14 November 2014

Short Term Pain Tolerance Needed To Fix Horse Racing

Horse racing is dying (but it doesn't have to).  Handle and interest keeps sinking year after year as Horseplayers are literally dying off or just get fed up, and they are not getting replaced.  This is reality, and large statues of horses or giant infield screens won't change this trend at all.

Meanwhile, Fantasy Sports has absolutely caught fire, especially with the young gamblers that horse racing desperately needs in order for growth to occur.  If things remain status quo when it comes to horse racing failing to realize they are in serious competition for gambling dollars (by serious, I mean that the horse racing industry address the onerous cost to play the game), the bottom still has a long way to go, as it is inevitable that legalized sports gambling will be available throughout North America, and the Fantasy Sports crowd will be lost when it comes to being potential Horseplayers.

Why has Fantasy Sports caught fire?  Long term leagues give one action that can last the season for a modest investment.  Daily games offer decent prize monies, some on par with big Pick 6 carryovers, and the takeout is less than 10% (when you include reward points for playing).  The games are set up so that there is a lot of churn money available the next day to keep players interested, and to keep players thinking the games are beatable if one really knows what they are doing.

That is the key, gamblers like to gamble.  They like to stay in action without going to the well too much.  Gamblers of games that require brain power and statistic analysis need to believe the game is beatable by at least a few, no longer the case when it comes to horse racing as it impossible to find enough edges to consistently beat a 21% average takeout.  It was hard enough when racing was at its height of popularity, and average takeout was hovering around 15-16% and there was plenty of dummy money in the pools.  There is literally no dummy money out there anymore thanks to slots and lotteries.

YES, IT IS THE DAMNED TAKEOUT

So how does horse fix itself?  First off, aggressively search for optimal takeout rates (these are the rates that bring in the top bottom dollar to the track, which in turn can search for optimal purse amounts to distribute in purses).   True, this is complicated when factoring things like field size and racing dates, but it must be done.  Every successful business inevitably works this way, not horse racing.

Hopefully, the optimal takeout rates will leave enough meat on the bone for at least a few Horseplayers to be able to beat the game in the long run.  If this doesn't happen, the game is doomed, something I highly doubt if done right.

After lowering takeout across the board everywhere, the next step is to market the game to gamblers and potential gamblers.  This is when a nation wide lottery could help immensely.  Life changing scores are attractive to the masses so a Pick 8,9 or 10 with races that have large field sizes would e required.  It may need a parimutuel element to it in order to make it available in as many jurisdictions as possible.  Takeout can be as 40% as takeout doesn't matter much when people are buying the dream.  The lottery proceeds can be used to pay for drug testing, pool surveillance, jockey disability and horse retirement among other things.  Most importantly, it will get more people interested in horse racing.....but again, to attract growth, the game needs to be perceived beatable first.

FIELD SIZE

By far, the second most factor when it comes to making the game perceived to be beatable (the bigger the field size, the more value to be found).

4-6 horse races are very attractive to horsemen, but that is where the buck stops.  Most serious horseplayers who wager serious money would rather bet a 12 horse non winner of two 5 claimer than than an allowance non winners of $60,000 in the past two months that usually attracts just enough horses to get the race to go.  These races do nothing to grow the customer base, but they are needed to keep the elite owners and trainers happy and keep breeding prices artificially higher than they should be.

Short fields are plaguing horse racing not only when it comes to high level races but low level as well.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that horses don't run as much as they used to, and the culprit is most likely a combination of the drug culture in the backstretch and the breeding of shooting stars which includes retiring good horses too early.

If the above was fixed, there wouldn't be the cry of too many horses and race dates.  Without race dates and races, horse racing will end up going away because it will lead to a few A tracks, few owners, few horses bred, as there will be no outs for horses who are inferior in any way.

Fixing field size can be done.  First, races with the least amount of horses should be running for significantly lesser scaled down purses.  More horses means more money bet, which means more money for the tracks.  Have races with 6 horses or less run for 60% of the base purse for that class. For every additional parimutuel starter, add 10-12% to the base purse.

Second, clamp down on drug usage.  Make a list of drugs that are allowed, any violations need to be dealt with severe punishment, perhaps even criminal punishment (defrauding the bettors and other horsemen comes to mind).  Yeah, most horses test clean, but the big problem is what is being used that isn't being tested for or what is being masked, and everyone knows it.  The problem isn't what is being tested for, but what isn't being tested for and the only way to hinder this is with huge fines and suspensions.

Cleaning up the drug culture will not create more Horseplayers, it might slow those who have a foot out the door.  But it seems reasonable that horses will bounce back quicker if they have less drugs in their system and that will lead to bigger field size, and more value.

The third thing that needs to be dealt with is to breed a sturdier race horse.  Horses should not be able to stand as a stallion until they are 6.  Mares should be at least 5 before they are bred.  Horses who hurt themselves early, will have an opportunity to get better and race again.  If they don't race as good before their injury, so be it.   They might not make it as stud material, which will be good for the game long term.  Meanwhile, we might end up seeing more Cigars and Foregos.  This will be a good thing.  Horse racing doesn't have too many household names when it comes to actual horses.  There are no Peyton Mannings in the game.  Household names can only help horse racing's growth.


FREE INFORMATION

If you want just about any stat for any major league player or team it takes about 2 seconds on Google to find it....FOR FREE.   Would Fantasy Sports be nearly as successful as it right now if gamblers had to pay for Kyle Lowry's complete last three game stat lines?  Almost certainly not.
Horse racing needs to get with the program and give the basic past performances with decent speed figures out for free everywhere they possibly can, including racetracks, OTBs, online, you name it.  The idea is to make it as easy for someone to make a decision that leads to them wagering money.  There will still be room for premium past performances, because of the lure of potential less sophisticated money in the pools.  


