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Showing posts from November, 2010

Kirschenbaum on Intransigence

Superstables, lack of vision, slot money, lack of customer appreciation? All wrapped up into one post by Alan Kirschenbaum - California horse owner, bettor and industry participant.


"The rich get richer in this business, and the poor, well, in a few years, we won’t even remember who they were. They’ll be gone. We live in a time where the most successful trainers have 50 horses in the barn, 80 horses, 100 or more. And each year, another group of smaller trainers leave the business."

"I guess most of my friends up North are okay with this. Because when Standardbred Canada offered up a plan to try and do something about where this sport is headed, the only potential game-changer on the horizon, and amass a war chest of money for marketing, for publicity, to do something, for god’s sake, I believe every horseman’s organization up there refused to participate. “No one’s taking a percentage of our money, not even five per cent, without us having some control,” or wo…

Lessons from the Three Down Sport

I am sitting here watching not the Eagles game, but the Pre-Game for the 98th Grey Cup. Trust me, this is something that rarely happens. I can count on one hand how many Grey Cup's (the Championship game for Canadian football for those who do not know) I have watched since the 1980's. This is new for me; or perhaps more appropriate, new again.

Back in the 1970's I loved this three-down football as a kid. I played it and I watched it weekly on one of my two channels. I even had a jersey made for myself (there was no jersey sales for the league back then) at a local shirt store. Come the late 1970's and early 1980's, though, I found the NFL and came to resent this "second rate league". It was not the thing to do, and I was not the only one.

In University, Grey Cup parties were non-starters; there simply was not one to be found. But Super Bowl parties were prevalent. Even my stable partner, whose father played offensive line for the Toronto Argos in the 1960&#…

Calder and Tampa: The Tale of Two Cities

Calder Race Course has cut purses again, this time blaming it on a weak betting market. The Calder signal used to be a pretty popular one with players. Although Churchill does not issue handle numbers (I know, that makes little sense to players, but does when you are a public company I guess), it appears daily handles are about $1.75 million now. Not long ago, over $3 million was the norm. The Bloodhorse article states that almost $1B was bet at the track in 2007, and last year that total was $673M.

What the article fails to tell you though (which I am sure you all remember) Calder raised takeout in 2008, and not by a tiny amount. They upped pick 3,4,5 wagers 3% to an obscene 27% and increased DD's and Ex's by 1%. This along with a signal fight there, made a lot of players upset. This anger did not last a week or a month, people were talking about it a year later on chat boards, with comments like "I used to play there every day, but it has been off my radar now for a long…

Wednesday Notes

It's pretty difficult to watch is it not? In New Jersey things hinge on a government allowing or not allowing alternative revenue through slots or other measures, and in several other jurisdictions it is similar. Now we have a severe dust-up in New York. The cash-cow Acqueduct casino (after 9 or 10 years of the New York political kindergarten) was supposed to start rolling in money. But now a new threat has emerged - a nearby casino. And it will not only affect Acqueduct.

"Racing officials say an Indian casino in the Catskills would seriously impact New York’s harness and thoroughbred industries, probably forcing Monticello Raceway out of business."

It is truly sad because this is not only horse racing's fault, it is greeds fault. In the 1940's cash was there for everyone so they raised takeouts, then they allowed other gaming which cut into racing, so they gave them slots. Then they slowly take away slots for full casino's. What's racing left with? 22…

Ontario Standardbred Director Elections

Usually elections for directors of organizations like Standardbred Canada are garden-variety. In effect, an industry insider runs and everyone knows them, so they win (I would love to see the participation in these votes sometimes!). It tends to be the same people over and over again. Some of them are great people - don't get me wrong - but it is the same folks.

This year it is slightly different. When your industry is losing customers left and right, handles are going down, places like Iowa want to ditch horse racing and the flagship state for harness racing is a shadow of itself, there is a sense of unease in the way things were done. Like in the US, where "Tea Parties" sprung up in many states asking for change, there is a similar movement in the world of Ontario harness racing. There seems to be a true call for major change. This year, unlike all others, I will be voting for directors.

