Sunday, November 30, 2008


Something that really kicks horseplayers in the gut, as it does everyone in this business. Rest in peace pal.

Photo courtesy NYRA

Friday, November 28, 2008

People Do Pay Attention

Vic Z over at, John Pricci's site said something interesting recently about groups like HANA. Paraphrasing he surmised that growing groups like this involves signing up players who have been with the game for so long and are so frustrated they believe "why bother, racing never listens?"

I don't blame those people a bit. In fact, many of them have signed up for HANA.

We are here to say that we think the business is changing - bit by bit, brick by monopolistic brick. We have seen industry response here at HANA. We are getting some respect and the members who have signed up are expressing some optimism.

More evidence? How about Dana over at the Self Appointed Fan Committee? They were invited by the Breeders Cup to give their thoughts (as well as other people who love the game, like Valerie at Foolish Pleasure and more). Saddle pads? Ladies Day? Ticket prices? All discussed and asked for by the BC. The SAFC asked members and anyone for their gripes, or praise beforehand.

The problem?

We brought print outs (and sent soft copies) of the submissions we received from SAFC. They were very grateful and started to read them immediately. The total amount of submissions? A whopping 27. It’s not that they’re not willing to listen, because they are. But if we’re gonna get a fair shake against their data, we’re gonna have to roar instead of peep. Many thanks to those who did make submissions, rest assured they’re being read and that they want to hear what we have to say.

As I said, I do not blame people one bit for feeling that their time would be wasted by trying to change racing - we at HANA were one of you. We seem to never get heard, but honestly we see a change. There is a willingness in racing to listen. But it is up to us. We need to participate to have our voices heard.

If you'd like to help us please give us a sign up, or tell a friend. We could use all the help we can get to make sure that racing hears us loud and clear.

As always, thanks for your support.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Winds of Change

Jeremy Plonk in his most recent ESPN column:

But, at the same time, the "what's next" for horse racing might be every bit as exciting and effective in righting the game's sinking ship. My hunch is that something on the business end is going to break in 2009, something that gives racing a pulse. What do I base that on? Namely, desperate times and an unbelievable amount of core people associated with the sport who love it to no end -- despite its many faults. This game is filled with fans and hard-working individuals who wouldn't know what to do in any other field, nor want to be a part of anything else. They live and breathe racing, and defend it mightily.

We think so too Jeremy.... at least we hope so.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Series' at HANAblog

Thanks to everyone who responded via email and by commenting on the blog for our last press release. We have generated some interest in what we feel is a very important topic - the future of online wagering in our sport.

Over the next while we will be posting different ideas and thoughts about where the Internet betting landscape has gone and will go. "HANA2.0" will explore what the future may bring, and where we can possibly go if we work towards that goal.

Two more features we hope to bring over the next while here at HANAblog involve our members, and live racing.

First we are starting a ten question segment: We ask a member ten questions about racing, and he/she shares some thoughts. One great thing about HANA is the diversity of the membership. Horsemen, fans, $2 bettors, $10 bettors and $100 bettors. We have thoroughbred and harness bettors too. We hope to chat and get some excellent feedback during this series called HANATen.

Second, HANALive will focus on the live track experience. We all remember (at least most of us do) the apron packed and the crowd loud - it seems so long ago. Some tracks have been very proactive in trying to bring back that excitement - Keeneland comes to mind. Others have faltered; and frankly we can not blame them too much can we? Slots have changed this game forever.

Hopefully you all will give us some good feedback on these pieces. We can not bring some of the issues to the forefront without help.

Note: We received our 400th member today. Let's hope 500 comes as fast as 400 did. Thanks to everyone who signed up.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Press Release: HANA Calls For Internet Wagering Task Force; Pleased with Hollywood Compromise

Horseplayers Association Encouraged with California ADW Deal. Calls For a Settlement in Current ADW Disputes Until An Internet Wagering Plan is Formed


(Charlottesville, Virginia. November 25, 2008): In a press release dated November 9th, 2008, HANA asked the industry to come to a compromise regarding the California ADW fight. The Horseplayers Association of North America is encouraged that industry stakeholders have reached a one year agreement and the signal is no longer being withheld.

However, there still are ADW issues that have yet to be resolved. HANA is asking the Industry to settle these outstanding ADW disputes, with a similar one-year deal as in California, to allow for two things: 1) For fans to have access to these tracks should they want to play them and 2) To allow the Industry to form an Internet Wagering Plan for the long-term health of the sport.

"On Friday the ongoing fight over ADW revenue in Ohio resulted in a massive reduction of racing days further crippling thoroughbred racing in the state. In addition, continuing ADW disputes in Florida and Kentucky remain at a stalemate. In fact, The Bloodhorse reported today that stakes are being cut at Calder and wagering has fallen over 30% in 2008. The adoption of a similar one-year agreement in those jurisdictions is the first step to achieving progress by constructing and implementing an optimal agreement." says HANA President Jeff Platt.

HANA believes that the Internet medium is not being handled in a proper way to maximize its reach and revenue capabilities for the 21st century and it is about time we met the challenge head-on with a long-term action plan.

"We are not being smart," said Platt. "It's 2008. People know about the Internet. They want easy access, convenience, and lower prices. Companies like EBay, Amazon, and E-Trade figured it out and have boomed as a result. Anybody can buy or sell 1000 shares of stock for just eight bucks - at home before picking up the kids at daycare. We buy stuff on EBay for pennies on the dollar in commission. We buy books at a discount prices with free shipping in the middle of the night at sites like Amazon."

HANA believes racing has lagged too far behind.

"Racing is still trying to sell a 100 year old product on the internet at the same exact price it sells for at the track. Worse, racing is trying to use the internet to sell its product to some people in some states under a system of rules written before the internet was even invented. Wagering will not grow on the Internet by itself, the table needs to be set for it to grow." Platt said.

HANA calls for a group of people familiar with either the internet business, online wagering, or both to be part of a newly formed Internet Wagering Task Force. HANA would like to nominate these names for consideration, if they agree to be a part of such a panel:

Will Cummings: Mr. Cummings has detailed many of his findings to the industry before. He has called for better distribution and more flexible pricing for the different sets of racing customers. He would be a good fit to any group because of his 30+ years experience in all forms of gaming.

Halsey Minor: Mr. Minor was formerly with Internet giant CNET and knows a thing or two about an Internet business model.

Joe Riddell: Part owner of ADW Premier Turf Club who is currently trying to keep players onshore by offering Internet prices to price sensitive players through rebates.

Barry Meadow: Long time bettor, author and a member of HANA's advisory board has written much about the subject of online betting, and is familiar with many of the businesses both on and offshore, including betting exchanges that have shaped the Internet landscape.

Dana Parham
: Mr. Parham recently spoke at the Arizona Symposium on wagering and echoed similar views to Mr. Cummings and Mr. Riddell.

The UK betting site Betfair was founded in the year 2000, with an Internet wagering plan of lower prices and easy access. In only seven years they have grown from no customers to well over 1 million customers. They currently handle more bets each year than the number of trades on the European stock exchanges combined. Online poker grew with an internet wagering strategy of low prices and easy access, and it has exploded in popularity around the world.

Jeff Platt: "Racing failed to grow handle when it was a monopoly by not formulating a long-term growth plan. That was racing's first chance. We at HANA think racing should not let a rare second chance pass it by. It is our belief that the formation of an Internet Wagering Task Force can result in a solid long term plan essential to the business of racing. We believe such a plan is needed to ensure long-term growth for the industry and reverse its current decline."

HANA would like to publicly thank Mr. Drew Couto and Mr. Jack Liebau for taking the time to listen to HANA during the impasse at Hollywood Park. Their efforts did not go unnoticed. However, we ask for their attention once again and look forward to speaking with them about setting up an actionable Internet Wagering Plan for 2009 and beyond so we can bring our fine sport to a new market and allow it to grow for generations.

Please visit us at for further information.

The Horseplayers Association of North America is a grassroots group of horseplayers, not affiliated with any organization, who are not pleased with the direction the game has taken. HANA believes that both tracks and horseman groups have become bogged down with industry infighting and have completely forgotten something: The importance of the customer. HANA hopes, through proactive change on several key issues (including but not limited to), open signal access, lower effective takeouts, affordable data and customer appreciation, the industry's handle losses can be reversed. HANA is currently made up of close to 400 horseplayers (both harness and thoroughbred) from almost all states and Canadian provinces. It currently represents over twenty five million dollars of yearly racing handle.

