Monday, March 30, 2015

Cali Chrome's Not a Regular Horse, the Racing Gene and Monopoly ®

Good morning everyone! I hope y'all had a pleasant weekend.

The big news this weekend - excluding the Derby preps - was that California Chrome is off to jolly old England to race at the Ascot meet. This caused some major consternation on the twitter box; mainly, I think, due to the fact that trainer Art Sherman will not be handling the horse.

But it's more than that. Others think this decision - in a sport that tends to treat horses like this as some sort of managed 401k - is batty. For the record, I would not go to England with California Chrome, I would go back home. But 1) I don't own him and 2) Who cares.

The handling of California Chrome was destined to be different in the first place. This is not an ownership crew whose main goal is to maximize stud value, or do what others before them were expected to do. They don't seem to care what the high foreheads say they should do, either. What they are doing, it seems, is taking advantage of what this cool horse allows them to take advantage of. They want to go to different places with him and see the world; experience other racetracks, people.

In the 1980's there was a cool horse named Cam Fella. He traveled from harness track to harness track as a four year old, taking on every horse who wanted to race. During his 28 race win streak he visited the east coast, the west coast and places in between. He raced match races; just about everything.

The owners were not your regular star horse harness owners either, just like Chrome's owners aren't. These folks traveled on a bus - the "Cam Fella Express" - and invited fans along for the ride. If you liked Cam Fella and wanted to watch him race, the owners were your tour guides, and chances are you were enjoying a post race beer with them and Cam while getting his bath. 

Really, isn't that what racing is supposed to be about? Isn't that the big tent racing needs to survive?

I realize that California Chrome could not command big value at stud last year. And I realize that the method of operation in horse racing dogma (MOOIHRD ®) when that happens says they should try and win as many grade I's without facing Shared Belief as a four year old. Trust me, I get it. But, isn't it refreshing they want to actually have fun with their horse, making memories that will last forever?

I hope California Chrome does well in England. I will be pulling for him.


Solid tweet today from Joe:
Notice that the drivers were upset about where the increased revenue would go. That's the thinking that permeated the sport, because it was a monopoly: When monopolies raise margins, it does mean more money. That's why they're regulated. However, it's not like that any longer, but that thinking is still here: Raise takeout, make more money. It fascinates me to no end that a lot in the sport still think they are playing on Baltic Avenue.

The thinking that drives that thinking, is the racing gene. Racing is guided by the lizard brain:

 "Racing doesn’t guide with rules based on principle, it molds rules to mollify. It doesn’t make
decisions, it delegates. It doesn’t lead - realizing there will be winners and losers with any new policy - it searches for consensus, until the new policy is so watered down it has nary any effect at all.

It’s why declining foal crops are still declining, despite purses at or near record levels. It’s why when handles crater, it’s the economy, or table games, or sports betting, or the lotteries fault. It’s why the words “we can’t” are not challenged inside the ropes of the tribe, they’re embraced like a warm blanket, or a hot cup of tea on a cold day."

To read the entire column, it's on page 6 pdf here. 

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

They Gotta Get it Together

Today was a long day, and at times it was excruciating.

I got a set of emails from a long time fan just now, which shows the frustration.

"Bleh, they take 15 minutes to circle but can't take 30 seconds to look at the Florida Derby stretch drive, add the whipping of International Star..... it feels like it's not worth my money anymore."

Make no mistake, this is not an isolated complaint from a "whiny horseplayer". This has been going on for awhile.

We don't hold our breath for stretch drives to watch the majesty of the horses, we do that because we're sure the horse we want to win is about to get bumped as he's cruising by, or taken into the outside fence. It's not like the stews call herding often, and when they do it's usually interpreted a hundred ways.  This has gotten out of hand.

We never know what time post time is because they'll drag a post by making horses walk over and over again in a circle. Today, unbelieveably, they stretched a post time at Santa Anita, while Gulfstream was 2 minutes to post, then they had to stretch the Gulfstream time to post, because they stretched the Santa Anita time to post.

Gulfstream and Santa Anita are run by the same management team.

Who's on first?

We need four ADW's to bet every track today - or we can use one, bet a half a million dollars into 22% juice, and get a toaster as a gift. If you wanted to bet from Pennsylvania today you found you were locked out of the ADW, because of ADW taxes. Same with New York.

If you're lucky enough to find lower rake, you suddenly look up and some tracks are now giving you no more than a toaster. Heck, this guy lives in California, and they don't even let him collect points for a toaster.

Lately, a professional betting friend of mine has not asked me for my thoughts on the races. CDI and Stronach have removed their races from betfair, and that's where he follows the sport. He used to bet six figures a year into the parimutuel pools. But now they're off betfair, and he doesn't follow the sport at all.

