24 June 2012

Queen's Plate Prediction and More

I feel obligated to at least predict the winner of today's Queen's Plate. I'll start off by stating that I don't like Strait of Dover. He reminds me of Not Bourbon, and even though that horse won the Plate, generally, those type are not successful at a mile and a quarter. This one hasn't gone past a mile and a sixteenth, and hasn't raced in 43 days. To me, he is a pitch.

River Rush was very green in the Plate Trial and still pulled off a 5 length victory. The time for the race was 7 ticks faster than the very competitive Oaks. However, he travels like a sore horse and that might explain the fact he has had only 3 well spaced out races in his career. I expect a bounce, and that might mean he can still be used for third or fourth.

When taking recency and mileage under the belt (fitness and endurance), two horses stand out: The filly, Dixie Strike, disappointed in the Oaks, though she may have bounced. Her second last race is good enough to win the Plate. She gets blinkers on and has a five pound weight advantage (as does Oaks winner Irish Mission, who is a major bounce candidate, and is also inferior when it comes to speed figures). Trainer Mark Casse may have taken it too easy on Dixie Strike going into the Oaks, and I expect a much better effort in the Plate.

The other horse that looks to come into the race fit and completely ready to peak is Classic Bryce. He has a good post and jockey Todd Kabel will get the most out of him. His last running line in the Plate Trial is an indicator that he might enjoy a more relaxed pace that usually comes with a stretch out in distance. If he kicks in at all in the stretch, he could be the one.

Finally, the best jockey in North America, Ramon Dominguez, is aboard Big Creek. He was off a 43 day layoff going into the Plate Trial and he chased while running outside (which was against the bias, as the top three finishers were the ones closest to the rail during most of the race). Dominguez is also in a position to over whip the horse (he can afford the fine just as Alex Solis did in the Oaks with Irish Mission) if the horse needs it, as he would just be a first time offender, and excessive whipping would only cost him around 20% of his share...and no suspension.

So here is the superfecta: Dixie Strike, Big Creek, Classic Bryce, and River Rush.

The Crap Being Spewed By The Ontario Liberal Party

The Paulick Report has put out quite a few articles bringing to light the dismal situation the future of Ontario horse racing is facing right now. I had to chime in with a comment on one of his articles:

The tactics used by the Ontario Liberal Party really sickened me. Calling it a subsidy and pitting it against health care and education. The reality is that it is a business partnership and both partners needed each other to get it going. This arrangement has been the blueprint for all other slots deals in the US because of its success. As for pitting the revenues the tracks and horsemen get from slots, it is the goal of the OLG (a Crown Corp.) to privatize slots. What that means is the most of profits (that went to racetracks and purses), if not all of them will go to private operators instead of the racing industry and NOT to health care and education.

As for calling it a subsidy, in Ontario public sector workers make close to 30-40% more than private sector workers doing similar jobs when factoring in benefits (there is something called the Sunshine List, government workers who make over 100k a year, and it grows in leaps and bounds each year. In 2011, over 70,000 people were on the list). The Ontario taxpayer is subsidizing these overpaid individuals big time, yet the government is looking at wiping out the livelihood of those involved in the racing industry, many who make net incomes of 20k-50k.

On the other side, as Pull The Pocket points out, the Ontario racing industry seems to be putting out unnecessary propaganda too. Mainly, it is done by a few, on articles in newspapers, Standardbred Canada, and Facebook, where comments and even articles use terms like "ill advised" plan, or "inexplicable" when referring to the new way the OLG wants to have casinos run.

Bottom line, and I've stated here before, the OLG knows they run an inefficient operation. Salaries and benefits have got way out of hand. They also don't want to pay for the expense of expanding gaming. So they have decided to privatize, which means they intend to just keep the role of oversight, and lose the role of operator.

