Monday, May 30, 2016

Excellent Racing TV Coverage (With No Fluff), Nuncio & the Canterbury Biz

In North America, we are used to watching the big races covered by the networks in a certain way. Of late, that means celebrities, parties, clothes and interviews about celebrities, parties and clothes. Despite hard-core fans despising it, it does seem to work well for ratings.

And of course, if you want to watch analysis about the race, there are dozens of other sources, including the track feed.

Over in Sweden it's not much like that.

Yesterday's Elitlopp coverage (covered by Sweden's racing network and broadcast on TV) was something we really weren't used to. The races on the undercard, the interviews, the features and almost all coverage was related to the racing. Even when they interviewed trainers, it was done in split screen with the other screen showing the horses scoring out on the track; or (gasp) the odds.

While the race is being trotted, the coverage continued its race-focus excellence. Because the horses are not easy to see on screen, the producers often used boxes to show who was who, and where they were. If a horse was making a move, people at home saw who the horse was, as again the producers highlighted the horse. A form of Trakus was used as well.

We have spoken about this many times with the Derby. How difficult would it be to highlight Exaggerator live in-run like this when he was making his Derby move? He was one of the favorites, so letting the public know where he is on the track seems essential.

Sweden is in a somewhat unique position of course. Unlike NBC or ABC, they have to cater to a betting audience because most of the people watching have a bet on the race. The pick 6 and pick 7 is sold in corner stores and over $1M was bet just into the win pools for the Elitlopp itself.

As I have mused before - the best thing for racing coverage in North America is probably for NBC to own an ADW.

Most of the excellent crowd, coverage and size of the bet is not done by accident. Sweden invests heavily in its product, with access to $25M of TV time, a $1.5M digital marketing budget, etc. For a country with the GDP no bigger than Pennsylvania's that's huge.

As for the race itself, it was won mightily by the former American horse Nuncio. The horse was huge and it shows just how amazing that crop of horses in the US was. Nuncio was considered the third string of Father Patrick and Trixton that year, and he probably was. The crop was near tantamount (for Thoroughbred readers) to Curlin, Street Sense and Hard Spun. Hard Spun (Nuncio) turned out to maybe be the best (we would not know, the other two are retired).

Meanwhile back at the ranch........

I am continually getting to know Canterbury Park, and I am continually pretty impressed. Sure the racing this weekend had a lot of off the turf scratches and short fields, but the crowds were huge and the betting (considering) continued to be pretty fair. This place is a little gem.

Much has been made - and rightfully so - about the takeout reduction, but much that has been made, in my view, is wrong about it.

Canterbury cutting the juice is a low risk way to get noticed. Simulcast money (through signal fees) has zero cost - opportunity or otherwise - from past years. Any increase is gravy. On-track, where about $12M is usually bet, is the only risk, and really it is not much of one.

Canterbury, at the end of the year, will have returned about $375,000 through a rake reduction. This $375,000 is not kept in a sock. It is rebet in either their pools, or their simulcast pools where they do about $60M a year in huge margins. The money that is not rebet is taken home (improving Cx) or spent on food, beer or in the card room.

The hand-wringing that goes on with takeout reductions just doesn't happen in any other business that I see. When you get McDonald's coupons in the mail for two for one Big Mac's (a Big Mac does not have a 50% margin), no one bats an eye. No one runs around asking if that day the coupons made McDonald's franchisee money (they're a loss leader). It's lifetime value, cx. It's business.

When a track gives back $375,000 out of $52.3 million for a promotion, or to increase lifetime customer value, it's only 0.71% of total revenues. It's investing a little in your customer base, so that (for hopefully years) you have a happy customer base who's spending more and more of their gambling money with you. You don't need an MBA to figure it out.

Have a nice Monday everyone, and enjoy the racing. Canterbury goes at 12:45 central, and Belmont races the Met Mile, er, no, but it looks like a good card.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Betting Menus

Horse racing's betting menu has grown by leaps and bounds the last several years. Over the past twelve months, we can see what racing has done in this vein, via a tweet from Crunk.

These numbers look somewhat compelling for those with a bullish view ("wow, look at the Jackpot bets!), but (according to Crunk), 82% of bets for racing come from WPS, Ex, Tri and Supers. So, this is a teeny bit biased.

What's pretty clear, though, is racing has pushed customers from the easier to hit to harder to hit bets. Worse, by pushing them into jackpot bets, these folks are not churning any money, and horse racing becomes a strange sunk cost endeavor.

While racing has stagnated and lost market share since 2006, sports betting on the other hand has not. By the end of this year, legal betting on sports -- without legislative change, or through an increase in distribution - will have increased about 90%.

While racing has pushed players into hard to hit bets, sports bettors avoid them in big numbers:
  •  Breaking your customers early and often pushes them away to other games. And sports bettors are very savvy in the first place. Although Vegas books do offer some higher takeout bets, the betting public shuns them. In 2015, only 7% of all sportsbook revenue came from high takeout parlay cards, with 93% from 5% holds. Sports wagering customers are playing, and they are winning enough to keep them coming back.
Horse racing's one edge is "betting a little to win a lot" so I don't for a second think going back to two doubles, four exacta and two tri races a card is wise. However, racing does not seem to show any chops in using gambling economics to allow for their customers to churn.

Example: Two horse exotics (especially in short fields) cause havoc to bettors bankrolls and slowly break them if the takeout is too high. California - with minimum gambling study - virtually blindly increased two horse exotic takeouts to almost 23%. That's almost a quarter out of each pool!

