18 May 2009

Handicapping Woodbine: I've Thrown In The White Towel

Today marks the first time in around 30 years that I've decided not to either buy a form or download a racing card from Woodbine (or Greenwood RIP).
I know I constantly complain about the track takeout at Woodbine, but that hasn't stopped me completely from handicapping, and betting on Woodbine races (though because of the takeout, Woodbine betting from me represents only around 10% of what I bet in total).

I've decided to stop taking a brick to my head and going WHAP! Woodbine has to be the hardest track in North America to handicap. And thanks to the takeout, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be a long term winner, even if you are the luckiest bettor on this planet. I can't become drawn anymore to the biggest track in the jurisdiction I live, just because it is there.

Please, this is not sour grapes. I pride myself on being one of the best handicappers on this planet. I've had scores of $20,000 or more four times in the last 18 years. I know what I'm doing. And by all means, I'm not giving up on handicapping and betting. In fact over the next few months, I expect to go heavier than I ever have before. But nothing will go through my HPI account.

My problem is that when I do handicap a card, I handicap for value. I often come up with plays that would yield very good scores. It is hard not to play them, if I have knowledge that I picked them. This year, I have to admit, I'm not even close to hitting them. So my new motto is ignorance is bliss.

Why is Woodbine so hard to handicap?
I'm not a Polytrack hater, but the Poly in this case has a lot to do with it. The Woodbine jockey colony has figured out that they don't have to move early on it, especially if they feel they have horse underneath. If you look at some of the fractions for distance races especially, the half mile time becomes a huge joke. 50-52 seconds for horses running for $70,000 purses? And what is worse is in the old days, a horse who used to get away with those type of fractions would almost be a cinch to win the race. Now, despite the fact that Dan Loiselle keeps stating that his horse will be tough to beat from there, these horses are lucky to hit the board.

What this means is that times of races become almost irrelevant. Especially the further they go. The race comes down to who has the best 3 furlong kick and who can stay out of trouble when the kick happens. Basically, it is all randomness. And at the collective 21% takeout, it is far too expensive a deal. Might as well play the 649 (they have a 40-50% takeout but if you hit is once, you are set for a few lifetimes).

I think another reason that is less apparent to many handicappers, is the usage of drugs. This year, perhaps the "weening off" of steroids has a lot to do with the randomness that is happening. Some trainers might be experimenting with other ways to keep their horses built up. Some of these programs may be working, some may not, and in some cases, horses are still on steroids, as the ban doesn't kick in for another couple of weeks.

Now, I will still continue to do track variants for Woodbine races because I like playing Fort Erie (only with rebates of course...I wouldn't touch the Fort without them as they rate 70th out of 71 when it comes to best takeout rate in North America), and it is important to have figures for Woodbine because of all the Woodbine invaders. I'll probably handicap the Queen's Plate.

Watching the infamous Bug's Boy race. Yesterday, he looked like an immortal cinch as Dan Loiselle used the term "under a hand ride." Simon Husbands is now in a situation that he can't whip the horse. And every time the horse runs now, he makes a great move "under a hand ride," and then stops at the sixteenth pole "under the same hand ride."

Again, the suspension handed out last year was warranted. The amount of time of the suspension wasn't. But the ORC made a mockery of the Woodbine Stewards, and pissed on the bettors, by reversing the decision.

The Stewards have been doing an excellent job. And they are all ex jockeys. They know that something was fishy with Simon's ride last year, and took appropriate action.

Will Calvin Borel be the first jockey to win the Triple Crown on more than one horse?
What if Rachel Alexandra doesn't go in the Belmont. Will Borel get the mount back on Mine That Bird? If it was my horse, he would.
I'm a firm believer that if Borel chose Mine That Bird, The Bird would have won the Preakness. Going long, a jockey with knowledge of a horse, has to be worth something, and conversely, a different rider on Rachel might have screwed her up just enough to lose the race.

Problems With Bonus Money At Fort Erie
It has been brought to my attention that Ontario breds will not be receiving the $750 bonus from the HBPA that they received last year.
Apparently, this decision was made either during or just after the HBPA decided to give over $500,000 as part of the ransom demanded by Nordic Racing in order to keep the 2009 racing season alive at the Fort.
The major problem I have with all this, is that it was never announced by the HBPA. So owners are finding out now, after they won with an Ontario bred, that they aren't getting the bonus.
The Ontario HBPA finally took off the bonus structure from their web site, but it didn't happen until late last week. This is what it looked like (click to enlarge):

I still think the bonuses should be reinstated, and to find the money to pay it, Fort Erie should eliminate all allowance races. If someone thinks they have a horse worth more than $18,000, send them to Woodbine and find out.

Of note, the CTHS still pays out a bonus to Ontario breds:

$15,000 - $20,000 Claiming: $1,000 Sales Credit & $1,000 Owners Bonus
$7,500 - $10,000 Claiming: $750 Sales Credit & $750 Owners Bonus

The Sales Credits will be issued to owner of the Registered Ontario-Bred winner at the above listed
claiming levels. These credits will be cumulative and must be used within one sales calendar year after
earned. The Owners Bonuses will be issued to the owner of the Registered Ontario-Bred winner at the
above listed claiming levels and will be distributed by the CTHS on or around the 15th day of the following

For Fort Erie allowance races (races which I think should be eliminated):

In order for horses to be eligible for the added $2,500 (winner only) at Fort Erie the winner must also be
Registered Ontario-Breds, at the time of the race, as explained above. When running in Optional Claiming
Races only horses running without a claiming price are eligible.

Lets not forget about the ridiculous rule in Ontario that was imposed last year. If someone claims an Ontario bred horse from 2008 and on, the owner is not entitled to the full purse that is up for grabs. They get to run for the amount of purse that foreign bred horses run for.

So if someone claimed an Ontario bred last year or this year, and wins a Fort race in a $4,000 or $5,000 claiming race, they get nothing extra, from the CTHS or HPBA, and they only get to share in 85% of the announced purse.

Again, this hurts the small owners, and the small owners of today are the big owners of tomorrow in some instances. It hurts Ontario breeders as well, as it creates less demand (less owners) for their horses. As I've stated before, most owners enter the game claiming horses, not buying them at sales or buying them privately.

Yesterday's first race at Mountaineer was ugly. Why did the jockey feel compelled to whip Nice Irish Boy when he had an insurmountable lead at the sixteenth pole?

I originally misspelled Rachel Alexandra, "Rachel Alexander." That wound up getting me a lot of Google hits on this blog, as many others did the same. More and more people now are informed of Woodbine's high takeout situation now:)

HANA has put up a link and a lot of info regarding the new bill introduced in the USA to eliminate the automatic 25% withholding on pari-mutuel winnings of $5,000 or more. It is important that as many people as possible show their support for the bill. Click here to find easy links in which you can show your support.


bullring said...

I watched a 76k MSW at Woodbine yesterday where the front runner clocked a half in 52:2 and finished 3rd.

Anonymous said...

thank you cangamble for your insight...i hit the pick3 @ woodbine yesterday...although i was happy with the outcome compared to what i put in...i find it hard to believe that woodbine would continue to have takeout so high...i know it's work to get winners...but this rate is definitely a tax...i'll be looking for value pick3s somewhere else...