Thursday, October 10, 2013
Simulcast Conference Takeaway: One Step Forward, One Step Back
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 10, 2013—It’s good to see that in the Fall Championship season, form is holding: There will be no concerted effort by the Society of Thoroughbred Simulcasters to reduce parimutuel takeout.
And why you ask: Because at this week’s Simulcast Conference, Hawthorne Race Course's assistant. general manager said—ensuing Internet firestorm to follow—that “I never hear anyone say anything about a takeout rate unless I read a blog.”
Well, the one good thing that came out of the confab is that there will be more of a concentration to lower bet minimums because data has shown that factional wagering has a beneficial impact on handle whereas—get this—studies that prove lowering takeout increases handle are inconclusive.
Note to Mr. Walsh and any other industry executive who believes that lowering takeout is an Internet phenomenon that doesn’t have real world applications: Fractional wagering would not have expanded had the blogosphere been mum on the subject.
HRI only has been lobbying for lower minimum bets and lower takeout rates since—I don’t know—forever?
This much I will give the Anti-Takeout people; revenues decrease in the short term. The problem is no one is willing to take a haircut long enough for the benefits of churn to kick in. Back in the 1970s in New York, a study lasting nearly two years showed handle increases and revenues started to rise.
Of course, the law permitting the lower takeout rate experiment sunset and the issue died of complications due to chronic apathy in the legislative halls of the state capitol. Never mind that it would have been good for the state’s education coffers. When politics wins, real solutions [read people] lose.
Good thing for horseplayers that Scott Finley, simulcasting executive for the New York Racing Assn. and knowledgeable horseplayer, was in attendance, informing the conferees that lower bet minimums in multi-race pools not only didn’t cannibalize other existing sequential wagers but actually helped increase handle.
In fact, NYRA soon will lower the minimum wager on trifectas to 50-Cents, something HRI has called for since Arlington Park first popularized the fractionalized wager several years ago.
Apparently, the move has been on the back burner for a while since the new wagering machines that debuted at Belmont Park this fall now allow bettors to make 50-Cent wagers at tracks that allow for this minimum.
The problem, of course, is simulcasting’s double edge sword. Providing the type of content that bettors want in the modern era--which accounts for nearly 90 percent of total handle in the U.S.—has helped bettors to specialize at tracks where they have the greatest amount of success or with given race forms; stakes, turf racing, maiden allowance types, etc.
The flip side, obviously, is the fact that racing states and/or ADWs won’t pay for simulcast products they can’t max-out at the bottom line. At the philosophical bottom line, industry fractions still prefer to compete than cooperate.
Yes, point an appropriate finger at state houses in the various racing states, but there must be some creative way to overcome. Instead, states like New York will use their product for leverage by charging out-of-state bet-takers a 5% premium for handling the action of the state’s horseplayers.
The businesses that succeed figure out ways to grow, lest they die; myopic racetrack and off-track executives figure out ways to advance protectionism, believing that the ill will of competitors and customers is a small price to pay to grow their business.
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, October 06, 2013
Toasting the Champagne
ELMONT, NY, October 5, 2013—I wish I could remember more about Donut King, learning later in life only that the horse was named for owner Verne Winchell, who owned the highly successful California-based franchise. But that was 52 years ago.
Two years later, little Roman Brother, sporting the readily identifying silks of Harbor View Farm, made his usual late run to win beneath a well named “Gentleman John” Rotz.
Buckpasser gave a hair-raising performance in 1965 and five years later, within a span of three years, 1970 -- 1972, two of the best juveniles I’ve ever seen, Hoist The Flag and Secretariat had their victories expunged courtesy of the New York stewards.
As best as I can remember, I believe Secretariat’s was understandable but not so Hoist the Flag’s. Having won by double digits, the Sid Watters Jr. trainee never would have been disqualified given today’s rules and the brilliant colt’s complete domination.
The modern day judgment call, even when I disagree, is a better way to go.
Of course, the great Seattle Slew announced his presence in 1977, followed in rapid succession by Alydar and Spectacular Bid, with Easy Goer virtually closing out the decade of the 80s.
By that time the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile took precedent and, for me, it wasn’t until 2010 and 2011 when brilliant miler Uncle Mo and the somewhat ill-fated Union Rags brought back some needed electricity to the most significant event in the history of juvenile racing.
Personally, then, it’s been quite some time since I eagerly awaited the one turn mile at Belmont Park: Hopeful monster Strong Mandate vs. Honor Code vs. Havana.
It looked like it would be a match for the ages--but two out of three ain’t bad.
After breaking sharply away from the barrier Strong Mandate was seventh in the blink of an eye, never to be heard from again.
Wayne Lukas blamed himself, saying he should have come to Belmont earlier, that jockey Jose Ortiz was saying the colt wasn’t really comfortable on a surface that’s more demanding than Saratoga’s.
For the time being, I’m willing to swill the Kool Aid. Clearly, Strong Mandate bore no resemblance to the one on display upstate. He might not win but figures to be much better in the Juvenile, his next start.
Then so will the 2013’s one-two finishers—Bahama and Honor Code—who just have easily been two-one. From appearing to have the race well in hand, it was fortunate that the wire came up when it did.
Just like the day he broke his maiden, coming from a crazy 22 lengths back, Honor Code came flying late and just missed getting all the money.
Honor Code might not be a better colt at Santa Anita, but only because Shug McGaughey left the door open for the nine-furlong Remsen at Thanksgiving weekend rather than ship to California.
“You’d always like to go to the Breeders’ Cup but he’s a young horse and it would be only his third start,” said McGaughey.
