26 June 2010

Woodbine Is Attracting New Customers, But Won't Keep Them.....Unless

Bill Finley wrote an article: How Woodbine Is Attracting New Customers
Bill commends Woodbine for the newly formatted Bet Race Live. Very positive article. Woodbine is definitely onto something by going after the younger demographics who regularly watch The Score for sports scores and updates, and these are the same people who watch and play live and online poker.

The problem Woodbine has is keeping the customer. As I've stated many times on this blog, there has to be incentive to keep today's newbies, and that incentive is the realistic chance that if good enough, a player can actually beat the game over time.

Sorry, but with a 21% average takeout, that chance is non existent. Yes, you can beat the race, but with such an extraordinarily high takeout, you can't beat the races.

I'll agree with Woodbine's Vice President of Marketing and Communication Andrew MacDonald: "When it comes down to it, racing's greatest asset is that it is, if presented properly, a terrific gambling game. Sell that and maybe people will discover the sport."

However, in order to sell the game properly there needs to be visible winners. The price of the gamble (the takeout) needs to drop.

Horseplayers, especially new ones, will not become regulars if they can't get their bankroll to last. Most will be gone almost as quickly as fast as they signed up for the $24 in free bets.

Fort Erie Update
Fort Erie has applied to race at 4PM for the five Tuesdays in August. Good move. Should have included Mondays as well. This should be good for handle.

Looks like another major personnel change is about to happen at the Fort as the Consortium officially takes over on July 1st.

Really bad news for Niagara residents who watch HPITV on Cogeco cable. Cogeco is taking HPITV off their channel roster on July 23rd. They are also taking HPITV off the roster in other areas as well (though it sounds as if some Cogeco viewers in certain areas will still get HPITV). The reason cited to me this morning was that it is a bandwidth issue as Cogeco is bringing on another 10 channels and had to make room.

Conceivably, this move was based on ratings. However, there are more than a few people out there who watch HPITV for many hours a week, and these people could potentially switch to Bell. People are unlikely to switch if they dumped certain other channels, channels that get higher ratings, so maybe Cogeco will reconsider.

If this goes through, it will also hurt betting numbers through HPI as well. Watching races on a computer is not nearly as fun as watching them on the tube. And when the channel isn't there anymore, horseplayers might get into something else, and also find that they have more money in their bank account at the end of the week.

An event called the North American Cup happens tonight. No, it is not a soccer match, but some sort of big money chariot race at Mohawk. Read all about it at Pull The Pocket.

Humor Alert: Advertising Firm Says Table Games, Marketing to Dead Can Save Racing
Note to The Serial Horseplayer, you are missing the best online horse racing platform on your Top Rated Racebooks (when it comes to benefiting the Horseplayer) and that is Horseplayersbet.com:)

20 June 2010

The Trainer Must Have Something

The phrase "the trainer must have something" has been around for quite some time. It doesn't mean that there is no significance to it. Apologists and those who benefit from the use of undetectable drugs like to call it sour grapes, and in some cases that may be true, but overall, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it is a cheating trainer.

Even tracks like Woodbine admit there are undetectable drugs being used. Maybe not in words, but that is what the detention barn is all about.

The reality is that it is expensive to test for everything, and it is difficult to test for something that is successfully masked, or even worse, an unknown substance.

Rats aren't popular, and it is almost impossible to find one amongst the backstretch community. Shane Sellers admitted he used a buzzer, and he was ripped by many as being a possible liar, or just a despicable person for putting it out there. Personally, I'd love to see a former "super trainer" come out one day and expose himself. Might make for a best seller, assuming there are enough horse racing fans left to buy it, when the book finally comes out.

There are only so many ways to legally train a horse, and most trainers know the angles. That is why when you see a 25% plus trainer over a long stretch, it is an insult to one's intelligence to buy into the excuse that it is the trainer's methods that are behind the win rate.

Sure, there are ways for trainers to increase their win percentage without doing anything underhanded, like spotting horses in small fields (like they do in California), or dropping significantly enough, however, with each win comes one less condition, and therefore tougher competition, so the longer a horse runs under a high percentage trainer, the less likely their win rate will remain as high, in a drug free world that is.

