26 October 2011

Horse Racing Needs Rats To Help Clean The Game Up

Former backstretch employee T.Y. Faulkner wrote a piece on The Paulick Report, A Bounty For Cheaters, that seems to have struck a nerve (judging by many of the comments).

He pretty much sums up his proposal in one paragraph:

"The racing organizations should step up with some serious monies to "bait" this information from within the backside. I would like to see posters offering $10,000 or more for information that leads to catching cheats. This information would have to be represented to the authorities and the bounty paid only if and when we could identify by testing the substances being used. Someone held that horse for the injection or saw a veterinarian in the barn in the middle of the night."

As I pointed out in the comment section, his idea has already been implemented in Ontario:

Horse Racing Community partners with Crime Stoppers

Call 1-800-222-TIPS to anonymously report information on any crime

In order to maintain the honesty and integrity of horse racing, the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) maintains an official partnership agreement with Crime Stoppers. Crime Stoppers is a not-for profit community-based charitable program involving the co-operative efforts of the community, the media and the police in the fight against crime.

With the financial support of the industry-funded ORCEquine Medication Control and Drug Task Force, there is now a program in place to give Ontario’s horse racing community an anonymous, confidential way to report any illegal activity related to horse racing.

With the Crime Stoppers program, Called ID is never in place, callers are never asked to identify themselves, nor will they ever be asked to testify or be named. Cash rewards are offered to people who call the program and their information assists in an investigation.

By far the majority of people who work in horse racing are honest, dedicated professionals who care about the horse and play by the rules. If you witness or know of any illegal activity, don’t hesitate to take a stand. Report the activities anonymously. It’s your future. It’s your business.

Call Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-TIPS (1-800-222-8477)

This program began over 4 years ago. The obvious questions are How many cash rewards have been given out? How many suspensions has this initiative led to? and How reliable have the tipsters been?

Ontario might be one of the cleaner jurisdictions in North America, but there are still many horses that rebreak in the stretch (which to me is an indication of extra oxygen...I could be wrong, but on polytrack, I doubt I am wrong more times than not).

The biggest problem with Faulkner's idea and the ORC initiative is that there needs to be a huge fine and huge suspension associated with getting caught. What is the point if the trainer gets a slap on the wrist?, as is the case in most instances that are made public.

Disgruntled ex employees (grooms and hotwalkers etc.) may not be the most reliable source, especially if the reward is too high. But I don't see the harm in at least trying snitch programs at every track to see where it leads.

It would be great if ex trainers or ex vets had the balls to "rat out" the industry, but there seems to be some sort of mafioso club type of connection backstretch people have whether they are in the game still or out of the game. And when someone finally does talk they get slammed by their former coworkers (remember when Shane Sellers admitted to using buzzers?).

Dutrow may be a scapegoat, hopefully not. Hopefully severe fines and suspensions will become more persistent, and finally become a deterrent to the obvious cheating that is going on in horse racing.

Personally, I get turned off handicapping races and sometimes it prevents me from handicapping full cards, when I see super trainers in the race or races. They definitely do not help the game in any way shape or form. And of course, it isn't just the super trainers who cheat, but the super trainers seem to have their Teflon ways about them.

ITPP Research Receives Funding From PHHA

Researchers have found that mice with damaged hearts increased exercise levels by 35 per cent when given the drug orally, and 60 per cent when it was injected in the abdomen.

Hong Kong Has ITPP Test

One of the Group One Winners at the Moonee Valley meet in Australia tested positive for arsenic (one of the ingredients in ITPP)

Hanging On By A Thread
Fort Erie announced that they have applied for less dates and a shorter season next year. They intend to race 69 days, down from 78 this year.

Interesting observation:
...the track was successful in accomplishing their goal of attracting new customers with their twilight races and live music, but over the same time period, they lost many of their older, more dedicated attendees, mostly attributed to the poor economy and weak US dollar which kept many Americans on their side of the border.

I'm not sure that I buy into the excuses given. It doesn't make sense that they could attract new customers if the reasons given for losing the older customers is correct. Older customers are dying out, more people are playing online, and as for the economy I don't see people buying less lottery tickets, and as for not attracting Americans to cross the border, that is old news, long before the Consortium took over.

If they are in fact attracting new customers, it won't last too long as a 26% takeout on exactors and doubles wipe them out very quickly and take away incentive to come back.

Handle at Fort Erie this year has been abysmal. The only bet that seems to be doing well is the Pick 4 (they reduced the takeout on that bet to 14% this year).

Horse racing is in decline when it should be flourishing, but it all starts with takeout. The money returned to bettors is too low and non competitive with other forms of gambling.

Woodbine Attempts To Optimize Dates:
Woodbine is looking to dump low handle Thursdays during the summer and extend the season, so the race dates remain the same.

Great thinking on their part. Now how about optimizing takeout? Handle has been crappy lately there. Big purses, yet we still see plenty of 6 horse fields, and way too much dominance by certain outfits and jockeys. At least I can't say that super jockeys are cheating....Luis Contreras seems to be in a league of his own, but I doubt he is using ITPP or snail venom:) He just outfinesses the rest of the colony it seems.

14 October 2011

Should Northern Dancer Have An Asterisk Next To His Name?

A couple of nights ago I watched a show called The Canadians. The topic was Northern Dancer. This episode was done a few years prior to the Biography Channel Northern Dancer show, though many of the clips were the same.

