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Showing posts from September, 2009

Laughing Into Stardom

Very often we see fans trumpet horses, especially young ones, when they are undefeated or have a good record. This usually tends to be premature. On this blog I rarely get caught up on horses and their records - some got mad at me last year for not yelling from the rooftops about Deweycheatumnhowe, or Donato Hanover for example. In all honesty I have only seen three horses this decade who I thought deserved shouting from the rooftops - Rainbow Blue, Somebeach and Muscle Hill. I am happy with those three choices and to this day I believe that all three are special.

But I am really close to adding one more to the list - One More Laugh.

This Ray Schnittker trained McArdle gelding has flashed as good a speed as you could ever hope to see. And most importantly he does it in the right way; like he has no bottom.

Cases in point, August 28th, a PASS race at Pocono. He breaks stride in the soup, goes 27.4, 27.4 to catch the field and comes home in 28.1 to win by four, on a track a second off. A w…

How Long Will it Last?

When I was at the gaming summit this year in Windsor I spoke with a gambler who said that 'casino revenues, especially slot revenues have a shelf life'. He expected that slots especially will fall off the cliff sometime in the next 20 years. When we discussed it, I was swayed. The demographics are poor, and really how much money can one lose day after day sitting behind a machine before it gets old?

Vegas and destinations have weathered the storm because they offer so much more. There is a reason to go there, but slots in every state and every province? I am convinced we will see that drop-off. From a recent report:

“The historical tendency for revenues from existing gambling operations to grow at a significantly slower pace than other state revenues may hold important lessons for states as policymakers consider further expansion of casinos, racinos, and other gambling activities,” Institute Deputy Director Robert B. Ward and Institute Senior Policy Analyst Lucy Dadayan wrote i…

Partnerships

Partnerships for claimers and horses of racing age are well documented and out there. (Chick has a good list here). In Ontario and elsewhere for standardbred partnerships, Online Harness Owner and others seem to be doing quite well. But there are very few (that I can see) that solely focus on yearlings.

Yearling partnerships seem to be the ones which I am most interested in, for a few reasons:

1) The Home Run - Claimers and others can provide a lot of entertainment in harness racing, but rarely do we see a home run ball. You can not claim a horse for 20k and race him in the Jug.

2) You Will Probably Lose Money - People in the yearling game know that they will probably lose money. We have for a hundred years. In other partnerships they seem to sell "you can make a ton of money" and there is pressure placed on everyone to do that. For those of us trying to hit a homer and have a good horse, we know our investment will probably be gone.

3) Spreading the Risk - Buying say 10 yearlin…

Changing Times & Now You're Really Angry

There is quite the dust-up from horseplayers regarding their inability to see the NYRA signal. Some have a new name for NYRA - "Now You're Really Angry." The Paceadvantage.com thread is certainly rocking. I have no idea what this is about; I just know that when I was away from my TV I went to look for Belmont video to play their opening card and could not find it on HPI. I switched and started playing Mommouth instead and I don't miss it. I have no idea why our business tends to anger their customers so damn often. No one cares whose fault this is, they just want to be a customer.

I have been opining a little over at r2. I think we really do have to prepare more for the future, and virtually everything I read in my business seems to point to that. Over time behaviour changes, and what we are doing today will be much different than what we will be doing tomorrow. Even the little things that we all see each day provide us with examples. I don't even know if a Thermo…

Some Dandy Reading

In the Thoroughbred Daily News, a feature by Bill Finley called "A Prescription for Racing", is an absolutely fabulous read. You can read it here, but it does take a free registration.

A few things struck me. One, (and this is no surprise) the betting experts made the most sense to me. Eugene Christiansen runs a gambling consulting company. You can tell he knows us. Jeff Platt is a buddy, so I recuse myself on commenting on his snippets. Crist has some great ideas. Second, Nick Nicholson is as good as it gets for a track exec. I loved his stuff. Last, Barry Weisbord either reads this blog, or I read his, because we agree on almost everything. :)

Anyway, if you are interested in the machinations of racing, it is a good read.

H/T to Equidaily for scanning the above pic, and linking the article.

