30 March 2010

The Artificial Surface Debate Continues

Dubai just gave away a ton of money, much of it to some mediocre Stake type horses. The results on Saturday sparked horse racing handicapping guru Steven Crist to pop a vein or two in his head.

I agree with Crist to a point. Artificial surfaces definitely create more random results than real dirt. It is still possible to handicap a three horse triactor box that pays over $1800 for a buck, for example.

You can’t love a horse

Vic Zast put out a column on Sunday, Dirt Is Officially A Four Letter Word. I think it is a very fair analysis of the reality of artificial surfaces, though the title of the article is a little deceiving as it is from the Euro/Dubai perspective.

The reality is that artificial surfaces need to be bet in a different way than dirt races. On the dirt, a handicapper can love a horse to win (though, as we know, they don't necessarily have to win), but on artificial surfaces, it might be possible to love a horse to run in the money.

There are a few reasons for the randomness. Jockeys tend to race as if they are on the turf, and they don't ask the horse until there is four furlongs or less to go in the race. Positioning becomes more important, good trips especially in the last half mile, as well as being on the biased part of the track, outweigh a horses overall true natural ability on race day much of the time. Kickback sometimes is stronger on some days, and horses seem to be individuals when it comes to them handling the kickback. Texture of the surface has also been a going concern, as the characteristics of the track tend to change with even slight temperature changes of a few degrees. The same horse might like the footing on one day, and not like it on another day. Drafting seems to be more advantageous on these surfaces as well. Many times if a horse goes to the front or gets the lead too early at Woodbine, the horse is much less likely to hang on when compared to when Woodbine was a dirt strip.

Polytrack seems to be equivalent to tracks that used to be called "slow" in The Racing Form (you rarely see that designation anymore). Tapeta and Pro-Ride tend to be closer to "good-slow" tracks.

When it comes to horseplayers, artificial surfaces are definitely a polarizing issue. Many hate it with a passion....and this is not a good thing because the racing industry in Canada and the USA can not afford to lose any more customers.

Artificial surfaces need to be handicapped with value in mind because of the randomness. High takeouts of course, make it so value is hard to come by no matter what the surface is, but there seems to be more value plays found for artificial surface bettors. It might be that the more sophisticated handicappers bet on dirt tracks, and many avoid artificial surfaces. But with handle in North America dropping, this phenomenon could change rather quickly.

So What Is Good About Artificial Surfaces?
Besides, the possible value that may still exist when betting exotics or longer priced horses (not quite throwing mud against the wall, but pretty close), artificial surfaces apparently save horses lives. Horses euthanized on track at Woodbine dropped by 60% since changing surfaces. However, we've seen some real bad jockey injuries on artificial surfaces, and it is commonly heard that when a jockey is unseated, there is no bounce on the surface. Would the injuries to Rene Douglas, Julia Brimo and Chad Beckon have been as severe if they occurred on the dirt?

Perhaps the best thing that could come out of artificial surfaces has to do with the future of the breed. It is pretty apparent that horses need more stamina to be successful. Breeding for two year old speed becomes less favorable. The result could be a breed that can race longer distances and horses that have much longer careers. When horses have longer careers they tend to attract more of a fan following, which of course, is good for growth.

Obviously, we are not there yet. The US Triple Crown is held on dirt tracks, and the good ones tend to hit stud by 3 or 4 at the latest, while the others seem to just disappear very quickly due to injury or just plain burn out.

It will be interesting to see what happens in clashes between Europeans (who are now breeding for artificial surfaces) and US bred horses. In Ontario now, horses are being bred for artificial surfaces as well. Over the next 3-5 years, I expect Ontario bred older horses to beat up on US bred horses going long, and on any surface. Time will tell.

Nick Kling slams Crist
Nevertheless, I consider a March 27 blog entry titled "Dubai World Crapshoot" written by Daily Racing Form (DRF) Publisher and columnist Steven Crist to be needlessly intemperate. If legendary DRF executive columnist Joe Hirsch was still alive, he would be embarrassed someone from his beloved 'Turf Authority' had composed anything so obnoxious.

A couple of very passionate Pace Advantage Forums on this topic:
Steve Crist: Tapeta Shmapeta! and Vic Zast: Dirt Officially a Four-Letter Word!

Fun Stuff: Bill Christine Lists 25 Horse Racing Quotes

25 March 2010

Woodbine Entertainment Group Announces Purse Cut of 15% For Harness Circuit

Woodbine Cuts Harness Purses By 15%
When you treat a business like a necessary evil what do you think is going to eventually happen?
Looks like slot revenues are softening in the Toronto area too, though Woodbine is blaming the cuts on too much product in Ontario. I don't think that Woodbine/Mohawk are hardly hurt by competition from other harness tracks in Ontario. The harness game is down big time, because there are less horse racing gamblers. And this is due to horse racing's refusal to compete with other forms of gambling.

