13 March 2015

Updated Google Track Takeout Maps For Thoroughbred and Harness Racing

9 March 2015

Maybe Churchill Downs Could Have Won Texas ADW Lawsuit If.....

Texas Horseplayers cannot bet on horses legally online.  So much for land of the free.
The chronology of events to date:

Texas Racing Act in 1986 which predated internet states that horse betting can only take place if wagers are made at a track.

Texas amends Act in 2011 to specifically make wagering online on horses illegal.

Churchill Downs sues, and is allowed to take online wagers until case is decided upon.

Churchill Downs loses suit in September 2013, and suspends all online activity in Texas.

Churchill Downs appeals case and loses appeal in September 2014.

Churchill Downs most likely lost because they were fighting the wrong battle.  Their biggest argument was that their business was being discriminated against and cited the interstate commerce law.  They were not allowed to take bets through their bet taking business (Twinspires), yet racetracks were still allowed to take bets.

The problem with that is that no company is allowed to take bets online in Texas, not even racetracks.  Think of it like this, it is as if a state legalizes marijuana sales but only if it bought at designated locations which meet stringent standards, and of course, internet sales would not be legal in that state.  Tough to argue against.  The State of Texas pretty much used this type of reasoning to defend the gambling law, but their arguments can easily be shot down when it comes to horse racing.

Argument 1. Minors can use daddy's credit card to bet online:

If this is done without the parents knowledge, the parent will know within a month and the kid will be denied access very quickly by the parent.  If it is with the parents consent, it is no different than when I was 14 and gave my dad or a friend of his a couple of bucks to bet on the 3 to win (and this was at the track).

Argument 2. Money laundering and fake IDs:

Money laundering is probably much easier to achieve these days by either offshore bookies (which still take Texas residents I believe) or at the track (betting a large sum to show and cashing the wager with complete anonymity).  There is simply too much of trail for money launderers to do this online with a legal ADW these days.  As for fake IDs, one doesn't even need to show ID at a track unless they look underage or they cash a signer, etc.   In Canada, one only has to show ID if are asking for a check at the track.  Besides, ADWs are at the forefront of  both fraud prevention and catching fraud as presented at the Global Symposium  On Racing in Arizona in December. 

Argument 3.  A problem gamble can gamble 24/7 without leaving the home:

Besides the right of freedom of choice being ripped away, most, if not all ADWs have strict policies when dealing with admitted problem gamblers, it is my understanding, they are generally banned for life.  Similar to Ontario's casino program.  Again, I'm not sure if the racetracks themselves have identification programs that are successful in preventing self confessed problem gamblers from wagering, but I think not.  The other thing is that the problem with gambling addicts is they still need to be able to have funds to wager, and if they do, but can't play horses online, they still have other options from going to a casino, betting with a Texas bookie or offshore bookie online 24/7, going to friendly illegal poker game and wait......play Daily Fantasy Sports online in Texas, something that really appeals to the younger generation these days.

If I were to bet, the ADW rule was enforced by a group that wanted to force gamblers to go to the track and they pulled some political favors in.  Just a guess.

The results are still not in, but I doubt this enforced law has created one purse increase in Texas, in fact, inevitably it will cause the regular Horseplayer to play less, become less involved, and find other games to play instead of horse racing.  As for Newbies, forget it, if high takeouts (lack of visible winners) are the main reason horse racing can't a substantial amount to replace newly deceased players, in Texas, Newbies just will become totally extinct, it is after all, the internet age.

Anyway, Churchill Downs lost.

Had Churchill Downs argued for the the Horseplayer/consumer instead, the results may have been different.

The Horseplayer in Texas is at a distinct disadvantage.  Not to fellow Texans, but against other players in most every other state.  And is very simple argument could be made that Texans who have to now go to a track or simulcast center to wager is betting not only against fellow Texans but against players from all over the US, Canada, and even other countries, most of whom can wager online.

Here is a simple one.  Someone in Texas either handicaps a horse or gets a hot tip on a horse and that person either lives too far from a simulcast center or track or something comes up where they just can't leave their home.  That person cannot place a wager, yet someone in another state can go on their computer and make the bet on their "sure thing."

There are pros and cons for a Horseplayer to be at a live venue.  They might be able to get better information at the track (I don't believe in tips, but many do) and/or they also have full access of the walking ring and post parade, more than someone on a computer might have, which can help make a better gambling decision if one is into reading the body language of horses.

One of the biggest cons of being at a live venue is the ability to cancel a wager if a horse acts up at the gate, for instance.  Someone on a computer can do this in the matter of seconds, while there is no guarantee that someone at a track will be able to get their ticket cancelled let alone have time to make a different wager.

The thing is that in most other jurisdictions, there is a choice, but not in Texas.  The Horseplayer is at a distinct disadvantage.

Arguing for the consumer is somewhat a slippery slope for Churchill Downs as they have a policy of denying racetrack content they control to many competing ADWs which results in giving the consumer less choice.  Maybe they just didn't want to go there.