ACCURATE INFORMATION

It is almost 2015.  Why can football tell us how far exactly a player ran on a specific play, but we can't get this information universally in horse racing.  Run up times as well, need to go.  If it means changing the way races are timed, good!  Lets see the real information, and let the customer decide what is important.  Of course, accurate information should be required in the past performances when it comes to drugs, the use of supplements, and hyperbaric oxygen chambers and any operations or treatments being used on horses to get them to the next race.  Sure, horsemen won't like it, again, too bad, the mindset needs to change.

When a football player stubs his toe on a bed post, I can find out about it, but it is a mystery when a horse is tapped before a race.   The idea of insider information should disappear as much as possible, not only for the Horseplayer but potential horse claimers and buyers.


UNIFORM RULES

If a horse is given three steps at the start to do anything to the rest of the field, fine.  But it should be that way in every jurisdiction.  My feeling is that most Horseplayers would rather have less horses thrown out.  I've stated this before, give Stewards three minutes under the hood, if they have enough to throw a horse out, throw it out, if they don't, let it stand.  Worst thing to me is a close call throw out, followed by a reversal two months later.  I'd rather have a questionable infraction stand and have a reversal, though I'd rather not have any reversals period.

Uniform drug rules are a no-brainer.  If you've read this post down to here, I don't need to tell you why.

GET THE PRODUCT OUT THERE, WHEREVER POSSIBLE WHENEVER POSSIBLE

Racetracks and Horsemen groups should be lobbying to get horse race betting allowed in states like Georgia and Alaska, oh and online in Texas, etc.   There are gamblers and potential gamblers everywhere.  In most jurisdictions gamblers can play fantasy sports, lotteries, and of course, they can wager offshore or with bookies.  Also, pissing off Horseplayers, who for whatever reason can't bet their favourite track at another track, OTB or ADW because the track is not on the betting menu only gets players to collectively quit sooner.  Nobody should jump through hoops if they want to be a Horseplayer.  Horse racing can't afford to lose anyone else and it should be looking to add whoever they can get.

For some extra insight on handle woes and more, read Pull The Pocket: Here's the Unvarnished 2014 Horse Racing Handle Story  












31 October 2014

Disappointed In Who He Is Named After, I'm Still Going With Moreno

I'm not into horse owners names, never was, never impressed, after all, I've owned lots of horses in the past myself.  Though I must admit, I have fond memories of watching races as a kid and being able to identify the silks of Windfields, Sam-Son, Beasley, etc.

The reason I mention this is that I always assumed that Moreno was named after an identifiable celebrity.  After handicapping the Breeders' Cup Classic (in less than 2 minutes, I might add) and coming up with Moreno as my pick, I finally decided to look into who the horse was named after.

My first thought was that the horse was named after Knowshon Moreno.  Every young gambler knows this name from Fantasy Football:


He came into the NFL in 2009 and immediately he rushed for just under 1,000 yards as a rookie.  He could have been thought as the next OJ, so it makes sense to take a shot and name a horse after him.

The one good thing about Moreno being in the big race is that his entry might confuse quite a few horse racing fans (Horse Racing Fan:  Someone who watches horse racing once or twice a year, and might even wager on those days).  The Fantasy Football crowd know full well that Moreno is out for the year after a promising start with his new team, the Miami Dolphins.  Some fans may think that Moreno's entry is a misprint, and automatically dismiss this horse from their tickets creating an extra overlay.

Of course, 100% of racing's base (46-104 year olds) know singer/actress Rita Moreno:

She even dated Elvis Presley and found him boring.   It would make sense to name a horse after her, but not a male horse, so I really didn't think it was named after her.

When I searched the name Moreno, I found that a soccer player, Alberto Moreno, came up high in the results:

 Turns out he has been playing 4 years, but already has 4 goals in 70 games (for all I know, this is some sort of record pace).  I started thinking Moreno could be a young soccer legend.

Much to my dismay, I just found out that the owner of Southern Equine Stables is Mike Moreno.  The guy named a horse after himself.  To the best of my knowledge, even the least humble person in horse racing today, Frank Stronach, who has bred, owned and named close to a million horses* (Cangamble estimation*), hasn't named a horse Stronach.  Perhaps Awesome Again was named after Stronach came up with one of his ideas, like the quadruple superfecta, but I can only speculate. Still it was not named after him directly.

Anyway, check out Moreno romping home in the Whitney.  Any horse who wires a field at Saratoga like that has a shot to wire a slightly better field at Santa Anita at a slightly longer distance:


If you haven't checked it out yet, HANA's Horseplayer Monthly (Breeders' Cup Edition) is out.  The free e-magazine is full of great insights and handicapping tips, as usual.







21 October 2014

Time Out

Pat Cummings recently wrote an article about run-ups.  To me, run-ups are track specific and since I'm not a pace handicapper, they don't affect me as much as they affect others.  Still, the main point is a good one, since gambling dollars are at stake, why can't those who pay for the show, the gamblers, get all the information and then decide what is important and what isn't.  It really is time for a change.

It isn't that technology isn't available, after all Trakus has the capabilities of doing exactly what Zebra Technologies is now doing for the NFL (see videos):





The problem has more to do with making the big change, and getting universal agreement to make the change.  I'm sure, changing formatting would be costly to implement to begin with but it is a necessity, however radical change is something the the horse racing industry seems to fight as it is full of captains who are masters of going down with the ship rather than change things.