In Australia, where wagering growth is higher than population growth and inflation, it's different. About half of all bets are win pool bets, with each of fixed odds,  the tote and exchanges offering some worthwhile takeouts. Out of the $26B bet in Australia (where about $2B is taken from takeout, $24B returned to bettors), the average bet size is $43. Even small bettors are churning.

Australia allows customers to churn. As does sports betting. In North America customers are pushed into jackpot bets or other hard to hit high takeout mediums. Although racing will tell you horse betting customers do not behave economically rational (look, they like jackpots bets, they are up!), they in fact do. Sooner or later they go broke, and you're left with another void to fill, and another loss of hundreds of millions in handle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Racing Club

Racing is an interesting club and frankly, kind of an exclusive one to get let into. Just this week we saw it again action.

First off, we had two horses pass away, one from a heart attack and one from a fracture, at Pimlico. People who were watching horse racing for the first time, and others who don't like the sport in the first place, sprang into action, tweeting and press releasing the tragedy, some of them for their own gain.

This was tough for Racing Club, so some club members rose to the occasion to hammer those people about their terrible bias. It just happened on TV. What about the food you eat. The other days of the year are just fine.

Later on in the week, Michelle Beadle - a woman that seems to make Racing Club go full-on #bringhomechrome - spoke out about not liking horse racing much. That was bad enough, but wow, she covered horse racing once and said she liked it. What a hypocrite.

Racing Club is a bit of an odd bird.

If a newbie likes racing, Racing Club likes them. If a newbie tweets about not wanting to watch a sport where horses perish like they did Saturday, well, Racing Club points out how great life is for horses. If someone within Racing Club points out that what happened at Pimlico Saturday happens each day in racing, it's an issue, and those people have a point, that person is shunned by Racing Club. He or she likely will never be let back in.

If someone that's a celebrity says something about racing we like, Racing Club might ask them to be on the red carpet at the Breeders' Cup. When a commentator with brash opinions on many sports doesn't like racing, Racing Club trolls her on twitter, until she likes racing again, or blocks them.

Horse racing is filled with passionate people. Social media in horse racing is a success story, not a detriment. But sometimes the passion gets misplaced, where it becomes a bubble, where the Club can't see the problems and issues as others see them.

This bubble acts like a protective shield, so when a horse dies and questions need to be answered, they are not answered, but covered for; when a takeout increase happens and handle goes down, it's the "bad weather" and no one says a word; when a track goes from a safe racetrack back to dirt for black type and breeding, no one asks the tough questions; when someone on twitter doesn't like racing, they should be attacked and shouted down, not asked why they don't like it and how it can improve so they do like it.

The first rule of Racing Club is that you don't talk about Racing Club. That rule has to go. It needs to be talked about, because in many cases the sport can't correct its issues if it stays in its protective bubble.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Canterbury Park Pushes the Right Buttons for Opening Weekend

Canterbury Park - the Shakopee, MN racetrack that lowered takeout's this season - had a very nice weekend opener. Friday through Sunday, handle was up over 30%, year over year.

Although the weather cooperated, and on-track wagering was up, it's still (by any measure) a super result for the track who had hoped to generate some buzz with simulcast players. Wagering outside the state via ADW and other racetracks was up 34%.

Canterbury debuted an HD signal (to a couple complaints on social media, mainly regarding the lack of visibility of the odds in full fields), and odds that update every ten seconds, giving players a pretty good experience for a smaller racetrack. They also flew in Katie Gensler to help with the two new candidates for paddock analyst, and the pre-game show had a professional feel.

The track catered to both its on-track and off-track customers by doing the right thing with the takeout decrease -- they promoted it. It's messaging is on the starting gate, the track announcer mentions it, and during the pre-game show the analysts talked about and explained that lower takeout means their customers' tickets pay more. "When you win, you win more" is a strong message to patrons. 

They seemed to push all the right buttons to set the table for a decent meet. 

Canterbury, as many of us have learned, is in a unique position as a racetrack. While most tracks earn the vast majority of their wagering dollars from off-track sources, Canterbury has an amazingly strong on-track business; upwards of half of some evenings total wagering comes from people on track. Although many of these bettors are younger and per capita wagering is low -- they have mainly come for other activities and promotions -- it does again set the table for growth. If even a handful of these newbies get that if this new 18% trifecta takeout (with some work) can be beatable, it's again very strong messaging.

While we as bettors can enjoy the perks of better takeout, it's also those of us who are fans and horse owners to be quite excited for the meet itself. Also not left out are the trainers.

Trainer Robert Diordino said things at Canterbury are different, “At a lot of tracks, you feel like you’re walking into an empty bingo hall,” said Robertino Diodoro, Canterbury’s leading trainer last year. “It doesn’t feel like you’re even at a racetrack any more.”

Donna Keen who sent a string to Canterbury last season loved the family vibe and people in the stands, “It's unbelievable. I love seeing the families here and the young people..."

For most of us not at the track, Canterbury's Friday evening races are at 6:30CT (there will be Thursday night racing at some point), and racing continues this weekend with a special Monday matinee for holiday weekend at 12:45CT.

