PLANTATION, FLA.--November 18, 2011--When the Horseplayers Association of North America released its track ratings earlier this year, the two Florida tracks that will open in two weeks, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park, ranked third and fifth, respectively.

The rankings are based on several factors but it is the bottom line--takeout rates--that weigh heavily in the final analysis. This is as it should be.

We expect that when the new ratings are released, two of this country’s leading winter signals will finish among the nation’s top tracks with respect to horseplayer friendliness.

Both tracks have announced their betting menus and takeout rates for 2012 in terms of new wagers and takeout rates, although those changes have not yet been reflected on HANA site.

In any case, both tracks have continued to cater to horseplayers as best they can when opportunities present themselves.

All tracks that get it would love to lower the rake. Unfortunately, state legislators and horsemen will have their say. Usually that’s not very good news for horseplayers.

Gulfstream is offering the Super Hi 5 with carryover at a 15 percent takeout rate. The minimum wager is $1, which is good news to a handful of whales who can afford to leverage their bankrolls, but the new bet does little to help rank and file players.

In super-exotic wagers of this type, tracks are interested in one thing: the almighty carryover. “Free money” begets more money; degree of difficulty and churn be damned.

The good news for most players is that the 50-Cent Pick 5 will return with its 15% takeout rate as will the 10-Cent Rainbow 6 with a 20% hold like last year.

Because of its Jackpot provision that pays the entire pool a lone winner, the day-to-day takeout rate is effectively much higher than 20%. Compensating here is that the bet often pays surprisingly well when more the one player hits the sequence. Additionally, Gulfstream has lowered its trifecta minimum to 50 Cents, also in effect in the two Pick 4 offered daily.

But the most significant change will take place on the racetrack as Gulfstream will now have to finish lines which will mark the return of mile and a sixteenth races.

Obviously, this will make for a more logical progression to the showcase Florida Derby, run on the last Saturday in March.

South Florida-based 3-year-olds will now stretch out from the one mile Holy Bull, to the 1-1/16th miles Fountain of Youth, to the 9-furlong Florida Derby.

It never made sense in the first place to have a Grade 1 prep at a mile and an eighth for a bigger Grade 1 prize at the identical distance. If you rank in the first one, you could skip the second, or vice versa.

Resultantly, there will be no need for an 11th hour distance change for any 3-year-old preps in 2012, plus it has the added benefit of landing a blow on the chin of Tampa Bay Downs in the tussle for top ranked Derby colts.

Tampa, meanwhile, will continue its recent trend of being branded the country’s most player friendly signal. It wisely is abandoning the Pick 6 which, like Gulfstream, is a bet that doesn’t fly with the early bird crowd.

The Oldsmar, Florida track will institute a 50-Cent Pick 5 instead with a 15% bite and of greater significance will lower the takeout on win-place-show to a more reasonable 17%.

That number is still too high to attract the kind of churn for which takeout cuts are intended but at least it’s an arrow that points in the right direction.

Of course, the meet’s centerpiece is the Tampa Bay Derby at 1-1/16th miles, a race that Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense put on the prep map to stay in 2007.

Musket Man turned into a solid runner after having won the 2009 edition.

But the Sam F Davis, a Tampa Derby prep rightfully elevated this year to Grade 2, has had its moments--perhaps even more so considering three of the last five runnings were won by Any Given Sunday (2007), Bluegrass Cat (2006) and General Quarters (2009), a talented trio, indeed.

Not that very long ago, the tagline for Calder Race Course was “At Calder, we love you.”

These days, however, it's money that's buying up all the love.