Friday, July 29, 2016

Horse Racing as an Olympic Sport - Pie in the Sky but Compelling

Over the years we have heard several arguments for horse racing to be an Olympic sport, and despite the numerous potholes, some of them really do make sense. Horse racing is global, there are racetracks in almost every major Olympic country, and if equestrian is a sport, why not racing?

Most believe the biggest stumbling block is the sport itself. It's too fractured, doesn't have uniform rules, and would a horse, owner and trainer race for a medal instead of say $12 million in the super-Pegasus Cup?

If golf's reasoning for becoming an Olympic sport means something, perhaps it's something the sport might want to look a little further at.

From the Olympic issue of Golf Magazine:

"Becoming an Olympic sport can and does lead to increase governmental funding and the creation or expansion of programs to attract new players.."

The article goes on to look at the Olympics influence on tennis. In 1988, when Olympic tennis was passed, the sport was on the decline. In '88 147 countries were members of a tennis federation, now 211 are.

"The Olympic effect as broadened tennis significantly," said Barbara Travers of the International Tennis Federation.

Olympic horse racing is pie in the sky, yes. But, it's difficult for governments to ban a beloved Olympic sport, and when they're funding something that has more than a "we fund a sport for rich people" narrative, it's positive. As well, countries with small breeding operations - or none at all - might see a few more dollars go their way. 'Go for the gold' has a nice ring to it for many politicians. 

Enjoy your Friday everyone. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Time Counts on the Track, Too

"Time only matters in jail" is a familiar statement, often heard in the sport of horse racing.

In many ways this statement is a statement of fact. The fastest horse does not always win; the teletimer can flatter some horses based on trip, pace, and energy distribution and track bias. The condition of the track - the reason for the success of speed figures that include variant - is another huge factor.

But, as with some horse racing laws, I think this one is overused, and far too simple.

Time matters on the track, because the horse stopping the teletimer the fastest, wins the race.

Whether you look at average speed figures, last out Timeform, Beyer or Bris figures, or the raw times on a harness page, there is a strong correlation between them, and horses winning. That's a statement of fact.

If you don't use time, I frankly don't know what in the heck you're using to handicap. 

This past weekend in the Gerrity Pace, Wiggle it Jiggle It got the job done, while being parked through a 26.3 and change quarter, wide, and grabbing the lead in a 54.4 half.

After the race people were very excited. "That was a perhaps his best effort. Look at his trip!"

In this corner I will unequivocally submit it wasn't his best race. In fact, it wasn't even close. I think it was one of his worst races. Why? Time.

The Gerrity had internal fractions of 26.3, 28.1, 29.0 and 27.1, for a final time of 151.0.

1:51, for this class, is not remotely fast.

Bolt the Duer cruised the oval in 149. PH Supercam went 150.1 in 2015, and Dancin Yankee the year before went in 148.4.

Wiggle it struggled to clear in 54.4 and was not even remotely on the bit. He then cruised to a 29 flat third quarter - more apt for a 5 claimer at Saratoga, not one of the fastest horses on the planet - before firing home in a mediocre 27.1, with the aid of a polar slow middle half. This is the horse who fired home in 26, first over, at Flammy in May.

The horse in the pocket was dead flat off cover in his last, and the second best horse in the race was choked down, unable to find room, getting second place late. The rest were up against it, because they were nowhere near as fast as him.

This wasn't WIJI's Jug where he really was amazing, being tortured and still winning in internal splits of 27, 27.1, 27 before somehow winning in 49.3. This was a blah effort. It was a horse who did not bring even his B game. He won on intimidation and guts.

Looking at how a horse races, while looking at the final time, is, in my view, something that's overlooked, especially in harness racing. We had a whole year or so with the Captaintreacherous "best horse ever" narrative, while he was on his hands and knees to beat 49 a good deal of the time, against suspect stock. No, he could not go faster; he was going all he could. Look at the clock.

The key to great horses in harness racing, is, and always will be the teletimer. The horses who win off terrible trips in fast times - like for example, Always B Miki's 147 after being tortured in the Franklin while staving off two excellent, fast horses - are rare, and pass the true tests of  greatness.

