Sunday, July 14, 2013
NYRA Business as Usual as Saratoga 150 Awaits
ELMONT, NY, July 14, 2013--It’s all over but the waiting. There are no stakes races slated for today’s closing of the Belmont Park spring-summer meet. Saratoga 150 gets underway Friday.
Entries for opening day will be drawn Tuesday and will be taken on a 72-hour basis, a minimum standard that should be made universal at all racetracks.
If racing officials were compelled to bet on races, I digress, tracks probably would be on a 96-hour entry basis; after all, there often isn’t enough time for handicapping several tracks in a brave new simulcasting world.
I had hoped that the upcoming sesquicentennial race meet would be accompanied by changes beneficial to horseplayers and fans of the sport. But that’s not going to happen.
The reason? Consider last year’s Saratoga past performances and recall that fans needed two tin cans and a string to hear Tom Durkin’s race calls--if they were standing in just the right spot, that is. It took several days to get it right.
The association is taking no such chances this time. Last year, the culprit was the installation of High Definition capability, a task that was not given sufficient preparation time to complete on a timely manner.
Taking no chances this year, HRI has learned that the highly anticipated Trakus technology won’t be installed until racing returns to Belmont in the fall, at best.
It’s a massive undertaking that might not be completed until racing returns to Aqueduct.
We haven’t heard anything as to when NYRA will make a low takeout 50-Cent Pick 5 available, a wager that has been exceptionally successful everywhere it’s been launched.
Delaying this process might come down to pending New York State Gaming Board approval.
Don’t know what the politics are now, but when the governing body was called the State Racing and Wagering Board, it always seemed that some form of quid pro quo was required before NYRA initiatives ultimately were approved, even those directly benefiting the state.
I can’t remember the issue specifically, but I do recall that the trade off NYRA needed to acquiesce to was raising the parimutuel takeout. It might have been OTB related but can’t say for certain.
The surmise is that nothing much has changed. And that’s too bad in because Saratoga would have been the perfect venue to launch a first-race, low-cost Pick 5. Bettors from all over the country would come out with bankrolls blazing.
Other changes have occurred more rapidly. On Wednesday, Simulcast Vice President Liz Bracken announced her resignation, leaving the post to teach at the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program.
Recall that it was Bracken who informed former NYRA President Charles Hayward that the super-exotic takeout rate increase had sunset.
After failing to act on this information, costing bettors upwards of $8 million, Hayward and NYRA legal counsel Patrick Kehoe subsequently were fired.
Hayward is said to be currently working on launching an industry-related website, the nature of which is guarded while negotiations with racing organizations continue. Ashley Harriman recently left the NYRA press office to act as the site‘s webmaster.
Meanwhile, Bracken already has been replaced by Scott Finley, who was named Simulcast Director on Saturday. He will assume those duties beginning August 2 at Saratoga according to sources.
Finley, with a long history in simulcasting, including bringing international signals into the U.S., is eminently qualified and an excellent hire to replace Bracken.
Meanwhile, the Belmont spring-summer meet came to a graded-stakes conclusion on Saturday in Grade 1-style with the renewal of the storied Man o’ War Stakes for grass marathoners.
And so the six-year-old Boisterous finally got his Grade 1 victory. “I’m going to smile on this one because this horse deserves to win a Grade 1,“ said trainer Shug McGaughey. “I’m tickled to death not for me but for the horse.”
“[The race] set up perfect,” said winning rider John Velazquez. “He deserves it.”
Maybe the Test of the Champion didn’t work out all that well for Orb’s connections, but they certainly ended this stand on a high note:
The assumption now is that Orb will rebound to win the Travers, for which he either will prep in the Jim Dandy or train up to the race.
Orb and Boisterous recently had been some R & R at the Fair Hill Training Center; so it’s one down and one to go for the Phipps team. Orb’s task was made somewhat easier after it was learned Normandy Invasion, specifically pointed to Travers, will now miss the race with an injury.
Written by John Pricci
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
REVIEW: Racing Flow Provides Insight Into Track Bias and Race Shape Phenomena
SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 9, 2013—Grow or die. In handicapping and betting on the races, horseplayers are no different from anyone else in society looking to get ahead.
It may be counterintuitive, but learning something new doesn’t always equate to handicapping growth. With so much good data available these days, one has to be wary of information overload.
Call it the “paralysis by analysis syndrome,” or the point where too much information because confusion.
This flies in the face of what I’ve always believed; that horseplayers need to become specialists, carving out their own niche to secure profits. While that approach is still valid, a decline in fan base and pool liquidity makes it almost mandatory that today’s players be well-rounded.
Call it the “new millennium’s gateway to value.”
Today’s smart money might be nothing more than an overwhelming statistical trend that, when coupled with other handicapping criteria, paints a picture that begs for a wager on one particular horse—or a profitable trainer pattern.
