Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Henderson: Churchill Downs Inc, TOC & Others are Making a Big Mistake

Industry watcher and gambling expert Hartley Henderson wrote a hard-hitting article this week about (primarily) horse racing. In the article he examines what companies are doing to grow in the tough economy and compares it to racing.

"[Other] businesses are doing whatever they need to in order to attract new customers and keep existing customers happy. In order to achieve this, many businesses have introduced enticements that may prove to be unprofitable in the short run but will prove worthwhile in the long run."

Racing however, is doing the exact opposite he says, and he singles out Churchill Downs for their new policy:

"Churchill Downs Inc. announced that it was cutting incentives for all but the largest players who wager at their Twin Spires website. Under the system players will be given rewards cards and only those who wager $25,000 or more at the 4 Churchill Downs tracks (Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, Calder Race Course and Fair Grounds) or on the TwinSpire’s website in a year will be entitled to “elite rewards” which include free parking, programs, etc.  The rest will be given tokens like free Brisnet credits. The company has argued that the current rewards structure hasn’t been enough to increase wagering and therefore the new structure will prove better for all bettors, but others in the industry say it’s just a cost cutting measure and the message is clear “unless you’re a big better your business is irrelevant to us.”

The TOC and CHRB do not escape unscathed:

"Yet California decided that the 20% takeout on exotics requiring 2 or more horses and 21% takeout on exotics requiring 3 or more horses wasn’t enough so they have decided to increase both by 2%. This is a blatant stab at the smaller bettors since exotics are far more popular with novice bettors than are win, place and show wagers."

This is mind boggling in a day where customers are looking for the best value for their betting dollar and younger bettors have turned away from horse racing because they believe the takeout makes it an unwinnable proposition."

Further, tracks like Woodbine in Canada, and the state of Virginia have enacted similar, that are looked at by Mr. Henderson.

Why does this happen?

 “the industry is controlled by new executives that don’t understand the business or the patrons or older executives who still think it’s the 1960s or 70s.” 

We hope every track executive and industry stakeholder reads Mr. Henderson's comprehensive article. You might not like what he says, but from a horseplayer group with more than 2000 members, we can honestly tell you:  A lot of what he speaks is the truth.

Monday, November 28, 2011

KY Steward Veitch Dismissed; No Cause Given

The Blood-Horse is reporting that KY Steward John Vietch has been dismissed effective immediately.

The action comes in the midst of a hearing officer completing his report stemming from the investigation and hearings this summer on the Life At Ten situation. Robert Layton, who is the chief hearing officer for the Office of Administrative Hearings within the Energy and Environment Cabinet, is drafting the report based on three days of hearings conducted this summer. Earlier this month, Layton requested and received a 30-day extension in which to complete his report.
Please let us know what you think.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: 2YO's on Display at Woodbine today

What a nice race for To Honor and Serve yesterday in the Cigar Mile.  Haynesfield was right there to strike but never fired, in fact, he looked like he wanted to lug out off the rail.  Today, we head back up to Canada for the $150,000 Display Stakes going a mile and one-sixteenth over the synthetic surface for 2YO's.  There is a field of nine and it is loaded with some nice looking horses.  I admit I struggle with 2YO's and there are several contenders.  I will list five and one longshot.  Truthfully, this is all about price, I would probably play the one that had the best odds or took the most early money.  It should be a great race.  I will list the contenders in order of finish but it’s anyone’s race.


#1 Menlo Castle ML 3/1

This 2YO has had an active campaign and has done well being on the board every time he races at Woodbine.  He had a great effort in the Coronation coming way wide; his Beyer’s are the best of the bunch.  Biamonte is good with 2YO’s and a stellar stakes records (24%), I only wish Husbands was in the irons.

#5 Splendiferous ML 4/1

There are a bunch of angles with this pony.  You got a turf to synthetic play, first time blinkers and Johnny V coming north to ride him.  His last two races were in Graded company and wasn’t totally blown off the track, decent Beyer’s and we know he can handle the distance.  Margolis has a 23% hit record with horses coming off layoffs.

#7 Maritimer ML 5/2

What’s not to like.  Comes off a strong win in the Coronation, has put together a string of pearls with his Beyer’s (72-73-72-79).  Contreras has ridden four times well and with Attard having a decent stakes record.  The issue will be price.

#3 Patrioticandproud ML 6/1

He breaks his maiden at this distance at this track.  He did it with a respectable Beyer (72) and Husbands stays aboard. Mark Casse is an excellent trainer and this would were my money would go if he stays at 6/1 or higher.

#6 Bridgeburner ML 8/1

The morning line is a bit steep and could be the overlay here today.  He has won two in a row, the last an Allowance hitting a 81 Beyer.  Yes, all his races have been sprints but breeding says he can go two turns.  Howard is a good trainer, even though his stable is not huge, he knows how to win.  He has  a 21% win record with 2YO’s and Stein rides him real well. 

Bombs Away:

#4 Collen’s Sailor ML 10/1

Toss out that soft Turf run last out.  Beat Bridgeburner in winning his maiden in September running a competitive 72 Beyer.  Breeding says he can go this distance and Lynch/Madrid combo does well.  He might be a bit over his head with some of the others, but being 2YO’s you never know what you’ll get.  He is back on synthetic and that makes him dangerous.


