Pony Up: It’s Not Your Father’s Daily Racing Form

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Not long after I began working in the Los Angeles office of Daily Racing Form in the early 1980s I paid a visit to my parents, who at the time were living near Seattle. They weren’t horse racing fans but became interested because of my job, which they didn’t understand since they’d never seen a copy of the paper that, at the time, was the only source of past performance information at American racetracks. We went to now-defunct Longacres one weekend afternoon and grabbed some unreserved seats in the grandstand. I got programs and copies of the Form, which my parents were stunned to learn cost $1.50 each. It was time for a session of Handicapping 101, and I explained that each horse’s past performances were very much like the statistics on the back of a baseball card, and that Daily Racing Form had a monopoly on those statistics. If you wanted to make an informed wager, you needed to buy the Form.


“It’s a very profitable business,” I assured them, and it was. Walter Annenberg owned the Form, along with the essential TV Guide and Seventeen magazine for adolescent girls. They were all part of what was known as Triangle Publications, a privately held company that helped make Annenberg a billionaire.

My father was very analytical and a no-nonsense kind of guy. “Okay, I get it,” he said. “But what do you do for the paper?”

I explained that I edited the stories that appeared on the front and other editorial pages, wrote the headlines and captions, and did some of the handicapping that appeared under the Sweep, Hermis, Handicap, or Analyst pseudonyms.

As I was puffing out my chest in great pride, a group of horseplayers sat down in front us, each of them with a Daily Racing Form. They pulled off the first several pages, folded them into the slats of their seats and sat down. All of my hard work turned out to be nothing more than a seat saver!

“Useful,” my dad said with a smile, pointing to other seats in the area that were saved by the front pages of the paper.

Truth is, all of us who worked at the Form knew the “guts” of the paper – the past performances – were the reason people bought this most expensive daily newspaper in America.

I thought of that Longacres experience yesterday when a mini-storm erupted on Twitter and some social networking sites because Daily Racing Form started charging $10 per month for much of the online editorial content that goes into the printed daily product.

Times have changed.

First of all, the Daily Racing Form charges a bit more than $1.50. It’s been so long since I’ve purchased one (I get past performances online now), I have no idea what their current cover price is. I did read in one online forum that, along with charging for its editorial content, Daily Racing Form has downsized its paper product to a smaller size (without downsizing the price). I don’t think it’s quite as profitable as it was during its monopolistic era.

Racetracks are mostly empty these days. There’s no need to slip a newspaper into the slats of a grandstand seat to save it.

If my dad were still around, he’d probably just bring his iPad to the track.

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  • kyle

    Ten bucks a month to read trainers tell you how well their horses are eating, Steven Crist to tell the same about himself, and Dick Jerardi to insist for the umpteenth time that addition and division constitute high math and unassailable science. Seems like a deal. I predict a long life.

    • FadedGlory

      Amen.

  • Glimmerglass

    The writing was on the wall as no publication, especially with as much debt as the buyouts have accumulated, can give away content for ever. Living off pop-up ads is not where the money is made. Further their decision to go behind a pay-wall had been reported a while ago. e.g., Greg Hall mentioned it in July of this year >

    http://blogs.courier-journal.com/horsebiz/2013/07/10/survey-says-daily-racing-form-appears-headed-for-paywall/

    If anyone was caught off guard by the actual date they just were ignoring the assorted ‘countdown’ banners on the site as well. Maybe it was assumed that only the data portion would be hidden and less so the general interest type stories. The DRF puts out one of the few sources of broad original content (vs. others just waiting for barn notes or press releases) and I cannot begrudge them for wanting revenue for it.

    • Knowitall

      And you won’t begrudge DRF when they lose traffic, lose fans, potential bettors and customers, and disappoint the advertisers with far less hits? The editorial was the content that attracted the paying customer. If they win this bet and gain enough paying customers to offset the loss of eyes, more power to them.

      But it is a very specific niche sport trying to ATTRACT fans, and should encourage and enable them to spend their money at the window….instead of closing the door and hanging out the No Vacancy sign.

      • Glimmerglass

        You’re right – I won’t begrudge them. It’s a private enterprise, this isn’t some government mandated role they play in the industry and for that it must be access for all.

        If their user base shrinks, revenue drops, and it becomes as much of a flop a JC Penny’s ‘always low pricing’ strategy did then they’ll change. It’s not like I as a consumer am exempt from the impact – I don’t work for them and pay right alongside everyone else if I want the access.