Members of the HANA advisory board include Barry Meadow, Nick Mordin, Cary Fotias and Dr. William Ziemba.

Our web address is and interested horseplayers can sign up there for free. We are horseplayers, just like you and we are trying to make a difference. We need and appreciate your support.


We truly do need your help, so if you are inclined, you can by signing up for HANA here. There is no obligation, it only takes a minute to do, your information is held in confidence and it is free! Our growth since being incorporated in September 2008 has been solid, but we strive each day to make it better. There is strength in HANA; there is strength in numbers.

If you are having any java problems with the signup page please email your sign up info to horseplayersassociation at

News and Notes For Tuesday

Some action on the blogosphere and some racing news this past bit.....

Bloodhorse reports that Calder is cutting their stakes, and handle has been lower than a snakes belly this year:

Calder Race Course will not hold any overnight stakes through the rest of its meet that ends Jan. 2, 2009.

Calder began its 2008 live racing season April 21. In its latest quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, parent Churchill Downs Inc. said total handle at Calder was $397 million through Sept. 30—31% lower than the $574 million for the same period in 2007.

Calder’s net pari-mutuel revenue fell 24%, from $59 million in the first nine months of 2007 to $45 million in the first nine months of 2008. Part of this year’s decline is related to contract disputes between Calder and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Amid contract disputes, Calder cut average daily overnight purses by 30% April 22. It restored those cuts July 7. But on Sept. 12, it cut average daily overnights 17% from $180,000 to $150,000.

Blogger looks at the recent fall in revenues in the News industry:

“The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly--and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted."

That quote is about the news industry but can be paralleled to racing he thinks. Further:

We are not there yet. Not even close. Look at the current ADW fight in the US, or with recent horseman and track fights in Canada - they are shutting out racing customers as almost an afterthought, like they do not matter. Worse yet, we have the greatest medium to grow this sport we arguably have ever had and they can’t figure out what to do with it, except squabble over percentages. The monopoly will not die, eventhough the fork has been stuck in it for over ten years.

I don’t think horse racing as a betting sport is obsolete, not at all. Actually it is tailor-made for the internet. The folks in charge just have to find a way to make sure that they find a way to grow back the bond and trust with their customers, and exploit racings reach by pricing properly on the web. If they do not, I fear we will be a footnote of wagering history.

Trackmaster blog looks at ADW and mentions HANA. "ADW wars a Lose Lose Situation"

Blogger looks at racing revenue and casino revenue. Conclusion: Our lack of foresight in changing our product and delivery has us getting our asses kicked.

NOTE: HANA will have a statement about the resolution at Hollywood as well as where the group thinks we should go next. We will post it as soon as we can.

NOTE II: Thanks to Hajck Hillstrom. His series on "Why I Left Racing" is well received and members are finding it interesting. It is nice when we have members who take time out to help us at HANAblog. It is nice to have Hajck aboard

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why I Left Racing: Part IV

Hajck is back! This time with Part IV of his series (parts one through three can be accessed to the right under "HANA Feature".

Why I Left Racing

…and what it will take to get me back.


Doug "Hajck" Hillstrom

Part IV

Is the frost on the pumpkin?

While growing up as a lad in the fertile Yakima Valley of Washington State, I would eagerly awaken every morning and devour the contents of the local newspaper, The Herald-Republic. First stop would always be the box scores from Major League Baseball, or the line scores of the NFL/AFL and the NBA/ABA. Next would be the college scene and prep scores from around the Valley. This ritual was interrupted by only one event, and that was when the Yakima Meadows meeting was running, because it was then that I first turned to Poor Paul's Picks before committing Carl Yazstremski's stats to memory.

Paul George was the paper's public handicapper, and back in the 60's and early 70's he would go head to head with the paper's sport's editor, Jim Scoggins, in a mano y mano contest of who could make a determined bankroll last the longest over the course of a meeting. This type of coverage was common back in the day every where horses were running in this country. I seem to remember a kid by the name of John White making the scene in the mid-70's and developing some pretty decent handicapping skills while joining in the fray against the two more seasoned railbirds. It was the first time I could actually interact with participants in a sporting event by following their prognostications

I also recollect hearing stories of tracks to the east and west of the centrally located Yakima Meadows, Longacres to the west in Renton outside of Seattle, and Playfair to the east in Spokane. I could only imagine how exciting those now defunct ovals must have been, because I wasn't allowed in the racetrack growing up, but that didn't stop me from watching the races from outside the fences during my annual visit to the Central Washington State Fair.

While I was being introduced to the game in my unobtrusive way, two other lads, one to the east, and one to the west, were throwing themselves headlong into the sport. They would be at the track almost everyday finding ways to get a bet down before it was even legal for them to do so. Their passion for the sport was engrained before Secretariat won the Triple Crown, and they weren't just observers of the sport… they were part of the game. When their local plant wasn't running, they were catching rides to points east and west, following the then robust Washington circuit.

The man growing up in Seattle's name was Lee Rousso. Most handicappers that have been around since the early `80's remember Lee, as it was difficult to open a western edition of the DRF and not see his face advertised for his on-track handicapping seminars.

Lee, who grew up on Mercer Island, remembers the day he first attended the races, as he, his father, and his brother drove the 150 miles north to Exhibition Park (now known as Hastings) on October 5th, 1968. It was a right of passage for the 10 year old as his Dad could be described as a "hardcore player," and from that day forward Lee considered himself a "track-rat." For an interesting perspective on Lee's journey through the sport, check out this article written about him in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Since the article was written nearly four years ago, Lee has been named the president of the Washington State chapter of the PPA (Poker Player's Alliance), a position from where he is championing the rights of the online poker player in Washington State, and even manages to reference horse racing in his complaint to the King County Superior Court.

In an interview I had with him this week, I heard him echo many of the sentiments serious handicappers everywhere have about the state of the sport of horse racing.

Once you become knowledgeable about the game, you realize how nearly impossible it is to expect to make a reasonable profit at it. With an average take on any wager over 20%, the churn will eat a player's bankroll faster than lone speed on a sealed track. Couple this with the fact how difficult it is to market the sport to the youth of today, and you can't help but seeing limited growth for the game. Handicapping the horses for profit is hard work. Even if one has the useful determination to spend 3-10 hours preparing for a given card, or a combination of cards, the odds are against you with the product put on many of today's tracks.

"Five and Six horse fields just aren't going to cut it. Back when the average field at Longacres was ten-twelve horses per race, you had the opportunity to realize a return, plus it was a pretty cool place to take a date. There was an air of excitement, a buzz you just don't see anymore except on racing's biggest days." It is pretty safe to say that the vibe of today's live horse race has diminished in recent years.

Lee has attended the races but twice in the last five years, both of those were the Breeder's Cups held at OakTree in `03 and `08. "Before the advent of satellite wagering facilities in SoCal, it wasn't unusual to see 60-70 thousand at the track for some of racing's bigger events, and even over 80 thousand for the Big `Cap." Hard to believe when Day 1 of this year's BC announced attendance was 35,000, but a more accurate total was certainly more like 25,000.

Racing lost one of its true ambassadors when Lee Rousso walked away from the game, and along with his departure left some of the spirit of the game as this is a man that is passionate about his gambling. He even ran in the Washington State Democratic gubernatorial primary this year against incumbent Christine Gregoire on a Pro-Online Poker platform, so as you can see, he doesn't shy away from a fight, and has probably demonstrated he has enough common sense to hitch his wagon to a fresh team of horses before the tired ones drag him over the cliff.

Next week we will take another look at one of racing's great characters from east of the Cascades that has been involved in the game for more than half a century, and how he perceives the direction the sport has taken.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quote of the Day

Veteran trainer Vladimir Cerin said, "Drew Couto and the horsemen never agree on anything. On this one, we support him. We are all fighting for a piece of the shrinking pie."

From here

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ohio: Racedates Lost and Racing in Peril

Today the thoroughbred times reports that in Ohio a massive racedate loss for 2009 is in the works:

The Ohio State Racing Commission on Friday approved a 2009 schedule that includes no live Thoroughbred racing dates at River Downs and 60 days of Thoroughbred racing at Beulah Park.

Both tracks, which will conduct Quarter Horse racing next year, were seeking substantial decreases in the total number of live dates offered because of difficult economic times created in part by competition. River Downs offered 105 live racing dates this year while Beulah was approved for 119.

