April 7, 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:

March 24, 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.

March 6, 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.


February 14, 2014

Power Boat Racing In Japan Almost Outhandles Horse Racing In North America

Japan horse racing does double the handle of North American racing, despite only having 40% the population of the USA.  It is hard to peg the disparity on one thing, but it is most likely a combination of culture and gambling competition

Legal casinos do not exist in Japan, though there is a common slot like game called Pachinko that is offered throughout the country.  Soccer betting just became legal a few years ago, and since then betting on the other three legal "sports" have taken a hit.  The other three "sports" are motorcycle racing, horse racing, and ummmm power boat racing. 

Power boat racing aka Kyōtei has to be the most boring betting game I've ever seen.  I couldn't find an exciting race despite looking at close to 10 Youtube videos this morning.

This is the most exciting video I found:

It boggles the mind that they still do $9 billion in handle (which is way off the high) per year.  First, the takeout is 25%, and second, the field size is limited to 6 starters.  It absolutely flies in the face of know-it-alls like myself who believe that in order for horse racing handle to grow significantly, you need a much lower takeout and larger field size.

But there are explanations,  besides culture and lack of competition.  Only 7% of the typical speed boat betting crowd is university educated, and this type of gambling is mostly about post position and luck.  In other words, it has no learning curve.  That being stated, unlike slots, it seems to attract mostly a male audience of gamblers.  But when you think of it, it might not be any different than the dummy crowd that used to make up a good chunk of racetrack attendees in the 60's and 70's who didn't buy racing forms, but made their decisions based on program odds, tips, and intuition.  Unfortunately, the loss of these players has made it so that today's North American racing pools consist of  the monies of intelligent handicappers who are betting against fellow intelligent
handicappers, at a ridiculously high 21% average takeout.  To attract a significant amount new players, to a game with a high learning curve, there needs to be the idea that the game is beatable by at least a few.

Back to power boat bettors.  Another factor may come into play when a gambler is at the power boat course: I believe they can only bet on the 11 or 12 races carded there.  Fewer gamblers go home completely broke, like they are more compelled to do when at a track or simulcast center faced with 3 tracks going off every 10 minutes.

There are ways to cut down the takeout as well to an amount that most horseplayers can't achieve, and that is simply to play the 1 and 2 posts to win.  The ROI is close to .94 for that type of wager.  Of course, that means that some plays are unbelievably taxing on a bankroll.

The boat jockeys are responsible for their own boats, and when propellers are changed, the public is supposed to find out.  It is hard to think that cheating doesn't occur.  It is so easy not to make the front, and front runners win almost every time.  One good thing, there are non fair start refunds, which should be the case in harness racing.  If a boat is either 1 second fast or slow at the start, all wagers on that boat are refunded. 

I just find astounding that horse racing in North America is doing so relatively poorly.  Handle on the boring sport of power boat racing in Japan is doing just as "well" as the entire Sport of Kings in North America.  And things are looking to be worse with sports betting on the near horizon and with states imposing more and more restrictions on the Horseplayers who are left betting horses.  And then you have racing leaders like Frank Stronach who seems to believe that blowing dough on a statue of Pegasus is far more important than reducing track takeout for the horse racing customer. 

At least I'm right about one thing, and that is gamblers will bet on just about anything, but horse racing in North America is not much of a priority:

January 8, 2014

Charging Admission For Horse Racing?

Horse racing still charges for admission in the US?  Living in Ontario can really shelter a Horseplayer I guess.  I couldn't imagine paying admission to get into a racetrack anymore, and I'm pretty sure that if Ontario tracks started charging again, the stands would be completely barren, except for those working in the backstretch, who get in free.

Las Vegas figured out a long time ago, charging gamblers to get in would not be a winning proposition.  In fact, a portion of the revenues they make from people gambling is used to give bigger gamblers comps (casino jargon for rebates).  Sure, they charge non gamblers a lot of dough to see shows, and I would have no problem if a track had a theatre inside that had comedians, singers, or magicians, and charged people for it, but they don't, they have horses that run around a racetrack (when I put it that way, it kind of sounds like roulette), and the track charges around 21 cents on average for every dollar bet at the track on these events.  I don't see how this isn't incentive enough for track marketers to focus on (it would be even better for the track long term if they only charged 14 cents on average for each bet, but that is a slightly different and a much longer argument).

If the idea of charging admission is to eliminate people from entering a racetrack that have no money or don't bet, if that really is an issue, the problem can be solved by charging admission but have the players use a betting card to get through the gates (if they don't have a betting card, most will likely get one).  When the player bets $20 or $30 (or whatever amount the track wants to use), they immediately get the admission money credited back to their account.

Getting more creative, charge admission, but give a betting voucher for that amount, maybe even a couple of dollars more than the admission, that can only be redeemed for an actual bet after the 6th or 7th race, which means that player has to stay to recoup admission (use track betting cards or picture ID so that these coupons don't get sold or given away in a black market scenario).

How about charging admission, but give a free admission coupon that has to be redeemed within 2 weeks?

Since I'm on a roll here.  Tracks that don't charge admission (and tracks that do charge as well) should think about giving out $5 betting vouchers to Horseplayers who are still at the track for the 7th race or later that can only be used at a later date (anytime but today within 1 or 2 weeks).

