24 August 2020

Questions (That Have Terrible Answers)

OK, here we go again. This blog post will change nothing, but here are some horse racing related questions that currently have terrible answers: 

Why can the Olympics time each runner accurately to the 1/100th of a second, but horse racing can't? 

Why do run ups exist especially when it comes to dirt/Tapeta racing?  

Why are some trainers still "risking it" with designer drugs? 

Why are there track takeouts north of 15%? 

Why do jackpot bets exist? 

Why are there inquiries that last more than 5 minutes? 

Why does one have to claim a horse prior to a race and not after the race? 

Why are horses allowed to breed before they reach 6 years old? 

Why is it legal for a grown adult to carry a gun in public in Texas, but that same person can't make a legal horse racing bet online? 

Why do big name trainers, who pretty much train in name only at some tracks, not have a reasonable limit to how many horses they can train nationwide? 

Why aren't there universal rules when it comes to fines and penalties, and betting? Why isn't there a nationwide horse racing lottery?

8 April 2020

Who Is Racing and When Will Racing Start Up Worldwide and some Track Takeout Info (Updated)

Currently the following tracks are racing Updated April 11th:

US Tracks
Fonner Park - season ends May 4th
Tampa Bay Downs - season ends May 3rd
Oaklawn Park - season ends May 2nd
Gulfstream Park - season is year long
Los Alamitos Quarter horses - season is year long
Remington Park Quarter horses - season ends May 30th
Will Rogers - season ends May 23rd

There is no racing going on in Canada, and no harness racing going on in North America

Foreign Tracks
Australia both Thoroughbreds and Harness are continuing to race
Takeout rates: WPS 16.8% ExQuinDD 24.8% SupP3P4 26.3% Tri 27.8%
Sweden Harness racing
Takeout rates: WPS 15% QuinEx 20% Double 25% Tri 30% V75 35%
Hong Kong Thoroughbred Racing
Takeout rates: WPQuinOmni 17.5% Tri 25%
Japan Thoroughbred Racing
Takeout rates: WP 20% P3P4 27% All Other 25%

Now the hard part. When will racing begin again?:

UK Racing is suspended until at least the end of April.
Irish Racing is suspended until at least May 4th.
South African Racing is suspended until at least April 16th. Still no word, and with no entries, expect a further delay.
Singapore Racing is suspended at least until May 4th
France Racing is suspended until at least April 15th, but that date is expected to extended. No update.
South Korea is slated to return April 18th. No update.
New Zealand is suspended to at least least April 22nd No update


North American racing is a complete guessing game. Even though racing without the presence of crowds seems workable, many tracks survive because of gaming revenues. Until casinos are back
in business, horse racing may be further delayed in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Louisiana and Ohio. Those states are currently hot spots as far as the virus goes. The bright side is that states definitely want casinos back as quickly as possible because of the revenues casinos generate, but how realistic is it to open up slots and table games with social distancing going on?

Horsemen have made their case as well. The longer this goes on, the more the bills (unpaid?) mount, and the longer horses will need to train to get into horse racing shape if they are taken out of training for financial reasons.

California should be the first to initiate a new A meet (Los Alamitos is currently running). They are not dependent on casino revenues in California. If a handful of tracks open up in the rest of
the US, they might actually attract enough wagering dollars to pay for the show, but too many tracks running will make it impossible for casino dependent tracks to operate successfully. Once the curve flatten look for A racing to begin at Los Alamitos, Del Mar or Santa Anita. Cal Expo's spring meet has officially been cancelled.

Ontario racing is trickier as funds are already allotted to horse racing in lieu of gaming revenues, as tracks don't need slots to race. Right now, Ontario is in strict lock down, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Fort Erie is planning to open up their backstretch as scheduled on April 12th and they still believe they will be racing live late May. Woodbine looks like they won't start up until at least the middle of June, maybe early July, but that is a fluid situation. Late May might be an achievable date for Ontario harness racing. More than likely, horse racing will happen in Ontario before it happens in British Columbia and Alberta, but once racing does start up in Ontario, the other provinces will be pressured to start up shortly thereafter.





26 March 2020

Coronavirus Predictions

When it comes to the Coronavirus, nobody knows for sure, but there sure as heck isn't a shortage of opinions and predictions, so let me join the party.

I think the biggest hint we got was yesterday. And it wasn't from someone hoping churches are filled Easter Day, it was the details of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. For a government to dole out $2,000 per affected worker as a one shot deal is a big thing, but to give it out for four months is a huge thing. The government is telling us that much of the economy is going to be in the dumps for at least 4 months. They could have said three months, and many people would have been equally relieved (relative relief that is vs. no bail out).