A request by Jack Hanessian, the president and general manager of River Downs, to run two live days of Thoroughbred racing in 2009 was denied by the commission, which approved a request for Beulah’s live dates. Thistledown previously was approved for a 91-day meeting next year.

“The handle has been going down by 10% to 12% a year for the last five years,” said John Izzo, the Ohio State Racing Commission’s deputy director. “This is just something else we’re going to have to overcome if we want to keep going forward.”

During this time we have seen the shutting out of signals with horseman holding out for a bigger split:

Wagering on live racing at Beulah is not offered by major advance deposit wagering providers TVG, HRTV,, and because horsemen have not approved the track signals to be sent to ADW outlets. Horsemen are negotiating an increase in the percentage of ADW handle committed to purses.

I think the above news today suggests this was not a good policy.

At HANA we have said countless times: We think that taking more money from ADW and the player, and using a pre-internet pricing formula for ADW, while constantly fighting will result in a loss for the business. Purses will not go up, they will go down. It is time to fight for one thing: Handles and the sport. If not, we feel headlines like the above will become commonplace in our sport.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Horse Racing Must Drop Takeouts Substantially

I've written about fixing horse racing many times before. Most notably, June 2007, I wrote a post called How To Save Horse Racing, and in February 2007 I wrote a piece called Thoughts On Track Takeout.

In the last year, horse racing has gone even more downhill even more when it comes to the growth and the bettor. Most of this has to do with the current ADW-Horsemen conflict, but in the last year we also saw even more tremendous idiocy when Calder and NYRA raised their track takeouts.

The economy isn't helping right now, but horse racing has been dying for years. The reason is simple. It doesn't even try to compete with other forms of gambling, and no long term winners are produced, so as to attract new players.

Drugs, potential cheating, lack of proper disclosure, fatal injuries, etc. are just secondary problems when it comes to growth. In fact, if racing were to increase their fan/bettor base by competing for more players, the other problems would go away because integrity would actually matter as the game would be taken seriously again, by the masses, and the masses would demand it.

All the marketing in the world won't help grow the game. Sure, it might get someone to come to the track once, but there is absolutely nothing that will hook the person to be a regular customer.

Aside from the fact that it takes years to understand most of the handicapping nuances that allows a player to be better than average, the reality is that being better than average won't make one a winner. Far from it. A handicapper is considered good if he or she only loses 10 cents on the dollar (the collective average takeout at Woodbine, for example, is around 21-22%).

Racing execs have shifted their mentality. And the result: In the 60's and 70's racetracks were hesitant to even bring in exotics because they were worried that fans would lose money too fast and be discouraged.
Now racing is set up under the baseball stadium model: Get as much as you can from the customer as quickly as you can because they might not be back for a while. You will probably not see many of them again.

Why Was Racing So Popular In The 60's and 70's?
It was the only game in town in many places. Players also had lower takeouts to overcome. No exotics. No intertrack. You only had around 40-45 races a week to play.

Sharp handicappers had speed figures, before Beyer figures came along and were published them in the form. There were winners, there were those who were getting a regular return of 95-1.10 on their betting. Those who won attracted many players to at least dabble as well. Friends and family were brought to the track, because quite a few people left with money in their pockets so they could come back again the next day.

Many of players that are still left in the game today are products of home environments that included at least a day at the track each week with their parents. And this was made possible because the game used to be possibly beatable in the long term.

There were no major lotteries to compete with, and in Toronto, it wasn't until the Blue Jays came into town in the mid 70's that the race track realized they were no longer a monopoly.

Still, because racing was still a monopoly when it came to legalized gambling, the stands and the pools attracted a lot of mooch money. Gamblers who didn't even want to bother reading a racing form, who regularly lost 20 to 30 cents on every bet. This created another edge for those who devoted time to handicapping in an attempt to beat the game.

So how did race tracks react to not being the only game in town? They raised takeouts and tried to compete with more and more exotics. Triactors and superfectas with a track takeout of 25% plus are bankroll killers. They pumped in simulcasts, and nowadays an outfit like HPITV show 15 tracks a day.

Intertrack/simulcast wagering made sure that only a few people could go home with money in their pockets. The least they could have done is drastically reduce takeouts so players could last a bit longer each day. But the opposite happened, triactors with their high takeouts are now available in every race that has at least 6 horses. Racing has become like blackjack in the fact that you can play 5 really good hands every 20 minutes. Except blackjacks house edge (takeout) is 15 times lower than the takeout at a race track.

And then came slots and lotteries. Slots made sure that mooch money in the pools has disappeared to almost zero. There is hardly a player left who bets without a form. And family day is dead as well. Slots are way more appealing to those who just want to gamble. No thinking is required. Yet, even those who run slots realize that if they increased their takeout to over 10%, slots would be in trouble too. People keep coming back because it mostly takes time to scoop the players gambling money. Someone going to the track knows that $100 may give you 6-9 minutes of real action depending on how much one bets. If you are lucky enough, you might cash, and be able to win another 6-9 minutes of real action.

The way the game is set up today, it is impossible for winners to be created. Nowadays you have good handicappers facing great handicappers, and the great handicapper isn't a winner unless he or she is getting a very good rebate.

Marketers can't go there. They can't advertise that the only people who win at the track are those who bet offshore, or those who get substantial rebates. Racing has no long term winning poster boys, whereas poker has many. Is it a wonder that online poker, and other forms of gambling have grown, while racing, despite being available all over the place, has gone down the toilet when it comes to growth?


Takeouts need to be in the 10-12% range or forget about it.

Note: This piece is also co-posted at Bloodhorse Blogs

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Future Looked Bright

In this article dated October 21, 2000 the numbers were good. Racing was moving forward.

Only seven years ago [in 1993], Thoroughbred racing was a very different sport from today's game. As illustrated by purse statistics for individual tracks across the continent-a new annual feature of Thoroughbred Times-two events have altered the economic fabric of the sport in that relatively short period of time.

One development is full-card simulcasting, whose effects have spread throughout the sport and provided the financial engine for creation of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Also playing a big role in individual track's growth were slot machines, which have in some cases brought tracks back from the dead.

Individual tracks and purses were discussed. Things were really looking good as the article focused on purse increases galore.

At Delaware:

In 1994, Delaware authorized slot machines at the state's racetracks to save the racing industry and to generate income for a state that has no sales tax. The effect was dramatic and continues today. Through October 1, Delaware Park's purses averaged $27,826. Even allowing for inflation-a $5,230 purse in 1993 has the same buying power as a $5,554 purse today, based on changes in the consumer price index-Delaware Park has more than quintupled its purses.

At Woodbine:

This year's spectacular success story is Woodbine racetrack, where slot machines arrived in the spring with dramatic results. To be sure, Ontario Jockey Club officials primed the pump by raising purses before its new slots casino put money in the bank, but slots piled up the reserves very quickly.

Through October 1, the Toronto-area track was paying out $50,479 per race in Canadian funds, which was up 48% from a year earlier. By contrast, the Ontario track had an average purse of $23,266 in 1993.

In Kentucky:

Growth continues in states such as Kentucky, which has ridden the full-card revolution to year-round prominence. One of the chief beneficiaries has been Churchill Downs, which with Frank Stronach-controlled Magna Entertainment Corp. has gone on an acquisition binge over the past two years. Churchill's flagship spring meeting had an average purse of $44,078 this year, up 63.9% from 1993.

Ellis Park, now owned by Churchill, had a similar increase, growing 58% to an $18,477 average this year.

In 2000 we bet around $14.2 billion dollars.

In 2008 we will probably bet less than 14.2 billion dollars.

When inflation is taken into account in 2008, wagering will have dropped about 28%.

So how did this happen? Currently we are in a fight about exactly this: Purse increases. The very sharp and capable Steve Zorn argues below in a comment about the trouble owners are having.

I guess my question is, in 2000 we raised purses by an absolutely obscene amount (as a horse owner you won’t hear me complain about that), yet eight years later we are nowhere. The handle ship is sinking. If purse increases were the answer should we have not grown handles, or at least held them flat?

HANA members think they have the answer on why wagering has fallen despite record purses. They tell us that through all this time the customer has not been appreciated - both the live track and ADW customer. The industry has invested in bricks and mortar, given away huge amounts of slots and handle money to purses, but have not invested in them.

