Thursday, March 28, 2013

HANA Harness Announces the 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge

For Immediate Release
FFI – Contact Allan Schott at

(March 29 2013) – The Horseplayers Association of North America’s (HANA) harness racing division in association with the Hambletonian Society, Chicago Harness (Balmoral and Maywood Parks), The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs is pleased to announce “The 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge”. 

The format of this year’s competition is a change from past Pen vs. Chip competitions as it doesn’t matter which type of handicapping method a handicapper uses as long as it is their own.  In addition, instead of handicapping complete race cards, the contest focuses only on Grand Circuit races.  Using the Grand Circuit schedule, excluding most elimination races, handicappers will be given $30 to wager as they will on race finals or in the case of races being contested in divisions, on one or more of the divisions.  Each gambler must invest the full $30 or they will be penalized.  The handicapper with the highest net profit after the last Grand Circuit race of the year will be the champion.  The contest begins and concludes at Northfield Park; beginning on April 26 with the Courageous Lady and concluding on December 14 with the Cleveland Classic and includes 74 contest dates and 230 individual races.  Rules and the Schedule of Races may be found at the contest website.

Another difference this year is the prize money, donations to standardbred rescues will not be winner takes-all.  The sponsorship funds will be donated to standardbred rescues designated by our top three handicappers in a 50-35-15% breakdown, thus allowing more rescues to benefit.  While additional sponsorship money may be forthcoming, $2,500 has already been pledged by our sponsors. 

“HANA Harness is pleased to be presenting 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge this year.” said HANA President Jeff Platt, “We’ve decided to focus on the Grand Circuit races in an effort to support the revival of the Grand Circuit which features quality racing.  I would also like to thank all our sponsors for providing sponsorship money which will help support standardbred rescues that are doing great work on behalf of our retired equine athletes”.

 “We are pleased and excited that HANA has chosen to feature the retooled Grand Circuit as their contest races”, stated John Campbell,  Grand Circuit President, “Hopefully the fans will enjoy following along with the races and the contest.  We also want to thank the sponsors who allow this contest to support standardbred rescue”.

HANA would like to invite all harness horseplayers to
the contest blog, which will analyze and discuss the upcoming races from a handicapping perspective. The blog will also offer handicapping information and selections from our handicappers, all successful horseplayers and when available, links to free past performances or handicapping information.

HANA Harness is the Harness Racing Division of the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA). HANA, established in 2008 has grown to over 2500 members. To join HANA Harness please visit this link: and sign up. It’s free!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

HANA & Derby Wars Announce $10,000 Low Takeout HANA Game

 The Horseplayers Association of North America is pleased to announce that once again this year, the membership is invited to participate in an online handicapping tournament on Saturday April 13th. This unique event will feature high quality races (including the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby!) from tracks with advantageous takeout rates.

The handicapping contest is in partnership with, the preeminent online tournament site committed to providing players ample contest opportunities at industry leading takeout rates. Through the Derby Wars chat environment, members will be able to interact in real time with one another as well as HANA leadership. Please feel free to ask questions about our charter and find out more about our commitment to improving the game while enjoying the challenge of competing for a $10,000 prize pool.

Tournament Details:

  • 12 races from Keeneland, Oaklawn and Aqueduct(some of the highest rated tracks for horseplayers)
  • Card will include the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby (and several other G1 and G2 stakes races)
  • Contest format is $2 Win/Place mythical wagers
  • Prize pool is $10,000 with prizes paid to the top 29 finishers
  • Just $47 to enter!  (Limit: two entries per player)
  • Total entries: 236
  • Chat room access to HANA leadership and other members
  • Must be a U.S. or Canadian resident.  Residents of AZ, IA, LA, TN, VT and WA are not eligible to play.  Must be 18 years old to play (21 in AL, NE and MS)

We look forward to competing and chatting with you on April 13th for what promises to be a great day of high quality racing. 