Is it too much to ask to find out the actual running time of a horse from where the beam kicks in to the finish line for horses other than the winner?  I still don't think a universal answer exists when dealing with a horse shows it is second beaten 10 lengths  as to whether it finished 2 seconds slower than the winner, or it was beaten 10 physical lengths at the finish, and if this is the same scenario for each distance, for other parts of the race and from track to track.  How often is it subjective and much of it is subjective?  We don't need subjective when it comes to times, not in today's day and age.

We might need new formatting, a new past performance line or additional info which shows MPH by the individual horse at various points of call and the finish (or of course, make a length equal exactly .2 seconds without guessing).  Perhaps MPH when it comes to actual distance traveled, and incorporate run-up times too.  Track variants/speed figures would be easy to manufacture, especially after a few weeks of getting the real info.

And why not include wind speed in the line like they do in quarter horse races?  Put it there, and let the handicapper decide its relevance.  

It is the 21st Century and horse racing needs to progress past the stopwatch.






28 August 2014

60 Years Ago: Public Perception Of Horse Racing Not So Good Then Either

Federal Men aka Treasury Men In Action was a TV series that ran in the Golden Age of television, from 1950-1955.   Here is a horse racing related episode: "Case of the Losing Gamble" Original broadcast date: December 16, 1954. An investigation is launched into a person's taxes and horse racing. Cast: Walter Greaza, John Hoyt, Claire Carleton, Steven Roberts

A little trivia, Claire Carleton used to yuck it up in some Three Stooges episodes in her younger days.

Back to the episode.  Could horse racing be painted any worse?  A deadbeat absentee dad who has accumulated lots of money making shady wagers.  A trainer who doped horses pretty much against his will.  Sick horses who shouldn't be racing could evidently win if given that right dope before a race, and then become sick enough to die after the race, and to the owner the horse was just a commodity, no tears shed by him on his way to his safe.  Tax evasion too.  Ugly ugly ugly.

Lets look at this show comparing it to today:  

Stands were full of horseplayers, as it was the only game in town.  Horse racing could overcome the bad rap because of lack of competition.  Today, the industry pretends they are still overcoming the bad rap.  

Horses ran more often.  An outfit could let a horse have 5 bad races in a row, and then try to pop when given the dope, which really must have drained a horse.  Today, horses are given "the dope" a lot more often and they don't race as much because of it.

Because horses ran so often for much lower purses, there could be more money to be made on the betting side.  That is hardly true today.  Back then, you could either stiff a horse by having a jockey give a bad ride, not giving the dope, or giving the horse dope that made them run slower.  Today, "the dope" is given pretty much strictly to try to win.  In a sense, horses may tend to try more often these days, but that also leads to much smaller field size, and super trainers who care about their percentages, which makes many a race unplayable.  

60 years ago, it only took one suspicious death to warrant an investigation.  Of course, there were other factors involved in that episode, but still....

You could cash a whole lot of money at the race windows back then without a red flag, and unless an ex wife ratted you out, you could live the high life, but if you got caught, no slap on the wrist, it was bread and water time for you.

Track takeout back then was 14-16% mostly.  You could maybe bet one or two exotic per card.  Today, though many tracks charge around 15-18% for WPS, there are high takeout exotics each and every race, which means average takeout is closer to 21%.  Back then, there was a perception that you could win.  In fact, even though, the money made by the main character in the TV show was done so through deception, there was a message, that the game could be beaten.  Today, that message isn't there.  No visible winners beating horses against a 21% takeout, not even is a shady manner.

Anyway, as far as drug integrity goes, unfortunately, things haven't gotten much better at all in 60 years.

 

10 July 2014

Analyzing The EquiLottery

Almost 5 years ago I wrote a blog piece Could A National Lottery Help Racing Grow?   That post was made before the Ontario Liberal government pulled the plug on the Slots At Racetrack partnership.  It was evident back then that horse racing was not growing and that there was a need to attract new gamblers with new money.  Now, in Ontario, the situation is even more dire.  Now the government has magically changed a true partnership into a true subsidy that could vanish at any time, horse racing needs to attract as many new players as possible.  One promise made by the new Premier is to integrate the OLG and Ontario horse racing, and this paves the way for horse racing lottery bets.

An announcement was made yesterday that a company called EquiLottery has the software to enable horse racing lotteries.  A Google search of OLG EquiLottery makes me believe that Ontario will be introducing this soon.  Check this PDF found in the search out.

Here is how it works:  Lottery player buys a $2 quick pick for a specified wager on that given day.  It could be a triactor, superfecta, Hi-5, Pick 6, etc.  The wager type can change each day according to the new release.  $1 is put directly into the pool.  The other $1 goes towards the lottery (with the lottery/administrators keeping 80 cents of that). So lets use a trifecta for the sake of simplicity.  The player gets a quick pick ticket in a 10 horse race of 5-2-8 at a cost of $2.  A $1 5-2-8 ticket winds up being bought at the track as soon as the lottery ticket is purchased.  This means the track retains a takeout of 25 cents (or 12.5% of the total cost of the ticket) to share between the track and horsemen.  The lottery portion only pays out 10% of the total cost of the ticket, split among the winners.  So in theory, the lottery player is buying a triactor ticket with a 52.5% takeout.  One has to wonder how long it will take for lottery players to clue in that if they bought the $2 straight ticket directly at the track, their payoff would be over 50% higher on average (all things being equal, which they aren't...I'll explain later below).  In the age of the internet, this scheme will not work very well and most likely dry out in short order even if it is initially successful.