I think the days of getting people to getting used to going to the track every day, like the old days has gone the way of the rotary phone, still, the best way to make new Horseplayers is to at least get them to track and experience live racing.  Getting the first timer back to the track is big if horse racing is to grow again.  But it is also very important to keep the old customers happy.  They are the bread and butter, and they are also the best marketing tool a track has right now, because they are the one's who are most likely to bring newbies to the track.   

December 10, 2013

Free Horse Racing Stuff

Facing average track takeouts of 21%, Horseplayers need some sort of relief when it comes to other costs associated with betting horses.  If you look hard enough, you can actually find free information on the internet.  OK, it isn't as plentiful as the free information for the four major sports (you know, the kind of information needed to bet on sports games, even though betting on sports is illegal mostly everywhere).

Equibase has quite a bit of free stuff.  Entries, Full Result Charts, Historical Full Charts, Free Stats for Horses, Trainers, Owners, and Jockeys, today's scratches and changes, and more.

When it comes to free past performances, check out Whobet .  Not all the races, and it is more painful to search than having your own paid for online form, but if you are casually playing and don't want any past performance expenses, this site provides a solution.

Do you want to know track takeout information?  Check out HANA's takeout ratings.  Alternatively, you can check out track takeout maps for most US and Canadian racetracks involved in thoroughbred and harness racing.

Equidaily has a handy link when it comes to finding the weather report for thoroughbred racetracks.

Free International Past Performances (free membership may be required)

On the harness racing side.  Almost all Canadian tracks have free past performances available at their websites.  For example, Woodbine/Mohawk, Flamboro Downs, Fraser Downs, and Western Fair District (which also provides a live feed on their site).

When it comes to free past performances for US harness racing, free enhanced TrackMaster past performances are available for select betting sequences at the USTA Strategic Wagering site.

For harness racing entries and results, USTA Racing and Standardbred Canada monopolize.

Most thoroughbred tracks have free handicapping selections for their ovals.  A few examples:  Hawthorne,Tampa Bay Downs, Aqueduct, and Woodbine offer expert picks (Woodbine really offers a lot).

I'll stop short at news sites, but Paulick Report is my favorite.

Finally, for carryover information, check out Today's Carryovers.

October 24, 2013

The Options For Fort Erie Race Track Right Now

I'm getting tired of reading John Snobelen's (nonsensical) ideas for a Fort Erie boutique world class meet.  Please John, that solves nothing. 

Fort Erie is needed in Ontario as a B meet for thoroughbred horses, and it needs to run at least 6 months a year to compliment the A racing that goes on at Woodbine.  Nothing wrong with adding a week or two of A racing at the Fort, but I don't see Woodbine giving up the A dates for that, but really, that is besides the point.

I thought the idea of the panel's report was to save horse racing in Ontario, and also set it up for growth in the future.  I fail to see how thoroughbred racing will grow under the new plan. 

What the plan does is keep the status quo at Woodbine.  They'll be able to keep purses up, but lets face it, they have had ample time with slots enriched purses to become an A track, but they are still not perceived in the same category as the California or New York A tracks.  A step below, but that step is a tough one.  Don't get me wrong, they have been doing many things right in attracting US handle of late, but there still seems to be a stigma when it comes to attracting the best trainers in the world to hang out for a while.  Woodbine is what it is, the top track in Canada.

What the plan doesn't do, is take into account the micro-factors that keep thoroughbred horse racing alive.  The panel did seem to grasp it on the harness side.  Of course, harness racing with more horses means more agricultural jobs, but how do you justify 6-9 B harness tracks, and no B thoroughbred tracks.

Lets look at exactly why a Fort Erie B meet is needed.  The answer is simple, it is why do horses race at Fort Erie in the first place?  The purses are much higher at Woodbine, why not just race there?  The fact is that most horses start off there, they either can't handle the competition at Woodbine (some are born without enough talent, while others just get slower with age and infirmities) and some can't handle the polytrack (Fort Erie has a dirt track which serves as an alternative).  There are also some horses that are bought in the US or Western Canada and shipped in to race at Fort Erie, usually by barns that are based at Fort Erie, so as to have a supply of horses that can provide a living.

The way this plan reads (and there are definitely many unanswered questions...final report, yeah sure), is that there will be 35 B thoroughbred dates.  So lets assume that these dates will be run at Woodbine on Thursdays, and at Ajax Downs (an undesirable bullring with no backstretch).  The cost to train these horses will still be $80+ a day.  Horses will have to be on the Woodbine backstretch if they have any hope of competing.  No way will they come off a farm to face horses dropping in class that are training at Woodbine.  The cost will be manageable for horses able to compete on the poly and win, but most horses don't win.  A good betting 10 horse race has 8 horses that won't break even for a month of training after a race is run.  And it is unlikely B horses will have as many options to race each month in order to have a few kicks at the can.

Owners of these cheaper horses will give up on them.  Now, a lot of owners are in the game to have fun.  Making money is nice, but the reality is that if an owner can be close to even, they are content.  The opportunity for them is that they may hit it real lucky with one horse or two, but that is part of the dream and why they own.  Many like watching their horses live as well.  The small owners with their partnerships is one of the best way to get new gamblers into the game as well.  But if an owner of an underperforming horse has to pay too much to train, they will have no choice but to sell the horse as a riding horse (if they can find a buyer) or go through the paperwork and race at a B track in the States.  The idea of doing this with a healthy, but slow horse, is beyond discouraging for most small owners.  They will leave the game.  And when you take out potential owners of horses, you kill demand.  Ultimately, it is the breeder who will suffer the most.  Thanks to the Liberal government's decision to end slots at racetracks, Ontario horses on average, have never been cheaper in a long time.  The report that just came out, does not change things, in fact, on the thoroughbred side, it makes it worse.