For Canterbury Park on social media during the races, Candice Hare will be handicapping @chare889 as the national handicapping correspondent,  Brian Arrigoni is the on-track paddock analyst @MrB_CBanalyst, and there are others playing on social media with the hashtag #playcanterbury

Monday, May 23, 2016

Preakness Headlines, Good and the Bad

This weekend's Preakness Stakes card (and the accompanying Black Eyed Susan card) produced great numbers. Considering the weather on Saturday, this was a little surprising. However, as we've been seeing for some time now, big stakes days (not just in the US, but in the world) keep growing.

I found the race itself entertaining, with Exaggerator cashing in for the slop players with a very nice middle move and victory. Nyquist, game as he always is, never gave up while racing on the pace. He's a really good horse. 

What was not so nice was the fact that two horses on the card perished. When such a thing happens on big days, we tend to forget the horses rather quickly, because the conversation makes a quick and predictable veer -- Those who knee jerk and try to make hay that racing is cruel, and those who push back, trying to protect the industry while being completely tone deaf.

In a lot of cases, it really is as banal and transparent as:

"Wow, we had 135,000 people show up, 9 million watched on television, and handle was almost 100 million, yippee, horse racing ain't dead!"

"Wow, we had 135,000 people show up, 9 million watched on television, and handle was almost 100 million. The mainstream is reporting on two horses that died, how dare they!"

The media will report tragedy, because that's what's reported. In any industry.

I am sure Exxon really doesn't like oil spills, or want them to happen; why would they. Good people work there, who like whales, who don't deserve to be called names in newspapers by writers who don't like oil companies. Air Egypt didn't want a plane to crash and has a good safety record. It employs nice people, I am sure too. But what happens happens.

What happened tragically in horse racing on Saturday was not something new, or out of the ordinary. It happens a fair bit, and it was a statistical certainty it would happen on a big day like Saturday, in front of millions of people. People reporting it, or asking tough questions of a business or industry is commonplace.

It's certainly not about chickens, or whatever insiders are talking about in their endless quest to carry water for the sport.

If after such a tragedy, commentators want to ask why a major track went to dirt, after being safer on polytrack; why a certain trainer with drug positives is still racing when he or she should not be; why the industry is resistant to federal oversight, etc, etc, it should not surprise anyone. In fact, in some cases it's perfectly fine. With other bizarre, odd, out-there opinion, well, that's not just for horse racing. It's life in this click bait media market.

As Aussie breeder and web radio show commentator Brett Coffey once said, "racing craves  mainstream attention, but not mainstream opinion."

One way or another, it better grow up and start accepting this opinion. Racing is an industry just like any other, but it's an industry with one big difference: The sport is built on horses being bred and used for entertainment and money. In 2016, when something bad happens, that's an elixir that drives headlines.

What a nice first weekend for Canterbury Park. Handle was up over 20% all three days, culminating with a nice 49% bump on Sunday Well done everyone.

Have a great Monday folks!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Betfair's First US Harness Racing Exchange Card Starts Slow

Last evening the Saturday card at the Meadowlands was available to players at Betfair for the very first time. The impetus for this, as you all know, was the passing of exchange wagering in New Jersey.

Although some of the races were tradeable, with strong favorites, the volume of players seemed to be very weak. I was quite disappointed with the liquidity, because liquidity is a staple of the exchange, and, in my view, this should've been taken into account, with the use of many market makers.

When I wrote a white paper back in 2008 about betting exchanges for harness racing in North America (in this case, Canada), I typed the following as a main plank of their success or failure:
III - "A Market" -- Market makers must be employed, or core traders must be offered a low (or no) takeout on the condition of making a tradeable market. If a stock is bid 10 cents and ask 50 cents, no shares will trade. It's the same with horses.
 It's really not that difficult to achieve the above. Other exchanges use this tactic with foresight, along with a little bit of math.

Other than the above, there seemed to be no in-running trading (that I saw) for the races, which was curious, because not that long ago there was chatter that only in-running would be offered for harness.

On the flip side, even with low volume there were bets that sharp bettors could've taken advantage of.

In the fifth, Blue Muse - a quality trotter - was dipping in class and had a big driver change to one of the greatest handlers of square gaiters in the history of the sport. The mare held firm on the exchange at 5-1 for a period, even when it was pretty clear she'd take a beating at the windows. For those sharp players, a $6.60 mutuel was $12 (minus commission). There were some other examples.

Overall, the exchange debut for harness racing was inauspicious. I guess that's better than the alternative, which was forwarded for years from many detractors -- there were still people betting into the pools, there were no drivers falling off the bikes mid-race, and there was no evidence Al Quada was funneling money to trade Always B Miki.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Kentucky Derby Coverage Needs a Reboot

As most know by now, the ratings for the Kentucky Derby were down from last year and the lowest since 2012. When the ratings come down, industry folks, folks on the twitter or the facebook, or commenters to stories look for reasons. Those reasons usually begin and end with not liking Johnny Weir, a dislike of hats, or lamenting interviews of some star who likes a horse because he's named after his first puppy.

This ain't one of those posts. I have, frankly, no idea why the Derby ratings were down. It's probably just random.

What I do take issue with is the Kentucky Derby race coverage.

Pop Quiz: Find me Tom's Ready in the screen grab below.

For any sporting event, whether it be well-known ones like baseball, or football, or lesser known sports like hockey, the nets constantly have tried to improve the product so people at home can enjoy it more. We see first down lines, and umpire computer boxes, we see 360 replays in HD, we see every stat imaginable.

For the Derby we see a blob of brown horses, where even a seasoned observer has no idea where their horse is.