This is my betting order:

3 - 5 - 4 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: Will Haynesfield finally light that Cigar today

Today for Weekend Handicapping we will go to New York and take another try at Aqueduct.  We will look at the 23rd running of the Cigar Mile (G1) for 3YO and upward battling for a purse of $250,000.  We have a field of six and most have battled each over the course of the season.   Since we only have six horses today there will be no dark horse listed.


#3  Haynesfield ML 4/1

I’ve been a big fan of this 5YO and 2011 has been a disappointment.  After a smashing 3 of 6 in 2010, we all but thought he would dominate this year, but those 2 starts in graded company were duds.  He bounced back in the Empire Classic and might be finding his groove now.  Three races don’t make a season, and he might not have been in shape for the Met or Westchester.  Asmussen is a crafty trainer and Dominquez stays aboard.   He tended to be a bouncer as a 4YO but so far his Beyer’s, while lackluster for a G1 entry, have been somewhat consistent.  We know he can win, the price will be solid, but is today the day?

 #5 To Honor and Serve ML 7/5

I liked this 3YO in the BC Classic, and sadly had a rough trip after getting close.    He’s cutting back in distance and has the speed to go wire to wire.  The price won’t be there and is probably why I put the #3 on top.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win if Mott turns him loose.  Solid Beyer’s, Lezcano rides him nicely and knows how to win.  Looking back, he won the Nashua (G2) going a mile wire to wire at this track, possible repeat here.

#1a  Caixa Eletronica ML 5/2

If I’m forced to choose between the Pletcher entries I go with the #1a. Cali is too much of a bouncer for me, and has only won at the G3 level, so not so sure today is his day.  Granted Caixa hasn’t won at this level either, but you can’t ignore the 6YO improving Beyer’s (100-99-96). Looking at the PP’s, he has had 4 races at a mile and won 3 of them.  This might be his distance and Johnny V stays aboard.  He will be in the mix.

Bombs Away:

#6 Sangree ML 5/1

I would call this one a soft Bombs Away, but there is a good possibility he will be the real overlay in this field.  He has posted back to back 100+ Beyer’s , and has had a boat load of near missed up and down the Graded Stakes ladder.  This 6YO shows he has the ability to be there at the end, the question does he have the heart to win.  Maragh is doing well and stays in the irons, and maybe if he pushes to the front or closer like in the Birdstone he might win this one.     


3 - 5 - 1a       

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Young Blood is Not Like the Old Blood

Here is a recent comment:

“We cannot continue to operate on a 1950s model that is severely outdated,” he says. “We have a ridiculous takeout in the game. It’s archaic. It has not changed with the times. Compare it to the takeout that’s offered on poker or any games that are getting gambling dollars now.”

“I think our number one priority should be our customer,” he insists. “Without a customer, your product is dead. The majority of our customers are baby boomers and older and that’s only going to last for so long. With poker, they’re in that younger generation, mid-20s to mid-30s, and they enjoy a game they can methodically approach and wager their money on. We can offer that, but we need to look at the customer as a whole, everything from takeout to service to the product we provide.”

“We have our hand way too far in the cookie jar and we need to attract the current bettors,” he says. 

“We need them to bring their friends and to attract a younger generation of bettors with a product that is worthwhile betting.”

I bet that quote is from a bettor.


It's from a trainer. A young standardbred trainer being profiled in a magazine piece about his thoughts on what lies in store for his generation in racing.

The young blood in the sport is much more open to growing horse racing, and we hope this catches on throughout the industry.

Full article here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

We at HANA would like to wish each and every one of you a VERY happy Thanksgiving Holiday.

By now, most of you have probably been inundated with a Thanksgiving holiday tradition that doesn't have anything to do with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, football, or spending time with family and friends…

Those day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) holiday deals. It seems every store on the planet is having a sale.

In keeping with that particular Thanksgiving Holiday theme, for those of you heading to a track, OTB, or ADW on Black Friday (or sometime in the near future) - We thought it might be nice to mention where the best deals are.

Charles Town deserves to be mentioned first. They announced that takeout for trifectas, superfectas, pick threes, and pick fours was lowered from 25% to 22% effective Sept. 17. The drop of three percentage points reflects an overall takeout reduction of 12% for the four bets.

For their fall 2011 meet, Hawthorne announced a reduced takeout pick 5 at 14%. Hawthorne also announced lowering of the Place Pick 9, Pick 6, and High 5 takeout to 20% from 25% and reduced the minimum wager on the pick 6 to $1.

At the start of their 2011 meet, Calder introduced a pick 5 wager at on 12.0% (the lowest pick 5 takeout of any major thoroughbred track.) Calder GM John Marshall campaigned without success for further takeout reductions as he was met with resistance from Florida horsemen.

Tampa Bay Downs announced for the start of their 2011-2012 meet, they are reducing takeout on WPS wagers to 17.0% from 17.5%. They also announced they are implementing a new pick 5 wager at 15.0% takeout (to replace their pick 6 which was at 18% last year.) Also, last year, for the start of their 2010-2011 meet, Tampa Bay Downs announced they were reducing pick 3, pick 4, and pick 6 takeout to 18.0% from 19.0%. (Opening day is Saturday Dec 03, 2011.)

The best deals on Exactas right now?
Aqueduct… 18.50%
Churchill… 19.00%
Charles Town... 19.00%
Mountaineer... 19.00%

The worst deal on Exactas right now?
California… 22.68%

The best deal on Trifectas right now?
Churchill... 19.00%

The worst deal on Trifectas right now?
Penn National... 31.00%
Parx Racing... 30.00%
No that's not a misprint.