I'll let John Wood who commented at Standardbred Canada do the explaining from here:

It's funny in every industry in the world if you have an oversupply of product you lower the price so you can move inventory. The last thing that WEG management will do is lower the ridiculous existing track takeout to create demand for the product. They are stuck in a business model that refuses to compete on price. They have an entitlement mentality. Is it any wonder the racing is in a free fall at WEG and will continue to be in a free fall till reduced track takeout gets addressed in a meaningful way? Jeff Gural owner of Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs said it best that the only way the racing industry will change is if racing hits rock bottom. Until that happens expect a declining racing handle and even lower purses.

Lots of Cangambleisms in that comment. John probably reads this blog.

Gilles Rivest also left a very good comment:

Is the decrease in wagering over the past year due to a general softening of standardbred wagering in the market or are you losing bettors to offshore accounts due to your high take out rates and a sadly very low reward system?
I would wager on the later as a sure bet. It is a fact that WEG is losing numerous bettors to offshore accounts but I don't see them fighting back to retain these long time clients.I would suggest that increasing your reward system by 2% would equal to an instant 2% increase in overall wagering. Also why don't you include the smaller bettors in the TOA averaging?
Eliminating the minimum wagering of $1250 would be a good first step to show that WEG appreciates all customers not only customers that wager a larger amount of money each week.
The solution to this problem is not lowering purse moneys but by stopping this exodus of bettors looking for lower take out rates and better rewards.
This is not an easy problem to tackle but if you think that lowering purse money is the solution it won't be long before a total collapse of the horse racing industry.

Woodbine announced that Stake purses would not be affected. In other words, they just spat in the small owner's eyes, as they will be the ones who will be running for much lower prices, and I doubt vet bills and trainer bills are going down to help them out. This will accomplish what Woodbine wants: Less owners. Less owners means less horses, which means less racing, and this means they can keep more profits in the short run. Of course, in the long run, by having less owners, there will be even less newbies that come along and become bettors in the future.

The Woodbine corporate philosophy has killed growth of horse racing in Canada.

I know I predicted that Woodbine would cut purses last year on thoroughbred races. This year it will happen almost certainly.

Good News From Woodbine: Horse Casualties Half The United States Rate
Only .95 euthanized horses per 1,000 starters compared to the 2.04 per 1,000 average.
Is it because the polytrack and E.P. Taylor Turf Course is safer? Is it because of more stringent drug laws? Sounder horses?

According to the stats, deaths are down 40% since the polytrack was installed, so it isn't all because of the surface. I'm sure that weeding out the horses that need lots of bute to run has been a big factor. And many of the sorer horses wind up going to Fort Erie. It brings up a good question though. What is Fort Erie's rate of deaths on the track?

ORC/WEG Starting A Pilot Project: Explanations of Inquiries and Infractions
The article from Standardbred Canada seems to be about harness racing only. But "Stewards" is mentioned, so maybe Woodbine thoroughbred fans will be hearing someone other than Dan Loiselle once in a while.
UPDATE: Brent Stone, Manager of Racing for the Ontario Racing Commission explains the projects on the Norm Borg show.

Is Woodbine and/or the ORC paying attention to the blogs? Less than two weeks ago, HANA had a post called Undercover Bettor:

....But there is an inquiry. Bill and his bettor are trembling – although it appears there will be no change, after all we saw this type of non-infraction be left up 100 times or more – it is never an easy time for a bettor. Then the tote board goes dim, there has been a change. It is announced, with no real explanation from anyone on camera and the prices are displayed.

“What happened”, says COO Bill. “Is your money just gone?”

“Yes, that’s the way it works” says the bettor. “In places like Australia and Hong Kong they have protocols to handle inquiries so the public is better informed, but here it goes from track to track. Most times your money just changes hands without nary a peep. And rulings change from track to track, so it is a bit of a mystery”...

Fort Erie Horsemen More At Ease Thanks To 3 Year Project
Still, no announcement about who will manage Fort Erie from July 1st on, and more importantly who will take on the risk if the track loses money.

I know one thing, if this is run by the horsemen or with the horsemen as the number one priority, they'll be down to 40 days in year three.

Horse racing needs to be run for the bettor. The bettor (and slots player) pays for everything from the track's salaries and taxes to the purses. Fort Erie needs more horseplayers, and that should be their major focus.