Well Said Wins the Jug in Straight Heats

For the twitter folks who were salivating like I was to bet against Well Said today....... well, we bit the dust. Actually the crowd was pretty much on par with us as he was only 2-1 in his elim, so betting agin' him was not uncommon. His elim was a thing of beauty and the final was fairly academic, although he was stretched out a bit in the final and Pierce had to go to the stick. If I Can Dream raced well.

The boys on one of the chat boards were giving me the business about Well Said, as I can never figure out when he is going to look like Secretariat like the Adios or M pace elim, or Slow Hanover like at Chester, in the Burlington, or last week when he was life or death to beat Carnivore. I was thinking about it, and although I have always loved his talent, I looked back and I could never, ever figure this horse out. Way back when handicapping last years Breeders Crown., I alluded to me guessing with him, and it has stayed the same to this day: "Well Said (5-1 fair) in my …

Jug Picks.......... Like Anyone?

I am going through the elims, and if they have a good pool tomorrow, which they should, these races should be dandy betting affairs.

Elim one is an absolute barnburner which could provide some serious value. Straight Shooting is freshened up, Keep it Real was a no try last week off foot problems and could pull an upset, Mr. Wiggles is a good horse, River Shark is more than solid, Doubleshotascotch has been racing really well, and If I Can Dream just won a two heater on a half in the Confederation Cup. Competitive enough for ya?

Outside posts have been horrible, as usual, so that hurts 'Scotch', and possibly River Shark. Mr. Wiggles and If I can Dream will probably be overbet. I have an inkling to try a little pop on Straight Shooting. Fresh, back class, the rail; and he beat Sheer Desire in his qualifier. If any odds at all, I'll take it.

Elimination two is equally exciting for me. Carnivore is as sharp as a horse can be right now. Vintage Master and Well Said are well docume…

Jug Time, and Budding Superstars

This week we of course have the eyes set to the Little Brown Jug. On Thursday, 19 colts will go in two eliminations, then the top finishers will come back an hour or so later for the final.

It has been noted, and I think rightfully so, that this group is subpar. I guess that should be expected since four of the five top 2 year olds are on the shelf, but it does not make the Jug any less exciting - it always is.

I am not much of a handicapper for half mile ovals, simply because I do not like to play post position. In big races, this becomes even more polarized. Simply put, a colt who is five lengths faster who draws the eight, is no longer five lengths faster. On the fastest, most speed favouring piece of dirt in harness racing, you do not want to be going overland.

That is exactly what early season sensation Well Said has to do from the eight post in elim one. He has no choice but to blast, and if/when he does, he has solid inside speed to contend with. He has to get lucky, or he has t…

Them Damn Uppity Women

Horseplaying and race watching and racing in general is for men, right? Just go to a teletheatre and look around. Men, men, and more men. Listen to the PA system at a racetrack. Men.

Well, something is about to change this evening at Grand River Raceway.

Dawn Lupal, with a background in racing and in television, gets her shot behind the mic, and might very well be the first woman to call a harness race for a whole card.

Brav-freaking-o.

Are you like me and can not believe this has not happened before? Are we behind the times in racing, or what? Phyllis George was on NFL Today in 1977 or 1978. Reporters for a "man's game" like football are roving the sidelines on a weekly basis. Sure, they might not be colour commentators because they have not played in the NFL, and the motives of placing them on at times was for other obvious reasons, but they have been on TV for thirty or forty years.

In racing, a woman who has trained a horse, or ridden them, or handicaps them, or drives t…

Czars; Of Racing and Trotting

Mention the word "Czar" in racing and the eyes tend to glaze over. We know one is needed, we know that side deals and horseman contracts and everyone fighting for dwindling slices is too much to overcome. Or is it?

In British Columbia, a commissioner of racing might be a reality. And with this harsh (and in my opinion, bang-on) language, it appears this might not be the usual lip-service.

If you’re a horse-racing fan or work within this industry, look for several major changes to be implemented in 2010. And in a sport that does not adjust well to change, horse racing will have to face the reality: it’s time to do things differently.