The old deal was basically 10% to the tracks, 10% to the horsemen, and 5% to the municipality. That doesn't mean they made 75%. They had to pay the expenses, and in many cases, that works out to a high percentage of the 75% they retain, when you factor in things like utilities on top of highly paid casino workers. So in order to attract new operators the OLG will have to take a much smaller percentage of gross casino revenues, and bottom line, they could make more money in the long run....but when you take into account the lost horse racing jobs, the negative effects on the businesses near racetracks, etc., the government may still wind up in worse shape.

The reality is that the OLG only gets 20% of total gaming revenues at Caesar's in Windsor, so the government makes money, but Caesar's actually still loses money after giving the government the 20% share. There are a lot of operating expenses in running a casino. Table games have much thinner margins than slots as it takes a lot more employees to run those games, for example.

My point is that those questioning the new deal shouldn't be focused on the potential profits the OLG is expecting to make (they expect to make more by eliminating the expenses), but focus on the social and job impact that destroying the horse racing industry will have. The government's number one goal shouldn't be making the most profits they can off gambling, but keeping employment numbers as high as possible, and micro economies going as strongly as possible.

Frog Juice

The frog juice scandal has been growing legs. Louisiana is starting to name the culprits whose horses tested positive. Right now they are only facing 6 months, which is a typical slap on the wrist the industry tends to hand out. I believe these suspensions will wind up being much longer once final decision are made.

In a nutshell, it is so hard to catch cheaters, cheaters should be dealt with as harshly as possible when caught. It is the only way to deter those who seem to always be a step ahead of the regulators and lab testers.

2 years minimum, $50,000 fines, and possible jail sentences for those who use illegal drugs (I'm not talking about overages on legal substances, but illegal substances). This is the only way to clean up horse racing.

To show what horse racing is up against, here is a post from Pace Advantage by a lab worker who uses the handle Storm Chaser:

Originally Posted by jorcus99
'I doubt there is a substance that is undetectable. There are only compounds that are not tested for yet.'

Storm Chaser posted:
'Great quote. To define the process, all substances are deemed undetectable until the specific lab can identify the gc-ms fingerprint of a specific drug. One it is identified then it is placed, if requested by the racing board as an illegal substance, to the labs testing profile.

The labs are usually the second in the chain to learn of a new doping agent. Once it is brought to their attention, then they have to try and acquire the drug to be able to break it down and test it. That process takes many months.

We just went through this with the NCAA and the other accredited labs in dealing with a new synthetic marijuana from Europe. We all heard the rumours about it, but could not acquire it here in the states. Our lab went to Germany to acquire it, bring it back to their lab to start analysing it. Mind you they had to get people to ingest it, so the could see how it was metabolized in the urine so they could devise a test for it. Then it took months of analysing the data before the felt good about testing for it in their clients athletes.

And then we found out that all the drug guys had to do was change one small part of the chemical mixture of the synthetic marijuana, and it was undetectable again because they changed the fingerprint again.

Lesson to be learned, the drug guys are always going to be ahead of the test labs with no end in sight.,

14 June 2012

What Ontario Horse Racing Should Do With The Transitional Funding

I'm still not convinced that this nightmare for the Ontario horse racing (the removal of the revenue sharing agreement for slots at racetracks) can't be reversed. But those who seem to know more than me say "no chance," so I'll believe them for now.

The OLG seems to have acted way too fast as they do not have their ducks in a row, not even close. They don't know which tracks will remain, which jurisdictions will accept new casinos (with or without referendums), who will operate the casinos, who will build and operate new casinos, and they don't even know what the new deal is going to look like.

I think they are going to have a huge problem attracting reputable casino operators without giving away an arm and a leg. In Ontario so far, the current casinos that are operated by outsiders, are losing money propositions for the operators, and that is based on a program where the OLG only gets 20% of the total gaming revenues. It is a tough sale, even for the best of salesman, and the OLG not only needs to sell to communities but also to new potential operators. If the best they can offer is that transparent huckster Paul Godfrey, who is well past his prime, they are in bigger trouble than I give them credit for.

