JC / Railbird

Industry Archive

Oaks Reprise

Jon White surveys the likely Odgen Phipps field:

The 2013 Kentucky Oaks field was considered one of the best ever. The five fillies listed above as candidates for the Phipps all ran in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. Princess of Sylmar won at 38-1. Beholder finished second at 9-1 after acting up and unseating Garrett Gomez prior to the start. Dreaming of Julia finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite after she “got annihilated at the start” and “got stopped later in the race,” according to Todd Pletcher, the filly’s trainer. Midnight Lucky finished fifth at 7-2, which has been her only loss in four career starts to date. Close Hatches finished seventh at 7-1.

Amazing. Unlimited Budget, third in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, hasn’t been mentioned among the Phipps possibles, but she is still running, finishing second in the G3 Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream last month.


Tom LaMarra on simulcasting fees and Churchill’s recent takeout hike:

I’m no math whiz, so correct me if I’m wrong. In the case of Churchill, if its host fee remains the same, a rebate shop and its customers get to keep the extra 3 percentage points when the exacta takeout goes from 19% to 22%.

If you operate a rebate shop or are a large importer of simulcast signals, higher takeout is money. That may explain why racetracks, rebate shops, and [ADWs] don’t complain about 30% trifecta rakes: If they pay the sender 3% for the signal, there’s 27 cents per dollar to play with before taxes.

Matt Hegarty on how those cents might get shared:

If simulcast rates do not go up at the same rate as the takeouts, then some players may not feel the full impact of the hikes. Many account-wagering operations, including Churchill’s mammoth twinspires.com and an offshore site the company bought several years ago, offer rebates to players, and some sites may elect to forgo the additional revenue to increase the rebates to their players on the Churchill signal. Many rebated players, including those who use automated systems employing algorithms to determine their wagers, are highly sensitive to takeout rates.

Gone, Baby, Gone

Ray Paulick interviews a catchphrase:

Did [Go, Baby, Go] make a difference in handle or attendance?

That’s a hard question, Ray. I’d like to think so as U.S. handle increased significantly from 1998 to 2004 when I was living large. There was definitely more racing on national TV and more coordinated national marketing and promotion. But it might have just been good timing. The game had a nice run of almost-Triple Crown winners from ’98-’04 with Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones and the Seabiscuit book and movie definitely helped put us back in front of American public …

“Good timing” is an understatement: 1998-2004 was the rise of the Internet as we now know it. The industry’s various factions simultaneously managed to catch the moment, via ADWs, and squander it.


No, not for frog juice. (I’ll leave the negatives for another day.)

Grantland published a terrific interview with musician-chartcaller-reporter Bob Nastanovich that includes this great quote about why he’s working in racing:

So I started working thinking that I could make a positive impact on the sport at different levels, just because I love it so much.

Love the attitude, Bob.

Also praiseworthy: The Breeders’ Cup and Hello Race Fans, two organizations I believe are working in horse racing’s best interests (and not just because they both pay me), are partnering up on fan education. Nice work, all.

The Missing McKinsey Recommendation

Breeders’ Cup president Craig Fravel:

I would love to see the industry create a venture capital fund to nurture new technologies directed at racing and gaming and in so doing utilize the expertise of the many talented people with experience in those areas who own and love horses.

Capital isn’t the only obstacle to innovation in the industry, though. Social gaming bonus points for all involved if unfettered access to Equibase data for the purpose of development were part of any incubator or fund.


Almost 10 months after NYC OTB closed its doors for good, the New York Times visits the defunct betting parlors, finding most remain empty and unmourned by neighbors. (“Thank God they’re gone,” says one.) There’s a slideshow, unlikely to induce nostalgia (even in me, quoted as an occasional former patron, pro-OTB community), except possibly for retro signage.

Save Horses! Mug Horseplayers!

Let’s stop this idea in its tracks now:

Violette said there has been discussion about dedicating one-tenth of one percent of New York’s handle to retirement programs, which would need legislative approval. This would generate about $2.2-million per year.

“That way everybody that participates in racing — handicappers, tracks, jockeys, trainers, owners — would be giving something,” he said. “Yes, it means an increase in takeout. But I can’t think of a better reason for a takeout increase than the protection of our race horses.”

Raise takeout? An unfortunate necessity. Mandate that everyone who registers a foal pay $25 toward racehorse retirement? An impossible dream.

