13 June 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

8 June 2013

"O" My, I Almost Forgot To Make My Belmont Stakes Picks

I want to first give you today's most useless fact. If Overanalyze wins, it would mean that this year's Triple Crown was won by three separate horses with names that begin with the letter "O." I did some real quick research (by real quick, I mean, I could have missed something because I was barely awake at the time) and found that there have been four Kentucky Derby winners whose name started with "O": Orb, Omaha (who won the Triple Crown in 1935), Omar Kayyam (1917) and Old Rosebud (1914). When it comes to The Preakness, there has been three: Oxbow, Omaha, and Old England (1902). Finally, The Belmont has produced only two so far: Omaha and One Count (1952). In case you were wondering, yes, President Barack Obama is the only President whose name begins with "O."

So what are the odds that three separate individual horses win the 2013 Triple Crown with names beginning with "0" in a year that also has a President also has a name beginning with "O": Right now, it is around 15-1 (Overanalyze's probable post time odds with takeout taken into consideration). What was the chances 8 years ago? Probably something in the neighborhood of a few billion to one.

Anyway, I'm not going to Overanalyze the Belmont, here are my picks:

Vyjack: I heard his trainer has been cold (maybe he is just nervous being under a microscope), but I do like the odds. Vyjack didn't take to Kentucky slop, but he seems to like NY soup. Hey, the track may dry out by race time, but he likes a fast track too.

Orb: Hated him in the Preakness. But he does look like he has an edge here. Figure wise and recency he rates well. He did win in the slop too, in case you forgot.

Will Take Charge: My gut feeling is that we are going to see the horse who won the Rebel today at a juicy price.

Oxbow: As long as the track is somewhat favorable to early speed or even fair, he should last to be a piece of the pie today.

3 June 2013

Grand River Raceway Gets Serious

Recently, I did a post on the Canadian Track Takeout Landscape. One thing that stood out is the very high track takeout the majority of harness tracks (and Fort Erie on the thoroughbred side) has compared to the rest of the industry, despite years of receiving slots revenues.

I am happy to see that at least one track has made a huge step in the right direction. Grand River Raceway, which begins their 2013 season tonight at 7:05 PM, has drastically reduced most of their track takeouts, and especially the ones that produce the most churn:

Win/Place/Show takeout rate reduced from 21.90% to 16.95%

Exactor takeout rate reduced from 21.90% to 20.50%

Daily Double takeout rate reduced from 21.90% to 15%

Pick 4 takeout rate reduced from 24.90% to 15%

These takeout reductions will help in two ways. One is to put Grand River Raceway on the radar with Horseplayers across North America. The second, and probably most important, is cultivating their live customer base. Gambling is 90%+ psychological, and even if gamblers are cognizant about rates (most aren't), they get pleasure when they bet, and the longer they can stay in action, the more fun they have. This is the main reason that slots, being so unbeatable, is so popular.

Begging players to show up at a live venue to support a track might short term, but if the fans don't get a proper gambling fix, the will stop coming. Racetracks need to realize that the entertainment they provide is gambling, and all gamblers/consumers are price sensitive, and now more than ever with the end of the slots revenue gravy train.

Reducing takeout in today's environment doesn't have to produce sensational results because a high percentage of wagers come from online bettors who are playing many tracks at once. Many of these players though are price sensitive and are likely to consider Grand River now. Bill Finley touches on the reality of takeout reductions pertaining the Grand River Raceway announcement. Finley did leave out the newbie cultivation angle, which I believe is very substantial.

On-track players, especially the casual ones who have the potential to become regulars and even large bettors in the future, tend to wager most of their bankroll on the live product, so someone who cashes a wager at Grand River will likely churn the money back on a Grand River bet, and not another track with a higher takeout.

Note to racetracks who think that marketing in ways that don't include price reductions (lower takeout):

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Also read: PTP's Racing's Price Evolution and Bettors To Get A Better Deal At Grand River Raceway.

Free Past Performances for Grand River Raceway are provided here, usually 24 hours before races begin.