However, the OLG, being a Crown Corporation, needs to privatize operations badly, especially if they are to move ahead with this expansion, as they cannot afford the risk of building new casinos or even expanding current ones. Much of the reason is due to the Ontario Liberal Party way: salaries and benefits for OLG workers has gotten way out of hand, much like the majority of other public sector jobs under the Liberal reign of overspending. And the OLG knows that the expected ROI on table games isn't very high, so they want private corporations to come in and assume the risk.

There is also the aspect that government workers are much better at cashing paychecks than being creative and bringing innovative ideas to the table. Private business tends to be creative and motivated, as well, they have an understanding of things like optimal pricing of their products.

Before I share my idea to save horse racing in Ontario, I want to add one more thing. It is imperative that racetracks play hardball when it comes to renting their locations to the OLG. There is no way the OLG will be in a position to move a significant share of slots to locations that aren't even built yet. My advice is for track owners to get together and hold out for even more money than the horsemen and track's share was under the old deal. As for terms. Ask for two years, but don't take anything less than a year.

The OLG will have no choice but to pay as they cannot afford to give up the revenues from slots. This will buy an extra year or two for the industry. The only risk I see is if we are dealing with a small track with a small amount of slots where the profit margin isn't very high. Still, where is the OLG going to move the slots? To an out of business laundromat?

As for Fort Erie, Windsor, and Sarnia. I think lawsuits are in order. There has to be something wrong with a government restricting a private enterprises right to make a living by giving preferential treatment to a Crown entity. This could be an anti-trust situation. Liberal Party embarrassment Dwight Duncan referred to the slots at tracks as competition to the casinos when trying to rationalize the raid of slot machines from these tracks. Of course, the real reason was to prop up the stand alone casinos bottom line so that their numbers in the future won't be as bad, therefore making it easier to attract potential operators for the other casinos province wide.


Just to bring everyone up to speed, around a week ago the Ontario Liberal government announced that $50 million would be made available over the next three years to help sustain the horse racing industry. A panel has been created to take suggestions. Their mandate:
Work with the industry to help develop a vision for the future.
Provide recommendations to the government on how to allocate transition funding.
Advise on the modernization of other industry revenue sources to assist the industry in becoming more self-sufficient.
A final report from the panel is expected in late summer 2012.

Assuming that the slots at racetrack program is dead, the only revenues to fund purses will now come from betting dollars on horse racing, and perhaps some rental income to whoever is operating the casinos that remain at certain racetracks.

The horse racing industry must come to grips with this, and they have to do it now. The money needs to be used to try to create more bettors willing to wager on horse racing. The Ontario government, through the OLG, may have the rights to casino gambling and even sports betting, but when it comes to parimutuel wagering on horses, that territory belongs to the Ontario horse racing industry.

If the horse racing industry can't get enough money wagered on it to be sustainable, well then, it really is time to give it up or reduce down to two or three tracks. But I think horse race wagering can be revitalized and actually compete with not only slots but the OLG lotteries (take that McGuinty).

What horse racing in Ontario needs to do is develop and market their own weekly parimutuel lottery, much like the Swedish V75, however, because of shorter fields than in Sweden (which is a Pick 7 format), as well the reality that inside horses have a big edge in harness races, a Pick 12 in Ontario may be required.

It would be a Sunday lottery that cuts off at 2 PM. Thoroughbred tracks, when racing can be used as well as harness races. The last three or four races in the sequence will be broadcast live from 5:30 to 6:00 PM either on the internet, the Score or Sportsnet. It will have a 35% takeout (high for parimutuel, low for lottery). Two thirds of the money paid out will go to those who select all 12 winners (no winner means the money will carryover to next week). The other third will be divided up to those who select the first four winners, middle four winner, and last four winners as well as another consolation prize going to those who select the most winners (all lotteries require some churn, plus giving a prize for the last four winners will create more viewers for the live show).