The problem with horsemen is that they will agree to the above, but they can't help being horsemen first, and it is a fact that horsemen organizations have hindered growth of horse racing in North America for the past couple of decades at least.

And racing execs haven't helped either. They do things that they "think" horseplayers want. But the best way to attract horseplayers is to ask horseplayers, even better, ask the horseplayers that are playing offshore or are gambling on something else.

Fort Erie is in big trouble as is any racetrack that pretty much maintains the status quo. Betting is down over 10% in North America for the first two months. If this trend continues, it makes Fort Erie's new management up hill climb even steeper.

They need to really think out of the box. And they really need to find or get back more horseplayers to survive. It can be done. But it needs to be done by the right people.

Oaklawn Giving Incentives For Field Size
Hey, they stole my idea here. I thought of this in 2004 or 2005 in a document I wrote called "Saving Fort Erie."

This is the thinking out of the box stuff I mentioned above. Adding purse money to races that have more than 8 horses. This is just basic understanding that bigger fields attracts higher handle.

In Fort Erie's case, they should have a minimum purse for 6 horse races or less for each class, and then add $500 to $1000 (depending on the minimum purse decided upon) for each starter up to 12. This is the kind of thing that horsemen would be against because their ideal field size is one, but the reality is that this is the kind of thing that will increase handle as horsemen will be more likely not to avoid 10-12 horse potential fields.

Taxing Poker Winners In Canada: Still A Grey Area
It is hard to define whether a poker player is playing as a business or for leisure. There is nothing black or white about it in Canada.

Disputed Harness Race At Northlands: Tote Screw Up
Race went official, but because of the foul up, the total money wagered could not be determined, so a refund was declared.......days later.

Horse racing technology reminds me of people playing Pong today.

21 March 2010

Chiming in On Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Jess Jackson

Since almost everyone has an opinion about Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, I figure why not share mine. Unless, Rachel Alexandra hurt herself or has a physical ailment that has been hushed up, Jess Jackson proved that he is a first class egotistical doofus.

Strictly from a handicappers perspective, horses generally improve off their first back from a layoff if that race was not a stellar performance. From what I understand, Zenyatta did something like a 102 Beyer, and Rachel did a 100. Both horses are capable of improving off those efforts, but the fact Zenyatta won means she is more likely to bounce a little (meaning she may not improve as much as Rachel Alexandra next time out, if at all, and may even decline a little).

Reports were that Rachel Alexandra was 80% going in, and Calvin Borel was told to ride her like the race was a prep. OK, the way horse racing works for most horses is that if a horse is 80%, then runs a route race, especially, there is a huge shot that in three weeks, the horse will be anywhere between 90-100% going into the next race.

Rachel Alexandra running style is perfect for a dirt track, while Zenyatta's style is perfect for a track made from artificial substances. It is a huge if that Zenyatta can even be a Grade 1 horse on a dirt track, because stone cold come from behinders generally only do well if suicidal fractions occur (though Zenyatta did win the Apple Blossom last year against average to fast early fractions, it is rare for horses to kick in every time consistently). It is sort of hit and miss. In other words, on the dirt, Rachel at 90% would most likely have beaten Zenyatta at 100%. The reverse would be true on a plastic track.

Horse racing desperately needed this match up, it would have been fantastic momentum that would be carried through to the Triple Crown and then possible rematches between these two exceptional mares.

And who knows if one match up will ever happen now. Horses get hurt. It is a fact of life. Schedules don't have to mesh again this year, and each of these two horses are one bad step away from retirement.

Jess Jackson now joins Frank Stronach and David Willmot as well as many others as being very bad for growing horse racing in the Big Ego and Little Else Club.

I agree with Bill Finley most of the time, but he is out to lunch in his latest article where he says that passing the Apple Blossom was the right thing for Rachel and Jess to do.

Rumour: Chantal Sutherland Engaged To Mike Smith
Roger Stein reported this on his radio show yesterday (early on in the broadcast). He wonders if Sutherland will come to Woodbine to race, though last reports are that she will. But there is also a rumour from a few sources that she will ride at Del Mar come July.

If she does wind up doing this it will be a huge blow to Woodbine, because she is one of the few bright spots Woodbine has to offer.

Financially, she would be much better off riding at Woodbine, but once in a while love overrides income.

Fort Erie backstretch opens today. Opening Day coincides with the Kentucky Derby which is May 1st this year. No news on who is going to manage the place July 1st.