        The notion that somehow the DRF is such a backbone pillar that any restriction with some articles is at the peril of the industry is overblown. Make that charge against Equibase and their charge-for-data roll.

  • Don Reed

    When I grow up, I want to be a pop-up ad.

    • LongTimeEconomist

      Don, you already pop up on here more often than the pop up ads on any computer.

      • Don Reed

        True.

        • nu-fan

          I enjoy, as well as look forward to, your comments as well as those of LongTimeEconomist. Both you bring sanity to this crazy world we live in. Thank you.

          • Don Reed

            I for one somehow end up burdening the supply of what sanity we have with doses of the opposite, in spite of my best intentions. Thank goodness LTE is here to restore the balance.

  • PTP

    Funny story. And pretty apropos.

    PTP

  • Steve

    The sooner the racing industry realizes that they don’t need the DRF the sooner this sport can start expanding. Make the tracks pay for the PPS and make them free to the world. Hurry up!

  • Joltman

    I for one liked the hard copy DRF for not only the PPs but yes, the stories – even the summaries presented by Sweep, Hermis et. al.. I recall reading the stories by the likes of Joe Hirsch and others who put a rich context to a race – some history, the barns, and the ‘feel’ that you were doing more than gazing at the latest 10 claimer in an otherwise empty day. Even the little articles about what else was going on the world had something of value. Steve Klein had some great insights into the Ky circuit. They used to sell the hard copy in town where I live, but now i can’t even get it at Cnl in full – only the PPs printout. Getting the whole DRF and spending some quality time with it on a race day at the track was a lot better than the TV crank em out stuff of today.

    • Chris Lowe

      I still get almost exclusively hard copy, even with betting from my laptop.

    • Anne Mayea

      I live in Oregon and there is nowhere outside of Portland where you can get a hard copy DRF anymore even if I wanted to buy one.

      • Lost In The Fog

        There are a few places outside of the Portland metro area where you can still buy the paper version of the DRF, specifically the OTB locations in Eugene/Springfield, Salem, Bend and Medford.

    • FastBernieB

      If I recall correctly, there also used to be a small blurb in there called “World News” so that those of us who only read the Form could still know something about major world events if we wished.

      • Leonard Willschick

        I think that content was included so they could technically qualify as a real newspaper.

        • Sinking Ship

          Yes, that is correct. Used to be about 3 small paragraphs near the front of the paper.

          • we’re watching

            It is still printed there, bottom right of page 2.

            The problem with online form is they invite you to comment on their blogs, but if you disagree with them, the moderator will getcha.

  • thestockbroker

    I get the DRF pp’s free from my ADW (they pay DRF) however I still buy the actual hard copy of the nat’l edition 5x a week (i’m in So Cal) as I have done since ~1966, just like a book vs. a Kindle, there’s something about holding the full paper, especially the comments in the margins that are NOT in the downloaded copy.

  • jponyplayer

    Timeform people gotta love this…. Speaking of hard copy, anybody remember the old Morning Telegraph circa early 60`s? You had to be a magician to know how to fold it just right so as not to take up 3 seats on the “Aqueduct Express” from Times Square. That was the greatest train ride in America for just 50 cents. It would barrel all through Brooklyn at breakneck speed, like a crazy Coney Island ride. As much fun as a Saturdays at the Big A….Does Wes Gaffer like Kelso or Gun Bow in the Jockey Gold Cup? God I`m gettin’ old.

    • kochrepellent

      I remember it well. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Leonard Willschick

      Thanks for the memories. I think that I still have a few old copies of the Morning Telegraph stored somehere.

    • Ron Hale

      You’re right. It was a cool ride. Left from the bowels of the Times Square Station, several floors down. Made only one stop at Hoyt-Schermerhorn in Brooklyn. I still have one of the oversized tokens that you used. I loved every trip to New York.

      • jponyplayer

        Thanks Ron, glad somebody remembers.
        When I`d first get inside the Big A I`d go straight to one of the Harry M Stevens concession stands for a paper cup of chili, spicy hot dog and a couple of Schaefer beers, all for about $2.50

        That made me a winner even before the “Double” What really cracked me up was after the last race all the guys lined up for the buses to Roosevelt Raceway to “get even” Lastly, Cappy`s “It is nowww poost tiiiimme” Please, let me go back there, just once

    • Numberedaccount

      Yes remember the old Telegraph, hearing Cappy calling the races, seeing Kelso and Carry Back on Saturdays and seeing Sunny Jim in the winners circle and riders such as Arcaro, Baeza, Manny Ycaza, Bobby Ussery, Johnny Sellers etc. Also the great old stables, like Greentree, Wheatley, Belair, Bieber-Jacobs, Hobeau Farm, Tartan Farm and a young Frances Genter and most all the large crowds at the tracks.