The Woodbine Entertainment CEO kinda sorta put out an unofficial hopeful date of July 1 as the start up date for Woodbine's thoroughbred season with lots of caveats added. It could be sooner, it could be next year as well. I think that the date will depend on what happens in the UK but mostly in the US. Will Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs and Santa Anita continue to run without a major backstretch outbreak of positives (not talking Navarro positives....actually the positives didn't exist because he was using grey area magic to win races....but that is another can of performance enhancer worms horse racing will have to deal with very soon) or a government shutdown order?

Can the backstretch maintain the 6 foot social distancing rule enough? How important is horse racing really? Does it really have the agriculture industry impact it states it has? We'll see if racing starts up again in Ohio and Pennsylvania in April. Many are hoping for early April. I doubt it in most cases. I strongly believe we are going to see some ugly numbers when it comes to Coronavirus casualties just before the flattening of the curve (I really hope I'm wrong, but science is usually right). And factoring in March break returnees and the fact the States were late to react and Canada was even later, I think it might take until the last week of April to see that flattening, maybe a little longer in Canada.

On a more optimistic note, Singapore has found a way to keep their casino open, and I think it is a pretty fair bet that the virus has a better chance to spread in a casino than a horsemen only racetrack. Governments love casinos. If they could keep them open they would. And in a lot of jurisdictions horse racing exists only because of casino revenue. This is making me think that much of the decision to not let races go on without people in the stands is tied into when is a reasonable date to open up the casinos.

I'm predicting late April, early May for racing in North America to wind back in gear without people in the stands. I expect to see the UK back up third week of April. After all, horse racing is the only game in town (too bad even if they were running right now and for those few tracks running, the game just won't catch on because of the high rake mo matter how little competition there is).

With Churchill Downs announcing the Kentucky Derby's September date, I wonder if that opens the door for a later date going forward. Not September but maybe July or August. I think it would be good for the game. More durable horses, more mature horses to choose from, a race with a lot more quality. We might not get the quality this year due to the stoppage, but if this was a normal year with a later Derby, well you get my point.



28 November 2019

Where Does Horse Racing Go From Here?

Horse racing has an uphill battle going forward. The biggest problem has nothing to do with horse safety, it has to do with horse racing's inability to attract new Horseplayers.

With a base that is literally starting to die off, there doesn't seem to be many replacements willing to learn the game. After blowing a near monopoly when it comes to online gambling for years and years, I don't see how horse racing can compete with sports betting. Gamblers looking for home runs can take 5 or 6 team parlays instead of betting Pick 4s or Pick 5s.

Horse racing know nothings say things like "the time between races is a deterrent to growth." Yet a football game, with 8-10 minutes of actual play in a game that takes 3 hours to finish, attracts oodles and oodles of action, and it even gets millennials, with their shortened attention spans, to take up gambling.

Know nothings will also say that horse racing is too complicated. When I was 4, I understood what a win bet was. Blue haired ladies without a racing form can figure out how to make and get paid on a show bet. OK, I couldn't figure out how to figure out show prices until I was 10 (this was before net pool pricing made it so you need a degree in math to figure out show prices).

The reason horse racing doesn't grow is really simple. I've stated it on this blog many many many times, but here I go once more: HORSE RACING NEEDS VISIBLE LONG TERM WINNERS IN ORDER GROW.

Of course, it boils down to ridiculously high track takeouts. How can any person reasonably believe that you can make money in a high churn gambling game that takes an average of 20-21% on all monies wagered? Even if you are "lucky" enough to be receiving a 5% rebate, it isn't realistic that one could beat a takeout of 15%. In the past, it might have been possible. Back when it was the only game in town (before lotteries and slots), there was enough dummy money (in the 60s and early 70s, a large chunk of players didn't even use a form when they made a bet) in the pools to possibly eke out long term profits. Today, just about all the money in the daily pools come from handicappers who could pass a university level course in horse racing.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a fix on pricing on the horizon. Probably why I'm so pessimistic. How can horse racing possibly attract new blood without stories of how Johnny Smith made enough money betting on horses that he moved out of his parent's basement and into a detached home in Forest Hill (in Toronto, Google it).

There are a couple of ways keep takeout high on exotics and attract newbies, but lets look at things horse racing is doing now, that won't work.

Jackpot bets don't grow the game. They most likely help kill the game. Tying up money that goes to one big winner eventually kills churn, and therefore whittles away at the Horseplayer's potential fun. It isn't worth the fun of hoping to hit the bet. The reason the Jackpot came along was to attract newbies, it hasn't worked, but now it has evolved as a way to compete with other tracks in getting the Horseplayer to play the track with a big pool. Short term thinking by racetracks at the expense of cutting long term growth has plagued horse racing for decades.