Don't get me wrong, I want to see it work, and there is a lot of stupid money out there when it comes to playing the lottery in Ontario.  Pro-Line for example, does around $250 million in handle a year ($700,000 a day) and has a collective takeout of 40%.  You basically have to be an idiot to play it.  But they get away with it because their most popular bet is a three team parlay, where the parlay includes a tie option.  This is something that is unique so payoffs can't readily be compared with what bookies pay.  A normal three team parlay has a takeout of 12.5% if three teams are picked randomly with a bookie.  It is actually a little lower than that because odds are not a perfect science, and the handicapper can and does take advantage of point spread inefficiencies.

If the EquiLottery were to work as planned, it would be great for the host track because bettors from all over will know there is a good percentage of dummy money in the pool.  In worst case scenarios, it will mean a takeout free type or even takeout positive wager that value players will be all over, adding large amounts of handle that normally wouldn't be in that pool.  And generally when handicappers check out one race or a series of races, they normally make other bets on the card as well.

The Math

Lets use the triactor example.  10 horse race (720 combinations).  Lets say 100,000 $2 quick picks are purchased.  Assuming random equal distribution there will be about 139 winners.  Lets also assume that the average $1 winning ticket pays 60% of the total combinations (I believe that is close to the way it really is). So the average payoff for a $1 triactor in a 10 horse race is around $430.  This means that on average, the winning lottery player will get back $430 plus $143.88 ($20,000 from the lottery portion divided by 139 winners).  So instead of getting back $860 had the lottery player bought a $2 parimutuel ticket, the "sucker" only gets back $573 instead.  That is quite a price to pay for the convenience of buying a ticket at a lottery kiosk versus the convenience of betting the same thing from home and actually having some data to help you have a better chance of winning by picking the number yourself.  I realize, they admittedly aren't going after horseplayers with this but they are relying on a whole lot of stupid.

Because the amount won by lottery players will be verified to be much lower than those who win a parimutuel wager, I just don't see it working.  It has to either be a life changing win (not going to happen with a tri, super, etc.) or the 20 cent lottery component has to be unique with possible carryover potential.

The Fix

The 20 cent lottery component cannot be the same exact wager as the parimutuel one.  The fix is simple.
Using the same triactor example as above, when someone buys the 5-2-8 quick pick, the ticket in this case actually has another 3 or 4 numbers (horse that need to finish 4th through 6th or 7th in exact order).  When it comes to a 10 horse race, the odds of picking 6 horses randomly in the right order is one out of 151,200, 7 horses is one out of 604,800.  Depending on how many tickets are purchased each day, this even creates carryover opportunities which create even more demand.  But using the 100,000 example, this portion of the lottery will be won 2 out of 3 days if 6 numbers are used.  If it is won on the first day, there would be only one jackpot winner (there would still be 139 winners who get the $1 triactor payout) who would win the $20,000 lottery portion of the play plus the $1 triactor payout.  This could fly and be successful.  Also, the chance of cashing the lottery portion become significantly more difficult if the triactor has more than 10 horses, or if a superfecta is the wager type.  For Pick Fours or Pick Fives, etc. the extra number could be an additional number each race, where the jackpot is only paid out if the player has all the exactors in right order for the races involved.  For example, a Pick 4 involving 4 nine horse races randomly will be cashed one out of 6,561 times.  To get 4 straight exactors in a row on a random ticket in 9 horse races, the odds are over a whopping 26 million to one (that is enough to satisfy the life changing element of buying the lottery ticket as the winners amount will be $2.6 million on average).  Even a Pick 3 could work.  Chances of winning on a random ticket is one out of 729 (if three 9 horse races are used), chances of hitting three straight exactors on a quick pick: one out of 373,248.

20 June 2014

Tired Of Small Fields Anyone?

It is getting tougher and tougher to make a score at the track.  There are many reasons why, but number one is, without a doubt, the seemingly never ending parade of races with 4-7 betting interests in them.

Whether you make horizontal or vertical wagers, short fields limit value and limit how much you can win. Yet these races are subject to the exact same takeout (which varies from track to track) as races with double or sometimes triple the field size.

What makes things worse is with 10 cent and 20 cent superfectas (which generally have the highest takeouts) available in 7 and sometimes 6 or even 5 horse races,  Horseplayers unwittingly get sucked in because these bets offer the best payout prices despite the higher takeout.  The result is less churn, which means Horseplayers go broke quicker.  For example, an exactor pool that has $20,000 in it with a takeout of 20% returns $16,000 to the bettors collectively, but a superfecta with the same pool size and a 25% takeout, returns only $15,000.  The reality is that many $2 exactors payout around the same as a 20 cent super on average.

It seems that no matter which track you handicap these days, short fields are prevalent.  Horsemen like them, because there are less horses to beat.   But pool size suffers the shorter the field.

From a business perspective, it makes more sense to pay higher purses to horses that beat more rivals, and the more horses the more betting dollars, the more the track and horsemen receive from betting.  Maybe if tracks adopted this type of mentality, horsemen wouldn't shop around for short field races so much.  Maybe horses would race a little bit more as well because more participants would not get a check for just running around the track.

What I find most troubling about these short fields is that almost every short field race has at least one or two horses off over a month.  From a handicapping perspective, it makes for more of a guessing game, one that doesn't add value, but makes the race too unpredictable in light of a high takeout rate.  One needs to be right a lot more in shorter field size races because payoffs are smaller, and guessing if a horse was off due to soreness or because the trainer aimed for this race creates too many mixed results which destroy one's bankroll in a hurry.

