Keeneland is Racing for the First Time Since 2006

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 30, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, News, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

Well, the headline may be a little deceiving. Keeneland has been serving up the best in Thoroughbred racing since 1936. There was a speedy track that was one of the target races for the Kentucky Derby long before they served up the first bowl of burgoo. The Bluegrass Stakes was a 1 1/8th test that gave the racing world more than it’s fair share of Derby winners. – That being said, Keeneland has been an innovator in the world of racing. They pulled up the poly track, and PRESTO! – Lexington, Kentucky will play host to the Breeders’ Cup in 2015. Dirt racing is preferred in the states, but there are some tracks that benefit greatly from the poly track located in harsh winter climates. Keeneland races 15 days in October and April, and this may be the best slice of weather in the country. I have never been a real fan of synthetic surfaces, but I learned to overcome many obstacles because my favorite track sported the rubber coated wonder. Did I mention they pulled up the poly and dirt racing is returning? Yep, real racing is returning to Keeneland, and there are handicappers who have been dreaming about this for years.

 

Martin “Mad-Genius” Collins felt  racing surfaces in England were less than satisfactory. That led to deeper research, and he invented a surface made of wax-coated sand, rubber, and synthetic fibers. Translation A racing surface that would be forgiving to Thoroughbred athletes, and would allow for racing on a safe draining fast track. The times were not going to break any records for the most part, and there were barns who targeted Keeneland, Woodbine, Presque Isle, and Turfway Park. Everything appeared as if the new answer had arrived, and industry leaders heralded this as the new savoir. They spared no expense, and the tracks had visions of record-breaking handles dancing in their heads. But there was only one item that was left off the table. “How would the handicapper/bettor take to the track?” Well, after a period of time and plenty of complaining. Handicappers are a resilient source. They started playing, and some did well following the well-laid plans of successful trainers who excelled on the synthetic ovals. But, there was always a hesitation among real horseplayers, and bigger players selectively chose races, and they fell deeper in love with the lush greensward of Keeneland.

I’m not going to slam the idea of safety, but Keeneland had resources to create the best dirt surface on the planet. They could ship in dirt, sand, and silt from the moon if needed. No person in their right mind could ever question they were leaders in every facet of the game. From a track that tolerated racing and focused on world class horse sales, hooked to the outside and passed up every track in the nation. They used to have eight races and one daily-double. If you look at the wagering menu, you will see some of the most attractive ideas in the sport. Just to think, this all started with the “Omni” wager long ago. Would you have ever thought the “gem” of Thoroughbred racing would be the leader of the pack in every aspect of the sport? I surely did, and it takes me back long ago during my interview. “Ed, what do you think of poly track racing?” After a long pause and sweat starting to roll down my brow, they kindly interrupted with, “we feel the same.” They were all about safety and doing the right thing for racing.

In 2001, Lingfield Race Course in England became the first track to install Polytrack. Trainers and owners there gave it good reviews. Few horses broke down, the track held up to the English winter, and because Polytrack particles are coated in wax and there was a good drainage system, the track always dried out so quickly that there was never a muddy or sloppy surface according to a New York Times article in 2006, written by Bill Finley. Noticing Polytrack’s impact in England, the management at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky became convinced there would be benefits to making the switch. Keeneland converted its training-track surface to Polytrack in the fall of 2004 and became partners with Collins in an effort to market the new track in the United States. The next step came when Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, which is owned by Keeneland in partnership with Harrah’s Entertainment, was converted to Polytrack. The first American race on a Polytrack surface took place Sept. 7 when Turfway opened its fall meet.

Bob Baffert, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer and one of artificial surfaces’ top critics, was quoted in an ESPN article, saying he believes many owners and trainers with large stables have moved horses east strictly because of the synthetic mandate. Many trainers have publicly admitted to refusing to run at tracks that install an artificial surface, and a few include Keeneland in their blacklist. Keeneland installed a Polytrack surface in 2006. But if you contact top Canadian trainer Mark Casse, he may feel a little differently. He bounced along with change and became a major player on every synthetic surface. We can close the poly-history books, and look forward to the future of a state-of-the-art surface, as we know the Lexington track does things one way. Sparing no expense, and putting the safety of the horses first and foremost.

This weekend is a holiday, my birthday, and every celebration during the year. I loved the dirt racing, and can’t recall too many losing days. I know it won’t be the “golden conveyor belt of speed” as it was known for years. Or, will it return to the old days? This is where time will tell, and handicappers will have eyes peeled as the first race goes to post. I will be in my booth watching the action between live races at Belterra Park, and plan a couple of dark day trips to see the new track. For this handicapper, I can’t wait to see dirt racing return. I have always believed in the Keeneland motto: “Racing as it was meant to be.”

A Moment with Mildred

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 26, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

I was on my way into the track and stopped to chat a few times. This is the best part of the day  seeing old friends and catching up. Then there is a different kind of’ person you see on your way in the doors, and you scamper to the men’s room, or just keep your head down and pick up the pace. But not on this day, as Mildred was back in full effect and she had plenty on her mind. I just happened to the target on this bright sunny day.

“Hey, Ed. Don’t try to pretend like you don’t see me.” Hello, how are you doing? I was just going up stairs to get to work. “Oh, bull s#*!, you were trying to duck me.” Mildred is a sprite 85-years-old, and she looks every part of it. I think she was a bare knuckle boxer in her day. There are some days when she’ll just wave and read her form, and other times when she’ll point at you and say get over here, I need to talk to you. Today was one of those special moments.