Think about someone watching a Derby for the first time. They have Brody's Cause as a magic square at their friend's Derby party.

Pop Quiz: Find me Brody's Cause.

I, like a lot of you, watch the track feed for the Derby, and it's not because I am Travis Stone's cousin. At least with Trakus I can see something.

This is not only an issue with the Derby, try watching a UK 5 furlong race with 15 horses. Most people hope and prey there's a grey horse in the race, and they like him or her. It's easier to see roan in a blob of brown. 

The sport of horse racing has 15 million people watching it one day a year -- Derby Day -- and the vast majority of those people (for a whole two minutes) have absolutely no idea where their horse is. At the conclusion of the race, millions of people are asking themselves, "what just happened?".

That's no way to sell a sport.

Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Frankly, Stronach Doesn't Give a Damn

Frank Stronach has tried the Wizard, quadruple quadrefecta's (or double superfecta's, I can't remember), energy drinks, politics and I'm sure one hundred other things. He's been called some funky names - both good and bad - but he keeps right on plugging.

His latest iteration - let's call it Frank three point oh - involves a $12 million race at Gulfstream. The "Pegasus World Cup" is a race where 12 owners will place hold a spot in the gate by ponying up $1 million each. The winner will receive $7 million, and all entrants below the top three will receive $250,000.

Frank is spicing up the offer - he'd darn well need to, because most will lose the average price of a house in Toronto, Seattle, um, Boise - by offering owners a kicker:

"In addition to the prize money, participants would share in 100 percent of the net income from pari-mutuel handle, media rights and sponsorship.", notes Paulick.

With say $10M in handle, which about 10% (one million) is realized from the takeout, a TV deal that would be hard to fathom at this nascent stage and sponsorship dollars, it's difficult to see them realizing more than $2M, split 12 ways. Many owners will lose a sizeable amount of money, if so.

The above is back of the napkin, but the math seems to not work very well.

Meanwhile, Frank doesn't seem to give a damn, and maybe he shouldn't.

This is a sport where $200,000 was paid for Oscar Nominated to start in the Derby gates as a monster long shot.

This is a sport where millions are spent for a two year old horse who runs 220 yards with alacrity.

It's a sport where millions are doled out to a stud farm for a Mohaymen, and countless others, based on breeding on a piece of paper.

It's a sport where when $7M is won, most of it (after taxes) is sunk right back into the industry, benefiting the same breeders who will likely own a spot in the 12 horse field. 

The math might not be there, but the concept is as old as horse racing itself is. It's "stakes racing" with a little edge.

I would not bet anyone $2 that this will not come off. When Frank has the bit between his teeth - with this overarching love of the sport that's in every fiber of his being - he usually gets something done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Customers Are Pretty Low on the Totem Pole

There seems to be a lot of confusion and consternation about Churchill's "sick 6", as Steve Crist framed it. It's new to some people, some don't know the rules, some are just plain upset. Some had no idea they even did this to last weekend's pick 6 pool.

But is this anything new?

When a takeout is hiked, or a bet has money taken out of a pool at a 49% clip like last weekend, the customer is usually the last to know. It's just plain wrong.

Banks in most countries, by law, have to provide written notice of any hidden changes 60 days or more in advance, several times, including ugly pop ups on online banking. Some are even made advertise a change. Monopolies or oligopolies like power companies have to do similar. Anything with a public, or public trust link is held to a pretty high standard by consumers.

In racing, when Woodbine creates a new bet with a high takeout like the pick 5, they are not required to print it on the program, or advertise it on the TV monitors. When Churchill creates a pick 6 with a carryover component, they are not required to tell pick 6 customers that the takeout could be 49% that day; by printing it on tickets, in the program, with Derby packages. This, even though the commission has capped Churchill's takeout rate at 22%, and the 22% rate is in the program.

It shows how far the customer is down the list in this sport. It's funny, because people hand wring, get upset, and scratch their heads wondering why bettors have left for other games. More often than not, the answer is right in front of their noses.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jersey Exchange Thoughts, Churchill's Pick 6 Pushback & Tuesday Notes

Betfair's first foray into America begins today in New Jersey. The betting exchange, which has been beta'd for a few weeks, has seemed to come off without a glitch.

Reviews from beta users have popped up - here's one that's a very good read - and I have heard privately from other newbies who have been more than interested in this (to them) new way of betting the races.

Racing in North America is married to an old system; exotics etc, so the learning curve is likely steep for many. In other parts of the world, where fixed odds wagering has been going on for centuries, this form of wagering was kind of old hat. Because racing's customers skew older, and change is something that isn't embraced, it will be interesting to see how many try the new system. That's really the biggest question for me.

As a user since 2003, I can without equivocation say, trying it is a no-brainer. I can also say, the pari-mutuel handle I have placed into Thoroughbred racing since 2003, is pretty much solely because of the exchange. It was easier for me to make money at, the bankroll swings were less, and it made me a much better handicapper and bettor. It made me an every day player.

If you are a New Jersey horseplayer who has had trouble keeping your bankroll afloat, I suspect a six month experiment with win pool betting would be a worthy goal (playing to win a unit, which is a % of your bankroll, works well for bet sizing). That's my 2 cents; for what it's worth.

Meanwhile, back in old-school North American racing, Churchill raised the ire of handicappers and commentators like Steve Crist, when they announced the new pick 6 rules post-Derby. Looking at some of the comments, there's almost a malaise, and a "how could they think this was right?" type narrative.