The underhanded whip is going way too far. I'm all for the safety of the horse and jockey, but having jockeys whip underhanded won't cut down fatalities. Horse racing is worried about perception, but changing the way a jockey whips a horse isn't going to attract one new bettor (it is still whipping anyway). The one's on the outside complaining of the cruelty of horse racing wouldn't bet if cyborgs replaced horses. The softer whip and restriction of the amount of times a horse can be whipped is the way to go. It should stop there. And at least give those two new rules a chance to show some long term results before putting jockeys (especially those who have been at it for a long time) in a position to switch the way they are used to doing things. From a handicapping perspective, I have less confidence when I know the jockeys are doing something they are not used to. Just educate the public on the softer whip, end of story.

I do think that changing to artificial surfaces is necessary to keep the game alive. Horse fatalities are an issue that could be the final nail in the coffin for the industry (see Florida greyhound racing). No matter how much one hates to handicap races on Tapeta (I don't mind it), you can't argue that Tapeta surfaces produce less deaths. A soft tissue injury isn't the same thing as a dead horse no matter how you look at it. There is no way to eliminate all deaths in horse racing, but cutting down the number should be a thing to do.

Drugs and super trainers who may be using them on horses hurt the game. Owners bring out newbies to the track. Some could start betting, some could enter the game as new owners in a partnership. When super trainers dominate, owners start to disappear. You can't claim from them, and you don't want to drop a horse in for a win knowing you might face one of their horses who has a great chance of beating you, and to top it off, you lose your horse to the super trainer outfit.

When it comes to drugs and the growing the game with everyday Horseplayers, I don't think overall handle is hurt, but one might stop wagering at one track in favor of others. Eliminating drugs by itself won't help grow the game. Now, if you lower takeout enough to create visible winners, getting rid of drugs will be demanded by the newer players.

What Can Horse Racing Do To Attract New Players?

Here is what I wrote 7 years ago:

NATION-WIDE LOTTERY

A great way to get more customers is to have a nation wide lottery where tickets can be bought at store kiosks, online at ADWs (the races involved must be carried by all ADWs), and at all tracks, there should be no reason why someone who wants to buy a ticket can't. The lottery should go once a week (Saturdays). A Pick 8. Field size must be large in order to possibly have carryovers, so races need to picked with weather reports in mind.

A website should be created with free past performances for all the races involved. A quick sheet giving the top contenders for each race should be available at tracks and store kiosks. Players can do quick picks, contender quick picks, or pick their own. Consolation prizes can be awarded to those who pick the most winners on carryover days, or the second most winners when the pool is won, as well as those who pick the first four or last four winners, thus keeping the player's interest alive for many of the races.

A nation-wide lottery a sure fire way to get more people introduced to horse racing.


If the nation-wide jackpots are high enough, I see no reason why people who have little understanding when it comes to handicapping, won't take a shot at a quick pick, and then eventually some will try to learn a bit more and who knows, maybe bet the odd individual race eventually.

The other way to attract newbies is with a low takeout exchange for win and show wagering. It can't just be Jersey. Liquidity is needed. Horse racing is perfect for exchange wagering. Newbies, you know the ones with the short term attention span will love it. The constant cashing will give the casual player the illusion that long term winning is just a little more work away, and there will be actual long term winners created. I think exchange betting should eliminate parimutuel pools for win place and show in a perfect world. Bottom line on WPS for tracks will most likely increase if done correctly and I believe that it will create more players getting involved in parimutuel exotic wagering as the game becomes more popular.

Horse racing can continue to go with the status quo: shrinking handle, especially taking inflation and population growth into account, or they can get with the program. Unfortunately, if horse racing's history read like a past performance chart, it would appear that a super trainer wouldn't even attempt to touch this horse.











7 May 2019

My Two Cents On The Kentucky Derby DQ

The Kentucky Derby is a throw the ref whistle away race. With 19 or 20 young horses going a mile and a quarter, you have to expect infractions. Throw in a wet track, and it is next to impossible not to have cutting off, herding, checking, etc. Watch any Derby replay ever run and find me a race where no infractions occurred. Heck, watch the 18 horse during the first furlong and the havoc he causes.

The Stewards know this is a throw the whistle away race going in. This is why they didn't put up an inquiry, in fact, objections in the Derby are rare. To my knowledge, the Stewards have not initiated any of them.

Had a jockey claim of foul not been made on Saturday, I contend that 99% of horse racing's fans and bettors would be completely content with Maximum Security, the best horse in the race by far, winning the race, even if an analyst or two pointed out that there was a possible infraction. The analysts would be able to say that an inquiry wasn't called because "it is the Kentucky Derby, historically an aggressively ridden race, this year on a sloppy racetrack." And you know what? That would have been fine and true.