I realize there is more going on when it comes to lower field size.  The recession in 2009 and the overall downturn of horse racing has knocked out the race horse population and the participants in the industry as well has reduced in size.

Field size has also been victimized by the backstretch drug culture.  Horses are too drained to race frequently, like they did in the 40's through the 70's.   Now horses only have a few races to get ready for a year, whether they run for 10,000 or in Stake Races.  It is more important that they are ready for those races, so many are fine tuned with the best legal and best non detectable drugs available.  And I can't stand the Lasix apologists.  It is blatantly obvious that horses have made less starts per year ever since Lasix was made legal.  It is also a known fact that Lasix drains most horses and significant weight fluctuations occur.

And then you have breeding.  Horses retiring at 3 to become sires.  Retired because of injuries or because they made it big at 3.  Oh, did I mention they were also part of the backstretch drug culture as well?  This leads to inferior horses being bred.  Immature horses who were better than other immature horses, or horses who were injury prone are responsible for siring most of the horses we bet on each day now.  Is it a wonder that they can only run effectively once a month?  But this is where the greed culture of breeders, bloodstock agents and pinhookers come into play.  It isn't about the good of the game to get a young horse to run a 10 second furlong to try to make it stand out in the sales ring.   And if buyers would just take a deep breath a look at the reality that spending loads of cash on a yearling is foolish (in the past 13 years, the most a winner of the Kentucky Derby sold for as a yearling was $60,000, in fact, 8 were homebreds)

For the good of the game, a quick simple rule.  A horse cannot go to the breeding shed until they hit 5 (I prefer 6, but 5 is realistic).  This will also give the public more of a chance to get to know good horses.  The longer their career, the more they become familiar to the mainstream public.   For example, the media will mention California Chrome's next race, and if he keeps winning, he'll keep getting mentioned, and if he were to stay on for another year, and kept being competitive, more potential fans and eventually long term Horseplayers may be created.

Also for the good of the game, a Triple Crown for 4 year olds and up should be created.  Lets have 3 one million dollar plus races starting in July and ending in August.  It can even be the same distances as the three year old Triple Crown events.  This should give incentive to owners to keep their horses going longer even if they put up a fight over the 5 year old minimum breeding shed age.  It may create horses that are bred for stamina and longevity, that the public can familiarize with, and not some shooting star that puts the smile on the face of a pinhooker.





2 June 2014

Two No-Brainer Moves Fort Erie Race Track Should Make Immediately

Like a B movie monster who, without a doubt, dies for sure at the end of a sequel, Fort Erie Race Track is back from the dead for at least another year.

But without a 5 year contract, Fort Erie has a lot of eyes on it this year, and some of those eyes could be determining if the track has a viable future or not.  It couldn't be a worse year to be judged.  Not only the Liberal government's action a few years back decimate the horse racing industry, it did a number on the horse population in Ontario.  Between that and the US recession in 2009 and slow recovery which affected breeding, field size is getting clobbered all over North America this year.

Bettors, big and small, are becoming more selective and there has never been more awareness when it comes to track takeout.  The current Horseplayer boycott of Churchill Downs, which followed Churchill Downs takeout increase, is evidence that there is a pretty large population of gamblers who are mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore.

It is more important than ever to cater to the current Horseplayer's needs while hoping that growth can occur,  instead of taking the CDI approach of being a big dog while treating the customer as if they were a fire hydrant.  Grabbing more of a shrinking pie, just because you can, will only make the pie shrink more, and that has been happening at an accelerated pace lately in the industry.  If the end game is to have two or three tracks in North America, and many casinos that used to be Racinos, what the industry is doing is just fine and dandy, but there won't be much of an industry left.   And this means a ton of lost jobs.

That brings us back to Fort Erie.  If thoroughbred horse racing is to grow in Ontario, a B track is needed.
It has to be somewhat viable though.  Yesterday (Sunday), with very short fields, Fort Erie was only able to do $275,000 in total handle.  Even if field size was slightly larger, I don't think the handle results would be much larger.  Problem is that the overall customer base is shrinking in North America, and competing with A tracks, is not the way to go.

Sundays might attract a slightly higher live crowd, but in a town like Fort Erie, which is full of shift workers and the self employed, Sundays are very close to the Twilight Tuesday crowd when it comes to the available market of potential Horseplayers in the area.  Fort Erie can only afford to race twice a week, they need to attempt to maximize their potential.

Looking at a schedule of thoroughbred racing in North America, it makes a lot more sense to have a 2:30 or 3:00 post time on Wednesday instead of racing Sunday.  There will be a natural feed into Woodbine's Wednesday night card, so revenues made on other tracks shouldn't take a nosedive either.  And moving the Farmer's Market to either Tuesday or Wednesday Twilight shouldn't be a big issue.  In fact, they can still run with that on Sunday if they think it attracts bettors.  There are plenty of A tracks to play that day.

The other thing Fort Erie desperately needs to do is to reduce takeout on exactors and daily doubles to Woodbine levels (and to help makeup for any short term loss, it would be wise for Fort Erie to add rolling doubles).  This will automatically put Fort Erie on the radar screen of price sensitive players everywhere, and of course, by putting a little more into the pockets of live players, the potential for them to bet it back and even come back to the track increases (and you have a growth component).   Handle increases begets even higher handle.

