Confessions of a Gambling Voyeur

Saturday night was date night. We use to hang around watching movies having a few glasses of wine.  Life never stay the same, and change is inevitable. In the famous words of Tyler Durden from the movie Fight Club, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything, that we’re free to do anything.”

The casino-craze is full bloom in my neck of the woods, and I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to venture out as well. We used to go out and she’d play a little blackjack, and after an hour or so, we would get in the car and head for a late night bite. I guess it sounds like a million folks who spend their recreational dollars gaming. I have always dis-liked the sanitized word “gaming.” It’s kind of like playing a video game when we were kids. No harm, no foul, just be sure to get your homework finished. For years, we used to visit tracks, play in tournaments, and see the big races. Keeneland, Churchill and toss in a few visits to Turfway Park for the marquee days. I’ve always been a horse player, and she loved the action as well. Close beats, nice wins, and even the bad days gave us something to bitch about over dinner. But, it wasn’t quick enough anymore. Playing on the quarter video poker machines turned into five and six hour sessions hammering the kids college money into the bill acceptor.

I’ve seen plenty of gamblers in my years in racing. Some good, some bad, and others that defy logic. – We used to play the ponies together. I was brought up with a love for the races, and her family used to live close to the track. She said the lights would shine so bright for night racing that it would keep her up as a kid on school nights. The track was in both of our lives, and it was one of the many wonderful things we had in common. Casino games have always interested me, and I love to watch. Oh, I’ll plunk down a few here and there, but I have enjoyed watching anyone do something they’re good at. I find myself at the craps tables sipping on a bottled water. I don’t know if that makes me a voyeur, but I sure enjoy watching the big money chips coming and going as the players decorate their bets with odds. It looks like Wall Street on the trading floor orchestrated as organized chaos.

She has slowed down quite a bit, and that usually happens when money gets tight, or a hard lesson has been learned. Her play for the year still gets free rooms, comp dinners, and special invites. Casinos target players with laser precision. I used to work as a player development manager. Think of this job as the person you see when you need something at the track, or the people who design trips and special events. There was no handbook, and I learned as I went along.  My boss was savvy enough to turn me loose, and give me plenty of rope. He knew gambling was my muse, and being around the action was sometimes better than betting. If there was a better fit for the job, for the first time in my life I didn’t know of a better qualified person. She asked me, “How do I get more with less trips ?” Now that’s a question for the ages, but in reality it’s pretty simple. ” I said you go three to four times a week, and they give you comps. They look at you as high frequency/medium value. They know they can’t get many more trips from you. Why don’t you try going once a week, and playing the same amount?” They’ll look at you as low frequency with high playing potential. This will get their mouths watering, as they figure you’re elsewhere and they’ll want you back for another trip or two a week to keep the handle growing. PRESTO! She started getting mega-offers, and she loved the attention.

This past weekend she asked me to attend a high-rollers dinner accompanied with a concert. I agreed, as I enjoy being with her and the people watching would be worth the price of gold. We were treated to a hoity-toity meal, that was super. The host was swell spoken and made sure he prefaced the evening with wanting us to enjoy the show and have a night away from the casino. If this was true, why did we all meet at the casino and take a shuttle limo to the dinner? The idea was to get everyone comfy, and take them back fed and happy and turn the best players lose later in the evening. Not a bad idea if I say so myself.

We could choose any table in the private room we wished, and it was by luck of the draw we ended up at one of the best tables a voyeur could land. – Next to me was a high power real estate gent, and he was showing pictures to everyone at the table his three biggest jackpots. They were over $150,000, and two came on one day. He told stories of how he had four $25 slot machines going at once, and brought gals from the office to pull the levers. He had to wait for 15 minutes as casino staff was slow getting paying him on three jackpots that had the machines locked up. On the other side was a cute couple. She was with child, and chatted with my gal. I guess it was girl talk as he played on his tablet. “Ed, who do you like in the U.C./Nebraska basketball game?” – “I don’t follow much, but an old friend is the head coach. I said he always gets them to be their best when they play ranked teams.” He went back to the tablet firing away, and didn’t look up for about 30 minutes. At the end of the night he wanted to take us to dinner as his bet covered easily. There was a well-dressed gent from India who was accompanied by his Mother. He talked for what seemed an eternity. As he gabbed, I drifted off mentally and guessed he was a high money slot player. Just as I awoke, he was telling a tale of how he won over $300,000 in Indiana and Ohio last year. I think I had about $50 in my pocket and listened as his drabble started going in circles.

Later in the evening, we ended up at the casino. She played a small amount and won about $100. “Let’s go back to the room, are you ready?” As we walked to the car she asked me what I thought about dinner. “Oh, it was great, and the place was nice,” I responded.”No, I mean the people. What did you think of our table, wasn’t it nice?? ” She asked. “I guess. -If you like liars, you would’ve loved the seats.” She didn’t understand, and thought I was uncomfortable. “Big gamblers who brag as they were doing are usually liars who only tell half of the story. Big fish want to drift under the radar and don’t go to events like these. I know the biggest horse player in the state of Kentucky, and he doesn’t give interviews or talk shop. He seldomnly gives out his best plays, and has about ten of the top trainers in the country on speed dial. He tries to buy his own dinner, which the track always picks up the tab as a token thank you.  He’s a player, and the big bettors aren’t loud because they don’t have to be.”

