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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Say Goodbye to The Works

- One thing that most everyone appeared to agree on regarding TVG is that we love The Works, the series that presented keen analysis and discussion of the morning workouts leading up to the Derby. But Maryjean Wall, reporting in the Lexington Herald-Leader, reports that the recent split between TVG and Churchill has put the series in dire jeopardy for this year. "As we commented last week, it appears that we will not be participating in the 2007 Churchill Downs meet," said TVG's General Manager, David Nathanson, in a recent email message.

"You could see the stars as they were developing and get an insider's look," said Steve Davidowitz, handicapper and author whose newest book is called The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing.

Davidowitz termed the impasse in contract negotiations as "arrogance against arrogance." The loss to fans, he said, would be in the show's usefulness as an educational tool on how horses are prepared for this important race.
Churchill's John Asher told the paper: "We hope to work out something in a couple of weeks, but what that will be, I don't know." I would speculate that some kind of show on HRTV is a possibility, which of course won't do much good for the vast majority of us.

- Carl Nafzger told the Form that Street Sense won't run in the Hutcheson Stakes next Saturday, and instead cited the Tampa Bay Derby (March 17) or Rushaway Stakes (March 24) at Turfway Park as the two most likely options.
"I just don't want him to get hooked in a sprint like that by horses who have already run and are fit, read, and talented. I don't want to knock the bottom out of this colt after all the work we've done with him so far this winter."
It's well documented that Sunny's Halo is the only Derby winner since 1947 to come into the race off two preps, but I'd be interested to know if even he waited this long to make his debut at age three.

The other horses considered to be contenders who are planning on just two preps are, according to Maryjean Wall: Stormello, Great Hunter, Birdbirdistheword, Belgravia, C P West and Principle Secret. Belgravia, as we learned this week, has had a setback with a lung infection. Stormello worked five furlongs in 58.20 seconds at Hollywood Park on Saturday and remains a potential starter in next Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. However, he remains, according to his trainer Bill Currin, a possiblity for the UAE Derby in Dubai.
“Depending on how we do in the Fountain of Youth, that will tell a lot,” Currin said, indicating that an easy win could lead him to Churchill Downs whereas “if I get my socks beat off,” the colt might not be ready for the long trip to, and tough race in, Dubai. [Dubai Carnival Blog]
- Jose Santos has been diagnosed with even more severe spinal injuries than were originally revealed after they were apparently missed at Jamaica Hospital the day of the Feb 3 spill.

- Todd Pletcher, who said that Scat Daddy wasn't fully cranked off his layoff after he finished third in the Holy Bull, told the Form after Twilight Meteor's win in his return in the Hallandale Beach Stakes last week: "Layoffs are overrated."

12 Comments:

Steve D said...

Alan,
Davidowitz is wrong here. It's not "arrogance vs. arrogance." It is about the price that TVG charges for exclusivity. It seems to me that Churchill desires to control its own signal, and distribute it to the widest audience possible. Despite the insistence by TVG that an exclusive arrangement with them is the way to achieve such a goal, Churchill obviously disagrees.

I will miss "The Works," but this seems to be in TVG's court. Their need to ignore all major events in racing that aren't taking place at TVG exclusive tracks is incredibly awkward and a disservice to the wide distribution of fans they claim to reach.

I'm not sure how Churchill is considered "arrogant" here.

Steve D said...

Just to clarify: When I said "price that TVG charges for exclusivity," I meant the price they charge other ADWs for taking wagers on exclusive TVG tracks.

Handride said...

you know i've thought about this, and I think Churchill is making a HUGE mistake. They think that everything they run is the Derby, and truthfully it's not. TVG is able to get the signal into a lot of houses (my own included) that will now be blacked out. And you know what? I won't be betting Churchill that much. If CDI is on TVG I would probably place those wagers through 4NJbets.com, and does TVG deserve a % of that??? Yes, they do.

Anonymous said...

Churchill is arrogant because their new management "team" doesn't care about either live racing or television exposure. They seem to think this is strictly an internet play and care only about share price, not the fans. I'm not making this up...read their president's public comments since he was hired. He comes across as if he could care less about racing.

Lenny said...

