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Showing posts from June, 2012

Fascinating California Follies

When I was a dumb kid fresh out of school, I got a job at a heavy industry company who was expanding. Production was good at the mill, and when everyone ran the numbers, increasing production and a plant expansion was the goal. After meeting with the Environment Ministry, the city, the provincial government, public groups, the union - and of course securing new financing via private equity - the shovels were in the ground. It took about four months, and construction took another nine or ten, but off and away we went.

When I look back, it's amazing how many groups you had to talk with, get approvals from, and all the rest. But lo and behold, millions were raised and spent, a new mill was built, and about 150 new people were given high paying jobs within a year.

If we look at yesterdays CHRB meeting on exchange wagering at Los Alamitos, we see exactly how much different it is in racing. The track is hurting badly more than ever (despite the takeout increase in 2010 that some though…

Australia's Turnover Tax, The ABC's Of Screwing Up a Good System

If you talk to any player in racing, you'll often hear - when a decision of some sort comes down on the gambling side of the game - "don't these people ever bet?" There's a reason for that. Mainly because well, I don't think many of them do bet.

If any of you have enjoyed the game again betting on an exchange, like betfair, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, while this may be greek to you, but if you want to read on, please go ahead.

In-running betting is a new way to play racing, where when a race goes off, the odds change and you can back a horse (go long the horse, or bet the horse to win), or lay a horse (go short the horse, or bet him to lose). Most in running players do some laying, or "green up" their pre-off positions to try and make the most money. Smaller players, looking to enjoy the excitement of betting a race in-running, tend to go long, so these players provide a ton of liquidity and make the market.

Like…

Harness Handles From Yesteryear

I got an email from a harness watcher (thanks Beav!) noting a blog post from Robert Smith. He looked at one single day in 1986 at various tracks, detailing both attendance and handle. This was in the dead of winter, to boot.

Some highlights:

Greenwood Raceway : Attendance 10.179, Handle $1,931,591

Orangeville (now closed), a whopping handle of $283,334. This with average purses of about $600.

Cloverdale in BC, over $500,000.

Blue Bonnets in Montreal, almost $1M.

All in all, for just that day, with other tracks dark as well, the handle was about $5M. Attendance was over 30,000.

In today's dollars, that puts Greenwood's handle at $4.1M, overall harness handle for the day at over $10M.

It's a different world today. There are so many other options for our time, our gambling dollars and our entertainment dollars. I can't help but think, however, if you had a crystal ball and said "in 20 years we'll be able to bet at home, bet any track we want, at any hour of the…

Racing Is Government's Favorite Whipping Boy

The headlines are pretty astounding. Almost everywhere you look - Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and of course the granddaddy of them all, Ontario - racing is taking it on the chin. We're a favorite whipping boy for government's virtually everywhere. And it doesn't matter which political stripe. Democrat, Republican, Conservative or Liberal. Our name is mud.

It's not that we're unloved by everyone or in some cases we don't deserve getting a smack down because of bad management of our money and customers, it's because, in my opinion, we're a really easy target.

Ontario is perhaps the worst case of them all, for government policy, I believe. Can you imagine that if, say, in 1995 the Toronto Maple Leafs were building a new arena. The government stepped in and offered a casino at the new venue and gave 5% of the revenue to the team to build it. The team built a winner because they could afford the best, spent on a great arena, supported a feede…

It Will Be An Interesting Fall At the Ontario Yearling Sales

When I was a lad, we'd travel to small tracks to watch the Ontario Sires Stakes races, which were a highlight (some of the small tracks had purses of $600 back then for an average). $25,000 purses were occasionally seen, and the horses were much better than average. That all changed when slots came to the Province, where Gold Finals for $130k are the norm, and sires like Kadabra, Mach Three and Camluck replaced the Armbro Omaha's, Fundamentalist's and Dallas Almahurst's.

With slots gone, what will this years sales look like?

They'll likely be bad, but not horrible in my opinion, for a number of reasons.

-In 2013 the Ontario Sires Stakes will still be there, albeit purses will be likely lower. Instead of $130k, maybe it'll go for $70k, or $50k. Still better than other jurisdictions. That's speculation though.