The advent of the Saratoga and Del Mar race meets traditionally has been a time when handicappers realize that nothing less than a full handicapping arsenal will suffice.
Professionals are not immune to this and when possible try to stay ahead of the curve by welcoming new handicapping methodology based on unique data or evidenced-based understanding of traditional handicapping precepts.
I first became aware of the methodology in 2009 via “Trackfacts” producer Tom Amello and co-host Nick Kling on the Capital OTB television network soon after Racing Flow was founded.
Interesting concept, I thought, but since I didn’t view my own handicapping approach as being broken, I had no incentive to attempt fixing it. Besides, who wants to work harder, longer? However, five years is an eternity in a horseplayer’s life.
The trainer statistics that I had become reliant upon for a decade suddenly were everywhere. A good set of performance speed figures did not provide the edge it once did; everyone has a good idea who the fastest horse is these days.
And with the burgeoning popularity of Internet wagering with Advance Deposit Wagering, race replays are now readily available at the speed of a keystroke, the value once provided by sophisticated trip handicapping was disappearing fast. The time had come for the next big thing.
Competing ADWs are providing their bettors with the latest in cutting-edge data. So with more wagering being done online, horseplayers can stay in their living rooms which yields more time for additional research.
Racing Flow, as developed by co-founders Jake Jacobs and Phil Gregoire, adds an important scientific component to the art of trip handicapping by measuring how the combination of track bias and race shape can determine future performance.
Racing Flow figures are not the final piece of the handicapping puzzle, nor were they meant to be, but they add a dynamic that can lead to legitimate overlays because the apparent bad running lines was a matter of racing atmospherics and not poor form.
In short, Flow figures indicate whether the shape of a particular race favored speed horses or closers; not a measure of how fast horses run, but how they run fast. Bias figures indicate whether a particular day's running surface favored speed or closers.
At the conclusion of each racing day, Racing Flow compares model-predicted and actual degrees of closing to determine whether a particular surface, on a particular day, has favored speed versus closers.
Bias figures indicate whether a surface favored speed or closers. A Bias Figure is issued when five or more dirt/synthetic races, or five or more turf races were run on a race card and there was no important change in track condition that day.
The combining of these Flow and Bias figures produces a Closer Favorability Ratio. On a scale of 0 to 100, the CFR ranks races from "most speed favoring" to "toughest on speed." A CFR of 1 ranks that race in the top one percentile in speed-favoring terms; conversely a 99 would indicate a strong closer’s bias.
The final piece of Racing Flow methodology is called a BL 12. According to the definition in Racing Flow’s comprehensive online overview and tutorial, the BL 12 simply is the number of lengths the race winner was behind the leader at the first two points of call; the opening quarter-mile and the half-mile. Knowing how much ground a winner makes up in the later stages yields a clearer picture of prevailing race dynamics.
Racing Flow uses well-crafted statistical models containing up to 17 independent variables to determine the probability a given race will be won wire-to-wire, by a stalker, or by a closer. The degree of rallying is based on the number of runners passed between each point of call and the trips of the top 3 finishers.
Predictive variables include final race time, race distance, field size, track condition, and relative speed of each split. Each unique distance and surface is considered separately, because the optimal fractions for speed versus closers differ from course to course.
Different packages at different price points for various durations are available to Racing Flow clients. Included in the entire package is a Track Bias Report, a Flow + Bias Report, an Upgrade/Downgrade Report (includes three major tracks running that day) and an Extreme Race Report.
The latter identifies a race or series of races that were exceptionally kind to speed or closers. The most memorable example of the Extreme Report is 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, which moved from extreme speed-favoring scenarios to an extreme closer-favoring scenario. From a Racing Flow perspective, the running lines were not as bad as it looked on paper.
Racing Flow figures are derived from a database of North American races run since 2003. Updated daily, the database covers all major venues in New York, Kentucky, South Florida, California and Illinois. Coverage of races from Fair Grounds, Monmouth, Oaklawn and Woodbine is also available.
“Plodboys” Phil and Jake have been sending me the last two weeks of reports and I consulted the Upgrade/Downgrade report the past two Saturdays. The results were very good, which is to say profitable.
The U/D Report is their interpretation of the figures. It’s not a selection sheet but identifies runners that have been doing better than it may appear on paper. This past Saturday at Belmont Park, after a few disappointing results came two that would make any bettor’s day.
The 6th race contained two Upgrades: the extremely impressive Mentor Care combined with Tiz for Tat to complete the exacta, dovetailing nicely into the 7th race which contained three Upgrades. Capetown Devil won at 13-1 and combined with 9-1 place finisher Mop Head for a $308.50 exacta.
Sunday’s Belmont Park feature race, the Diamondella Stakes, contained three Upgrades and one Downgrade in a field reduced to six by late scratches.