Lots has been written about Super Trainer Lou Pena (harness trainer). Andrew Cohen wrote a series of articles questioning Pena's prowess. The most significant is this one which includes many facts:

"Moreover, the average horse improved over five lengths in those starts. And many of these former trainers are well known and respected horsemen."

In another article, Bob Pandolfo left a comment:

"When you run Trackmaster's Statmaster for Cal Expo (it only goes back to 2005), from 2005 through June 17, 2010, Lou Pena sent out over 3438 horses and had a 14% win percentage and he won 10% first off the claim. Again, according to Statmaster, at Harrahs Chester, his win percentage over the past year and a half is 47% and he has won 75% (12 for 16) first off the claim. At the Meadowlands he won 26% and was 33% first off the claim. At Yonkers he has a 32% win percentage, and is 67% first off the claim. At Pocono he has a 40% win, and 62% first off the claim. At Freehold he is at 27%, and 100% (2 for 2) wins first off the claim. So those who reported how great he did at Cal Expo seemed to have exaggerated. There is no doubt that his overall win% and win% first off the claim have skyrocketed since he moved east."

What I find most disturbing are the Pena supporters. Harness racing is dying faster than thoroughbred racing, yet, what I suspect is coming from a certain clique of trainers and owners, there are people going after Cohen and calling Pena criticizers witch hunters.

Between absurdly high track takeouts and insider drug info, how much chance does Joe Bettor have anymore? And with Super Trainers stealing purse monies, lots of incentives to new owners to try to make a buck in the game, is much depleted.

Sure, Pena might just be a great trainer who is getting extra lucky, but I like my chances of winning the Lotto Max jackpot next Friday more.

So what might Super Trainers be using these days?

One commenter, Joe, wrote this:

"The odds are 1 to 9 that the drug Pena is using to dope his horses with is Micera. It is a third-generation drug called CERA (continuous erythropoiesis receptor activator). It that lasts 6 times longer than DPO and 20 times longer than EPO. It requires only a simple ONCE-PER-MONTH subcutaneous injection. It is undetectable by urine-based doping controls. Micera is widely available in Europe, and has been approved in the USA. However, it is not yet commercially available in the USA due to a legal battle between Roche and Amgen. Certainly not a big problem to overcome."

There is a test for CERA, but I'm unaware if it has been implement at any North American tracks yet.

Of course, when it comes to undetectable drugs and blocks, synthetic cobra venom and snail venom always come up. There is a test for cobra venom, but it still hasn't made it to the North American labs. Here is an interesting video on the problem and the new test:

Venom blocks injuries which allows a horse to run through its soreness. This increases the likelihood of serious breakdowns during the race.

EPO/DPO/Micera are blood boosters. The use of these drugs have been known to have adverse long term effects on horses. Probably one of the reasons that if you pick up a Daily Racing Form from 2 years ago, many times, most of the horses entered aren't around today.

Super Trainers are one step ahead of the testing barn, and from recent conversations, I am starting to think that the real good stuff is most likely a narcotic, one that gets horses wound up like a crack addict trying to score more crack. Something that gets the horse so buzzed that they would run through a wall.

And who knows, more than one undetectable drug can be used at once, if undetectable, the more the merrier to the cheater. Bill Finley has been writing about banning Lasix for years, because according to research, Lasix is a very good mask of other drugs.

The other reason that Super Trainers are probably not using something known is the fact that there are many trainers who experiment all the time with concoctions that they hope won't test because of masking, in order to get an edge. Many do get caught. I'm sure the RMTC Recent Rulings section is full of such trainers.

Penalties just aren't high enough. Not high enough to deter many trainers from "taking a shot." I've always maintained that since we are dealing with both purse money and betting money, criminal charges should be laid in many instances. Why isn't illegal drug use on horses defrauding the public?

Of course, some might argue that if it isn't being tested for, it is legal. Obviously not, or there would be no detention barns.

If you have a tip regarding a cheater in Ontario, the Ontario Racing Commission and Crimestoppers have teamed up. To make a completely anonymous call: 1-800-222-TIPS

Now For Something Much Lighter

Funny blog piece at ThatsAmoreStable.net: Seven Racetrack Characters To Avoid

I left the following comment: "I’m Talking To Himself Guy, except all the talking goes on in my head.

Another guy to avoid is Chronic Rooting Guy: He roots for his horse from the far turn right to end even if his horse is backing through the field at the head of the stretch."