Horse owners and breeders in Ontario need an out, and that is where Fort Erie comes in.  Fort Erie has a backstretch where horses can train daily, and owners are rarely charged more than $50 a day by most trainers at the Fort. 

If it is the intent of the panel to kill Ontario thoroughbred breeding and just making it affordable for the very few, then excluding the idea of a B track is the right thing to do.

Look no further than the cancellation of the CTHS Winter Sale.  Breeders knew there is no demand for Ontario breds, and this happened after that "amazing" report came out.

Fort Erie was purposely given the shaft by the panel.  Yes, $7.9 Million year is a lot (well, not really when compared to $1.1 Billion blown by the Liberal government to save two seats), but the reason Fort Erie needs that much is that they no longer get rent for slots.  And the reason they don't have slots is the Liberal government and OLG wanted to prop up Niagara Falls gaming numbers (and I doubt that worked out for them, as most of the Fort Erie slots players are playing in Buffalo or quit playing slots that much).  In fact, the whole idea of Modernizing Gaming by putting slots where the people are, has been an abysmal failure because the only acceptable place for slots in Ontario is at racetracks.   This is why the OLG is now giving out $100 million a year for rent to tracks across the province.  The tracks share used to be $160 million a year, so they did get a hair cut, but the tracks were probably getting too much in the first place. 

To add some intrigue on the Fort Erie situation.  NDP leader Andrea Horwath recently stated she will do all she can to keep the racetrack alive (and that means at least six months a year for the 600 or so whose income directly comes from a Fort Erie that has its lights on).  She even went as far as stating that she would reinstall SARP.  I don't know if that is possible, but if it is, it has to scare the heck out of any prospective casino operators who might be interested in running slots (again, that was part of the big plan that the OLG had and I'm not sure to what degree they are pursuing it now that a Toronto casino looks almost hopeless to be a reality any time soon).  PC leader Tim Hudak finally said something other than it is a shame what the Liberals have done,  when he stated that he would make sure Fort Erie had at least another 10 years of life if he is elected.

Another thing that is overlooked by some, is that the idea of the report and Racing Live is to make horse racing have the ability to come closer to be sustainable on its own two feet.  By getting rid of home markets and sharing betting revenues derived from internet wagering, as well as sharing in on new OLG products, possibly a lottery, sports wagering, etc., there is potential for growth, as long as a track is part of Ontario Racing Live.   However, not only does Fort Erie not have gaming zone status, they have been omitted from Thoroughbred Racing Live, which means that if the report goes through, Fort Erie will get no share of these revenues.  They can't grow or become sustainable, even if they wanted to. 

Sports betting would a great project in Fort Erie, which neighbours Buffalo.  Buffalo has a tremendous sports fan base, and sports fans like to bet on games.

There is also news that the auto track is now going ahead.  A 65,000 seat stadium, one mile from Fort Erie racetrack.  That alone is reason to bring back slots to Fort Erie.  Why chance it that the auto racing fans may go to Niagara.  Many who want some gambling entertainment will want to gamble somewhere closer, and if not at Fort Erie, they are likely to go to Buffalo instead.

Bottom line.  Fort Erie is being singled out, and denied the opportunity all other tracks have.  It isn't right.  The entire economy of Fort Erie will be in a recession for years without the money the track recycles to the local population.


First, Fort Erie should define itself as a B track only.  Race $4,000-$10,000 claiming races exclusively.  $5,000 starter allowance races and in house stake races are OK once in a while.

Race either Mondays and Tuesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays so as not to compete with Ontario A racing at Woodbine.  Fort Erie needs to have handle and the bigger the handle, the more likely new bettors from all over will be attracted to their product.  Fort Erie should compete at times when the least amount of racetracks are offered in North America.

Any bigger purses should be geared towards Ontario bred claiming races.  I've stated this many times, in order to increase the value of all Ontario breds, the cheaper Ontario breds have to be more valuable to being with.  Doing this will key in potential owners to buy Ontario.

Fort Erie needs to be included in Thoroughbred Live.  If they need $7.9 million a year, they should get it, but it can include their share of the thoroughbred betting side as well as their share of the new products brought in by the OLG.

Of course, they need to have their gaming zone status given back to them.  Give them 200 or 300 slots and pay the track some rent (this will further reduce the $7.9 million they need).

If an additional showcase week happens, coincide it with the Friendship Festival, and have the Friendship Festival at the track.

Reduce takeout so as to attract more cost sensitive players and to keep their live customers in the game longer.

Give out larger purses for races that attract 9 or more betting interests.  Give less for those that attract 7 or less.  Horseplayers bet a lot more, the bigger the field size.

October 12, 2013

Fort Erie Racetrack Gets Cold Shoulder From Carefully Worded OMAFRA Report

The OMAFRA panel members are not stupid, but they must think Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is stupid or completely apathetic at the very least.

Here is what the "final" report states about Fort Erie with my comments in bold:


In the thoroughbred sector, Woodbine currently hosts all premier races while Woodbine and Fort Erie both offer signature races.