Almost Missed This Story Entirely (From March 10th):
Windsor Raceway is in the market for a new race secretary after Paul Brown, who has held the position since 2006, had his licence indefinitely revoked by the Ontario Racing Commission. Although no details for the cause of Brown’s suspension were released, an ORC ruling issued Feb. 10 indicated the suspension went into effect Feb. 1 and by order of the ORC, Brown may not submit a licence application for at least two years.
The ORC is also involved with an investigation into alleged race fixing in the state of Michigan. Last week, Michigan State Police executed search warrants at three homes relating to alleged race-fixing at three Michigan tracks - Hazel Park Raceway, Northville Downs and Sports Creek Raceway. Though the police said in a statement that as many as 30 people could be involved in the alleged scandal, according to an industry source, only one person was taken in by police and that person has since been released from custody. “The (Michigan) Gaming Control Board is in place to ensure the integrity of our 75 year old family industry, and we applaud their efforts to eliminate participants whose actions tarnish the reputations of thousands of hard working Michigan families that call horse racing their way of life,” Michigan Harness Horse Association president Brett Boyd said in a statement on the MHHA web site. At this point, there has been no indication that any Ontario horsepeople or Ontario track is involved with the investigation, although several Michigan horsepeople race regularly at Windsor Raceway.

For some reason Standardbred Canada looks like they missed it.

Harness Horseman Gets 20 Years For Shipping Meth Ingredients to Canada and the US

OK, lets leave today's post on a light note. Two very funny scenes from Seinfeld from the episode The Subway:

Classic Kramer whipping himself during a race. Every true horseplayer has done this at least once in their life:

17 March 2010

When Will Woodbine Stop Hindering Growth?

Real life story. Many friends of mine know I'm a handicapper. I may not be the best, but I'm pretty good. I don't use a computer program either. I generally use either Brisnet or TrackMaster past performances. I have charts that convert Brisnet and Trackmaster speed figures to my scale of figures, if I'm dealing with a track or race that I don't have my own personal track variant on (I do track variants for 6 tracks and the Kentucky circuit).

A good friend of mine emails me on Saturday around 21 minutes before the 7th at Santa Anita (the race Zenyatta is in). I've got 4 past performance charts opened up on my computer, but Santa Anita is not one of them. It is not a track I tend to bet for various reasons.

My friend tells me in the email that his friend is with a few buddies at a Toronto teletheatre and he wants me to email back him and cc his friend my picks for the last four races.

I proceed to download the past performances for Santa Anita and within 7 minutes, I email back my selections 8,7,4-6,8,1A-4,5,6-7,9,12,8

I was tempted to throw some money in my HPI account, but remembering it is Santa Anita and the fact that Woodbine grossly underpays exotics, I stuck to my guns and didn't do it. I played Santa Anita twice this winter, and when I hit a pick 3 that paid around $100 and got underpaid by around $5, still, I felt like an imbecile. Seriously. It isn't the money, it is the principle.

I watch the races, hoping my friends will win something, and maybe a bit of hoping I don't look too bad with my picks.

Number 8 (Zenyatta) won the 7th, my other horses were no where. Same thing happened in the 8th race. In the 9th, my second choice won, the other two horses didn't hit the board. At least I don't feel like my picks are horrible, but they are hardly useful so far.

I then got distracted, got up and checked what was happening in the kitchen, turned the channel to watch real TV after watching horse racing all day.

About 20 minutes later, my friend calls, he could tell I didn't watch the last race and then tells me what happened. Picked the triactor, not only that, but the super.
He told me he cashed a few thousand (hit the pick 3 & pick 4 and had the triactor), and his friend at the teletheatre and his buddies all hit the tri at least (also at least one had the pick 4). He said they were all on cloud 9. No one hit the super though.

I asked what it paid, and my friend said $4,000 for the triactor, he then paused and said, oh yeah, Woodbine doesn't pay track odds on triactors from Santa Anita (the payoff at Woodbine and its teletheatre network and HPI was $1,844 for a buck instead of $2,018).

Word was quickly spread to the new players that they got ripped off on the payoffs. It has been four days, and outside of a very sincere thank you, nobody seems interested in coming back too quickly. Not that they won't be back, but their enthusiasm was definitely tampered with. And if they didn't get a full education, I will make sure they read this post.

Horseplayers are rarely stupid, and now with the internet becoming more and more prominent, results can be seen by everyone. Lets say, the newbies don't have an HPI account, and they want to look up the results. They go to Equibase. But Equibase has different payouts, bigger payouts, then what they received because of Woodbine's larcenous behaviour.

Woodbine's explanation:
Why might payoffs on some pools differ from that of the host?
Since some U.S. tracks have extraordinarily low takeout rates on some pools (e.g. Triactors, Superfectas) that do not accommodate the high mandatory deductions in Canada, WEG will use a minimum of 25% for the total takeout on these pools. This is a very common rate that is used by other U.S. tracks.