Now before I go any farther, allow me to tell you how long I have known Mildred. I was a parking collector at 18-yrs-old, and she used to try and run past the gate without paying. She would take the best spot in the house reservered for our “tipping customers” and she would get out of the car, flip us off, and walk to the gates. She was a bright ray of sunshine, and over the years we got a kick out of Mildred.

Every time she pulls me aside, I get to hear how “so-and-so just cheated, and she was beat at the wire.” All in good fun, and just another colorful character at the track. – Mildred came up the hard way. I found this out some 25 years ago when she had too many beers in the track and grabbed my arm to sit down. Upon sitting, she asked if I was going to buy us a beer… I made my way up and brought back two, and it was at this moment that my opinion of Mildred began to soften.

“Ed, I’ve had one helluva’ life. Some good, some bad, and most I want to forget. But I’m glad you decided to sit down. I wanted to chew the fat and let you know a little about the old lady who flips you boys off when I pull into the track.” – Mildred’s mother died in childbirth with her younger brother, and she was raised by her father who was a railroad worker. A large man with a handlebar mustache, and smoked all the day long. He was on his way to Louisville, and slipped off the edge of the train. He was taken under, and he had no chance to survive. “We were parceled off to relatives, and I haven’t seen two of my three siblings in over 30 years. I lived with my aunt who was a nurse, and she helped me along with my schooling. I eventually became a nurse and worked in the trauma recovery unit when soldiers were coming home from Vietnam.” Now these were some brave men, and most could never be put back together again. I spent my time working with patients, and even came in my off days as I got attached to many. I loved my job, and I hate to hear when many people bitch about what is ailing them. I saw plenty of pain, and I know the difference. – She sat back and lifted the bottle, and sucked down about half in one drink. ” I never married, and didn’t have any time for that. I loved my job, and my auntie and I would go the races a few times a month. That is where I picked up my love of gambling. When auntie passed away, I have kept up my track visits ever since. “You gonna buy us another round?” “Sure, I’ll be back in a minute.”

After hearing her story that day, I had a better insight into who she was. I still laugh as I can see her cream color car with the window at half mast, and a middle finger sticking out for the world to see. Mildred was a tough old lady, and she would be the first to tell you. But, after a few beers and the story of her life. I had a little different picture of her. But, I digress. It was on this day she called me over and wanted a piece of my ear, if not the whole thing. “Ed, I have been following you for years. I have asked about you from the many people along the way and kept up on your work progress.”  ”Not too bad for a silly punk from the parking lot!” As I thanked her, she told me she wasn’t through, and don’t be in such a hurry. – When I heard you announce your first race, I thought I was going deaf. I told a few complainers to shut their traps your first few days. But, things have quieted down, and you are getting much better. I like when you toss in the names of the jockeys and how they are “going to the right handed stick.” People are starting to like you, and they have pretty much forgotten who was here last in that job. It is the hardest thing in the world to be new and fill-in for a person who was better. But, you stuck with it, and I just wanted to tell you how I felt.

I didn’t know what to say, and reached over to this hardened old lady and gave her a hug. She hugged back with the love and care that I know many of wounded souls received along the way in the hospital. Mildred acted rough, and this was her wall to block out the pain she had seen in her years of life. ” Now, get your ass to work. That’s enough goofing around for today.” Stop back if you get some time. I heeded the advice, and stopped over to the bartender, and bought her the next beer to be served. As I walked up stairs, I can still hear her words and they made me smile. Through a life of tough times and pain, she did what she loved, and to this very day she continues. “Mildred, this one’s for you. Keep telling it like it is, or at least how you see it.”

The Gambler’s Journey

Handicappers from all walks have a differing story on how it all began, but there are plenty of the same elements involved. As we sit at our computer monitor, we are sipping coffee in our slippers and playing the card at sunny Gulfstream Park. But we are missing the journey. There was nothing like getting bundled up and leaving early to make the double. Long before the glitzy climate controlled casino, there was a large mammoth building where the parking lot was full, and the seating would go faster than a summer break as a kid. Think of missing the early days like arriving to the movie half way into your flick. It’s still is pretty interesting, but you have missed some of the best parts.

Parking

You had to get to the track early enough to walk 10 minutes to the door. If you found yourself there for the feature race, you started thinking about beating the traffic by leaving 15-20 minutes early. For the many road trips filled with handicappers arguing their points. We have replaced this with screens of “talking heads,” and our twice a year visit to the track. The sights and smells were like the United Nations melting pot. The swirl of cheap cigars, and the mutuel lines where handicappers would be jammed tight studying. There was something about the track. You could travel the galaxy and never see another place like this. For all of the complaining over the years, I look back on my early trips with fond memories. There was nine races, one daily-double, and a few exactas. Simulcast was a far off idea, and the closest thing was the OTB system in New York. Well, something like that…

Food

When we went to the track, we always made sure we ate first. Long before sports bar fare and one-of-a-kind buffets. There was the ultra expensive hamburger that had been sitting there two hours before post. It was cheaper to make a $5 quinella than get a hot dog and a soda, and punters have their rules… If we hit a nice score, there could be a stop at White Castles for a couple of sliders for dad and myself for the ride home.  It wasn’t just about the greasy burgers that made it great, it was sharing the stories and the time spent together.

Is All Change For the Good?