She listened and asked a few more questions as we neared the room. The million dollar statement came rolling from her mouth. “I want to start going back to the track with you. It’s more fun, and I don’t feel like I’m as tired when I leave.” She has come full circle. Horse racing allows you to enjoy your evening. Notice I used the word gambling instead of gaming? Racing has never been shy about players enjoying a bet and gambling on the ponies. Casinos are here to stay, and they’re a neat form of gambling. But for this punter, give me sometime off and my E-Z Win Forms, and I’ll have a great night no matter the outcome.

Just Click Here to Have Fun!

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 10, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, | 2 Comments >>

Almost 100k race goers celebrate Chinese New Year at Sha Tin ...

The latest wave of reaching the new player is on the ropes. It’s hard to believe, but the newbie player is an illusive beast to capture. Tracks, OTB’s, ADW’s and everyone who takes a wager has tried to reach over the fence and extend the olive branch. There are groups who are doing good work, and they are knocking down some barriers. I started off with a hesitant opinion, but my optimism kicked in and washed away the fog. I want racing to survive, but it may take more than silly hats, spinning wheels, and $1 beers. The player of tomorrow has been brought up with 157 channels on TV, rapid fire video games that give you reality based dialogue and instant decisions, and being able to shop, order food, and text while doing multiple things at once. Maybe it’s too slow for them. I read an article that proclaimed the popularity of the speedy video gambling is akin to electronic heroin. Now, I find that a little tough to swallow, but it is starting to sink in.

I was reading a Facebook post about a disgruntled player specialist who tore into the parent company over an error. Now, before we take them out back and tar and feather them. What were they saying? They may be off base, but the passion was there. They could use an old fashioned lesson in professionalism, but there was something to taken from this. New players who visit the track for $1 beer night are betting little to nothing. That is a fact. Tracks are looking to make the night on cheap food and beverage. Tracks don’t have to split the money with horsemen in the form of purses, and the ability to showcase their facility. Sounds good to me, but the party is more of a drawing card than the beauty of racing. This is where we may be losing the opportunity to reach the new player. Here are a couple of ideas to find that new player who thrives on rapid-fire action.

Players can buy into a “night at the track package.” For $10, or $15 dollars. The guest can fund their account. They will receive three $1 beer tickets, a program, and download an app for their phone. The players will be a part of a “group pool” and they’ll have the ability to vote on who they like in the upcoming race. The app will have a special tip sheet from the track handicapper, and they’ll be able to follow along by looking at the program, tip sheet, and watch the results of the survey question on who is the most popular horse among the group. The group wager will be posted periodically on the jumbo board, and the entire track can watch as the party is getting their bet down. The bet will be made on the top selection at one minute to post. The pool will be administered by the group leader, and the group will have a share in the wagering pool. Can it work? Nothing has so far, and we might as well give it a shot.

Players can vote, and have a place to comment for all participants in the group wager to view. It’s a social night at the races, and think about this. If there are 100 people who take part in the wager, and the cost is $15 per player. The pool has a $1,500 bankroll to wager. It could be held on races 3-7, and at least $500 per race would be wagered. If there is a winning night, it ALL goes into the last race at the discretion of the track handicapper. Talk about a shot at a sweet payoff at little cost! Now, if it all goes south and there is no return. For taking part in the “Player’s Night” promotion, you will receive a bounce back offer to be used for the next week. You get to capture data, get aquatinted with new players, and reach out to them in a way they embrace. No loud bull-horns screaming names to come up and bob for apples. There will be 5 drawings for track merchandise, and the winners will be notified by their phone app and posted on in-house monitors.

Bright Lights, Big Money, and The Red Carpet Treatment

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 9, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

By now you’re in driving range to a casino. On average, players travel 150 miles to get their gamble on. Some have a quick jaunt, and for others it takes a bit more planning to lose the kids education. As you start seeing the road side signage, you’ll feel your heart start racing and the conversation in the car takes on a positive flair.  The bright lights and well dressed valet attendants make you feel welcome, the sound of intoxicating music is loud enough to get your toes tapping. The sights, sounds, and thumping pulse pulls you in by your purse strings. The mirage is all for your entertainment, and never think for an instant they got lucky making you feel good.

If you skipped psychology 101, you may have missed out on the secret sauce. The glitzy glamorous feeling pulls you in like a conveyor belt. The sexy sounds pumping in the background are no mistake. When you’re playing the high limit blackjack tables and hear an old 80′s favorite playing “Right Round,” before you know it you’re sliding out more chips for one more bet. The carpets grab you as soon as you roll through the doors. We have all heard of the “hidden carpet designs” and how they transform your thoughts. Well maybe half of that is true, and it does serve a purpose. This is one of the most guarded secrets in the casino, and you won’t find a color coded chart on the wall next to the clock. The colors drive you in particular directions. Certain colors slow you down to be grabbed by the glitzy lights at the high payout poker machines. Others keep you moving, and some elicit a hunger response as you smell the full-service buffet making your dinner just like mom.