Extraordinarily low? The takeout on California exotics is 20.68%. Woodbine does not mark up WPS bets from California, which have a takeout of 15.43%, so how is 20.68% extraordinarily low (I know, low for exotics, but it just makes non sense). As for mandatory deductions, the government only takes 1.3% on every dollar wagered, and horsemen get an extra 2% on triactors than they normally get on WPS. The important point though is, if a track can't afford to pay what the host track pays, it shouldn't take the signal.

Here are the $1 payoffs from Saturday's 10th race (Woodbine's rip off payoffs on the left, Santa Anita's real payoffs on the right):

Pick 3 $678.75 $722.70
Pick 4 $1,140.60 $1,214.40
Triactor $1,844.50 $2,018.00
Super $13,238.30 $14,094.80

So what is the end result. My friend was reminded to be careful what to play through his HPI account, and I'm sure he took some of the money out on account of this. His friend and the newbie buddies all learned something new about takeout and Woodbine's nefarious ways. Maybe they'll bet some of their winnings back....at Betfair.

And me, I'm really happy that I helped make a bunch of people some money. Do I regret not playing Santa Anita at HPI myself? Honestly, not really. I know in the long run, I'm much better off avoiding being ripped off like this if I want to be a successful gambler.

The end result for Woodbine is they cost themselves probably $15,000 minimum in churn from me. Probably another $8,000 in churn from my friend. And this is regardless of whether my friend's friend and his newbie buddies bet a cent back or not. Plus, it leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

Way to go Woodbine, keep it up. It is a shame what Woodbine has done to hinder growth. From higher than average takeouts (despite slots) to their practice of increasing the takeout on many simulcast tracks, it is no wonder that is firing employees instead of hiring them. They have done their darnedest to ensure that Canadians aren't interested in betting on horses.

As an aside, they also hurt tracks that have a lower than 27% takeout on exotics, like California tracks. I know I'm not the only person who avoids them in Canada. These tracks should stipulate in their contracts that Woodbine pays track odds on everything.

UPDATE: It finally hit me what is happening here. Not only are they making money for facilitating the wager, Woodbine is taking a cut from the winnings. In other words, they are a partner in the bet without taking any risk. Who said the Mafia is dead?

Ed Bain is baaack! Ed is a strong systems handicapper who relies mainly on trainer patterns to come up with value picks. Check out Edbain.com.

Undercover Boss featured Churchill Down's COO Bill Carstanjen on Sunday's show. HANA did a very humorous take on what if Carstanjen would have seen what it would be like to be an Undercover Bettor. Yep, tracks sure take gamblers for granted. And lets see, it is the bettor (horse and slots where applicable) who pays for the track operations, including boardroom furniture, as well as the purses.

12 March 2010

Tioga Downs Doing It Right, Monmouth Park Doing It Wrong

Tioga Downs put out a press release yesterday that they are intending to lower their track takeout from 18% on WPS, 20% on Exes and DD's and 25% on Supers to 15%, 17%, and 21% respectively. Tioga actually gave HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) a seat at the table and asked for input a while back leading to this news. Yes!, some track execs do read blogs and message boards and actually take them seriously.

All studies show that if takeout is reduced, handle and the bottom line for the track and horsemen will rise. It usually doesn't happen overnight, but lets see what happens here. I haven't played harness racing in years, but I will support this takeout drop, and if I start cashing tickets, I'll give them even more action. Free past performances would be a huge plus for Tioga to make available.

A couple of quotes by Jason Settlemoir, Tioga Downs VP of Racing and Simulcasting:

“The USTA recently polled visitors to their website and 1,259 out of 1,710 people who voted (roughly 74%) responded they would be more apt to bet races if a track lowered their takeout rate."

“We would even consider going lower on the takeout rates to between eight and nine per cent like the typical hold in the casino world if the state would allow us, and our export sites would be on board."

New York state, or any jurisdiction for that matter, has no business putting a minimum on what a track wants to charge. As for ADWs and tracks not taking Tioga's signal, Settlemoir is correct to be concerned that hardly anyone (if anyone) would take the signal at 8 or 9% in today's market. I don't see why any track would refuse Tioga's proposed structure though....well, Canadians will be out of luck I think if they want to bet Tioga through HPI, and even if HPI did have it, they would base the triactor and superfecta payoffs as if the takeout was somewhere between 25-27%.

Horseplayersbet.com will most probably have Tioga Downs on the menu, and strong Player Rewards will be earned on all bets made.