-There is still hope that something can be done by 2013.

-High end sires in Ontario will still sell for big money, because horses by Kadabra (second in…

Don’t Blame Some For Being Skeptical of Supertrainers

In 1983 a collector brought a statue to a museum to be examined. The statue, purportedly from 600 B.C., was a rare fine indeed.  Not one of these statues had surfaced in years and experts firmly believed all of them had been discovered.  The asking price of $10 million was steep, but certainly in line with such a rare find.  After looking at the statue carefully, the museum curator began to initiate the battery of tests needed to verify it so he could get clearance to release such a huge sum of money.  After 14 months of scientific study, the verdict was in. The piece was in fact, real. 
When it was finally placed on display for the experts to examine, one historian took a quick look at the piece and told the curator, “I hope you didn’t pay much.” Another said, “There’s something wrong with this piece.” Time after time the experts had a subconscious, visceral reaction to the statue. They thought it was a fake. They could not tell you why or give you hard evidence why they thought so.…

A Huge Harness Year Is Brewing For the Three Year Old Pacers

If you want to follow a sport this summer that involves creatures with four legs instead of two, you might want to think about following harness racing.

Each year harness racing is not unlike thoroughbred racing for the classic age restricted events. At times we see one or two good horses battling plenty of also rans, sometimes we see a really good horse against some sub par stock. But rarely do we see so many top horses battling week in and week out.

When HoofBeats came out with their 2012 Predictive Rankings, Sweet Lou, Rock n Roll Dance and Warrawee Needy topped the list, and there were not too many who could argue with that. On paper it was logical, and if all three horse's raced like they did at two, we were in for a cool spectating year. A funny thing happened, though: Those three horses were off the board in a $1.5M race, have one win this season, and were beaten by 26 in their last, respectively.

Looking at the Hoof Beats list for the others, North America Cup winner Think…

Black Caviar: Fish Out of Water Horses Breeds Excitement, Drama

If you compare Tuesday's Frankel 2012 debut to today's Black Caviar win there isn't much comparison - in margin of victory or excitement. The fact that Black Caviar traveled 20 hours on a plane to race in another country at a premiere race meet, overshadowed anything we've seen in racing this year.

The race and the trip had everything - an undefeated mare, a country on her side, in a faraway land to prove herself to another continent of race fans. It was shades of Phar Lap many years ago.

When horses travel to new locales to tackle new challenges it's pure theater, worthy of an Oscar winning Hollywood drama. I don't think there is much like it in sports, anywhere. It is this sports' niche.

I think it's also why not only Australia was pulling for the mare today. Everyone was. We stand up and cheer when a horses' connections are sporting, and are willing to show their horse to the world.

This happens from time to time when horses try a new surface or …

Slots Chatter In Ontario, More & More Disingenuous

The talk in Ontario is heating up (on both sides) as the hammer comes down on the slots at racetracks program. I think, from the horse industry side, the realization is finally setting in that there's not going to be a white knight to save the day. As for the government, well, they just continue to be silly.
"We are committed to the people in the industry but there comes a point when it's health care and education or horse racing. That's our bottom line," Aly Vitunski said. "It's unfortunate but we have to choose health and education." Those type arguments have to be some of the most disingenuous in politics. They're insulting, and unfortunately they're used a lot.

What happened, as most know, is that slots were housed at racetracks as a way to introduce them into a ready made market. The horse industry built infrastructure and a breeding business, based on that. In addition, places like Woodbine changed the way they did business, by not c…

Reason Number 3,492 Why Uniform Rules Are Needed

The Daily Racing Formreported the following with regards to the Demorphin positives recently found in a few southern states. The trainer has initially been handed a six month suspension.
 The case has been referred to the commission because the stewards in Louisiana are restricted to handing down a maximum six-month suspension, according to Charles Gardiner, the commission’s executive director. The minimum recommended suspension for a drug like dermorphin – a potent opioid with morphine-like effects – is one year, and the trainer who was issued the suspension, Alvin Smith, was suspended 13 years ago for two positives of a drug in the same potent class. How crazy is that? It's a second class I, and we have to go up the chain of command to get a penalty longer than six months? Sure it looks like he'll get more, after "circumstances" are looked at, but when your guidelines at the steward level say six months? Incredible.