They are making it incredibly hard to be a fan, and a bettor.

Thank god for the horses, because watching them today we hold nothing but respect - International Star,  a true pro; Upstart who always tries his guts out. The performances in Dubai.

That's a deep respect that keeps us tuning in. But it can't last forever for some. They have to start getting it together.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday's Blog Post

I could not think of a click-worthy title today like, "If you bet these six angles you will be able to buy Grenada". I went pretty generic. Sorry, it's all I got.

First up, there were a lot of tweets asking for some help rescuing seven standardbreds from New Holland, PA on Wednesday. I heard this morning that all were purchased, are in quarantine, and will be at a home very soon. The social media push raised over $7,000 in less than a half day.

In HRU today (pdf), Phil Langley is interviewed. In a couple of questions he doesn't sound like a guy who won 38-13, but I guess a pass is in order. He was slammed quite a bit of late. 

I did find his point about an ADW interesting. I have been looking into something like this, but I think my harness ADW plan would look much different than theirs.

On the flipside, Jeff Gural is looked at in DRF Harness. The meme surrounding Jeff Gural at the present time is his self-admitted "kick in the pants" method of operation. This is very common in a business or industry that works with alphabets, and has decisions made through appeasement. When someone steps out of line, the tribe has to rein him or her back in, because it upsets the tribe. I believe the tribe needs to be led, not coddled - we can all agree we've had enough of that - therefore I am not overly concerned about Jeff firing a knee-jerk six-shooter if he disagrees with me on something.

California Chrome's exercise rider was a no-show this morning for a romp around the track.  I don't for a second blame the connections for being upset. They flew him around the world to be there for an hour in the morning and he didn't make it. Pat Cummings mentioned something about him being too late at a party at the Sheik's place (a problem many of us have, of course).

This year, the social media edge for the DWC is big. There are Derby preps galore tomorrow and several big race cards in the Thoroughbreds, but the DWC is taking center stage. This, I think, is different than most years.

The takeout for the DWC card is a very penal 20% WPS, and 27% all other. I have scanned the takeouts, and in a major racing jurisdiction, the only WPS takeout rate I have seen higher is at Turf Paradise.

RMTC came up with a set of cobalt protocols. Over 50 ppb is a class B.

Woodbine announced their mandatory payout for the Super High Five is April 4th.

A note about the big Super High Five pools at Western Fair. This bet should be on the radar.

It looks like handle will again be down in March. One fewer Saturday and fewer races, yes, but it's likely not going to be a great month.

Good luck to everyone at the Horseplayer World Series this weekend. J_dinks, charli125 and Mark Midland are three names I recognize on the scoresheet.

Have a nice weekend everyone. I will be going through the big cards tomorrow sometime later today, so if you want to play some racing tomorrow, I will probably be on the twitter. I think I might play a few.      

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Doesn't Lasix Free Racing Help the Envelope Pushers?

I'm not a status-quo dude, obviously, and I do understand the push from the higher forehead crowd regarding lasix use in Thoroughbred racing, but sometimes I wonder.
  • At its March meeting on Monday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted to approve a controversial measure that would allow the state’s racetracks to write Lasix-free races. The final vote was 8-4 in favor of the rule.
  • The proposed rule would allow tracks to write one or more races with conditions precluding entrants from having Lasix within 24 hours of the race, in contrast to the current statewide rule which allows administration at four hours in advance of race time.
If you were a trainer who tries to get every edge possible, would you not be entering in these races? Lasix is a performance enhancer, and there are plenty of other things that can be, and are, used to stop bleeding and dehydrate horses. Sure, using these products on raceday is a no no, but without detention barns who'd know?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Fast Obsession, Preps & Takeout Hikes

If you received a quarter each time you heard "young people want instant gratification, so we need to reduce time between races" in this sport, you'd have a lot of quarters. There's this strange obsession with fast.

Cricket has experimented with changing three day long events into one day, golf is always talking about speeding up the pace of play, and in baseball it's spoken about often. Most recently, "fast4", a new way to play a tennis match in one hour has been experimented with.

A lot of that makes sense. For the grassroots, playing a round of golf in Toronto is an exercise in futility. Fight QEW traffic, play a round on a course completely jammed, pay $80, and take an hour and a half to drive home. Oh joy. For tennis, which as a kid we all know took so long to play 3 setters, a game in a hour on Saturday morning sounds wonderful.

But horse racing? I don't really understand the obsession.

