John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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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Thursday, September 27, 2012


The Last Word (Hardly)


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 24, 2012—As promised last week, a little free association “first thing that comes to mind” fun with HRI’s resident curmudgeon, Wendell Corrow.

We hope you don’t take any of the questions--or answers, for that matter—too seriously. The questions were posed in the blog comments section, off message, per usual, with a promise to share the responses with a wider audience.

So here goes, questions and answers, the latter in italics:

Why haven’t the findings of the McKinsey report presented to the Jockey Club been discussed in detail?

Wendell, this is not the first McKinsey Report ever commissioned; their findings have been discussed here and elsewhere. In the main, it confirms what everyone perceives as racing’s problems.

Why haven’t the conclusions of the Ontario government on why slot revenue is going to be shutoff at Woodbine been discussed (findings that fit NYRA like a glove)?

Isn’t it obvious what the long range plans for racinos--in Ontario and elsewhere-- are? Isn’t it something like “take the ‘R’ out of the racino and replace it with a ‘C’?” And don’t Gov. Cuomo’s plans to privatize NYRA speak to that? Note how his team has virtually attributed all breakdowns to increased purses. What does that portend for VLT-infused purses, I wonder?

Discussed by whom? By turf writers coast-to-coast?

>Who else? Regulators will only discuss political solutions to racing’s problems, economic and otherwise. And don’t expect transparency, either.

Takeout and drugs as issues are something new? No.

Think the following are issues to be addressed?

1) Where is a national marketing program? There isn’t one. Under whose auspices, the league office?

2) Why are all racetracks seeking slot revenue for survival? Apparently because they don’t know how to survive on their own any longer.

3) Are six figure purses profitable? Some yes, some no. Do I need to state, again and again, that, according to your McKinsey Report, bettors wager approximately 14 times more on graded stakes than on non-stakes events?

4) Why do people prefer to gamble at a casino? Because, like a good percentage of the low information electorate, they prefer not to think.

5) Just what is achieved by having several stake races on a race card, other than red ink?

To attract betting handle, e.g. $4.4 million simulcast handle on Pennsylvania Derby day card, sell more beer, hot dogs, programs and, most important, increased on-track attendance and handle produce a bigger commission for the horse track.

6) If takeout were reduced, would it really bring in new ‘fans’.

No. See above. Casual bettors prefer not to think, neither does state regulators or a handful of entitled, myopic horsemen. But here’s something a reduced takeout will do IN ADDITION to increasing handle: It would put rebate shops out of business. Big bettors could then enter pools with liquidity and diversity of opinion, presumably creating added value. Handle would increase at a faster and higher rate.

7) Are drugs really the reason that people ignore racetracks? Casual fans? Yes. Big bettors? Yes. Rank and File Players? Not so much.

8) Do people go to a racetrack to gamble or because there are two stake races on the card? To gamble on that day’s card, probably betting more on the two stakes.

9) Do the Triple Crown races, Travers/Pacific Classic, and Breeders’ Cup actually create new ‘fans’? Have no idea. My best guess would be that the Triple Crown does, as does the Breeders’ Cup to a lesser extent; Travers/Pacific Classic unlikely.

10) Does Thoroughbred racing still have an image problem that keeps Joe and Jane from visiting the track? You’re kidding, right?

11) Are Grade I races really any different than claiming races from a gambling view point? When you bet every day at your favorite OTB, do you watch any of the races you bet on? If you did, you wouldn’t ask such a silly question. This is old ground for us, Wendell.

12) if drugs were eliminated, and takeout were reduced, would Thoroughbred’s popularity increase, or would the vast majority of people who like to gamble still go to the casino? Both, but let’s keep the apples with the apples.

13) is Thoroughbred racing a sport or an alternative to casino gambling? If it is gambling--which it is--why is all existing promotion and industry commentary about stakes races, a few thoroughbreds, and a handful of trainers and jockeys?

(a) Racing is a sport AND a gambling game. (b) Casino gambling is for people with no interest in racing, or former horseplayers who gave up the game for whatever reason, or inveterate gamblers who prefer mindless action. (c) There is more than enough gambling/handicapping information available in media. People talk about the best horses, like any sports fan talks about the best teams. The best horses win the big races and a trained by leading trainers, ridden by leading jockeys.

“…Play it again, Sam”: ‘It’s about gambling, about cashing tickets, about convincing people at casinos to gambling on the ponies’. Again, apples and oranges. Handicapping the races, sports or poker playing are skills requiring time and study. It takes absolutely no thought to pull a lever or press a button. Besides, as high as the takeout is on slots, it’s about HALF of what it is at the racetrack.

Written by John Pricci

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