It is pretty much a gimme that HANA (The Horseplayer's Association of North America) and Social Media will help put Fort Erie on the map if these takeout reductions occur.  But if they stick with a 26.2% takeout on doubles and exactors, combined with really short fields, Fort Erie is destined to have a very bad year in handle and they better hope they are not being graded by those handle numbers.

Over 10 years ago, when Fort Erie was swimming in slots money, and horsemen who actually had extra on them to wager, they toyed with Friday racing.  For various reasons, it didn't do well.  But things have changed, with less people going to the tracks these days.  It is delusional to believe people are going to come back to the track.  This means, Fort Erie's main competition are the tracks that race when Fort Erie races. Being a B track, they can't afford to compete at Prime Time with more than one or two A tracks tops, and they need to add some value to attract some of the betting crowd who have forgot they exist.

An independent track can make it.  They have the ability to be more versatile and creative.  This only comes into play, of course, if they make things happen instead of watch things happen, or even worse, at the end of the day, say "what happened."






24 May 2014

Updated Track Takeout Map Of North America: Thoroughbreds and Harness

THOROUGHBRED RACETRACK TAKEOUT MAP OF NORTH AMERICA

View Thoroughbred Racetracks in a larger map

HARNESS RACETRACK TAKEOUT MAP OF NORTH AMERICA

View Harness Racetracks in a larger map

CHECK OUT THE HANA 2014 RATINGS FOR THOROUGHBRED TAKEOUT RATES 

CHURCHILL DOWNS GOING DOWN?

The Horseplayer Boycott of Churchill Downs Inc. seems to be gaining traction and it is also getting noticed by the media.  Handle is off big time at Churchill Downs and Arlington.  It is also down in a large way at Finger Lakes so far this season.  Churchill Downs doesn't own Finger Lakes but this year it began distributing the tracks signal throughout the industry, allegedly increasing the signal fee, which means price sensitive rebate players (not just whales) get less and wind up betting less, causing the pool size to shrink, this coupled with the fact that Churchill downs also doesn't distribute their signal to all ADWs means Finger Lakes has now seeing handle shrink by over 20% compared to last year.

Fair Grounds, another track owned by Churchill Downs Inc. is toying with increasing takeout as well.

So if you are upset that Churchill Downs gave the finger to their customer by raising prices, and you want to send a message, just remember, Churchill Downs Inc. makes money not just with the tracks they own but they also make money distributing track signals.  The tracks they make money on this way include:   Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, Calder, Canterbury Park, Fair Grounds, Finger Lakes, Hoosier Park, Indiana Downs, Miami Valley, Oaklawn Park and The Meadows.

30 April 2014

2014 Kentucky Derby Analysis

Since I started blogging, I believe I've put my picks out there for the Kentucky Derby every year.  This year will be different.  I don't have any picks, in fact, I am not even going to look at the past performances for the Kentucky Derby this year for the first time since I was around 10 years old (1971). 


I already made my mind up to stop betting any Churchill Downs track when they announced the takeout increase a week or two ago.  The exception would have been Kentucky Derby day.  But after reading the news about  Churchill Down's beyond dismal treatment fellow Canuckian Ron Turcotte today, Churchill Downs might as well be a racetrack on Mars.  This was the last straw.


I have bet on the Kentucky Derby every year ever since Woodbine introduced intertrack wagering, except for 1986.  That was the year my girlfriend at the time bugged me to go to Montreal on the weekend the Derby happened to be on.  She barely even let me watch the race.  We were in the hotel room, the horses were just entering the gate, and she decided to divert my attention.  I remember straining my back a bit trying to do two things at once, but I managed to see Ferdinand and The Shoe make an outstanding stretch run.  The one thing I don't remember is who finished first:)


Back to serious business, Churchill Downs Incorporated is ruining racing.  Increasing the track takeout in light of decreasing demand for short term gains is what has clobbered horse racing for years.  Since Churchill Downs and racing's (not so great only hope) Frank Stronach (he isn't innocent either when it comes to NOT putting customers first) have got their paws in the game, handle has tanked, and this isn't by magic.  Optimal takeout is not a consideration, nor is the horseplayer.  It is all about short term gain with no respect for the future of horse racing as a viable gambling product.


They managed to mangle the increased exposure through internet betting (people now don't have to leave their homes to wager on up to 20 tracks sometimes an hour).  Pricing of their product (takeout) is so high that despite the fact that internet poker has been banned in the US, handle keeps sinking, and new players are the customers left are starting to die out, bet less or just finding something else to do with their time.  I don't think we've seen the worst of the player exodus yet. 


I'm done supporting stupidity and greed.  And the Ron Turcotte dissing was certainly the last straw for me.


There is Players Boycott going on, mainly because of the takeout increase.  And even if you don't care about the takeout increase, consider the treatment Churchill gave Ron Turcotte, especially if you are a Canadian, before you bet on a track that directly makes Churchill Downs Inc. money.  These tracks include:   Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, Calder, Canterbury Park, Fairgrounds, Finger Lakes, Hoosier Park, Indiana Downs, Miami Valley, Oaklawn Park and The Meadows. 






 

7 April 2014

5' 2" Mickey Rooney Got Horse Racing Related Work

Mickey Rooney died at 93.  A Hollywood icon, he appeared in many horse racing themed movies throughout his career.


Typecast as a jockey, Rooney made the most of it.  Here is a scene from a  little known 1937 movie, Thoroughbreds Don't Cry:



Is it just me, or did the scene of the two guys on the horse have a sort of Brokeback Mountain feel to it?