Tioga Downs President Jeff Gural is currently attending the TRA/HTA conference in California. Attendance is very light apparently. A couple of quotes from Mr. Gural:

"...the race tracks that don’t have slots aren’t here because they can’t afford it. Those that do have slots aren’t here because they don’t care about racing any more.”

“If you’ve got slots,” the pari-mutuel revenues are a drop in the bucket. Why offer slots with an 8% takeout and then charge people 20% to bet on racing?”

He is 100% correct on both accounts. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has demanded that Pennsylvania tracks like Philly Park and Penn National demonstrate “concrete ways their commitment to live racing and breeding.” These tracks have been accused of not giving a rats ass about horse racing as it has now become such a small percentage of the bottom line thanks to the expansion of gaming at the tracks in Pennsylvania. Horse racing appears to be a necessary evil there and other tracks throughout North America that have slots.

Personally, I find it disturbing that tracks with slots seem to have the highest takeouts in most cases. Tioga Downs is definitely doing the right thing by going the other way.

See also, Tioga Downs' Bold Move.

Monmouth To Cut Racing Days In Half While Tripling Purses

They actually think that giving out a million a day in purses will lead to doubling the handle. Not a chance!

A study done in 1998 concludes that doubling purses will cause handle to go up by 6%. Lets say the study is a little outdated because the environment has changed because a higher percentage of betting originate off track. And there is also the problem that this study doesn't take into account the effect of reducing dates, which will probably create a larger than normal live handle. OK, so we might see handle increase because of purse size in the neighbourhood of 15-20%. However, betting is down around 10% this year so far.

Saratoga is still going give out $750,000 a day in purses. This means that quality will be diluted. I can't see many California horsemen being lured to Monmouth, considering Saratoga didn't seem to lure many horses during current past meets.

Monmouth may hurt tracks like Woodbine, keeping a few Americans home and luring the odd good Canadian horse or two. But when you look at speed figures at Woodbine last year in general, even with their good purses, there wasn't much quality there to begin with. And Woodbine only averages a little more than $2 million a day in handle.

And how much quality is there in New Jersey bred races no matter what the purse is? There will be at least a couple a card on average.

Bettors don’t care if owners make more money, they generally are attracted to familiarity (something that is lost in horse racing because good horses retire too early), actual quality, and field size.

I prefer betting non winners or two or three races with a field size of 9-12 than a Stake Race where horses are coming from all over.

The biggest problem with this whole line of thinking by Monmouth is that it is just a way of living with a shrinking pie. This will not lead to growth. In fact, it is just adding fuel to the fire.

Less races equals less owners and trainers and horses. And this inevitably means less growth. The two biggest assets the horse racing industry has is its existing bettors, and horsemen (owners in this case). Horseplayers who last longer betting are more likely to expose others in their inner circle to horse racing. Owners, especially smaller partnerships, are more likely to bring friends and family to the track in hopes of getting their pictures taken. The more they race, the more likely they are to bring friends and family. The more friends and family go, the more likely it is that some of them become semi-regulars or even regulars.

I just don't see this Monmouth experiment working. They would have been better advised to reduce takeout, but they didn't confer with HANA, so they went this way instead.

HANA now has over 1500 members.
To join HANA (free to do so), click here.

TRACKMASTER has made their blog a lot more reader friendly. Check it out.

Triple Dead Heat has a couple of neat posts up. An interview with Centennial Farm's Brandon Boone on Queen's Plate hopeful, Captain Canuck, and a really nice photo essay on Windfield's Farm.

University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program student is doing a Master's Degree Thesis Project: "an attempt to develop a new model that takes into consideration this open market system. I am attempting to show that sound economic principles and techniques can be applied to modern pari-mutuel wagering to show the effects of altering the takeout rates."

Should be interesting. His blog will be updated with findings.

I don't do much on either Triple Crowns. But Triple Crown Chase, a blog run by a horse owner in New York, who races his horses mainly at Fort Erie, does. Check out Triple Crown Chase.

After 5 months, Quebec horseplayers can now go back to betting through HPI, because of the promise to run a short harness meet later this year.
Oh, and they are going with a ridiculous average takeout rate 23% takeout rate instead of a super-ultra ridiculous 30% takeout rate, which probably helped them get into the spot they found themselves in to begin with.

For Quebec horseplayer's sake, I hope many discovered there are plenty of ways to bet on horses and get a much much better deal than betting through HPI the past 5 months.

BTW, if you think thoroughbred takeout is high, which it is, takeout rates on harness racing B tracks in Ontario are sickening, oh, and they have slots...ahem.

Gas Soaked Slots Customer Causes Woodbine Slots To Miss A Night Of Revenues. You have to be crazy to play slots. I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often.

