23 September 2011

Updated Google Takeout Maps Of Thoroughbred And Harness Tracks

The popular Thoroughbred and Harness Google Track Takeout Maps have been updated. There are still a few mysteries (tracks missing takeout data), and if there are any new tracks that need to be added or old tracks that need to be deleted, or takeouts that are incorrect, please leave a comment and corrections will be made.

View Thoroughbred Racetracks in a larger map

View Harness Racetracks in a larger map


Horse racing isn't about to lower takeout collectively anytime soon. At least most astute Horseplayers have some options:

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13 September 2011

RCI Report On Drug Violations: C'mon Man

That Racing Commissioners International report called the 2011 Report on Drug Violations really insulted my intelligence. I'm sure I am not alone.

Their major findings: Less than 1 out of 200 tested samples came up positive. And 94% of those positives were overages of "legal" drugs.

From this, they were hoping that the conclusion is that horse racing is a very clean business, and that it gets a bad rap.

The reality is that the drugs tested for are limited. Trainers and vets will go out of their way to prevent overages of known drugs, they would have to be completely dimwitted not to. But what about the drugs that aren't tested for? And what about the concoctions which make even the testable drugs undetectable? How can they possibly make the assertion horse racing is clean? It is mind boggling.

The hype from this RCI report is similar to making the assumption that from 1992 to 2007, Bernie Madoff was running a clean investment firm.

To my knowledge, most if not all the tests were after race testing. Actually, the RCI could have even used this as more propaganda, by stating that winners and usually another horse in every race is tested, and using this logic, and the assumption that overages enhance the chance for a horse to win, it would make sense that horses that lose are less likely to have a positive.

Also, and this is a big also, to my knowledge, outside of out of competition testing by some jurisdictions, drugs like EPO, DPO, ITPP, snail venom, and cobra venom are not tested for. For a longer list and what these drugs do, check this out.

And then you have things like electric shock treatment which will not yield any positives,
tapping of joints, and hyperbaric oxygen treatments (which works the same way as milk shaking), only it is legal.

Trainers sporting 30% plus win percentages aren't clean, and they are a detriment to the game, not only when it comes to bettors confidence but when it comes to attracting new owners, and keeping current owners in the game as well.

Sorry, but horse racing deserves the rap of being a drug tainted, performance enhancement game, and the RCI report is nothing but a farce. Was the report spurned on by those who don't want lasix banned?, or was it a hokey marketing attempt to get the public to rethink their prejudices against horse racing? Either way, I'm not buying into at all.

Now For Some Good News

Charles Town

Beginning September 19th, Charles Town has decided to cut takeout on trifecta, superfecta, pick three, and pick four wagers to 22% from 25%.
Charles Town takeout wasn't relatively terrible to begin with, as they ranked 19th in takeout score according to HANA's 2011 chart. This cut will easily catapult Charles Town into the top 10, probably closer to 5th or 6th in best overall takeout score.

Back To More Mind Numbingness
There is absolutely no consistency at Woodbine when it comes to thoroughbred fair starts, refunds and disqualifications when a horse obviously opens the gate earlier than the rest of the field.
Here we go again. Watch the 6 horse, Bossman's Blues at 4-5, break from the gate. Put the video on pause at either 21 seconds or 22 seconds:

Bossman's Blues finished second. There was an inquiry, unlike the Fifty Proof debacle a while back. What do you think the result of the inquiry was?
A refund (which would have cost Woodbine quite a bit of money since he was such a heavy favorite)? A DQ from 2nd to last for having an unfair start? Or no DQ and no refund? The answer will appear at the bottom of this post.

I checked out the charts for Woodbine from Saturday and Sunday and saw all these "bump" comments next to the racing lines. I decided to count them. 19 in total. Oh, and one even resulted in a DQ.

Maybe they should stop playing this video in the jock's room:

Now the answer to the quiz. Obviously, no change in the order of finish was decided upon. I wonder if the stewards draw sticks or if they pick cards from a deck before making these decisions.

7 September 2011

Getting A Handle On Handle Drops

Total handle was down a whopping 12.3% in August, as horse racing continues with a deer in the headlights approach.

Why is this happening? Let me try to cover all the bases.

First the negatives.

Net Loss Of Horseplayers

According to the McKinsey Report "2 percent of fans die, 5 percent lapse and only 3 percent are newly attracted." Less players means less handle unless horse racing is attracting big players to overcome the loss of smaller players. It is not. In fact, horse racing is more likely losing big players while gaining small players. There is no reason for big gamblers to entangle themselves in horse racing's steep learning curve, as the perception that the game can be beaten in the long term is not there.

Less Racing Days

Less racing days doesn't mean that Horseplayers will bet more to make up for those days on existing cards, though it doesn't take long for a multi-race track player to burn themselves out no matter how many days are cut.
Less racing, kills the continuation, especially for the live one track player. They go less, and bet less.
Less racing generally means less horses, and less owners. Owners bring friends to the track. Less owners means less potential players both today and in the future.