The worst deal on Win Place Show right now?
Turf Paradise… 20.75%

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone,

from HANA


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: Duelling fillies in the Bessarabian(G3) Today

In analyzing the River City yesterday I mentioned that Blue Street might need some freshening, well it looks like I might need the freshening.  What a nice race Robbie Albarado displayed in rallying off and winning that race.  I wasn’t disappointed by Tajaaweed, he raced in a good position but it looked like some traffic may have pinched him off down the stretch, that’s horse racing.

Today we go back to Canada and will take a look at the 27th running of the Bessarabian, Grade 3.  It’s for fillies and mares, 3YO+ going 7 furlongs on synthetic for a purse of $150,000.  We have a solid group of lightly raced 4YO fillies, and there is plenty of front end speed that several can wire this field.


#6 Embur’s Song ML 5/2

I like this filly regardless of the lack of value in the odds.  Throw out the Spinster (G1) and you have a speedster that is having an excellent 4YO campaign.  She has won 3 G3 races this season, 2 here at Woodbine.  I know Atlantic Hurricane beat her in the Seaway back in September, but I sense Pletcher has her ready this time.  Her workouts of late are improved over the ones prior to the Spinster and he puts Husbands back on her.  She has proven herself to go to the front regardless of distance and go all the way.  I don’t consider her a cut back angle in this one; she is right where she belongs at 7 panels.

#9 Atlantic Hurricane ML 7/2

This filly should be the favorite when the gates open.  If you think the #6 is having a fine 4YO year this one is even better at 5 wins in 7 trips.   She’s got the Beyer’s that say wire to wire and Ramsammy handles her perfectly.  She has one G3 to her credit, the Seaway here at Woodbine.  Unless she gets into trouble, or being outside effects her, she will be there dueling at the end.

#3 Ariana D ML 3/1

This is the one filly that has beaten Atlantic Hurricane in the Avowal Stakes ($101K) here at Woodbine.  But she has been beaten by Embur’s Song, so what you have is a round robin of fillies.  She likes to lay back and if the speedballs blow the pace apart, she will be right there to pick up the pieces.  Of interesting note, she won this race last year before it became a G3 level race.  She has the speed to do it, and likes this distance, winning 3 of 4 lifetime at 7 panels.

Dark Horse:

#2 Zermatt ML 8/1

This 4YO is making her 4th start of the season and her first G3 attempt.  She won her last outing at Keeneland in an Allowance event for non winners of 2.  She looks versatile enough to go out with the others or layoff.  Wilson gets her for the first time and will be interesting where Pletcher wants her in this one.  She’s not as fast as the top three but she is so lightly raced we don’t know where her ceiling is yet.  The price makes her intriguing, and if the top 3 get silly and knock each other around, she has the ability to sneak by them and win this one.

Bombs Away:

#5  Mullins Beach ML 12/1

This will be a trainer angle play here.  This will be Josie Carroll’s second attempt with this 5YO filly.  She seems to do better on grass and has raced well here at Woodbine.  She can pop some competitive Beyer’s that say she can run with these girls, it’s going to get down to where the rate her in this one.  I just like Carroll, Woodbine and this entry being a mare.  She’s not Inglorious for sure, but just got a feeling.


6 – 9 – 3  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: Tajaaweed poised to take the River City today at Churchill

For this Weekend Handicapping,  I’m going to take us back to Churchill Downs.  There is an interesting turf race today, the 34th running of the River City Handicap, Grade 3.  It’s for 3YO and upwards going a mile and an eighth for a purse of a $100,000.  There is a good field of 8, and all different pace styles, a real mix back of older horses trying to find their class level and one or two moving up.


#8  Tajaaweed ML 9/5

I normally stay away from closers; they have broken my heart so many times especially in turf affairs.  This time I believe the pace favors him, there are three horses here will go to the front and the speed will not be in the class of Gio Ponti, Cape Blanco et al.  I find it interesting the Peitz makes a jockey change and puts Castanon aboard, I like those angles.  He has the class for this group having won at this level and his Beyer’s are right up there.   He just has to get into the mix a bit earlier and close them down.

#3 Gleam of Hope ML 6/1

I’ve been hitting some up and comers in the place hole the last couple of weeks and this is another one that looks he might find his way back.  This will be this 4YO third race under Michael Stidham who does well on turf and graded stakes races.  He has won at this level in the past and at a longer distance (dirt). Consistent Beyer’s and a good pace style for this group.   They two past races coupled with nice work outs give me the impression Stidham might have this gelding in perfect form and ready to surprise.

#6 Blues Street ML 2/1

If this 7YO can find his 5YO level he will run away from this field.  Proven winner at both the G3 and G2 levels has won easily at this distance and has shown top end Beyer’s that would dominate this field. Kenneally has him going for the second time since taking over from Pletcher and not quite sure of his form cycle.  His last outing was a tough one and not sure if he is back in good form after that pounding in the Baruch.  I could be way off here but think he needs some time away for freshening.

Bombs Away:

#4 Bergerac ML 12/1

I have a soft spot for the moving up in class play. This 4YO has had a decent season winning 2 of 9 and being on the board 5 other times.  Won last out on dirt going a mile and sixteenth and will be go long for the first time.  Breeding suggest this should be no problem, and his Beyer’s have been real consistent showing good form.  He likes to race forwardly and if his stamina is there might take it. Baker is a good trainer in these situations, winning 12% at the graded stakes level, and he doesn’t enter many.   Lastly, while I don’t normally look at this with much credence he does get a significant weight drop down to 114.