You won’t see clocks, or clear glass windows. No need to see the night sky, as you entered the maze when it was a sunny afternoon. It keeps you off balance as the looping hypnotic music plays your favorite songs in the background. Gambling can take its toll and you’ll find yourself getting a little sleepy. The environment can rejuvenate your energy by pumping in pure oxygen to keep you alert, refreshed, and awake. Add in the sounds of “near misses” for the big jackpot, the scantily dressed casino staff offering drinks and anything to make you more comfortable. If you cannot make your way out, that is a well thought design. The “maze-like” layout will have you turning corners looking for the doors only to find themed penny slots with your favorite movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

Here is a small wager for you. Walk in, and you’ll see everything. On your way to restroom, you’ll see high limit machines for you to plunk in a few coins. “Will you please direct me to the cashiers window ?” – I’ll bet a Coke that it’ll take you a few tries to find the location. – As you walk past that high denomination slot machine, you may see a subliminal message flashing the royal flush jackpot. In some Canadian casinos you’ll feel this message so quickly it’ll take you back to the drive-in movie messages that drove you to the concessions stands.  ”Do you smell that? I think it’s Rose or Violet. Aha, it’s crushed lime mint!” The atomized aroma oils are pumped out to elicit hunger in areas, relaxation in the lounge, and invigoration in the gaming areas.

Now that many tracks are becoming racinos, you’ll see the soft touch of the parent company working its magic in the gaming areas. You won’t find this where the racing exists, and you can bet dollars to donuts you won’t find it in the race book. You may be treated to arm pit sweatshirt, or the smell of stale cigarettes. What if the casino who bought the property  actually took a bigger interest in racing? There are tons of cross-promotion concepts that could give the facility one more reason to be there. When the public sees the glitzy top shelf casino and the average “I don’t care if you visit” race book, they will figure out quickly that racing is a cross to bear so they may have a casino license.

What if  the casino treated the racing product with more interest? There may be money in the long run to turn your facility into a destination place. You can bet some races, play the slots, grab a top-notch bite , or catch the big game in the “badass-sports-bar.” If you can offer up lottery products, do it in a big way. How about Keno? Do it, and have screens in every lounge and hallway. Make it easy to wager on anything and everything. Have race book terminals against the ATM wall in the casino, or you can bet Keno in the lounge as you enjoy a cold beer. While the band plays music in the sports bar, you can watch the game, and make  a bet on the races with a self-serve terminal close by. How about a bank of computer terminals in the sports bar area located in the “Fantasy Sports Lounge” for punters to keep up on their teams, or make an off-shore wager while enjoying your incredible sports bar grub. I know it sounds easy, and they have more insight and talent than I ever will. So how come we don’t see it yet? You’ll read about lagging financial reports, and how the area is saturated with competition. Really? I once believed in the concept of the dollar going only so far, but after further review. The facilities that want to bring as much action, fun, excitement, and entertainment are doing well. The others bitch about what is missing. The discretionary dollar is ours. We’ll spend it online at home, shopping, movies, or eating out. How about offering everything under one roof? The best part of the deal is that facilities don’t have to build a palace to hold 20,000. The live racing grandstands should hold about 2,000, and have an ample apron area that could be a multi-purpose area for races, parties, VIP’s, and outdoor concerts. The race book should hold 1,500 – 2,000. This allows players to spread out, and ample seating for the 30 marquee days in the sport of kings. Leave the casino anyway they see fit. This is their baby, and they know more than we’ll ever understand. Before the first machine comes in, the operation should consult with some of the long time players. It’s more than just lip service, because if they think they’re being heard, you can count on these loyal players to come and bring others just like them.


Tough As They Come

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 3, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

I was watching an NFL program the other night with my son, and he asked a million dollar question. “Dad, was Lyle Alzado as tough as he looked?” Well, if you have a good memory or access to the NFL highlights. You would have seen one of the biggest, toughest men who ever wore a helmet (or threw one at an opposing player). But he left us way too soon, and admitted he was ”jacked up” on steroids that would killed a herd of elephants. After our initial conversation about the abuse he endured for the sport; I directed him to racing. “What about jockeys? They weigh about 105 pounds, no pads, and are drug/alcohol tested quite regularly. They ride in winter conditions, the summer heat, and encounter danger on a daily basis.”