The Hurricane and One Less Sunday

In August Hurricane Irene caused a few key weekend cancellations. Weekend handles are generally much higher than weekday handles, especially for A and B tracks. There was one less Sunday this year as well, and that was replaced with a Wednesday, which is a weak betting day.

A Focus On Pick 5's and 6's

Low takeout bets are always good, but some are much better than others when it comes to keeping players in the game and creating more churn and handle. Some racetracks have begun promoting low takeout pick 5's lately. It works out as a gimmick, and just a way to get a player to play that track as opposed to another track with at least some betting funds.
The problem is that these wagers mostly produce fewer winners, and very little churn as payoffs are large enough for winners to take some money off the table, at least temporarily.
And there is also the tax consequences of hitting large payoffs in the US. Withholding takes quite a lot of money out of the churn circulation as well.
If these low takeout gimmick pick 5's were attracting new money, it would be a good thing, but evidence seems to indicate that it is just cannibalizing other pools.
For the sake of the game's future, tracks should focus on low takeout WPS, exactor and double bets, not lottery type of wagers.

California's Takeout Hike

Old news: California raised takeout on exactors, quinellas and doubles 2%, and all other exotics 3% in January. Since then, they've seen a substantial drop in handle. Pretty simple, players have less money to churn.
However, not only do those who play California tracks have less money than last year to churn back on California tracks, they have less money to churn back on any track.
This is cannibalization of the worse kind. The less players get back, the more likely they are to leave the game or in the very least come back and play so quickly. When they do take their leaves, the more likely they are to find a new hobby. Also, the less likely they are to expose friends or family to horse racing.

More Exotics In More Races

Nowadays there seems to be a superfecta in every race at every track. More Pick 3's, Pick 4's, and Pick 5's, more High Fives too. The one thing most of these bets have in common is that they are offered at a higher collective takeout than doubles and exactors in most jurisdictions. Again, this is cannibalization, and current Horseplayers are losing at a faster rate than ever before. It doesn't matter if the super has a dime minimum bet. If the average bettor makes $20 worth of superfecta bets a day at a 25% takeout, they will go broke faster than if they wagered $20 on WPS or exactors, no matter the minimum.

The Economy

The USA economy sucks right now, but it was arguably worse a year ago. Meanwhile, things are flying in the Macau casinos.

Higher Signal Fees

This has a major affect on rebate players (the fastest growing segment as far as Horseplayers is concerned). The higher the signal fee, the higher the net takeout is for those who get rebates, including the biggest Horseplayers on this planet. Signal fees have been inching up the past two years. Jurisdictions like California increased significantly when the takeout hike occurred.
The effect of this is that there is less value, and therefore less plays (less handle) made by the most sensitive Horseplayers, which include the biggest bettors.
One offshoot is that many rebate players have shifted their action to tracks that have either kept their signal fees the same or even dropped them slightly, but overall, I would guesstimate that the shift doesn't exactly match the monies not wagered at California tracks, for example.

Now the positives, though the impact of these two things seem next to negligible at this time:

More Horseplayers Are Discovering Rebates

More Horseplayers are getting benefits from ADWs and Track ADWs (like HPI) experimenting with rebates. And many are discovering that in most jurisdictions in the USA (at least two thirds), player rewards can be found, even for not so large players.
Horseplayers getting rebates keeps them in the game longer, and gives them hope the game is game is beatable (which causes new money, money that wouldn't have been allocated to horse race betting if rebates didn't exist, as the more a player stays in action, the more they don't have other hobbies). This, of course, means higher handle. Unfortunately, the negative factors are winning the war right now.

Poker Players Itching For Action

Horse racing has been slaughtered by gambling competition. Mostly slots, but horse racing has lost many a potential customer to skilled games where takeout or rake is much lower enabling a few players to be actual visible long term winners. The US government has come down very hard on online poker of late making it very hard to be an online poker player.
There is a slew of gamblers (many poker players are price sensitive) now itching for action. However, most want a game which has the possibility of winning in the long term. Many will get their feet wet in sports betting, some will try horse racing.
The ones that do a little homework will discover ADWs that give decent rewards back, and they are the ones most likely to become a new wave of Horseplayer, something horse racing desperately needs.

I know I left out field size and purses and handle generators. True, that races with more horses generally get more handle, however, this is strictly a cannibalization effect. Existing players only have so much to lose over mid term stretches. When it comes down to it, big fields will attract betting that may have gone to another track with smaller fields, but it doesn't attract new money, and in fact, again, larger payoffs cause the tax man to get involved sometimes, so churn money is taken off the table.
As for purses, studies have shown that if you double purses, handle only rises around 6%. This is negligible in the scheme of things, though higher purses can potentially mean more owners and more exposure from newbies (friends of the owners).

1 September 2011

Evolution And Horse Racing

I've done a bit of reading on the evolution of horses lately. Really interesting topic. They share common ancestry with the zebra (branched off around 4 million years ago). Prior to that they share common ancestry with rhinos and tapirs. It is sort of like humans who share common ancestry with chimps around 7 million years ago, and monkeys around 25 million years ago. Of course, if you go back far enough all animals on this planet share common ancestry (humans and horses share a common ancestor around 65 million years ago.