Sure heading to Woodbine or Belmont on a Saturday and sitting around for six hours might not be a quick experience. But we can bet dozens tracks while we're there, with races going off virtually every minute.  At home, this Saturday we can start betting at 6AM in Dubai, and finish at 1AM Sunday morning betting Cal Expo. Scratch that, you can shift to Australia or Hong Kong, and play almost all weekend.

And, with 90% of all wagering coming off track, that's exactly what everyone seems to be doing. Racing does not have a time between races problem. Actually, in the overall scheme of things - and witnessing post drags worthy of border crossing delays - it can probably be argued we have too little time between races.

That does not mean, in my view, racing can not capitalize on "fast".

Many years ago I brought the "4 in 48" concept to a racetrack that was racing late Saturday evening. The Meadowlands and Woodbine were done at 11 eastern then, so I suggested this small track run four races in 48 minutes and seed or guarantee a pick 4 (seeds or guarantees were not popular then, so that was a stumbling block that could likely have never been overcome). With little other harness product, I think spending 48 minutes is something that could draw people who were after a little more action.

I even spoke about the seemingly (and probably in reality) ridiculous Super Bowl Halftime pick 4. Hey, if a horsemen group and track got together, had an annual party that day, juiced a few purses for a four race card, and ran the races almost on top of each other, it could work. A small harness track looking for an edge, who sometimes does less than $200k handle on a whole card, could do that in a pick 4 if done correctly, in my opinion.

Racing - with its TV coverage, how it presents the races, and the betting game itself - is not fast. You can't be what you are not. But you can create compelling product, in a micro way, that serves that purpose. If it doesn't work, well, just go back to being slow, because with 50 racetracks racing, those who want fast can still find it.


There's been plenty of chatter about the recent Hambo and Woodbine decision to drop the provision foals only sired by horses retired older than three are eligible to their major stakes. Those who think this is a good decision for the sport (there are few) have a tough time explaining Neil's assertion ; generally, if this is such a good thing, then why wouldn't Woodbine and the Hambo issue a press release? The fact is, they'd rather no one know. Capitulation is not press releaseable.

Firing Line won the Sunland Derby yesterday in a romp. Derby preps can be like this, and the fan part of the sport likes horses to prep big, while handicappers want to bet good prep races. No other race will exemplify this more than the Blue Grass in a few weeks. As a poly prep it had deep fields, with a chance at a big pool and big payoffs for sharp players. This year there will probably be five horses, with a 6-5 shot. Until large revenue can be gained from the sale of Firing Line t-shirts, the industry needs to realize good betting preps trump 1-5 short field snorefests.

I thought Firing Line looked great, by the way. This season (until some start faltering and we hear "this crop sucks!" chants) the colts have some serious talent. California stock is particularly exciting. 

Cal Expo had a $11,700 carryover last evening in the Super High Five. The pool was guaranteed at $30,000 and a $60 tri, with chalk, followed by two other lower priced entrants, provided a $1 super payoff of $577. Value. Harness players should be betting any and all carry's.

We all say we'd love it if slots tracks lowered takeout. At some of them, 90% or more of the purses are paid from machines, so if a takeout was 10% instead of 20% on meager handle, who cares, at least you're trying to build a fan base. Pocono Downs, one such track, decides it should go the other way. Their 15% juice pick 3's were increased to 25%. There was no press release on that either, by the way.

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

As the Kids Say, Harness Racing - SMH

You've seen and heard some of the reversals in the sport of harness racing the past week. Some of those things are head scratchers and continue to be. They just seem to continue.

This was a letter to the editor in harness racing update today from a USTA Director:

So, harness horses - who race weekly - who are off two months, should be entered off no qualifier.  And if you don't like what you see - silly things like form - you should not bet.

In a sport where people are already taking her up on that, it's probably not wise.

This shows the massive disconnect between the people who bet a billion or more a year and the people in power. A race is not a horse, it is a collection of horses, which make up a probability of victory array. If you don't allow bettors to have an idea what form a horse is in, the whole array is turned on its ear. I mean, seriously, this is basic stuff.

If someone in the Thoroughbreds asked for a rule like this, well, sheesh. Hey bettor, here's a MSW with horses with no works in sixty days. There's a few 40 second breezes on the horses from this spring,so that should be enough. If you don't like what you see, don't bet! We might see a Korean-like riot.

Harness racing has been increasingly small tent. Small yearling buyers are almost non-existent, bettors are leaving almost daily. Yet again and again, we see not only a lack of direction, but sometimes a reversal of things that could help.

I understand everyone who is upset about the sports' direction of late, and I share your concerns. It just feels like the car is not going quick enough over the cliff for some people, and they're stepping on the accelerator. It's frustrating, it's maddening, and the worst part, there is nothing anyone can do about it.