What's this say to the public and to po…

Frog-Gate Goes Mainstream

I have been watching Drugs Inc on Natgeo the past while and it is a really cool series. It is flat-out amazing how drugs are created and sold, whether it's bath salts, or ketomine, or heroin, or ecstasy, or crack cocaine. Sometimes they can be ordered over the internet, cooked in a basement, or bought on the corner. The fact remains, if there is a market, and there is money involved, it will be bought and it will be sold.

Why would racing be any different?

This weeks newsflash, first broke at NOLA.com by Bob Fortus, is about the South American Tree Frog, and its analgesic and pain killing "juice". So far we have a dozen or so positives and we'll likely have many more.

A few thoughts that may or may not be accurate, but are my opinion: 
Racing gives away $1B in purses each year - more if you include Canada - so this should be no surprise. If a guy will take a gun and rob a bank for $1,000, it's not a stretch to see someone order something over the internet that wo…

The Face of Unemployment

No matter which way you fall on the slots debate in Ontario, or the political spectrum, you have to feel for everyone in the business. In this clip, we see a snapshot into the face of the unemployed in horse racing. It's very sad.

One of the stable managers said "when you're having a bad day, you can come in and work with your favorite horse. It's good for your soul."

So many souls will be lost without the horses - especially in rural Ontario.

This video is really worth a watch. It was wonderfully done.


Tuesday Notes

Frankel was fabulous this morning in his first tilt of 2012. Of special note for fans, however, is that he is unlikely for the 2012 Breeders Cup.

This is rather interesting, especially in the context of North American and Australian horses. Our superstars (and yes there have been few) are sometimes labelled as "duckers" if they don't step outside their comfort zone and compete. Zenyatta was crucified for it by some, even though she stepped out to win on dirt, at different distances and took on the boys in two Breeders Cup Classics at 10f, on two surfaces. Rachel Alexandra took on the boys as well. Curlin raced on three surfaces, in Dubai, on both coasts, and raced many distances. This years Zenyatta - Black Caviar - flew 20 hours to Ascot to prove herself and races this week. Goldikova, of course, raced for years and traveled too.

Frankel on the other hand, has not stepped out past eight furlongs, and has not left home base, and likely never will. I think they deserve al…

Cup Card Notes

Last night's North America Cup was about as interesting as a race can get. Thinking Out Loud, the Bob McIntosh trained son of Ponder, exploded home off cover to get all the marbles. The very good Time To Roll was second, with Bob's other charge, Dapper Dude, rounding out the tri.

This morning it is pretty clear that last week's slugfest took something out of both Warrawee Needy and race favorite Sweet Lou. Needy was beaten by 26, and Sweet Lou seemed to have a bit of a head nod throughout the race, and he bravely hung on for fourth. Although both horses did not perform up to expectations, count them out at your own risk, in this players' opinion. They are both very talented, and although (especially in Needy's case) it may take some time to get back to form, I suspect they both will.

It just shows something we all know, and what handicappers go through each day to try and make a score: They are not machines.

In other action, the freshest and soundest looking horses…

$1.5M North America Cup - My Odds Line

Here's my fair odds line for tomorrow's North America Cup


On paper, Sweet Lou and Warrawee Needy are probably closer to 50% and 28% respectively, however this is a deep field and I think there is a chance both may regress. In contrast, Thinking Out Loud and Time To Roll both seem to be on the improve, and they have not been beaten up too much at all. Both horses only need to be slightly better (and get a trip) to give the big boys a run, perhaps.

There is a chance that this may be a boat race (the outside horses may all take back in fear of Sweet Lou) and if so this line is way off, but when they're going for $1.5m, we should see some pace. 

Enjoy the card. I'll pop up a free program link whenever I find one.