Had that happened, the biggest debate among gamblers would be the magical re-breaking of Maximum Security at the head of the stretch. Many might be speculating on the drug results. Not too many people care about that right now. Just an aside, the newbies would be seeing the re-breaking as the signs of a super horse. It would actually be good for horse racing in the short term.

But there was a claim of foul. The jockeys who claimed foul put the Stewards between a rock and a hard place. An obvious infraction in high definition. Believe me, I can't begrudge their decision even though I disagree with it. Now, instead of 99% of people happy with the best horse winning the race, only around 50% are happy what's his name was placed first.

There is a lot of subjectivity going around. Did War of Will herd a horse or two making his way to the outside? Did he initiate contact with Maximum Security causing the shift in the first place? Or did Maximum security shy away from reflections on the track or was he spooked by the crowd? The last two possibilities were obviously not good enough excuses to keep in first place ONCE THE FOUL WAS CALLED.

Again, this decision wasn't cut and dry, that is why it took so long to reach a verdict.

I'm from the school that if a unanimous decision can't be made within three minutes, let the results stand. I know there are quite a few who are in the take as much time as you want to get it right camp, I just disagree. I also disagree with interviewing the jockeys. Do basketball or football refs interview the players when doing play reviews?

So what happens next? I think a pretty rough precedence has been set. More claims of foul are going to be made and more horses are going to be thrown out, even in big races. And the Kentucky Derby could become a big casualty because of the all the infractions that happen in the most exciting two minutes in sports.

The smart thing to do will be to reduce the field size to 14 starting next year. I don't think it will hurt betting by doing that. It might hurt premium seating a bit because 6 less connections will show up on Derby day, but that is a small price to pay to avoid ruining the Derby going forward.





8 January 2019

What Is Cheating In Horse Racing?

When I see accusations that a trainer with a high win percentage cheats I have to ask "What Is Cheating?" There is lots of buzz lately, both pro and con, due to a recent Sun article. The article doesn't really define what cheating is or where the line is drawn. It is hard to cheat when you can't define what cheating is. Cheating of course includes overages and jockeys using buzzers, but what else does cheating include?

Let me bore you with my thoughts.

I recently conducted an unscientific poll on Twitter. The results were the opposite of what I expected:



This illustrates how subjective cheating in horse racing is.

My definition of a super trainer is someone who wins a very high percentage of races. I'll go one step further. I've watched thousands of races in my lifetime and the one thing I've noticed about recent super trainers is the way their horses tend to have a second wind during the stretch run, as if they were buzzed or as if an oxygen tank was turned on mid stretch causing the horse to rebreak.

I've written about super trainers as far back as 9 years ago. It is a fact that some (many?) trainers push the envelope and try new things, things that aren't tested for. We know that, because some have been "caught" doing that. But where is the line when it comes to cheating?

Trainers can use non banned supplements to build a horse up. Is that cheating?

Trainers can use drugs that aren't being tested for to do the same. Is that cheating?

Trainers can use hyperbaric oxygen chambers to build up a horse. Is that cheating?

Trainers can use shock waves or acupuncture to lessen pain. Is that cheating?

What about using plant derivatives to kill pain or increase red blood cell counts? Is that cheating?

I hope you see where I'm coming from. Here is where I'm getting at:

I'm not sure about just going the hay and oats way, but in order to curb "cheating" there has to be a definitive list of approved drugs and treatments. Anything not on the list would count as cheating.
Will that stop cheating? It depends on the on the consequences when one gets caught. Right now, there isn't much of a deterrence out there. How can there be under today's guidelines and rules?


30 June 2018

Horse Racing Fixes That Won't Happen, Queen's Plate Picks

I've been doing this blog for quite some time. I've identified horse racing's biggest problems and offered numerous solutions but very few take. It is very frustrating, but what the heck, I have a few minutes of spare time, so lets play the broken record again.

TAKEOUT

People have many choices when it comes to gambling, from casinos to lottery tickets to fantasy sports. Let's pretend you didn't have a clue about horse racing and decided to investigate it. With a little sleuthing you found out that for every $100 bet, the track only pays out $79. If you were a sane rational human being, would you need to investigate any further? Even compared to fantasy sports where the takeout is around 11%-12% (it used to be 9-11%), horse racing's takeout is far too high to create any sort of buzz.

Can someone become a professional horseplayer anymore and work their way from their mom's basement to Rosedale mansion? Of course not. Horse racing doesn't even try to give you that impression anymore, they've given up on it because it would be an outright lie. Poker and fantasy sports had their success stories, and those very few success stories brought thousands of new players in. News of success stories in gambling have fizzled out as the house advantage as been forced up in the past few years due to extraordinary costs (legal, state licensing, taxes, etc.) gambling companies have had to endure. This hinders growth considerably.

