing industry when it comes to carding races, racedate distribution, and other intra-racing measures.

Comparing two months from this year to two months to last year, as I have done above, has its own pitfalls. We'll see if these are trends, or simply blips, in the coming months. 

Enjoy your day everyone.

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