A lot more comments on the piece can be found at Pace Advantage.

12 June 2010

I Told You So: Marsh Side Reinstated

I wrote this right after the Northern Dancer at Woodbine last fall:

Stewards Flipped The Coin And Got It Wrong In Northern Dancer
Unfortunately, on this Youtube video you don't get to see the head on (you can if go to Cal Racing or HPI replays), but the disqualification of Marsh Side was a bad call. There was no apparent bumping between Marsh Side and Quijano, and both jockeys were hitting with right hand while moving to the inside in tandem. If anything, Quijano would have squeezed Champs Elysee regardless of whether Marsh Side was in the race or not. Again, if the Stewards have to look at a race for more than two minutes, they should let the results stand.

The eventual winner had the common sense to get away from the rail as his jockey anticipated the tight quarters. Champs Elysee did get shut off, but I have a problem blaming Marsh Side for it.
I am pretty sure that this call will be overturned, and the bettor who picked the best horse in the race, will wind up getting screwed.
Well guess what?

Disqualified stakes winner reinstated

This disqualification was absolutely a horrible call. And it occurred on a race that had over $600,000 bet on it, plus it was the first leg of a Win 4 that had over $100,000 bet into it.

The question is how did the Stewards see something that didn't happen? It was a lengthy inquiry as well if memory serves me well.

This is why Stewards should be given 3 to 5 minutes tops to make a decision. And only use visual evidence. There is really no point to hear a jockey plead his or her case and give what must amount to a very biased opinion, possibly swaying a Steward or two.

The public wants decisions based on visual evidence. They can live with it. And given a choice, I'm sure most bettors could live with a horse being thrown out in an appeal, but this reinstating the best horse who was thrown out is simply (pardon my French) bull crap.

Another Good Article On Current Fort Erie Leading Rider Krista Carignan
Good to see a jockey go to the tapes in an effort to improve her game. And learning from a trip handicapping trainer isn't a bad move either.

Arlington All Source Handle Down 31%: Purses Slashed
Lets see: High Takeouts (Arlington Ranks 40th out of 69 tracks in HANA's Takeout Ratings). Restricted signal (not all ADWs have Arlington on the menu). A high distribution fee for its signal. And the restricting of ADWs to rebating a maximum of 2%, unless the bettor bets more than a million a year.

In today's betting environment, where many Horseplayers who bet good money are shopping around to give them the best chance to make a profit, the way Arlington is doing things is a recipe for disaster. And polytrack doesn't help, but by far, that isn't the main reason the track had such dismal results.

The Horseplayer has been awakened, and racetracks better realize this or suffer the consequences.

9 June 2010

Inspired By HANA, Pinnacle Race Course Lowers Takeout On Exotics

It isn't a shocker that racetracks are now starting to pay attention to the customer. Handle is dwindling, in May handle was down 8.3% from the previous year.

Simple Business 101 demands that when demand decreases, prices should come down. In horse racing, the price to the consumer is the track takeout. If a track is in trouble and they don't lower takeout, they aren't trying.

Pinnacle Race Course is trying. From Director of Pari-Mutuels/Simulcasting, Laura Bennett: "In response to the Horse Players Association of North America (HANA), we have lowered our take-out rates to the "lowest in Michigan".

More Money To The Players: "Win, Place, and Show are set by the State at 17%. All other pools are by track choice. We have lowered all our other offerings to 20% except Trifectas and Superfectas which have lowered to 25%.

Before this takeout drop, Pinnacle Race Course ranked 64th out of 69 tracks in North America for takeout score. Takeout rates were 17% WPS (unchanged), 20% on doubles (unchanged), and 27% on all other bets (they dropped the takeout by 7% on exactors, and 2% on all other bets).

With Tracknet dissolving, Pinnacle will be able to broaden their distribution to all ADWs.

I hope tracks like Fort Erie are taking note. Horseplayers who get more money back on each bet will last longer, and they are more apt to come back and play quicker. Lower takeouts also attract price sensitive players who may have avoided the track in the past.

Fort Erie takeouts are the second worst in North America. 16.95% on WPS, 26.2% on all other bets except for triactors which have a takeout of 28.2%. Their handle sucks this year. And it is a big year for them as they attempt to turn the joint around. If they don't address the track takeout issue soon, they simply aren't trying. 26.2% on exactors and doubles is simply obscene.

