Thursday, 29 May 2014

Harness Racing: Canada vs. USA

Take a look at Standardbred Canada. Then take a look at USTA Racing. I don't think it will take you very long to determine which website is better. A look at the two sites also shows you which country seems to be more interested in growing the sport.

     Standardbred Canada is exactly what a good website should be. Clean, organized, aesthetically pleasing. USTA Racing, on the other hand, is cluttered and bland. Advertising wise, Standardbred Canada is geared more towards breeders, owners and trainers, which is understandable. I would like to see some more betting related ads. Woodbine/Mohawk, Grand River and Western Fair all have good products and promoting them more would most likely do good. However, I appreciate the focus on breeding and understand that the onus is on the tracks to get their advertisements out. Hop on over to USTA, and you see six advertisements. For horsemen/breeders, there's a rotating ad for some feed or drugs or whatnot, and a link to a video for online entries. No breeding ads. Then for fans and bettors, you've got a picture for the USTA Strategic Wagering Guide, which does not link anywhere, a link to the new Harness Racing Fan Zone (which is a bit cluttered in my opinion), and two tracks advertisements. The first track ad is for the Meadowlands' Handicapping Challenge. The second is for Mohawk. The best part about the Mohawk ad is that when you browse the site a bit, looking at entries or results or what have you, it is always there. Mohawk, a Canadian track, has the most prominent advertising on the United States Trotting Association of any track. Anyone else see the irony in that?

     So the only American track that seems to care is the Meadowlands. Nothing new. Let's see how not caring is working out in the handle department.
Everything is down. Even the big slots tracks are slipping in purses. Here's how things are looking in Canada.
Due to a cut in race dates our handle is down, but thanks to well promoted, improved products, people are betting more on our races. Bettors are taking an interest, and that's what we need.

     Social media wise, Canadian tracks are doing a very good job. Take Western Fair as an example. The Molson Pace is coming up tomorrow. It's a $150,000 Invitational featuring some very talented horses, including big name Foiled Again. Here are some tweets from Western Fair and their track announcer.

Last week at Harrah's Philidelphia, there were a pair of $250,000 races. I saw one tweet regarding either of them.

 I'd show you some tweets from Harrah's Philly, they like to talk up the casino on Twitter, but they took May 25th off from social media.

     It's pretty tough to get excited about American harness racing (aside from the Meadowlands) when no one seem to give a crap. At least a good few Canadian tracks are making an effort to promote and grow the sport.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Should Grand River & Georgian Try Twilight Post Time?

The Ontario Harness summer season is starting soon, with the B circuit shifting from Western Fair & Flamboro to Grand River & Georgian this weekend.

     Earlier this meet, Western Fair was running their Monday & Tuesday cards with a 4:15 ET post time, and it was working out. We were frequently seeing handles over $300,000. Then, once the racing alliance started in April, the London oval changed their Monday/Tuesday first post to 6:15, most likely in an attempt to grow the live crowd. The effect was a pretty big drop in handle. Nights with less than $200,000 wagered have not been uncommon at all, and the $300,000+ handles that bettors were starting to become accustomed to became very few and far between.

     This summer, Grand River will be running the Monday cards and Georgian will have the Tuesdays. Grand River's first post will be 6:30, and Georgian will be 7:05. However, one would think that experimenting with twilight post times would be worth a shot. It worked at Western Fair, and it's worked for Thoroughbred racing at Fort Erie. Twilight post at Grand River would be especially interesting. They cut several takeout rates last year, enough to be the most player-friendly B track in Ontario Harness racing, and finished the meet with an 11.5% increase in handle. Unfortunately, the average daily handle for last year's Grand River meet isn't online. But the fact that they that 11.5% increase is important. People saw that they were offering a good product, and they responded. In an effort to get more people interested, twilight post time seems like a logical idea.

     At the end of the day, horse racing needs bettors. Western Fair had found a spot where people where betting a solid amount of money. It worked. Grand River and Georgian would be smart to see the success of the 4:15 post time and follow suit.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Poker Sure Ain't the Met Mile

Memorial Day at Belmont was a lot different this year than in previous years. This year, we got to watch Jack Milton and Za Approval in the Grade III Poker. Last year, we got Sahara Sky and Flat Out in the Met Mile and Midnight Lucky and Close Hatches in the Acorn. Guess which year got the bigger handle?