I’ve given money to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and other retirement groups in the past; I’ll surely do so in the future, because horses deserve a decent quality of life after the racetrack. But like most horseplayers, I don’t breed horses. I don’t own horses. And until those who do breed and own horses levy a similar burden on themselves to help cover thoroughbred retirement costs through registration, sales, or earnings — all possible sources of funds — then I’m not going to see a takeout increase, for the horses, as anything other than what it is — a politically palatable passing of the buck.

3/25/11 Note: There’s an excellent conversation going on in the comments about takeout and funding racehorse retirement, to which Violette thoughtfully replied this afternoon. “I will go even further; let’s not raise the takeout and take the same .001 from the existing levels,” he writes. “NO INCREASE. A solution must be found, this is for the greater good.”

The Invisible Industry

Several weeks ago, in a post called “The Invisible Sport,” Jennifer Wirth of the Saturday Post inspired a campaign to increase mainstream media coverage of horse racing. A worthy goal, but as the reaction to Joe Drape’s New York Times story on the the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation shows, it’s the whole industry that’s largely invisible, not just the sport.

Outside of Kentucky and New York, there aren’t many non-trade publications covering the larger stories of racing business and politics, and outside of the New York Times, almost none doing investigative work.

Vic Zast runs down the reasons for the lack of horse racing coverage in his HRI column today. All are familiar (fewer reporters, reduced resources, turf writers “captured” by sources), but that doesn’t make the problem any less an issue.

Wirth argues that racing won’t last if people aren’t exposed to the game and its stars through news stories; it also won’t last without press oversight, exposing serious issues and compelling change. Whatever the debatable flaws in Drape’s work, his reporting is necessary, and racing needs more of it.

3:15 PM Addendum: Writing on the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen reacts to the TRF story. “No matter who is at fault, no matter what happens to the TRF from here, please, someone, take care of those poor damned horses.” It seems like there should be a mechanism, some simple way to gather small sums for retirement funds — something like the Jockey Club check-off program, made mandatory. An an opt-in program, it isn’t attracting much support.

Season of Malaise

John Pricci feels nothing at the release of the Life at Ten report:

But I’m afraid the industry has won, it’s beaten me down, stolen from me the energy needed to become angry. Taking it out of the realm of feelings, it’s a sad resignation I’m experiencing. Always, resignation.

In the short eight years I’ve paid serious attention to racing, I can’t think of a time where the industry felt so adrift, or so many fans so numb.

3/20/11 Addendum: Here’s your antidote to ennui.

Troubling TRF Report

Joe Drape is out with a scathing story this morning in the New York Times, alleging that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has had difficulty meeting its obligations to satellite farms caring for retired racehorses over the past two years, leading to cases of neglect and starvation. How deep is the mess? There’s no indication in Drape’s story that the quality of care horses get through the TRF Secretariat Center or prison farms has been compromised — and I hope that’s not because we don’t have the full story yet.

11:15 AM Update: TRF replies to Drape’s report on Facebook: “The TRF disputes the allegations by Joe Drape about the OK farms. They are either untrue or mis-characterized …” Further comment to come this afternoon.

12:30 PM Update: In a teleconference scheduled for 2:00 PM, TRF president George Grayson and board chairman Tom Ludt will speak to the press.

Ray Paulick is out with piece, from his perspective as a board member, that refutes the allegations in the NYT article and provides important context re: the financial turmoil that’s afflicted the organization for several years.

3/19/11 Addendum: “TRF defends itself against NYT article.” See also: “Dr. Patty Hogan responds to Drape.” I’m hesitant to say much at this point, because it’s obvious that the information out is incomplete, but what does come through re: TRF is that there’s tension with the Mellon Foundation, and re: retired racehorses is that not enough is being done (which is something that’s been known for a while). Drape’s story, which was followed up today with a report that the New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau will review the complaints against TRF, has had one beneficial effect for TRF. “We’ve gotten a lot of money donated today, and that’s a positive thing.”

3/20/11 Addendum: The NYT reports that the veterinarian conducting the evaluations of TRF farms has been fired. “There were serious questions about her objectivity.” (But firing her raises serious questions about retaliation.) On the Paulick Report, Dr. Hogan “clarifies” the story by alleging Dr. Stacey Huntington released her findings “to the media for the purpose of creating drama” (comment #106). Dr. Huntington replies (comment #127).

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