I was watching TVG Sunday afternoon and Todd Schrup mentioned they were having a meeting on Tuesday. The purpose of the meeting is to determine what TVG is doing right and what they are doing wrong. I hope they see that they are doing more wrong then right. I am going to write them an email with my opinions and would encourage others to do so. Even if they do not read what I have to say at least I tried and if others do the same then maybe someone will take a few minutes to read the opinions of the people who want this situation to turn out for the best. I will be sending my email to mail@tvg.com, if anyone else has a better email address or one of the hosts personal addresses please post it.

My email will contain the points I have made here as well as a few I picked up from others. At this point I do not see how TVG can continue. With the loss of Churchill Downs and its network of tracks TVG will be left with very few top tracks to show this spring/summer. I believe they still have Keeneland but with CD leaving who knows how long that relationship will last. Also with a change in ownership of the NYRA tracks there is no telling if TVG or HRTV will get to show those tracks. TVG's future is looking pretty bleak, how long can they sustain a profitable business when they can only show second and third tier tracks with a few top tier tracks throughout the year?

Lenny

alan said...

Lenny, I imagine that if Empire prevails in NY, the presence of Churchill and Magna amongst their investors would make it unlikely that NY racing would continue on TVG once the present agreement expires.

Lenny said...

The letter has been sent.

Lenny

Steve D said...

Lenny,
Please share your letter, as I think we'd all like to see it.

Lenny said...

Dear TVG,

I hope that you will take a few minutes to read my opinion on what your network has done right and what needs to be changed. To start I would like to provide a brief description of myself. I am a 26 year old male that has been following the sport for approximately 7 years. I was introduced to horse racing, like so many others, by my father. My father has owned and raced horses for approximately 30 years here in Maryland. In the past few years my interest in other sports, notably baseball, college football and college basketball has dwindled. I still watch pro football and soccer, but I often find myself switching over to TVG to watch races throughout those games or even watching racing instead of those games. I go to the track almost every weekend, read the Daily Racing Form every day, check all the major racing related websites daily and subscribe to The Blood Horse and Horseplayer Magazine. I have a book shelf full of racing literature, from handicapping to statistics to novels. I am what you would call a "die hard" fan, the type of person racing needs, a young and interested individual that I see very few of when I frequent the track. It is truly disheartening to go to the track and see mostly senior citizens during the week and a few more middle aged men during the weekends. I can count on one hand the number of regulars that are my age. I am also disheartened by the recent news surrounding TVG.

I have read many articles, opinions, blogs, etc. pertaining to the current state of TVG. Some support the current structure and others oppose it. I want to take a few minutes to summarize the positive and negative opinions that I have and that I have read from others. Many of these are likely obvious, but maybe a few are not.

I will begin with the positives. The on track coverage provided at Hollywood, Del Mar, Oak Tree and other tracks outside California is extremely well done. From interviews with trainers and jockeys to expert analysis of the live races the coverage is second to none. TVG provides insight from handicappers, former and current trainers, track announcers and former and current jockeys. TVG also offers races from tracks across the country, including thoroughbred, quarter horse and harness racing. No matter which breed a person prefers they can find it on TVG.

TVG also offers some of the best original programming of any sports network. The Finish Line offers an in-depth recap of the stakes from the past week with expert analysis. Blinkers Off provides viewers with a lively debate between Matt Carouthers and Mike Watchmaker (or Dan Illman). The Quarters has made me a fan of Los Al and quarter horse racing, by providing live coverage and expert knowledge. Drive Time provides great coverage of harness racing. The best show of all, however appears to be coming to an end, The Works. The Works provides on track coverage of the contenders for the Kentucky Derby and Breeders Cup. Every person that had anything good to say about TVG has mentioned The Works as being the best program.

Now for the things that need to be changed. First and foremost is the per wager fee. Takeouts are too high and per wager fees only increase the money taken from bettors that is not returned. I understand that if a person wagers enough money then the per wager fees are waived, but for the $2 bettor or the people like me that spend $50 to $100 a week do not qualify for this benefit. I have not placed a wager through TVG for several years now because I refuse to pay $2.25 for a $2.00 win bet. Maybe the per wager fee structure has changed but I know it still exists. There are plenty of options out there that offer their services for free and though I do not have access to the exact numbers I know that many people choose those sites over TVG for that simple reason.

