30 October 2009

Bettors Want Bigger Fields Over Higher Quality Fields

Cool poll over at Pace Advantage: Which would you rather bet on? High quality horses in races with short fields or low quality horses in races with full fields?

At the time of this posting, over 88% of voters chose full fields. I'm not surprised full fields is preferred, but the margin is a bit of a shock.

Takeout and track surface are also factored in big time by bettors, and that explains why Woodbine, with their big fields, fails to attract significant betting.

Looking at Woodbine's recent pathetic handles I have to wonder if they just need to go back to the drawing board and start over. With the fabulous purse structure they have, the near monopoly on horse race gambling they have in Canada as well, it is inexcusable to have handle numbers that range between $1.2-$1.6 million on Wednesday's and Thursdays. Even $2.5 million on Saturdays isn't anything to brag about either when compared to A tracks like Keeneland.

If not for slots, Woodbine would have been bankrupt a long time ago. Their leadership needs to go. They have killed a great game.

What good do $1 million dollar races at Woodbine do? They do have a couple of $5 million handle days thanks to them, but when you analyze things, they actually lose money on those days.

Are those days good for the Canadian economy? Not really. Most of the purse monies are grabbed by non Canadian outfits shipping in horses and the money leaves the country.

Does it help the Canadian/Ontario breeding industry? Nope. The horses that end up with the big money rarely have an ounce of Canadian blood in them.

How about creating more bettors? There is absolutely no evidence that new bettors have been created. Since Willmot took the reigns, very few new bettors have been created in Ontario. In fact, many older bettors have either died or took their business elsewhere. And if one looks at the handle numbers right before or after the big races, there is no apparent change when it comes to creating new business.

Besides drastically lowering takeout, Woodbine would be best advised to knock it off with the extraordinarily high purse paid out in their biggest races, and use their resources to attract and sustain Canadian outfits. Woodbine gives out too much to allowance runners as well (5 horse fields running for $100,000 purses aren't worth it as they attract little to no betting).

Woodbine should give out more money to lower end claimers, allowing new local owners/partnerships (Ontarians) a shot to make money and build a stable. Inevitably, these new owners will come to the track more, expose more friends and family to horse racing (taking them out to the track when their horses run). They will also be more inclined to buy yearlings (thus helping the local breeding industry). Like bettors, owners are more apt to play a lot longer the more money they receive each time they are victorious.

Delaware Bucks Downward Trend In Racing
Delaware ran 27 less days this year, but their total handle (not daily, total) was up.

See what happens when you allow your signal to be available to everyone, make your video available to everyone, and have half decent field sizes (close to 8 horses a race average), and have slightly lower than average track takeouts (19% on doubles and exactors). See also, Pull The Pocket: Less Races, More Betting

Speaking about those who don't give out their signal to everyone and also withhold their video, where are Belmont's final numbers? My guess is the that the boys at NYRA are scurrying around looking for viable excuses so they have a shot at keeping their jobs.

Fort Erie handle drops on par with the industry drop in 2009

Fort Erie handle dropped around 10% this year. Field size was up from last year to 8.2 horses a race from 7.7 a race last year. They gave out 5% less in purse distribution in 2009.
There was no mention regarding whether they ran significantly less races in 2009. I do remember quite a few 10 race cards last year on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I'm inclined to think that the 5% drop in purse distribution is in line with 5% less races.
This would account for some of the drop off.

Fort Erie is very good about distributing their signal to all tracks and ADWs, so exposure isn't the issue. And players like races that have bigger field over quality, so that definitely isn't the issue.

The biggest factor could be public awareness of takeout. Thanks to HANA and blogs like mine, the public is becoming more and more educated as to why they aren't lasting long when they play the ponies.

Fort Erie, like Woodbine have ridiculously high takeout rates. See the HANA takeout chart here (it is not 100% up to date, but it is close). Fort Erie, has the highest takeout rate in North America for exactors and doubles. It is 26.2%. Besides educated players avoiding the track because of this, rates like this kill off people who don't even have a clue about takeout. When you send players home with less money, they are less likely to come back anytime soon.

Slot operators generally payout around 92%. In Ontario, slot operators are allowed to payout between 85-98%. They generally payout around 90-92%. Why not 85%? Because, slot operators have historically found that anything over 90% has a negative impact on future slot earnings. Players don't last long enough to make their experience enjoyable enough. They go less, and when they go less, they are less likely to bring friends or family along the odd night, possibly creating a new slots customer.

Here is a pretty current slot payback chart by state.