Jackpot bets are here to stay, and tracks are using them for a short-term fix; everyone understands that. But when you siphon money from the regular pools to place them into a near zero churn bet, locking up bettors bankrolls, it's an absolute farce, in my view.

Mike Maloney who knows the commission and the many people involved tweeted "The Kentucky commission [who allowed this change] should hang their head in shame" and "hopefully the new commission is not a rubber stamp for Churchill."

I don't know if Mike is a Republican or Democrat, but since he wasn't on the last two commissions I guess it doesn't matter. The sport needs people like him advocating for the industry in Kentucky in some position of power, instead of some who simply do not have the chops to stand up for growth, through their lack of understanding of pari-mutuel pool economics.

Kentucky Derby overnights are out and there's a real confusion out there on how ratings could be soft. The only thing I can come up with is that the Derby is an Americana event, and will bob and weave based on a number of factors. Evidently, one such factor is not the power of a Triple Crown winner.

I am always interested in the aftermath of events where something (handle, attendance, viewership) beats or misses expectations. Folks always want to assign credit or blame. In some cases, and I think this is one of them, there's no blame to go around. CDI has done well with the event, and it remains a slice of Americana on the tube each May, whether a few hundred thousand people found something else to do or not.

I caught the pre-entries for the Preakness and the first thing that jumped out to me is the speed. Nyquist, Laoban and Uncle Lino all can go like freight trains early. Although Nyquist is, in my opinion, ahead of those two on talent and ability, it does make the scenario for him interesting. Laoban is a horse who I think has a decent future, and seems to be getting better and better. He's got some chops.

Enjoy your Tuesday everyone, and for those in Jersey, enjoy your new betting experience. They don't come around very often in this sport.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Annual Post-Derby Derby Ramblings

Good Monday everyone. Here are some thoughts about Saturday's Derby, in my usual rambling fashion that somehow a few of you get through every year.

The Menu, and racing, was a feast.....

I thought the race office put together two marvelous racing cards for both the Oaks and the Derby. It wasn't short-field star studded, with some trap races placed in the serials, it was, from top to bottom, amazingly enjoyable to handicap. Although the handle per race was down for both cards (more later), gold stars all around, from this handicapper.

Although I saw a few tweets Friday about problems with admission, it appeared things ran rather smoothly at the track. Perfecting a big event with so many people is difficult, but it incrementally gets better year after year.

Tepin's win was awesome. The turf racing was especially interesting. It was a grand day(s) of racing. 

Narratives busted (until next year at least).......

Cathryn Sophia could not get the distance... whoops maybe she could. It is always interesting, (with Thoroughbred race horses making so few starts) that if they fail on one day or one race, they get pigeon-holed, and often it dictates how a career is mapped out. If Songbird is not scratched, Cathryn Sophia is home in the barn on Oaks day, with the connections targeting a 7 furlong race at the end of May. Because she (say it with me now) "can't get the distance".

Nyquist was as good as advertised. After stumbling home at 8.5 furlongs last fall causing a serious use of narratives, Nyquist earned a 103 Beyer and a competitive TimeformUS figure. This keyed a more than decent payout on the distance-challenged Oaks-Derby double. Two races ago, after Exaggerator moved too early and faltered late, the perfecta was also of the can't get the distance variety. Pedigree still works, but it only works if it's confirmed, not wished for on one data point.

Horseplayer Mike Maloney, several years ago now, told me he thought Indian Charlie was way too good a sire, and way too good a racehorse, to not sire a Derby winner. His son did. Nyquist's 7.0 dosage will take a tumble, and one of the best racehorses - in my view - we've seen the past several years gets his due. Way to go Uncle Mo.

Narratives that keep building.....

Todd Pletcher's Derby record is fodder for social media, and this year more gasoline was thrown onto the fire. Outwork and Destin were quality, picked by many, and took two different paths to the Derby. Both of them were pretty blah. His horses can't seem to move forward on Derby day with any regularity, where a move forward is essential.

Narratives busted, two.....

Derby ratings were down a few ratings points on Saturday. Handle was, by any measure, about what we'd expect with the weather. For about 25 years there were those who said a Triple Crown winner will propel the sport to new heights. I think we can put this one to rest.

Attendance continues to be strong and growing, but this is more correlated to population growth than any barometer we can use for measurement of the sport's health. To increase the bet, it won't take a brown horse or one day, it will take a lot of work to improve the sport for those who consume it 365 - the bettors. Post-Derby, this looks increasingly unattainable.

Social Media bettor blow ups .....

Bettors on social media are different than fans on social media. The wins by the Navarro barn were red meat for many. It's understandable, mind you. Catalina Red ran a 123 and Sharp Azteca ran a 126 after being torched through a suicide half mile. Catalina Red came off a 113 and a 94. Azteca off a 102 and 105.

Bettor problems....

TVG - through human error apparently - was shut out of the Derby betting for an hour or so. This contributed to the soft handle numbers for the Derby. This, although unfortunate, doesn't concern me much, because it was a random error that TVG clearly did not want to happen.

What does concern me is that there are some accredited ADW's shut out from a Derby signal. There are potential new bettors signing up for services the week of the Derby at these ADW's. The first experience these new bettors get from online horse wagering is being told they can't bet the Derby. Churchill has a responsibility, in my opinion, to offer their signal out to everyone. This event is bigger than they are, and they need to respect that the future of horse racing involves more than just them. Again, that's my view.