8 – 3 – 6  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tampa Takeout Rates and Handle

There's some fine work going on over at Equinometry regarding takeout rates and betting handles. We all know that lower takeout, by definition, increases handle. However, it is interesting to see it presented in different ways.

Today the author looked at Tampa Bay Downs and their pick 4.

Here is an image snapshot:

To read the commentary and more (including yesterday's look at Laurel Park), please visit here.

The website is worth a bookmark for horseplayers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Support Tracks That Support Players

The above headline came from a horseplayer named Tom. He posted it in a thread at where players were discussing the Texas ADW situation. 

Tom makes a valid point. The people making decisions for racing do not bet. As a result, many of their decisions have an anti-player bias.

In September, 2011, a new state law went into effect making it illegal for Texas residents to wager on horse racing from outside the racing enclosure. Translation? ADW wagering might soon become a thing of the past for horseplayers unfortunate enough to be living in Texas.

In September, 2011, Turf Paradise raised their takeout 0.75%. Apparently, Turf Paradise management didn’t think win place show takeout of 20.00% (the highest of any thoroughbred track in North America) was high enough. Win place show takeout at Turf Paradise is now 20.75% ( and still the highest of any thoroughbred track in North America.)

On January 01, 2011, a new state law went into effect raising takeout on multi-horse thoroughbred bets in California. Takeout on 2 horse bets was increased from 20.68% to 22.68% (a 9.7% increase!) Takeout on wagers involving 3 or more horses was raised 14.5% from 20.68% to 23.68%. California’s takeout increase was the brainchild of the TOC and CHRB. The effect of that increase was customer badwill on a nationwide scale and a noticeable downturn in handle. Santa Anita was forced to layoff some employees as a direct result of that takeout increase. Management from Santa Anita, Del Mar, Golden Gate, and Hollywood Park have all apparently seen enough and have now begun the process of asking the TOC and the CHRB for takeout reductions. (The final chapter to this story has not yet been written.)

In 2009, a new state law in Virginia went into effect imposing a 10% source market fee on ADW handle generated by Virginia residents. Horseplayers unfortunate enough to reside in Virginia discovered that ADWs no longer had enough room margin-wise to offer rebates. As a result larger players from Virginia were forced to send their wagering dollars elsewhere.

In September, 2007, a new state law went into effect in Arizona. That state law made it a felony to wager on a horse race from outside the racing enclosure. That particular law turned a lot of Arizona horseplayers into ex-horseplayers. In January, 2009 I attended a series of meetings where Yavapai Downs and the AZ HBPA presented a proposal to the AZ Dept. of Racing seeking a carve out in state law to make ADW wagering for AZ horseplayers a reality. That measure was shot down (and was not supported by Turf Paradise.)

Texas, Arizona, California, and Virginia. Each of those four states recently enacted new state laws written by people who do not bet. All of those new state laws have a decided anti-player bias.

What are you actually supporting with your handle dollars? (You decide.)

On the other side of the coin, here are examples of tracks that have recently demonstrated they want your business:

For the start of their 2011-2012 meet, Tampa Bay Downs announced they are reducing takeout on WPS wagers to 17.0% from 17.5%. They also announced they are implementing a new pick 5 wager at 15.0% takeout (to replace their pick 6 which was at 18% last year.)

Charles Town announced that takeout for trifectas, superfectas, pick threes, and pick fours will be lowered from 25% to 22% effective Sept. 17. The drop of three percentage points reflects an overall takeout reduction of 12% for the four bets. Read more

For their fall 2011 meet, Hawthorne announced a reduced takeout pick 5 at 14%. Hawthorne also announced lowering of the Place Pick 9, Pick 6, and High 5 takeout to 20% from 25% and reduced the minimum wager on the pick 6 to $1.

At the start of their 2011 meet, Calder introduced a pick 5 wager at on 12.0% (the lowest pick 5 takeout of any major thoroughbred track.) Calder GM John Marshall campaigned without success for further takeout reductions as he was met with resistance from Florida horsemen.

At the start of their 2010 meet, Monmouth introduced a new pick 5 wager at 15.0%.

Last year, for the start of their 2010-2011 meet, Tampa Bay Downs announced they were reducing pick 3, pick 4, and pick 6 takeout to 18.0% from 19.0%.

Tampa Bay Downs, Charles Town, Calder, Hawthorne, and Monmouth... five tracks actively demonstrating they want your business.

Tom is right.

Support Tracks that Support Players.

Jeff Platt
President, HANA

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: Shesgonnablow? at Mountaineer tonight.

The stakes schedule is light today across the tracks, so I thought we would do something different for Weekend Handicapping.  I went to Brisnet and let their site pick the race of the day.  They came up with a race at Mountaineer. It’s the 6th race going 6f for 3YO maiden fillies for a purse of $17,600.  There are 7 entries, 2 first time starters.

Like yesterday, I will skip the dark horses, for other than the three contenders and the Bombs Away the rest will be dark horses.  I have always found maiden races to be tough, add first time starters and I would normally pass on it.  In this race, the easy pick is the #6, Afleet Lexi at 6/5 morning line.

I won’t argue that she doesn’t deserve the honor of being favored. Beyer of 70, top jockey, Parker on board and the trainer, Gorder has excellent stats with this kind.  The problem is there is no value so we have to find the ones that can beat her.   And taking a one look at all of these fillies and we can see no matter who is favored they are vulnerable.