Wiggle it JiggleIt is a great horse, in my view, and he has race after race after race as examples to show us that. But he wasn't a great fast horse on Saturday evening. He had an off night and the clock told you so.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

3 Reasons Why Takeout Decreases are for the Small Fry

Evangeline Downs dropped their pick 4 juice for last night from 25% to 12%. That's a pretty significant drop. Like most drops in takeout in one pool, at a smaller track, it's usually pretty good for the regular players, and it gives the track something to crow about.

In the grand scheme it's not earth shattering, but for the small player they should really be paying attention to it.

Drops like this are for them, and here's 3 reasons why.

1) It Levels the Playing Field - Evangeline Downs is a pretty good track for rebates. Rebates are searched for, and in many cases given, to big players to encourage them to bet more, and keep them playing racing, rather than another game. Although there are ADW's which give breaks to smaller players, they are often at a disadvantage.

At a 25% takeout, Joe Blow, playing at say or Xpressbet will pay 25% takeout. Meanwhile, at another ADW, Wanda Whale will bet pick 4's at about a 12% takeout - 25% plus a 13% rebate.

When Evangeline moved the takeout down to 12%, this rebate goes away. Wanda Whale pays 12%, Joe Blow pays 12%.

It's a level playing field.

2) The Net Gain is Equal to Churn for the Small Fry - Wanda Whale's habits do not change, nor does she have more money in her pocket. The small fry gets the whole benefit of the rake decrease. Instead of Joe Blow getting a $375 pick 4 payoff, that same payoff is $440. He has $65 more to spend.

3) It Helps the Game - Wanda will bet $10,000 on pick 4's at the end of the meet. She doesn't churn any more or less in horse racing because she gets near the same payoffs at either rate. Joe Blow gets more money at the end of the year. Sure he might play it at Del Mar (probably think about avoiding exactas there Joe!) or Kentucky Downs, but he's playing it somewhere. That's good for him, and it's good for the sport.

With takeout decreases, even those at small tracks, the industry tries to look for this massive pool increase, or signs that money will be falling from the sky. This is frustrating for us as players, because insiders who have raised takeout incrementally on customers for 100 years - slowly killing off the base - somehow still think dropping one pool at a Texas racetrack will result in a massive change overnight. It doesn't work like that.

What happens is, each takeout decrease incrementally puts a few dollars in the small fry's pockets, and hopefully, over time, they rebet their winnings, bet a little more, come to the track more, and choose racing over the countless other entertainment and gambling options a little more often.

Have a great Thursday everyone. 

Note: Today the July issue of the Horseplayer Monthly was released. 44 pages, all free, with a focus on the Spa. You can download it here. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Can You Play an "All Stakes" Harness Pick 4?

All stakes pick 4's seem to work fairly well in Thoroughbred racing (even when a track force-feeds them with short fields), but in harness it's not the same apple, tree, or orchard.

This past weekend, on Meadowlands Pace night, the all stakes pick 4 paid a whopping $10.80. This is on the heels of some others, at Pocono and Mohawk, that were very similar.

Harness racing stakes races are simply very formful. They are restricted, whereby one horse, or two horses, stand out; they are not deep, where in pick 4 betting breadth means everything; there are no shippers who have not met before, no horse with turf breeding stretching out from a blowout dirt sprint to an 8.5 furlong turf try; there's no sneaky speed that's not apparent because you have sneaky speed pace figures.

That's why we see such crazy-high win percentages for favorites in stakes races.

As you all know as bettors, playing 15% or 20% takeout pick 4's (especially now at lower minimums) are tough at the best of times, but with high chalk hit rates, it becomes even harder and harder to be ROI positive.