I couldn’t decide between two potential price shots in the open turf sprint. I reasoned that the likely pace scenario would compromise deep closing Magnificent Shirl but would be kind to Effie Trinket. The HRI faithful were rewarded with an $11.60 mutuel.
Needless to say, Racing Flow data is now part of my handicapping arsenal. For those wanting to read more about it, visit .
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, July 07, 2013
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 7, 2013--I hate what’s happening in South Florida now as Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park battle hoof-to-hoof eight miles apart.
At this point, neither faction has given an inch. Both entities have deep pockets but the difference is that CDI has to answer to stockholders; Frank Stronach answerable only to himself. So we shall see.
Thus far, the numbers have been staggering and each can claim to a victory based on results from their best raceday opportunities. Saturday, July 6 was the only day the tracks have raced in direct competition with each other.
With Calder remaining dark on July 4th—“Thursday is a normal dark day,” said management--Gulfstream Park had an All Sources handle of $3.3 million, an amazing total vs. stronger and more traditional national competition the simulcast marketplace.
Yesterday, Gulfstream proactively conceded victory to Calder by carding eight races--five claimers, two maiden claimers, one special-weights maiden event—knowing it could not match Calder’s highly successful Summit of Speed program.
According to Gulfstream management, the Hallandale track handled $2.1 million on eight races from all sources. CDI doesn’t release handle and attendance figures as a matter of policy but according to Equibase result chart data, Calder’s 11-race program handled in excess of $4 million. Advantage Calder, although not the slam dunk it might have been.
The results are not easily assessed. Gulfstream’s pedestrian eight races attracted 49 runners, an average of just over six horses per race, and still handled over $2.1 million, a tribute to Gulfstream’s brand.
Calder, meanwhile, put on a top 11-race program that drew 98 runners—exactly double the number of starters as GP and it featured six stakes, four graded, including the G1 Princess Rooney.
Behind the numbers, it’s reasonable to assume that Gulfstream’s meager Saturday card still contributed to a 10 percent-plus handle decrease from the 2012 Summit of Speed program.
Today should provide more of an apples-to-apples comparison. Sixty-one horses were entered overnight at Calder, as opposed to 57 at Gulfstream. Each track carded an eight-race program.
Horsemen, meanwhile, are continuing their exodus east-northeast. After winning his fourth Princess Rooney Stakes, Marty Wolfson, a perennial leader among Calder-based horsemen, shipped 25 horses to Gulfstream according to published reports.
Goodbye yellow brick road.
Credit Where It's Due
As awards go, I’m not sure where the IMAs—the Interactive Media Awards—stand in the pantheon of recognition among peers in the same endeavor but credit must be acknowledged when it’s due.
For all the innovation failings in racing, the race track industry on balance has done a good job at website development which for most people encompasses two areas; Advance Deposit Wagering systems and infotainment track websites.
The New York Racing Association, the host of NYRA.com, was recognized recently for “Outstanding Achievement” in the Entertainment category of the 2013 IMAs. Indeed, racing is entertainment--with a caveat that “past success does not guarantee future results.”
For those old enough to recall the Spearmint Gum TV ads, NYRA.com is two…two sites in one: It’s an information portal and an ADW, with nary a single component of new age media ignored.
From racing news, to handicapping and historical video, to all manner of social media, to the information that’s relevant to horsemen and horseplayers alike and finally the NYRA Rewards link where wagers are placed, it’s pretty much one-stop racing.
(That’s after first checking HRI’s Feature Race Analysis, of course, it being the most emulated free feature-race analysis on the Internet over the course of the last seven years. But, I digress).
Obviously, NYRA is based in “the media capital of the world” and apparently takes that challenge seriously. Along with help from NYRA staffers, the site was the creation of Americaneagle.com, a leader in web design, development and hosting.
Nominations for the IMAs are accepted worldwide, from web design companies, ad agencies, corporate marketers, designers and graphic artists. Judges hail from all manner of media, winners needing to excel in five disciplines; web design, content, feature functionality, usability and standards compliance.
Kudos to NYRA for their leadership role in Internet racing communications. Now all they need to work on are tweaks to the betting menu, making it more inclusive by fractionalizing wagering price points and improving the accuracy of race information that will require installation of Trakus broadcast technology.
Less Is More? Really?
I’m not sure it’s because I’ve become accustomed to bad news with respect to the modern game or that bad news isn’t as bad anymore when it comes to wagering.
In Friday’s inbox came the monthly advisory of leading indicators with respect to betting handle. The wagering on U.S. races trended downward by 1.57%, from $949 million in June 2012 to $934 million in June 2013.
But that doesn’t appear to be as bad as it looks when considering that the number of race days were down by 3.52%, more than double the percentage of lost handle.
And so doesn’t this mean that bettors are wagering, in proportion, more money on fewer races? And doesn’t that mean that less actually IS more? Somebody help me with this.
Written by John Pricci