Post-drags have really been embraced by the Derby folks. Pretty soon the Derby card will be running into the Preakness card. It'll be even too fast for a Dutrow horse to run back. 

Can the brand take a hit?.....

This year, like last, there's been some serious chalk for the Derby payouts. The Derby brand for betting has been all about sniffing out prices, making a score, and spending a lot of time before the event looking for that score. It's a big reason the prices of the higher odds horses have all been depressed.

If the Derby turns into a chalk show, does it hurt the betting brand? I've often said that you could run five claimers and do $190 million in handle on Derby Day, so I doubt it. But it's something to think about. I know I've been looking at it differently of late.

Mo Trips....

I have not gone through each horse's trip yet, but Mo Tom finding trouble was just so Mo Tom. The horse is quality and I think he'll prove it if he stays sound (and on his feet). Suddenbreakingnews' last quarter was magical, for a breed who seems to find a 10th furlong tough. If Exaggerator gets a little luck and a little better placing, I suppose he could've won, but we could say that about a lot of horses every year.

Every year, the same story.....

We can sit here and nitpick about handle, attendance, TV ratings, or the quality of the field. We can slam Churchill or TVG or someone that messes up. But I'm sorry, if you don't like Derby Day I am convinced you will never like the sport of horse racing. Once again, from morning to evening, the day was pure glory.

To everyone I chatted with on social media, those who handicapped the race and shared their thoughts, the great work done by the figure makers, package sellers and all the rest that I read voraciously, it made my day enjoyable, and I thank you.

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Derby 101 – Your 2016 Kentucky Derby Glossary

You, me, and the six or seven other readers of the blog all know the so-called “Derby lingo”. We’ve heard many Derby-centric words, phrases and themes since we were knee high to grasshoppers. We live horse racing, we know horse racing and we are horse racing.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, where people watch those little people shows on TLC, make preserves and find soccer interesting, they know very little.

It’s always been a main goal of the blog to promote the sport with newbies. So, once again this year we will examine Derby Lingo as a customer service, and we submit the following glossary. Enjoy!

“Mint Juleps” (alt, julip), noun – A mint julep is a drink people order at the Kentucky Derby. They're not consumed anywhere else, because, frankly, they don’t taste very good. In effect, they are horse racing’s version of egg nog.

 “The Trainer Interview” – You will read, hear and watch a lot of trainer interviews. These are simply questions asked by someone that the trainer has no intention of answering. He or she might say things like “good”, “we’re happy”, “can’t wait”, and “ all is well” a lot. Sometimes, while the interview is going on, their assistant trainer will be on their way to the race office to scratch their horse because it has a fever.

 “Superfecta” – This is a bet that’s offered all year for ten cents, but it costs a dollar on Derby day and no one can tell you why.

“Bo Rail” – This is a term for ex-jock Calvin Borel because he used to hug the rail and win races. When it works the jock gets a nickname, when it doesn’t, trainers will yell at them, then replace them with someone else.

“Wise Guy Horse” – This term has been long used in the sport. Its origin was in 1902 when a man named Jimmy Wiseguy from Brooklyn heard another guy talk about how a Derby horse was training at a New York track. Jimmy hopped onto a train, like they did in the Hustler, and headed to the Derby where he told everyone he saw this horse was going to win. It did, and from then on, any secret information horse is considered a “Wiseguy” horse. In 2016, there is no such thing as a wise guy horse, because everyone has an iPhone.

“Thurby” – Thurby is Thursday before the Derby, where Churchill Downs Inc. sends subliminal messages through radio and television, brainwashing locals to come to the track. It’s a fake kind of thing to ensure this quarter’s earnings will perform. This allows them to spend money on lavish parties, stock options, and advanced brainwashing technology.

“Pletchered”, verb – This is when you see the top trainer with nearly half the field, thinking one of them has to win, betting them, and not cashing a ticket.

“Cancelled Derby Parties” – This one is new for 2016. There was a sorority who cancelled their Derby party because they don’t like the Civil War, southern hats, Travis Stone, or something Kentucky. You probably didn’t hear about it because even found it too silly to pick up, and the story quickly died.

"The Infield" - This is an awful, awful place. It's like Spring Break with kids dressed nicer. 

“Derby Glasses” – These are special glasses that commemorate an American tradition that are made in Turkey.

“The Juice” – This can be one of three things: The takeout, which was raised by Churchill Downs a couple of years ago, a drink sold at concessions at Churchill Downs, for like $10 or something, or something a guy beside you blames when his horse loses.

 “Stayer” – This is a horse who will be good at a distance of ground, because he or she is bred for it. At the present time there are only two known stayers in the United States of America, and they are both transplants from Peru.

 “Get the Distance” – This is related to a “stayer”. A horse who is good at ten furlongs will “get the distance.” Currently the Derby horses all look like they’ll “get the distance”, but it appears Kegasus could give them a run for the last two furlongs.

 “The Mansion” – This is a place on the Churchill Downs grounds where you can’t go.

“The Finish Line” – This is a place on the Churchill Downs grounds where the turf press can’t go.

 “Twin Spires” – These are the two spiry things on top of the grandstand. Rumor has it that Churchill executives offices are under those spires, where for generations they’ve plotted all kinds of ways to crush the little people. This is only a rumor.

“He cleaned up the feed tub” – According to every trainer, every horse in every race cleans up the feed tub. This is really much ado about nothing.