#1 Shesgonnablow  ML 4/1

She is the daughter to Explosive Miss who has had 5 starters and 3 have won.  Her trainer, Caramori hits 32% with maiden special weights and 21% on debuts.  Pereira is on board and he has been winning at 17%, second to Parker.  Over the last 18 races of this type, the rail has been winning at 17% of the time.  I know this is all stat based, since she hasn’t run, but if she has any front end speed she will win this race.  Right now at Mountaineer, front runners have won 41% (486 races) and 61% over the last week.

#5 Eowyn’s Time ML 6/1

She is making her third start and moving from the maiden claiming ranks.  Her last outing was a near miss, giving way at the wire to finish 2nd.  In that race she went to the front and her speed really bumped up.  It would appear she likes to be out there and with Rivera taking over the reins I would expect her to be out there again and may go wire to wire.

#4 Bored to Death ML 7/2

She posted a 70 Beyer two back at a mile.  This is her second try at 6 panels and if she gets back to the front she might wire this field.  Her connections have done well this season, and in her four tries she has been on the board in each of them. 

Bombs Away:

#7 Speed Limit Ninety ML 10/1

This will be her 13th try to break her maiden.  Most would say she is destined to be a career maiden and maybe so.  She is the pure speed in this race and the bias says it’s her race.  Her Beyer’s are near the top with this group, and in her last one she lost it at the wire.   She gets Houghton today, and that should be an improvement, she shows she can handle the pace.  Now we have to see if she has the heart to win.


1 – 5 – 4

Will be blogging the $25,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 at Balmoral at

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: No Melody in the Long Island (G3) today all Emerald

Today for Weekend Handicapping we are heading back to New York and take a look at the 55th running of the Long Island Handicap (G3), going three turns at Aqueduct (1 ½ miles) on grass for a purse of $150,000.  A field of 8 fillies and mares has entered for this last graded race of the year in New York. 
Like many G3 races we get today a bevy of horses who are trying to find their class level, return to past form or making an effort to break free of the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” label.  This is a tough race to handicap for we don’t know which horse finds itself ready to win today.  There will be three contenders and one “Bombs Away”.  You can consider the remaining 3 of 4 to be dark horses, the  #8 Akris Queen doesn’t fit this race at all.


#6  Emerald Beech ML 8/5

She will be the favorite and so no value for this race.  You can’t ignore this 5YO mare that has won 4 of 6 this season, including the Glen Falls(G3) and a decent 4th in the G1 Flower Bowl.  Her Beyer’s are the best of this group, and she has won at this distance.  There really isn’t much speed in this race, and her versatile running style suits this pace.  Solis has ridden her well and see no reason for it not to continue.

#4 Hasay (GB) ML 8/1

This lightly raced filly is making her 5th start of her 4YO season and was doing quite nicely until her last outing at Keeneland.  She was in a tough field in the Dowager and finished up the track going 5 wide.  What makes her attractive today, is her consistent Beyer’s (79-80-88-82) and she her trainer Graham Motion is a sharpshooter with turf horses, winning 20%.  The real angle for me here is Morales is back in the irons.  He rode her to victory two back in the Omnibus $75K and if he races her forwardly like he did in that one, she should be there at the end.

#7 Mekong Melody (IRE) ML 5/2

I will probably regret this, but the only reason I have her here is she is the defending champion of this race, otherwise she wouldn’t even be listed.   She had a solid 5YO campaign but this season is 0 for 6. Granted all of her races have been at the G1 or 2 level and had some decent showings but her racing line is filled with troubled trips, flattened out, no threat etc.  Attfield is a great trainer and one I admire greatly, but this mare is a real puzzle at 6YO. She showed great Beyers in July but hasn’t been the same since.  Maragh is riding her and that does count for something, if Attfield has turned her around then she could be the one, but not so sure today.

“Bombs Away”

#3 Musical Rain ML 6/1

She won coming off the bench in an OC$50K at Belmont and has shown flashes of good speed in G3 company.  There is no doubt it will require a big effort today.  I like the Romans/ Dominguez connection and if Ramon rides up and tight like last outing she could surprise and deliver the goods.  This 4YO filly might be ready to step up today.


6 – 4 – 7

Will be handicapping the Guaranteed $20,000 Pick 4 at Balmoral Park at my blog,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

RTIP Speakers Announced

There is a session at this year's racing symposium in Arizona that may be of interest to horseplayers:

  • Attendees will benefit from an outsider’s perspective of 'Takeout: Then, Now and in the Future' when panelist Dr. Caroline Betts, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Southern California discusses pricing issues in horseracing, with an eye on where we’ve been and how the thinking on the subject has evolved, why it’s so difficult to find common ground for current discussions, and what it will really take to get empirical and useful takeout information to help in business decision-making. 
As you may know, for some time now Caroline has helped answer many of our (and your) questions on pricing here at HANA.

To read more about her, and her work, please visit our blog interview here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tampa Bay Downs Lowers Takeout (again), New 15% pick 5 and Trackus Added

Tampa Bay Downs, the most willing track in North America to experiment with lower takeout, has done it again. WPS take will be lowered by 0.5% and a new 15% pick 5 will be added to the menu. From our research, this is the fifth straight year the track has reduced takeout - a move that has achieved success.

In addition they have added new capital improvements and the very horseplayer friendly Trackus system.