There are no more lines, and with the exception of a few marquee days. The track is barren. With the latest news of Suffolk getting ready to close the doors forever. I stand in awe that another viable business that created jobs, provided a tax base, and gave the state a gaming identity is being forced out. I know, I had Econ 101, and there is no other business in the world which would have to fund the lacking partner. But, long before there was talk of a lottery in most states, you could always go to the track. Betting was legal, and you could rub shoulders with kings and paupers on the way to the windows. The experience was one-of-a kind, and now it is going the way of the dinosaur. Why didn’t the state protect a revenue producer and employer? How do we reward the many years of hard work and entertainment? We allow them to die on the vine, and face extinction as its quicker to pull the lever. Could racing have survived long enough to expand in the gaming arena? For every non-track that sought a gaming license, there should be a 20% tax paid to tracks for five years. This would allow them to lobby for alternative gaming, or restructure their product. The state would monitor the subsidy program, and the tracks would still generate tax revenue and create jobs. After five years, if the track was unable to compete. The casinos would open their arms to a crop of new employees who would be seeking employment. If change is good, how come this one tastes a little bitter?

Take a Hard Look at the Sport

I began my journey down memory lane with stories of long lines and cramped accommodations. Gamblers just won’t have that anymore. I am one of them, and I find myself playing more from home. Racing has been slow to change, and lip service has been disguised as customer service. Racing can learn a great deal from the casino approach, and vice-versa. Yep, you heard it right here. Casino’s can learn from the tracks that have been a fixture in the gaming environment for decades. I am lucky enough to be a part of the “racino” invention, and I feel there is not enough cross-promotion. Remember, it may have been a tough row to hoe without having gambling in many states. What’s better than to create new racing fans from slot players, and the flip side for the handicappers? Handicappers like to gamble, they know to bring money, and all they are lacking is education and lucrative bounce-back offers. I was sitting in the “bad-ass sports bar” enjoying some wings after work. My server asked if he could get me anything else, and I said ” yeah, they could have roving clerks as I would have caught the last winner at Belmont.”  ”Sir, we don’t want to turn this place into a “bookie” joint and have gambling where people are drinking, dining, and watching the big games on TV.” I know he was young, uninformed, and gaming wasn’t his area; but that is just the environment we want to create.

What’s Next ?

Add in Suffolk, Beulah Park, and Hollywood Park. The names are starting to stack up, and we just act as if nothing is wrong. I know the game is hurting, and it can use a major facelift. With states having more gaming licenses granted, and you’re within driving distance from 24-hour gaming. When I hear any track crumbling at the base, I know it is only a matter of time before we address an oval closer to home. The game has short fields, purse reductions, and shorter racing seasons. Take Governor Chris Christie’s directive to allow casinos and tracks to allow sports betting. According to the American Gaming Association, there was $3.5 billion wagered in Nevada’s legal sports books in 2012. There is no such thing as a sure bet, but this one looks pretty darn close. If you’re going to open the doors, allow all entities the same opportunity to attract wagers. Let’s have a heavily regulated state gaming board that oversees the wave of cash that will come rolling into the state’s coffers. I see education getting the biggest chunk, and universities in every state offer a degree in Gaming Management. If its going to take place, let the state have their cut, create jobs, and attract tourism. I don’t see a downside yet, and if any gaming business is unable to hold their own. They will only have themselves to blame as this will level the field. My grandpa would have loved the simulcast explosion, and the 100 tracks per day to bet. But, if he would have stumbled into a racino with the neon lights and slot machine jackpot sounds. I think he would have spent more time fishing. But, this isn’t your grandpa’s game anymore, and if we’re going to open the flood gates. Let it roll, baby. Let it roll…

 

Read All About It

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 19, 2014 in General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

The bevy of racing data can be daunting. Over the years, I have seen some things come and go, but the data keeps on coming. As far as handicappers, you get some folks who love the game and eat-sleep-and-drink the races. Then you get the “Weekend Warriors” who read the past performances while having ten beers at home. Either way, you get an idea of who is running and what is up for grabs. Now, how serious are you ? Do you just want some ideas about what to look for, or do you seek comprehensive data that will allow you to spend your time applying money management? Many gamblers feel if they burn the midnight oil reading every article and workout that they will have an edge. But, there are two facets of wagering that players must devote equal time. There is the handicapping portion, and then you look at your bankroll and decide how you are going to out your money in play. Many good handicappers spend all of their time on the first, and play the wagering by ear. This usually yields a minor win for the day, or leaves you losing on the day and wondering how this happened. What if I could tell you that you could spend 100% of your time on your money management and deciding on how to bet?

 

Over the years I have seen the (800) numbers, and how “Uncle Ted” magically would impart his racing knowledge at 99-cents a minute. Then you get the impulsive gambler who works in the industry and fires off to play. It can be great at times and then there you can’t find their selections with a  search warrant. – Something I learned the hard way is no matter how good you are with your ever-changing handicapping methods, once you put them into print. The results are never as good. Why is this? We do so well everyday and now we get our name on the marquee we drop the ball. The idea is to find a service that day-in-and day-out uses the same methods. They have a program in place that is trusted, and they put their results out there everyday. Good or bad, they want to keep the player informed. This is where you should put your trust, and utilize this handicapping tool and spend the rest of the time deciding on how you will put the information to use.

You don’t have to look too far… You are right here with Winning Ponies. The Winning Ponies E-Z Win Forms have offered out some of the best wagering information over the years. I found them in 2008, and have been writing, handicapping, and winning with their information. Here are some of the methods that the E-Z Win Forms employ to make your handicapping profitable.

* The E-Z Win Forms have real time information. You get scratches, changes, and up-to-the-second track changes as they happen. Many handicappers put out their info and didn’t bother looking at the weather. Winning Ponies has their information on deck as soon as all factors have been taken into play. Others pop theirs out 72 hours in advance, and hope for the best.

* Mother Nature can be an evil force. Winning Ponies offers up a complete weather forecast for the entire day, and allows you to see if there can be any changes in the future. If the track changes, all you have to do is “click” the change of weather tab for a brand new set of E-Z Win Forms at no charge.

