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The Restaurant is Open, We Just Don't Have a Menu

As most know by now, Churchill Downs has banned the DRF from its premises. There's good news though - you can still buy it at a nearby gas station.
If you're coming to CD and want a print #DRF, the @ThorntonsGas on 3rd St. just south of I-264 still had quite a few at 9:30 a.m. today. Both Fri. and Sat. editions, incl. a $7.95 short edition (CD/Aqu only). Can't buy a print #DRF at the track, as you may've heard. — Marty McGee (@DRFMcGee) November 24, 2017 Come for the food, just don't bring the menu you've used since Duke Ellington was on the charts. If it wasn't so sad it would be comical.
Fans upset about long lines at Churchill's new DRF pat down station pic.twitter.com/HZsebRnEi8 — The Racing Onion (@RacingOnion) November 22, 2017 Racing - especially the corporate variety - has become more and more insular. Signals are withheld, big day signals are priced super-high, the usual horsemen-track signal fights, and increased takeout are all signs of s…

Racing Transparency

I followed along with an interesting twitter conversation this weekend between several insiders talking about what should, and should not be spoken about publicly.

In this case, it was about an Australian caller talking about a horse bleeding from EIPH, something fairly common in horse racing. Vic believed if he did it in North America, he might be out of a job. He may be right.

Australia is a very mature racing and betting market, and like the UK and some other jurisdictions, both fans and gamblers understand the implications and causes of bleeds. When an announcer or commentator mentions it, well, it's kind of old hat. It's not too much unlike an NFL announcer talking about concussion protocols because it's "part of the game". I suppose Roger Goodell could call Jim Nantz and get him fired for talking about it, but since everyone knows the concussion issues in the NFL, it wouldn't do much good.

In Thoroughbred racing in North America, however, it's alm…

Gambling Growth & Racing: The Importance of Eyeballs, Regulatory Value & Positioning

Legal Sports Report shared some comments from the Draft Kings CEO recently. The DFS company's head said that down the road Draft Kings could become an online sportsbook, if laws are changed in states to allow sports betting.

Sports betting, as most know, has been growing. In Nevada alone, $557 million in bets were taken in September, which was a new record. States like Pennsylvania are setting the table to take bets, should the federal laws change. ESPN, NFL.com and other mainstream websites, now happily report point spreads, like it's old hat.

Draft Kings (and DFS in general) has been taking some major hits of late, with some feeling their value is overblown. That isn't new in the tech world, and there's some truth to it, but Draft Kings has an edge most others do not.

They are already approved, through regulation, in many states.

They are positioned to generate big ROI from a sports betting offering from day one, because they have active users and plenty of eyeballs.…

Incremental Racetrack Changes -- Glass Hall Full or Empty?

Over the last ten or so years the racing industry, and how it presents races, has gone through some changes. These aren't big changes, no, but they're incremental.

You've heard, no doubt, racetracks now talking a great deal about field size and presenting better races. This concept was not pushed nearly as hard decades ago, as racing was a slave to the putting on races and they will come narrative. Southern California racing, along with the races at now defunct Bay Meadows, were the prime examples of that.

Yet another example I've seen, is the scheduling of races.

I remember years and years ago watching the Breeders Cup, while at the same time watching Woodbine, which I played religiously when they were featured on Betfair.



Without a word of a lie, the gates for the two races sprung at exactly the same time. I couldn't believe my eyes, but it's the way it was. Many tracks were operating in a vacuum.

You've read complaints about the above from bettors, wager…

Breeders' Cup Postscript

Good morning everyone. Here are a few of my thoughts on this year's Breeders' Cup.

I thought Del Mar was a great venue from a betting perspective. Both courses seemed fair, and the surfaces played perfectly. This is in sharp contrast to some BC's where souped up dirt tracks make the racing less interesting for both spectators and bettors alike. Kudos to Del Mar.

Handle was again good, buttressing the argument made here and elsewhere that the big days and big meets (outside Keeneland this year, I suppose) keep getting bigger in this sport. The everyday bettor is screaming for fields that offer potential value, and the BC delivers that in spades. Its field size, as well as the quirky nature of the fields makes for some excellent wagering. You rarely have to make excuses, like checking the New York weather report, when the handle is going where it should be.