11 February 2015

Popcorn Time

Here is my latest contribution to Horseplayer Monthly, HANA's  (Horseplayers Association of North America) free online magazine.  I figure that it would be the thing to do to have these videos embedded somewhere on the internet, so why not here?:

If you are a fan of horse racing related movies you may be surprised at what one can find on Youtube.  Here is a taste:

Charlie Chan At The Race Track (1936)
IMdb description:  When a friend of Charlie's is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.
Here is a rare gem:  Two Dollar Bettor (1951)
IMBd description:  An honest bank employee gets hooked on horse racing, and starts to embezzle bank funds in an attempt to recoup his losses. 
Watch for Barbara Billingsley (The mom on Leave It To Beaver, who appears in the credits missing the "g" in her last name) and Carl Switzer, who was Alfalfa in the original Little Rascals series.

The Last Night of a Jockey (1962) from the Twilight Zone series starring Mickey Rooney
IMBd description:  A washed-up jockey gets his wish while waiting for the results of his race fixing hearing. 

If you need a good chuckle:
The Longshot (1986)
IMBd description:  Four losers borrow money from gangsters to bet on a "sure thing", but lose. The gangsters go after them to get their money.
This one teams up Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.
If you've watched the first four videos, you are probably itching to make a bet.  Wait.  Watch The Trainer's Edge first. It could be the best video guide to horse racing body language ever made.  Even though it was produced in the 90's, it is a wealth of timeless information.  This might even make you a more efficient Horseplayer

Don't forget to check out the latest Horseplayer Monthly, lots of useful handicapping information and much more.  And it is free!  And if you haven't done so already, join HANA (free to join).  Why join and why use your real name?

"Please understand something:   At some point we are going to sit down at the table with track management and horsemen's groups and negotiate on your behalf. If nothing else we plan on making them painfully aware how their antics are hurting the game and alienating the customer. Having the names of real people in our member database serves two purposes. First, it gives us a way to keep you updated with our goals and progress towards those goals. Second, when we do sit down to negotiate, having real names puts us in a much better bargaining position than if we had a list composed of people's internet handles only."

6 February 2015

Location Location Location

It seems that one of horse racing's largest entities has given up on the idea of pari-mutuel growth in North America.   It is probably realistic given the direction the industry leaders are heading, especially when it comes to the effects of their actions on price sensitive players (the 25% of Horseplayers who wager more than 75% of the collective handle).

It is a good thing that there is an acknowledgement that handle can be increased if foreign markets start participating in North American pools.

But what is overlooked is that there are quite a few markets in the USA that doesn't allow parimutuel wagering.  Why not push for those markets?   One would expect that states that don't allow parimutuel wagering and/or online horse race wagering like Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, DC, and Texas would have more interest in the North American racing product than countries in South America, for example.

Texas has 9% of the US population, and internet horse race wagering is somehow banned there.  It is unclear who is to blame for the law, but it needs to change.

There is a coalition in Georgia looking to bring horse racing to the state, including online wagering, and they believe that they can add over half a billion in handle the very first year they get the green light.

What is really mind boggling is that you can wager on play Daily Fantasy Sports online in every state mentioned above.  Currently, it appears that Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington are taboo states for DFS companies.  By the way, Arizona just started allowing phone betting on horses, so it is the only state with a consistent no "playing" online rule.

Seriously, what is wrong with this picture?   Not that most gamblers, especially young ones, in states like North Carolina would choose a 21% takeout game over an 8% takeout game if given the opportunity, the problem is they don't even have the choice to bet on horses.

Still, expanding into states and/or countries is only a band aid solution in the big scheme of thing, and until pricing is dealt with directly, horse racing will continue to spin its wheels at best.

I'm convinced that if horse racing adopted a universal takeout maximum of 15% 10 years ago, this guy would be handicapping horse races on Youtube today instead of fantasy basketball games:

The similarities between handicapping a few races and handicapping a fantasy basketball lineup are shockingly similar (so much for horse racing's learning curve excuse).  The similarity ends when it comes to discussing industry growth as the North American horse racing industry has all but thrown in the towel (they know their current philosophies will mean no handle growth), while the Daily Fantasy Sports industry is thinking a bad year would mean it grows by less than 50% in 2015.

Horse racing needs a few Jake Sanders in order to grow, but with a 21% average takeout, that is an impossibility.

7 January 2015

Is Horse Racing Really Aware Of Daily Fantasy Sports?

After starting to look into Daily Fantasy Sports the past year and now playing it somewhat regularly the past month and a half,  I'm starting to feel that potentially there could be an unprecedented decline in horse racing in the very near future that would make the recent 3% decline in yearly handle look like a lottery win.

It is bad enough that handle keeps falling, even a red cent, from year to year, when you take into account that the majority of people in North America can now bet on the majority of tracks at any time from the convenience of their own home, 7 days a week, 18 hours a day (though many need multiple online accounts to get their best bang for the buck and full content).  Lets not forget about factoring in inflation and population increases when putting horse racing's numbers in perspective.  Nor should we forget about the online poker ban either.

