Blue Tail = Idiotic

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I think Dr. Kendall Hansen’s heart was in the right place, but what a dopey thing to dye the horse’s tail. YES, racing needs publicity, and I am all for that.  But when you start messing with horses on race day, it is downright silly.  I am of the school that horses should be left alone on race days as much as possible. As a trainer I tried to keep the barn a peaceful place where horses could rest until it was time to race. I feel for Mike Maker, we have all had nutty owners. But, I can’t say I have ever had to deal with an owner sending someone to dye a horse’s tail.

Play the twilight zone music when you read her comments:

“It kind of hurt me and Mike’s relationship,” Dr. Hansen told The Associated Press on Saturday night. “We’re going to have to talk it out. It was just a lack of communication. I went to a lot of effort to get this thing arranged.”

“The thing that screwed it up was one of the stewards came down and talked to Mike personally early in the day and said if we brought him over with a blue tail, they’d scratch him. Then I went over and talked to the stewards and they said there was no way they would scratch him. They’d probably fine me or something,” Dr. Hansen said. “So, I couldn’t get that information to Mike. It might have made a little bit more national news if he pulled it off. It’s disappointing for me.”

Racing needs publicity born from what makes racing special, beautiful animals competing, and an environment, whereby people can have a great day whether they win or lose.  Keeneland, and Saratoga have this figured out, as do a few others. But many places still have that racing plant feel, gross and uninviting.

But as for schtick like dying a horse’s tail, lets get away from these types of things.

Racing has no Luck

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You know, you get excited when you hear a great network like HBO is doing a racing show. They rarely fail, and had a top cast headed by Dustin Hoffman and produced by David Milch.   Although the show focused on the darker side of racing, still you hoped the show would succeed and the beauty of the sport would shine through.  With HBO’s track record, you could not bet against the series.

But racing has had a black cloud over its head for years. After the 3rd death of a horse HBO announced the show was cancelled.  I personally think that although tragic, the show was cancelled because it failed to get an audience.

This from the Bloodhorse: Despite its strong creative team and cast, the show has reportedly performed poorly. The premiere, according to press reports, attracted just 1.1 million viewers and later episodes have struggled to hit the 500,000 mark.

So, say you cancelled the show due to the tragic deaths, but it would be far more honest to admit the show was lousy despite the cast. The few episodes I saw, the beauty of the sport was hardly shown, and the underbelly of the sport was on display. The characters were stereotypes, the Latino trainer was so poorly written and the Nick Nolte character was way over the top and he was grating. Dustin Hoffman ended up being a rain-manish character and hardly someone to like.

Make no mistake, I find losing 3 horses in such a short period of time is disgraceful.   But this just provided HBO an easy out.  The sad truth is that racing is unlikely to get another shot.  Too bad.  It would have been great to see a somewhat happy show about racing. Show the beauty and the fun of the sport. Maybe a sitcom based on the backside.  There a millions of funny stories, the barn area is full of them. Use Saratoga as a backdrop, how could it fail? 

Sadly, with racing’s luck, it would find a way.

Horse Racing Video Series Unlikely To Go Viral

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I was reading the article, Racing Hopes to Go Viral With Video Series. Though I give the NTRA credit for trying,  just because you hope something goes viral doesn’t make it happen. Most things go viral by word of mouth, organically, not engineered. Someone sees a great video, passes along to a friend, who does the same. Before you know it, the thing is passed from friend to friend and has millions of views.

But this campaign is a bit too contrived, trying to force this issue. If it were that easy, you go go to Ebay and buy a viral video.  Listen, social media is an amazing thing, and I manage the social media accounts for several companies.   You need to really put in the effort, tweeting things that are interesting, informative, and no more than 20% sales and marketing.  If so, you can grow a following, a big one.  My web design firm has over 15,000 followers, (@roosites ) pretty good for a small business, and quite a bit better than most racing companies. The twitter account that I have for this site has over 4,500 followers. ( @equineproject ) I say these numbers not to brag, but to say that it takes work and time to succeed in social media.  My fear is that like most promotions that come and go, like “Go baby go”, that the NTRA will abandon the social media efforts as it is unlikely this will succeed. The video I watched was lame and I don’t see this sparking an avalanche of tweets with the hashtag, #TheOtherMadness.  In the defense of Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, they do some fine regional work. But my guess is they don’t have the budget to produce the slick type of video needed to pull off what they are looking to accomplish.