I was sitting around trying to heal a cold today when I randomly caught the 5th race at Aqueduct. Manuel Franco is sitting 4th in the rider standings, and owns a 14% win clip. Not bad considering the top three are New York veterans Cornelio Velasquez and Irad and Jose Ortiz. Pretty tough to make a living with these guys hanging around, but I digress. In the 5th race today, Franco was aboard Mr. Rico is Valid, and had a garden spot along the inside. He started working off the rail over the sealed sloppy track, and encountered a (50-1) shot named Princess on the Lake, ridden by Alexandra Jara. The longshot broke down causing her rider to go down, subsequently causing Franco’s mount to trip over the fallen horse. I’ve been watching races for quite sometime, and it never gets any easier seeing this happen. Both riders lay motionless on the track as track announcer John Imbriale tried with great effort to continue, but his heart wasn’t into the action as he said “there was a terrible spill on the track,” and gave very brief commentary from the 1/4 pole to the wire.  There was no word on Jara or Franco’s condition, and Winning Ponies wishes them best of luck.

I nodded off a bit and stayed under my blanket like a three-year-old. The cold was getting the better of me, and a brief nap was calling my name. I figured I would catch a later race when I heard the race call kick up. The nap didn’t last long, and I found myself watching race #6. Here is a the 6th race from Aqueduct, and there was a big favorite named All Is Number getting to the leader as they turned for home.

When I watched the rider bring the winner back, I saw his name on screen and couldn’t believe my eyes. Manuel Franco piloted the winner home like nothing in the world could be wrong. It’s amazing for this horse player, and to this day I cannot believe the incredible shape they keep themselves. I’ve known riders over the years, and love to watch them ply their trade.

They work horses out in the morning, jog hours before post, and I’ve even watched a yoga-type stretching from a red-hot Peruvian rider. Some battle weight, and others are “naturals” and don’t miss a meal. They have hands as strong as iron, and as light as feathers. Their legs are used for balance, and sometimes used for steering.  Incredible shape, and it all comes in a 110 lb. body.  A reporter came out to do a story on “what it was like to be a jockey.” He was in good shape, young, and had the look of a weekend warrior. This should’ve been a walk in the park, but John Engelhardt wanted the media and public to know what great athletes jockeys can be. He enlisted the services of a longtime horseman George Bush who was a 2nd generation player in the game. He rode a little a bit long ago, and his brother was a rider in Ohio. George is a trainer andgreat for the game. He loves to talk racing, and if you stop by his barn he’ll have carrots for you to feed. – But on this day, his task was different. John wanted the reporter to know what it took, and before he even got near a horse, he was put to task. The trainer took out a towel and wrapped it once around a pole. It looked like the reins on a horse, and George popped right down into position and grabbed the towel in a rider’s stance. “Easy stuff. All you have to do is keep your balance and don’t make too much of a commotion aboard. I think you’ll do pretty well.” The reporter laughed at first as John Engelhardt readied his camera. This was good stuff and John has an eye for capturing the moment. When the reporter took hold of the wrapped towel, he started complaining how his thighs were on fire, and this was about 20 seconds into the race. As he neared the 30 second mark, he started moving around quite a bit, and George reminded him to be still in the saddle. As the 45 second mark approached, he let go of the towel and claimed this was the hardest athletic endeavor known to man.

It’s a tough job, and not for the faint of heart. Winning Ponies wishes Alexandra Jara the very best, and hope she returns to the saddle very soon. For Mr. Franco, it was pretty evident he was feeling pretty good about 20 minutes after his fall. This is not to say he wasn’t banged up like a football player, or sore like a baseball pitcher. He could be bruised like a boxer, or rubber-legged like a NASCAR driver going 500 miles. But this athlete is one-of-a-kind, and picked himself off the muddy ground. He made his way to the “Jock’s Room,” and washed off quickly. They have a valet who lays out their silks for their next mount, and off to the paddock to do it all over again.



The Daily Buffet

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 2, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

When you check-in you’ll get a taste of handicapping, behind the scenes happenings, and the day-to-day life in the sport of kings. Yep, just like a buffet, you get a little sample of everything. – Racing is a world within the world, and its never boring. I was reading the sports section about a coach being fired, and how his players found out through an email. I was surprised how this all went down, and got to thinking how lucky racing doesn’t have any “double-secret-probation” moves. Well, after further review, thoroughbred racing is not exempt from being a side dish on the buffet table of the sporting world.

When the coach was fired, you could argue it was a business decision. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but don’t worry about the man. His contract could choke an elephant, and he’ll be back in the game sooner than later. I thought about the suddenness of this move, and it took me back to a couple of horse owners. They had a cheap claimer, and it was their first horse. When the old boy wasn’t winning stakes races, they decided it must be the trainer. Hell, it sure couldn’t be their fault and someone had to be blamed. This happens everyday, but it was their first time in the batter’s box. They paid a big “cowboy” to bring his large horse van to the farm and pick up their horse without notice. They felt he may be mistreated if they called ahead and let him knew they were coming. Well, you could say the trainer was a bit surprised when three big men got out of the van and demanded the horse. The trainer brought the well groomed claimer around and gave him a quick brush and a carrot before turning him over. He had tears in his eyes as he watched the old claimer drive down the road, but life for the trainer went on. He continued to train for awhile, and eventually left the game his grandfather taught him.