     If you guessed 2013, good job. Last year, with 11 races, bettors put $16,191,654 through the windows, or $1,471,968 per race. This year, with 10 races, $9,913,636 was bet, or $991,363 per race. That's about a 32% decrease per race, with total handle down about 38%. Average field size last year was 9.27. This year's was 7.3. That's a 21% decrease. Attendance last year was 11,664. This year's 6,946. That's a 40.5% decrease.

     Now, the question is will having the Met Mile, the Acorn, the Ogden Phipps, etc, on Belmont Day make up for this lost revenue? We definitely won't know for sure this year, because with a Triple Crown on the line Belmont Day handle should be way up. The last three Belmont days with no Triple Crown on the line (2013, 2011, 2010) handled $88,652,022, $80,728,842 and $74,613142, respectively. The last three Belmont days with a Triple Crown on the line (2012, 2008, 2004) handled $96,485,984, $99,858,200, and $111,025,435. So regardless of the undercard, we know there will be a higher than average handle on this year's Belmont. Will the undercard be enough to boost handle even higher? Could we see, perhaps, $120,000,000 put through the windows? I don't think so. We'll have to wait until the next year where we don't have a potential Triple Crown to see if the new Belmont Festival of Racing makes a difference in handle.

     Met Mile day and Belmont day are both 'event' days. Obviously of different proportions, but event days all the same. Mixing them together is a curious decision. Sure, the festival idea is neat, but at the end of the day racing makes its money through wagering. Will a giant racing festival create more wagering revenue, or is the Belmont already as big as it is going to get?

Monday, 26 May 2014

What a Strange Rainbow Six

All of your mandatory payout dreams were crushed yesterday when some rich guy invested money you could never afford into the Rainbow Six and hit for $6.6 million. Sound about right? I thought so.

     It's no great shock that the winner invested a stupid amount of money to hit. It's usually like that. The thing that is surprising is that he actually managed to hit. Looking at yesterday's sequence and comparing it to the $3.6 million jackpot hit from February 22, 2013, this was a fairly easy sequence.

     There were only two longshots in yesterday's sequence, coming in the first two races. Leg #1 was a two year old race where a 16-1 shot first time starter drew off. Sure the horse was 16-1, but you expect people to cover first timers in multi race bets. A 10-1 shot won the second leg with a 4-5 favourite missing the board. I suppose that was likely a very pivotal leg. The remaining four winners paid $12.80, $10.40, $9.60, and $12.80. It should be noted that the $9.60 winner was 8-1 on the morning line. But the point is, these weren't the trickiest horses to find. Compare that to the 2013 winning sequence, where the winners paid $114, $11.40, $36.80, $17.20, $23.60 and $23.00, yesterday's races were a stroll in the park.

     Now, here's another thing that made yesterday's winner strange: due to the smaller field sizes of the Gulfstream summer meet, there were way less possible combinations to be played. Yesterday there were 142,560 possible combinations. Last year, there were 1,149,984. That's 1,007,424 more in 2013 than yesterday.

    The one thing that did make sense about yesterday's winner was that there were a lot less tickets in play. There was $438,733 in the pool when the jackpot was hit last year, which is (give or take a few because results charts don't give you pool totals with cents) 43,873 tickets at play. Remember that last year the Rainbow Six still had a dime base. Yesterday, with $352,302 in the pool, there were 17,615 tickets played. However, if we pretend that every ticket was a unique combination, yesterday's tickets would have covered 12% of the possible combos, while last year's tickets would have covered only 3.8%.

    The math behind yesterday's hit doesn't really make a lot of sense. Observation says that yesterday's Rainbow Six shouldn't have been hit. But it was, and there's nothing we can do about it. I don't get it, you probably don't get it, but it happened. Jerod summed it up well

An anomaly indeed. But stranger things have happened in racing. To all my American friends, enjoy your holiday.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Road to the Queen's Plate: The Marine + Ajax Downs Selections

The Marine is an interesting prep for the Queen's Plate due to the fact that it's an open race, not restricted to Canadian breds. Today we have four Ontario breds facing off with two American breds. Is the Plate winner somewhere in this field?