Thursday Notes

..... Talk to a newbie and say "graded stakes dollars" and he will think it's a special promotion at the Ponderosa. I never quite understood why we make things so anti-fan friendly. Today that changed, with hopefully the best of both worlds - a better measuring stick for starting slots as well as being more fan friendly - as Churchill announced a Kentucky Derby points system.

..... The Hambo (and the rest of racing) pulled it off. The big race will be shown on CBS Sports Network, for 90 minutes.

..... Who will end up being a better filly this year, Check Me Out or Maven? Right now I'm leaning to Maven.

..... There's no NA Cup consolation this year because of lack of entries. There is just so much stakes money out there now.

..... Harness track in Minnesota is screwed by its thoroughbred cousin/former partner. 

..... Do you find it kind of cool that the two two colts going for NA Cup 2012 are by E Dee's Cam and Yankee Cruiser?

.... The Feds are coming, there …

NA Cup Night Insert

This Saturday evening there are millions up for grabs at Mohawk, and we should see one of the highest harness handles of the season for NA Cup 2012.

The Sportsman, in conjunction with Woodbine Entertainment, has offered out an insert for this Saturday, with some picks and news.

You can take a look at it here (pdf)

This is a fantastic night of racing, and unlike some of our big races where we see coronations, don't let the morning line odds on some horses scare you (in my opinion of course). Horses like Check Me Out and Sweet Lou will likely have to work very hard to win their respective stakes, and there are many capable horses on the race card.


Glee And Reality

There are some blog posts, and some interesting chatter on the Interwebs about the TV ratings and attendance for Triple Crown races the past few years. There are some who feel that racings problems are not causing a dying sport, and that we're on the rebound.

I don't think horse racing is dead. It never will be dead because someone somewhere will meet a man with a horse and want to race his or hers. Stakes will be put up, people will come to bet and watch, and we'll have a race day. People will watch the big races, like they always have. But it is certainly in bad shape, and Belmont Stakes attendance, a TV rating, Zenyatta on a news show, Secretariat movies, Seabiscuit movies and whatever else people want to use to argue with that, are simply missing the point on what drives the sport.

In economics, a depression is a loss of 10% of GDP, in a period over 2 years. If that's applied to our sport, we're in a depression times about ten. Real handle losses are about 50%…

What a Weekend

It was a fun weekend to be a racing fan.

On Saturday we had a Belmont where finally Union Rags won something this year that everyone expected him to last year. But was it enough? He got nearly the exact same trip (with a colt on his outside flank the whole way) that he got in Florida for the Derby, so there goes that excuse. The time was slow, and his Beyer was not that great. He doesn't seemed to have moved up at all from last season. If there's a horse who has to do more, this is that quintessentail colt, in my opinion.

I think Atigun might've blown the doors off them all if he could've settled. He was being fought almost the entire race, and he hung a little bit late as is often the case with trips like that.

Dullahan was well, Dull. He was covered in dirt, looked like he wanted nothing to do with racing on Saturday, and his anemic final time proved it. He is so much better than he showed, but as we all know too well in this game, horses at times simply don't sh…

An Interesting 24 hours

The last day was pretty exciting, albeit disappointing of course.

Twitter showed it's worth early on, when Scott Hazelton mentioned there were rumors that IHA was going to be scratched. Not long after this was confirmed.

Then the fun started, where twitter can show, well, not-its-worth.

The scratch was NYRA's fault. Follow me on this. If they hadn't have screwed up the takeout thing, Charlie would not have been fired, the NYSRWB would never have put in the D barn, and I'll Have Another wouldn't have been in the detention barn, he would not have kicked a stall, and he would've won the Triple Crown. NYRA is responsible for ruining it for everyone.

Damn that NYRA!

If you didn't like that one. It was a security guard's fault. If there wasn't a guy watching I'll Have Another, Evil Doug would've been able to give him a giant needle, filled with rocket fuel, and he would've won. Knowing that this pesky guard wouldn't look away for a minut…

Did the New York Times Scratch I'll Have Another?

Twitter pal, and all around nice fellow, Sid Fernando had a wonderful historic piece up last night on his blog. It was about Majestic Prince, who in 1969 entered the Belmont with a tendon issue. He ran and lost. His career, as told to Sid, was over before the race, or after the race, it didn't much matter.