There is no way any horse racing wager should have a takeout of more than 15%, 12% tops for win place and show. But this will never happen because horse racing execs only think short term, as do horsemen groups which have influence on takeout rates in many jurisdictions. Even players who have no clue what the takeout rate is, look into their empty wallet and realize how quickly it was emptied and how little action they had for their buck compared to most other forms of gambling.

With sports betting (average takeout 5%) on the immediate horizon, horse racing is in a heap of trouble.

LASIX

I watched the entire Congressional Hearings on the Horseracing Integrity Act. I'm still not comfortable with horse racing being one word, but besides that, the hearing was pretty much about Lasix.
Elimination of race day Lasix is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the proper simple case was not made.

Fact is that horses have one third the lifetime starts that they used to before Lasix became widespread legal. There are other factors besides Lasix which have caused the decline in starts, such as trainers who charge more pick and choose races to keep their averages up, good horses retiring way too early, and a weakening of the breed (which can be linked to Lasix and other drugs).

Yes, other methods to prevent bleeding were used in the old days, but they were mostly only used on known bleeders. But lets say that the 5% of horse who really need race day Lasix are taken out of racing altogether. You end up with 90-95% averaging double or triple the amount of lifetime starts they have today. Think of the field sizes and bigger field sizes means more betting.

Lasix and other drugs drains horses. Back in the 60's and early 70's horse could easily race once a week. Not anymore.

And contrary to what some drug dependent trainers and their owners might say, Lasix has been used historically to mask other drugs. Of course, this would be drugs that are tested for. No need to mask drugs not tested for.

Problem is that most of the biggest barns do not want to change the status quo. They are on top, and any changes to what is legal and what isn't will most likely mean they won't be on top anymore.
And of course vets don't want to lose their cash cow. Just administering Lasix on race day is a multi million dollar business in North America on its own, and if you add in the other part of the kitchen sink super trainers like to throw into a horse's system prior to a race, including drugs that may be masked, vets make out very good. It won't be so good, if race day drugs are banned.

DRUGS AND SUPER TRAINERS

Pretty obvious that if a trainer hits at 25% or greater running against field sizes that average 7 or more, they are using stuff that isn't being tested for. There are only so many ways to train a horse, and it only seems logical that a trainer with 4 horses who is putting in the work, should at least be on the same playing field as a trainer who has 100+ horses and rarely shows up at the track where the horse races.

Horse racing "cheaters" seem to be a step above the testers, even though they are a step behind cheating bicyclists and body builders. As long as Lasix is allowed, testing horses after a race is futile. The ones who are knowingly pushing the limits on legal drugs or banned drugs, pretty much know they won't get a positive. Save money, only test the winners. What is really needed is a list of drugs that trainers can use and they have to stick to those drugs ONLY. If caught using anything else, fines and suspensions need to hurt them. There needs to be a deterrent. I also think there should be more money devoted to ANONYMOUS narcs.

Something needs to be done, as owners are getting more and more discouraged when they lose to that guy/gal. We all know who that guy is. Every track has a few that guys. And the thing is that owners are good to grow the game. They bring new people to the track: Potential owners and bettors. I actually think this is one issue that racetracks support.

Ban race day Lasix and stop testing horses that don't win after a race, and maybe use those funds for retired horses and injured jockey. Sounds good to me.

HARNESS RACING

They've had ample chance and time to reduce takeout and try to lure thoroughbred players. Handle generally sucks for most tracks and the overwhelming majority of purse money for these tracks comes from slots. But for some unknown reason, they won't adopt my maximum 15% takeout rule.

What else can be done? Free past performances will help a lot. If every harness track had free past performances with decent speed figures (yeah I know speed figures aren't as good in Standardbred racing, but we are talking crossover gamblers now).

Another thing they can do at 1/2 or 5/8th tracks is to have separate draws for post positions. I've proposed this before as well. Crickets. How this works is horses who finished first at the same class or greater last two races, along with horses who finished 2nd last race same condition or greater and droppers who finished 4th or better last start all draw for the worst post positions while all the other horses draw for the best positions (


QUEEN'S PLATE PICKS

I used to be good at picking the winner in the Queen's Plate. Lately, not so good. I think the last winner I picked was Edenwold back in 2006. This year I'm banking on the Due Theory

I've got the race down to "only" 6 contenders. Here they are in program order:

7. Dixie Moon - beat a tough filly last time out. That race may cause a bounce, and something tells me the distance may prevent a top race by her.
9. Say The Word - looks like one who will like the distance. Speed figs put him right in the mix, and his odds should be more than decent. Trainer Motion knows what he is doing. We might just see a peak performance today.
10. Telekinesis - Lumbered to victory in the Trial. His running style might be compromised with post 10, and the distance might be too far. I don't see value but figs are good enough.
11. Wonder Gadot- Her Kentucky Oaks speed fig destroys this field, but it destroyed the field in the Oaks as well, and she lost. She has had three tough races in a row where she has been the bridesmaid. Do you want to take your chances on a win shy filly in 35 degrees Celsius heat? If she is less than 9-2, probably not.
15. Aheadbyacentury - He was racing for third in the Trial and got it. Galloped out well. The distance shouldn't be an issue, and he has arguably the best Woodbine jockey aboard. With a good trip he could be right there at a really nice price.
16. Rose's Vision - Second best in the Trial. The post position should hurt his chances today due to his running style, but his speed figures give him a chance if he has a peak race in him.

I'm going to go for value and make Aheadbyacentury my pick.








13 April 2018

Horse Racing Bet Ideas To Compete With Sports Betting

It looks like horse racing very soon will have to face the inevitable, and compete with sports betting. Horse racing already had to deal with slots. Luckily, in most jurisdictions, the horse racing industry was deemed important enough to get a piece of slots revenues.
It might be a tougher sell in many jurisdictions when it comes to sports betting though.

Lots of questions are still unanswered, like who is going to be the risk taker since betting on sports in its purest and most popular form is not parimutuel? Will tracks and ADWs
be the major hub for sports betting or will Daily Fantasy Sports sites be the biggest player? What cut, if any, will the horse racing industry receive?

The sports leagues are the ones putting on the show, and they are asking for 0.5% of the total handle. Vegas publishes their win numbers every month on all forms of betting. For sports betting, it is usually around 5% of the total handle and it includes single game bets and parlays (which have a larger" juice" rate than the estimated 4.5% for individual games). That means the leagues will most likely be getting around 10% of gross profits. When you add in the states cut and the operator/risk taker cut, there probably won't be much left for horse racing even if they do get a cut.

So let's look at a few bets that horse racing can put out there to directly compete with sports betting. The advantage horse racing has is that a race is over in 2 minutes, while a game is over in 2-3 hours. Even if a parlay is experimented with, it can be over in less than an hour.

The Odds Even Bet
This is not a new idea. It has been tried, unsuccessfully, in the past. A parimutuel wager with a low takeout where one has the option to take all the even numbered horses or all the odd numbered horses in a race. Making this kind of bet anything but
a parimutuel wager would be suicide for a racetrack, but this kind of bet, if promoted nationally, could become successful, and it could be a major stepping stone to exchange wagering. This bet can also be a parlay bet using multiple races with a higher takeout to put it on an equal footing with sports betting.

The Jockey Team Bet
This is a variation of the jockey head to head bet which again has been tried before. Again, this needs to be parimutuel. This idea has quite a few variations that can be used. For example, a computer can figure out which jockeys have the most mounts in North America for race cards that begin between 12 and 2 EDT. Using a formula that incorporates morning line odds, two close to equal teams of 3 jockeys can then compete head to head for total wins.

The Winning Payout Bet
This is a variation of the Odds Even Bet. This has to be another low takeout parimutuel bet. For example, lets assume it is 10 horse field, horseplayers can bet over or under a win payout of $12.55. Of course, tracks can use their historical mean payout price for races of X number of horses as the target price so that there is a good chance that there will be equal action which means a $1.90+ payoff for both sides of the bet, which is equal to sports betting. This too can be a parlay bet as well, using multiple races.


The above piece was recently published in HANA's Horseplayer Monthly. Check out April's Edition, there is a lot of good info and it is free.

26 March 2018

THE JUICE, THE VIG, THE HOUSE EDGE, THE TAKEOUT

With sports betting most likely becoming a reality in the USA in the very near future, I thought it might be a good time to re-publish an article I wrote for HANA two years ago comparing horse racing's competition. For what it is worth, horse racing takeouts range from bet type to bet type and track to track (12% - 31%), though it is estimated to collectively be between 21-22%, not taking rebates or other incentives into account:

Sports Betting: When it comes to traditionally betting a single game against the spread, in theory, the house edge is 4.76% without taking pushes into account. Other factors come into play though. Bookmakers do not usually make the spread with a 50/50 outcome in mind, but rather make the number one in which they think will attract 50% of the money each way. This could create an underlay on the dog when a good and popular team is favored, for example.

Two team parlays generally pay 2.6-1 which translates into a 10% house edge. However, because one might be able to find two real underlays, and because there are certain tendencies when betting the spread and over under in a single game (for example, when there is a home favorite in football and lets say the over under number is 42, there are two outcomes which dominate, the home team under, and the away team and the over, which is due to the strategies employed by teams in the second half depending on the lead). Bottom line is that the collective edge is certainly less than 10%,

Three team parlays generally pay 6-1, but there are 8 outcomes which means the edge is 12.5% if random selections are made.