“He couldn’t blow out a match”- This is a term used by trainers when they want to say how amazing their horse worked out. It’s kind of like the feed tub thing.

“Repoling” – This is when you want to absolutely hammer a horse in the win pools. This stems from a few years ago when Uncle Mo owner Mike Repole said “if Uncle Mo is not the favorite, I’ll make him the favorite.” Unfortunately, Uncle Mo – who earlier that week couldn’t blow out a match and cleaned up his feed tub – was scratched.

“Dabbing” – This is a dance that trainer Steve Asmussen does while he puts product in his strange new hair.

"$4050.00" - What a $3875.00 pick 4 paid before Churchill Downs Inc. raised the takeout.  

“Lock” – This is a cinch bet that can’t lose in the Derby. A couple of my recent locks were Dullahan and Alpha.

“Amossing” – This is a post-race discussion between a jockey and a trainer that gets heated. If you're a newbie and see such an occurrence in the paddock on Saturday, say "hey, look at that guy in the suit amossing the small guy".  Everyone will think you're a railbird.

“Churchilling the ML” – This is adding 34% juice to a morning line, so every horse looks like a bargain. This helps Churchill’s stock price.

“Ashering” – This is something the Churchill Downs Inc. communications department has to do several times Derby week, covering for something bad an executive did.

“Minutes to Post” – These aren’t minutes, they’re just sort of a 12 Monkey’s, Doctor Who type time suggestion.

“Post Drag” – This is related to minutes to post. The longer the post drag, the higher the executive's bonus.

“Confetti” – What most of my tickets are every Derby Day.

Have a nice weekend everyone and good luck at the windows.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Derby Handicapping - Final Bathing Index ® Figures & Selections

As most know, we've worked hard this week on our popular Annual Derby Bathing Index ®. The crack team and I have been hot and heavy, looking at pictures, seeing the baths live, and watching video.

The original bath post (here with live bath shots and early analysis) received almost 1.2 million unique visitors, which is just short of the traffic my blog gets when I write a post mentioning Sid Fernando.

I must say, the traffic never ceases to amaze me, but with the past success of the Derby Bathing Index ® I suppose I shouldn't be. For those new to the Index ®, it has produced winners like Mine That Bird, Monarchos, American Pharoah, Big Brown, Street Sense, Animal Kingdom, I'll Have Another, Orb, Super Saver and Smarty Jones (along with a few others) since we started in 2001. I'd link to the posts for verification, but I can't find them right now.

This year we feel will be another banner year for the Index, so without any more delay, here are this year's Final Derby Bathing Index ® figures. At the end of the post are my final selections. To uncover superfecta plays, please send $19.99 to me here at the PTP Blog. The money will go to a good cause, my ADW account.

 Mo Tom - Final 2016 Derby Bathing Index ®, 7.0

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present you with the highest Bathing Index score in the history of the medium. We have never seen a horse like a bath like Mo Tom. In fact, looking at archived Secretariat bath film found recently buried underneath River Downs ("The Lost Bath Tapes"), I believe even Big Red did not take a bath like Mo Tom.

For a refresher, here's Mo Tom. H2Olicious!

If Mo Tom's trip is as clean as he bathes, the colt is gold!
Amoss & Lanerie, artist rendering

There are a good number of people out there who don't really understand the Bathing Index ® and might be asking, PTP, what about the intangibles?

Well honestly, there is no such thing as intangibles. The trip in the Lousiana Derby, or Risen Star, is of no concern of ours. The speed figures this colt has run, not an issue.

The fact that it was reported there was some sort of fracas between the trainer and jockey after the Louisiana Derby where Mo Tom was an accordian means nothing to us.

We rely solely on the bath. It's the reason we've hit so many Derby winners. We're not changing a thing now.

Our bottom line with Mo Tom: We believe he will win the Kentucky Derby.

Exaggerator - Final 2016 Derby Bathing Index ®, 6.0


When this colt by Leriodesenormeaux (or trained by a Desormeaux - I don't really know, I just watch baths) is asked his birthsign by the lady horses at horse bars, he certainly replies, "Pisces". His love of the bath this week was superb. Because Exaggerator moves his head forward in all his bath pictures - seemingly saying "more bath now", he also receives an excellent Bathing Pace Figure ®

On the track he has shown the ability to tackle Nyquist in a 44 and change half in a sprint, then relax off the pace and win the Santa Anita Derby in the slop. It should be no surprise this horse likes the slop, or that a horse with such a good bath figure is versatile. 

His Index score of 6.0 is the second highest since we started releasing the figures to the general public, tying him with past winners Animal Kingdom and Smarty Jones.

After releasing this information here to many, many bettors, it may end up making him the Derby favorite. It would not surprise me, or the team.

 Creator - Final 2016 Derby Bathing Index ®, 5.0

Trainer Steve Asmussen
Creator's bath score is on par with Point Given, Curlin, and Super Saver, so he's in good company. He clearly loved the bathing all week, and handled himself like a pro.

If you analyze the Creator bath video, you will notice a nice relaxed tail. At the present time there is a real debate in the Horse Bathing Handicapping Community (HBHC) between the benefits of a flare tail while bathing, versus a relaxed tail. I am from the classical school, so my figure factors in his flat tail. It's really an amazing bath tail.

