Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Trixton & Great Horses

Hambo Champ Trixton broke Saturday evening at the Canadian Trotting Classic, and his future is in doubt. He might have re-injured the ankle he had surgery on last year. In HRU, Takter noted that this horse, off that surgery, has had to be babied a little bit. It's "one of the reasons I drive him", he said. Catch drivers can be incredibly hard on horses - the aggressive drivers win more races - and with a horse like that, Takter (wisely, imo) took matters into his own hands.

I was reading a book recently (A Few Seconds of Panic) about being inside the NFL.  It was a good tome that touched on the fans and media, and their proclivity to bumper sticker the intricacies of the game. Often in the stands or in the media, a guy is a dummy for throwing a pass or missing a block, but we have no idea what happened behind the scenes. With zone blocking, 150 plays a game, dozens of schemes and reads each play, players in the book said the breakdown often occurs with a player or mistake that the media does not see. Funnily enough, some of the players said in the book that 'former players are as bad as anyone' because they have to pile on to get noticed.

We see it with talk radio guys, and others all the time. There are some people out there who believe Eli Manning is better than his brother because "he has two ringzzzz". Football, a team game with 60 players, is never about one guy. Bounces, defensive plays, thousands of other factors result in wins and losses. There is no universe, here or in fairyland where Eli is "better" than his brother - a brother who fought through an injury that should have him at a stud farm somewhere, too - but it's a narrative. 

Racehorses go through the exact same thing.

Trixton is judged with wins and losses. In the stands people scream "put a driver on him Jim". In real life this is a horse with issues that has fought through them to become an 8 for 11 winner this season, who captured the World's biggest trotting race for three year olds in 150.3. He did it on talent, guts and mettle. He did it on the toughness that standardbreds are known for. The story with this horse is not Jim Takter's driving, if Father Patrick is better, or how he did last night. Trixton's story is Trixton.

We see this with plenty of horses with or without issues. The bar is set by a "he's got ringzzzz"public, and it's completely unreasonable.

Zenyatta was looked at by "speed figures" and people were talking about her "racing on plastic". This mare, growthy, not manageable early, who really should not have amounted to much, raced twenty times, won 19, came second once (where the winner got a beyond perfect trip) and raced for close to four seasons. She won 13 Grade I races over that period, on two surfaces (she probably could've won on three if they tried). She did it by being a closer in a speed game. She did it by being babied (does anyone out there really think she wins more than one grade I race in a factory stable rushing her, or trying to race her 12 times a year?). She didn't have a down year like so many. The "transition" from year to year was similar, not an anomaly. She never threw in a bad one like happens almost all the time, and an excuse is not needed when horse's show up every race, at any racetrack, on any surface.  That's a remarkable career.

Suntracer won the Kentucky Turf Cup last weekend. Byron King noted on twitter the colt lost an eye and wears googles. He fought through it.

There have been good horses who raced with bowed tendons, off knee surgeries to take out chips, off sickness, or allergies or 100 other maladies. Some of them became very good or great horses, and we have never even known about their issues. When a colt throws in a clunker, some fan with a sports radio sensibility might call him a "rat", when in fact the knee he has fought through his whole life to run those big speed figs was a little sore. He's the exact opposite of a "rat".

Father Patrick might be a better horse than Trixton. Maybe if Trixton had a top driver he would've won in 1:49. It all doesn't matter, because what horses like Trixton do and what they've gone through to succeed is often remarkable in its own right. A lot of time we just don't know about it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Don't Jurisdictions Ever Talk?

A whack of years ago the continent was surely not as connected. If a business in New York tried something new, and it worked, California businesses might learn about it in a magazine article or through some sort of word of mouth at a meeting (a meeting you drive to, at a physical location, with muffins). If an innovation is worthwhile, its diffusion happens, but it takes awhile.

Today things are much different. The World is connected, and innovations and improvements - or any experiment really - moves through a business or community like wildfire.

A business that isn't horse racing, I guess.

I am perplexed watching the California debate about their whip changes. The criticisms and arguments against are the exact same arguments Ontario went through in 2008, the UK went through, Hong Kong went through, and probably a few more jurisdictions I am forgetting. It's like this debate is brand new, and California is doing something ground breaking. I've got an idea: Call Ontario and ask how it went, get the FAQ beforehand, and stop asking the same questions. The questions have been answered a thousand times.

For the record, the whip rules in Ontario work just fine and have for years. Handle is even up over 25% since they've been put in, so you can put a sock in the handle debate questions at least.

Similar happened with exchange wagering discussions in the Golden State a couple of years ago. The same questions, already answered.

In New York, when slots came in, even on this silly blog we spoke about what happens when 10 claimers start going for $30,000 purses - hundreds of claims, horses jamming, bad racing, unsound horses thrown in for the big money, and on and on. It happened in Ontario when slots were brought in and the commission had to address it. Did New York racing not get the memo? It shares a border with Ontario for crying out loud.