Watch the video for yourself, I would love to know your thoughts.

If you need any help managing your social media presence, please contact me via the contact page on this blog or email me directly at info (at)

HBO’s Luck a mixed bag

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I love HBO. How can you not appreciate series like the Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Entourage, etc?  So as I indicated in my previous post, I was cautiously optimistic about “Luck”. having a horse owner as the creator, to me meant a sense of realism and not the ridiculous horse movies and shows of the past.

I think in some ways they have succeeded, and there are some good qualities in the show.  The scenery and barn shots are enough to entice any horse lover. They have mixed in real riders which helps add to the feel of the show, and the racing scenes aren’t half bad. The show is dark, but HBO wasn’t going to do a feel good show about racing. Some of the scenes are hard to take, but realistic. The stiff horse in the post parade who snapped his leg was so very sad. I told my wife the second he said, “you are stiff today” he was going to break a leg. This is a sad but true moment in the sport. Though hard to watch, it certainly said to me they are going to make the show pretty realistic.

That being said,  some of the characters are ridiculously over the top.  Take the Latino trainer, wow, who wrote his lines? What a stereotype he is.  And no trainer comes into the paddock and is so nasty to a bug boy before he even rides. Sure, after he screwed up he may have heard it, but this guy attacks the kid in the morning, in the paddock, and then after the horse got claimed.  Oh yeah, he put front bandages on the horse.  Like that will scare off claiming trainers. My guess is non-horse folk may buy this, but insiders will laugh at this kind of thing.   And Nick Nolte, wow he looks like a hard luck trainer left over from a Disney movie, way over the top. And his voice is grating at this point. “They killed your daddy” he says to the horse (who appeared to laugh).  Come on, clean up the writing!

Dustin Hoffman is one of the great actors of our time, and Dennis Farina is great as well. But boy, there is something rain-manish in Dustin’s character.  “I can’t go with someone watching”. I was waiting for him to say, Kmart sucks.

As for the pick 6 crew, they again are a bit too typical. The gambler who can’t quit until he loses everything, the sad cripple, the mentally challenged guy, etc.  And the jockey agent, he is a bit too much as well. True jockey agents are annoying phony people in many cases, but he takes it to a new level.

I will continue to watch the show, as the actors are great, the scenery first rate, and I have a feeling the show will find itself and get better.  My advice is to screen the show with a trainer and remove the parts no one in the horse world will buy. of course, non-horse people won’t know the difference, so HBO may not care if the realism train goes off the track a bit.

Why HBO may succeed with Luck

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As I guy involved with horse racing for over 36 years, when I hear about a new horse racing show or movie, I cringe.

:: Why? ::

  • Typically they are so unrealistic, and any horsemen can find 20 things in every movie that just don’t happen. Case in point, in almost every movie, there is a scene with the jockey back at the barn, still wearing their silks. Well, as everyone knows, a jockey weighs out after a race, returns the silks to the color man in the jock’s room, then takes a shower and get dressed. (Unless they are riding in more races)
  • Historical Inaccuracies – Seabiscuit begins with him coming out of the clouds at Saratoga. It should have begun at Suffolk Downs in Boston, where he was discovered. In fact, there is no mention to any of his races in New England. Secretariat attempted to become the “Blind Side” for horse racing, when in truth he was one of the best bred, best looking animal that ever lived. Making it a rags to riches story just didn’t cut it. Big Red was no underdog, and Penny didn’t need food stamps no matter how well Secretariat turned out.
  • Sappy – Most of the movies are down right sappy and silly. In real life a jockey who has never ridden a race doesn’t show up to win a major race because they have a special bond with the runner.