To the Classic, I enjoyed the Steve Asmussen video watching Gun Runner down the stretch. I submit that wasn't about…

The Juxtapositions Keep Juxtaposing

The headlines of today:


and


This is kind of nothing new. Sports betting is legal in Nevada, and has grown leaps and bounds (up about 100% since 2006), despite only being offered, primarily, in bricks and mortar casinos.

Horse racing, which has had an carve out online since 2006, well, hasn't.

The news isn't all bad, I suppose, as tracks other than Keeneland have had a good fall, with both Belmont and Santa Anita up. In fact, racing outside Keeneland was up the month of October, by about 5%, or over 10% per entry. (gee, I wonder why Keeneland was the outlier; if we read track exec quotes, it's a complete mystery!).

The interesting thing (as we've spoken before here) is that just because sports betting handle is growing, it doesn't (more accurately, shouldn't) mean horse racing handle will tank. It's not that way in Australia, where sports betting has grown from virtually nothing since the year 2000, to over $5B now, while horse racing handles have grown as we…

The Night Everyone Watched a Baseball Game

Last night, game 5 of the World Series between Houston and LA was a marathon of long-ball proportions that must've made MLB purists physically ill. But boy, it was really exciting.

And on my timeline at least, it was the only game in town.

This, surprisingly, despite the SNF game between the Steelers and Lions being head to head with the Fall Classic. It's a ratings battle the NFL on Sunday night almost always wins and when the ratings come in it still might, but I sure couldn't tell.

Whatever happens, it's no secret that the NFL has gone through a year or so of ratings declines. There are dozens of reasons given for the decline, and who knows at this point which are right or wrong. But one thing everyone can agree on, is that the NFL has been listening.

For one major fan complaint - the game has no flow, and goes on too long with too many stops and starts due to commercial breaks - the NFL responded. If you're an avid NFL watcher this is noticeable. After kickoffs…

Hoosier Seeded Pick 4 Handicapping and #Crown17 Links

The Breeders Crown card kicks off at Hoosier, and this year there's a little bit of value for bettors.

In race 5 there's a $10,000 seed to the pick 4 pool.

Seeded pools are exactly like carryovers, however, major ADW's datafeed of carryovers do not normally include seeded bets. So, there's probably going to be more value in the pool, because the pool will probably smaller than a regular carryover.

The bet starts in race 5 and we'll share a few thoughts on each bet of the sequence here. 

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Program (pdf)

Race 5: This is a tough, contentious race. In normal sequences, we may want to dig deep and take a shot on a key horse, but with a seeded pool we should probably be more considerate to hitting the bet, and going a little deeper. 1,2,3,5,7,9 and 11 are all capable of winning the race, and probably each have fair odds in the single digits. The horse I am probably most interested in is the 5 at 8-1, Pacific Image. One would expect him to show speed this tim…

Friday Notes, Sans Spin

Good happy Friday everyone.


Mike Maloney applauds the new IRS rules in the BH, as most of us do. What's disconcerting however, is how this came about.
"It was a big dropping of the ball to let that go on all of those years. It kind of illustrates to me the difference between casino leadership and management and racing leadership and management. When we try to go head to head, it seems like the casinos are almost always one step ahead of us. They understand their customers better; they understand the regulatory landscape better; They're just sharper from a lot of perspectives than we are."  It's very hard to get excited about future pro-customer changes in the sport when something so vital was brushed aside for so long.



Further to that, Keeneland's handle day yesterday was, frankly embarrassing, dropping 17% per interest with a bang up card, filled to the brim with horses. If that card was raced at Kentucky Downs a month ago, it probably would've been up 40%…

These Monsters are Usually Created

For most of you who have followed the DFS machinations the last several years, you're well aware that there are two big companies plying their trade in the space - Draftkings and FanDuel.

It wasn't always like this, of course. During the space's growth period there were several companies vying for customers' bankrolls. Many have fallen by the wayside, as AG's, states and others have made it tougher to do business. A duopoly was created.