“Obviously, next spring would be our main objective. [But] whatever [owners Lane's End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm] want to do is going to be fine with me."
The Juvenile would be Havana’s third start, too, and he was stretching from 5-1/2 furlongs to a mile yesterday and not seven as did Honor Code.
“He wasn't 22 lengths out of it today, McGaughey said, “it was only 12 or 15. Having to go wide probably cost us the race but Havana got the jump at the head of the stretch and opened up and we were unlucky to not catch him”
Which is not to say that Havana had it easier. Forced to chase the pace from along the inside down the long backstretch, Havana was part of the pace, the middle of the race, and finish. Not all that enviable, especially coming off a lone 5-1/2 furlong run.
“I thought there were a couple that could press us,” said Todd Pletcher after winning his fifth Champagne…
“I think Irad [Ortiz] did a good job of not giving up that position but not forcing it too much, either… I could see the other horse revving up and I knew he had a big run from Saratoga. I was hoping we'd have enough to hold on."
Havana did, in a solid 1:35.81.
Pletcher was asked if he’d go with confidence to the Breeders' Cup: "I think so. I can't imagine the horses we ran against today aren't going to be certainly some of the favorites for it.” Then he offered this:
“I think there's room for improvement. I think he can move forward for his third start."
If he does, it would provide Pletcher with what his two most recent Champagne winners, Shanghai Bobby and Uncle Mo, afforded him: an Eclipse championship.
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, September 29, 2013
A Super Saturday Night
SARATOGA SPRINGS, September 29, 2013---I had a racing dilemma Saturday night. Just when I thought I knew everything, they ran some Grade 1 races in California.
So I decided to sleep on the results, only to awaken knowing that I was as confused as I was the night before. It’s going to take a few days to shake all these things out in my head.
One of the issues I’m pondering—and you might as well throw Churchill Downs in there, too—is trying to figure what impressed the most.
Was it the Macho Man’s first Grade 1—which could not have come at a better time, or over a better racetrack?
Was it Beholder, just when you thought you knew everything you needed to know about the three-year-old filly division?
Was it Bond Holder, from maiden to Grade 1 winner overnight, a colt that seemed to get stronger with every inch of ground he covered?
(It can’t be Secret Compass, not because of anything she did wrong but because I really didn’t know she existed until I looked at her past performances).
However, in the case of the two-year-olds, at least there’s next weekend’s Frizette and, for that matter, the Champagne; today, the short, one-turn Futurity and the Matron.
And, I digress, wasn’t that a hellacious turn of late foot as demonstrated by Tiz Flirtatious?
Just when I thought that Jose Lezcano was the Man of the Day, winning two Grade 1s on his very first day back from an injury, along comes Gary Stevens, returning from a long, extended vacation.
It could not have been retirement: No 50-year-old graybeard returns off a seven year layoff a better Hall of Fame rider than he was when last seen in 2006.
He couldn’t have learned all he knows now from sitting next to Jeff Siegel, could he?
And what was that from Fort Larned? Was he getting tired, or bored? Need to see the video again but he sure appreciated his Homecoming to Churchill, and dominated the competition with his noted speed.
Ian Wilkes later said the design was to get him tired and move forward from the race. I'm going to drink that Kool Aid; it makes sense, having missed the Woodward.
Mucho Macho Man, speaking of Stevens, sure loves to hear his feet rattle. Everybody knows he doesn’t like it wet but that’s two straight excellent performances at Santa Anita, even if it was a year between drinks.
Too good not to have won a Grade 1 before last night, he loves to run fresh, like all modern race horses.
Will five weeks provide enough down time for another peak performance from the late developing, late foal? Fort Larned had better hope not.
Speaking of Stevens, again, Beholder now has three Grade 1s on the year, a half-length defeat in the Oaks standing between her and Princess of Sylmar’s four Grade 1s.
And just when the book was closed (it still might be) because the Princess beat the mighty Queen of the Turf, Beholder gave actual weight to older mares and embarrassed them with the help of Stevens who coaxed moderating fractions.
Beholder sure loves Santa Anita. Question: Can Princess of Sylmar afford to rest on her Grade 1 laurels? The Oaks, Coaching Club, Alabama and Beldame sure are quite a package.
But if a champion defends her Breeders’ Cup Eclipse title for her
fourth Grade 1 of the year, will she defend her Eclipse title as well?
Parenthetically, that’s why the Breeders’ Cup never again should be held at one track back to back, no matter how attractive the venue!
Horse racing will always feature Thoroughbreds owning a home court advantage. But not when potential championships are involved.
As for Bond Holder, he will likely get another strong pace to run at in five weeks and he certainly looks the part of a two-turn racehorse, but will he be the same sans Lasix?
Will any of the two-year-olds be?
Anyway, the Champagne horses will prove much tougher foes.
A Breeders’ Cup victory by Tiz Flirtatious may not be enough to depose the divisional leader, but her ability is no laughing matter.
It’s hard to know how good Secret Compass is, but thus far there have been no Ruffians on the radar screen and the juvenile filly title likely will come down to one race, as it often does.
Stevens nearly won his third Grade 1 of the day on She’s a Tiger but appeared to push her button prematurely, trying to steal the Chandelier.
But Bob Baffert had Secret Compass all wound up, Rosie Napravnik gave her a perfect trip and, after finally getting the filly to change to her correct lead, caught a tiger by the nose.
(As far as these two fillies are concerned, anyway, I’d be surprised if Secret Compass beats She’s a Tiger next time).
But that’s only an opinion and as Darrell Wayne Lukas once, or should have, said, horses will take charge.
Written by John Pricci