We have a chance to make this right and we sincerely hope that racing takes steps to help the customer. Without them and their handles, and this is becoming very apparent this year, we are in serious trouble. We have a wagering crisis in racing.

As a commenter on a blog recently stated: “If handle is so unimportant, then why are the sides always fighting over it?” That is a good comment, and I think true. Handle is important because handle fuels purses. With the numbers we are seeing lately, the business is starting to take notice that the loss of handles is becoming the most important metric in racing, just like it was 50 years ago. Now that our business has finally realized we have a problem, maybe we can discuss ways to fix it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why I Left Racing: Part III

"I propose a quorum in a test market. Five (or more) representatives from each of the three factions of racing I eluded to in Part II of the series (Horsemen, Horseplayer, & Administration) sitting down together and creating the fundamental racing model for the advancement of the game. There wouldn't be a hierarchy, but a quorum where the likes of a Jeff Platt, an Andy Beyer, a Nick Nicholson, and a Richard Mandella would sit at a table across and next to each other, each having an equal voice in the decision making process."

Doug is back with the popular "Why I Left Racing" series on the regular Monday slot. Part III is preceded by (guess:)) Parts One and Two. You can read them at the hyperlinks provided if you'd like to start at the beginning.

Regardless, in this piece he explores what fans are talking about and how we can possibly address them to help our game. Enjoy, and please comment in the comment box below. Just click "anonymous" to comment if you do not have a google account.

Why I Left the Game

…and what it will take to get me back.


Doug "Hajck" Hillstrom

Part III

Can We Find a Solution?

In Part II of this series, we addressed that horse racing had lost its way while attempting to deal with a myriad of problems over the last few decades, but just exactly what are those problems?

I put together my short list recently and polled the astute horseplayers at on their perspective. Over 115 of some of the finest handicapping minds in the country answered the poll with some very articulate elaborations on their answers.

Richard Bauer states it well with his observation; "Every problem listed is valid, but in reality they aren't problems. They are symptoms. The problem is that the industry's refusal to do what is necessary to make horse racing a robust business for everyone concerned over the long haul leaves it mired in a continuum of quick fixes in response to whatever each month's adverse public reaction places on the table. As soon as the clamor subsides it's back to business as usual. At one time I was naive enough to think that the industry cared about "me" as a customer."

I think that it might be better stated that the sport of Horseracing has a huge problem with numerous symptoms that need be remedied.

In the poll, it is interesting that the issue receiving the most votes was that of Excessive Take with a response of 31%. Interesting, but not surprising, as don't most decisions usually come down to the bottom line?

You might be curious how I voted in the poll, and believe me, it wasn't easy to come up with a single problem that outweighed the others significantly, but I am, as it turns out, in agreement with Jeremy Plonk, as I opted for the issue of Too Much Racing. It is time to consolidate the sport to make it a tighter product, therefore improving it.

It is my contention that the sport has become diluted in recent years with the advent of simulcast wagering and ADW's. At no time has the adage "less is more" been more prevalent. It isn't much of a stretch to see the average week of racing at any track comprised of 42 races spread over 5 days. Now, the average of slightly over 7 horses per race is recognized as the average, but not the norm. It is the era of the 5/6 horse field, and nothing turns off the astute horseplayer more than short fields. Why not consolidate those 42 races down to about 30?

The concept of eliminating 25% of racing opportunities should increase field size, but I'm not an expert on the topic, in fact, I'm just the average Joe that just likes to wager on Thoroughbreds.

The greatest coach ever, in my humble opinion, was John Wooden. Every year Coach Wooden would gather the prospects for his team, and do you realize the very first thing he would tell them?

He would show them how to put on their socks.

Fundamentals are the cornerstone to success.

The industry of horse racing needs to address the all of the fundamentals in the sport. They need to address it on a very small scale at first… but just "who" are the "they" I refer to?

I propose a quorum in a test market. Five (or more) representatives from each of the three factions of racing I eluded to in Part II of the series (Horsemen, Horseplayer, & Administration) sitting down together and creating the fundamental racing model for the advancement of the game. There wouldn't be a hierarchy, but a quorum where the likes of a Jeff Platt, an Andy Beyer, a Nick Nicholson, and a Richard Mandella would sit at a table across and next to each other, each having an equal voice in the decision making process.

It is easy to find fault, but difficult discovering solutions. The key is to find out what global markets are doing successfully and building a racing model that captures all that is marketable in the sport of racing. In this country, one could do worse than to utilize what I perceive the best model to improve on, and that would be Keeneland's operation.

Next, the sport needs a marketing adjustment. The sport is about gambling, and it is time to stop tiptoeing around that fact and accentuate it. Does anyone think the game of poker has experienced the success it has in recent years just because it is a fun game to play?

Without pointing any fingers and playing the blame game, let's see what we can do to put it back on the path of prosperity it once enjoyed in this country, and the type fan base enjoyed in other countries on a global scale.

I would think with H.A.N.A.'s primary objective to increase handle, the N.T.R.A. and every other governing body in horseracing would be sending a limo to pick up their representatives in such talks.

In Part IV of the series, we will take a hard look at another example of someone else who walked away from the game out of frustration, and it wasn't a monetary issue, but one of growth and prosperity.

Please visit Paceadvantage to vote or comment on the player poll. Joining Pace is free. To join Doug as a HANA member click here. It's free too and all information is confidential.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

ADW Dispute: The Parties & HANA

HANA President Jeff Platt, as we have previously reported, as been working the phones with the parties in the ADW dispute. He has placed three articles on the HANA website, speaking a little bit about his interpretations and opinions.

In Part I he speaks of his discussion with the ADW side.

In Part II he speaks of his chat with the horseman side.

In Part III he speaks about how important this issue is, and solving it with an opinion that the long-term view trumps both sides. He uses data from a racing study by an MIT graduate with 30+ years experience in gambling to point out why ADW wagering should follow the business principles it was designed to follow. If it does not, we might be in the exact same spot five years from now fighting about this all over again, but this time with even more handle losses.

The parties involved aren't just going back and forth on numbers for signal and host market fees. Decisions reached in these negotiations are going to have a profound effect on thoroughbred racing well into the future. Whatever final agreement is reached, it should be part of a comprehensive strategy that takes into account the future of the industry.

From what we hear from HANA members, as well as some critical thinkers in this sport, it is not about getting 4% or 9% or 11%, or whatever. It is about growing the sport in 2009 and beyond by reaching a gambling customer who is currently spending his/her money elsewhere, or who might be interested in racing if we offer it to him/her in a new, fresh way. We believe that if E*trade was created on a "fight for a slice" model, rather than an internet model it would not be successful, and we believe the same online stock brokerage model should be used for the ADW system. It is time for racing to become 21st century. This dispute and the future of racing is bigger than the parties, and what's best for the industry as a whole must be the only consideration.

HANA needs your help. The response has been overwhelming the past two weeks. Horseplayers from all walks of life, of all sizes, including small bettors, big bettors, horsepeople and horseowners are all joining us. Please join up if you already have not. Your information on the form is held in confidence, it is free and you can add your name to the list of folks who want to see this industry grow, so we have higher purses, more of a fan base and bring the sport we love to those who are yet to find it.

This week at HANAblog: Watch for Hjack Hillstrom's Part III of "Why I Left Racing", due out sometime late tomorrow. Read Part's I and II at the right if you have not for an interesting read.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Plonk Gets Even More Interesting

We race 52,000 races a year in North America. Handle per race is around $250,000 and average purse per race is $18,000. Japan races 18,000 races, per race handle is $1.5 million and the average purse is $40,000.

In other words, Jeremy Plonk is on to something.

Players would love to play in 1.4M pools. Horseman are currently after more for purses, because average purse levels are too low. Race less and win? What do you think?

From the article:

Those tied to horse racing almost universally agree that there's too much racing. Not enough healthy and sound horses, not enough fans, not enough oomph in the gas tank to fuel the show. I don't pretend to have the magic wand, but I do know enough about the racing landscape to put pen to paper and start the thought process.

Racing desperately needs to trim the excess.

Too many racetrack executives are narrow-minded and worried about the wrong things. They fear moving traditional schedules that might upset their on-track fan base. But the reality is that 85 percent of their betting handle comes from fans off-track. While they scratch and claw to lay claim to those popcorn and parking receipts, they fail to embrace the low-overhead, solid return they get in the simulcasting game.