What to do? I think there are a few things.

i) Don't play, if you don't have a strong opinion. Why force a bet when you know you probably won't even get a parlay price, and you will probably lose money spreading? If you don't see a big reason to bet against the chalk in the first leg, like the horse looking washed out, severely overbet, etc - or in any other legs - just watch and wait. There are a lot of other bets out there.

ii) Hammer the chalk pick 4. If you think all four faves are really strong, hammer the sequence. Maybe you get more than parlay and you make a few dollars that way. With 20 cent or 50 cent mins now, this can sometimes work, because you take advantage of those just "wanting to hit it" who spread too much. This ain't my style, and I avoid it, but there are some who say they grind it out like this.

iii) Play like you most-always do, or should. Find a horse you like at a price over the heavy chalk? Key him or her, take a stand, and don't worry about losing money because a chalk beats you. Often times it's best if you think at least two of the chalk is at least vulnerable.

iv) Petition tracks to card pick 4 races that aren't trap races, or heavily chalk laden. I throw that last one in, because this is what most of us need to be ROI positive at the end of the season.

I did not play the pick 4 on Franklin night, but I did on Pace night, because a few of those conditions were met.

Although Always B Miki was heavily bet, both Pete and WIJI did not look great on the track to me, so I thought leaning his way might provide a smidgen of value.

I liked Wings of Royalty in the Maturity, who would be double digits. The near chalk, or co-chalk -- the nine horse -- went a huge trip last time, and sometimes these trotters bounce. Hannelore looked tough, and if I was right on the nine horse she could be a use, but I felt my perceived value horse was where I wanted to land.

I thought Control the Moment was vulnerable at a low price, because Racing Hill looks like the better horse and CTM was visually impressive in his elim. I also liked another speed. Racing Hill probably was the best horse (if Brett Miller gets the plugs out properly and doesn't gap in that 28 crawl in panel three he wins). In the end, CTM won like a 2-1 shot, not a 2-5 shot.

I liked Katie Said, because she's sharp and I expected a big try from the ten. She, unfortunately was dead last at the quarter again, and she wasn't beating that crazy mare who won anyway.

Despite the result (I of course did not hit it, because using the other three chalk as a "back up" defeats the purpose) I think my conditions were met, and I was getting some value. I didn't lose much, because when you don't spread, or back up, you don't bet much. I need to only hit one in 20 or so pick 4's to be ROI positive with this strategy, so I don't care if I lose.

If you play these type pick 4's in any other way, or do something I have not listed, let me know in the comments section.

The bottom line for me: It should not be this hard for us as bettors. Tracks, we hope, would card bets that we're eager to play, not have to go through mental gymnastics to try and find a bet. With modern harness stakes racing and low minimums that allow everyone to spread, this is harder and harder to come by.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Meadowlands Saturday - Top Notch Race Card, Mandatory Payout High 5; Links

Saturday evening at the Meadowlands one of the best cards of the entire season will be contested -- The Meadowlands Pace.

The Pace has the two best horses so far in the sophomore division - Control the Moment and Racing Hill - in the best posts. Control the Moment finally gets that good post in a stakes final, so he should be heard from, but with his visually impressive last sixteenth into a slowing pace last week, he will likely be hugely overbet.

As as aside, a part of me would not be too sad to see him get roughed up, because of the driver change. Post 9's in stakes finals are brutal to navigate (just ask Dave Miller with all-world Always B Miki in his Pace Final), and driver Randy Waples did what he could from the far outside in those races. I despise driver changes when the previous driver had little to work with.

Regardless, back to the race, if you're price shopping you'll likely have to look beyond the top two. Lyons Snyder, to me, is the most obvious at a price.

Perhaps overshadowing the 'main' event, though, is a rematch between Always B Miki, Freaky Feet Pete and Wiggle It Jiggleit in the Haughton. If those three horses stay sound, I think we might have to get used to saying that.

In addition to the big races - most of which are deep and interesting to handicap - bettors will be most enthused by the $267,000 carryover that needs to be paid out, in the Golden Girls (Race 12, at 9 furlongs with 12 horses). That pool should reach over $1 million, and there are literally five or six horses who could win that race.

For a full program for tomorrow's big card, it's right here.

Harnessracingupdate has picks for the stakes from a few fellas right here.

Both the above links are pdf's,

Have a nice Friday everyone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When Did Harness Racing Get So Entitled?

I don't know when it happened, or where it happened, or how it happened. But it happened.

Harness racing is a rural sport, steeped in tradition. It has always been about a basic tenet - my horse beating your horse.

