A program at this year's racing convention in Arizona invited people involved in the game to contribute 45 ideas in 45 minutes. The limited time frame allotted is likely indicative of the attention the suggestions are likely to get from racing's powers-that-be. But suggestions were made that deserve serious scrutiny. The guess is HRI readers also have some of their own.


MIAMI, Dec. 10, 2015--The racing industry came up with a novel idea for its annual convention in Arlzona, a gathering notable for the lack of novel ideas it has produced over the years.

Five people from various facets of racing were challenged to come up with nine ideas apiece. The panel included Steve Byk of radio’s “At the Races”; Darryl Kaplan of “Trot” magazine; Steve Koch, executive director of the TRA Safety and Integrity Alliance; Peter Rotondo, vice president of media and entertainment for the Breeders’ Cup; and Amy Zimmerman, director of broadcasting for The Stronach Group.

Do you notice a glaring absence? None of these people primarily speaks for the fan. Where was a representative of HANA? How about Andy Asaro? Or John Pricci? My guess is the swells didn’t want to hear their ideas.

That this was primarily public relations theater, which based on past performance was going to be paid little heed, can be gleaned from the session’s title, “45 Ideas in 45 Minutes.”

If a panelist had, hypothetically speaking, come up with an idea so brilliant it would propel horse racing past the National Football League in popularity, it was still going to get 60 seconds, the same allotment as the suggestion that racing bid to be included in the Olympic Games.

Not all the ideas were new, which doesn’t mean they don’t warrant further discussion. Byk brought up uniform reporting of payoffs (50 cents, $1 and $2, depending on the wager). JP and I have been championing this for years.

When I heard about this exercise, I composed a list of some of my own ideas before I read the ones offered to see how my thinking coincides with those invited to speak. So there is some duplication.

Near the top of my roster is one that feeds off the uniform payoff reports. Fractional betting has proven its popularity beyond dispute. The $1 Pick 6 at the Breeders’ Cup substantially outhandled last year’s $2 minimum. Fifty-cent pick 4’s at NYRA tracks outhandle $2 Pick 6’s. With most betting now being done via self automated machines and computers, there is no reason to continue to enforce arbitrary minimums.There also is no longer a defense for breakage.

Uniformity among tracks is a must if for no other reason than to alleviate confusion among simulcast bettors. What explanation can there be for Frank Stronach’s Laurel to offer 50-cent pick 3’s but not to extend this to Stronach’s Gulfstream and Santa Anita, where $1 is the minimum. Also, $1 daily doubles can be made at Laurel and Gulfstream but not at Santa Anita. I'd love to hear the explanation.

I’m also in accord with a suggestion from Koch. He brought up the idea of a centralized group of officials, who would rule on inquiries and objections from around the nation. Hiring people with vast experience in racing would take it out of the hands of what are at many venues political hacks or friends of track management.

The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have such a system in place, but what do they know?

Despite the “let’s get it right” justification in team sports, those making the decisions still err on occasion. So bad calls would still occur but hopefully less frequently. If nothing else, this would remove cries that decisions at the local level are made to create or protect jackpot payoffs.

Zimmerman came out in favor of extending this to full transparency, allowing cameras into the stewards stand while potential disqualifications are being deliberated. This is another one that was on my list.

If I had been asked, I also would have suggested:

Curtailing (or ideally ending) rebates by raising the simulcasting rate for facilities with no connections to a race track, essentially internet sites, to a level where it is not fiscally viable to offer kickbacks. Lots of businesses offer better deals to big customers but these discounts do not directly come out of the pockets of the general public. When the rebate guys punch a horse down from 2-1 to even money, because their klckback compensates for the lower price, the $2 player gets screwed of half his profit.

This also would curtail the suspicion that computer players are able to bet after the gate has been sprung. Tracks are adamant this is not the case. They would have been just as adamant before the Breeders’ Cup Fix Six scandal.

You would have to be Social Security age—alas, many players are--to remember an old supermarket game in which people could win money or prizes matching tickets based on old races shown on TV once a week. Bring it back. Self interest is a great motivator to get people interested in racing.

Some might find the sport so exciting that they would visit a track for the real thing. Along these lines, tickets should be redeemable for admission, parking, a program or some other perk at the local track.

An innovation at Saratoga last summer, a low buy-in handicapping contest, should be widely imitated. This gives people with limited disposable income a chance to experience the thrill of the big money tournaments.

If attracting a younger demographic and newcomers to the game is a serious goal, a day at the races has to be made more affordable. Every time a track offers dollar sodas, hot dog and beers, attendance swells. Apparently nothing is learned.

A buck might be too low to generate satisfactory revenue but $3 beers and $2 sodas and hot dogs would still produce nice profits. Why is it tracks can’t understand that they will make more money selling a customer three beers at $3 apiece or two hot dogs at $2 than selling none of either at $6 each? Perceived value is crucial in marketing. (Gulfstream has $2 beers at certain bars and it must be doing well because it has endured season to season.)

In a related issue, something has to be done about the Racing Form now costing more than $10, depending on where and when it is purchased. I’ve unfortunately been involved in the closing of a couple of newspapers, so I understand the financial challenges print publications face. But $10 is a killer.

The less expensive Equibase program is a step in the right direction but the way the game is played now, with simulcasting from all over, a lot of players need two or even three of these. This wipes out any savings.

Las Vegas racebooks have a no-frills “Players Edition,” with only past performances, for a $5 cover price. I’m sure the race books subsidize this but if they can do it, so can tracks, especially those with casinos attached.

Another lesson to be learned from casinos is reduced takeout keeps people in the game longer. Except for the hardcore, racing fans are seeking entertainment and fun. The longer they get to play, the more likely they are to return. Unfortunately, this is probably a non-starter until rebates are ended.

Horse Race Insider readers regularly impress with their contributions in the comments section. Surely some of you have ideas of your own. The floor is open.