Further, horsemen simply don't want to budge. Whether we're talking finances, drug policies or race days, horsemen remain a group firmly against change. They love long race meetings with short fields, reducing travel expenses and increasing their chance to pick up a piece of the purse with few rivals in the starting gate. They assume the game will always be here and that what provides their benefit trumps the fact that it's a death knell for the track operators and fans.

Read more at the link. This is on the heels of the last Plonk item on ESPN about the ADW crisis. Check that one out too if you have not and are interested.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Comments Galore!

A little bit ago we made a post about horseplayer comments. When you sign up for HANA there is a comment section where you can share your thoughts, and share you do!

At HANA we are fortunate enough to have players of all sizes sign up and horsepeople too (which we are very grateful to have in a players group!). But do you know what? Their comments are virtually the same.

I used to go to a diner fairly regularly. It's a friendly place. There was a regular who was a high roller (I think a stock broker), and a bit of a jerk I thought, but he spent some good money there. There was another fella who had a courier route. A regular Joe. He would come in and buy a coffee and sit down for a bit. The owner, an older greek man knew how to do business and so did his staff. These two customers were treated identically. He would take care of a bill the odd time, he told me. "They are both good customers"

That is why the comments are similar in so many respects on HANA members who are smaller or bigger players. They both have a common goal: They want to see the game grow and be more popular.

Ditto for rank and file horse owners and horseman. I am a horse owner, as are many HANA members. The costs of this game have gone through the roof! Slots money has added cost inflation (in my and some others opinion) and shipping to take advantage has thrown a ton out of whack. Some of our commenters are big picture thinkers and in line with a HANA goal: Raise handles and we can make this a better sport for everyone from owners to bettors, to feed men, to blacksmiths. We are all on the same side in this: Grow the game!

Here are a smattering of some of the more recent comments:

A smaller player for Pittsburgh says "I grudgingly opened an offshore betting account recently. I know if enough players follow suit that this could have a negative impact on racing. Unfortunately the powers that be in racing could care less about my wagering dollar. Capital will flow to where it is treated the best, a fact sorely lost upon the so-called racing industry leadership."

A larger player from Texas says: "I have been a hobby handicapper since 1988 (NoCal). On my 20th anniversary as a hobby handicapper, I have decided to become a professional handicapper. The track signals to the ADWs must be resolved. It makes no sense to have multiple ADW accounts to play the track of your choice. When I moved to Texas in 1996 from northern California, I was amazed that I could not even sign up to some ADWs (TVG) because I lived in Texas!!! So exclusive TVG tracks are no longer available to me. To play TVG tracks from Texas, I must go offshore. Im sure Im not the only one having this problem. Universal track access by all US-based ADWs is the answer. Thank you for creating an organization that will give a voice to the horse player."

A horseperson from Kentucky says "I breed and race Thoroughbreds in KY for racing. I am tired of owners shipping them all over the place trying to take advantage of better state programs. It takes money out of my budget and makes the rest of the season harder to budget. I breed and race in KY myself also. I am racing one now at Churchill and cannot even bet on my own horse unless I drive 30 miles from N. Lexington to Keeneland. Aside from the fact that the purse of my race has been cut to a pitiful level. My trainer in the last 2 months has shipped horses to PA, IN, IL, WV to break their maidens for more money. I won't do it. My horse has to earn the right to ship like that - Very expensive to do it unless you win. Keep our horses home - Let us bet here and have decent purses. Fix medication rules to be the same everywhere. Fix the ADW!!!! Who is waiting for what to get this done? Cant they just sit down and hack it out?"

We are a diverse group that's for sure and we often read how different sized players and horsepeople are on the issues. I find there is more common ground than not. Issues for horsepeople are too broad to take for HANA, and we are no experts, but with many of us who are owners we feel some major reform needs to be done in ownership, too (especially with costs, but maybe with some sort of revenue sharing through slots, too). Taking money away from ADW and the internet model like we are fighting about is a band-aid, in our opinion, and will not grow the pie. A couple extra points now will not fix this game and will probably result in less revenue later on as the game shrinks. We have to look at growing wagering long-term and controlling our costs to have a vital horse ownership and bettor growth plan, and it seems many members, from all walks of life agree.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Press Release: Meadow & Mordin Join HANA Advisory Board



(Charlottesville, Virginia November 12, 2008): The Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) is pleased to announce that horseplayers Barry Meadow and Nick Mordin have joined HANA in an advisory board role. The HANA Advisory board is currently made up of Cary Fotias and Dr. William Ziemba. The advisory board oversees HANA’s general goals and planks, and provides feedback and direction to its management team.

It has been a centerpiece of HANA that our members should ideally be horseplayers - the lifeblood of the sports revenue - and Barry Meadow fits the bill. Barry has been a horseplayer, author and gambler for well over 30 years. His book “Money Secrets at the Racetrack” is considered a racing bible for money management. His work in harness racing with “Professional Harness Betting” is widely considered the most comprehensive look at that sport. In addition to being an every day player, Barry writes a column on betting for American Turf Monthly and has had his work published in Sports Illustrated. Barry is also a proponent in reaching a new audience via alternative betting outlets like betting exchanges. Barry’s work can be seen at

Also a player first is Nick Mordin. He is the international racing correspondent to The Racing Post Weekender. His articles also appear in racing publications around the world. He has appeared on radio and TV and produced a documentary on betting for Channel 4 in England. Nick has written four books on the subject of horseracing. One of them, "Betting for a Living", is the best selling book ever on handicapping and betting in the U.K. His greatest acclaim comes from his research into Racing Systems. He can fairly be said to have altered the way horse races are analyzed in Great Britain. His speed ratings and analyses of Grade 1 and Group 1 races can be found at

HANA is very happy to welcome aboard two more horseplayers who live and breathe racing. They will be a tremendous asset to the ever-growing HANA membership.

For a web copy of this release please click here:

The Horseplayers Association of North America is a grassroots group of horseplayers, not affiliated with any organization, who are not pleased with the direction the game has taken. HANA believes that both tracks and horseman groups have become bogged down with industry infighting and have completely forgotten something: The importance of the customer. HANA hopes, through proactive change on several key issues (including but not limited to), open signal access, lower effective takeouts, affordable data and customer appreciation, the industry’s handle losses can be reversed. HANA is currently made up of well over 300 horseplayers (both harness and thoroughbred) from almost all states and Canadian provinces. It currently represents almost $25,000,000 of racing handle.

Our web address is and interested horseplayers can sign up there for free. We are horseplayers, just like you and we are trying to make a difference. We need and appreciate your support.


A Note of Thanks

We have had a very good few days here from horseplayer response regarding sign-ups. In fact, the last few days have been a record. To all of you who have been forwarding the sign up page and to those of you who have signed up, a big thank you.

On a chat board today someone said "there are people out there in the business who want you [HANA] to fail miserably because they want the status-quo." I do not know how true that is, but one thing I know - if the past month is any indication, it is not happening.

We are in the process of compiling an email database through the form submission you all have filled out. We hope to thank each of you via email soon (and as promised, we will not bug you too much via email, but we do want to offer an update from time to time). In addition, to those of you who have offered your help - and that has blown us away since there are so many of you that have offered - we hope to be back to you soon.

A special note to Seth at He linked our last press release and it was a big help. To bloggers who have done the same, we truly appreciate it.

Thanks again from everyone at HANA. We are growing, and the energy that we get from people signing up in the numbers you have lately is palpable. We might just be able to change this game and up handles. One thing for sure, with your help we sure are going to try.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why I Left Racing: Part Two

Hajck Hillstrom was a six figure player, racing ambassador and horse owner. In October of this year he settled in to download the racing form, found out he could not bet a certain track and said enough is enough. In Part One of the series he introduced himself and spoke a little bit about some of the issues facing fans of this sport. In Part Two, he speaks of how the business badly mismanaged their customer base in the most basic way - they did not seem to grasp the intelligence of the modern player and his ability to leave the game for other gambling pursuits.

Why I Left Racing…

…and what it will take to get me back.


Hajck Hillstrom

Part II

The game has lost its way

As a young man growing up in Central Washington, I participated in many sports competitively. Basketball, Football, Baseball, Swimming, Golf, Tennis, & Volleyball all garnered various amounts of attention from adolescence through my college days. A couple of trips to Las Vegas in my early 20's introduced me to another form of competition; that of gaming. I looked around and saw a different city than what exists today, but a field that could be played on for the rest of my life, and set out to find my niche.