That duopoly has now come full circle - at a point where they have price control - and customers are well, kind of upset.
Users began paying increased rake — the percentage of entry fees kept by the site — across some daily fantasy football contests on the site in Week 4, and the move did not go unnoticed on Twitter. By taking more fees off the top of contests, DraftKings puts a dent in the return on investment of every single user. And by skewing that increase toward casual contests, the little guys are the ones paying the bigges…

Waiting for Godot

I was scanning Paceadvantage.com this week and saw a few posts from players doing a little griping - some about Keeneland's juice hike, others about everyday things customers tend to gripe about. Let's face it, griping is a cottage industry in the sport, so it's not like it was anything new.

But looking back and scanning a few posts it reminded me of something.

Back in 2003 or 2004, the Southern Cal signals were big at Pace. Everyone loved watching the races from Santa Anita, and a lot of the handicapping done on the site was west coast focused. Over time, though, you'd see griping. And it had to do with field size. As I am sure many of you remember, Santa Anita - all Cal tracks really - was the King of the 5 horse field.

"I can't play this, I can't even find a bet in this six horse field"

"Why don't they have horses, I am about to quit"

You'd see these thoughts weekly from all sorts of customers. But when you looked at the handle, b…

** Exclusive ** Cub Reporter Releases the Secret Keeneland Tapes

My phone rang - rare in this day and age - and lo and behold it was Cub Reporter, the racing insider.

"I saw that horse sex guy on twitter mention me. Does he know something?"

He was referring to Sid Fernando, the pedigree guru.

"I don't think so, he just wondered what you were up to." I replied.

After getting some relief he was not exposed, he began to tell me a story.

"I'm undercover at Keeneland as a junior data analyst," he said. "Don't tell anyone, but I've got a tape that should blow the doors off the place! It's their emergency board meeting. I'll share it with you, but you can't tell anyone."

He gave me the tape, and I present it, transcribed, here for you.

__________________________________________

Keeneland Exec 1: "Call to order board meeting 41. Let's turn to our data analyst for a handle update. How are things looking?"

Cub Reporter Posing as Data Analyst: "Things do not look good. Desp…

Expected Value & Getting Paid

I, like the vast majority of you, really concentrate on carryover pools. Carryover pools are unique in this high takeout sport, because money is  added to a pool that can be many times over the takeout for the pool. This results in what gamblers call positive expected value - it's a roulette table with 30 landing spots that pays 35-1, it's a game of coin toss, where every 5th toss you get to play for free.

This, on the surface, might not sound like much to a casual player. They, often times, simply want to hit a ticket and cash a bet, regardless of the takeout, and see profit if they hit. They will - even if takeout is 50% - see a profit most times. You need to hit a ticket to cash.

But like everything in gambling, the devil is in the details.

Yes, winning on a given day is fun, but it's not the battle on that day that counts, it's the long, protracted war. The war is where we make the choice. It's where we as horseplayers can let takeout kill us, or define us.

I w…

Racing's Circling of the Wagons

Recently, figure maker (and someone you no doubt know if you're a horseplayer) Craig Milkowski shared some information on timing, as he has done many times before. And just like many times before, the tracks (and their minions) circled the wagons.
I'm always flabbergasted that when I point out bad race times, response is always to circle the wagons and assume I'm the one that is wrong. — Craig Milkowski (@TimeformUSfigs) October 10, 2017 Here's someone who cares about accurate timing (like the tracks do, I imagine), shares when he sees mistakes, or missteps that he encounters as a figure maker (like the tracks would want him to, I imagine), and when he does, he gets told to keep quiet.

If he posts about it again, he'll get tweeted to or commented on like he is somehow the enemy. Which is wild, because the only thing he is the enemy of is bad times; something you'd think the whole industry is against.

If this were an isolated case, like for example there is a F…

When Customers Tell You There's a Fly in the Soup, There's a Fly in the Soup

Yesterday on twitter there was a conversation about why some people are withholding money from Keeneland this meet. A simple question, with a simple answer ("they raised prices and I don't think that's good for me, or for horse racing") gets twisted and mulched and argued. It's suddenly turned into Swahili.