     Originally a field of eight, we're down to six after Matador and Supermonic scratched. The scratch of Supermonic is quite significant for Brian Lynch-trainee Heart to Heart, who now looks to be the lone speed. He made his three year old debut going a mile on the turf at Keeneland, went straight to the front and drew off easily. Last year he raced exclusively on polytrack, and didn't seem to be as effective. Example, In the Coronation Futurity he made an easy lead but had nothing in the tank for the drive. Is he better now as a three year old, did he wake up om the turf, or was that win at Keeneland due to the fact that the turf really favoured speed for the first half of the meet? I think he'll take a bit of money as the lone speed in a small field, but how good is he? The favourite is the Coronation Futurity winner Asserting Bear, who exits a disappointing run in the Blue Grass. He drew the rail that day, looked like he was maybe going to make a move but flattened out. His previous effort in the Spiral was very good. Go watch the replay. This is easier competition and he deserves favouritism. I can't knock him. The other horse in here who looks good to me is the Florida bred Puntrooskie. He was claimed for $50,000 by Gonzalez, won a Florida bred Maiden two starts later, and then came to Woodbine to crush in the Woodstock. That was a super impressive win. He closed from last in that race, but stretching out to the route I see him being closer, maybe second behind Heart to Heart early. Casse has an interesting entrant here in the form of Conquest Top Gun, who broke slow, went pretty wide, and still managed to get up to win against Maiden company at Keeneland. He has three local works since then and they have been quite good. Can he translate that impressive win to Stakes company? Maybe. I can certainly see him being a factor. The last two are Tower of Texas and Ami's Holiday. Tower of Texas is a recent local Maiden winner against older, it was a soft field and he just doesn't seem fast enough. Ami's Holiday won the Grey Stakes last year, but in three starts since has not really been threatening. The way I see this race playing out, Heart to Heart goes to the front, with Puntrooskie and Ami's Holiday sitting a length or two off. The other three are at the back of the pack. Puntrooskie makes a move around the three furlong pole, while Asserting Bear and Conquest Top Gun begin gaining ground. I think in the end, Puntrooksie is the best horse in the race, he should win. Asserting Bear or Conquest Top Gun should be second, and you can give Heart to Heart and Ami's Holiday chances to round out the tri. Sorry to my Canadian breds, but Puntrooskie is my pick.

I also have my selections for today's card of racing from Ajax Downs. Some very nice races today.

Race 1: 2-3-4
#2 Ivy Switch debuts here for the red hot Kim Ito/Brian Bell combo. Her dam, Hidden Dragon, was a career debut winner who later won the RG2 New Mexican Spring Futurity at Sunland. #3 Yessir E Bob ran a decent fourth to end the 2013 season. He faces a softer group today. #4 Executive Dash has hit the board in five of six starts. His speed figures are a bit on the low side, but he does consistently run well.

Race 2: 3-5-6
#3 Ms Kool O Toole is another debut runner for Kim Ito and Brian Bell. She is out of a stakes winning dam and is a half sister to stakes winner Bye Me Kool Bud. #5 Everything Fast ended last year with two very solid runner up finishes. With a fast break he should be a factor. #6 La Push debuted in July with a decent fourth place finish. She could improve as a three year old, and could round this race out.

Race 3: 3-1-5
#3 Oh Gary isn't the winningest horse out there, but he lays over this field in the speed figures. He's run a very good race at 250 yard distance and seems logical to get the win today. #1 Wild Chanson raced last week. With some improvement second off the layoff he could run we here. #5 Eyescap was a narrow winner back in September, just getting up in the last stride. 250 yard may be a bit short but she should be able to hit the board.

Race 4: 4-6-7
The return of a star, #4 Mitford broke the track record winning the Alex Picov Championship last year, beating the best older horses in Ontario while still a three year old. He's been dominant since coming to Canada and should be able to beat this conditioned allowance field. Scott Reid's other runner, #6 Arctic Fame is two for three in his career. He was outworked by Mitford on May 5th, but still looks good to hit the board. #7 Cheever makes his Ontario debut after spending last year racing in Michigan. He's consistent, he's stakes placed, he has a quick workout, should run well.

Race 5: 7-5-3
It's tough not to like #7 Rockish, a 10 year old gelding who still runs at a high level. He's four for four at the 250 yard distance, has run we off the layoff before, and is simply one of the classiest horses racing here, with earnings over $300,000. #5 Carter's Secret was a star as a two year old but wasn't as effective last year. Getting into allowance company may help his chances as a four year old. #3 Flick Me a Corona is tough to totally toss considering he has hit the board in 14 of his 25 starts. He's a logical choice to round out your exotics.

Race 6: 3-6-5
Today's feature is an Ontario Sired Open Allowance. #3 Pegasos One Underpar had a great 2013, winning five of his 10 starts and hitting the board in a pair of stakes races. He worked well on May 5th and looks good to keep the ball rolling in 2014. #6 Reckless an Wild was great as a two year old, winning the Alex Picov Futurity and hitting the board in two other Futurities. If he's good enough against older horses, 7-1 would be a generous price on him. #5 Not Looking to Shake raced against my top choice a few times last year, and was usually not far behind. He loves the 250 yard distance and won off the layoff last year. It's a pretty competitive race.