:: Why this should work ::

  • HBO hands down creates the best programming. The Sopranos, Entourage, and now, Boardwalk Empire. If you haven’t seen Boardwalk Empire, it is an intensely gripping show, great acting, direction, and the sets are incredible. It is so powerful, that when it is over you are tired.
  • David Milch – Having a horse owner writing the script ensures a bit a realism about the sport not seen before.
  • The Cast – Dustin Hoffman is as much as you need to know. Add Nick Nolte, and a stellar bunch and you have the makings of an amazing show. Michael Mann directing certainly doesn’t hurt, as anyone who got to see, The Insider will attest.

Anyway, take a peak at the trailer below, and be sure to check out the show, January 29th at 9PM.

Havre de Grace: Nice Mare, Worst Horse of the Year Ever?

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Take nothing away from Havre de Grace, she is a very nice mare, worthy of a distaff championship. But to be horse of the year? This is an indication how weak racing was this past year.  When you compare her to the other horse of the year winners, you would be hard pressed to find many she would beat. She certainly wasn’t close to Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra.  The next possibility on the list would be Azeri. But lets not forget how brilliant she was. I would have had to go with Azeri.

When I think of the award, I think of Secretariat, Forego, Kelso, Whirlaway, Cigar, and yes Zenyatta.  I certainly don’t think of Havre de Grace.

No it isn’t her fault and yes, she is a top notch mare. But, here is hoping next year we have a standout worthy of the honor, not the best of a bad bunch.

Volatile Stock Market Benefits Keeneland November

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So I bet you are reading that title and shaking your head. Strange statement, right?  Usually a strong stock market means strong numbers at the sale. More dispensable income allows people to buy luxuries, such as race horses. Although horses are an investment, few would argue the inherent risks with buying them.  Well, I can tell you, after spending 4 days at the sale that the sale was ultra-strong.   The gross was up over 41% which is incredible.  I saw horses sell for double their worth in some cases.   Case in point, at the Tuesday sale which featured horses in training, I saw a horse who had run 10th at Keeneland in a Maiden race sell for 90k.  I had bid 20, and thought I had gone over board.  That is the way the sale went, saying it was strong is an understatement.  But in this sale 90k was chump change.  Millions were flowing like water, with 23 horses selling for over 7 figures.

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed”.  ~John Lennon


So why was the market so strong? My theory is that the market is so volatile these days that people are actually looking at an investment in a nice mare in foal to a marketable stud as safer than than the market.  If you can get a healthy foal, you can at least have the opportunity to make money down the road.  To many this seems a better option than watching the market go up and down, or getting the paltry interest of other investment instruments.

Historically the stock market has been the best place to invest. But in today’s world you have to wonder what to do.  Certainly Keeneland and consignors were the beneficiary of the market unrest, and the result was something few could predict: That people actually put their money in the horse market forgoing the stock market.  Strange days indeed…..

Keeneland November sale comparisons:

Lots sold

2010: 2,929

2011: 2,554


2010: $147,392,900

2011: $208,511,200


2010: $50,322

2011: $81,641


2010: $17,000

2011: $24,000

Reserve price not attained

2010: 851

2011: 632

Million-dollar horses

2010: 8

2011: 23

Horse Racing Needs a Steve Jobs

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I was so sad to learn of the death of Steve Jobs.  As a web developer, I use macs every day and would not be without one.  In my house there are 6 macs in use, an iPad and a few iPods. (Once Sprint has the iPhone, we will have those as well). As a trainer I was one of the first in the world to have a website. So computers, as well as horses are a way of life for me. Steve Jobs made my life easier, and he made it better.