Rooney of course was in National Velvet.   He played a retired jockey in The Black Stallion, in 1979.   For trivia buffs, the scene that starts around the 1:20 mark in this trailer was filmed at Fort Erie Race Track:



Mickey played a crooked jockey in the Twilight Zone episode The Last Night Of A Jockey.  A couple of observations.  First, was that Joe Drape on the other end of the phone near the beginning of the episode?  But more importantly, the program aired in 1963, when horse racing was mainstream.  Racetracks were full of bettors back then.  Still, there was the stigma that there were cheats in the game.  Jockey Grady was accused of drugging horses (back then, it was perceived that horses were drugged to run slower so they would lose at low odds) and race fixing.  He does admit guilt to both counts in the one actor show.  It was pretty much a given that cheating existed. 


The lifetime ban stuff is pretty much a joke since the 60s, though it looks like it might make a comeback very shortly.  But back to cheating, it may have hindered racing a bit, but the stands were still full.  Point is that the PETA claims aren't that huge a deal when it comes to the public perception and though racing needs fixing, its number one problem is competing as a form of gambling, the drug issue is secondary.


Rooney was also in a 1936 flick called Down The Stretch.  He played a jockey who had "been having a hard time living down the reputation of his father, a crooked jockey." 


There were plenty of racetrack movies from 1930 to the early 70's, and most had at least a few characters of dubious distinction, but the themes of the movies usually contained a plot or sub plot that included at least some foul play.  Horse racing was synonymous with cheating.


Here is the full version of The Last Night of a Jockey:

24 March 2014

The Horseplayer and the PETA video

Yes, PETA has an agenda.  Yes, the 9 minute video below probably represents the "best" of the worst the PETA investigation had on tape. However, it is difficult to spin what is on the video just because of the PETA agenda.  Those with agendas, whether it is an animal's rights group or 60 Minutes, may be driven to find nasty stuff and paint the nastiest picture possible, whether they are investigating horse racing or the auto industry, but generally where there is smoke, there is fire.  And exposing the fire, can affect change.


I don't think anyone in the industry who attacks the messenger (PETA) is doing themselves or the industry any good.  Apologists are a big part of the reason the industry is struggling so much these days, and why a drug culture is pervasive in the backstretch.


The PETA video that may initiate a fundamental positive change in the racing industry:



The only thing I learnt new on the video was that buzzers are probably more widespread than I imagined.  I remember Shane Sellers admitting to using buzzers (in a biography I think), and he was quickly admonished by industry insiders as a bad person with plenty of demons who shouldn't be taken seriously.  It is hard to watch Gary Stevens and D. Wayne Lucas joke about their knowledge of buzzers and not believe that this a something widespread.


Really, the only things that are illegal on the video is the bit about buzzers, and the forging of illegal immigrant's documents.   The other gray area issue is the idea of tricking the vet to get a sore horse passed to race.  I realize that some horses are sore one day and OK the next, and sometimes are sore in the morning but get out of it by race time, but if the intention is to put one over on the vet so that a known sore horse has a chance to be claimed, well that is dangerous for the jockeys and even horses in the race, as well as a complete screwing of the betting public.


As for the treatment of horse's in the video.  Unfortunately, as stated earlier, the drug culture is accepted in the backstretch, and I don't see anything illegal being done.  It is though an admission that drugs, not needed to treat the conditions the drugs were meant to treat, are used regularly as performance enhancers.  Although masking wasn't touched upon, all you have to do is look at how many times Super Trainers have got slaps on the wrist to know that between trainers and vets they are playing Jr. chemists.


It isn't a surprise that horses get a regimen of drugs that wouldn't be prescribed by a vet if they were not racing.  Especially when it comes to trainers that have multiple outfits throughout the US and Canada.  I've heard of situations where the program trainer (usually a high percentage trainer) doesn't actually show up in person at certain tracks for months at a time.  As a Horseplayer, I look at it like this: There are only so many ways to train a horse so one trainer shouldn't be that much greater than the next unless they are really in tune with their horses on a day to day basis....or they have some really decent concoctions and a regimen that just about anyone can follow.  Does a high percentage trainer have the ability to find phenomenal prospects (assistant trainers and grooms) at just about every track they have an outfit?  I'm not that much of a dummy to believe that assistant trainers should have that much of an edge over trainers who have just one operation at one track.  But I factor this into my handicapping.  I wish I didn't have to deal with it.  I have very little confidence when betting on a race with a Super Trainer in it, as I'm usually playing a perceived overlay, that really isn't an overlay.


Shock therapy on horses is permissible as long as it done a certain time before a race.  Tapping a horse is a necessary evil to get a horse back into a race.  I knew this already.  But watching the video brings me back to thinking, why doesn't the betting public know when a horse was last tapped, or when shock therapy or when a horse last visited a hyperbaric oxygen chamber?  From a Horseplayer's viewpoint, why should a trainer, the vet, and/or some backstretch help be privy to this information, especially if they have the ability to wager?


I also wonder why horses today have so many less starts, both per year and per career, than they did a few decades ago?   I have to think it can only be two things (and likely a combination):  A weaker breed due to owners wanting and getting quicker returns, and use of drugs (which could both drain horses and also be partly responsible for a weaker breed).


I realize getting rid of the accepted drug culture cannot happen overnight, nor will we see horses only running on hay and oats any time soon, but in the meantime, measures have to be done.  Reducing allowable drugs to a number less than 10 is a must (see Alternative Ways To Train A Race Horse).   This includes banning many supplements.  What is the difference of giving a horse EPO or DPO or finding a natural supplement that will have the same affect?  Apparently, they are out there and are easily attainable. 