* They offer up a detailed rating system, and unlike many other services. They want you to understand what the Race Rating, Composite Ratings, and Turf Class Ratings mean to handicappers. Most services treat their ratings like the secret sauce at a fast food restaurant. Keep it transparent, and players trust in the what they are using. If you keep it locked in safe, they have to take your word that “Uncle Ted” and his mojo bag have the answers. But, they can’t tell you or they’ll have to charge you twice…

* If you look on the front page, there are the results of their selections. As said before, no smoke or mirrors, and there is no magic curtain to pull back. Keep it up front if you want players to know what is going on. Most data sheets charge one price, and no matter if you use one race or the entire card, you pay the full price. Winning Ponies only charges for the races that are used. Yep, you have it right. If you believe in your product and put it out there. You want players to use it to make their day a winner instead of being a one-shot “Uncle Ted” service that can be shuffling papers when you call the 1-800-number. You must have faith in any service you choose.

There are results, replays, free contests, and special offers for members. You don’t have to play everyday, and you can use the E-Z Win Forms when you are ready. If it sounds too good to be true, go ahead and give it a close look. There is a testimonial section where your voice will be heard. Winning Ponies, offers up racing stories, blogs, free selections an the Winning Ponies Internet Radio Show each and every Thursday. The biggest manes in racing are on deck as guests, and special handicappers from around the nation are special guests to bring to light the behind the scenes facts. It’s up to you. You have to believe in your data, and the time saved will allow you to decide how you are going to put the selections into play.

 

Bad Beats, Bitching, and Boasting

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 18, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

Its hard to put into words the first time the objection sign made the numbers go dark, and your 10-1 shot was placed 3rd. On the other hand, for every thousand bad losers you tossed to the floor. I bet you can recount with vivid accuracy when you signed your first I.R.S. ticket, or the feeling that came over you when you saw the pick-four payouts. They were all in the upper four digits, and you had the field. I bet you can still feel the smile on your face.

I remember when we saved for two weeks to bet Mud in Your Eye at Turfway Park. He was a blistering speedster and had the services of Danny Cox, and was known for gunning a horse to the lead every time. For parking lot guys who had a red-hot tip on a runner, this was our night. Funny thing when you let the right people park close to the door for free.  It was on a Thursday night, and he was 8-1. Cox was warming him up with precision care, and his price was the same until they were being loaded into the gate. As they sprung the latch, he was a sweet 5-1. Cox opened him from the break, and was on top by ten down the backstretch. They rounded the far turn and he looked up by 12. By the time they straightened away for the stretch drive, he had an 8 length lead that was starting to dwindle, but nobody was coming. They hit the 1/8th pole, and was leading by three. As they past the 1/16th pole, he had a two length lead, but two runners were starting to bear down. With 70 yards to go he was on top, and when they posted the numbers, he had finished fourth. That was over 28-years-ago…

I was a younger man who had never spent or lost $100 at the track. I was 17, and had taken my $100 bill to play all day. I had a tough day from the first break, and the last race was on the track. I loved a horse called Tiger Man. Jesse Garcia had the call, and he was 9-2. I had $20 left, and wanted to wheel him in exactas. That was going to be $20, and if I lost I would have broke my maiden. So, I used him on top of everyone except the longest shot on the board. He drew off by 5, and never was in danger. When a cavalry charge of big price runners came rolling, I started getting excited… I saw this runner on the outside rail, and the rider was in a workout position and looked to be gaining. When I saw it was the one I left out, my confidence grew. That was before the ten minute photo and they popped up her number. The exacta paid $500, but I still had not broken my $100 maiden,  and still had that $2 bill in my pocket.

When you see a runner on top by seven at the 16th pole and nobody coming. You start thinking about going to the windows. When Steve Bass ( Julien Leparoux agent) opened up by daylight, and his price could be seen on the tote board at 10-1. It was going to be a big night, and things were just getting started. I stopped watching the race and started going back to get a beer. I heard the lowest moan from the crowd and assumed that a horse had been pulled up. When I watched the replay of the final yards, Mr. Bass hit his runner right handed and his mount bolted left and jumped the rail.

Anyone who has ever owned a race horse knows why Jerry Jones is a crazy owner. You want to win and you feel like you have a shot every time you run. They wear your silks, and that is like your own professional team. When my horse was running at Hoosier Park during the first Thoroughbred meet, I couldn’t wait to see him get that long stretch at the 7/8th’s track. He was 9-1, and I had him every which way. I had over $400 into the race, and I could have taken him -all-all in the trifectas. But not my style, and I wanted to catch it my way. When he drew off, and paid $20. I thought I had the trifecta. But I was mistaken. It only paid $20,000, and cashing my $50 win ticket just didn’t have the luster. I still think of that night from time-to-time.

Most horse players have wanted to gamble for a living. When I cashed in my 401-k, and had the green light from my wife. I thought the odds were in my favor. I followed, charted, and took notes. This was my second bet and I had been waiting for this runner to hit the turf. Mother Nature smiled on Belmont that day, and I wagered $1,500 to place on this 6-1 shot. He won and paid $14 to win and $8 to place. I cashed my $6,000 ticket and walked to the car. I was only making two or three wagers each weekend. Things looked so bright that I needed to wear sunglasses at night.