There are 13 people running, of which three will be elected. I am in the process o…

The Rising Costs of Horse Ownership & Doing the Right Thing

About two months ago I went to a dog pound website and saw a pooch listed. They thought he was eight to ten years old. He was found wandering the streets. His teeth were black, he had a limp in his back hind and his right front, he had little back-end muscle, he had a bad cough, he was not fixed and he was underweight. The awesome folks at the pound, and the vets who give up their time for free, did a great job with him and diagnosed some of his problems.

He had a torn ligament in his leg and his right front had some problems from over-compensating. They estimate he had this issue for many years. With only a (hopeful) few years of life left, where he would at the very least need to be medicated and so on to live happily, he was not exactly a candidate for an easy adoption.

After inquiring about him several times over the phone, we went and saw him about six weeks ago. He was simply the kindest dog you would ever want to meet. We were sold and brought him home.

I then went to work. I had …

"Dream"fair Eternal Beats the Guys

I, like a lot of you, watched the Open pace at Woodbine last night to see how the mare did against the top pacers in the country. Dreamfair Eternal swept off cover and mowed them down in 150.2 in a really nice effort.

Funnily (to me anyway) I might be the only one who went to sleep figuring that was it, but it was not. I woke up around 5AM with a fresh dream. Who dreams about a horse race? Well I do apparently.

Randy Waples pulled up to my house in his driving suit.

"Did you guys see my drive", he said.

"Drive? What the hell Waples, your horse was awesome. It had nothing to do with your drive", someone said.

"I got second over. I was brilliant. The horse was fine, but I was really good," said the toothy Milton resident.

"You would have been first up, but Luc pulled. There was no way you would have known that. You were lucky to get second over", said a guy named Glen.

"It was all planned. That's what us great drivers do" said Waples.

Right …

The Jersey Quagmire

In fifty or one hundred years what is currently happening in New Jersey gambling will probably be read about in business books at the University of Chicago, Wharton or Columbia. It is a painful, yet important period to watch and be a part of.

The New Jersey governor, faced with decreasing state revenues, a bloated bureaucracy and special interests up the wazoo, is making some very tough decisions; and one of them involves the sport that you and I participate in, bet and enjoy.

Yesterday an updated Hanson Report was released. In it, the recommendation was made to close the Meadowlands (save a small meet for the Hambo), and race some dates at Monmouth. In addition, there is a plan to open more off-track betting hubs, add exchange wagering as well as instant wagering. Doing this, the report authors believe, will help make racing a non-taxpayer subsidized business - one that can stand on its own four hooves.

On the surface this sounds logical to virtually everyone outside our s…

Has Paulick Jumped the Shark?

We've always been a Paulick fan here because he tends to covers some tough issues. The thoroughbred trade press, who gets most of their revenue from breeders and other insider groups, can not be very controversial, for obvious reasons - i.e. they know where their bread is buttered. However Paulick's site in its early days was nothing of the sort; he seemed to not care who he angered, or who he praised.

But today, it looks to this observer like the Paulick Report has jumped the shark.

In an editorial titled "California's Push for Purses", he extolls the virtues of a purse increase in California which reads almost like an advertisement in itself - which I guess is fine. However, several quotes are not up to his standard.

For example:

i) "Anecdotal evidence shows that wagering does increase with a lower takeout, but to my knowledge no studies have proven the point that reducing the cost of a bet will increase the revenue to tracks and purses."

ii) "…

The Way We Handle Scratches in Mayfield

There was a time when things just kind of worked.

If Whitey stole Wally's ball glove, his father would return it, and as punishment make Whitey mow the Cleaver's yard for a week.

In horse racing everything seems to be simple on the surface, but in the end it is anything but. Common sense goes out the window.

If we interview 100 track execs 99 will say our takeout is too high. But we never lower it. We often say we do not have enough marketing dollars spent on the sport (in Canada Bingo spends 400% more on marketing than racing does), but we never do anything about it. The list is seemingly endless.