When asked what else can be expected in the future, Coleman said a new direction is needed to get racing back on the right track. That includes for government to become more hands-on, including the creation of a manager to oversee the sport.

"I also believe we have to go to a professional management board to get rid of these old contracts and s…

$1M Up for Grabs

Muscle Hill has the four, Southern Rocketop the two in Saturday's $1M Canadian Trotting. This looks to be a great race. It is a little cooler in the northeast this week, so the track might not be as fast as usual and it is hard to expect a super-fast time. But for spectating, it does not get much better than this tilt. This is a wonderful group of trotters.

It was reported this week that Explosive Matter had a lameness issue last week, which explains his poor performance. Not a whole lot of folks follow the insider news (and some might not even believe it), so perhaps that will increase this horse's odds Saturday. One thing is for sure, he raced nowhere near what he is capable of last week.

Trevor Ritchie, driver of the first-placed-last Angostura on Monday, spoke out via an interview with Dave Briggs. He takes full responsibility for the error.

“If Dan loses his appeal, it may be up to a quarter-million-dollar mistake on my part. Of course, that weighs heavy. Then, secondary, …

Moving Forward ; & Some Amazing Hyperbole

The r2 collective is up and running. It is a site focused on bringing the sport of racing into the present, and in some cases the future. It will speak of web marketing, general 21st century marketing principles, technology and whatever else people think of. All we have to do is read a web poll on a the Paulick Report or Standardbred Canada to see that this business dislikes change of any sort. But it does not mean that we should not talk about it, does it? The first article is up, and I know the writer well. You can read it here.

Speaking of change, the relatively minor change of whipping in Ontario had hyperbole ratcheted up to a fever pitch last night when Trevor Ritchie's trotter got placed to last for a violation. The rule reads fairly clear and the ORC has done a good job of letting people know what to expect. So far all of the major stakes, and even the US drivers who drove in all the grand circuit races, have been fine with it with no incident. It was a whole lot of nothing…

Pitcherooski

Well for the first time in harness racing at the big track since the new whip rules, a horse was pitched. And it was in a stakes race.

In race two this evening, in an elimination for the Peaceful Way stakes, driver Trevor Ritchie put both lines in one hand, and tapped his mount (the very nice filly Angostura) with the whip. She went on to win the race by a little more than a whisker.

The inquiry sign flashed. And after several long minutes it was announced that she would be placed last, as per the ORC rule, for "having both lines in one hand, and striking with the whip".

The 2-5 favorite, Costa Rica, was placed first.

Muscle Hill Crosses the 48

Muscle Hill (pictured warming up) made his first trip to Canada this weekend, and he did not disappoint, winning by six in 153.3.

My first trip to see the horse did not start off well for my pshyche. I watched him warm up, and when he goes slow he does not at all look like a picture of perfection. He tends to hike a little bit. When he does get going he smooths out. However, if I told you that I said "I have an inkling to bet against this horse", it would be true.

During the post parade he looked good and all business. Brian Sears scored him out fairly well in front of the stand, which I did find a little bit odd, but since he had the nine post it did make sense. When the gate opened, he floated out, and grabbed the lead after getting mildly stung, and worked through a nice middle half. About 300 feet or so down the lane driver Brian Sears let out a small chirp and he opened up on the field with ridiculous ease. When he did, the people around me let go a little bit of a gasp.…

Don't You Get DQ'd in Other Sports, Too?

There is a lot of grumbling in Australia via the whip rule changes. Namely, your horse can get DQ'd if your jock does something wrong with the whip. It is the same here in Ontario. If a whipping infraction occurs in a race, any race, your horse can be set back - both parimutuelly and in terms of finish position, for the owners check.

But I was surfing today, and is it not similar in every other sport? If you know going in, why would you complain?

Check out the Serena Williams' situation last night at the US Open. Quite interesting.

Nice Card at the Hawk; and Disputes

Muscle Hill goes in race four tonight. If you want to watch log into whatever ADW you have at around 8:15 and you should be fine. He has the outside post.

A couple hours later, Well Said straps on the harness for a jog in race 10. Both horses are odds on chalk, and should not have any trouble.