Second, there has to be heavy fines, even potential jail sentences when it comes to using drugs or supplements that are not on the accepted list.  No more slaps on the wrists.


Finally, Horseplayers deserve to know of any major procedures (including tapping, operations, and even hyperbaric oxygen chamber visits).  This should be reported right away by the trainer and then put into the past performances when applicable.  It isn't a bad idea to put the vet on the PPs as well next to the trainer's name.


I'm not sure if cleaning up the backstretch mentality will lead to new Horseplayers.  It will instill more confidence in existing ones though, but no matter how much is done, the average Horseplayer loses too much too fast due to sky high track takeout, and that also needs to be addressed if horse racing is to actually grow. 


Maybe the fact that a clean up by itself probably won't grow the game is the reason why nothing seems to change when it comes the drug culture and transparency for Horseplayers.


The PETA video though creates the possibility of instilling less confidence in current Horseplayers and it also could be used as fuel to reduce or even take away alternative gaming subsidies as well.  The latter may scare Horsemen groups and racetracks to go faster than a snail this time around when it comes to drug reform, and stop making excuses and stop shooting the messenger.


HorsePlayerNow has a quick survey on the PETA study and Horseplayers, check it out.















6 March 2014

Run Up Times The Least Of Horse Racing's Problems

Andy Beyer recently wrote an article: Racing industry keeps horseplayers off balance.  It is a relevant article, in that it illustrates how Horseplayers are challenged with handicapping different distances and the fact that run up times (the time from when the gate opens to the actual starting time of the tele-timer differs from distance to distance and track to track).  Yes, these kind of things are hard to explain to newbies, but the reality is that I doubt they affect whether a newbie ends up being a Horseplayer or not. 


These are issues that are specific to those already playing.  And even if they were resolved, for example, if thoroughbred tracks got together and made it a rule that the only distances allowed for tracks were 4 1/2f, 5f, 5 1/2f, 6f, 6 1/2f, 7f (I wish they'd get rid of this distance), 1M, 1M1/16th, 1M1/8th, 1M 3/16th, 1M1/4, 1 1/2, and 1M3/4,  and they also specified that run up distance can only be 20 feet, players would still be losing 21% of their money on average each race.


One could argue that having full knowledge of run ups and the intricacies of each specific distance is one way to find an edge in a game that pits good to great handicappers versus good to great handicappers.   The dummy money is long gone and pretty much everyone who plays these days uses track variant adjusted speed figures, so there aren't many ways left to find edges to overcome the insidious track takeout.


The big problem racing faces is that no matter how badly they want newbies, there is next to no reason for a newbie to be attracted to horse racing.  Horse racing is about gambling, it is competing directly with slots, lotteries, poker, sports betting and even fantasy sports betting nowadays.  Other than and lotteries and slots (which is mindless gambling with no learning curve), horse racing's gambling competition is perceived to be beatable (and most are beatable long term by at least a few).  So if a gambler is going to learn a new game, there is at least a possible attainable achievement in learning poker or sports betting.   Why learn a game that has no visible winners with a huge learning curve attached to it? 


Perhaps, a series like Horseplayers will give newbies some false hope the game is possibly beatable by at least someone who doesn't receive rebates.  Maybe, maybe not.  In today's day and age, many people investigate ideas on the internet before making a move.  I don't think very many doing due diligence on betting horses will become Horseplayers very fast.


Since the overwhelming majority of gamblers inevitably lose, regardless of the game they are playing, another main factor comes into play:  Bang For Your Buck.  Horse racing fails miserably here too.  Gamblers brains go in all sorts of directions when they are gambling, but if their money disappears too quickly, the fix they get from gambling diminishes.  A gambler could get as much of a fix betting $20 on a football game that lasts 3 hours as they do in wagering $20 on a horse race that lasts a minute or so.  Even though the reward could be a lot higher on the horse race, the fact that the sports bet has a takeout of 4.6% versus an average takeout of 21% on horse racing, the sports bettor is likely to have their bankroll last a lot longer.  The sports gambler is more likely to handicap and watch sports the next day over playing the races.


Lotteries are often cited by know-nothing-it-alls in the comments section of some racing articles that discuss product pricing.  Yes, lotteries have a larger takeout than horse racing, but when one buys a lottery ticket most of the time, they are buying the dream of winning, of quitting their job and buying a house in Aruba.  That is a big part of the fix, plus there is no learning curve.  Horse racing's answer are these Jackpot Pick 6's which really just drain the bankrolls of current players faster, taking away much needed churn (Bang for your buck), and as for the pros and cons of the gambler's fix, I believe they do more damage than good.


Yes, horse racing has all sorts of problems, from drugs to run up times to its high learning curve, but the biggest problem is that it is no longer attractive to new potential players, and it all points to the price of the product.  If the game was perceived as beatable by at least a few, then the new demand created would force the industry to fix their micro-problems. 


The industry has done just about everything but faced the fact that they are all about gambling and need to address their pricing problem, but as Pull The Pocket points out (Why Do I Need 4 Betting Accounts), the result is a mad dash to get a higher percentage from a shrinking pie at the expense of the Horseplayer, which causes the pie to shrink even more.  Handle has gone down so much in the past few years, that when it doesn't go down one month, it is perceived as a victory by industry leaders.


Horse racing is a great game.  A thinking person's game.  But the industry seems to close their eyes and kick its heels repeating "horse racing is entertainment not gambling, horse racing is entertainment not gambling, horse racing is entertainment not gambling."  No matter how many times they open their eyes, they are never in Kansas.