The Life At Ten debacle at the Breeders' Cup, and its aftermath, brings this lack-of-common-sense to the fore, just like many of racings other issues.

What we have is an event that should have never taken place in the first place; if racing was even close to a normal functioning sport.

In general, what happened was -

Horse was off in the paddock - and the public knew
Horse was o…

Life at Ten and Life at Twenty

John Pricci this morning has a look at the Life at Ten incident on Friday. It appears, according to quotes, that she had spiked a temperature and had a high white count after the race (a high white count usually indicates sickness of some sort).

"Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said trainer Todd Pletcher disclosed Sunday morning that “Life At Ten’s temperature was ‘well above normal’ and that a subsequent blood test showed an ‘elevated white blood cell count’.”

But previously all was supposedly well.

"Earlier, however, Pletcher said the filly’s temperature was normal before the race, speculating that Life At Ten may have had a reaction to Lasix, or tied-up prior to the race."

Ray Paulick and some others are calling for an investigation into this matter. As a lot of commenters have said - this is a job for a commissioners office. But of course, we don't have one.

There are plenty of professional photographers in the sport with wonder…

In-Running - Some Nice (or not so nice) Zenyatta & Blame Odds

With exchange wagering proposed in New Jersey (with a huge chance to pass) it makes me wonder what the world of Breeders Cup betting might look like next year in America.

This year each and every race at Churchill (including the non-Cup races) were able to be bet in-running. For those who are not familiar with it, in-running wagering allows a better to bet, or bet against horses while the race is being run. For 3 mile races in the UK, in-running betting can be quite the challenge, and quite fun.

I noticed less action than usual watching the in-running trading this year, but that was more than likely due to the delay in pictures for our UK friends. For the marathon, the winner could be had most of the way for 10-1 to 16-1 prices, even though he was traveling comfortably near a slow pace. The looked-to-be-live mount, which instigated the jock fight traded at 4-1 with some serious action when making his move. Uncle Mo, who never looked beat, ever, traded quite low.

But the interesting act…

Horse Police Get Tough

For about as long as I can remember, on backstretches and in grandstands, the response to a horseman who got caught doing some really bad things was "why don't the police charge them?" This was almost never the case; even when the horse in question was being abused in some way.

But this year it is different. Three weeks ago in Iowa a trainer was charged with three felony counts for allegedly injecting a horse before a race. Now in Ontario, a Windsor triumvirate faces a similar charge.

It appears the Ontario Provincial Police (kind of like state troopers to our US readers) had an ongoing investigation and have reached some conclusions. "The accused have all been charged with one count each of cheat at play, fraud, and offences under the Pari-mutuel (betting) regulations of the Criminal Code. All charged persons have been released on an Undertaking which prohibits involvement in horse racing. They are to appear in Windsor court on January 5, 2011."

For a good long …

Funday Thoughts

There is a ton of fun reading this morning on the web and in newspapers across racing-ville.

Andy Beyer (most would say finally) gives Zenyatta some props. In his previous column he waxed on about synthetic surfaces (Jessica Chapel over and over again seems to be proven right) saying:

"When racing fans of the future look back at the record of a mare who excelled on long-forgotten substances called Pro-Ride and Cushion Track, they are apt to regard Zenyatta as a historical curiosity rather than an all-time great racehorse."

"Historical curiosity"? It seems that synthetic surfaces are something some people can not get out of their minds when judging horseflesh, or anything else for that matter.

Thankfully (although with two wins already on dirt; a surface she obviously likes as well) a dual surface superstar (the only mare to win the Classic last year and only mare to come second in it this year) like her can finally be trumpeted by everyone, including Ms. Chapel…

Even In Defeat Zenyatta Answers the Questions

So ends one of the most contentious and often silly debates in thoroughbred racing history. Zenyatta, called by some public handicappers "slow", and a "synthetic specialist" closed from the clouds, only to fall a scant head short in the Breeders Cup Classic, on dirt, against the best males on that surface.