It is highly unlikely that the OLG will add this to their menu, and who needs them as a partner anyway if slots go bye bye? That is why most of the $50 million will be needed to develop the technology to bring this across Ontario and maybe even all across Canada, as well, the money will be needed to create kiosks to place in variety stores. Tickets can be sold there, as well as through wagering accounts. But money will be needed to market this wager on TV, radio and the internet.

Money may also be needed to guarantee the first few pools. I figure that by making this a 20 cent base wager ($1 minimum), there needs to be something close to half a million being offered in order to attract the masses to begin with. This is not unrealistic at all.

The public will get excited watching races under this format. And it won't take long for them to realize that handicapping can improve their odds, instead of going the quick pick route. This is how to cultivate new Horseplayers from lottery players. Quick picks will definitely need to take post position into account and come up with a higher rate of low numbers to give the buyers their best shot at churn money or a jackpot win.

So where does the 35% go? A small commission goes to variety store owners of course. Some goes back to marketing, some goes to breeding awards, but the overwhelming chunk goes to the racetracks to split amongst tracks and purse accounts.

The monies can be allocated using various formulas. For instance, money bet within a 30 mile circumference from a racetrack goes to that racetrack, or the entire pool can be allocated to tracks based on the percentage of races they put on each year, or the last 6 months, etc. A mixture of these formulas can be incorporated just the same.

Having horse racing kiosks in stores opens the door to allowing patrons to wager on any horse race there as well, not that I expect that to be a huge win, it is still additional money and exposure. As for parimutuel lotteries. It doesn't have to stop at a once a week Pick 12, but daily Pick 4's (with a 25% takeout ahem!) can be offered as well.

Betting cards can be bought at convenience stores, either anonymously or using one's actual info. These betting cards can offer rebate points that can be accumulated to make future wagers.

Wins of under $300 can be paid out by the convenience store, but larger wins means going to the track...and that is another way to keep the momentum going.

The Ontario government wants horse racing to stand on their own two feet. This is how to do it, my friends.

12 June 2012

ORC's Whipping Rule Needs To Be Tweaked

Due to his stretch ride in the Woodbine Oaks, winning jockey Alex Solis received a $6,000 fine for whipping Oaks winner Irish Mission excessively in the stretch. Sounds like quite a fine for jockey, but the Oaks had a purse of $500,000. The winner's portion was $300,000, of which $30,000 went to the Solis ($7,500 of that most probably went to Solis' jockey agent). Second prize is only a third of these amounts.

First, I want to comment Woodbine and the ORC to have whipping rules in place. They've even made strides when it comes to using less abusive whips. But this whole scenario just doesn't seem right or proper.

Before I go on, watch the race:

You can't see the violation because Solis whipped with his left hand, but I'm sure the head on film left no doubt in the minds of the stewards. The point of watching the race was to show that it was a very close race, and sustained momentum seemed to win it for Irish Mission, probably brought on by constant whipping.

The reason for the ORC rule in the first place was to protect the horse and to help improve the public perception of horse racing. Both are great reasons. Though some have argued that whipping should be banned completely, and some go as far as saying whipping does not make a horse go faster, I think the latter might be true of some horses, but many horses wind up with improved results due to their need to be constantly reminded to keep their mind on business.

Not that I'm against eliminating the whip or just using placebo whips, that is not the issue here, the issue is an equal playing field, whether you are a bettor or horsemen or jockey.

And it is a race like Oaks where my sense of fairness gets carved a new one. If you are a bettor, you want your jockey to excessively hit if it is the difference between cashing or ripping up your ticket. Same thing applies if you are an owner, trainer, or groom. Excessive whipping is not something a horse can get DQed over. Purses aren't redistributed because of it. The fines are in place to act as a deterrent to try to prevent jockeys from slashing too much. And yes, repeated violations can also lead to more income loss down the road via more fines and then suspensions. Solis hasn't been here long enough to have repeat offenses though.

The point here is that the fine wasn't big enough. And for those who wagered on the second place finisher, and those who were involved in the ownership or training of the second place finisher and even the third place finisher have to just feel like suckers if they give this situation any thought at all. It isn't right that a jockey can decide to gamble on a fine in order to win a race, and there should be no incentive to do so.