Another interesting thing, horses evolved from having 3 toes in the front and four toes in the back to their current characteristic of have just one toe. The most probable reason for the change has to do with horses being pray animals. They eat grass, not other animals, so the ancestors who survived eventually needed speed to run away from predators, and balance in the plains, for example and having multi toes slowed them down.

Another cool yet disturbing reality is that horses made it to North America 2.5 million years ago, but they went extinct around 8,000 years ago. The most likely culprit for their extinction was a combination of a change in climate and man's arrival to North America.

It was around the end of the last Ice Age. The ancestors of the North American Indian came to North America via the Bering Straight which had a frozen land bridge and may have been preceded by the Clovis People who likely came from a region in what is now France (not the Coneheads). They came across the Atlantic, most likely on small watercraft, as the Atlantic was full of icebergs to rest on. This is still a controversial hypothesis (not a scientific theory based on mounds and mounds of evidence like evolution), there is also a thought the Clovis came to North America via the Bering Straight as well.

There is evidence though that the Clovis dined on horse meat amongst other animals like the mastodon. The Native Indians most likely feasted on horses as well (it was the end of the Ice Age, and there is no evidence that the horse was used as transportation back then). The Clovis too were mostly wiped and the rest absorbed in the Indian cultures. There is even a hypothesis that a comet may have been responsible for a massive extinction of mammals in North America around 12,000 years ago.

The bottom line here is that there are some facts thanks to scientific observation and analysis of evidence: evolution of horses, horses dating back to North America dating around 2.5 million years ago, and the extinction of horses around 7,000 or 8,000 years ago (horses were reintroduced to North America by the Spanish around the 1500's, and many horses escaped, and this time around weren't hunted to extinction, but used as transportation by the Native Indians). The speculation comes in when it comes to things like man's hand in the extinction event, when man made it to North America exactly, and how, etc.

Future discoveries will eventually settle just about every question posed here.

So what does this have to do with horse racing?

Scientific inquiry is a wonderful thing. It is very efficient as well in determining how the universe works and how it got to this point. Hypothesizes are made (they are generally educated guesses), if over time they aren't falsified (by contrary evidence), they are accepted as scientific theory. For example, it is a fact that evolution takes place, the theory lies in how exactly it occurs in specific cases.

Horse racing seems to dismiss the scientific process, in other words, it continually flies by the seat of its pants.

For example, take the Lasix controversy. Lasix has been used for three decades, yet there are no answers that are close being conclusive regarding masking and whether it is needed as a staple. Why? There has hardly been any research done. The best we can do is make inferences at this time, and unfortunately, the inferences turn out to be very subjective (which is the polar opposite of how science works).

This is exactly why super trainers exist. At least they are exploring science as they find ways to make concoctions that are not tested for.

What racing needs to do is play catch up. Hand out heavy heavy fines, and list only a handful of drugs that are acceptable, while doing testing on whether these drugs should be acceptable in the future. The science exists to figure this stuff out.

And what about the pricing of the game (the takeout)? There has been absolutely no attempt to search for the optimal takeout. Strong evidence exists regarding takeout being too high. Though at this time, thanks to horse racing's dysfunctional ways, empirical evidence is impossible to find (for example, all racetracks would need to start off by dropping all takeout rates so that we can see actual results, which of course will still be clouded by the economy and field size as well). However it is doable. Casinos have done it, to the point that they know exactly when to tweak a house hold when it comes to their slot machines.

Empirical evidence shows that handles are dropping, amount of players are also dropping. The one thing that hasn't been dropping, in fact, going up, is collective track takeout (supers and other exotics with the higher rates are now available in just about every race and have attracted a higher percentage of total pool money).

Now if racing was thinking with a scientific mindset, they would tweak the thing they have control of, the takeout, and they should be doing it in a desperate manner as well. By the looks of it, revenues from alternative gaming will eventually start to decline and may go away altogether. A good scientist, doesn't just think of the past and present either, they think of the future.

But the horse racing industry doesn't seem that interested in researching evidence, or acting on evidence. Maybe part of the problem is that the center of the horse racing is Kentucky, the home of the Creationist Museum, a place where scientific evidence is an invention of the Devil.

Handicappers, on the other hand, look like Einsteins compared to the rest of the industry, as most everyday player uses a very scientific approach to picking winners.

If horse racing took a more scientific approach to both drugs and pricing, the game would be growing in leaps and bounds. It is after all a great game. The controversy is in regard to how it is managed.

Like with those who deny evolution, there seems to be a willful ignorance (see California for example) that plagues horses and not only is it standing in the way of progress, but it is actually causing a regression today.

BTW, please no comments about how evolution is hooey. There is no controversy amongst scientists. And if you are an anti-evolutionist or someone who believes the earth is less than 10,000 years old, no need to tell me about it, but if you want to really know what science knows, have a look at Potholer54's Made Easy Series. It is a wonderful educational tool.