While thoroughbred racing attracts the highest wagering from horseplayers, it is the most expensive form of racing, largely due to the practice of on-track stabling. This cost is exacerbated with two tracks duplicating infrastructure.

Not really duplicating. What this report doesn't state is that the average horse costs $80+ a day to train at Woodbine versus around $50 a day at Fort Erie. Economically, for the horse owner of a cheaper caliber horse, the ability to stable at Fort Erie and race there, saves them from selling the horse for a G-note as a riding horse, or running them once in the States with the intent of getting rid of it after the race. An owner of cheaper horse who either is in inferior form or who can't handle polytrack might give the $80 a day option a try, but inevitably they will be priced out of the game, combined with losing the fun associated with owning a horse. Yes, fun is important, as most owners, even at Woodbine, lose money.

Another important factor is that small outfits are most likely to expose friends and family to the game. By chasing away many of these smaller outfits, it makes attracting new potential bettors even harder than it is right now.

The Fort Erie track has played an esteemed role in Ontario's racing heritage, but over the last decade meeting its financial needs has been a challenge. For years, additional provincial funding, over and above SARP, has kept this track open. Despite the best efforts of a dedicated Fort Erie racing consortium to boost fan attendance and wagering, maintaining a backstretch in Fort Erie places a difficult economic burden on the industry. Moreover, Fort Erie has struggled to attract an adequate horse supply to meet the demands of a 40 race-day calendar.

Fort Erie attracted half the horse it usually attracts the past year (using this year as a barometer is completely disingenuous by the panel), because they did not know they were going to be open for business this year until it was almost too late. It doesn't mean that if they had a five year commitment, that they wouldn't be able to attract much bigger fields and bettable races in the future. With new products and support from the OLG, Fort Erie has a bigger chance to be completely sustainable than the majority of harness tracks that this report has no problem supporting and not calling unsustainable. Fort Erie did need extra from the government even with slots, but they probably would be able to manage today if slots were reinstated and the schedule was reduced to this years levels.

Consolidating most, if not all, thoroughbred racing at one track, Woodbine, represents the best business case for the industry and the taxpayer. Reducing overheads and increasing the exposure to horseplayers in the larger Toronto market would provide more racing opportunities and higher purses than does the two-track alternative. Woodbine has the capacity to accommodate the horses currently racing in Fort Erie.

This is like saying that consolidating all harness tracks and racing at Woodbine would reduce overheads and yield the best business case for the taxpayer. I thought the intent here was to save and grow racing.

Fort Erie remains a beautiful and historic venue for racing. While track operating costs, including the redundant stabling facilities, are prohibitive on a full race-calendar basis, consideration should be given to hosting a ship-in festival meet at Fort Erie. Perhaps this could be done in conjunction with tourism initiatives in the region. One could easily imagine this festival culminating in the historic Prince of Wales Stakes.

This is not feasible. The track would likely be torn down if it was to only race a few days a year. The start up costs are too high according Jim Thibert.

The alternative to a festival meet would be continuation of a 40 race-day program at significantly reduced purses, with operating costs subsidized through a reduction in thoroughbred purses and races offered at Woodbine. The panel does not support this alternative.

The panel does not substantiate not supporting the alternative. Woodbine's purses are not affected negatively by Fort Erie running, and the $8 million a year Fort Erie is requesting will maintain Fort Erie purses at current levels. An increase in betting and new OLG products can reduce what Fort Erie needs and eventually increase their purse structure in the future. As Woodbine proved in the past years, a little new exposure coupled with larger field size can result in bigger pools size.

Fort Erie Proposal

The panel recently learned of a proposal by the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium (FELRC) to host 40 race days per year. This proposal put the cost of producing these races at $7.9 million annually. In addition to the costs identified by the FELRC, the panel believes capital improvements of at least $1 million per year are required at the Fort Erie track. Beyond these sums, a fair comparison with providing all thoroughbred races at Woodbine must reflect the lost opportunity for higher wagering at Woodbine. The panel believes a reasonable estimate of the lost wagering revenue is $2.5 million annually.

This lost wagering revenue argument is complete hooey. It is like saying that if a decision to keep Grand River open versus running their races at Woodbine instead, a lost wagering revenue amount would exist. The reality is that most likely if Fort Erie were to close, wagering from the Niagara Region would drop significantly as many gamblers would bet less on horse racing. Exposure to the racetrack, even if it is a couple of times a year, keeps many Horseplayers interested, and wagering. Cutting race dates, and taking tracks away will cut total wagering totals in Ontario all things being equal.

Incidentally, Woodbine cut Thursdays because handle was barely a million a day.  If they were to add Thursdays for B horses, it is doubtful they could do the same numbers Fort Erie does on Tuesdays.  They would be very similar for sure.
Weighing all these elements, it is reasonable to assume that the total cost of producing 40 race days per year at Fort Erie, including capital improvements and provision for lost wagering, is about $11.4 million annually. All in all, the panel believes an investment of public funds of this magnitude in the Fort Erie track would not reflect good public policy.

Lets see, according to published reports, Fort Erie costs around $16-18,000,000 a year to operate. Lets ignore this lost wagering bs, what I see with my Economics 101 background is that probably $12 million (lets low ball) goes directly into the local economy. Money that is produced from purses and betting stimulates the local economy in a much bigger way than just the $12 million (there is a multiplier effect) and keeps businesses stay afloat that are even remotely dependent on horsemen and racetrack workers. Take it away, and the reverse happens. Employment goes into the crapper, businesses go under, etc. Fort Erie would be in a recession. As for bad public policy, what does one dollar of investment do for Ajax Downs which handles one tenth a race Fort Erie does?