Vegas publishes their win rate. Collectively on sports betting it is just a little more than 5% of total handle (it varies very slightly year to year).

Lotteries: State lotteries generally payout approximately 50% of the total money taken in. Comparing horse racing to lotteries in often done and always silly. When someone buys a lottery ticket they are usually buying a dream, it is an entertainment expense in a way as one fantasizes about retiring to their own Island.

Scratch lottery tickets, have an expected payout range in line with horse race exotic wagers.

Blackjack: If one plays by the rules without counting, the house edge is only .5%. Though, it sounds like the best bang for a gambler's buck, a bankroll can disappear pretty quickly when playing 75 hands per hour. Still, the game is still perceived as beatable mostly thanks to stories of counters being barred by casinos.

Craps: Odds on resolved bets range from 0% to 11%, and the collective edge the house has is around 1-1.5%. This is a game that is somewhat complicated and mathematically impossible to win at long term for even the best players, not the best of combinations.

Slots: The house edge on slot machines ranges from 2% to 15% (collectively around 8%). The exact amount a machine wins long term can be programmed by the operator. Unless one hits a huge progressive jackpot and then quits slots, this game is impossible to win at long term.

Some operators have admitted to "loosen" machines at peak hours. The theory behind this is when the casino is full, the sound of winning will help hook players for more repeat business. When it comes to horse racing, an argument can be made that is the reverse of this, higher takeout on bigger days because many just play on big days, while dropping takeout the rest of the year to keep the regulars in action longer while keeping them from focusing on other forms of gambling. This approach hasn't been tried yet.

Roulette: Thanks to O and OO the house edge is 5.26%, as long as the wheel doesn't have any flaws. This game is far less intimidating and a little less social than craps and it requires the same zero skill level as slots. If you play roulette for 14 days straight, you will lose over 5% of your total wagers.

Poker: The rake for poker is 2-5%. Skill is involved when it comes to knowing probabilities, and if playing live, reading other players. A player with superior skill has a chance to win long term due to relatively low rake.

Daily Fantasy Sports: DFS was growing exponentially in popularity prior to state regulations. DFS likes to call their house edge a commission, and whatever you want to call it, it is around 9-12%. It is definitely a game of skill as well as it is gambling. Estimates are that the top 2% of the total players make money and also are responsible for a very high percentage of what is played in total. This means that at this time, for those with superior skill, the game can be beaten long term.

DFS is extremely similar to horse racing when it comes to degree of difficulty and homework needed to make good selection, though horse racing handicapping has a higher learning curve. DFS seems to be attracting players, especially millennials, because it is perceived as beatable by at least a few.

30 October 2017

The New NBA Timeout Rule and Horse Racing

If the customer doesn't like something, businesses usually do something about it, if they can. The NBA is a perfect example of looking to satisfy customers, though sometimes they are slow to react, but nowhere nearly as slow as horse racing.

I remember the ABA. Besides being known for their psychedelic fake basketball and the great Dr. J, they were way ahead of the curve as they introduced the 3 point basket in 1967 when their league formed (It was actually introduced by the very short live ABL in 1961). The rule made a lot of sense, giving a team the ability to make a long dramatic shot to win or tie a close game, and even as a teenager, I thought that when the ABA merged with the NBA, the three point shot would be part of the merger. It took another 4 years for the NBA to bring that extra bit of excitement to their league, but the point is that they did it.

Lately we've seen quite a few tweaks from speeding up the game to taking away plays that exploited the rules (like the Hack-A-Shaq tweak that came into effect a year ago). They still have to figure out how to handle the three point foul lean in, but that is tough nut to crack, but they'll get to it, because customers don't like it.

The last two minutes of the game were starting to get infuriating. Way too many timeouts were being called. I believe it got progressively worse the past few years. In a close game, there was pretty much a timeout every time the ball changed hands. It almost became a gimme that a timeout would be called after a made basket. From a customer's perspective there was no flow, it took up to a half hour to watch 2 minutes, and that meant way too many commercials as well.

It was not surprising that the NBA made the change this summer. Reducing the amount of timeouts that can be called in a game and limiting the amount of timeouts that can be called in the last two minutes and overtime.

This brings us to horse racing. The obvious parallel here is the notorious post time drag. This is a fairly new phenomenon, first it was only really noticed at one track, and somehow bean counter track executives from all over North America saw this as a money maker, and it really isn't. Horse racing, with falling handle (especially when taking inflation and a larger population into account) should be doing whatever they can do to not piss off their customers (By customers, I mean horseplayers, not horsemen, but that is another story).