Race 7: 2-6-1
#2 Wild Roze has a class edge over this group, she ran in two Futurities last year and was respectable in both. Nice May 12th work, she should be very tough. #6 Lil Shaz finished behind Wild Roze in both of her starts last year, but the fact that she qualified for the Ontario Sired Futurity makes me respect her more than the rest. #1 Another Shark was beaten a head in his last start of 2013, arguably his best effort to date. Most of this field is pretty weak.

Good luck to everyone playing today!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Payouts Are Getting Lower

We've been through 14 days of racing so far at Churchill, or Takeout Increase Downs, and to celebrate both the effects of the takeout increase, and the fact that they announced intentions to raise the rake at the Fair Grounds (shocking, right?), let's take a look at how the payouts at Churchill compare to last year.

I took a look at the exactor payouts from the first 14 days of racing last year and this year. In 2013, with 149 races, the average $2 exactor payout was $81.66. If you remove Oaks and Derby day, that average is $67.33. Only 14 exactors paid $15 or less. This year, with 143 races, the average $2 payout has been $64.88. Remove Oaks and Derby day, it's $58.84. 24 exactors have paid $15 or less. It may be time to nickname Louisville "Chalk City."

We've seen the field sizes collapse. We've seen the handle go down. If you hadn't already seen it, or wanted proof, we've seen the payouts go down. The Churchill Downs product is becoming completely unappealing. If you are still playing Churchill, I certainly don't understand why.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Ajax Downs Opening Day Selections

It is opening day at Ontario's only Quarter Horse racetrack, Ajax Downs, and I am happy to be the new program handicapper for the track. I urge everyone in the area to find a day or two this summer to enjoy at Ajax Downs. It is one of the most fun ways to spend a summer day. Here are my selections for today's card.

Race 1: 5-1-6
#5 Streakinlilsis raced at Remington last spring. She finds much easier company here and has three works returning off the layoff. #1 Silks Arising's best race was at the 250 yard distance and had a very solid May 7th workout. #6 Halee Hath No Fury has consistently run well and should appreciate cutting back to 250 yards.

Race 2: 4-2-5
#4 Mels Dash completely outclasses this field with earnings over $100,000. He usually runs a strong effort coming off a layoff. He'll be very tough. #2 Cruwysn Down Home had a very good 2013. His recent workout was a bit slow, but he usually runs his race. #5 Dm Paid in Cash isn't incredibly consistent, but when he runs his race he shows that he's got talent.

Race 3: 7-6-1A
#7 What Ta Wear completely crushed when returning off the layoff last year. He's multiple stakes placed, has big speed figures, and is unquestionably the one to beat. #6 Varsity Lace came to Ajax in August and found solid form. He beat a decent field in the Maiden Challenge. #1A Fooseball had a good 2 year old season. He out worked his entry mate on May 5th. 

Race 4: 2-8-6
#2 Freds Angel is very quick out of the gate, and has solid speed figures. She gets the nod over #8 Andelay Okey due to the inside post. Andelay Okey is also very quick and classy. It's between those two to me. #6 Runnin Is My Game kept some decent company last year before dropping to these lower levels where he ran well.

Race 5: 2-4-1
#2 Silk in the Sky broke very quickly in his most recent start before getting nipped at the wire. With a quick break, 220 yards should be perfect. Very nice workout on May 7th. #4 A Likely Hero also broke well in his debut. I don't think he's as fast as the top choice. #1 Ssc Eye Got It ran a solid 3rd from the inside post last year. 220 yards is probably a bit short for her, however.

Race 6: 1-2-6
#1 Make Me a Miracle showed a lot of talent in his maiden win, and came back to be a good 3rd against tougher. He should be fast enough from the gate to do 220 yards. #2 Dees Black Dimples shows a bullet workout on April 23rd. She's quick from the gate and looks like a bit of an overlay at 8-1. #6 Ram Tuff ran a good 4th in the Ajax Juvenile Challenge. Although that makes him the class of the field, his April 28th workout was slow.

Race 7: 3-5-2
Today's feature is very competitive. #3 A Plain Brown Rapper ran in some very nice Stakes races at Hialeah. He kept very solid company over the fall and winter, including a try in the Grade 1 Bank if America Challenge Championship. Always a tough horse. #5 Zip Kode won three local Futurities last year. He's been racing at Remington and hasn't been fast enough, but this is easier and he has a recency edge. #2 One Kool Wave is always quick from the gate, and shows a bullet work from the gate on May 7th.