Luckily you can actually watch those races. In yet another sign the customer is simply a pawn to be thrown around in racings grand sphere, NJbets and HPI have sent out notices to their customers that the signal from Belmont is being blocked to them. Why? No explanation; but it looks like it is yet another dispute.

If you are tuning into the NFL tomorrow and when you flipped on the screen and saw a message like this (the one I saw yesterday): "New Message For You - Belmont Live Video Streaming - Effective immediately, the New York State Wagering Board has prohibited HPI from streaming live video from Belmont until further notice. Replays will still be available. We are sorry for the inconvenie…

Leave it to Beaver

The social media space is well-documented. We now see phones being advertised with "Facebook" apps, chat services and so on. Twitter is going through the roof with usership. But the racing chat boards were here long before Facebook was, and friendships between racing fans are certainly made, and developed there.

Two such racing fans are Shmalltzie and the Beav.

They "met" on Harnessdriver.com and are die-hard racing fans. It is not uncommon to see them on the board arguing about who is going to win a race at the racing hotbeds of Saskatchewan or the Port Perry Fair. Their playful back and forth is forged not because of personal interaction, but by internet interaction (they live many, many miles apart). And it is fun to watch.

While surfing on HD, I saw recently that Shmalltz won tickets to the Little Brown Jug, but he can't go. He decided to start a handicapping contest thread for them with "Beav" to score.

The contest went ok, but Beav scoring while at …

Reader Thoughts on Purses and Stakes

Dave Hoffman wrote a comment below which is well written. I thought I would throw it up here.

On Labor Day, I went out to Freehold for the Cane Pace, the "first jewel of the pacing Triple Crown". I think this race shows how misused the resources are in developing harness racing. There are tremendous resources being put into purse money, but nothing done to relieve the ultimate customer -- the bettor. In the Cane Pace, the purse was $325,000. I didn't see the total handle for the race, but the win pool had a little over $13,000 in it. What does that mean -- at most $60,000 or so bet on the race? $10-$12,000 takeout for the house?

Instead of throwing money at the horsemen, for merely 3-4% of the purse money the entire takeout could have been eliminated. What was the handle for the whole day? I'm sure it was embarrassingly small. Why not use a portion of the purse money for bettor's relief?

This year the Cane Pace field was weak and did not attract the top three year o…

Very Clever

Videos on the web of a racing nature are not that popular. Most show a race with one camera angle and not much else. But we have come a long way. Those blogger types can get creative can't they?

Ernie puts together a blow by blow look at Rachel Alexandra's win this weekend. It is ten minutes well spent. Not only does he capture the electricity of the day with his handheld, you also get to see Andy Serling answer a question in only 192 words. It is fantastic!



Then our pal here Dana joins the fray with a clever look at the filly in a, let's say, different setting. I almost forgot how enthralling that movie was; and we get to see it in an interesting way. Well done to you both.



I have no talent, and no creativity. So I have no video of a stable partner wildly running down the stairs at Woodbine when one of our horses won, looking like a cross between Urkel and Larry Csonka. I wish I did. However I was at a Woodbine Entertainment Group meeting once, and taped it. The topic was se…

Rachel Alexandra – More to Do

A big announcement occurred today at the unveiling of the Rachel Alexandra statue at her new Children’s Diabetes Center in Bangor, Maine.

“She is going next to meet with John McCain and Nancy Pelosi to bang out health care reform,” says Rachel’s junior partner, winemaker Jess Jackson. “It’s time. McCain is one Rachel can work with. Pelosi has some hard-liners to deal with, but with some work, Rachel says she can get it done.”

“I am looking forward to meeting her and sitting down,” says an unnamed congressman. “I saw her once in the Belmont backstretch and all the other horses were gathered around her. She was not even carrying carrots. She brings both equines and people together.”