Then the goalposts get moved around, and no one listens to something that's really not hard to understand in the first place.

It's not like this in other businesses. If you found a fly in your soup at Pete's, and moved your business over to Sue's across the street, the conversation is pretty simple.

"Why did you move your business?"

"I found a fly in my soup"

"OK"

The fact that Sue's soup is 50 cents more a bowl, or they play Fox News instead of CNN, or the waiter's ties are bland isn't a concern.

Keeneland put a fly in the soup and some people don't like it so they're eating someone else's…

Go Phishing

We're a few days into the newly minted higher takeout Keeneland meet, and we're seeing some data that may suggest handle has suffered due to the increase in pricing.

Three days does not make a trend, and looking at Wednesday's card - which is much better than last year's first Wednesday card - handle could rebound that day. Or not.

Regardless, it's early, either way.

One thing that strikes me, however, during this (and other, see Canterbury Park's takeout changes), is the level of misinformation when it comes to reporting horse racing results. It's been like this for a long time. It's not just in horse racing of course, but it's always been there.

We have to remember - when the information is being fed by people in power who make a policy - it's probably best to look elsewhere.

Heeding that advice, let's look at some numbers from someone who is not making policy, but who analyzes it:


This quick analysis in 140 characters (he should have 28…

Zee Corporation

Good morning peeps!

Yesterday, Keeneland's handle was about flat from last year for their opener. That, as we postulated yesterday on the blog, doesn't mean much either way, but it was interesting, and the corporate types (strangely enough, some of them in the real world hate corporations) were pretty happy.

With my back of the napkin look at results (and help from Crunk posts that show racing outside Keeneland yesterday was up 18%), I surmise that those of you who played Keeneland last year, who did not play this year, totalled perhaps $300,000 in handle. We'll see how it goes the rest of the meet.

Another interesting discussion yesterday was about rebating. Rebating, something that I've been for on the blog since 2008 - mainly because it's the only equitable way to change the racing system and get handle to grow if done correctly - has certainly been bastardized.

Back when the corporations were out of dictating terms, there was an ample degree of both fairness mi…

Shining Lights & Forwarding Customer Education is Never a Bad Thing

There's a lot of tweets on my timeline about the bettor "Boycott" of Keeneland. It's good to see so many talking about important issues with regards to the long term health of the game.

There's probably a lot of people waiting to say "I told you so", either from the customer side, or the corporate side. Generally, however, what happens is a bit of a sideshow.

If it rains the next month, if it's sunny, if field size is down or up, if Keeneland gets antsy and sells a signal fee for less than they wanted to, and myriad other things happen, the data will be completely muddy. It's one of the reasons racing has made absolutely awful wagering decisions the last 40 years or more. On the Wikipedia entry for "muddy data" there's a picture of a smiling track executive, because he (it's probably a he) knows he won't be held accountable for anything he does.

What this chatter and the resulting boycott do, in my view, is shine a light …

Keeneland Rake Hike Time: Your Guide to the Horseplaying Tribes

I had a chuckle a few weeks ago on the ever increasingly tribal twitter. A CNN contributor posted this, about a political movement, trying to convince others to join theirs.
You're irredeemable, fellow Americans, & you shall have no respite in life from hearing how gross we think you are. Join us! Vote for us! — Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) September 24, 2017 I see this sometime in racing, as well. If you don't do "X" you're the dumbest human being alive and you need your head examined, but please come join me and my tribe!

It sure is an interesting recruiting tool, seeing that it kind of throws the idiom that we catch flies with honey out the window.

This Friday, Keeneland opens with higher takeout rates. For the uninitiated about rake, this simply means that the payouts you see on your screen - for win, place, show; supers or tris - will be lower than they were last year. When you hit something - if you choose to play Keeneland - you won't get back …

The NFL Takes a Branding Hit, But You Might Want to Check the Narrative at the Door

Morning Consult put out a poll result today on NFL branding.

