14 November 2014

Short Term Pain Tolerance Needed To Fix Horse Racing

Horse racing is dying (but it doesn't have to).  Handle and interest keeps sinking year after year as Horseplayers are literally dying off or just get fed up, and they are not getting replaced.  This is reality, and large statues of horses or giant infield screens won't change this trend at all.

Meanwhile, Fantasy Sports has absolutely caught fire, especially with the young gamblers that horse racing desperately needs in order for growth to occur.  If things remain status quo when it comes to horse racing failing to realize they are in serious competition for gambling dollars (by serious, I mean that the horse racing industry address the onerous cost to play the game), the bottom still has a long way to go, as it is inevitable that legalized sports gambling will be available throughout North America, and the Fantasy Sports crowd will be lost when it comes to being potential Horseplayers.

Why has Fantasy Sports caught fire?  Long term leagues give one action that can last the season for a modest investment.  Daily games offer decent prize monies, some on par with big Pick 6 carryovers, and the takeout is less than 10% (when you include reward points for playing).  The games are set up so that there is a lot of churn money available the next day to keep players interested, and to keep players thinking the games are beatable if one really knows what they are doing.

That is the key, gamblers like to gamble.  They like to stay in action without going to the well too much.  Gamblers of games that require brain power and statistic analysis need to believe the game is beatable by at least a few, no longer the case when it comes to horse racing as it impossible to find enough edges to consistently beat a 21% average takeout.  It was hard enough when racing was at its height of popularity, and average takeout was hovering around 15-16% and there was plenty of dummy money in the pools.  There is literally no dummy money out there anymore thanks to slots and lotteries.


So how does horse fix itself?  First off, aggressively search for optimal takeout rates (these are the rates that bring in the top bottom dollar to the track, which in turn can search for optimal purse amounts to distribute in purses).   True, this is complicated when factoring things like field size and racing dates, but it must be done.  Every successful business inevitably works this way, not horse racing.

Hopefully, the optimal takeout rates will leave enough meat on the bone for at least a few Horseplayers to be able to beat the game in the long run.  If this doesn't happen, the game is doomed, something I highly doubt if done right.

After lowering takeout across the board everywhere, the next step is to market the game to gamblers and potential gamblers.  This is when a nation wide lottery could help immensely.  Life changing scores are attractive to the masses so a Pick 8,9 or 10 with races that have large field sizes would e required.  It may need a parimutuel element to it in order to make it available in as many jurisdictions as possible.  Takeout can be as 40% as takeout doesn't matter much when people are buying the dream.  The lottery proceeds can be used to pay for drug testing, pool surveillance, jockey disability and horse retirement among other things.  Most importantly, it will get more people interested in horse racing.....but again, to attract growth, the game needs to be perceived beatable first.


By far, the second most factor when it comes to making the game perceived to be beatable (the bigger the field size, the more value to be found).

4-6 horse races are very attractive to horsemen, but that is where the buck stops.  Most serious horseplayers who wager serious money would rather bet a 12 horse non winner of two 5 claimer than than an allowance non winners of $60,000 in the past two months that usually attracts just enough horses to get the race to go.  These races do nothing to grow the customer base, but they are needed to keep the elite owners and trainers happy and keep breeding prices artificially higher than they should be.

Short fields are plaguing horse racing not only when it comes to high level races but low level as well.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that horses don't run as much as they used to, and the culprit is most likely a combination of the drug culture in the backstretch and the breeding of shooting stars which includes retiring good horses too early.

If the above was fixed, there wouldn't be the cry of too many horses and race dates.  Without race dates and races, horse racing will end up going away because it will lead to a few A tracks, few owners, few horses bred, as there will be no outs for horses who are inferior in any way.

Fixing field size can be done.  First, races with the least amount of horses should be running for significantly lesser scaled down purses.  More horses means more money bet, which means more money for the tracks.  Have races with 6 horses or less run for 60% of the base purse for that class. For every additional parimutuel starter, add 10-12% to the base purse.

Second, clamp down on drug usage.  Make a list of drugs that are allowed, any violations need to be dealt with severe punishment, perhaps even criminal punishment (defrauding the bettors and other horsemen comes to mind).  Yeah, most horses test clean, but the big problem is what is being used that isn't being tested for or what is being masked, and everyone knows it.  The problem isn't what is being tested for, but what isn't being tested for and the only way to hinder this is with huge fines and suspensions.

Cleaning up the drug culture will not create more Horseplayers, it might slow those who have a foot out the door.  But it seems reasonable that horses will bounce back quicker if they have less drugs in their system and that will lead to bigger field size, and more value.

The third thing that needs to be dealt with is to breed a sturdier race horse.  Horses should not be able to stand as a stallion until they are 6.  Mares should be at least 5 before they are bred.  Horses who hurt themselves early, will have an opportunity to get better and race again.  If they don't race as good before their injury, so be it.   They might not make it as stud material, which will be good for the game long term.  Meanwhile, we might end up seeing more Cigars and Foregos.  This will be a good thing.  Horse racing doesn't have too many household names when it comes to actual horses.  There are no Peyton Mannings in the game.  Household names can only help horse racing's growth.


If you want just about any stat for any major league player or team it takes about 2 seconds on Google to find it....FOR FREE.   Would Fantasy Sports be nearly as successful as it right now if gamblers had to pay for Kyle Lowry's complete last three game stat lines?  Almost certainly not.
Horse racing needs to get with the program and give the basic past performances with decent speed figures out for free everywhere they possibly can, including racetracks, OTBs, online, you name it.  The idea is to make it as easy for someone to make a decision that leads to them wagering money.  There will still be room for premium past performances, because of the lure of potential less sophisticated money in the pools.  


It is almost 2015.  Why can football tell us how far exactly a player ran on a specific play, but we can't get this information universally in horse racing.  Run up times as well, need to go.  If it means changing the way races are timed, good!  Lets see the real information, and let the customer decide what is important.  Of course, accurate information should be required in the past performances when it comes to drugs, the use of supplements, and hyperbaric oxygen chambers and any operations or treatments being used on horses to get them to the next race.  Sure, horsemen won't like it, again, too bad, the mindset needs to change.

When a football player stubs his toe on a bed post, I can find out about it, but it is a mystery when a horse is tapped before a race.   The idea of insider information should disappear as much as possible, not only for the Horseplayer but potential horse claimers and buyers.


If a horse is given three steps at the start to do anything to the rest of the field, fine.  But it should be that way in every jurisdiction.  My feeling is that most Horseplayers would rather have less horses thrown out.  I've stated this before, give Stewards three minutes under the hood, if they have enough to throw a horse out, throw it out, if they don't, let it stand.  Worst thing to me is a close call throw out, followed by a reversal two months later.  I'd rather have a questionable infraction stand and have a reversal, though I'd rather not have any reversals period.

Uniform drug rules are a no-brainer.  If you've read this post down to here, I don't need to tell you why.


Racetracks and Horsemen groups should be lobbying to get horse race betting allowed in states like Georgia and Alaska, oh and online in Texas, etc.   There are gamblers and potential gamblers everywhere.  In most jurisdictions gamblers can play fantasy sports, lotteries, and of course, they can wager offshore or with bookies.  Also, pissing off Horseplayers, who for whatever reason can't bet their favourite track at another track, OTB or ADW because the track is not on the betting menu only gets players to collectively quit sooner.  Nobody should jump through hoops if they want to be a Horseplayer.  Horse racing can't afford to lose anyone else and it should be looking to add whoever they can get.

For some extra insight on handle woes and more, read Pull The Pocket: Here's the Unvarnished 2014 Horse Racing Handle Story