Lowering track takeout isn't an overnight fix, but the sooner they drop it, the quicker the process to build up their customer base begins.

To join HANA click here, it is free, and only takes a minute or two.

There Is Actually A Chance That Woodbine and All Ontario Racetracks Will Lower Takeout Soon

As mentioned here previously, Nick Eaves, the new top banana at Woodbine Entertainment is making it a quest to get the Ontario Horse Improvement Plan funded by slots and not by bets on horse races:

"He wants an immediate reduction in the takeout – 2 per cent on straight bets and 4 per cent on trifectas he calls “a start’’ – by removal of the current tax that goes to fund the Ontario Horse improvement Program, suggesting that worthy plan be funded by general slots revenues."

This would be great for Woodbine, which has some momentum going lately thanks to exposure at TVG and having their past performances being part of the Daily Racing Form Eastern edition in the USA. Woodbine also for the first time in at least recent history, can now be wagered on in Las Vegas. 83 Casinos can now put Woodbine on their betting menu.

If this does come to fruition, and Woodbine didn't come up with some excuse to not cut the takeout by the full amount of the HIP tax, Woodbine's takeout on WPS would be 14.95%, which would be the lowest in North America. 18.5% on Exactors and Doubles would tie them for the lowest in exactors (on the thoroughbred side), and tied for third for daily doubles.

I would hope that all harness tracks in Ontario, Ajax Downs and Fort Erie would also drop takeouts by the same amount as the HIP tax as well. But they could do what Woodbine did a few years when the government opted to lower taxation on wagers from over 8% to 1.3%, and foolishly keep takeout the same.

As for being able to allow bettors to play single sports games, I don't see the idea of Woodbine being a bookie flying. Unless it is set up in a parimutuel way, there is risk. And if they charge anything more than 10% juice, they won't attract enough action to make it worthwhile.

Bennett Liebman, has written a very good article in The Post (The New York Times Blog): Reasons For The Decline of Horse Racing.

All his reasons are significant. Although I will argue that his first reason cited, "Other Forms Of Gambling" is very much related to his ninth reason "Track Takeout" which could be combined to be the major reason for decline: Horse Racing's failure to compete with other forms of gambling.

As he points out, horse racing is a game of skill with an onerous collective takeout. There is no real reason for a newbie to get started, and little reason to stay:

"When you hear from the major rebate shops, that without the rebate, even their most skilled players almost never beat the takeout, you wonder why you play the game."

The bright side is that even smaller bettors can now can decent cash bonuses on their bets if they shop around.

There are additional reasons for the decline in horse racing. One that a commenter brought up is very valid, and it has to do with the short racing span of today's superstar horses. Frying 2 and 3 year olds, while taking the best out of competition and putting them in the breeding shed, has made it so that fan favorites come and go way too quickly.

Churchill Downs Inc. Has Completed The Merger of Youbet with Twinspires
It will be interesting to see what platform and features the keep, and which they get rid of in the near future.

2 June 2010

Can The Horse Racing Industry Get Together On Payoff Prices?

Yes, we all know that horse racing is one of the most dysfunctional industries on this planet today. Different State and Provincial laws don't help. Drug A is allowed in some States but not others. Some jurisdictions have new whipping rules, others do not. The list goes on. But can't racetracks agree on the way they report payoffs?

Guessing at what payoff prices or probable payoff prices are based on, are yet another needless inconvenience that horseplayers have to deal with.

Whether you are looking at the payoffs on TV from the direct Delaware feed, for example, which doesn't state the base used for Pick 3's and other exotic bets, or whether you are betting at your favorite ADW and looking at the results or probables, bettors should not have to do research to figure out what they are looking at.

How hard is it to get all racetracks on the same page on this one little thing? Does it take a Central Organization to be created first? Can Equibase perhaps get it done, or does the Horseplayers Association of North America have to save the day on this one?

An informal survey was started at Pace Advantage.

The question: How would you like to see all tracks report their payoff prices?