As punters around the world make a bet, there will be winning stories and bad beat songs. The track was full of stories, and betting from home has taken away that element of the game. Over the years I have seen players turn millions into thousands. I was there when an old lady who didn’t have a program hit the pick six. – How about the time when I rolled my change the night before, and went out to bet Jamie Bruin on Dance in the Sun. He was scratched for 8 weeks straight that tough winter, and when he finally caught a fast track in early March. His $12 to win seemed like sweet honey when I was cashing tickets at the $50 window. Gamblers have a short memory. The $200 we win today erases the $500 we lost getting there. As a great TV handicapper would say as he ended the day on his long running handicapping show. “Bet with your head, and not over it.” You can catch him every Thursday at 8 p.m. as the host of the Winning Ponies Internet Show, with John Engelhardt.

“Just My Luck”

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 16, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

If you see an old lady wearing her lucky sweatshirt, or the guy who sits in the third seat in the third row. know the search for good luck is abound. People generally believe in luck and feel there is a magical force that comes into play. If you surveyed 100 people walking into the track or casino, I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts 50% have an object they believe will assist them in finding good fortune. For the other 50%, they probably keep a close eye on the folks with the lucky seat. If things go their way, maybe they will get there 30 minutes early and grab their seat tomorrow. You know, just so they can have a better view of the races…

Having worked in racing, I have to say Thoroughbred fans can be a little touchy at times. If someone is screaming for the horse gaining on the outside or rooting for their horse and rider to find more energy. This can be the end of the world. The distraction can be deafening, and it will throw them off their game in a heart beat. Just think, if some goof is hollering, or the guy two rows back is snapping his fingers in a wild whipping fashion. There are some that should call it a day, as they are more tuned into what others are doing instead of keeping focused.

I used to believe luck played a part. Yup, I drank the cool aid and felt there was a force that could go off at anytime. But after years of watching and wagering, I have changed my thought process. I don’t know if your lucky amulet or four leaf clover has any power, but there is one magical weapon I know exists and it can be found anywhere the dice are tumbling, or a wager is being made. – Your attitude.

If you keep your cool and tone out the crazies. I bet you’ll start concentrating on your gambling. Who cares what others are doing or saying? Is it really that important? Why do they have this power to change my day? I know, all valid questions. Just take a deep breath and ask yourself if you have been the victim of someone else grabbing your focus. Many will say yes, and still others will disagree. But, if we’re all honest. We’ve all been affected at one time or another. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you start seeing Leprechauns running down the aisle clacking their heels.

1. – Stay away from negativity = There are people you gamble with, and there are people you gamble around. Your game of choice is tough enough without toting more weight around your neck. Don’t bring along people who talk the “woe is me” song.  They are never happy and they never like to see anyone win. Sometimes playing alone is not a sin.

2. – There are no such things = Friday the 13th, black cats, broken mirrors, spilling salt, or stepping on a crack. Belief in bad omens goes back to our grandparents. The evil songs of the past were, “Crossing two knives will bring you bad luck, or if the cow moos constantly, there is danger to the health of its master.” Belief in an outside force allows us to focus our fear on an event or item and attack it.

3. – The blame game = Blaming and making excuses are ways to avoid taking responsibility for one’s own life. It is a common trait among unlucky people. However, if you suggest that there is no value to blaming, and that it may even cause more bad luck, the blamer is likely to get very irritated. “But it really was his fault,” he might insist. Many unlucky people can point out every person and circumstance that is to blame for their bad luck, but they cannot see what their own contribution to their situation is. Blaming and excuse making is a terrible approach to life. It eventually makes looking for causes outside oneself automatic. It is difficult for such a person to ever recognize the personal changes they need to make. After all, is it someone else’s credit if you win?

There can be a thousand answers for every loss. Know your limits when you play, know the complete rules of the game, and play with prudent money management. How can you go wrong with a bankroll, knowing how to play, and not getting caught up in the process? Keep yourself  in good company and your gambling dollars in the best. The punter who bet it all on the 99-1 shot will win every blue moon, and the chalk player will have some great days. Live and let live and you’ll find yourself paying attention to what is important. Best of luck, or would you prefer if I keep my thoughts to myself?

Save Yourself

A horseplayer that still enjoys the game cherishes every minute. There is no such thing as a really bad card of races as value can be found anywhere if you look hard enough. If it is the Breeders’ Cup, or a condition claiming event on the fair circuit. It’s still racing, and it invigorates the soul. After many years, and a closer view of the game this past spring / summer. I have come up with a couple of ideas that may get the ball rolling again. Now, there is no panacea, and this will take time. Just give it a thought, and see if any of this resonates to your inner-fan.

Thoroughbred racing has been painted in a dark light for quite sometime. I was reading an article that gave the sad news of 24 horses dying on the track every week. I have two loves, and they could be noted as 1 and 1A. Football and horse racing. – In the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research Report 2011, there were four direct deaths related to football. Twelve “indirect” fatalities relating to heat stroke, heart problems, and some blood clot issues. It spoke of high school players who died over the course of ten years from lack of proper training, insuffient water and hydration, and concussion related events. But still we enjoy the sport. We have safeguards in place such as proper medical knowledge for coaches, better equipment, and exercises to better strengthen and prepare our athletes.  With all of the daunting knowledge at hand, we still watch in record numbers and the game continues. Why is horse racing getting the bad rap? There will always handful of people who will cut corners to find an edge. In the words of the legendary Jesse James; “As long as the trains run, we’ll continue to lighten their loads.” Many people in every sport, and every facet of life look for a quick return. This has gone on since the beginning of time. Instead of hating the game, how about just hating the bad eggs in the game ?