I don't blame Solis here at all, he was playing by the rules as currently administered. Only unambitious people might say that they don't want to work harder to make more money because they pay a higher tax rate. Solis pulled out all the punches he could to win, and he wound up with more net money than he would have if he decided to not risk getting fined. He didn't do anything illegal either. And that is why jockeys need to lose their entire portion of the purse in the future.

10 June 2012

Debates, Controversy Good For Horse Racing

Fact: Mike Smith made a decision to open up the rail in the Belmont Stakes yesterday aboard Paynter, giving Union Rags enough room to win the race. The margin was so small that it is doubtful that Union Rags would have won if he had to swing out instead. Lots of reasons Smith may have elected to come out. Maybe he wanted to slightly force the outside horses to do more work and get slightly intimidated. Maybe he thought that he would rather be on the outside of Union Rags instead of on the inside of him. Maybe the horse was getting out slightly forcing his decision.

You know what? This is what makes horse racing, or any other form of competition. What ifs. They are just as important to the game itself as the actual event itself. The worst thing is when you have a major event and nobody has anything to say about it. The more controversy, the more that will be spoken and written about it, in most cases, and horse racing desperately needs more and more people talking about it.

The leave Mike Smith alone crowd has every right to their opinion, blah blah blah great jockey blah blah blah, but it does horse racing no good in the long run if too many took that attitude. Kind of like if an interception is thrown by a great quarterback in the Super Bowl, while another receiver was wide open. No QB would escape scrutiny based on him being a future Hall of Fame member and overall nice guy.

Controversy from decision making on and off the field is huge business when it comes to most pro sports. From pre game NFL analysis to post game analysis, MLB managerial decisions, etc., there is plenty to talk about, and the more successful a game is, the more people talk after the game.

Unfortunately for horse racing, it has another form of self inflicted controversies (which really is on par with calling evolution controversial) that stem from the ridiculous overuse of drugs. This is another story. Major league sports, with stringent drug policies and fines have eradicated drugs from the arm chair quarterback repertoire, but in horse racing it is too much of the story. The first thing that naturally comes to mind when any trainer gets hot is "he must have found something that isn't being tested for." The only controversy is whether the trainer is getting a little lucky or if he has found something. In pro sports, streaks create good buzz: The player has confidence maybe, the player is on a roll thanks to changes made by the coaching staff, the player finally has the game figured out, but you never hear, the player must be milk shaking before the game anymore.

When it comes to drugs, I think enough people are fed up. I think that keeping the Doug O'Neill controversy alive is needed to help fix horse racing. Unfortunately, it is not that far fetched to believe I'll Have Another's destiny to scratch was determined when the 72 hour detention barn was announced. The guy has got nailed with 4 milk shake violations in the past. One might be forgivable, but 4 is no fluke. It tells me that he is one to throw in the kitchen sink using the best scientific data available in order to try to avoid positives, but really goes to the limit. With every horse? Who knows?

When the 72 hour detention barn was announced, I automatically thought there is no way I'll Have Another will win, though I didn't think he wouldn't race. As for the injury, sure it could be real, but it could have been an ongoing issue that O'Neill was dealing with, given the ability to use the proper concoctions. The fact is that the actual records will most probably never come out, including any x-rays now or that were done previously. There is also conflicting reports on when the injury happened. And trust me, I'm not a conspiracy theorist nutjob. If this played out the same way I'm thinking it did on the show Luck, it would have been completely buyable.

My opinion is that the connections were scared that I'll Have Another would have finished up the track, and the injury would have had zero to do with it. Again, there is the possibility that the horse really was sound for the first two Triple Crown starts and he really did injure himself. But knowing what I know about the game, I'll stick to my theory, and that is unfortunate for the game itself.

The fact that some people might believe I'm over the top here is fine. And even if I'm wrong, which might be very likely, I think it is important to keep the controversy alive.