Via their tracking, "NFL's Brand Favorability Drops To Lowest Point Since Morning Consult Started Tracking: The NFL's net favorability has dropped from 30% on September 21 to 17% on September 28."

I have zero doubt their data is correct; however before everyone picks their favorite narrative, it's important for us, in my view, to understand branding.

In actuality, a brand does not get crushed by one, or even two missteps. United, or Coke, or hundreds of others snap back quickly from bad news. Bad branding, and resulting revenue losses are more of a boulder rolling down a hill, than an avalanche. It's why (old school) marketing firms estimate changing (or repairing) a brand can cost upwards of $50 million and take over 5 years.

The NFL has suffered from a lot of bad branding the last several years. They've had stars retire, they've saturated the airwaves and watered down the product, the gam…

Unintended Consequences

I had a scan of yesterday's news that was filtering social media channels about the Saudi 'government' allowing women to drive. It was expected, no doubt, by those who passed the new law that people would think more positively about that country. In terms of public relations, it was supposed to be a good thing. But, things like this don't do exactly what they're supposed to.

When you highlight something like this, it becomes news. And many consumers of the news learn something they didn't know about a topic before; in this case, the fact that women could not drive in a modern, rich country. The policy was supposed to improve outsiders thoughts towards the regime, but it can do the opposite. I bet if you took a poll today about freedom in Saudi Arabia, it would score worse than it did last week.

This phenomenon, highlighted by marketers and economists like Peters and Berger, was also seen with the War on Drugs. Upon the policy's inception, drug use actually…

"Give Us the Free Market!"

"They can't tell us what to do with our horses. Get out of my business, because it's my business", is an often heard complaint from horse owners, and horsepeople.

Whether it's about out of competition testing, suspending the horse for positive tests, house rules, commission rules, jail time rules, federal oversight, or whipping rules, the drumbeat is pretty constant. "Don't tread on me."

Being a free market type (don't hate, twitter!) who believes when Adam Smith's invisible hand becomes visible we're a whole lot worse off, I get it. I truly do. But for horse racing, I think the arguments screaming for a "free market" are not only futile, but dangerous.

If you're asking for that free market, you're asking for a few things you might not like much.

A free market means the $40,000 purse at the track you're racing at will immediately fall to $5,000 or less because in a free market slot machine revenue doesn't go i…

Canterbury Park's Cautionary Handle Tale

Canterbury Park - the small Minnesota track that lowered takeout last year, only to raise it this season - concluded their meet recently. The numbers, year over year, are in: Thoroughbred handle was up 2.6%, and handle per betting interest was down 1.8%.

Last year, with the takeout decrease, handle was up 5%, and handle per betting interest was up 10%. 

Racetrack handle analysis (which tends to be pretty rudimentary) will conclude what it wants to conclude regarding the above. And, quite honestly, since reported racetrack handle numbers are where lines of best fit go to die (and people use cognitive bias to analyze these numbers), I completely understand that. But, we'll try and take a deeper dive.

Using some comparative analysis, regional tracks had a very good year. This season, Prairie Meadows was up 21.2% and Arlington up 11.3% per entry. Last year the weather in the midwest made it hard to race on the turf at two of the three regionals, and barns were nowhere near as plentifu…

So is Keeneland Now a Mini-Death Star?

It's been an interesting summer in Kentucky horse racing.

The big news, of course, was Keeneland completely doing a 180 from their strong historical branding to hike takeout rates. It was speculated at the time that this probably wasn't their idea, they were simply following a lead from Churchill Downs Inc, who did the same thing a few years earlier.  If there's one thing we know in this world -- accountants talk to each other.

In previous years it was speculated that these two tracks were in cahoots to stop Kentucky Downs from getting more days. As most know, Churchill wrestled the September dates from Turfway, and is very happy with those extra days and the smaller live handle. If Kentucky Downs wants more dates, good luck.

Now, boom.

Keeneland and Churchill announced this morning that they, "plan to partner on the construction of
two new facilities in Kentucky with live racing and slot machine-like devices near the border with Tennessee."

The key phrasing …