Steve Jobs was known for innovation highlighted in a wonderful ad campaign, “Think Different”.   It wasn’t just a tagline, it was a way of life and the corporate culture he built at Apple. I got to thinking, how racing needs such an innovator.  Racing has few original ideas these days.  We have the “give us slots” school of racetrack management, which is ok for survival, but doesn’t cultivate new fans.  What we truly need is management to come up with new and different ways to build our sport.

Now I wouldn’t say racing was completely devoid of good ideas, here are a few tracks ahead of the curve:

  • Keeneland seems to continuously come up with positive changes.  For instance, Polytrack, whether you like it or not, was a bold step taken with the best of intentions. They were the first to add HD, and will along with Del Mar soon be broadcast on TVG in high def.  Keeneland also added the chip in the saddle towel (Trakus) to make following races much easier. each meet Keeneland tries to add something new. Like Steve Jobs, they focus on the customer experience.
  • Churchill Downs added lights and has made an effort to bring in younger fans. A great idea. As a horseman I hate night racing, as the next morning is extremely hard, but thinking pragmatically, how can you ever build a base racing on weekdays?  The only people who can go to the races on weekdays are retired, unemployed, or independently wealthy (very few).  So night racing combined with entertainment is one of the only ways to build a younger base.
  • Monmouth Park last year also thought differently. They increased purses, and in doing so increased field size, had better racing and their attendance and handle went up.

To thrive again (not just survive) racetracks will need to take a page out of Steve Jobs’ playbook and think differently.  Racing is a beautiful sport which has never been marketed right.  With so many choices for gambling, racing needs to differentiate itself better.  Compare a gorgeous racehorse with a slot machine? I think we win.

So who will step up and lead our industry? I don’t know, but I hope he/she arrives soon.

Finally TVG to add HD

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“There’s a way to do it better—find it.”

— Thomas Edison

Those of you who read my blog, know how hard I have pushed for an HD signal for TVG. ( I would wish the same for HRTV, but somehow it isn’t available in my town)

When we watch the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup on the networks, we realize how gorgeous racing can be on TV.  On regular TV, especially with modern TV sets, the regular picture looks horrible. I wrote about this issue in aptly named post HD Please TVG back in 2008.

Well today one of my racing dreams came true.  I read a press release from TVG that they have signed exclusive agreements with Keeneland and Del Mar through 2016,and that the broadcasts will be in high definition. Of course, TVG still has to get the HD slots, but hopefully, they can pull that off.

It would be fabulous, if this starts a trend and other racetracks follow suit.  The drawback of course is the cost of HD equipment which can run in the millions.   Most tracks can’t afford the investment. But can NYRA really fall so far behind Keeneland, and Del Mar in quality?  Imagine how pretty the paddock at Saratoga will look each day in HD?

My guess is that HRTV will need to also adopt HD signals as well, or they run the risk of TVG leaving them in their wake.

This is a big step since my post about the situation in 2008. Hopefully in 2104 I will write about how HDTV is now the standard for all racing broadcasts.

Penn Situation Disgusting, But Easy To Fix

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Sometimes you read something that just makes you ill.  I read a story in the Bloodhorse [LINK] that did just that. A filly broke down during training and needed to be put down.   Although this is sad, it is not uncommon. With all the horses training on a given day, there will be catastrophic breakdowns. Remarkably there were no vets on the grounds at 7:25 am.  The poor thing was left to suffer for 3/4 of an hour. This is the type of thing useless organizations like PETA need to hear about to start their inane picketing.

The article goes on to quote the head of the local HBPA:

“We have been engaged in trying to get the commission to mandate there be a veterinarian during training hours. But we don’t have any jurisdiction. It is not our property, and we are not the regulator.”

I disagree, and feel there is a much easier solution than trying to engage bureaucrats to do anything useful.  I would have a rotation of practicing vets on the grounds, and make a condition of starting training hours that there is a licensed vet present, just as there is an ambulance. No vet, no training. Simple.  If the vets don’t want to participate, no license.

As horsemen we are responsible for the animals in our charge.  If we allow the unnecessary suffering of our horses, shame on us.  This problem we can fix. Make it so.