This announcement follows the work Rachel has been doing with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, regarding the swine flu epidemic. Dr. David Breski of the CDC said “Yes, she is a horse, but she is in tune with all beings. She grew up at a farm near pigs so she knows pigs. We are seeing immediate succes…

Muscle Hill Draws Post Nine; Online Wagering in BC; and it is Trouble for Racing

Muscle Hill drew post nine in his Trotting Classic elimination at Mohawk. The elim highlights a very good card with many stars out for their respective Simcoe and Nassagawaya Stakes. The card has 13 races, and with the Meadowlands closed, you don't see a better collection of harness races anywhere.

Trainer Greg Peck in his Trot Radio interview today spoke about Brian Sears leaving last week to drive in Canada, how it came that Peck himself was first going to drive the horse, the fact he will be sent to stud this year and more here.

The fact that he is going to stud is not a surprise - they all do nowadays. But I do wonder if we even try. For example, the purse for the Canadian Pacing Derby used to be $850,000; it is now about 200k less. Meanwhile the purse for the Jug is going up, the Metro for 2YO's, the NA Cup and Meadowlands Pace are all stout. Seasoned race watchers in the thoroughbred game have really given a kick in the ass to that sport for their poor scheduling of events…

Rachel is Fast, Whipping Surprises and History Repeating

As a handicapper I tend to judge horses and their place in history via a number of factors. There are several winners a year of big races. Someone has to win them, and just because they do, it does not make them special. In a harness race we all know if we want to judge if a performance is superior or not, we can look at the running lines. If we see a trotter, for example, battle for the lead in a 56 middle half, and finish strong it is probably a good performance. If we see that same trotter battle with another superior horse with the same type trip, and the other horse backs up, the performance is all world.

By that barometer, Rachel Alexandra is all world.

She roared out of the gate in a fast, fast pace. She battled on the speed with 2008 Belmont winner Da'tara, Cool Coal Man, and Past the Point. She won. Those three horses finished last, second last and third last. The horse whom Tom Durkin called past the quarter as the trailer, "and it is seven lengths further back to Mac…

Boy Them Whips Really Make Them Go Faster, eh?

Go to any simulcast center in North America. Or listen in on a driver excuse-trainer/owner chat after the race. You will often hear "if only I hit him more" or "if only the driver would have hit him harder" the horse would have won, or done better. This is certainly common in the world of handicapping. As handicappers we love to blame our losses on others, and the whip is a good proxy.

So, with a hundred years of watching races one would figure that the new experiment in Ontario regarding whipping would have those horses going slower, would it not? After all, a driver can not "get into them", or be a greek god and slam that whip into the saddle pad, stifle, or whereever else they find, with Roberto Duran-like force.

Having a look at the races since the new whipping rules began (started last Thursday):

Sportswriter - 149.2 World Record in the Metro Pace

Shark Gesture - 148.1 track record in the Canadian Pacing Derby (tied the fastest mile in our country's …

Muscle Hill Survives a Weird Day

What a great day of racing. I will be getting caught up on Rachel in the blogosphere soon, but the Muscle Hill win today in the World Trotting Derby is one of the weirder episodes I have seen in a long time in all of racing.

1. Rain Delay - The track is clay, and it can not be raced when sloppy. The rain stopped, but post time was pushed to 5PM, then 6PM CDT.

2. Brian Sears has drives in Ontario for a couple million bucks this evening, and the post time would result in him missing them. Apparently trainer Greg Peck says "go and drive up there, no big deal". I was shocked, frankly. If Calvin Borel had five rides booked today for $10M in purses I am guessing he would rather eat bees than book off Rachel. Regardless, the strangeness of that started a weird day.

3. Greg Peck says he is going to drive. Mr. Peck has driven in eight races this decade, but he is ready to take over in the 500k race. Bizarre? Yep.

4. Trainer Peck then runs into someone on the backstretch who suggests he s…

Drivers and Jocks Are a Little Bit Nuts

I once heard from someone who played sports at a high level (not snooker or cross country skiiing, but contact sports) that to excel you have to be a little bit nuts. Not long ago at harnessdriver.com Randy Waples started a thread about the "good old days" where people could share some racing stories from the past. One poster shared a tale from when he was but 18 or 19. The story involved one of the leading drivers the sport of harness racing has ever seen, or possibly will see - Herve Filion:

The time was likely 1959 or 1960. The place was Montreal, specifically Richeliew Park. I was a raceoholic. Although I lived close to Blue Bonnets, my favorite track was Richelieu Park which was about an hour and a half away using public transportation.