It's about war horses like Dan Patch and Rambling Willie and Cam Fella taking on all comers, any time, at any venue, in any weather, from any post. It's about the Little Brown Jug, fair racing, heats; it's about the little guy shipping his $8,000 yearling to tackle the big barns in the big stakes, because he paid into them, knowing that in harness racing the little guy has a shot.

That seems to have all changed.

Now the Little Brown Jug is a race to skip, because someone in that big city barn, with a barn full of blue blooded yearlings, might (gasp!) draw a bad post.

It's now a game where four-horse, power entries want to win eliminations for $25,000 and choose the best posts so they can cakewalk to a stakes race victory.

It's a game where if Joe Blow from a smaller track actually does pony up an entry fee to race the big guys -- and has the audacity to pull on them at the quarter -- he's ostracized after the race; don't say you haven't heard it, because you have. "How dare he!? Didn't he know that was my race. I had the best horse."

It's a game where horses earn their races on paper, not on the track, because if I race my three year old for 12 starts and retire, I can get a big stud deal. Hell, it's preordained; look who owns this horse.

Harness racing has turned into this odd sport where eliminations dictate a big money final. Where if (gasp, again) a dozen horses start in a stakes race, it's sacrilege.

It wasn't sacrilege to Dancer, or Haughton, or Cashman or the half dozen others who these stakes races are named for, of course. To them it was harness racing.

Somewhere, somehow, the sport lost its way.

Slot money is entitled to us. Government help is entitled to us. The big barns winning eliminations, and giving them the best posts for a string of 1-9 shot stakes finals that no one watches, is entitled to them.

Foal crops are down, and handle is down. The little guy is not even making stakes payments any more because he can't compete. This hurts everyone -- lower stakes money and a smaller breadth of ownership is an anchor on a sinking ship. But so what, I'm entitled.

In my view, this is self-inflicted. When you change the foundation of a "my horse can beat your horse" sport that survived for generations into one that concentrates power and revenue at the top, it breaks. It can't help but break.

Harness racing is not a grassroots sport like it once was, it's a club; and those connected with the club make the rules.

For fans, bettors, people like you and me that would go to Harrisburg and take a shot at a $20,000 yearling, and those who truly love the sport, it's disconcerting. That's why you see such a visceral reaction from mom and pop stables, and fans. The harness racing they grew up with has changed, and it hasn't been for the better.


What spurred this conversation was talk about the Meadowlands card this weekend. The Meadowlands has a few rules for stakes races that angers the blue bloods, but for fans and bettors, it brings good cheer. There are 11 and 12 horse fields with open draws; some of the racing is sure to be good. It's a really good handicapping puzzle, and if the drivers and trainers want to win these races, they will have to do it the old-fashioned way - by earning it.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tone Deaf Greyhound Racing Pays the Price

Yesterday the New South Wales Premier, in response to a report on the live baiting scandal in Greyhound racing, banned the sport in his province. Hundreds of people will be out of jobs, and dogs will be looking for homes.

There are those in the sport of horse racing who believe that PETA or other groups are inconsequential, because you will never get them to agree with you (when your sport involves animals). I think they're half right. The problems lies, as above, with politicians and the general public, who do matter.

Greyhound racing turned a blind eye to an anachronistic, tone-deaf practice in that sport. The sport has paid for it.

Harness, and to a lesser extent Thoroughbred racing, suffers, in my view, from a similar disease. I read about, for example, "kicking" harness horses that insiders say is not really "kicking"; that it's better than "giving them stifle shots, y'know" (that really misses the point doesn't it?), and it's not an issue. It's similar with whipping in both sports.

If you are arguing riders should be able to "whip horses more", or drivers boots should strike a horse, I'm sorry to say, you are completely unaware of how the world sees horse racing in 2016.

Like the sport of greyhound racing, horse racing's problem is not about the PETA's of the world. The power they have is in making polticians wonder what in the hell they're subsidizing. When you give them an opening, like greyhound racing did with the Aussie Premier, they jump through it.

And, don't kid yourself, they're doing what the public wants.

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