      Seeing great fillies and mares like Tosmah, Native Street, Cicada, Affectionately, Straight Deal, Moccasin, Priceless Gem, What A Treat and my personal favorite, Dark Mirage

      • Michael Castellano

        You left out Fager! No longer need the old Telegram to save a seat at the track, unfortunately. I remember Dark Mirage, she was as I recall was a small but tough little horse. Most of the fast ones around today are cripples that race less than 15 times in a career. Also remember the other horses you mention. I remember having to stand on a stairways railing opposite the finish line sometimes, Aqueduct used to be so crowded in the 1960s. But we were right on the finish line up high, and could call even a nose finish accurately.

  • Sunshine Bonnie

    I get PP from Brisnet, and as long as I place a bet on Twin Spires for that track, they’re free. Works for me.

    • hype22redux

      brisnet is in no way comparable to the form ,sadly

  • powaymojo

    He forgot to mention those of us going out to the track for the last race, getting to park and enter for free and trying to fish a DRF out of the trash, with no loogies on it. Ah, the good ol’ days. Now, all you have to worry about is picking up some malware while fishing for handicapping dope.

  • Steven Tyre CPA

    Adding to the comments on Aqueduct in the 60′s. The only advance wager available was the Double on the last two races which could be purchased after the 5th race. Also the tote machines locked at post time. Remember the hurdles or steeplechase which was usually the 3rd?

    Steven Tyre CPA

    • guest

      Totes do not lock anymore? That explains alot. And folks still think this game is fixed. Where would anyone get an idea like that, hmmm…

  • Kingturf

    I remembered the Racing Times…even though it was short lived in the early 90′s and DRF purchased them and extracted some of their information, I made a killing at the Gulfstream and Keenland meet in 1991. I have used DRF web formulator this past year and while it’s over loaded on information, the hidden secrets of catching longshots first time out or returning into a condition that was not in DRF has been exposed….I missed spending time doing the research to catch bombs. With information like we have today, a horse like Opening Verse would’ve never paid 26-1 in the Breeder’s Cup mile, which I still think is one of the best overlay longshot lock ever in the B.C. ( horse broke track record in a mile 1/8 Graded race earlier that year at CD and won the mile Graded Race at Keenland early that spring with triple digit Byers) something DRF did not have yet.

    • Michael Castellano

      Best long shot of this year had to be “Princess of Sylmar” who won a grade 1 at either Keenland or Churchill Downs at 37 – 1. And she could be a horse of the year, depending on the BC results. I missed that unfortunately, as I only bet the New York tracks.

  • Jahura2

    While we are getting romantic about the form. I was a young undergrad at Eastern Ky. Univ in the 70′s. I used to walk downtown and wait at the diner on main street for the greyhound bus to come in that had todays Racing Forms for Keeneland. They used to come attached at the top and you had to split them open with your hand like a letter opener.
    Then myself and a buddy would skip afternoon classes and drive to spauldings doughnuts in Lexington and eat and handicap outside of the local dairy queen while we waited for the track to open. A much simpler time. Spauldings doughnuts? I would match them against anybodys!

  • Michael Castellano

    I have been around the track since the days of Dr. Fager and Kelso and they were known as “The Morning Telegraph”. I was also a DRF Bets member and bet hundreds a week with them currently and bought the PPs also. All that was for nothing when they upped the anti and started charging for content. So I immediately switched my bets to NYRA, and could also switch to other sources as you are no doubt aware. Their “news” is mostly available elsewhere for free. I guess racing too may soon suck all its fans dry. But this was a slap in the face that I would not tolerate.

  • hype22redux

    while I download the charts online I feel the pricing is askew,if you buy the form (paper version ) you get at least three tracks and story content,but for a single track it is 2.95….I would gladly pay 4.95 just to get 3 tracks but sadly no such option exists,also you don’t get the articles,you also don’t get the side handicapping comments etc…to me the online is expensive and easily is cheaper to produce than print version

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