In 2001, Tampa had one of the worst blended takeouts in all of racing (they would've ranked about 65th on the HANA track ratings list) but now they have one of the best.  Back in 2001, they handled approximately $1.8 million per day, now they handle over $4.2 million per day. During that same time, handle overall in North America has fallen precipitously.

For a review of Tampa, as well as some notes about their history, please see our feature article below regarding last years successful Tampa meet.

Early this season a trend developed, and it is a positive trend in a sport with many negative ones.

Tampa Bay Downs, once considered a second tier track, has entered the big leagues.

Even with snow rocking the east coast, the NYC OTB problem and all our various issues, Tampa's handle, year over year, is better than it has been in its history. New Year's Eve, they were up almost 20% to $5M. On Wednesday, they outhandled Santa Anita. Last Sunday, with the major weather problems out east, they were up double digits over last year's same day. And the big mover, Saturday New Years Weekend: They did $5.4M on 10 races compared to last year when they ran 11 races and did $4.3M. They gained 26% with one less race this year.

What's happening with this "little track"? Why are players clearly moving to them?

Although there are myriad factors that go into a track's handles or the popularity of a track with horseplayers, there are a few big components. Takeout rate, field size (e.g good racing for fans), customer appreciation and player friendly bet sizes are a few of the larger ones. What has Tampa done along those lines?

First, they have dramatically and systematically lowered their takeout rate. In a walk through Tampa's past we see this article on their business plans last decade:

"Tampa Bay passed the cost on to its fans [raised takeout], now taking 20 percent from all straight bets and 28 percent on exotics. "

Handle was off 20%, and even their manager knew this was long-term suicide.

"Our regular fans are very upset about this and they're starting to go elsewhere. This could be a disaster for us."

They were taking in about $500,000 handle per day.

In the late 1990's things began to change. They began to open, not protect their signal - and they began the assault on their high takeout. In 2001, Tampa (by our data) had the 65th worse takeout score in all of horse racing. Today, they have the third best. It did not help overnight (in fact, early handle bumps or stagnations were not enough to 'pay for the takeout drop') but they stuck with it. In 2001, Tampa handled about $1.8M per day. In 2010, they set a handle per day record of $4.2 - over a double. For 2011, they have lowered takeout yet again, just like they did last year.

Second, they have good large fields, and good competitive racing. Their field size was 9.26, ranking them 10th in North America last year. So far this meet, the field size has skied: to 9.63.

Third: They treat their on-track patrons right. Snip from their press release:

Once again this year, Tampa Bay Downs offers free Grandstand admission and parking. Additionally, this year the Oldsmar oval will offer $2 pint domestic draft beer specials from 11 AM—3 PM every weekday during live racing. New additions to the concessions lineup include a rotisserie chicken stand located on the first floor of the Grandstand, new Grandstand seating and new carpeting around the facility Other old favorites include the Sweet Shop, which features fresh, home-made pies, cakes, cream pies and Danishes as well as specialty coffees and ice cream treats; and Brady’s Backyard BBQ continues to tempt taste buds in the Backyard Picnic Area. Mouse the Mascot, a three-year-old Miniature Horse, will once again make appearances on weekends in the Backyard and Grandstand apron to visit with fans young and young at heart.

HANA Treasurer Theresia, who travels to dozens of tracks every year made her first trip last year: "It's a great track to visit and you guys know who picky I am. My first visit to Tampa Bay Downs last year was a delightful surprise. I am really looking forward to my visit there next month."

Last year on New Years Eve there were 2,400 on track. This season there were 3,000. The handle bump was double digits. They are clearly doing something right.

Lastly, bet size. Fractional wagers increase churn and give customers a more positive experience. That's why they are a part of the HANA racetrack ratings. As Mike Maloney, HANA VP, said in Horseplayers Magazine two months ago in an interview:

"As a big player I prefer $1 and larger minimums because I can make more money, but they [fractional wagers] are good for the sport and the smaller player, so I am all for them."

Two years ago, Tampa started adding more and more fractional wagers, and again this year they have added more. From a post a couple meets ago on the HANA Blog, Mr. Berube said:

"I know that is something you [customers] have asked for. I measure this and have for years, so we should be able to see if those bets help us".

They appear to be helping.

The Buzz

This goodwill has transferred into solid, positive buzz. Mark Hughes in the book "Buzzmarketing" said there are many ways ideas are spread in the internet world and positive ones are not seen very often, as compared to negative ones. In fact, negative criticism is 28 times more likely than positive. Not in Tampa's case.

We caught this exchange from Twitter last week:

- 0_crunk We've entered the twilight zone when TAM out handles SA.

- Fuller fields, lower exotic takeout, lots of good buzz. RT @o_crunk We've entered the twilight zone when TAM out handles SA.

- @o_crunk I consciously chose Tampa over Santa Anita yesterday so I can relate.

On chat boards, everyday players are noticing: "For those of you that like exciting racing, I suggest you take a look at Tampa Bay Downs" was one. Another from TVG's website: "I remember the old TBD. It was hideous. Bad racing. High takeout rates. Owned by the "boss". Never even gave racing there a second look. Now Tampa has transformed into a good, exciting small track with good racing and handle has increased tremendously."

The Future

With success occurring, it sometimes breeds some bad decisions.

When people are moving to your track and handle is growing, as gambling expert Wil Cummings has said, there is pressure to 'sneak takeout increases into the mix'. In his report to racing back in 2003: "The industry fails to realize that when we raise takeouts $100 that is bet will not be $100 anymore." We doubt Tampa will do that, but it is something that can kill the good vibes.