The old claimer had a little bit of racing luck for the new barn, but the advice of the first trainer came back to bite them in the butt.  “Claiming horses have cycle of about three months if you’re lucky, and then they’ll need a break,” the sage-like trainer informed the two bone heads. But, they figured if they paid the bills, they must be right… Kinda’ like the University who gave a man his walking papers before he was able to thank his loyal players and wish them well. The horse was retired as jumper, and the two owners argued their way out of the game blaming each other daily. The original trainer retired and took a job in Lexington, Kentucky. He works for one of the biggest farms in the sport, and has supervises the million-dollar foals who will  head to the races.

Thoroughbred racing has moments that make history and others that couldn’t find the waste basket. – I worked for a track that was a leader once upon a time. We couldn’t do anything wrong, and our ideas were the stuff that dreams were made of… Well, that’s what our crew thought for the longest time. As we travelled to Vegas for meetings, the competition was working and building for the future. We heard they had some things going on, but we dismissed their efforts and laughed. But, just like the big University. “We needed to think how this was going to look down the road. The heads you step on today are connected to the butts you’ll have to kiss tomorrow.” We watched as business declined in the double digits, and no matter what we’d try, nothing seem to move the mark. Employees were let go one at a time, and the in-fighting began with the rest of the surviving staff. Eventually, many of us hit the road seeking better opportunities. A small handful from the past stays to this very day, and continue to hang in there fighting the good fight.

We think it’ll never happen to us. People who are affected by hasty decisions and bad practices can be their own worst enemy. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, I’ll bet dollars to donuts you’ll see plenty of events that could’ve been avoided. The big University made it’s decision, and they’ll live with the consequences no matter the outcome. Just like the newbie horse owners and the track staff who felt the party would never end, and there wouldn’t be a bill at the end of the line. The sporting world is not only entertainment, it can serve as a barometer of what is going on in life. Thoroughbred racing needs to stand united and work together and give up celebrating individual gains at the expense of the industry. Once upon a time it was the only game in town, and it was hard to do anything wrong. The times have changed, and survival depends on the ability to be resilient and embracing change.

Debunking the Myths

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 1, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

Posted by Fearless Expressioner on February 7, 2012 · 3 Comments  Many players feel like  a monkey is on their back. He tells me what to do, and I find myself listening to the monkey. He is a savage beast. This animal grabs my wallet, and makes me do the silliest things. He wasn’t there when we walked in, and out of thin air the 500 lb. beast climbed aboard and ruined my day.

1 – There is no such thing as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. And, there is no such thing as bad luck that follows you. Everything is a state of mind, and how we react to the factors in our life. Luck is being prepared, not gambling with scared money, and learning to control our emotions. The “sharp” players have the same look on their face if they win a million, or lose the house. They know you can be your worst enemy if you allow your emotional side to take over. Try this the next time you head out to the races. Do your homework the night before, bring only what you can afford to lose, and get there early. Drinking a beer and betting with a posse is a night on the town. If you’re studying in solitude trying to make your best decisions. You’re playing to win.

2. – Know your strengths. We won’t identify our weakness profile, as that can be a negative beginning. If you’re a “dropping in class player, fresh off the claim, a 20% or higher rider/trainer combo, or a workout buff,” get to know what makes you tick. Find your best three, and use them each and every time. This will be your starting point. If you don’t find these angles, skip the race. The process will allow you to pass on a race you may have played in the past.

3. – There are NO hot tips. If you were a trainer, owner, or jockey. Would you tell anyone if you had a great shot to win today? Me neither. Learn to win and lose on your own merits. If the “steamer theory” held true. There would be a handful of winners, and the rest of us would look upon with wide eyed gazes.

4. – Know the races you don’t like. It’s a gambling sin to hammer a race just to have action. Every once in awhile, we can make a small wager on a runner who shows a wildcard shot. It may be an oddity angle in your arsenal, but the odds must be worth the bet. Otherwise, a bet for the sake of having action is a waste.

5. – Money management. If you ask 100 gamblers, you’ll get 100 different answers. If you spend 10 minutes handicapping a race, you’ll need the same amount of time deciding how to bet. Use this as a barometer, and see what fits your comfort level. If your bankroll is $1,000 for that once a year Vegas trip. Your wager should be no more than 2% of your total bankroll. If you have $100 in your pocket at the local OTB. The 2% rule still applies, and it is up to you to stay within your limits. They aren’t there to hurt you, they allow you to comeback if you’re down, and still have the ability to turn a profit with a measured out lay of cash.

6. – An ADW account is real money. I  know players who bet like it’s play money. They see a number in the balance column, and don’t think of it as money. It’s real money and when you reach your goal, or have a winning day. Hit the “withdrawal” button and have them send you the cash. I have done it both ways, and boy-oh-boy does it hurt to give it back making impulse bets because you’re bored. – Take the money out, and it will be here in a few days. The time down allows you to decompress and make complete decisions.

Keep these in mind, or dismiss completely. Either way, know you’ve been warned by the 500 lb. beast. If you’re not careful, you’ll find him picking up speed aiming right for your back.