The takeout rate is the amount of money that is withheld from  every dollar wagered. We’ll use 20% as an easy figure, and see if this makes a difference. Can we bump up the takeout to 21%? Before you stop reading, take this into consideration. There was over $93,000,000 bet on the Kentucky Derby in 2010. If we utilize the new takeout rate and applied it to the marquee races alone. There would be a considerable amount of money that could be used to better police the sport. If there were 1o races a year that yield a $50 million dollar wagering threshold, there would be $5 million that could be allocated to better test for illegal drugs, offer medical education and the latest techniques for trainers, and creating a lottery-size guaranteed pool for pick-four’s and pick-six wagers. The more they bet, the more monies that come into play for this program. With expanded monies, racing could allocate more resources for horse retirement facilities, and new ownership programs.  See, it is a cyclical method where once we get it off the ground, there could be growth for the future. How about John and Jane Q. Public watching the Derby from home when a detailed commercial comes on and informs them about making the sport safer and transparent? I’ll be willing to bet a soda that you’ll be reaching a new demo, and the misunderstanding may start to break down as it is only through open communication that change can take place. Or, if all of this sounds like hogwash, we can just do exactly what we are doing and nothing will change. A slow death will be imminent, and the game with be pronounced dead while it is still breathing.

The Devil You Know is Better than the Devil You Don’t

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 10, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

Racing has long lived in the past. Where everything was good, and the only problems we faced was having enough grandstand space. But you’re grandpa’s game is gone like the smoke from his cigar and the pork pie hats that filled the aprons. Fast forward some 100 years later, and you’ll see another view of the sport. These were the best of times, and the worst of times. Well maybe not as dramatic as the Charles Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities,” but there are some comparisons that still fit the situation today: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens/A Tale of Two Cities.

*In the 1950′s, the top three sports were horse racing, baseball and boxing. Lucky fans were treated to maybe one baseball game or the boxing match of the week. Racing could be found at the track or seven digits away  with your local bookie. There was the racing wire where players could gather and hear a stretch call of a race that was all ready official. These were some of the golden times, and they have gone the way of the dinosaur.

*The 1960′s and 1970′s were a time of Triple Crown dreams and the glamour of the game. The connections of the horse took center stage, and were as watched as the Thoroughbreds themselves. Bookies still ruled the day, and tracks would be filled to the brim.

* The 1980′s were a time of double-header race cards and full fields. There was a distant talk of ITW wagering where tracks would be able to accept a race or two from a marquee track far away. About this time you were able to open a phone wagering account, and the bookies started dropping off as they growing older and the new throng of bettors were a  younger crowd who had no sense of loyalty. Players would bet with bookies and be thefirst to collect, and if they got hooked. They couldn’t be found with a search warrant. Times were a changing.

* The 1990′s ushered in a full scale assault of full- card of simulcast wagering. It started off by taking inter-state wagers and quickly accelerated to having every signal in the country. The betting model used to be 80% of handle was generated on-track and 20% came from outside sources. Race books were being built and Las Vegas started feeling the pinch. This was just the beginning of the domino effect. Tracks either were making hand over fist, or they struggled to keep up with the competition. You now started seeing tracks going out of business, and the greed of mega-giant corporations came on the scene. They came disguised as the saviors of the sport, and the public started distrusting the mega-giants like indie music fans disliking major air play for their coffee house bands. Times were changing.

* The 2000′s sounded like the new golden age, but it has been anything but. Competition grew so quickly, and the wagering dollar only went so far. This translates into working twice as hard for half as much money. Fans were treated to Vegas-style reward programs, and they graduated from being a loyal fans to players  playing one track against each other with unrealistic expectations of rewards. The handle model has switched a bit, and 80% come from off-track sources and 20% came from on-track players. Casino companies from Atlantic city and Vegas started buying up tracks in hope of lobbyists swaying the mind of politicians to allow casino-style gaming at race tracks. This was the beginning of the big changes for the new tomorrow. Promises of big purses, major tracks facelifts, and player reward programs filled the ears of struggling giants who used to weigh the money wagered. The hook was baited with a golden worm, and track managements starting selling their souls at the crossroads. The winds that were blowing where officially gale force verging on a major hurricane.

* Present day has a bevy of casino and racinos everywhere. The player is the temporary winner and you get to jump from one place to another. Just think, a free buffet for sitting in a comfy chair blowing your kids college money. Racing has become the evil “Cinderella” that is being used as a means to get legislation passed. The product initially had a boost and there where purse payments from casino coffers. State governments were sold on the idea of jobs, taxes, and expansion of  tourism destinations. This all sounds good, but if you look closer you will see purse cuts, less racing days, and the lavish race books are being replaced with smaller operations that are not able to accommodate racing fans. There is little to no “cross-promotion” of racing and casino players. They are kept apart, and the right and left hand have no clue what the other is doing. The handle model is now 90% from off-track sources, and 10% on-track. Times are tough and the lagging economy can only be blamed for so much. Malls are going under, and wagering at home in your man cave has become the new method of placing a horse wager. -ADW pools offer co-mingled wagering on Hong Kong racing, where the average pools are around $17 million per race. An average day of Hong Kong racing is larger than Breeders’ Cup day. Field sizes are dropping in the United States, and the home of the six horse field is not just Golden Gate anymore. Have you watched any races from Churchill yet?