Initially, it was the tables, Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps. Gambling was new to me, and the learning curve an expensive one. The Race & Sports Book was the natural progression, and learning the line appeared to be the perfect arena for me, but it was there that I learned the hook was more like a slashing sabre that somehow managed to find the jugular of my bankroll more often than not.

It was then that Thoroughbred racing got in my blood. After years of casual observation via print media, and three Triple Crown winners, I was introduced to the wager, the process of analysis and the investment in that analysis. If you were right, you were rewarded, sometimes handsomely, and if you were wrong, you paid for it. For some reason, this scenario fit my eye.

I had been to the racetrack three times before I ever placed a wager. I had gone to Yakima Meadows and Santa Anita with friends that had some experience in the game, and gave them my $20 to coattail their wagers, quite frankly intimidated by the entire process. After a couple trips to Vegas, the environment appeared less daunting, so in 1984, on "Big Cap" day, in front of 85,000 fans, I went to the window for the first time and placed my first pari-mutuel wager, winning on a 7-1 shot. $10 across the board yielded a return of about $150 on the $30 wager, and the return seemed outrageously generous to me at the time. I liked the concept of odds, and the ability to bet a little to make a lot. Keep in mind this was even before the advent of the trifecta, superfecta, Pik3, Pik4 & other exotic wagering opportunities. The exacta was available, but only in the nightcap and each combination would cost you $5.

That fall I attended the inaugural Breeder's Cup at Hollywood Park, and again, everything just seemed to fit. I had discovered that I was part of the sport and was competing against everyone else at the track. I learned to read the DRF, and devoured its data. I read every book I could get my hands on, and slowly built my personal methodology. I attended Racing Expo's in Las Vegas, competed in Handicapping tournaments in Reno, and with the advent of the internet, exchanged perspectives with other handicappers via that medium. I rubbed elbows with the best and brightest handicappers in the country, and had a few handicapping articles of my own published along the way.

I had found a game I could be truly passionate about, a sport that transcended all class structure, and at the same time, defining it. I had become a dedicated handicapper, a purist, one who only wagered on horseracing. Simulcast wagering brought about new opportunities, and no longer would one have to travel extreme distances to visit their local venue live, plus the addition of racing from other venues became available, albeit limited initially.

Thoughts of halcyon days gone by resonate, days of hope and opportunity, and a sport that eluded the masses. It was a game of character, filled with characters, and a tradition and history that one could find himself getting lost in.

Sadly, the once robust flavor has soured into bitter disarray.

Yes, the game had come a long way in the last 25 years, but in that time, it managed to get lost somewhere along the way.

In my last piece I referenced the sport of thoroughbred horseracing as a "house of cards divided." Ten years ago I referenced it as merely a house divided, but the winds of time and change threaten the grand old sport now to point of being visualized as the proverbial fragile house of cards. The only consistent fact is that it remains divided, with those three derisive divisions being the Horsemen (Owners/Breeders/Trainers & Personnel /Jocks), the Horseplayer (Those that fuel the sport), and the Sport's Administrators (Those that set the standards and provide opportunity).

I once illustrated them as the three fingers on Mickey Mouse's hand, with the Administrators commanding center stage and the other two forced to knell on either side.

Without question, the Horsemen are the heart and soul of the game. Without them, there would be no sport of horseracing. Their investment in the game begins long before a horse ever gets to the track and their position is entrenched firmly atop the food chain. They make the decision where and when their horse should run, and, for the most part, the industry should be grateful for their dedication to the game.

If Horsemen are the heart and soul of racing, than the Horseplayer is certainly its life's blood, but with the game in need of a transfusion of new blood, there appears to be some inability to access it.

Often viewed by the masses merely as a degenerate gambler, today's Horseplayer is a sophisticated commodities broker just down the road and around the corner from Wall Street. He comes ready to invest, and should the rubber band need to come off the bankroll, than by all means, let it snap. His laptop in tow, his data-base at the ready, and his spreadsheet programmed to tackle any algorithm set before it, the new age RTD (Race Track Degenerate) has come a long way from "who does yuz like in da thoid?"

Sadly, it appears to this handicapper that many Administrators still view the latter exampled Horseplayer as their patron, and merely as a necessary evil of the sport. They need to get into the Horseplayer's pocket to survive, and they will do this in what appears to be any means possible.

They also appear to fancy themselves the puppet master, pulling all the strings, but in truth should answer to the Horseplayer, for without them, the sport would simply dry up and blow away.

It is easy to point fingers though, each faction blaming the other for the ills of the game. The advocacy that "if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem" couldn't ring more true than in the sport of horseracing. In Part III of the series we will address the myriad of problems and the needed solutions. H.A.N.A. gives the horseplayer the opportunity to join a grassroots organization to help improve this great sport, and that should be everyone involved in the sport's fundamental premise.

For Hajck's Bris Horseplayer Hall of Fame Bio page, click here.

To join us in helping to get players like this back into racing again, please sign up to HANA. We need you more than ever.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Press Release: Executives Hear Horseplayer Concern from HANA



(Charlottesville, Virginia. November 9, 2008): The Horseplayers Association of North America, through its President Jeff Platt, called for an immediate end to the Advance Deposit Wagering dispute between tracks, horsemen and ADW companies. In addition, HANA has been in direct contact with the parties to ensure that the horseplayer’s concerns are heard.

In speaking with Ryan Conley of the Bloodhorse, Jeff stated "They [horseplayers] are very frustrated, and discouraged; some are outraged, that the signals aren’t going out. The level of frustration is an eye-opener to us. And a lot of players are telling me they are going to play something else."

"You don’t walk into a casino and have someone tell you the craps tables are closed, or the blackjack dealers are on strike," Platt said. "Racing is making it difficult on its players. Players are leaving the game. They are spending their money elsewhere. And many of them are not coming back."

In a previous open letter to the Industry, HANA stated the following:

"Racing is at a crossroads. Thoroughbred handle is down nearly everywhere. That in itself should be your wake up call. Track management, horsemen's groups, and ADWs - ALL of you should be working together - doing everything within your power to grow handle by bringing new fans to the game.

Instead you have done just the opposite.

This is exactly the kind of mess the industry doesn't need at a time when the last thing the industry needs is any kind of mess at all.

I implore you to put aside your differences. End this now - before you do the game more damage than you already have."

Platt has been working the phones on behalf of horseplayers, the ones who have been lost in this stalemate. "It's been a busy week. I've burned a ton of cell phone minutes talking to all sides involved in the signal wars - track executives, horsemen, ADW operators, and yes - customers."

Jeff was impressed with Chairman Jack Liebau: "Here is a track executive that really does understand the short-sightedness of the signal wars and how it impacts the customer. He understands that players not only have the option to spend their money elsewhere but are actively doing so."

Jeff is hopeful that a deal can be struck soon. "From my conversations I pressed the issue and received good feedback. It seems everyone realizes this fight does no one any good. Although horseplayers fund the sport, they are rarely represented in these issues. We are determined to give players a seat at the table and be heard.”

HANA will keep members and the media updated when further information becomes available.

For complete text of the Bloodhorse article, the url is here:

For a complete text of the Open Letter, the url is here:

For a web copy of this release, the url is here:

Please visit us at for further information.

The Horseplayers Association of North America is a grassroots group of horseplayers, not affiliated with any organization, who are not pleased with the direction the game has taken. HANA believes that both tracks and horseman groups have become bogged down with industry infighting and have completely forgotten something: The importance of the customer. HANA hopes, through proactive change on several key issues (including but not limited to), open signal access, lower effective takeouts, affordable data and customer appreciation, the industry’s handle losses can be reversed. HANA is currently made up of close to 300 horseplayers (both harness and thoroughbred) from almost all states and Canadian provinces. It currently represents over twenty million dollars of yearly racing handle.

Members of the HANA advisory board include Cary Fotias and Dr. William Ziemba.

Our web address is and interested horseplayers can sign up there for free. We are horseplayers, just like you and we are trying to make a difference. We need and appreciate your support.


Note: We need your help! Please sign up here if you wish to be a part of HANA. It's free, we don't spam, and your information is held in confidence. We need horseplayers to force change and build a better sport. We're horseplayers, just like you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Platt and HANA on the

Yesterday Ryan Conley of the Bloodhorse wrote a story on the current infighting in racing regarding the ADW issue we have been chatting about here.