Race 8: 2-7-4
#2 Kissmyfortunatedash was run down very late going 300 yards last year. The cutback to 220 yards should help her. #7 Caraways Zoomto Fame ran very well on September 30th. He shows a good work from the gate on May 5th. #4 Eeny Meeny Miny Moe did not have a lot of luck last year. She posted the best workout anyone in this group shows on May 12th, and comes from dangerous connections.

Good luck to everyone playing today!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Are Preakness Favourites Good Bets?

I was thinking about the last few Preaknesses and the beaten favourites that we've seen. Orb couldn't hold up last year, bettors gave Bodemeister a chance to rebound against I'll Have Another, and Animal Kingdom came up a 1/2 length short behind Shackleford. With all of the California Chrome hype, I wanted to see if the recent losing favourites are a sign of what's to come, or if chalk tends to prevail.

Here are the last 20 Preakness favourites, where they finished, and what their odds were.

2013: Orb - 4th, 0.70
2012: Bodemeister - 2nd, 1.70
2011: Animal Kingdom - 2nd, 2.30
2010: Super Saver - 8th, 1.90
2009: Rachel Alexandra - 1st, 1.90
2008: Big Brown - 1st, 0.20
2007: Street Sense - 2nd, 1.30
2006: Barbaro - DNF, 0.50
2005: Afleet Alex - 1st, 3.30
2004: Smarty Jones - 1st, 0.70
2003: Funny Cide - 1st, 1.90
2002: War Emblem - 1st, 2.80
2001: Point Given, 1st, 2.30
2000: Fusaichi Pegasus: 2nd, 0.30
1999: Menifee - 2nd, 2.00
1998: Victory Gallop - 2nd, 2.00
1997: Captain Bodgit - 3rd, 2.10
1996: Cavonnier - 4th, 1.70
1995: Timber Country - 1st, 1.90
1994: Go For Gin - 2nd, 2.80

A $2 win bet on all of these recent favourites would cost $40, and has returned $45.80. To bet all of the favourites who went off under even money would have cost $10, and has returned $5.80. To bet all of the favourites who went off over even money has cost $30, and has returned $40.
     Odds on favourites, not surprisingly, have proven to be a bad bet. However, the favourites who offer at least even money have been profitable.
     California Chrome will unquestionably go off as the favourite in the Preakness. I'm fairly sure that he will be under even money, and if so he should be a play against in the win pool. However, considering seven of the last 20 Preakness favourites have finished 2nd, its unwise to toss him from the exactor. If he is over even money, he looks like a very solid bet.

     We have only 10 days left to the Preakness, and we will hear a lot of talk from bettors either claiming California Chrome is a lock, or that they will stand against him with pride. My recommendation is to wait and watch the board, as you should always be doing in the hunt for good value. Enjoy your week.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Woodbine's Derby Weekend Numbers

I spent a fair bit of my weekend the same way I usually do; handicapping and watching Woodbine. Out of curiosity, I took some time to compare the handle and field size numbers from last year's Derby weekend at Woodbine to this year's. Here is what I found.

10 races, 76 horses
$2,719,484 handle
10 races, 79 horses
$3,881,659 handle
10 races, 79 horses
$3,019,598 handle

Total: 7.8avg field size, $9,620,741 handle, $320,691/race

9 races, 64 horses
$2,199,172 handle
10 races, 79 horses
$3,896,421 handle
9 races, 71 horses
$3,270,560 handle

Total: 7.6avg field size, $9,366,153 handle, $334,505/race

Friday 2014 was rough, 7.1 average field size and just a general undesirable card of racing. Derby day itself was about on par with last year, the field size was the same, handle was up $14,762. So a
slight increase. Sunday was where things got very interesting. Despite the fact that there were only 9 races, and average field size was the same, handle this year was up $250,962. That's a very significant amount of money.

It's been a very rough start to the Woodbine meet. The first few weeks were plagued with unbettable races with five or six horse fields, and the handle really took a hit. Now things seem to be getting back to normal, and things are looking up. They put out a solid card on Saturday and the betting was slightly up. They put out another solid card on Sunday and things went way up. I'm hoping that so long as the field sizes are solid, we will keep seeing increases. If Sunday's card was an indication of things to come, the future is very bright for Woodbine.