Racing at Woodbine receives stronger support from horseplayers and creates more net investment and employment opportunities. While Fort Erie does create on-track jobs, the panel notes that the required funding of $11.4 million would support a payroll of only $3 million. It is the view of the panel that this does not meet the test for a positive return for Ontario taxpayers.

More disingenuous nonsense. Eliminate Fort Erie, and many of the horsemen in Fort Erie will go to the US, some workers will look for public support (welfare, etc.), those owners who bring in horses from the US, will not, there will be less horses, less employment, and the numbers will get even worse over time at Woodbine as owners will be getting out of the game. The $11.4 number again. They must really want Fort Erie to close!

In short, the panel can find no path to sustainability for a resident racing program at Fort Erie. Supporting a racing season at Fort Erie is not consistent with a sustainable horse racing industry. The panel believes the public and the industry are better served with one resident thoroughbred track, Woodbine.

Racing is not sustainable anywhere in Ontario right now without government help thanks to the destruction of SARP. Why is Fort Erie being singled out?

At the same time, the panel urges the government to work with the FELRC to develop an alternate and sustainable business plan based on the festival concept mentioned above.

Why? If racing isn't sustainable, why throw Fort Erie this bone that is not feasible to being with?

One more thing I noticed when reading the report. $100 million is going to be spent by the OLG on rent. Tracks got $160 million a year before the Liberals tried to inflict Ontarians with their failed pipe dream. Now it is a reality that slots are staying at the tracks. The OLG is probably having a heck of a time trying to convince private operators to get involved. Anyway, the report failed to say if the rent money is to be directed in any way. What I see is purses being made up of the $80 million a year Princess Wynne is putting up, plus $60 million (which seems to be in line with the 6.9% takeout reduction). What happens to the other monies wagered by Ontarians? I figure that number is around $150 million (but my math could be off a bit). I realize that the tracks need to pay for operations, but that still is a lot of money that is unaccounted for in the report. And what exactly does a track need to do to keep getting a handout? Does a harness track have to increase handle from $5,000 a race to $5,100?

August 28, 2013

The Pick 5: Horse Racing Should Roll With It

It used to be that pound for pound, the Pick 4 is probably the best bet in horse racing, providing that there was at least $20,000 in the pool. The opportunity was always there for a pool shot, where you are the only winner. But now with so many choices per races, something that causes diluted pools, very few tracks can attract $20,000 and those that do have a 50 cent minimum, and in the case of Woodbine, a grimacing 20 cent minimum (well, it makes me grimace).

Actually, the 20 cent minimum seems to work for Woodbine, but I wonder if the guaranteed pool is what pushes bettors towards the bet more than anything else. Generally, 50 cent minimum pick 4's that fail to attract a decent handle are extremely passable, and what that means is that there is no gun to one's head to handicap those races and sometimes that means skipping cards.

50 cent pick 3's and especially 20 cent pick 3's just serve no purpose. I've wagered on them myself, but I find I bet a lot less when there is 20 cent minimum, and this is because the minimum discourages really big payoffs most of the time, in other words, these minimums defeat the purpose of even having these wagers on the menu.

The worst bets out there right are the Jackpot bets. A while back I wrote about the Beulah Jackpot bet that had grown to a very high level. I thought at the time that Jackpot bets would be a great way to attract the slots and lottery crowd. It obviously hasn't worked. Parimutuel handle is not going up, despite a poker ban in the US and the ability to wager on tracks 18 hours a day, almost from anywhere. Even the most successful Jackpot bets out there, ie the Gulfstream Park Pick 6, is only building at a snail's pace these days, and even during its hey day during the winter, I believe that tying up so many potential dollars that could be churned and could lead to higher gambling satisfaction amongst the Horseplayers (who get a fix every time they wager, so the more they get back, the longer they last and the more fun they have), has nothing but negative impact on the game. Even when a big Jackpot is won, only some of that money (that isn't taxed) will trickle back into the windows by the lucky winner most of the time.

There is no debate that there is good chunk of Horseplayers out there that want to have a chance at a big pot. Just the dream of cashing a big pot creates a fix for some Horseplayers, which is another reason why some gamble. However, it needs to be a realistic fix when it comes to today's sophisticated player. This is one of the reasons why the pick 5 in California has taken off. There aren't too many tracks that can pull off a 50 cent pick 5 with a potential $100k or more in the pot though. This is why 50 cent pick 5's don't work at many tracks. Fort Erie recently made a smart move by changing their minimum from 20 cents to $1. What this does is set up carryovers. Of course, field size is also important if a track is going to benefit from the carryover angle.

Making a $2 minimum is a turn off to most players. I rarely play a $2 minimum Pick 6 because it just is too costly for a lottery type of bet. A $1 Pick 5 at a B or C track with a decent carryover is a different situation. Some tracks, if they get lucky and don't have a winner for two or three straight cards could end up having fantastic days once the carryover gets into the $30,000 range, and the fact that with the $1 minimum on a non carryover day, there might be only $1-$2,000 in the pool, which means there is a good chance that there will be a carryover. If there is a focus on marketing the Pick 5, pool size will only grow, even on non carryover days.