Tracks were receiving monies (subsidies) from the casino side of the business. Here is an excerpt from the Daily Racing Form: “However, the wagering patterns should be an “ominous” sign for horsemen at tracks that receive subsidies, according to Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group that includes both subsidized and non-subsidized tracks. The reason, Scherf said, is that the weakness of the subsidized tracks in the pari-mutuel market could lead legislators to cut off the subsidies, using the argument that the tracks are not being supported by the public.” – Translation, the money tracks are receiving are going to be cut off. How many business models allow for the profitable side to carry the dying side of the business ? None. – Tracks need to adopt a nation wide system of watching the product signals. How many times have you watched a (G-1) race and a stakes race going off at the same time ? – This can be helped by having communication between tracks in the form of a wagering commission. Impossible ? Watch Australian racing, and  U.K. racing.  No stepping on toes, and it offers out a menu of delivering races in a timely manner with little time between. This allows players to handicap, and you can pick and choose which track to play. For the mega-companies that offer TV coverage, you can adopt a program of grouping ” A” tracks together, and “B” tracks in the evening. International racing can be offered later in the night, an they regulate their own product. Off days such as Sunday – Tuesday can be when ” C” level small tracks run. Players will be able to choose, and the handle goes up without stepping on any other toes.

There is no easy answer, but here is a start. How about having roving clerks that walk around the casino ? – I was having a beer in a casino bar when I asked a server, “Where is the racing channel?” His answer knocked me on my butt. “We don’t want to turn the place into a bookie betting parlor.” Now I recognize his mis-understanding of wagering, but this is just one of the problems. “Yes, we do want to turn the place into a betting palace.” How many times have you walked through the casino and seen a bank of TV’s with some self bets or a clerk?  Yep, me neither. There needs to be a cross promotion of the two, because there would not have been the one arm bandits without racing. How about utilizing the use of tablets, and phone wagering at the track/racino? I have seen one try their hand, but it is the most guarded secret that is easier than finding out the secret sauce of your favorite burger joint. Allow players to wager from slot machines on the races by having a small betting screen embedded in the multi-game monster. Mountaineer Park was one of the first I saw years ago, and it was more fun than the law allowed.

We need to re-think our present course or we’ll face extinction. That is a no drama filled statement as I’m watching the over-saturation of gambling squeezing each other out. There is not enough to pay the bills, but there is more money than ever to take part in the sanitized entertainment of gaming. How about instead of subsides, racinos offer up bounce back offers for slot players who venture into the race book and vice-versa ? This sounds like a complete house of gambling, you will find yourself enjoying the slots, a few races, and having drinks in the “bad-ass” bar that has music, a thousand TV screens showing the big games, and the races. There is still a chance to heal the new wounds, and if you are one of the lucky facilities that are doing well. I think it will only make it that much sweeter. Forget the old corporate belief system, and think over the idea of change. Las Vegas was once a stop-over in the desert for military men on their way to California. Wow, maybe changing the corporate vision isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Waiting for a Friend

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 4, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

There wasn’t a down time or lack of interest. The horses were hot and the marquee tracks ruled the roost. If you’ve been following our place parlay action focused on Saratoga, you would’ve seen some big plays and close calls. But, at the end of the day it wasn’t the wagering that took center stage for our group of three. One of our group had a problem that can’t be fixed with a big day at the track. We were ready to draw down on the Saratoga meet, and there were some up’s and down’s. When life sends you a bolt of truth, you put things in perspective.

When the phone rings late in the night or the early morning, it is usually something that needs attention. We have all had the “call of crisis,” and we handle it in our own way. When our friend said he needed some time to deal with some family issues, we didn’t ask, and we lost our drive to make some money at the track. His wife had some bad tests, and he needed to be with her. They have been married for 12-years, and he is one of the happiest married men I know. He doesn’t take part in silly games about talking smack about the “old lady” or the “ball-and-chain.” His respect and devotion are enough to make the average man ashamed of himself for trash talking. – In the blink of an eye, a good man received a wake-up call that would buckle your knees.

I received a text and it was filled with bad, good, and hope. Now, that is a great deal for one message, but if you read between the lines you can understand. “Hey, I’m in Chicago and we’re in the hospital. I have taken some time away from work, and the kids are with my parents. We are facing a tough road, but the outlook is positive. She is undergoing treatment, and the doctors think we caught a break with early diagnosis.” There is not much that can be said, and the text said it all. He was busy fighting, and he wanted to reach outside the cage to feel humanity. We responded with the replies that only come from friends. He told us he spends most of the time reading or online. She sleeps a great deal, and he has plenty of time to look over the cyber-universe. “I only leave for a short jog, a quick shower, or to grab a bite. I was running down the road and a warm rain started pouring. I saw a bookstore/newsstand and took cover. As I was walking around, I spotted a Daily Racing Form. It made me think of you guys, and how I needed to get in touch.” Sometimes it is good to take a break and get some rest in a safe place. He bought a copy and snuggled into an over-stuffed chair with a cup of coffee. He had at least a couple of hours before he could see her after treatment, and this seemed to fit the bill.

No handicapping, but just reading the articles. That was enough to set him in motion to contact us. Funny how a newspaper can bridge a gap and allow for an escape. He asked if we had gone to the track, and if there were any big runners we cashed. After a bevy of group texts, he asked if we won anything with our place parlay. After we told him we agreed to make group decisions with the E-Z Win Forms,  and without his input we would wait for him for another day. This was a gesture on the part of two guys who didn’t want to leave out their partner. He was happy to hear of our concern, and moreover our patience to wait. We told him we’ll kick it up later. “How about Keeneland? Churchill, or The Breeders’ Cup?” It will keep, and we’ll all get together when you both come back home.

Sometimes the wake-up call comes in many forms, and once in awhile we catch a break. He felt optimistic and our texts have grown into calls when gets time. He said it was just too tough to talk, and texting allowed him to communicate as he needed. We received some good news this morning when he said the doctor’s will allow her to come home next week. She can finish her last treatments near home, and the treatment has worked at this stage. We entered in as three guys getting together to have some fun and win some money. If both come home and the treatment gets the job done, we’ll have won more than Fort Knox. I can’t wait to see our friend, and I sure hope he’ll be able to get out for a short bit and relax with a few races. – So, sit back and get ready as we have $1,200 for the Belmont, Churchill, Keeneland meets. I think he’ll be ready for a guys day out, and he gets first pick with no input.