If Fort Erie doesn't open next year, the Welfare Offices could be getting a lot of extra business.
There is no doubt that Fort Erie's closure would have a tremendous negative impact in Fort Erie and its surrounding area. The more I think about it, Ajax Downs can't be the solution when it comes to where B horses will race next year. Without a backstretch, it would be just too impractical. Costs to ship to race or workout, coupled with the cost to train a horse off a farm (which also makes it difficult to get a horse to 100% race fit, and gives Woodbine shippers a insurmountable edge), will probably cause many owners to leave the game.


This isn't the first time, Fort Erie needed a government bail out. Back in the early 90's, the Ontario Jockey Club was making it known that Fort Erie was losing a couple of million a year. I happened to run across this yesterday: Ontario Jockey Club Study of the Impact of Casino Gambling on the Ontario Horse Racing industry
September 21,1992
. It is important to note that back then, the government was making around 9% on every dollar bet (this has now been reduced to 1.3%, probably with this study in mind, as it was known in advance that slots would cannibalize horse racing).

On page 6 of the report:

In particular, smaller operations have been hit very
hard as shown by the plight of the 95-year old Fort Erie racetrack owned by the OJC. Fort Erie has been losing $2 million per year for the last five years.

The OJC was able to sustain these losses for a period of time as its other operations produced sufficient revenues to subsidize these losses.

They were forced into a position, however, to close the Fort Erie operation unless assistance was received from other participants.

An arrangement with the provincial government was reached at the end of July which is expected to provide the OJC with an additional $1.5 million by way of a tax rebate scheme.

It has recently been announced that smaller operations will receive a proportionately larger tax-rebate from the government in order to survive in the current recessionary environment.

If the government increases competition for these tracks by introducing new forms of gambling, it is likely that further government assistance will be required if significant track closures are to be avoided.

It was estimated by the OJC that closure of the Fort Erie track would have meant a loss of 4,500 jobs and a loss of payroll for the community of $38 million.

Bottom line, precedence has been set with respect to the government bailing out Fort Erie.

Fort Erie Trainer Gets A 9 Month Ban
Trainer Michael Osborne was caught by Woodbine security in the receiving barn with a loaded syringe. After analyzing the substance, the "liquid in the syringe to be n-butanol and ethanol both alcohol, a Class 2 medication."

This brings up at least a couple of concerns. I doubt that this mixture shows up on a test, yet it a Class 2 medication, so why don't they test for it?

I'm always of the mindset that when someone gets nailed like this, whether it is a trainer will an illegal substance or a drug dealer getting nailed by the RCMP, there are thousands of instances when the trainer or drug dealer is not caught. Some are never caught.

In my view, Osborne was just unlucky he got nailed. The odds were totally against him getting caught.

So this boils down to one key question: Are the penalties in place right now enough of a deterrent to stop the cheating?

My answer is NO. 9 months definitely will hurt anyone financially, but the time goes by pretty quickly. 3 years, would probably do the trick. I don't know if any trainer would risk that? Of course, if these drug violation were treated as they should be by the courts, and criminal charges were laid (defrauding the betting public), we might find a lot more honest trainers in the backstretch.

Trainers will adapt. But with so many trainers getting away with drug concoctions in the backstretch, even the honest ones need to compete to stay in business and they are tempted to cheat as well.

Give almost any trainer a blue pill, and tell them it won't test and you can expect an enhanced performance from the horse, and 99% of the trainers would be giving the horse the pill...at least that is how I see it.

Equibase just unveiled a consolidated horse search. This allows anyone to type in the name of a race horse, and then view, for free, any of the race charts for that horse all the way back to 1999. Or you can view it 5X Pedigree for free as well. It also links to pay services as well. Simply go to the Equibase home page and you'll find the box that will get you going. You can also look up a broodmare's race record, and if she raced from 1999, see her actual charts race by race.

Equibase also recently did the horseplayer another great deed with a new and improved way for players to get up to the minute scratches, jockey changes, and surface changes. Every player needs to bookmark this page. It is an excellent resource.


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Anonymous said...

Fort Erie,

Well said precedence has been set

Tom C. said...

Wow do I wish you could manage the Fort . It has become apparent that the management (owners) really don't want to make the track a go but would rather wallow in self pity and ask for a government hand out. Everything they do is a negative to the horse players. The promotion is nil while there has been no capital investment in the track to make it more appeal ling to the bettors ! Of course betting would be down , they even stop taking US currency !

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tom C., Fort Erie mamagement is the worst. Year after year a continous downward spiral for fans and horseman alike.