The next biggest negative is the fact that TVG (and HRTV for that matter) can only provide television coverage and wagering on certain tracks. It is extremely frustrating to only see half the races or to be limited to wagering on certain tracks because of the "exclusive" contracts. With the loss of Churchill Downs Inc. tracks and the potential loss of NYRA tracks when ownership changes TVG will have little to offer. Now is the time to rethink the "exclusive" track contracts and to work out an arrangement with the competition (HRTV) to share signals. Imagine a few years from now having to compete with another network that has all the big tracks all year round. The winters are brutal now, but they will only be worse with the loss of Aqueduct and Fairgrounds. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that viewers will defect in order to see Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Fairgrounds on HRTV. That will leave TVG with Turfway as its top track, not exactly the number one track on most peoples radar. Spring and summer will not be much better, sure there is Keeneland, Monmouth and Hollywood (?)/Del Mar but what about Arlington, Calder, Churchill Downs/Ellis Park and Belmont/Saratoga? The Fall will be as bad as the Winter with HRTV showing Belmont, Churchill and Oak Tree and TVG only having two or three weeks of Keeneland. I am sure that this is obvious but I wanted to point it out anyway.

The two other big complaints that many people have are the ticket limits/ticket structures and the choice of certain on-air personalities. The idea that a ticket should a) be limited to a maximum dollar amount and b) be limited to one ticket is rediculous. I understand that TVG wants to provide cost effective options to inexperienced or small money bettors but you are doing it the wrong way. Think about it for a minute, if a bettor walks into the track with $50 do you think that they will want to bet a few dollars on each of the live races or focus all of their money on a Pick 4? The same applies for someone sitting in their living room. Who wants to be tapped out on one bet and have to watch every race the rest of the day with no money to play with? TVG has turned into a Pick 4 and Pick 6 promoter. It makes sense to promote those wager types that provide the best opportunity to make large sums of money in only a few hours but it alienates the small exotic bettors that play Daily Doubles, Pick 3's, Exacta's and Trifecta's. I applaud the promotion of the $0.10 superfecta's on Drive Time, but do not understand why they are not mentioned on any other tracks (Turfway, Oak Tree, Hollywood, etc.) that offer them. I also can not comprehend how and why expert handicappers can provide inefficient exotic wagers. Rule number one for any exotic wager is to play multiple tickets, focusing more money on those combinations that the bettor prefers, while limiting the money spent on the combinations including outsiders or savers (Crist, Cramer, etc.). TVG has never to my knowledge provided an exotic wager in this way. Every Pick 4 is one ticket, limited to a $50 maximum. Using one ticket is simpler yes, but it is the most inefficient and lazy way to play. For roughly the same amount of money a multi-ticket wager would provide the bettor with a little less coverage but with the possibility of hitting the bet more then one time. On top of this the ticket limit of $50 is rediculous. I still remember the night that Todd Schrup was live in the late Pick 4 at Hollywood and was 10 deep in the last race. Mr. Schrup was 10 deep because the race was so inscrutable that he had no strong opinion, moreoever he was only 10 deep because that was the maximum number of horses he could use in that race to stay under the $50 limit. Of course one of the 4 other horse won, the Pick 4 paid in the thousands and Mr. Schrup was distraught. Had there been no limit he would have likely used all 14 runners and hit the Pick 4 and been ahead for the year for his on air tickets. I hope that he used all 14 on his own ticket if he played. This is just one example that I can remember of this happening, but I am sure it has occurred many other times. This is not to say that the tickets provided on air or on the website should be for hundreds of dollars but to enforce a strict limit is rediculous.

Lastly is the choice of certain on-air personalities. I will not name any names but most agree that the "hosts" add no value to the programming. Instead of relegating one of the normal handicappers to reading from a script allow them to handicap the races. The more opinions the better as maybe they will provide that one bit of detail that everyone else missed. The other people that are always "hosts" need to go, they provide no relevant information and fail at trying to be the funny person on the set. Some people have gone as far as saying they mute the television when these people are on the set.

I will end this letter with a thank you for providing me and many other fans the opportunity to see racing every day from our living rooms. I hope that TVG can change for the better and continue to provide us with many more years of the sport we love.

Thank you for your time and best of luck,

Lenny Moon

--------------------------

If you see something I missed, which is possible because I did not include every little gripe, write your own letter and include it. The more people that write the better chance we have of making them listen.

Lenny

Steve D said...