With the showing, she threw a giant hole into the speed figure handicapping dogma that has permeated the sport since the 1970's.

The big mare only runs big numbers when she has to. She is not Quality Road, where she can run like a scared cat on a rock hard three path and run a 120. She is too smart for that. She runs to her target, and then coasts, taking care of herself and showing brains that few racehorses have. If Blame was stopped up early in the lane and she made the lead early, she probably would have run a second slower, winning by a tiny margin; and earning a "slow" figure.

That's what she does, and that is why speed figure gurus had a di…

Friday Thoughts

The money at Betfair - to me still surprisingly - keeps pouring in on Zenyatta. She is now 9-5.


I was doing my surfing this morning, trying to look-see for a little more info to construct some horizontal plays in the BC today and I came across an awesome article that I had not read on Zenyatta. It is from ESPN and deliciously written by Wright Thompson.

I am a handicapper and play almost 365 days per year, however I am also a horse owner and I love those big brown things that cost way too much money. I am an animal lover as well, and can not help but appreciate an article like the above. It shows the caring that a horse receives and just how much they are appreciated by those around them.

That article says what needs to be said in our sport. Those folks, especially trainer John Shirreffs, deserve our deep respect. In addition, what a training job - how do you keep a mare in training for over three years straight and keep her sound, healthy with a mind on her business. Astounding! It is …

Some Serious Zenny Cash

At this time last year the Betfair trading for the Breeders Cup Classic was about expected. Zenyatta - overbet to be sure at 5-2 - was 5 and a half to one at the betting giant via the exchange. Scanning the chat boards, as well as speaking to several big hitters, that was about right according to them.

This year it is all together different. She is taking loads of cash; now down to just north of 2-1. And of course, this is not "newbie" cash or from a lady with a Zenyatta hat: betting at betfair before the races is not a Sunday picnic. Those newbies will be there, but they will be there on betting day.

Speaking to an assortment of players, both at Betfair and here, it is not at all like last year. Many think 5-2 is a fair price on the big mare, when nary that opinion I could find twelve months ago. I know someone that got sizeably filled at 3-1 who ain't trading it out. It will be interesting to see if the sharpies are right, or like last year wrong.

Animals Get Ya

Darryl Kaplan wrote an interesting piece in Trot this month discussing how animals really can pull on us.

"As objectively as I can look at it, no human athlete throughout history has been able to reach us emotionally the way a racehorse can. Whether it’s Secretariat, Cam Fella, Barbaro or Admirals Express, there is an attachment we can make with a racehorse that no other sports figure seems capable of." he wrote.

I could not agree more. People are people. They make human decisions and they do what is expected of them, and if they do that, it is not overly moving to me. But a horse, well that is entirely a different matter. To read more of his thoughts, click the link above.

Western Fair has dropped their pick 4 to 15% takeout. Great stuff. HANA profiled the London track today on their blog.

Pacing Guy does not like late odds changes, but who does? He explains his Saturday betting the Meadowlands. Pari-mutuel wagering was invented over 100 years ago. Over time it has lasted,…

12 Minutes of Exposure

Last night, as everyone knows by now, the 60 Minutes feature on Zenyatta was aired. As we opined below in our piece on "Focus", I think the power of this piece is palpable and we are in for a very well-watched Breeders Cup Classic.

The reaction in the community is expected, and something we often see in this sport, because we are a niche sport. Just like the Secretariat movie, for a sport to have a mainstream media, or mainstream movie-goer attraction, the insider elements are always glossed over, and insiders get pissed.

On the net, just this past twelve hours, I have read insiders griping that the feature:

i) did not mention the horse of the year battle with Rachel Alexandra

ii) that Zenyatta's speed figures are not that good

iii) that she did not travel very much outside California

iv) that she races better on pro-ride etc and is a synthetic specialist

The reasons for this apparently, is because (one or more of): CBS sucks, Mike Smith sucks, the media is in the tank for Zeny…