7 March 2010

Horse Racing Forums

I'm not sure what percentage of horseplayers view horse racing forums on the internet. One thing is for sure, horse racing forums have now become a legitimate place for one to voice their opinion. With racing declining, more and more horsemen and racing execs are beginning to take notice, and believe it or not, some are even listening.

So here are the main horse racing forums:


Easily the number one horse racing forum on the internet. Pace Advantage has over 13000 members, and is viewed by hundreds of people at any given time. It attracts a vast array of posters from computer program handicappers to trainers to racing execs to ADW owners.

HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) was started by Pace Advantage Forum members who joined together to try to give horseplayers a seat at the table.

The handicappers on Pace Advantage are the most sophisticated anywhere on the internet collectively. A newbie might get intimidated when viewing some of the systems and statistics that are mentioned in quite a few of the threads.

Sometimes, the commenters at each others throats. But a little drama makes it more entertaining.

Thoroughbred Champions

Kind of Pace Advantage lite. Again, a pretty sophisticated group of members who are pretty inquisitive and knowledgeable. The crowd is less contentious to one another over there than at Pace Advantage.


The forum has interesting threads, but there just doesn't seem to be enough active commenters. They do seem to get current horse racing news stories as quickly as anyone else if not faster in some cases.

Kind of a clique crowd that is often on each others cases, a little too much in some instances.

The Paulick Report

Not a forum by definition. The Paulick Report has tremendous readership, and attracts some big names in horse racing to comment on in house stories. The fact that comments can be made quickly without being subject to moderation, gives it the feel of a high quality horse racing forum (though some comments are later deleted if they are too offensive).

Del Mar Forum

The least respected horse racing forum on the internet, though the moderators there have tried to fix that recently. It is a breeding ground for California horsemen and simple fans. It is hard to learn anything of substance from that forum whatsoever, and if you are pro horseplayer, posting there will only lead to frustration.

Doesn't have much of a following either.

Barn To Wire Forum

Finally, a forum that I'm not a member of. This one is regional, based in Chicago. The commenters seem to be well mannered and bright. But there is a definite lack of activity on that board that might have to do with their focus.


I just recently became a member there (though they rejected me three times as Cangamble). This is the Wild West of horse racing forums. Mainly focused on harness racing, the crowd there is a cross between Andrew Dice Clay and Don Rickles.

Some of the crudest smilies I've seen on the internet, and swear words don't seem to get deleted either.


This is a genuine harness racing forum. Pretty respectful bunch. You can see the frustrations faced by the members, who seem to be a mix of horsemen and players, as their game struggles to survive.

It isn't very active, so it is easy to miss a few days there and catch up.

Definitely more fan based with a focus on upcoming major Stake races.

TVG Community

From what I've seen so far, they are more fans there than handicappers/insiders/horsemen. The level of sophistication there is pale in comparison to Pace Advantage for example. Not the place for me.

5 March 2010

The Cost Of Owning A Thoroughbred In Ontario In 2010

It is that time of year again, when owners have started to decide some sort of game plan when it comes to who will be training their horses, and even how many horses they are looking to race in 2010 in Ontario.

With purses so good at Woodbine, and the fact that quality isn't premium there (in other words, it might make sense to bring in horses from non slots tracks in the USA and run at Woodbine, especially low to mid claimers and those eligible for allowance non other than, and especially maidens).

I did a post a couple of years ago comparing the difference between training a race horse at Woodbine versus training one at Fort Erie. Prices haven't gone up very much to my knowledge over the past two years, so the numbers quoted are most likely very close if not right on. If I'm way off on anything please leave a comment and I will correct it.

Keep in mind that I'm quoting in Canadian dollars, so if you are an American, you can multiply all dollars quoted by .94 in order to compare apples to apples:


I'm going to make some assumptions here to give everyone an idea about costs: Your horse trains for 8 months in the year and races 12 times. For 4 months, your horse is resting at a farm. Also, your horse is Woodbine caliber and runs 11 times at Woodbine and once at Fort Erie.

Training a race horse at Fort Erie could be a lot cheaper for an owner than training the horse at Woodbine. I'm going to go through the pluses and minuses.

Cost of training:

At Woodbine, trainers charge between $60 - $110 per day. 60 bucks and $110 are very rare. The bulk of trainers charge $70-80 a day.

At Fort Erie, trainers charge between $40 - $60 per day. The bulk of trainers charge $50 a day. At Fort Erie, some trainers will offer "the deal." The typical deal is where the owner buys the horse, and the trainer is responsible for all or most of the bills in return for half the purses, and half the equity in the horse once the owner gets his or her purchase price back. For a trainer, this deal is a killer for them unless the horse makes at least $30,000 for the year. Trainers who take deals on cheap horses are usually desperate, and you have to wonder about their foresight. The only way a deal makes sense for a trainer today is if the horse is competitive at a claiming price of $12,500 or greater.