Calm, Cool, and Ready

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 28, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, Uncategorized, | No Comments >>

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. Not because of all the great food. OK, that part was a fib, but the best part is gathering together. You put away your cell phones, iPad’s, and other techno gadgets that take you away from the moment. You sit back and bask in the moment, and break bread together. A long held tradition that was a daily ritual. Times have changed and people get caught up in the grind, and for some those days around the table are a long ago memory.

I went out to make a bet or two on “Turkey Day,” and ran into an old friend. Fred was a long time player in my neck of the woods. In his professional life he was an architect. His work took him all around the world, and eventually he moved his family to Memphis. He looked the same with a little less hair, and still had the swagger of a well-dressed professional. He immediately saw me, and came up to greet me on this Thanksgiving day.

“Eddie, you still look like that kid 20-years ago.” I guess I owe him a beer or two for the fine compliment, and it was great to see his face. “Remember this used to be the opening of Fair Grounds. You used to call it Cajun-Homecoming because you worked with a crazy fella from New Orleans.” Yep, he was right. Turkey Day used to be the kickoff for FG, and you would see the big time outfits move back south. As for the other guy, that part was true. He was goofier than an outhouse rat…

“Fred, what brings you back this way?” I asked. “Well, I sold some property I owned for years and drove up to close the details. Thought I would drop over for some racing action, but this place looks like a ghost town.” He replied.  ”Yeah, things have changed a bit. The days of standing room only have gone the way of the dinosaur. So, have you been gambling much? – How have the ponies been treating you?” I said.  ”Eddie, this is the first time I have been to the track in two years. My wife left me for an old golfing buddy back home, and my daughter hasn’t spoken to me for years. So, I took the travelling assignments to keep the married guys at home. I guess I should have thought about that myself. I’ve been to Singapore, Hong Kong, and believe it or not Greenland. I started playing cards instead of playing the ponies, and being back in the area had me missing the place,” He said.

Fred was a good gambler, and had real patience. This is not something you see everyday at the track, and he was a person you’d never forget. He used to astonish me back in the day. He would come everyday during the fall and winter meets, and quit ice cold until late September. He used to call it his “detox,” and this would bring him back to the game refreshed. For the time, it was a new outlook and was usually reserved for players who went tapped. But his patience would kick in, and during the beautiful months he enjoyed fishing and spending time with his family. “Fred, do you still take time to “detox” from gambling? ” I asked. “Oh, yeah. Playing poker can take a toll, and I play three -four months a year. I still love to fish, and I have taken up photography in a big way. I love to travel and see nature, and the seasonal changes call my name,” he responded. Fred hadn’t changed a bit, and he traded his racing program for a seat at the poker table. As we shook hands and had a brief hug, I walked away from a man who was in control. He was not one to give in to impulse playing, and kept the game as his muse. On my way to the car I thought about my encounter. Fred said he’ll be up in the spring to see Belterra Park, and would start following the ponies around March as they made their way to the Derby. I had picked a winner, and two thirds in my brief time at the track. Fred didn’t make a bet, and said he was waiting to uncork on a runner at Churchill in the 7th. It was a little runner trained by his old pal. His name was C’mon Cat. When I looked at the results after dinner, I saw his runner won and  paid $14.80. Yep, it was the same old Fred. Patient as ever and still knocking them dead.

Feeling Thankful

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 25, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

Normally I’d be happy for a few winners, and a chance to sit down for a one-of-a-kind meal at mom’s table. But this year is a little different. Oh, I’m still grateful for her culinary delights, but there are a few more things on the table to give thanks. Fold your hands, bow your head, and give thanks for some of the wonderful things that have come your way.

If you’re reading this. Give thanks. You’re still here, and that is the greatest gift of all. Long before we follow our dreams and enjoy the sport of kings, give thanks for being here. Every year we grow a little older. No matter how we’re doing we know some that are less fortunate, and many others who will no longer sit at the table with friends and family. Extend a hand to those less fortunate, and give thanks for the many who won’t be joining us at the table. That was lesson I learned as a boy, and as a man I saw it put into action by some wonderful people on the backstretch. If you haven’t made a trek to the barn area, go ahead and put it on your to-do-list. Day-in-day-out, the connections do battle on the track. But at the end of the day, you won’t see folks any closer. They watch over each other, and it’s an extended family. There have been many folks over the years who did wonderful acts of  mercy. There was one that exemplified the message of charity and kindness. Never one to turn someone away, he worked tireless with the help of many. They made things happen for those who needed a hand. This time of the season brings a smile to my face thinking of Father Frank Niehaus. He won’t be here in body, but his spirit will live on in every act of kindness and charity.

<b>Father Frank Niehaus</b> at River Downs

My Thanksgiving tradition continues to this day. Working at the track, you could count on working every holiday during the year minus Christmas and Easter. I still head out for a few races, and greet some faces from the past. Tracks run on the hard work and efforts of  dedicated folks who arrange their family lives around post time. They have an early or late dinner, and many bring in festive delights  for those who may be spending the evening alone. The front side just as the backstretch takes care of their own. It’s a world within a world. Few places will you see the closeness of fellow workers who keep watch and have the interests of others. I guess it’s just another reason that working at the track has been attractive.