The perfect situation would be for all B and C tracks adopt a $1 minimum Pick 5 with 25% of new money wagered (after takeout) go towards a consolation for those who pick 4 winners, this would create some OK churn and a reason for the player to invest a little more than they normally would.

What I would like to see is all Jackpot wagers to be banned. They hurt the game, though I realize they may have helped individual tracks like Gulfstream Park and Louisiana. But that list is very short. Fair Grounds Jackpot bets are a joke, and Arlington and Hawthorne's wagers do not attract anyone new to their tracks and the Jackpots grow relatively slow. Most tracks that have Pick 6's are also just hoping for miracles. When you see how slow a Pick 6 pool grows at Indiana, for instance, you have to wonder what is the point? Focus on a dollar Pick 5, and we might actually see the game grow a bit.

Check out some of the carryovers, they just don't make any sense. The only ones that do make any sense are the Pick 5 carryovers.

I don't think that a low takeout is necessary (I am all for low takeouts, but I am for optimal takeouts, and bets that produce the least amount of winners should have the highest takeout rates from a business standpoint). Sure, in California, it worked when their A tracks were getting beat up because of their takeout hike (Exactor and double takeout rates are pretty high there). The Pick 5 turned out to be the perfect wager there. It was sort of unique in that it started in race 1, had a low takeout, and big enough betting base from regulars and those who were looking for a reason to keep betting on California tracks after the hike. NYRA tracks would have similar success, with a low takeout or without one, and they are implementing one shortly with a low takeout.

Woodbine would be a great place for a $1 Pick 5, especially on days with big field size, however, I can't guarantee that it wouldn't cannibalize one of its Pick 4's. But I do think that if they went with only one Pick 4 and one Pick 5, their bottom line would be higher, providing there wasn't more than a two race overlap. It would also be advisable to them to push whoever they need to so as to allow 50 cent wagers.

July 19, 2013

Midnight Aria To Skip The Prince Of Wales, Too Drained

Fort Erie Race Track just can't seem to catch a break. Trainer Nick Gonzalez announced that Midnight Aria will miss the Prince Of Wales Stakes. Taking a potential Triple Crown winner out of US Triple Crown run is pretty devastating to handle and overall interest, take one out of the Canadian Triple Crown run and it means that outside of local interest, it is just now just a run of the mill Stake Race.

Midnight Aria's Queen's Plate victory was something close to a Cinderella Story. He was a good looking yearling, with very good breeding and wound up being purchased for $80,000 at Keeneland. However, late last year, he made is first lifetime start at Calder as a two year old for a claiming tag of half his yearling purchase price. His running line in the 5 and a half furlong event said he was outrun.

He next started in January after a 2 month layoff. This time at Gulfstream Park going a route. It was a $35,000 claiming race and he ran for a $30,000 tag. He ran game and kept coming, running a very good third.

20 days later, he came back to the same identical maiden claiming race, this time though he ran for $35,000. He ran a huge race, troubled start and going four wide, he finished 2nd beaten a neck. Tucci Stables had claimed the horse that race. In hindsight, knowing how rare it is to find Canadian bred horses who like running two turns, let alone 3 year olds at the beginning of the year, this claim was a no-brainer. One thing, and probably a big thing, is why was he in for a tag for his first three races. There are three possible answers. 1. He looked like just a horse in training.
2. He wasn't coming around fast enough. This could be driven by a possible combination of finances, trainer's input, and/or owner's impatience. 3. Some physical problems that the horse may have developed since being purchased. Very few horses are 100% sound. But some need help to get to get to the races. Today's drug culture helps get them to the track, but it also takes its toll on horses as well.

Midnight Lute, Midnight Aria's sire, was supposed to be route horse, but developed major breathing problems which were well documented at the time, and turned into a sprint champion. He could turn out to be one the finest route sires since Lasix was made legal.

Anyway, just like with what really happened with George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, we will probably never know for sure why Midnight Aria was pretty much given away. But we can speculate.

I'm not blaming Gonzalez at all for missing the Prince of Wales: “He's kind of worn out. The Queen's Plate took a lot out of him physically. It's just the strain and the stress, being training and racing for like a year. It was just going to be too much for him, and he wouldn't be 100 percent going in, so we're going to err on the side of caution."

But I can't help but blame today's drug culture for draining horses. Going back in history, thoroughbreds ran heats (2 races in a day, usually long distances). Nowadays, a horse like Midnight Aria, who has had 8 route races in 6 months is considered over-raced needing a break. Again, this is all too common in horse racing today, and it is either one of two things, horses are more frail today and/or the amount of drugs (tested for and not tested for) horses receive just drain horses way too much.

Where are the Sea Biscuits of today?

July 3, 2013

Tweaking The Ontario Horse Racing Game Plan

The Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel recently released "Toward a Sustainable Future – A Draft Plan for Horse Racing in Ontario." Some of the concepts introduced in it are excellent, some good, but some miss the mark completely.

Matching wagering commissions with public funds (well actually OLG funds). Great idea.

Here is how I would tweak it (some of the following is exactly what is recommended). Thoroughbreds share the commissions (after expenses) of all wagers made on thoroughbred races, both on Ontario product and non Ontario product. This goes for Standardbreds as well. For example, net commissions that are made on Meadowlands bets end up in the harness racing pool. Quarter horse racing needs to be dealt with though, there is no way they can survive using just this formula, and that is why I think Los Alamitos needs to be designated as a quarter horse track and of course any other specific quarter horse meets. Any wagers on quarter horse races at tracks like Turf Paradise should also go into the quarter horse pot as well.