Something is very wrong, and hint: it has nothing to do with lack of technology or people not exposed enough to the majesty of the horse.  Nope, it stems from realizing who the customer is, who the potential customer is, and most importantly, catering to what the customer wants.

Who is the customer?  The customer is the Horseplayer, it always has been.  Today's Horseplayer is a dying breed, as most were brought into the game back when it was a monopoly and at that time, the only way to gamble was to physically be at track.  Those days are long gone, but instead of addressing the real problem, many in the industry believe they can grow racing by getting or forcing (see Texas) people to go to the track on regular basis.  The reality is, that going forward, this line of thinking is as inane as the idea of starting a company that makes rotary phones.

We're in a technological age and an age where other forms of gambling, from casino to fantasy sports to lotteries and other forms of at-home entertainment are growing, and not going away (the NBA recently embraced Daily Fantasy Sports).  Going to the track on a regular or semi-regular basis makes no sense anymore for almost everyone, especially potential new gamblers.

Who is the potential customer?  These are the people who day-trade, who play daily fantasy sports, poker, blackjack (not slots or lottery players)...people who like to make decisions based on information and gut, looking for value in game that at least has a few perceived winners.  They are not stupid.  Not even the potential new dummy money is as stupid to try to learn a thinking persons game that has zero perceived long term upside.

Gamblers also crave action, but their bankroll can't be depleted too fast or many wake up in a hurry and find something else to do.  It is pretty nervy to ask a gambler to keep going to the well for significant dollar amounts in order to stay in a game that takes brains when there is no long term reason to.

Until the price (takeout) is lowered enough to allow for long term winners to be visible (sans rebate), horse racing has a zero shot of attracting enough newbies to make up for the old-timers who have stopped breathing and now are unable to bet, or have had enough of losing too quickly.

What does the customer wants?  You need a game that is perceived to be beatable in the long run by at least a few,  and you need a game where a bankroll has a chance to last.  Enter Daily Fantasy Sports.  Takeout is less than 10%.  The more one plays, the more efficient one gets.  The learning curve to be good can be surprisingly high, but not very expensive, as one can get a night's worth of action for the cost of a lottery ticket.

Right now, it is pretty much a gimme that there are consistent winners (this might not be the case a couple of years from now, but if handle starts to dwindle, I have a feeling they might lower takeout, not increase it, making the game beatable by at least a few again).  

The game right now also attracts a share of dumb money because it is perceived as beatable and that in itself adds to the popularity.  Almost every night you can see lineups by DFS players where a player on that team is out (and there was enough time and fantasy website/media/twitter write ups to know the player wasn't dressing);

"Large scale participation in a game always brings the possibility of overconfident and unsophisticated people you will be betting against."  from a must read article, Racing Gets A Run For Its Money From Daily Fantasy by Nick Willet

Since I started dabbling, I've found that I'm getting better at it, and my handle has increased (still, nowhere near my horse racing handle in times when I believed the game to be beatable), but more importantly, I'm finding the fix I get from handicapping horses presently is identical to the fix I get from handicapping a basketball lineup.  The rush I get from watching a game in action while monitoring the scoring in other games is similar to the rush I get from a card of horse racing.  And the bang for my buck seems astronomically better when it comes to Fantasy Sports than it does from horse racing these days.  Oh, and mounds and mounds of information needed to make well educated guesses is free free free.  The rushes I speak of might also have to do with knowing the game is possibly beatable so I'm not handicapping and watching for nothing.

Optimistically to me, this proves how good things could be if horse racing were to adopt takeouts in the range of 8-12% and past performance info outside of maybe premium info was free.  I still believe strongly that horse racing is best thinking person's game out there, and has the greatest potential (big reason is you can paid in race that takes two minutes versus a game that takes upwards of 5 hours to complete), but it is priced too high, especially since the dummies have left the building, and that has contributed greatly to the lack of long term winners.

Currently, lower takeout seems like an impossible dream, especially with Churchill Downs Inc. and the Stronach Group wagging the dog.  

For lower takeout to work, all tracks are needed to be on board with today's "I just cashed, what track is going off next" internet/simulcast gambler.  In other words, horse racing may need to blow itself up and start over again in order to grow....I think it will inevitably happen, but I may not live to see it.

Another important point is that I don't think too many Daily Fantasy Sports players understand the ramifications or even care about the takeout, but they understand how much is in their account to churn......just like most Horseplayers.   Yet one game with a 21% average takeout is on the decline, and the other is growing exponentially.  I also don't think DFS has explored optimal takeout yet as it is still in uncharted waters, but by the time the dust clears, it will, and I wouldn't be surprised to see takeout rates drop a bit in the near future, especially if there is even a sign of bottom line decline.

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.


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.


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.


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.  


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.


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.


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."