Details on how to sign up for the game will follow. We look forward to playing together again this year!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

We Don't Have to Only Patronize Apple Downs

In PC Magazine on Friday there was an interesting article about how Windows Phone and Blackberry are falling behind in the availablity of apps for their devices:
  • BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8 are still struggling to match the most popular apps on the dominant Android and iOS platforms, which could continue to slow sales of the smaller mobile platforms.
It's not as much the device that matters any more. The Blackberry is excellent but it has had a hard time recapturing a lot of the new market.

RIM has tried to remedy this with some investment.
  • BlackBerry identifies the top 100-200 apps per country each month and courts those developers, execs said at the BlackBerry Z10 launch event in January. BlackBerry offers a bounty of up to $10,000 for developers who create high-quality, native apps. That garnered the new platform 70,000 apps at launch, which the company expects to be 100,000 apps by the time the Z10 comes out on AT&T.
Cutting into a market is tough, and even if you have the best product, you still might get lost. The deck is surely stacked against you.

In horse racing, there are some big tracks to bet - the obvious ones are Keeneland, Gulfstream, Belmont or Saratoga. In harness racing the Meadowlands and Woodbine come to mind. The biggest doesn't necessarily mean they're the best. There are a lot of other tracks doing some good things, who rarely get any press.

Some of these tracks are doing what RIM is doing: Trying their best to get you to their platform, though investment (things like lower takeout) and trying to build goodwill.

Here are some lesser known tracks that I've watched and bet this winter, and in my opinion they give me value as a horseplayer:
  • Turfway Park: Their 14% pick 4's are as good as it gets, and they've had some excellent cards this season, with really deep fields. The poly has been playing fair and fast this meet. Post time favorites only win at 34.8% and the average win payoff has been a high $14.86 this year to date. Turfway is available at most ADW's for at-home players. If you only watch it for, let's say the Spiral Stakes, try handicapping around that race for a pick 4 or 5 and you might like what you see.
  •  Sam Houston: I started following Sam Houston in earnest this year. Their fields are very large, especially on the turf, and if you see a sequence with some deep fields, they have a 12% takeout pick 3 to try. This is an enjoyable nighttime track on the weekends. It's also one of the best value tracks in thoroughbred racing for Monday bettors. If you are looking for something to bet Monday afternoon's give it a look. The crowd seems quite sharp (almost 40% favorites), but often enough a longer shot hits the ticket, and the ticket can pay.
  • Balmoral Park: This harness track does not get all the press, or have the best horses behind the gate each night, but it's a good track to play. Pool size is pretty large and their low takeout pick 4 is very good value. The track marketing man is a bettor and he tries to cater to betting customers, with good deep fields.A pick 5 pool with a carryover hit over $150,000 this past meet, and their pick 4 pools are usually north of $30,000.
Upcoming meets I will watch are tracks like Hastings Park. They've been doing some great things and are vaulting up the HANA list of top racetracks in terms of betting value. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Meadowlands Is Catering To You, The Customer

The Meadowlands in East Rutherford New Jersey was purchased (some might say "saved") recently by Jeff Gural. During the past several months there have been many changes at the Jersey track, and most, if not all, were trying to benefit you, the horseplayer.

Some of these items include:
  • An emphasis on carding "bettable races". The race office has work diligently to create races with full fields, that are (on paper) competitive. They started a classification system, when class drops can not occur without race office approval. The result has been 10 horse fields, that are very interesting to bet.
  • No training by cell phone. Recently a trainer was suspended for drug positives and, like we see all too often, the horse's were simply transferred to an assistant. Jeff Gural and the Meadowlands are not accepting these entries and will not with anyone in the same situation.
  • They've guaranteed pools and kept their low takeout pick 4 in place. The pick 4 and pick 5 pools have been very high, and they are guaranteed each night of the week.
  • They've added information on sulky changes. Some drivers use different bikes. Instead of letting a player guess which is which (and which they prefer betting on) they announce them.
  • Driver choices are announced right on their website. If a driver was listed on four horses before scratch time, they let you know who chose who. 
  • They've created end of year stakes for older horses, which the public certainly enjoys watching and betting on.
  • they're putting their money where their mouth is: A state of the art grandstand is being constructed and should be ready late this year.
  • They've announced out of competition barn checks and testing and made trainers sign waivers for such, so they can be sure the product they put out there is filled with the best - and cleanest - this sport has to offer. 
Today they announced they are taking this one step further. 