Being thankful isn’t just a month and half job. I know this guy who made it a year around labor of love. He used to buy, and carry in bottled water. He iced them down, and put them out for the outriders who may have the hottest job at a summer oval. He never asked for help from the big-bodied employees, and did it all on the down low. At Thanksgiving and Christmas he would take up an office collection, and delivered families a lavish spread to enjoy together. Now, this guy could be pain in my butt at times, but his acts of kindness overwhelmed me. He was always into something, and for the first few years I worked at the track, I watched him. His selfless acts of kindness came from long ago from an Irish home in Syracuse, New York. He taught me a great deal about the game. Oh, I may be the better gambler when we have our dollar handicapping contests ! - But the lessons he taught me were not long-winded lectures, or worrying about who gets the credit.  They were about acts of kindness and fellowship. To this day, I consider him to be my greatest mentor in racing, and a man I’m proud to call my friend. If you do not recognize him, you can join him each and every Thursday on the Winning Ponies Internet Show with John Englehardt.

As I get ready to slice into the perfectly bronzed turkey, there is a ritual that takes place at my home. We go around the table and each of us gives a special thanks for something or someone in our lives. This year there are so many, the dinner would get cold when I finished. So, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to give my special thanks to the following:

* Thank you to the great folks at Winning Ponies for allowing me to be a part of their team since 2008. Good people who care about the sport.

* The summer of 2014 was one that will be remembered for years to come. Thank you to John Englehardt, and the fine folks at Belterra Park. Getting to announce the races and hold down the job as odds-maker was a dream come true. – Thank you, and I’ll see you in 2015!

* Thank you to the wonderful people I have met over the years. They have been the best part of racing.

* Thank you for health, opportunity, and the friendships that will last a lifetime. If I never pick another winner for the rest of my life, I’ll consider myself one of the luckiest men around.

If this were the Academy Awards, not only would they have played me off stage, they would have sent security out to reel me in. Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at Winning Ponies. We wish you and yours the very best, and look forward to a Happy and Safe Holiday Season!



Testing Your Faith

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 20, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

Handicappers are tested from time-to-time. It may come in a bevy of getting beat in a photo, or not finding your horse with a search warrant. Either way, you’ll find that deeper meaning of the game, or you will grab your golf clubs and head out to the links. I once heard the secret to being a good horse player is having a short memory. We can recount with vivid detail the big wins and how we cashed the monster score. There may be some problems bringing back to life the bad beats that still linger in our thoughts. For me, this was an easy task. It was a rare event that was almost catastrophic, and the other was just a bad mojo that hangs in the air. So, sit back and grab a hot beverage on this pre-winter day and see if your remember these back-to-back bad luck events for yours truly.

The place was beautiful Arlington Park. Located in pristine Arlington Heights, Illinois. I had a great place to stay, and the hotel overlooked the track. Things couldn’t have been better. Now, this is going to be rare, but just humor me, and we’ll dismiss the bragging later. I’m breaking my rule of “talking crapola” about winners. – I arrived late the day before, and caught the last five races. I went 5/5 and won about $500. A good start, and I was off to the races. Dinner was at the OTB, and I was betting Mountaineer. With the racing gods smiling down, I won another $200 and covered dinner. Long story short, this was the year I was gambling for a living. I had left my longtime job, and cashed in my 401-k. ( I know, bad move on any planet.) I has the blessing of my better half, and off to the races I went. I charted, and watched replays constantly. I kept my tracks to New York, Kentucky and Arlington Park. Things started off slow for my venture, but then it began to take off. I had a list of horses to watch and made about 2-3 bets per week. Mostly heavy place wagers, and some mixed in with win bets as well. The big day came about and I love turf racing. I couldn’t wait as the weather was perfect, and I was smiling from ear-to-ear. As I walked in, Saratoga was getting ready to run. I hadn’t planned on making one off-track bet until I looked up and saw my number one New York horse was warming up on a sloppy track. My deal to bet Arlington Park had faded a bit and I decided on ONE bet away from AP. I made a $200 win wager on a (6-1) shot, and went to watch the race. He won by 6 lengths, and I was $1,400 up from my first race. The day was getting hotter, and every race I was hitting little scores. I had my eyes peeled for a runner in the Arlington Million with my favorite jockey aboard. I could wait, and all of the money I was winning was going to be used in pick-fours, pick-threes, trifectas, and big win and place money. Well, the good luck continued all day, and I had my winnings in one pocket and my initial bankroll in the other. My runner was (9-2) on his way to the gate, and I had more confidence than ever before. Just like “Let it Ride,” This was a very good day. As I watched the race unfold, and the outcome. To this day I cannot believe what transpired. Take a look for yourself and watch my TOUGHEST best in my life.