One old betting axiom -- “shut out at the window” -- has taken on a whole new meaning when paired with a relatively new one in the racing industry lexicon: “signal wars.”

Disputes between horsemen, racetracks, and advance deposit wagering entities have dominated racing news in 2008, and threaten to continue into 2009, as the primary parties scrap over revenue from wagers made via the Internet, telephone, or mobile devices. The fallout has contributed to declining handle and purses at many tracks, as horsemen exercise their right to withhold consent for signal distribution.

President of HANA, Jeff Platt, was interviewed in the piece and spoke on behalf of all of us. We read every comment from the signups, and we read every comment here on the blog. You have spoken loud and clear, and Jeff made sure we were all heard:

Left in the wake of the battles are ADW customers, who while sometimes sympathetic to one side or the other, are often left without favored tracks upon which to bet.

“They are very frustrated, and discouraged; some are outraged, that the signals aren’t going out,” said Jeff Platt, a Southern California computer programmer who is president of the new bettors’ advocacy group, Horseplayers Association of North America. “The level of frustration is an eye-opener to us. And a lot of players are telling me they are going to play something else.”

Ryan went on to outline that some of the signals actually are being let through by THG, while others are not. The offshores so far, seem exempt, while those playing onshore can not bet.

But some wonder why offshore entities such as Elite Turf Club and RGS aren't THG targets. Earlier in the year, Reeves simply said offshores are something the THG still needed to figure out what to do with. But now he says Elite and RGS deserve preferential treatment because of their volume.

The two offshores alone are estimated by some to process up to 15% of all North American handle. Players are given cash rewards, or rebates, on their wagers, often to the tune of 10% or more.

“Do you believe that businesses dealing with big customers should get a discount?” Reeves asked. “I happen to be in that school: that high-volume players betting over $1 million or more should get a discount. If these guys had to bet at a racetrack, or at the same takeout at the racetrack, would they still bet? And at the volume at which they are betting? I don’t think they would.”

Conversely, Reeves asked, why don’t TVG,,, and offer discounts to its top-volume players?

“Why should we tell high-volume players through which platforms they should place their wagers?” he asked. “I think a high-volume player ought to be able to choose a platform with what he perceives as to be the best service.”

Jeff went on to elaborate that this business should not be shutting anyone out in such a sensitive time. If we parallel this to the economies right now of North America it would seem to be tantamount to Wal Mart not letting some people in some states shop there, under the guise that selling the products to less people means more long-term business. Of course this would not happen. Now more than ever Wal Mart, or any other business want to not only maximize their customer base, but in fact want to offer attractive pricing to cash strapped consumers. Racing seems to, once again, do the opposite.

Platt, who has penned a critical open letter to the horseracing industry on behalf of HANA, believes availability should be made to all bettors, regardless of the level. And he said players in the HANA organization and elsewhere could really care less how it happens, as long as it happens quickly.

“You don’t walk into a casino and have someone tell you the craps tables are closed, or the blackjack dealers are on strike,” Platt said. “Racing is making it difficult on its players. Players are leaving the game. They are spending their money elsewhere. And many of them are not coming back.”

HANA, which was launched this summer, has just fewer than 300 members that combined wager about $25 million a year, Platt said. “We don’t have enough members yet to stage a public demonstration (such as a wagering boycott), but the day may come when there will be several thousand members. And then we will be able to coordinate some sort of an effort.”

THG's Bob Reeves, in a comment that is surprising to say the least, said that horseplayers should be with them, because the economics of racing are bad:

Reeves said the THG sympathizes with the horseplayers’ community, including the average $2 bettor.

“I am asking for patience and support,” he said. “My goals are parallel to the guy you are talking about. If you blow the smoke away, and understand the economics of how little horse owners and racetracks get when a wager shifts from on track to an account wagering company, he would be banging on the table with his shoe for us to negotiate harder.”

ADW's have taken their share (the one that THG wants) and given customers free past performances, free handicapping tournaments, increased innovation for stay at home bettors, given rebates and lowered our takeout, advertised so we have higher pools to bet into and more. They have at the very least given the player something back in the highest rake game in the entire world, if not the history of the world. That is the reason that ADW wagering grew by 17% last year. They have been far from perfect I am sure, but why would we want a so-far successful mechanism underfunded?

Not to mention, as Steve Crist noted on his blog, purse funding has not been a pressing issue in North America, customer loss and per capita wagering has. The US gets over 6% of wagering for purses, whereas places like Japan (less than 3%) and the UK (less than 1%) are much lower.

Though American racehorse owners constantly complain about not getting a sufficient return on investment, in comparison to other countries, we do a pretty efficient job of directing betting commissions back to owners through purses. If British purses were our 6 percent of handle, rather than their current 1 percent, the average British purse would be over $130,000, even bigger than Hong Kong's.

Handle is the issue. The US, in a ranking of 12 countries, ranks 11th in terms of per capita wagering, just edging out the country of Turkey. That is why we at HANA have as a plank that we must look at ways of increasing handle. For gosh sakes, we should be doing better than 11th out of 12.

Jeff and HANA have been working relentlessly on this issue and will keep doing so. Until wagering signals are sent to everyone who wants them, and until they are allowed to rebate to everyone who wants one, including minnows, we will continue the fight.

For us to succeed, we need your help. If you have not done so, please sign up here. If you have not told a friend who may be interested please link this post and email it to them. As Jeff said in Bloodhorse: There is strength in numbers. It takes less than a minute to sign up, it's free, and your name and address are held in the strictest confidence. We thank you.

Note: John Pricci, horseplayer, writer and excellent blogger chimes in on the ADW mess, too. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

There's a Happy Horse

We have been asked for links from some adoption societies and link we do! The picture is a happy horse from Rerun, a 501c New Jersey adoption society. We are very happy to see the work they do and support them 100%. If you'd like to donate to Rerun, or any other adoption organizations look to the right for a link.

As a horse owner as well as a bettor I get great joy from two things: Hitting a good bet, and making sure that the winner never has nothing but a nice home when he is done working for us. Donate, it makes you feel good.

We are also happy to announce that HANA has been invited to be part of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance. The TBA is a huge supporter of retirement homes for horses and we are extremely happy to be a part of it. Thanks Patrick and everyone at the TBA for welcoming HANA!

The beautiful gelding in the picture needs a home. He won six times working hard for all of them, but he has a bit of a knee problem now, so can not be ridden. Go to Rerun for more.

Jeremy Plonks One Out of the Park

Jeremy Plonk in his ESPN column this week hits the nail on the head. Titled "Take the Money and Run" the article echos many of the HANAblog themes and it seems to agree with our HANA open letter that Jeff wrote below.

Plonk writes:

Wake up and smell the monopoly.

An industry struggling for its financial survival has been blessed with the only legal internet gambling in America, yet wants to funnel it all down the drain because its factions can't agree on who gets what.

While it's natural to want more, unfortunately it's even more common to over-value your personal worth. Both factors appear at play as America's horseplayers twist and turn in the breeze.

A nationwide dispute between Thoroughbred horsemen and advance deposit wagering (ADW) companies continued at an impasse this week. All the while, fans and bettors alike were shut out from online wagering on most of the top signals in the sport, including Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park.

We have been mincing no words here that we feel blocking a signal and asking for more money in a time of falling handles is a short-sighted concept that will hurt, not help racing. Horseplayers have been taken for granted for so long, and it seems they are not taking it any longer. Plonk agrees:

Now, you might as well write your bets on a paper airplane and try to fly them to the racetrack.

Racing organizations had better realize this: I'm not a crack addict. I don't need to play the sixth from Anytrack USA this afternoon. In fact, I can go weeks on end with plenty of other fancy-free hobbies and habits. And I'm not alone.

We can miss racing, and the worst part? Once you stop, it is really difficult to get back into it. Rebuying forms, watching replays, learning track biases. It takes time and effort. Hong Kong realized this when they changed things aggressively this year with pricing and delivery when faced with new competition from Macau casinos. They knew just how vital it was to keep horseplayers, well, playing horses.

We have also been very hopeful that the business will learn that ADW and them working to expand the market is much more important than getting a bigger slice of a shrinking pie. This short-term goal seems to be prevalent in racing and Mr. Plonk seems to agree:

I've sat next to a president of a state horsemen's group who openly complained about a handful of customers in the grandstand of his local track calling in their bets on the cellphone to an ADW company instead of going to the track's betting windows, thus depriving the horsemen of a bigger percentage of those few bets. How simpleton can you possibly be? You base your argument on a few dollars going local to national, but fail to see the benefits of big money coming national to local through the ADW. Honestly, the thousands of guys betting in their underwear around the country today were not making 600-mile, cross-country roadtrips to your track.