Well done, Lenny! I found out about Tom Quigley (Publisher of the Horseplayer Magazine)'s offer to take letters from readers/viewers personally to TVG right before deadline. With apologies for not being as complimentary or eloquent as Lenny, here's what I wrote:


Six fixable problems:
1. Too much talk and not enough races. Typically, this criticism is made by people who don't like Matt or Todd's analysis and such, but I think there is a more simple problem. It is of no consequence to me who the owner, breeder or trainer of the winner is after the race is won. In addition, there is no need to comment on the job that the trainer did getting the horse ready for the race, unless it's some sort of Dickinson-like feat of winning at 1 1/2 miles off a two-year layoff. I'm exaggerating here, but you get the point. Time spent on these frivolous details is time that could have been spent showing another race.

2. Too much payoff graphics and talk and not enough races. This specifically refers to the posting of payoffs. Why? I can get that off the internet, and if that's not available to me, I can call up my ADW and find out how much more money is in my account and do the math from there. I DO NOT need Ken reading off the payoffs to me. Move it along. Unless some type of extreme event took place in the race...trouble, a close photo, or whatever, TVG needs to always be looking ahead, not backward. That's what Tivo is for.

3. Incessant touting by unaccountable commentators. What are Matt, Todd, Vic and Simon's ROI on the Pick 4s and Pick 6s that they endlessly discuss? Honestly, don't answer that. Let's just stop the touting altogether. Analysts should quickly and briefly analyze the race. What's the pace scenario? Are there any horses that lead you to wonder, "What exactly are you doing here?" Did any horse benefit from a track bias last time out or vice versa? Maybe a quick replay of a tough trip a contender had last time out. This analysis should be able to be accomplished in under a minute, save for feature races, which should be limited to stakes with purses of at least six figures. What I can't take hearing anymore are commentators making out fundamentally unsound Pick 6 tickets for $76.

The elimination of the above should allow for significantly more coverage of actual racing. At least 10 races an hour, maybe more. Never...NEVER...should more than 5 minutes be spent gearing up for any race worth less than $100k. It's just sensless. I'm interested in the post parade, win odds, and the race. That's it.

4. Why all the different programming? The NFL doesn't show the first quarter of a game in one style, the second quarter in a different style, and mix it up some more for the third and fourth, do they? From noon to eight eastern, TVG is showing horse racing, plain and simple. The same thing, day in and day out. No need to mix it up, except on weekends, as a little added coverage for top quality stakes is welcome (but not to the detriment of showing more races!). Anytime TVG adds "innovative programming" it makes me feel almost embarrassed to be watching it.

5. Eliminate harness and quarter horse racing. Thoroughbreds are distinct from these two sports...we should try and keep it that way.

6. Supplemental programming is good, if done well. The Works is a fantastic show and I will miss it, if it is discontinued. Blinkers Off is a good concept, but atrociously executed. Putting some production dollars into behind the scenes looks at some trainers might be good; additionally, general handicapping education programs, as well. With Tivo and DVRs becoming more prevelant, you could air these shows early in the morning or late at night, and people would still find a way to see them.


I'm glad to have gotten the chance to express my feelings, but I believe many of these issues are tied to TVGs main problem: it's business model. I believe that they should be paid by racing to put it on TV, as opposed to showing racing in order to generate handle as an ADW. That's what's gotten us into these problems in the first place. Even if it would perfectly address the points I have above and begin to provide outstanding programming 24 hours a day, I think the business model would continue to create problems for racing. If such change is not in the works, then I don't know if programming improvements are going to do much good, but it's nice to know they want to try.

Thanks,
Steve D


PS-Regarding the Pick 4 & Pick 6 stuff, I think having Crist produce a 1 hour show on the intricacies of the Pick 6 and showing that over and over again during off-peak hours would be far better than having Matt & Todd share their idiotic plays.

cakejomo said...

I used to be a TVG subscriber, it was on several hours a day in my home. My kids ages 9 and 11 used to have great fun rooting for my friends horses. Then one day comes an advertisement for "Male Enhancement pills" in the middle of the day. I can tell you this is not something I want my young kids exposed to, Needless to say I cancelled it that day and my kids have not seen a horse race since. I sent E-Mails to all the industry leaders ( including TVG) and not one bothered to respond. Some of my kids fondest memories on the backside are being put in a big feed bucket when they were little and hooked up to the hot walker like a carnival ride. Hard the think TVG was so desparate for advertising revenue they sacrficed some future fans, personally I hope TVG goes fully under.

Coleman Lloyd said...

Nancy,
Just a note to say Terry Thompson is moving his tack to Delaware Park after this afternoons program @ Prairie Meadows
Coleman Lloyd(