Sid also touched upon Conquistador Cielo today too on twitter, and his history as a three year old.

Today, after the scratch of I'll Have Another, I asked Sid: In another time, even recently, if a horse had slight filling, but could run, what percentage of people would run them in a situation like this? Sid answered he thought 100% would run.

Filling, slight bumps, strains, soft tissue injuries and the like, are relatively common, and to race horses with them is common too. I bet there are 100 or more horses in to go today with injuries similar to this; and they'll run, some will win. As Sid pointed out, it's clear in the past horses were raced with much worse.

Why …

You Can Count On Pierce

Perhaps the greatest interview - for any number of reasons - in racing is Ron Pierce. Often times he says some of the most ridiculous one liners, where you don't know if he's nuts, having fun with us, or he's being serious.

Today he got detailed - yes, Pierce actually got detailed - with regards to George Brennan getting booted out of the Meadowlands for his Pena comments. As well, he spoke about supertrainers in general.

"I can tell you what I believe and I’m not ashamed to say it. “In racing today there are great trainers and there are great chemists – and sadly a lot of these great trainers can no longer compete against the great chemists.

“I’m 55. I’ve been in this game a long time and I have noticed the changes over the years and I’ve also known who the great horsemen have been,” Pierce said.

 He said the medication rulings in the United States were badly in need of change. “It should be like Scandinavia does it. No horse is permitted to be touched by a needle,…

Fotias Says What a Lot Want To Say

A lot of industry insiders and players who want to see the betting part of racing improved are a distant memory now. Malaise usually sets in after 5 or 10 years of stagnation, and most move on. Cary Fotias is not one of them.

After yesterday's piece, he ain't getting invited into the Turf Club for free snow crab, methinks - if he ever did that is.

Some gems from his "State of the Game" Article:
It’s so simple an economic concept [lowering WPS takeouts] that it probably has no chance of happening considering the panjandrums that control the game.  The industry has taken the greatest gambling game ever invented and trashed it. It is a testament to “what the outside of a horse does to the inside of a man” that the game has survived the egregious and almost unconscionable decisions of its management. The myopic managers at CDI have decided that rather invest money to help keep the industry’s promise, they simply “blank out the late odds” until they are final. If you…

Wednesday Action

Here are a few things catching my eye today:

Question: How do you increase your ADW's handle by about $1.4 million in a flash?

Answer: Give your customers a quick $280,000 by depositing it in their betting account.

That's what Twinspires.com did recently, to pay back the NYRA takeout snafu. Expect this week's betting to look a little higher than usual, with any churn rate approaching 5. This is a de-facto takeout decrease, or a takeout decrease via rebate. That's how it works, and that's how it ups handle.

On the flipside, it was announced yesterday that Hollywood Park's handle was down. Everyone seems confused, like it's a mystery. Jeff Platt from HANA tries to unravel it, like a modern day Columbo. Ok, ok , I kid.

The North America Cup elims are drawn and if you've seen a better, deeper two races for the Cup, please point me to them. Sure Warawee Needy or Sweet Lou could run away with it, as they are supremely talented, but horses like Rock n Roll Da…

Handicapping: Bucking Convention; The Hardest Thing A Player Can Do

The best handicapping column I've read all week - maybe all month or all year - came from an unlikely spot. Bloomberg business had a Black Swan story about betting the Belmont, and it described the chaotic results of the race of late, with ROI numbers betting horses blindly. The fact is apparent: Some bad horses - on paper and in reality - won the Belmont.
Look at the last 10 winners. They raced 43 times after their Belmont victories and won just five of those races, or 12 percent. Four horses in that group went a combined 0-for-28. By comparison, the past 10 Preakness champions won 29 of their 74 subsequent races, or 39 percent. Gamblers who anticipated the Belmont chaos were well rewarded. The winner paid 21-1 on average over the past decade. The exacta ticket -- where a bettor predicts the first two finishers of the race -- returned an average of $233 for each $1 bet.  So, we must bet some bad horses - horses that look like they have little shot - work a little magic and we ma…