On many evenings I could get a ride with friends who were going. If not, I would take three streetcars to get there. If this was the case, I would have to leave after the sixth race before the streetcars stopped running. If I'd had a …

150 watch & Bears. I Love Bears.

Muscle Hill sets his sites squarely on 150 this weekend at the Duquoin State Fair. Nine colts will contest the World Trotting Derby. From the rail out:

1. Southwind Tagar, Homer Hochstetler, Hochstetler, 10-1
2. Windshear, Dan Dube, Jimmy Takter, 15-1
3. Tad The Stud, George Brennan, Frank Antonacci Jr., 15-1
4. Photoforwin, Rick Beinhauer, Beinhauer, 5-1
5. Southern Rocketop, Dave Magee, Robert Taylor, 4-1
6. Muscle Hill, Brian Sears, Greg Peck, 3-5
7. Definer, Tyler Buter, Kenny Collier, 8-1
8. Wuthering Hanover, Dan Dube, Jonas Czernyson, 15-1
9. Airzoom Lindy, Tim Tetrick, Frank Antonacci Jr., 6-1

Are you like me at all with morning lines? I wish they would make them accurately with horses like Muscle Hill. He is 1-9, has about a 85% chance to win, so fill out the rest with the 15%, huh? This will be streamed via the web from the website. That is good news. This will be worth watching. I make it about even money he hits below 150, if the weather is good.

Seth from Equidaily linked his mothe…

Seats at the Table

There was quite a bit of action yesterday on the Fred Pope piece at Paulick. Not coincidentally, Ray informs his readers this morning that he is up in traffic and he is starting to blow away some of the thoroughbred news sites out there. Ray speaks of push-button issues and has grabbed a following. There clearly are not too many puff pieces on his site. People seem to really want to speak about the issues there.

I was thinking a little bit about the Pope piece last night, and how bettors seem to get up in arms about them, while some industry insiders think he makes a good point. There has always been a disconnect in racing between the customer base and the suppliers of the product; this is nothing new. And I truly believe that it is one of our great mistakes in our business. We sincerely need people involved in betting decisions at the highest level, who know betting, and who live betting; at the very least they need a seat at the table. Unfortunately, in our business the people who ne…

80,000 People at the Track? It's Easy. Just Block all Wagering.

Ray Paulick has run an opinion piece from Fred Pope about a potential match-up and big racing day. The protagonists are Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the two top mares in racing. Mr. Pope has long held the belief that if the tracks take the bulk of the cash from betting, racing will be in good shape.

To make a statement for all racehorse owners about the upside-down, off-track revenue model that bled $500 million out of purses this year, the owners of these two magnificent fillies have a timely opportunity.

For the big event, the fillies’ owners would agree the race would have no set purse amount, but instead they would get 100% of the takeout from on-track wagers on the race. In effect, the racehorse owners take the risks.

By locking out all off-track wagering and televised coverage, if we can get a crowd of 80,000 and drive the on-track handle to $20 million, the takeout for the purse would be $4 million gross. If we paid back to 6th place, there is a huge incentive for the owners of…

New Whip Rules and Old Rules Broken

The new whipping rules come into effect in Ontario today. Jock's are now using the light tough whips and can not whip as much as they used to, and drivers must not beat the heck out of their mounts, one-handed.

What strikes me is with the lack of leadership in racing, the rules are taken as some sort of nebulous thing that can be broken. Why is that? Some quotes:

Reactions are mixed in the thoroughbred world on the new rules set out for urging a horse, with some riders brazenly stating they will break rules if they think it means the difference between winning and losing

"If I am down in the heat of a race, how do you start counting?" said Kabel. "People know I am an aggressive rider, that's why they hire me." "The penalties are too severe," said Kabel.

in Australia strict whipping rules were introduced along with the crops.

That has led to a mini-revolt Down Under, where jockeys say paying attention to winning a race is their first priority, not coun…