The actual cost to a hands off trainer who does nothing in the way of grooming or walking a horse can be broken down like this:

Groom $23 Hot Walker $8 Food and Bedding $15 Exercise Boy (4-5 times a week@$15 per day) $10 Total Cost=$56 per day

For Erie
Groom $18 Hot Walker $5 Food and Bedding $14 Exercise Boy (4-5 times a week@$12 per day) $8 Total Cost=$45 per day

Remember, these are estimates. Trainers also bring capital investments to the table, some bring a lot more than others. That being said, they could save money by using a hot walker machine, for example, but it cost the trainer to buy the machine. Some have pulsating blankets too. The trainer can also save on feed by buying it off the track in bulk, but they could also add supplements, which may or may not appear on your bill as well as over the counter meds.
Trainers also incur Workers Comp charges.

I have always contended that the 10% is what the trainer is entitled to. If he or she wants to make money in the morning, then they should rub or walk a horse or two. Many trainers do not agree with:)

Shoeing Charges
8 months of training and 12 races will mean about 8 pairs of shoes. At Fort Erie, the usual cost is $100 a change. At Woodbine it is around $120-$125.

Shipping Charges
If stabled at Woodbine, shipping once to Fort Erie from Woodbine would cost $200 for the year.
If stabled at Fort Erie, shipping eleven times to Woodbine from Fort Erie would cost $2200 for the year.
Shipping to and from your layoff farm total around $200 a year no matter if you have a Woodbine or Fort Erie trainer.

Layoff Period
Most farms charge between $15-$25 per day. So lets say the typical owner pays around $600 X 4 months per year.

Stake Monies
Many trainers will charge an additional 1% for a wins (and sometimes places and shows) on a training bill so that at least the groom will get a stake. Sometimes, trainers pay $50-$150 for a second as well to the groom (the owner is usually charged). So a typical owner of a Woodbine horse with a 12 starts a year (lets say 2 wins and a second), will pay an additional $700 in stakes.
Stake money differs dramatically from barn to barn.

Vet Bills
Expect to pay around $200-$300 per start per horse on average regardless of the track.

Miscellaneous Bills
Some trainers will add on tack charges or over-the-counter meds onto your bill. Many don't charge for this.

Some trainers will say that Fort Erie is a much more calming track, especially for a high strung horse. Lots of grass to graze on, and no airplanes coming and going every 2 minutes. But if you are at Woodbine, you have the option to train on the Poly, sort of a home field advantage.

The other advantage to Fort Erie is that there is plenty of extra stall space. The management of Fort understands that in order for their training base to make a decent living, Woodbine horses are pretty much needed.

Lets add it all up:

Training (@$75 per day): $75 X 240 = $18000
Shoes : $125 X 8 = $ 1000
Layoff Charges : $20 X 125 = $ 2500
Shipping = $ 400
Stake Money = $ 700
Vet Bills = $ 3000

Total = $25600
This means your horse needs to make around $32,000 a year just to break even, because the trainer and jockey get close to 10% of total purses made.

Fort Erie:
Training (@50 per day): $50 X 240 = $12000
Shoes : $100 X 8 = $ 800
Layoff Charges : $20 X 125 = $ 2500
Shipping = $ 2400
Stake Money = $ 700
Vet Bills = $ 3000

Total = $21400
This means your horse needs to make $26750 a year to break even.

If you own a horse that only runs at Fort Erie, the horse may have a few more layoff days because the season is a little shorter, and of course, less shipping charges, so the total that needs to be earned to break even may be $3,000-$4,000 lower than the amount of $26,700.

Many Fort Erie trainers are just as talented as Woodbine trainers, but they may just like the small track/small town feel. Either way, the owner needs to have a trainer they can trust, and one who doesn't intimidate them. If the owner wants to have a big say, they should have it. It is their horse, and they are the one who is most at risk.
Remember, if you are the owner, you are doing the trainer a favour by choosing to do business with him or her. Don't forget it.

One more concern this year for owners is the new upcoming HST (Harmony Sales Tax). This could really be a deterrent for US owners, and perhaps Canadian owners who care about cash flow.

Check out the poll at Pace Advantage. How much do owners pay and how much do trainers charge?

UPDATE: See also The Cost To Own A Horse In New York

If any trainers want to quote their exact prices, feel free to email me at cangambleblog@gmail.com and I will add the information on this blog post with your permission.