 

The Grass is Greener

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 3, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

Betting the ponies is more than plunking down a few bucks. Some have control, and enjoy the beauty and pageantry. There are aggressive punters who seek to make the big score, and there are bettors who take it a little too far, and it can make a tough story. I made a stop at the race book after work, and wanted to make a bet or two. I ran into two good friends, and after an hour in the betting parlor. I wouldn’t look at things the same.

Buddy was rolling. He is the type of guy who could find a handful of diamonds in a sewer pipe. But that is Buddy. He has a great job, a brand new home, and a wife that men could only dream of having. His life looks perfect, and if you watched for more than 10 minutes, you may find yourself wanting to take his place.

Ray is a salesman, and he is really good. If there was a picture of a natural in the dictionary, you would see his picture. His new car, smooth fitting suits, and $10,000 watch would have you wanting to know his secret. “Ray-Ray” has some bad luck. He once had a horse who was on top by ten at the 16th pole at 12-1. He stood up and started snapping his fingers with his signature “that’s my boy,” and his runner veered right and jumped over the rail. Ray likes every race, every game, and runs out to bet the high denomination slots if there is more than 10 minutes between races. Money doesn’t seem like a problem, as he makes it faster than they print it.

Ed – I’m a lucky guy.  I have never been a rich man, or will my face appear in Forbes. But that’s alright by me. When I was young, I thought a job in the racing industry sounded like a dream come true. If you have read any of my past works, you know that I consider myself a pretty lucky guy. I have an incredible teenage son, and the opportunity to take part in the game I love. I don’t have a big 401k, or will my name be slated for a (G-1) race with Derby implications. I look at things a little different, and count the wonderful people I have met, friends I have made, and exciting moments I’ve witnessed.

Three guys sit down in a race book and start handicapping. If that doesn’t have the start of a million jokes, I don’t know if I have heard one. On this day we all agreed to meet up and play a couple races. But, this day would be different. Ray was complaining to me that Buddy was killing them. “He wins, and then his phone will ring. It’s his old lady, and I get to count the number of times they say, ‘I love you’. I hate it, Ed… Has it always been like this?”

Ray leaves his seat to hit the ATM, and go up  and make a bet. Buddy grabs me with a big hug and gives me a big squeeze. “Good to see you, Eddie. How are things here at the track? I hope they are treating you right.” It was Buddy all around, and he is the kind of guy who leaves the room a better place when he goes home. “Luck favors the bold, and fortune finds those who happy.” Buddy is a natural as well, and he is a lucky man. “Ed, I wanted to ask you about Ray. Has he always had a problem? He seems on edge, and can’t sit still.” “Bud, I don’t know if he has a problem, but he is definitely a different sort. He is him, and you are you. He doesn’t see things the way you do, and that is fine. – Why don’t we put a pick-four together?” – “O.K., Ed. Let’s make a good ticket, and then I have to go home and have dinner.”

Ray comes back to the table, and is steaming from a bad beat. We asked him if he wanted to get in on the bet, and he said “you guys could get Secretariat beat.”  The ticket was created, and Buddy went up and made the bet. That alone gave us an edge, as Buddy has the Midas touch. Ray was firing away, and were getting ready to watch the first race. Ray said he was going to stay and have a few beers.  The runners were loading in the gate, and Buddy gave me the fist bump and wished me luck. Ray looked over at us and asked if he could buy our $100 ticket for $20 before they broke the gate. “I am just trying to give you guys a chance to keep some money in  your pocket.” As the runners stormed home in the stretch, our 8-1 shot was drawing away. Ray exclaimed an “F-Bomb” and said he was going to bet that one. Buddy left promptly and said he would call me later to see how much we won (That made our odds go to 6-5 on the Midas touch factor). I soon followed, and Ray stayed behind.

At 9:45 p.m., I received a call. I had forgot about the bet as my son and I were watching a college football game. Buddy said there is 5 minutes to post, and we have five runners from the 12 starters. “Ed, we have some nice payoffs if we get lucky” (Now we are even money on the Buddy-meter). I turned on the race, and we watched our runner win. The smallest ticket came home and the ticket paid $750. We started making plans for the next weekend, and agreed to meet and put together a ticket after 6 p.m. This way he could take his wife to dinner, and stop out later. Ray called me the next day and asked if “goof-ball” hit his ticket. “Yeah, we got lucky and won $750.” He didn’t say much, and told me we were lucky. I agreed, and he said he had some calls to make. “We’ll catch up soon, my man.”

As I drove home, I thought of the two men I have known forever. I’m no saint, and I do and say goofy things as well. But I couldn’t believe how much we’ve all changed. It wasn’t just them, it was me too. We had grown apart, and the agreed upon meeting time was a nod to the past. I thought we’d be those three old guys sitting together and playing the races every day. Maybe we will, but right now we seem farther apart than having anything in common. But that is life. Sometimes there is a happy ending that makes your heart feel warm. But there are others that leave you feeling a little sour. For something that was more fun that the law allowed, had turned into a task or a job. We had travelled to far away tracks, borrowed money off each other a thousand times, and had more laughs than a circus. But that was then, and it is certainly different now. I hope someday we’ll rekindle the friendship flame and find those three seats with our names. That would make me a happy handicapper and a lucky guy. But even with the Midas touch of Buddy, I don’t even think Ray would make a bet on this longshot.