Racing reminds me of a Bill Murray movie. We wake up and the same debates happen, like no one speaks to each other.

It's 2014. It's completely unacceptable.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saturday Round Up - Trixton, Kentucky Downs and a Little More

Good morning racing friends.

A lot happened yesterday.

In harness, Father Patrick won the Canadian Trotting Classic, with Trixton appearing to be injured, or at least sore.( Harnessracingupdate.com has a really good synopsis of all the festivities. ) That made the CTC one of the more anticipated races of the year, to just another race. The trotting field, outside Takter's big three, is not very deep. They just can't go with them.

Trixton is a wonderful horse, and we can only hope he's fine. Whatever may happen, he sure does have a stud career ahead of him. The owners, and him, will be clearly okay.

The sad part about matchups in horse racing is that we rarely get to see them. I am not convinced that Father Patrick is the better horse, and I know some of you aren't either. He's handier, flashier, and he makes his own race - if you bet Trixton against him on a half mile track demand odds - but I really don't know. Trixton has never had a two hole trip against him so we could see who fires home quickest.

Handle last evening at Mohawk was over $2.3 million, which rarely happened four years ago. Woodbine Entertainment Group is a long way from being bettor friendly (those rakes, and taking more takeout out of simulcast like they do is anything but), however they have come a long, long way. They've turned into a betting company by offering signals, asking for handle, and putting some thought into what they're doing. For years I documented what I thought they were doing wrong on this blog, and right now that list has grown shorter and shorter. The days of $800,000 of harness handle on a Thursday and a $1.3 million Saturday being considered "good" are long gone.

For a track that executives might want to look at as bettor friendly, take a look at Kentucky Downs. They had a record handle of over $4.2 million yesterday, and as noted on the HANA blog,  not long ago they did only $4 million for their entire five day meet.

Churchill Downs yesterday did $3.1 million. Los Al Thoroughbreds $3.9 million. Both those tracks raised rakes and made bettors feel like a necessary evil the past couple of years. Kentucky Downs, who could have as high a rake as Churchill (by Kentucky law), chose not to. They offer the lowest blended takeout nationwide, and had the largest takeout decrease this sport has ever seen in 2012.

They also used their instant racing money smartly, again with the bettor in mind. Creating races with full fields is most important. Four horse stakes races are not allowed.

Rome was not built in a day and neither is a racetrack. But those who actually do their best to cater to customers, end up getting them. Those who shoo them away end up doing exactly that. Sam Walton would say that being customer friendly is not rocket science, and it isn't.

Have a nice Sunday everyone.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Churchill Downs Withholds Signal & The Meadowlands Super High Five

Good morning everyone!

I am getting emails from players informing me that Churchill Downs Inc has withheld their signal to (at least one) ADW. I will dig a little deeper into this to see what's been happening (edit - just got a note saying "CDI might not be the bogeyman here").

Churchill is in a unique position of owning or controlling several racetracks as well as a national ADW (Twinspires).

Players have long-complained that they need more than one ADW account to play all tracks, and this is another example of that. Churchill, its tracks and properties, have been under a boycott by the Horseplayers Association of North America, since spring, when they raised takeout. That boycott continues. For more information, you can visit playersboycott.org. 

On the flipside of the coin, the Gural-owned Meadowlands has bowed to demand and created a new Super High Five. Rather than go with the egregious 50%+ effective rake route like many have with jackpot bets, they start with a seed, an 8% rake and a 25% hold.

For an analysis of that bet in HRU, please click here (pdf page 5) 

Enjoy your Friday folks. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Odds Changes Are Just Silly & a Little Twitter Gambling Talk

Well, we've all seen it:
It's annoying. But part of the game, so they tell us.

The problem is, it strikes right at the heart of what a true gambler needs to do to survive.

 CJ is (presumably) betting a TimeformUS horse he likes at 4-1. At 4-1 he is making his play on the assumption that this horse will win more than 20% of the time; probably thinking he will win 25% of the time, so it's a green light. Instead at 8-5, his horse - to break even - has to win 38% of the time. In other words, he made an absolutely terrible bet.

This is like betting a 4 point line on a football game and realizing you have just bet an eight point line. "Hold it, I like the other team at 8 points!"

Several years ago Mike Maloney lobbied to have the odds shut off at one minute before post, so the real odds could be shown with that late money. This would help with past posting and offer the consumer a better odds board. That died because handle would be hurt. It's true it would, in the short term anyway. However, if racing cares so much about gaining handle, one wonders why the take of 22% blended is not lowered.

Regardless, there are some things players can do. Look at the pick 3 payoffs and do a quick calculation. Is this horse who is paying $32 in the pick 3, really 5-1, when the 8-5 horse is paying $44 in the pick 3 with two minutes to go? Also, check the exacta payoffs and see what you can come up with.