There can't possibly be one bettor on this planet who enjoys post drag. And it really is unnecessary. NYRA, who seems to do things right relative to the industry as a whole, does not participate in post drag, and lately they've been bucking the trend when it comes to handle. Remember track execs, higher handle generally means there are more eyes on your racetrack.

If horseplayers know there is no post drag, they will bet earlier. And more importantly, they won't have another reason to be upset. From high takeout to super trainers and synthetic drugs and a few things in between, horse racing doesn't need to give their customers another reason to stop playing.

The problem is that horse racing does not have a commissioner to lay down the law and enforce things. They really need one. See WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IF HORSE RACING HAD A COMMISSIONER


One final thing, thank you Michael Jordan for getting the NBA to go with longer baggy shorts in 1984.

4 August 2017

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IF HORSE RACING HAD A COMMISSIONER

Let's look into into future, maybe 3 years from now or maybe 203 years from now. Racetrack owners will finally get together and decide that since successful sports such as baseball, football and basketball all have
Commissioners, horse racing should have a Commissioner too. Commissioners have one major goal and that is to grow the game's customer base while being mindful of the health of the athlete. They use uniform rules that are subject to change (if it is found that certain rules may cause too many customers to stray from their game, or if athletes are sustaining too many injuries). Commissioners have an ace in the hole, they can objectively impose significant fines and suspensions for cheating or bad behavior.

Here is some of what a Racing Commissioner in a centralized office can accomplish:

Uniform fines and suspensions. If a L.A. Laker player gets caught doing drugs in L.A., he isn't only suspended in L.A. He can't play anywhere for however long the suspension is. If a Knick is caught doing exactly the same thing, he gets the exact same fine and/or suspension. This same standard will now apply in horse racing.

Uniform medications. This is a no-brainer. As the new Horse Racing Integrity Act suggests, make a list of what can go into a horse's system and when, and make everything else illegal. This list should also include procedures such as "doing the stifles," and even go as far as regulating hyperbaric chamber use. All procedures should be reported to the track and that info should be reported to the commissioner's office and posted on their website so horseplayers and horsemen alike can view it. The NFL has no problem making public when a player stubs his to even though it is illegal to bet on football nudge nudge wink wink.

The Commissioner's Office will be in charge of monitoring out of competition testing as well. It should also be in charge of hiring the testers and placing them in the right areas.

Uniform minimum wagering bet types. This will happen by osmosis if there is a Commissioner. Payouts also will be uniform (tris will either show a payoff based on $1 or 50 cent bet at every track, for example).

Uniform whipping rules. Whether it is decided that hitting a horse more than three times in succession is a no no, or if whips are eventually banned, every racetrack participant will operate under the same set of rules.

Of course, track owners will be invited to Hawaii, where betting on horses will be legal by then, to participate in an annual Owner's Meeting where new proposed rules can be suggested and decided upon.... by the Commissioner's Rules Committee. That committee will be made up of mainly horseplayers.

Speaking of Hawaii, a Commissioner's office might be able to focus resources to lobby to legalize horse race wagering in states that do not allow horse racing gambling at all and/or over the internet.

The office can be a place to go to with new innovations. A Commissioner whose interest is to grow the customer base would most likely push through exchange wagering and even a national lottery.

A centralized Inquiry Center. There will be two sets of eyes on each live race to look for fouls when not called by jockeys. If there is an inquiry, the same three judges get to make a decision whether the potential interference just happened at Delaware Park or Saratoga or both. It should be noted that the horseplayers will inevitably decide if they want the standard to be "if a horse wouldn't have beat the horse who interfered with it anyway, there is no DQ" or "there will be a DQ for any interference." This is where the ability to poll the customer comes into play. Also, in basketball, there is no need to hear from a player who may or may not have tipped a ball out of bounds. The same line of thinking should work with objective stewards not having to hear from jockeys. The replays should be enough to tell the whole story. If three stewards can't come to a full agreement, the results should stand, and there should be no need for an appeal. The stewards will also use objective standards when it comes to fair starts.

The reason there won't be too many overlapping inquiries is because the Commissioner's Office will have final say on scheduling races. Tracks will submit the amount of race dates, their preferred post times and actual dates, and the commissioner's office will do its best to accommodate those race dates and also space all races as much as is humanely possible so races at multiple tracks don't go off at the same time nearly as much as they do right now. They might even be able to help negotiate optimal times with racetracks which will help racetracks be as profitable as possible.

And yes, there will heavy fines for post drag violations. Bettors hate it, and that is what matters to the Commish.

There are other things the Commissioner can look after, like capping takeout and push to eliminate breakage, but just about everything above can't be achieved without some form of a centralized body.



I wrote the above article in the July edition of Horseplayers of North America's free e-magazine Horseplayer Monthly July 2017 Edition.