There is nothing more head-scratching than a stale date horse. Was he sick, was he injured, did he have vet work, will he be tight? Seeing a horse off 27 days in harness racing is like a thoroughbred off 100 days with no workouts but sometimes they win, because they are fine, and trained hard for the race.

In a place like Hong Kong the issue the horse had, or may not have had, is published on a website. In the NFL, injury reports are the norm, because bettors need that information. In North American racing, you are left guessing.

At the Meadowlands you have some help. From today's press release:

The Meadowlands Racetrack program will now include enhanced information on horses showing no race lines for three weeks or more. 
             In the comment section for each race, those horses with 21 days or more away from racing will have some explanation of the reason for the inactivity and remarks on their level of preparedness for the upcoming race, provided by the trainer. Much like an NFL “Team Report” that indicates why a player missed practice or a game, this report will provide bettors with a little more information that they would not normally find in the past performances.
             For simulcast bettors, the layoff report will be posted as a TV Graphic on our nightly broadcast. Additionally, the layoff report will be posted on The Meadowlands Twitter Account and Facebook page.
We hope this information will be helpful and we encourage all trainers to make this information available and as accurate as possible for our customers handicapping.
These comments will be recorded by the Meadowlands Race Office and offered without edit or opinion by Meadowlands officials.

You can probably rest assure the comments will be honest, because if a trainer runs off the screen after telling the public his horse will likely be short, he might have a meeting with Gural and it won't be overly pleasant.

These things by themselves won't change the world. However, in our survey of horseplayers for both HANA Harness and HANA, you said you wanted lower takeout, better carded races, no training by cell phones, better information and tracks catering to trainers who don't get positives. The Meadowlands has delivered a lot of that.

For many years customers have wondered if there was anyone on their side in the sport. The Meadowlands appear to be telling us they have our backs, and bettors are responding. So far this meet the handle is up about 30%, and $3.5 million dollar nights are back in Jersey. This without slots, or government help; just done with something long forgotten in horse racing at some tracks, listening to their customers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Poker Popularity on the Wane

Last week at HuffPo, poker was discussed in depth, and it seems that the popularity of the game is falling:

"In Sin City, epicenter of the poker craze, at least eight rooms have folded in the past two years. The trend is also playing out in Mississippi riverboats, Indian casinos and gambling halls near big cities from California to Florida."

If you remember, online poker was cracked down upon federally a few years ago, and online poker rooms have been shut down. A simple response to that (one might think) is that players would flock to live rooms to get their fix, but it hasn't happened. 

"Poker revenue has been falling in Nevada since 2007, the year after the federal government first cracked down on virtual gambling and forced online companies to close or relocate offshore. It's a story that's become increasingly common as the crackdown on Internet gambling weakens poker's appeal, and the casinos that once competed to lure fans of Texas Hold `Em abandon the waning game in favor of more lucrative alternatives.

"No longer could fresh crops of poker players develop their games online."

This is probably similar to what happened in horse racing. Back in mid-2000, the industry was behind snuffing out the online horse racing bet takers. It occurred and many trumpeted this as a vital point in bringing players back into the pools.
It never happened.

Online horse racing - pirates or not - attacked racing's problems at their core: They offered low takeout and convenience. When low takeout and convenience were taken away, these same players did not sign up for three ADW accounts to play all tracks at 22% rake.

Time and time again we'll read something from an industry meeting saying online horse racing bet takers are pirates, they don't give back to the game, if they were snuffed out people would flock to the track again. That, if poker and racing's history is any indication, is likely very wrong.

It's 2013, and in 2013 players want convenience and competition. Racing has not delivered it well, and it is still a problem that needs to be fixed.