To date, one can see from the results that there is no consensus on what is most desirable and this could be the cause of the problem in the first place as various tracks are owned and run by a whole slew of different individuals and entities (not too many that are in tune with the customer base, I might add):

1.All Payoffs Should Be Based On $2 Wagers 20 27.03%
2.All Payoffs Should Be Based On $1 Wagers 15 20.27%
3.Whatever The Minimum Is For The Bets 22 29.73%
4.$2 Payoffs For WPS, EX, DD, P6 $1 for all other bets 10 13.51%
5.I don't really care 7 9.46%

Basing everything on $2 wagers leads to misleading prices on supers and other exotics where the pool might have been won with a 20 cent ticket.

Basing everything on $1 wagers leads to problems when it comes to $2 minimum bets like California Pick 6's or Moutaineer Daily Doubles. And of course, $1 WPS payouts won't fly with most bettors, at least at first.

Using the minimum bet is probably the idea that makes most sense. Almost everyone, if not everyone, knows when a 10 or 20 cent superfecta is offered, regardless of whether they had a $1 ticket or a dime ticket.

The fourth option is good as well. Historically we know bets are reported on the basis of $2 for WPS, Exactors and Doubles. And if everyone was on the same page regarding $1 Superfecta, Triactor, and Pick 3 payouts, it wouldn't take long for this method of reporting to be accepted.

I think any of the methods above, if announced, would be acceptable. But one thing is for sure, the way it works now is a complete pain in the butt for most horseplayers.

Bet Night Live On The Score

I'm in a giving mood today so I'm going to sort of help promote something *gasp* Woodbine is doing.

In an effort to get more people (especially young people) interested in betting on horse racing, they have tweaked their show on the Score to be more focused on betting horses.

I caught a bit of their harness edition on Monday night. I think adding Laura Diakun as a main host was a good move. She is cute enough to keep at least a few males interested in what she has to say.

It was a pretty good move to do a story on Serge Savard as well, since The Score obviously attracts a lot of hockey fans. We'll probably see a feature on Rod Seiling and whats his name, the guy who used to score lots of goals for the Maple Leafs and was also a regular bettor at Woodbine on his days off....oh yeah, Eddie Olczyk.

The contest they have is also a good one. Each Bet Live race night, horseplayers can bet $6 per race (in races 2 through 5) in an effort to win a $600 Grand Prize.
The $6 is actually bet into the pools, and it can be wagered on any betting type (I didn't read the rules completely, but the way I see it, that means Pick 3's and Pick 4's as well, which could cause a problem in declaring a winner before they go off the air). UPDATE, apparently the rules state WPS, Ex, Tris or Supers.

Another foreseeable problem is that the winner each night could be someone who just plays triactors. And lets face it, for newbies that could be very intimidating. And how long before newbies do an internet web search and find out that the TRACK TAKEOUT ON TRIACTORS AT WOODBINE IS A MIND BLOWING 27%?

One thing they are doing is funding each new HPI account with $24 to play the game first time around (for new customers only). This should attract a new customers.

But of course, the biggest problem is keeping the new customer, and getting them interested in playing the game long term. And this is just impossible thanks to high takeout rates. You need winners to entice today's young crowd. That is why Betfair and online poker have shown enormous growth.

There has to be a reason to learn how to pick horses and bet them. The game has to be perceived to be beatable, and false claims will not fly. There needs to be real long term winners, even if there are just a few. These winners will serve as a carrot stick for newbies.

Right now, there just isn't a reason for a potential new horseplayer to start up. Why should a person put in all the effort it takes to learn how to handicap and bet if they know they have no chance to win long term.

Horse racing is a great game. It attracts thinking gamblers, but along with the thinking, there needs to be an opportunity for long term victory.

Takeouts need to be reduced, especially at tracks like Woodbine and Fort Erie who clobber their customers with some of the highest takeouts in the industry.

To play in the contest, you need to enroll (only once for the year). Click here for details.

Woodbine Bias Report
Same old same old, though I'm noticing the rail is a bit better this year than last, winning jockeys don't really want to risk whether a bias is there or not.
Early speed still sucks at Woodbine most of the time.

Sans Sousi Appeal Denied
Last year, the day after the more humane whip was made mandatory in Ontario, Chantal Sutherland made a boo boo, and used the old whip.
Her horse wound up winning the race, however, two days later the Stewards disqualified the horse from purse monies.
I believe the ORC ruled correctly in this denial ruling. This type of thing probably will never happen again.
As far as the owners go, Sans Souci finally won the same condition earlier this year, so it could be argued that financially, they are more or less where they would be had Chantal used the correct whip in the first place.




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