Tampa Bay's signal fee is probably too high right now in terms of ADW handle maximization, and any move to increase it can absolutely clobber them, so that should be resisted.

We also hear from players (and this is a growing sentiment): "I will give them more time, but please ask them to lower WPS and Tri takes, as they are still too high." We agree. We respectfully urge Mr. Berube to consider that for next seasons takeout move. In a business that has lost half its handles in ten years, we all know now that slow groans can turn into loud roars over time, so we think it is time to nip that in the bud.

With success comes pressure to grow, and there is nothing wrong with that. If Tampa keeps improving like they have and avoid "old time thinking" pitfalls, $5M handle days can be $8M ones. There is no need to settle, and there is certainly no need to move in reverse.

When your critics show praise you are doing something right....

Rich Bauer, a long-time player who cared deeply about racing, who ran the website "" and also staged a boycott of racing in 2004, passed away this year. He found little to crow about regarding the "business of racing" (not racing in general, he loved it of course), but he made a trip to Tampa each winter, and loved the little track. He wrote on this very website a couple of years ago:

"I first played Tampa in '03 when looking for a track to play on Tuesdays. Subsequently I went in Dec '04 after relocating in the eastern US and have been a regular visitor there each winter since then. I just returned from 3 weeks there on the 18th and already have reservations for the whole month of January in 2010. Tampa has reduced takeout on a variety of bets since '04. They have exceptionally friendly employees and staff; and, management is accessible to discuss player issues. Valet parking is still only $5. What's not to like?"

Players in 2010 and 2011 seem to be in agreement with Rich - handle can go up and down, but it never lies. If you are looking for a track to try, or are not sending money to California and are looking for a place to bet, give Tampa a shot.

You certainly won't be alone.

Handle is up. No wait, handle is down. Confused? You won't be after this episode of Soap.

Remember THIS show?:

"Santa Anita Finishes Meet Strong."

The above headline is from an an article that appeared in the Daily Racing Form yesterday 11/7/2011.

In that same article, the following two sentences appear:

According to figures released after racing each day, the meeting had an on track average attendance of 6,805. On track average handle was $1,322,702 while all-sources handle averaged $6,631,285.

The 2010 Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting had an all-sources average daily handle of $7,198,000, according to limited data released by Oak Tree after that meeting.

Read the full article at the following link:

We at HANA are confused. The headline misleads the reader into thinking all is well. But actual numbers pulled from the body of the article show a decline in average daily handle of nearly 8 percent.

Here's what we do know:

Boycott or no, Cal Racing handle has taken a direct hit over the past year. The timing of that direct hit coincides with the announcement of the takeout increase bill.

"We offer in California the premier racing product on a year-round basis,” he said, “but we were offering our first-class product at a discount price. We’re changing the pricing model. We left win-place-show where it is. But we came up with a solution that will produce $30 million more a year. That’s a 25-to-30% increase in overnight purses."
The above quote comes from CHRB Chairman Keith Brackpool an in an article that appeared in The Blood-Horse on 9/27/2010 at the following link:

We also know the following:

Exacta Takeout:

AQU-BEL-SAR:     18.50%

CDX-KEE:         19.00%

GPX:             20.00%


Exacta takeout in California isn't just 22.68%.

It's 22.6 percent HIGHER than NYRA's exacta takeout - and absurdly out of line given quality of product relative to other major tracks.

When handle is analyzed by wager type the negative effect of the takeout increase is glaring. The number of races in California where the exacta pool is $100k vs. the number of races at other major tracks where the exacta pool is $200k, $300k, and $400k tells a story that can be summed up in 3 words:

Bettors aren't stupid.

The reality of those 3 words is starting to dawn on a lot of people in the industry in California - people who have recently changed their minds about the takeout increase - and who are now campaigning (quietly and behind the scenes) for a reduction in exacta takeout.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: Ravi's Song in The Cardinal today

There is only one word to describe the Breeders Cup yesterday: WOW!  I’m not a historian of the Breeders Cup but when was the last time there were that many double digit payoffs?  Court Vision winning the TVG Breeders Cup Mile(T) and paying $131.40 and then Drosselmeyer taking down the Classic with a sweet return of $31.60.  Speaking of Drosselmeyer, while I didn’t have him in my mix yesterday, I had one of those funny handicapping sensations about him.  Have any of you while handicapping, ignore a horse that your eyes keep returning to? Instead of figuring out how he can win you think of no way he can win.  I did that with Drosselmeyer yesterday.  Several times as I was fine tuning the top 6, my eyes wander over to him, I kept say now way.  Then watching TVG and hearing Paul Lo Duca say “Drosselmeyer won his maiden here at CD, and started on the “horses for courses”,  I knew Drosselmeyer was going to win.  One hint on Lo Duca, when he spots a “horse for a course” pay attention, he had Teaks North in the United Nations based on that angle.
So today we suffer from a Breeders Cup hangover but there is an interesting race on the card at Churchill this fine Sunday.  Today’s Weekend Handicapping will be the 38th running of The Cardinal Handicap Grade 3 for fillies and mares, going 1 1/8 miles over the turf course.  Purse is $100,000 with a field of 7.


#3  Ravi’s Song ML 3/1

His last two races have been over the turf in G3 events, posting back to back seconds.  In each race his Beyer’s paired nicely (94 – 93).  His first turf effort was here at Churchill losing by a nose.  He is a deep stretch runner and don’t see why he can’t return to winning form with this group.