A lot of people say Creator went up the wood in Arkansas, and didn't really separate himself from Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore who went wide and will be longer odds. To them I ask, "so what, how did they bathe?". That shuts them up.

There are a number of questions with Creator -- will he get pace to run at, is his post okay, what in the hell is with his trainer's hair -- but there's no question he's bath ready.


 Mor Spirit - Final 2016 Derby Bathing Index ®, 4.0

One thing I have noticed over the last 15 years doing the Derby Bathing Index ®, it's that all Bob Baffert horse's have been good bathers. I have heard from people who worked for Bob that he bathes his horses at a young age -- sometimes as a weanling -- to get them to love the bath, and his horses respond on the big stage.

Bob Baffert
Mor Spirit has been favored in all his starts, and his loss in the slop should not concern you. It must have been shoeing, or maybe he ate some bad hay.  With a 4.0 score, he is not afraid of water.

Something else that has worried some people is the spelling of the word "Mor". This is not a problem. The millennials are spelling it Moar, Mor and More while they stay up all night playing video games in their parents basements. He's a modern colt.

I really don't think -- if you are a follower of the bath index -- you should be leaving this colt off your tickets. 
Brody's Cause - Final 2016 Derby Bathing Index ®, 3.0

In Florida, my source (who shall remain nameless........ Pompano Park and part time Gulfstream announcer Gabe Prewitt) told me this colt did not take to the bath. It sure looked like some good info, because he raced as flat as a pancake.

At Keeneland, where I personally watched him bathe, he was frankly, amazing. He was like some sort of brown fish that looked like a huge horse. A fish-horse.

Boy did I go to the windows.

Watching him bathe this week, though, he received a lower figure. Brody will need a little luck.

Me and the team thank you for your purchase

Thanks you for clicking and purchasing my Derby package. This comes with a special money back guarantee*

This year's Derby calls for a heavy lean to two horses - Mo Tom and Exaggerator. Because I am a top bettor with lots of skill, I will show you how to construct tickets around these two horses. 






Superfecta Bet Special Ticket Construction: 


Other special ticket construction superfecta bets:  


Special Super High Five construction bet: 


Good luck everyone. May the horse be with you. 

* If none of the horses mentioned either here, in old blog posts, or by me on twitter between now and race time (except Oscar Nominated, he won't do anything) don't hit the top 15 finishers, send me a self addressed stamped envelope and I will give you a refund.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


I find myself, as per usual, at odds with most of the general public when it comes to suspensions. I realize this happens time and time again, because my philosophy always lies in intent, and what said suspension accomplishes.

Last evening - this was a hockey game, but could be football, or any other contact sport - a Capitals defensemen leveled a check at another player, which - because the puck was nowhere near the player - was interference. The other player had no idea the hit was coming, and was concussed. It was scary, because injuries like that can hurt a career, or end one, and the kid is only 21.

The offender said he thought they were both making a play on the puck, and - like D men are taught - you take the body. The offender clearly screwed up, but there's no real intent - he'd have to be an idiot to intend to do that in a 0-0 game, giving a powerful team a power play, and maybe costing his team the game. In addition, if the hurt player did look up and brace, this is a run-of-the-mill interference call. It looks like a hockey play gone bad.

The Caps player will likely get games.

In the same series, a player (with full intent) kneed another player. The offended player was not hurt - but could've been severely - so he got a small fine and no games. If the offended player was out for the series, things might've been different, even though it should've been penalized with games in the first place.

This is nothing new for the NHL (or NFL for that matter), which could make racing look consistent with suspensions. They often let players off with little who clearly intend to do harm. Recently a media darling who plays for Chicago swung his stick like a weapon at a players head, striking him, and only received six games.

In racing, commissions act very similarly and sometimes it's tough to digest.

Case A - A horse appears to have a sore belly on Wednesday. A trainer calls the vet and the vet says to give him a little bit of "X" paste. Trainer calls the next day and says it was a false alarm, the horse is fine. He says the horse is in to go Sunday, and they want to race him, but wants to ensure there was nothing in that paste that could test, because if so, he'll scratch the horse. The vet says no, it's fine. The trainer calls the commission vet to double check and the commission vet says they're fine. The horse races, is tested, and tests with .00145 trillionth of a gram of Class II of something which has minimum sentencing in most places. The vets all missed it.

The commission gives the trainer 180 days. Class II's are bad.

Case B - Trainer knowingly milkshakes a horse with the intent of stopping lactic acid build up late in the race, and to cheat his fellow competitors. This time he gives a little too much a little too close and the mmol's are 39. Trainer is caught, and it's his 3rd time.

The commission gives the trainer 30 days. In some places he might get 60.  It's not a Class II, it's a milkshake.

Penalizing the first case does virtually nothing. What did the trainer do wrong? He followed every protocol with every intention of racing his horse clean. "Be more careful" is the message, but how can he be more careful? Giving him a fine to think about it is warranted, but 6 or 9 months? You can't correct behavior which is not correctable.

In the second case you are, in effect, condoning a stick to the head, or a knee to an unsuspecting hockey opponent. Sure, cheat, we'll gavel it down to something, it's not a Class I or II. No worries. In Case 2, you can correct the correctable - "if you intend to pull one over on us, you're done." - but time and time again they are unwilling to do so.

I do not know why this industry does not come down hard on intent, or the constant screw ups from bad stable management. If they do, they'll only be dealing with rare, unintended mistakes by primarily good people.  Rare mistakes from good people with good intentions are easy to deal with.

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