I was a loss for words, and #4 with Gary Stevens in the irons was hurt badly. I couldn’t see the final finish until they put it on the jumbotron. I’m glad the “iron man” Stevens came back after a lengthy injury, but it still hurts to this day. – For me, I licked my wounds and bounced back to make a large win bet on a runner by the name of Kitten’s Joy. I made money overall, but what a long strange trip it was. For the record, I’m glad Gary made his comeback, and there would be plenty of other chances for this handicapper.


The site was Arlington Park, and the scene was exactly the same. I was winning pretty good all day, and I fell in love with a runner in the Million ridden by a young gun named Jamie Spencer. The name of the runner was Powerscourt. There was another heap load on the line, and you be the judge for the 2004 Arlington Million. Be sure to fast forward to 16.44.


Bad beats and big wins and the ones that got away. I still bet the Arlington Million, but I have “barred” myself from returning to the scene of two bad beats in consecutive years. No matter the outcome, real horse players love the game. It took the wind from my sails, but I survived. I have had plenty of nice days, but those back-to-back years would have made my professional wagering venture a little sweeter. I have a rule that racing does not allow for crying, whining, or bitching. This is my ONE exception and now I’m back in order. No matter what your bankroll is doing, there are other days. I have since healed, and every time the big race comes around. I think back to my visits to sweet home Chicago.

Gamblers, Handicappers, and Visitors

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 20, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

The track was jammed, and traffic is thick. Getting a parking spot was tricky, and finding a seat is a job. But, that was horse racing. The lines were so long you’ll stand and handicap while waiting. That was the scene long ago, and if you head out now. There aren’t enough people to start a fight. You won’t find that “newbie demo” unless there is a free band or $1 beers. With the action and crowds swirling, the mutuel lines are wide open. Tracks are in full handle-hunter mode. They come armed with brass and staff attempting to educate the masses. Yep, educate the crowd while they’re suppose to be betting. This sounds like a tall order, and it is. But, there is no harm in trying I suppose. How about a little something new?

Create a library of short ”how-to-wager” videos located on your webpage? The poker craze began with guys playing in basements, and working their craft to be the next name on TV. Nobody was watching, and they picked it up at their speed. The next generation won’t be coming out with Uncle Ted or grandpa. They embrace social media, and learn the game differently than we did. New players can peruse your library and study the parts of the game that keep them interested. I see newbie crowds in casinos. They are dressed up and hanging out with pals from the office, or out for a night on the town. Why not let them come prepared before they get there? Nothing like knowing what you’re doing. If you doubt the angle, stop by any low limit blackjack table on a Saturday night and I’ll bet you’ll see new players holding onto a card of when to hit, split, or double down. Create the how-to videos, and they’ll feel more comfortable when they come out to play. Would you stand in a line that said “beginners” in a packed house environment? Me neither…

What if the track has a loyalty card? Then about 50% of the work is done. When they sign-up, you have the ability to communicate in a manner that fits their needs. Quick email blasts talking up double point nights, special buffet prices for the new player, and get them involved with reward drawings and behind the scene tours. Do you think a new player would enjoy talking with the track handicapper, or a big-name handicapper brought in to give them the secret sauce? It works, and if you have any doubts. You’ll see casinos having “free sessions” of learning how to play. Stop by, have a few beers and learn at no cost. When you see them on Saturday night, they’ll look like they’ve been doing it for years.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching this for years. I used to conduct handicapping seminars, and we would start with “handicapping 101.” Two weeks later there would be a “handicapper workshop.” Two weeks later we would be having “professional handicapping.” Now, that’s not to say we have every winner in every race. But we would break down the race card with how-to and what-you-should-do tips. Give a player a winner and they cash, teach them to handicap, and they’ll play forever. I don’t know how many times seasoned players would stop up and visit after the seminar and say, “I didn’t know about the speed ratings and track variants.”

There are three types of guests at the track. – Gamblers, handicappers, and visitors. Gamblers will bet on anything at anytime. They don’t need to think it out and seek the action. There is nothing wrong with this, and from time-to-time they hit big. Lack of preparation and patience will be their undoing in the long run. Handicappers are a cerebral group who like to do their homework. They enjoy the process of finding the contenders and putting together the winning ticket. Visitors are standing in a group talking drinking that $1 beer, and only come out to be a part of the scene. There is nothing wrong with any of these guests. But why not try to keep them engaged in the action? If there is a free drawing, it should be limited to loyalty card members only. This is your drawing card, and you’ll be able to understand your crowds behavior. Should we send them a free program as a new player? How about grabbing the handicappers with special seating where they can study and be comfortable? The $1 beer guest is important as well, and you can send them email blasts with upcoming events, special ticket purchases, and draw them in with on-line education videos. See, we can reach everyone without grabbing them, teaching them bits and pieces, and hope they make a bet. Scrap the task force recruiters who rove the track looking for new players. On marquee days, you’ll see some great first time player events with America’s Best Racing Ambassador’s. They have it right there, and make you feel comfortable at your speed. No pressure, and no in-your-face tactics. As we round the turn and stumble around finding the elusive “newbie.” Give them ease of motion learning, and allow them to have a grasp before they park the car. I’ll bet dollars to donuts you’ll have a better shot at creating the next generation of players.