It's a shame we have to do this to make a bet in this day and age, but without fixed odds betting (don't hold your breath, racing here hates the idea) it's not going away any time soon.


I guess I am one to get a little worked up with the industry, but it's simply because I want players to enjoy the game more. People who play once a week can be enticed to play much more if their ROI approaches flat, of course. That's basic. And it can attract more dollars.

When asked about playing into a high rake pool when you think you have a good bet, versus a lower rake pool where you are not sure, I choose the latter. Why? Because in the long run, the odds board is very close to fair. If you think you have an edge into a 20% win takeout pool, you might that day, or a few times that week, but over time beating 20% is almost impossible. This is because we truly do not know if that 5-1 is an overlay because we have him at 2-1, or he is dead on the board, or we read the race wrong, or literally 1000 other reasons why we are wrong. We can't predict the random. We only have our long term edge numbers to go by.

Conversely, with low rake pools money can be made much easier.

Take Peter Webb playing into Betfair. He knows nothing about "circuits" or riders, or trainers. He just knows some math. Trading and betting into a pool with 3% takeout he bets $500 million dollars per annum. At 20% at Turf Paradise, he bets zero dollars because he knows it's unbeatable.

This is why rebated action takes off exponentially. It has nothing to do with handicapping knowledge (I know dozens of better handicappers who are betting $10 a day than a few that make a living at horse racing), it has to do with math. You can bet so much more when you get a lower price, because your edge goes up. When your edge goes up, you can bet more money.

Ask yourself why there are so few long term (probably none, quite frankly) winners who bet into track owned ADW's here in North America. It's because even the best players in a world of 7 billion people, with all the technology, skill, know-how, knowledge and everything else, can't beat track owned ADW rakes of 22%.

Have a great day everyone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Notes - Those Dreaded Customer Conversions, Free Publicity and Hogtown

Jarod Dinkin has a really good article up on the HANA Blog about Summer Meets and the barriers to entry. Racing has tremendous issues converting customers and I believe it's a systemic issue caused by a moribund industry that was raised on not having to ever convert customers. There is no easy fix and it will take some time, and very much effort to shake this mindset.

The bottom line is, if you spend $10,000 to get 1,000 people in your door, 90% of them don't bet, 98% don't repeat and only 10% of the remainder open up a betting account you just paid $5,000 to land one customer. With a cost per acquisition that high, you better be able to have them play for years to break even, and at 22% takeout, good luck with that.

Speaking of shaking a mindset, there is much talk in Jersey about sports betting. Mention sports betting or poker in racing and the powers that be perk up. I have no idea why. Would the only car lot in town be happy when three other car lots move beside them? Racing seeks carve outs on new competition, when new competition should never be embraced, ever. As JD notes in the above piece, the infrastructure is not in place to compete with them. In the long run, unless racing completely changes their thinking, sports betting and poker will hurt, not help racing.

Roxy noted on twitter today that sports betting will be taxed 2% on betting volume. This is another snafu when governments get involved in taxing betting. In gambling jurisdictions - like the UK where its had hundreds of years to perfect systems - taxes are on gross profits. This way the bookmaker, or what have you, has incentive to increase handle. A 2% tax on a football bet makes an 11/10 odds game 44% more expensive. That will be passed on to customers and is not profit maximizing for anyone.

Note that racing does the same thing: Everything is taken out of handle, not profit. This decreases customer margins, and horse racing is back to the state house begging for purse money.

Some free publicity happened at an Ohio casino recently. Everyone was winning jackpots! I bet the free press they get, along with the word of mouth that the casino was giving away money, help it as much or more than the glitch hurt it.

This weekend's Canadian Trotting Classic at Mohawk only attracted 7 entrants. That's weak, but it's what might be expected when one barn - Takters - controls the three strong favorites.

Kentucky Downs goes again today. Best takeout in racing, and deep, full fields that adds value. There are races there that are giving away money like a casino. It's the closest thing you are going to find to a positive expectation racetrack in North America, and its a strong reason handle has gone up from less than $900,000 a day a few years ago.

Scott Jagow of the Paulick Report checked out Toronto and documented this via video today. He's at Woodbine and I think the grand pooh bah (Paulick, not Cummings) might be heading up here as well. When I speak with my American friends who have not been to Woodbine, the often used reason is that it's "too far", but that's not really true. It's within an eight hour or so drive of tens of millions of people south of the border, including those in NY or Chicago.

Woodbine is a lovely track with the nicest turf course you will ever see. Toronto is crazy busy, especially the highways and downtown, but it's a lot of fun. If a small town kid like me could come down here to University at 17 and live downtown for 20 years, it's not a stretch to visit.

If you have not downloaded and saved the Horseplayer Monthly yet, you can here. 25 pages of handicapping and commentary from some neat folks (I even have an article in there, but don't hold that agin em.)

Enjoy your day everyone. Happy Wednesday.