He also thinks what horseman are asking for is unreasonable:

And, of course, the horsemen have now come calling for more of the pie. Much more. Simple math tells you that going from 20 percent to 33 percent is not asking for 13 percent; it's asking for 65 percent more than you used to be getting. Try going into a contract negotiation with your boss and asking for a 65-percent raise on your current take-home pay.

We have been mentioning here on the blog the simple fact that these entities don't just fund themselves. They are working for customers and putting some of their share into rebates and new technology - one of the few entities ever in the monopoly of racing who have actually done that. That is why they grew at 17% last year. Putting money into the highly taxed customer resulted in growth (go figure!). Now we seem to want to change all that, for some strange reason.

They should be happy as a lark that they bear ZERO of the expense involved in developing software, staffing, marketing, promoting or processing a single wager.

The article is a good one and we have not done it justice, so give it a read.

In racing we see a whole lot of cheerleading at times from the press. We think this is sometimes misguided and sometimes we tend need a good kick in the butt; this is one of those times. I am glad Mr. Plonk stepped up to the plate to let racing know that fans are not gonna take it anymore.

The message has been said loud and clear by racing fans:Full access of all tracks by all ADW, lower prices through open rebating, new technology advancements and a genuine respect for the bettor, or we will not have a business left.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Giving Horses a Home

We at HANA believe that we as horseplayers should do all we can to help retirement of our horses. We have added links to the side of the page for adoption. We hope, in time, that when we sell some HANAgear, or whatever we do with our donations, that a portion of them can go to this area, maybe a donation on a yearly basis on behalf of horseplayers everywhere. We will be discussing this at our next meeting.

Here is a reprint from a HANA members blog about retirement and a happy life.

Horses are bred to race, bred to breed more, and that we do. It has been a bit of a topic on the blog here with horseplayers. We tend to care about what happens to the horses we bet on; it is quite emblematic of the game. It was with particular horror when everyone found out that Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was sent to slaughter in 2002.

We aren't seemingly able to give much good news on this front, but recently we got some. Alysheba, Ferdinand's rival in a couple memorable battles, has been sent back to the US as a gift to the racing fan. he will be spending his days in Kentucky at the horse park, in a stall that was reserved for John Henry.

"His Royal Highness King Abdullah realized how much Alysheba means to American racing fans and we are grateful for this magnanimous gift of one of his favorite horses to our country," said John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park. "We are grateful as well for the great care His Majesty has provided for Alysheba."

Alysheba's comfort on the overseas journey was of prime concern to King Abdullah, who arranged for the Derby winner's two-month pre-export quarantine to be spent in the luxury of the Nad al Sheba Quarantine Center in Dubai.

"Shipping a 24-year-old horse is not without risk, so we had to take every precaution to ensure that the process was stress free," said Frank McGovern, manager of King Abdullah's stables. "We are very thankful to the Nad al Sheba Quarantine team for the care and attention they gave Alysheba during his stay there."

Sometimes stories have a good ending, and this is a good one. People out there really care for these horses and we have come a long way the past while in giving them a home. Harness racing has also stepped up to the plate as it was approved recently that a fraction of purses in Ontario will go to retirement homes.

Below is the Breeders Cup Classic in which both these horses raced each other, and raced their heart out. One of these great horses who gave everything for their owners, trainers, and fans made it to live a long and happy life. One did not. The one that did not however, just might save some of his brothers.

Ferdinand is pictured above in Japan, before he was sent to slaughter.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Why I Left Racing" : Part One

Hajck is a horseplayer, just like us. And he's a good one. He also loves the sport of kings by being in a racing stable, just like many of us are as well. But that love, although still there, has taken a turn.

He will explain some of the things that are turning him away from the game. Track executives and horseman reps would do well to read this series, in my opinion, as when we lose people like Hajck we are not far off from losing many more.

Here is Hajck's Bio:

Hajck's first introduction to the races was on October 28th, 1974 when he watched a 16 year old kid boot home his first win ever aboard Oregon Warrior in the 6th race from just outside the fence at Yakima Meadows. That kid's name was Russell Baze.

In 1976, Hajck attended college in Santa Barbara and later moved to Los Angeles where he managed nightclubs while honing his handicapping chops at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Pomona, and Agua Caliente. Opportunity joined technology in 1989 when he moved to Lancaster, CA, just two blocks from the Satellite Wagering Facility featuring simulcasts from across the country.

In 2003, Hajck was named to the Brisnet Handicapper's Hall of Fame where just some of the tickets he has cashed are documented.

In 2007 he attended his first Kentucky Derby and savored the flavor of racing in the Bluegrass, and at the same time was hired as a Fan Educator at Emerald Downs in Seattle, WA where he was a 25% partner in Four Star Stables.

On October 25th, 2008, he sadly walked away from the sport he had always considered his passion. His support of the game has taken a different direction, from a financial one to one he hopes will make the game better for those that have it in their blood.

He continues work on his novel, SINGLING DEEP, a mystery/fiction suspense thriller with a racing backdrop set in the Pacific Northwest.

Why I Left Racing

…and what it will take to get me back.


Doug "Hajck" Hillstrom

It was a left jab to the chin, a glancing blow, but enough to assure me that my adversary wasn't a friend, or even an associate. It seemed that every time I encountered this foe, I would somehow, someway, get sucker punched with a left, while his right hand was taking approximately 25% of the cash out of my pocket. It was the same right hand that just moments before had caressed my shoulder while he was whispering in my ear "Come on into this wonderful building I built just for you, and you will be rich and happy."

My rivals were racing administrators everywhere that had been beating me down for years, and I wasn't going to take it anymore. When I say "everywhere," I should mention the caveat being in Lexington, Kentucky with Keeneland Race Course the glaring exception, a place where the game is played closer to where it should be played.

On October 24th, 2008 I purchased my Brisnet Ultimate PP's and sat down to what I always consider to be an enjoyable three hours of analysis for the opening day card at my profit center, Hollywood Park. For what ever reason, I do better at the Inglewood oval than any other, and in this game, that usually helps shape how well you like a track. When I awoke on the 25th, and discovered that the California TOC had blocked the signal to those wagering outside the state of California via ADW sites, I was livid. The switch had finally been thrown.

It was that dark day that I left the game I had helped support for years. No longer would I be the sport's pawn, readily sacrificed by factions in a house of cards divided. No longer would I wager hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. No longer would I be purchasing thoroughbreds and bring them to the track to race. No longer would I be sharing the joys that the sport brings to people across all sections of society.

For years I had resisted addressing the dark side of the sport, choosing to accentuate the positive and ignoring all of its flaws. I dealt with the foul-ups and mismanagement as part of the fabric of the sport, and pressed on. Racing isn't a game for the feint of heart, I would tell myself, and tomorrow will be a fresh slate. Truth be told though, the slate is never a fresh one, but the same battered one recycled over and over again, covered with a layer of grime that is merely polished at the close of each racing day.

Drug use, steroids, excessive taxation, excessive take, integrity of the wagering pools, and the general integrity of the sport need to be standardized throughout the industry. It is time to bring the sport together. States can keep certain distinctions to their product, but the sport needs to join together for the common good. Jurisdictions, horsemen, administrators, and horseplayers have to come to together on a level playing surface and pound out some realistic objectives. They need to realize that they are all in this together, and that a model needs to be created. I believe Keeneland is a good place to start in building that model.

Let's start off with something easy and long overdue. Let's ban the use of the conventional whip used in the United States. I can meet the jockey's halfway, and allow the use of the more humane whip used in Europe and in Steeplechase racing. This is a no-brainer, folks. It is the visual that has been giving the sport a black eye for decades now. Imagine the infusion of good press it could generate?

That is the first step forward in bringing this handicapper back to the sport. When that hurdle is scaled, I will present my second step, but I won't be holding my breath in the meantime. I'd be amazed if the whips were repealed in our lifetime, as the wheels of progress grind slowly in this sport. Next we'll look at the derisive divisions in racing between Administrators, Horsemen, and Horseplayers.

Until then, I will find a poker game to play in without much hassle, and with parameters that are well defined and well managed.

If you would like to join Hajck and us here at HANA, please sign up today.