The total commission monies should go to purses (most, if not all the matched funds will need to go towards track operations and marketing). The idea to divide it up amongst tracks based on percentage Ontario handle for each breed type is good, but based on total all source handle is even better. Large handle is contagious and can lead to exponential growth. Horseplayers like to bet on a superfecta that has a pool of $20,000 much more than they do a $5,000 pool or less. All source handle gives tracks incentive to market to the US and cut deals like the Meadowlands recently made.

Racetracks should have incentive to attract live handle and keep simulcasts going year round and also open up the possibility of giving out betting rewards as well to live customers. That is why, racetracks should be allowed to receive all non Ontario racing handle commissions for purses on all bets made at their establishment (this will help Ajax as well). However, they also should be mandated to have any live Ontario track(s) on their TV monitors, just as HPITV needs to be mandated to show all live Ontario race cards that can be wagered on through a betting account.

The marketing budget could include giving out free program past performances at live racetracks for all Ontario tracks that race on a particular day.

The idea of being cognizant of schedules is a must and that is addressed in the draft, which means it is unlikely more than 3 Ontario tracks will run conflicting schedules. It would be well advised that only up to two Ontario cards should overlapping with each other at any time.

Rebating and/or lower takeout should be encouraged. Rebates need to come out of the commission pools, but it is almost guaranteed that not only will the commissions be eventually regained, but because gamblers will have more bang for their buck, they will most likely devote more funds to the game.

The report misses the mark badly on two fronts. One is suggesting HIPS should be directed more towards excellence. The other is the reports neglect when it comes to the absolute necessity of a B race thoroughbred track.

The Panel wants to reward quality when it comes to Ontario breds. Quality Shmality. Horse racing in Ontario has had over 14 years of inflated purses. Not just on the Ontario sired side, but also when it came to open races. With slots for racing programs now at Aqueduct and Ohio, quality will drop off regardless. It isn't a bad thing either, because bettors don't give a hoot when it comes to 5 horse allowance races whether the purse is $40,000 or $90,000.

Here is the thing. Horseplayers wager for different reasons. The biggest being, they like the action. The action is what triggers their fun or satisfaction. This is why takeout is important. The lower the takeout, the more fun/satisfaction the Horseplayer receives. Another big reason for playing, is the opportunity of a big score. This is why pool size matters, and why, magically it seems, races with the biggest field sizes attract the largest handles.

Sure, there is attraction to big races like the Queen's Plate, but those days and races are rare. Still, a 6 horse Queen's Plate would attract very little handle compared to a 12 horse race.

The point here is that an Ontario sired race with a big field will always outhandle a short field open allowance race.

Here is something for the Panel to digest:

On Canada Day, at Woodbine, there was a $150,000 Stake race with a quality field of 7 betting interests, so much quality a new track record was set. There was also an Ontario sired filly maiden race with a purse of $50,000 that attracted 13 betting interests.
Which race attracted more betting?

Answer, the Ontario sired maiden race by over 40%.

If you tell Ontario breeders that they need to breed only high caliber horses that have to compete head to head with Kentucky breds, they will simply stop breeding. When that happens, you lose direct employment, potential owners and new partnerships, and jobs that depend on horse racing.

Field size matters a lot more than quality does. More quality won't grow thoroughbred racing in Ontario. Larger field size will, and taking away incentives for Ontario breeders by telling them to only breed champions, will reduce breeders, owners, and horses...which will lead to smaller field sizes in the long run, and less betting.

I understand the intentions of the panel, but sometimes good intentions have bad consequences due to flawed insight and foresight. An example of this is when the decision was made to stop giving Ontario breds full purses if they were claimed in a race. The idea was that owners could wait to claim the one with potential instead of taking a shot and buying them as yearlings. Did this cause higher yearling prices? No. What it did was take some Ontario owners out of the game or reduce their stables, and it made Ontario breds less valuable to seek out. All things being equal, would you rather claim a Kentucky bred or Ontario bred if they are both going to run for the same rewards next time out? To increase the value of Ontario breds you need to increase the value of the lowest tier Ontario breds and go from there. That is why Ontario bred claiming races are a good idea. I notice Woodbine has started up with a condition that has the potential to increase Ontario bred thoroughbreds (20k claiming, NW3 or Ontario sired).

I've written about increasing field size before too. If tracks are serious about increasing wagering, my idea of having 7 horse or less betting interests running for 70% of a scaled purse (increasing purse amounts by 15% for each additional betting interest that starts in a race), should be implemented.

I recently did a blog piece on how to increase handle at Harness Racing Tracks. I had a Twitter conversation with Anthony MacDonald, who didn't really like my idea to penalize good horses with post positions, but I stand by my post. Harness racing needs to stop catering to horsemen so much if they want a chance to succeed. I think MacDonald is at least pointed in the right direction.

