John Pricci executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Oaklawn Park, a Track That Gets It

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 8, 2017—In an attempt to make their on-track fans happier than they already are, Oaklawn Park, which opens this Friday, is offering a bonus on winning show bets.

Read lower takeout here: And the track is doing it the right way!

The new Show Bet Bonus will increase the winning payout by 7 percent, according to Oaklawn official Bobby Geiger. Why? Because show wagering is very popular there, accounting for over 12 percent of on-track handle in a typical year.

Oaklawn takeout on straight wagers is set at 17 percent across the board. With the bonus, the show rake will be 10 percent. a seven percent bonus for winning show bettors.

The different payoff levels, to be displayed on the track's infield tote boards, will show one price for simulcast customers and what is paid on track, so everyone can see the difference.

I’m officially jealous and disappointed that I cannot take advantage of the opportunity. My personal betting rules re: straight pools is generally win and place at 5-1 or lower; win and show at higher odds, using exactas as a “place bet.”

Many, myself included, thanks to my late friend Cary Fotias, and now California racing activist Andy Asaro, have supported lower takeout and breakage elimination for years as a means of creating new fans and bring old ones back to the track.

Every track executive, and every horseman, should support the "Oaklawn Plan" with marketing that emphasizes simpler, straight wagers with lower takeout to increase churn.

Reduced takeout worked in New York long term on an experimental basis decades ago, but current, short-sighted practitioners everywhere are unwilling to accept short term revenue declines. As the Bloviater-Elect might tweet, #stupid!

The purpose of the bonus is not only to draw newbies but to keep the average player liquid, encouraging all to keep it simple and not constantly chase lottery-type scores that requiring big bankrolls where wins are few and far between. Some perspective:

The chances against winning a trifecta in a 12-horse field are 1,320-to-1. Keying one horse for third costs $55 for a 50-Cent bet. Of course, if that horse wins or finishes second, you lose your $55.

Conversely, betting an 8-5 winning favorite to show in a 12-horse field with a 10% rake could pay, conservatively, about $3.20. Even with dime breakage, that’s gets bettors a 60% return on their money. The odds against winning a show bet are much more favorable, three chances from 36 opportunites.

Most bettors, even whales, have a low tolerance for bankroll depletion, even if they can afford the costly wagers. But today’s older, average fan, many of whom rely on a fixed income, simply can’t afford very high risk, whatever the reward.

Of course, Oaklawn is positioned uniquely. Not only do they have a form of alt-wagering dole available, they essentially are the only wheel in town. The Hot Springs, Arkansas track draws live fans in a five-state radius.

But this is a lesson all tracks could easily replicate. How about designating one damn race per day, hopefully with a large field of good formful horses, with a “WPS Show On-Track Bonus,” a chance for average bettors to return home with some money and sharpshooters with an opportunity to possibly even grind out a living.

Oaklawn’s innovation also presents an opportunity, with programming help, to make on-track show parlays, a less risky way to produce windfalls from relatively small investments.

I know that chasing rainbows are fun and often very rewarding. But it’s not the best economic interests of the average bettor.

Like typical corporations, success is measured only at the bottom line, which is why current marketing target’s the greed factor to courting betting's 1%.

Is that really the best way to go for an industry with image issues?


Can’t Make the Grade: For the second consecutive week, a graded stakes failed to fill at Gulfstream Park. Saturday’s issue is understandable as there were two one turn races for three-year-olds, the G3 Hutcheson at 6 furlongs and the listed Mucho Macho Man at one mile.

Each race is meant to serve disparate masters; one for trainers looking for a sprint, obviously, the other for those seeking a possible stating point toward the Classics, as such, a possible prep for the Holy Bull, Feb. 4.

“No one wanted to run against Navarro and Pletcher,” said Racing Vice-President P J Campo. Last week, Jorge Navarro held a very strong hand going into the G3 Mr. Prospector; similarly Todd Pletcher yesterday with Sonic Mule in the G3 Hutcheson.

However, Pletcher opted for the longer Mucho Macho Man and very gamely won the one-turn mile, holding an impressive looker State of Honor, making his dirt debut off a game placing in a restricted stakes over Woodbine’s Tapeta surface.

Post-race, Pletcher indicated he thinks the colt is more the sprint type and that the 7-furlong Swale is a likely future target.

Yesterday’s two one-turners worked at cross purposes. Recruiting Ready also preferred the Hutcheson and was compelled to run in the MMM. He tired badly after setting the pace to headstretch.

But graded stakes must go, even with smaller fields. They are too important to the potential reputation and value of a horse. It can’t always be about handle.

SoCal Classics 3YOs Are No Sham: That was quite a show put on by BC Juvenile disappointment Gormley and the inexperienced but extremely promising American Anthem.

With the latter making his stakes and two-turn debut in his second lifetime start, he set the pace as the favorite, was stalked by Gormley throughout and the battle was joined approaching headstretch.

Head to head and fetlock to fetlock they raced, a team with Gormley prevailing from the outside by a head in 1:35.89 over a sealed, sloppy track. It was 13 lengths back to show finisher Big Hit. Clearly, American Anthem will benefit from the experience. See replay.

Take That? No, I’ll Take the Money Instead: Not a trapped on the rail trip, knifing through and making contact with Beach Patrol in search of stretch running, 3-year-old filly Bellavais would not be denied in the Ginger Brew, not even after Leonel Reyes’ whip inadvertently struck the filly as she was set to roll by.

Eventually, she did, impressing her partner, Javier Castellano, in the manner she drew away in the final strides. “And I was really impressed with the way she finished,” said Castellano.

While technically a winner, this was the first time she finished ahead of all her rivals as she was awarded victory via disqualification last out. A tough, Tapit filly with a strong turn of foot, she appears to have an excellent future. See this replay, too.

Written by John Pricci

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