Lots of recollection by those who were there, but one of the guests intrigued me enough to do a Google Search. It was Alex Harthill, Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby vet.

What I found was new to me, or at least this is the first time I acknowledged it, if I in fact read it before. It is a story dated back 9 years ago (Harthill wasn't pushing up daisies yet):

My interest in Harthill, never dormant, was ignited again in 2001 by a remarkable interview that he gave Jay Hovdey of the Daily Racing Form. Harthill teased those of us who have been interested in his career by admitting that, before the 1964 Derby, he gave Northern Dancer a then-illegal, anti-bleeding medication known as Lasix (now used by an estimated 95 percent of the horses in training).

"Security was following me, though," Harthill told Hovdey, "so I got a vet I know from out of town to come along with me. I told him I was going to turn to the right, and he would go that way and take this little syringe down to Barn 24, stall 23, and give this to that horse. There would be a guy there named Will. He’d be waiting. So he did it, while the gendarmes followed me. They were following the mystique."

And the mystique helped Northern Dancer hold off Hill Rise’s challenge by a nose in one of the most exciting stretch runs in Derby history.

Now, read the whole article. I'll wait.

That was worth reading, wasn't it? But it really begs at least a couple of questions. Assuming Hill Rise wasn't treated with illegal (at the time) drugs, how can one not look at Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby as anything but tainted? Then when you take the Dancer's Image fiasco into account, how did Dr. Harthill remain a prestigious vet at the world capital of horse racing, even after doing the Hovdey interview?

Being Canadian, and also being born the same year as the Dancer, I hate the idea of ruining Northern Dancer's reputation, but if this story is true, and it sure sounds true, I have no choice.

As for the second question. That one is easy too. Dr. Harthill's of the world are in high demand. In Harthill's own words:

"Everything (drugs) went through a transition period of being detected. The thing everyone wanted to find out was what didn’t show at the time. It was just part of the game, ever since I can remember. Everybody was looking for an edge. I don’t care who it was. A trainer would say, ‘Don’t get me caught, but keep me worried.’"

It seems that nothing much has changed since Northern Dancer, except more drugs are legal and more drugs are tested for. There is still the quest to get an edge that seems to motivate (the majority?) of trainers out there.

With EPO, DPO, snake and snail venom and their knockoffs, ITPP, and whatever else is still "illegal" but not tested for, the edge is always very tempting, and some trainers can pull the charade off over and over again without a blemish.

Some can't get the formulas right though. That might be what happened with Dutrow.

How many other super horses won big races thanks to trainers and vets "experimenting" with drugs that weren't being tested for? I have a feeling that the answer is lots.

Here is the 2005 DRF obit for Harthill.

As for Dutrow, it will be interesting if the industry now sighs "OK witch hunt is over, we gave the public what they wanted," or the time has come to clean up the game. It will be equally interesting if other jurisdictions honor the ban. California has climbed aboard. Good for them (who says I don't say anything good about California racing?)

10% Takeout On WPS????? No Way! Yes Way!!!!! No Way!!!!!!!!!!!
Northlands Park harness racing's 2011 Fall Meet kicks off today and they have decided to lower the takeout on Win Place and Show bets to 10%. This is phenomenal news, and I hope it works out fantastic for them.
EDITORS NOTE: Looks like I fell for something that was nothing short of a deceptive article and promotion. The association takeout is 10%, but the Alberta tax is 5% and there is a levy of .8%. Total takeout is 15.8%. Nothing has changed. Incidentally, Northlands takeout on other bets is a whopping 24.8% (exactors and doubles included).

It Appears That Tracknet Was Dissolved In Name Only
And HANA is on the case.

It is definitely horrible for the growth of the game when dominating companies like Magna or Churchill even think this way. The leaders of this industry should be focused on growing the Horseplayer base not chasing it away, unless they have given up hope that growth can be had. I believe it can, but it is going to take a lot of tracks getting together and focus on a longer than a year or two plan.

6 October 2011

Where Is The Bottom?

Handle dropped again in September. I don't need to go over the reasons why again, simply click here and read my post after August's numbers came out.

September's numbers were very ugly: Wagering was down 6.3% despite 3.3% more race dates. For the year wagering is down 7.6% and race dates are down 5.2%.

Interesting that total purses were up slightly over a half a percentage. Purse money doesn't motivate bettors very much. And the purse money would have been down if not for the artificial increase in California and the win fall in Illinois.

Speaking of California. There is now fallout from the stunned deal the racetracks made at the beginning of the year which gave the horsemen a bigger cut of the proceeds from betting and at the same time, increasing the takeout, assuring that tracks would have much less revenue bottom line. The ax is flying, and it is estimated that 100 jobs will be lost at Santa Anita.

Less workers at the track will inevitably mean less customer service and marketing....should kill racing there even quicker than before. I wonder if California horsemen are getting it yet.

Hastings, despite horrible weather early in the year, made a nice recovery and bucked the trend with a 4% handle increase this year. They dropped takeout on quite a few wagers before the meet started, and they finished very strong, which is predictable when lowering takeout....it doesn't happen overnight, but usually takes a half a year minimum for the real effects to start showing.

Last year, when doing nothing but staring in the headlights, handle at Hastings was off around 25%.