The Need For A Thoroughbred B Track 101
- The cost of living in Greater Toronto causes thoroughbred ownership to be much higher than it is in a rural town (Day Pay is $80+ compared to $50-$60 at Fort Erie).
- The backstretch at Woodbine doesn't have enough stalls to house B horses during the summer months at this time.
- Thoroughbreds mostly need to train at a racetrack to remain competitive.
- Not all horses take a liking to the polytrack.
- Horses also go out of form in cycles or become non competitive against A horses. When this happens, an owner needs an out in the same jurisdiction and the option to pay lower day pay costs is a must.
- Owners are like gamblers in that they like the action. And most Ontario owners don't want that action to take place where they can't possibly attend (ie the States).
- If an owner's only options for a non competitive horse are to either sell for next to nothing, or ship out of province to race, owners and partnerships will dry up.
- The overwhelming majority of horses running at Fort Erie are owned by Ontario residents.
- If you end up with less owners, you end up with less horses. Eventually, pool size will shrink and betting will decrease in a big way. I'm kind of tired of 5 horse races where the top two or three outfits race against each other for purses that aren't close to being covered by handle.

Fort Erie should be able to survive under the new format/split....barely, until new betting products possibly come out.

Fort Erie should also be awarded gaming zone status once more, in case new products come out, like Instant Racing. I still don't understand how Fort Erie has Bingo Halls at a time when the OLG took away its gaming zone status.

Ideally, Nordic gets bought out. But who would buy a losing business at an inflated price? The only value that piece of land has is as a racetrack. Take it away, and real estate in Fort Erie drops as horsemen sell their homes,and businesses that depend on horsemen when it comes to their bottom line (whether it is hay sellers or Tim Hortons Donut shops) will start going under as well. This will make the value of Fort Erie's racetrack land close to worth nada.

Ideally, the government comes in and buys the track, and then gives it to the proposed OLR or Woodbine to manage. It saves the government giving Nordic payments each year for "rent." But many think that Fort Erie needs to shut down for a year or two so that Nordic finally realistically prices the track. That shutdown though could kill off breeding and kill jobs in the interim.

Finally, a think out of the box idea. The Ontario government states that they are trying to help horse racing (after nearly destroying it), they also emphasize that the industry needs to attract more betting and more customers, especially those who wager on Ontario product. How about an Ontario Tax Credit. $500 for those who wager $10,000 or more on Ontario races, and $1,000 for those who wager $20,000 or more on Ontario races.

June 13, 2013

Two Ideas For Harness Racing To Attract Thoroughbred Gamblers

There has been a lot written lately by the harness racing crowd regarding what they need to do to grow their customer base. I'm a hardcore thoroughbred guy, but I've dabbled into the harness racing side of gambling at various times in my life as well. I just couldn't win consistently enough, and the few big payoffs that were attainable, eluded me. I think my biggest hit I ever had was a $3,000 tri one time. I've had many 3k+ hits on the thoroughbred side as my handicapping angles tends to seek big hits outs. This is probably the biggest reason I've pretty much focused only on thoroughbred handicapping.

The USTA Strategic Wagering initiative has opened me up to dabbling a bit on the jugheads for two reasons. One is that the races are part of a guaranteed pool, which means the individual races will tend to attract higher handle and the second reason is because of the free past performances with track variant adjusted speed numbers. I believe TrackMaster has put in some good effort coming up with speed figs.

Still, I have a problem taking harness racing seriously because if the best looking horse gets the 1-3 post position, you almost have to hope it breaks for it not to hit the board at a sub 3/4 mile track. This means that in order to get a well deserved score, you need to hope for an accident.

So here are the two ideas. First, they need to increase the average mutuel payoffs. Solution? The horses with the top two finishes at today's class or better get to draw for the worst post positions. If three horses finished first last time (and none are moving up), they all get in the draw. Also added to the draw, the horse with the best raw time last race (of course, adjusting for different track sizes if the horse is shipping in). This would penalize a horse either coming from a superior race with perhaps a not so great finishing position who is dropping down, or a superior horse on the improve, moving up.

This will completely change the nature of game. The best horses in the race will have the 6,7, and 8 post almost all time. There will be very few 3-5 shots and higher payoffs will become the norm.

The second idea. Free past performances with track adjusted speed figures.

Canadian harness race tracks have free past performances at their websites. Problem is that they just have raw times. Maybe back in the 70's raw times would have created crossover, because the that is all the thoroughbred crowd had to go on unless they made their own speed figs. But almost all of today's thoroughbred gambler relies on speed figs, pace figs and/or trainer angles. The raw time crowd is playing slot machines.

When I was younger, I often heard that speed doesn't matter in harness as much as thoroughbreds. Well, that was when harness horses were 5 seconds slower than they are today. Now that they, like thoroughbreds are running at or near their possible highest speed, track variant matters. I'm not talking the -2 or -4 bs harness tracks put up when it rained, or whatever they did. I mean a real variant adjusted speed fig that is based on averages of final times during the course of a card using the class of each winner and then dividing by the amount of ratable races. And since all the races are a mile, it isn't as complicated or prone to error as it is on the thoroughbred side.

A free harness program with only raw times is like Shakespeare to me. I'll read a couple of lines, scratch my head, and put the book back in the bookshelf.

The industry should just pay an info provider like TrackMaster for their past performances. Put them out there for anyone and everyone who wants to look at them. I think a decent handle increase will be inevitable, but if the harness industry wants handle to really improve, they need to incorporate both of my ideas.

I also believe free past performances would increase thoroughbred handle and attract new business, but this blog post was about crossover, so we'll leave it like that.

Related Reading: Why Don't Thoroughbred Fans Embrace Harness Racing & Can Anything Be Done About It? Part One Part Two