#5 Tapitsfly ML 3/1

Toss out the dirt effort in the Spinster (G1) and you a real solid filly here.  Last two turf efforts at the Spa were good, one being a G2, improving Beyer’s and Albarado looks like the right jockey for her.  Can’t dismiss Romans strong stats here, the only question did the Spinster mess her form up.

#6 Deluxe ML 5/2

She will be making her 3rd start of her 4YO campaign and fully expect Bill Mott will have her ready to go.  Not sure why they took that big leap from  $80K stakes race (finishing 2nd) to the Flower Bowl (G1), where she got clobbered.  She has a great pedigree, decent efforts over in France and with Leparoux in the saddle, she might get squared away and surprise us.

I’m skipping the Dark Horses today, since I consider the rest of the field to just that, dark horses.

Bombs Away:

#4 Kiss Mine ML 10/1

This 5YO is a total “horses for courses” angle.  Has raced on the turf 8 times here at CD and has won two, finishing in the money four other times.  She has flashed 90 Beyer’s three times in her career and get’s Prado today.  With a weight break and back on a course she likes, she could find her way home in this crowd.


3 – 5 – 6

I’ll be posting the tonight’s $25,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 Selections at Balmoral Park at

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Weekend Handicapping: Flat Out in BCClassic or So You Think

After last weekend’s wash out at Belmont, I though it fitting to handicap the The Breeders Cup Classic.  This is one of the toughest races to work, so many wonderful horses, all are winners and in my opinion it is wide open.  It is the 11th race on a huge card today, it goes the classic distance of a mile and a quarter for 3YO and upward and the purse is $5,000,000.  Good luck, and sure many will disagree with me today, it’s that crazy of a field of 13.  One more thing, speaking of big fields, that means anything can go wrong, bad trips, stuck on the outside, checked back etc.  So an almost perfect trip is necessary to win it.


#2  Flat Out ML 6/1

This 5YO is not the obvious choice but his recent Beyer’s are the strongest and most consistent.  He is coming off a G1 at Belmont at this distance on a muddy track.  What was impressive that he was pulling away from Drosselmeyer and Stay Thirsty, two fine entrants today.   He has won 2 of his last 4 and it appears since Solis has been riding him he has gotten real consistent.  Hard to pass here.

#5  So You Think(NZ) ML 5/1   

He has won 12 of 15 over in Europe and all on turf.  Normally, I would shy away but with his strong G1 record overseas it is hard to ignore him.  He is comfortable with this distance and has won some big events.  He has won over $7,000,000 and that earns him respect, surface change or not.  He get’s lasix for the first time and that is an interesting angle plus O’Brien is a crafty trainer.

#10 Harve de Grace ML 3/1

This is one tough knocking filly and has every chance to win this event.  Her speed figures are right there and we know she is winner and a fighter.  So why 3rd?  My reasons might sound like I’m nit picking but she has not won at this distance, two seconds but each time she gave way, also last year in the BC Ladies Classic she faded on this surface.  I know she beat Flat Out in the Woodward (G1) and she posted a huge 111 Beyer, but not sure with a larger group of tough boys, can she find her way home again.

Dark Horses:

#8  Game On Dude ML 10/1

One of my favorites.  We know he can win at this distance and a great effort last out at Santa Anita.  He likes to get out in front and that is a good thing in big fields.  The trouble with this 4YO is he is a bouncer with his speed last out at 102 and had to fight off Awesome Gem to win it, the bounce pattern looks likely. I would really enjoy seeing him get consistent and win this one. This is my play for today.  

#9 Stay Thirsty ML 12/1

It seems a bit bizarre to have to great horses as dark horses at double digit morning lines.  I’m going to toss out the last at Belmont due to muddy track.  He has done okay on off surfaces but not really his best efforts. At the Spa won back to back G1 going this distance and has posted 100+ Beyer’s three straight.  He will go forward with Game On Dude and we should see some interesting pace. The only issue with him is he a Saratoga “horses for courses” or can he finally show us he can win elsewhere?

Bombs Away:

We have a lot of front pace in this race.  That can open the door for a closer if that pace get’s out of hand.  In that situation I like #4 Ruler On Ice ML 30/1.  Since the Belmont he has done little until last out in the Pennsylvania Derby(G2).  His speed picked upped and he got up late to finish second, most would say so what?  Well, what I see is a horse that might be coming back into form, the Gomez switch seemed to help. Lastly, there is no pressure on him to win.  All the attention will be on the others, and they can just race their race, toss in two bullet works and you have a recipe for a nice long shot here.


2 – 5 – 10

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Texas ADW Customers Under Fire by the TRC

According to an article published in the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Racing Commission has sent letters to ADWs informing them that it's now illegal to accept online horse or greyhound bets from Texas. A new state law, HB 2271, that went into effect September 1, 2011 also outlaws phone wagering by Texas residents.

Read the full article at the link here:

I won't mince words here. As a full time horseplayer, I see this as just another boneheaded move by an industry completely lacking in even the most basic understanding of the needs and wants of the customer.

A similar law enacted by Arizona in 2007 criminalized all wagers made outside the racing enclosure. Instead of driving AZ players back to the track as had been hoped - the primary effect of that law was to turn a lot of players into ex-players.

If ADWs are forced to stop accepting wagers from Texas residents, we at HANA wouldn't be at all surprised to see a backlash from players across North America against Texas racing.