Friday, July 11, 2014


Will Del Mar Horseplayers Double Their Pleasure?


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 11, 2014—There’s a rumor being circulated on the Internet that the Thoroughbred Owners of California are considering a return to the higher takeout rates on Daily Doubles currently in place at Del Mar.

This can’t possibly be true, can it? Don’t they read newspapers out there? Has Internet commentary and social media reached lower California yet?

Hasn’t any owner out West ever heard of Churchill Downs?

Takeout deniers, much like climate change “non-scientists,” believe more in spin than science, coincidence over statistics, and obfuscation over progress. However anyone spins it, the Churchill Downs boycott was largely responsible for handle losses of $48-millionat the 2014 spring meet.

The Dow Jones is hovering around 17,000 for a while now, California Chrome gave the sport a bounce, in a Wall Street sense, this spring, and fields are smaller everywhere.

So, what else could it be?

According to recently released industry statistics, the number of race days is down 3.09% year over year; as was handle over the same period by 1.71%, yet, in the 2nd Quarter of 2014, purses miraculously increased by 0.42%.

And horsemen are still expecting that horseplayers will cheerfully pay for everything from continued higher purses to state-of-the-art medication testing protocols?

If we attribute the slight 2014 purse increases to the $10-million NYRA invested on the Belmont Stakes Festival card, resulting in record handle, doesn’t it follow that 2nd Quarter handle decreases of 1.43% has some relationship to CDI boycotters protesting takeout increases?

(The boycott also had an adverse influence on CDI properties Arlington Park and competition-laden Calder).

Year to date, handle on all U.S. races is $5.509-billion through June 30. For the same period in 2013, handle on U.S. races was $5.605 billion, a decrease of approximately $96-million.

One doesn’t need a sophisticated algorithm to figure that half of that handle loss this year is attributable to Churchill’s $48-million beating.

At stake today, as the prestigious Del Mar meet approaches, is the notion that Daily Double takeout will remain the same as last year’s, 23.68%. California bettors are insulted that the 18% takeout rate on Doubles, in effect all year at Santa Anita, will not be duplicated where the turf meets the surf.

Using comparative days and relative to other races, the 18% takeout on Rolling Doubles at Santa Anita resulted in handle increases in a range of 19% to 24%, according to Jeff Platt of the Horseplayers Association of North America.

It’s easy to understand the temptation of leaving the takeout on Doubles at Del Mar the same, which would be the same mindset that blew up in CDIs face at their recently concluded meet.

They believed that the higher take over Derby-Oaks weekend would be enough to create added revenue for the meet. While boycotters didn’t shun betting on those prestigious cards completely, many bet fewer races, concentrating on the prime events.

By leaving takeout rates the same, it appears that Del Mar wants to take advantage of their bridge races, especially true given the popularity of the Saratoga signal.

The thinking likely is that takeout-conscious players will be content enough with the reduced-take Pick 5 already in place and won’t mind paying 5% more on doubles than is paid
at Santa Anita.

Apparently, racetrack executives still believe that since horseplayers are creatures of habit, they won’t go shopping for the best deal and are willing to roll the dice on their strong Del Mar brand.

A decision on the takeout rate is expected to be made at a meeting of the Thoroughbred Owns of California today.

It must be said that Del Mar is not Saratoga on a daily basis and on many levels, plus the old Spa has a three-hour head start. Not every day is opening day; not every day is Saturday.

Further, it will be interesting to see how summer racing at Gulfstream Park impacts both, especially Del Mar, since it is likely the South Florida track will have large, competitive fields and enjoys the same logistical edge that any East Coast track has.

Will common sense trump greed in southern SoCal?

In this game, the only time less has meant more is when it comes to churn: The lower the rake; the bigger the handle. The only negative is a lack of patience, waiting for revenue to catch up.

Finally, Something for John Q. Horseplayer

To their credit, the NYRA has come up with an excellent idea, albeit at the very last minute, perhaps bringing lower expectations to a new level or meant as a trial balloon. There's no time to promote it now.

Tomorrow at Belmont Park, the track will host its first ever “Low Roller” live-money handicapping tournament, costing fans $40 to enter.

Of that entry fee, $10 goes to a prize pool to be distributed among the top three money finishers on a 70%, 20%, 10% basis, with the remaining $30 used as the handicapper’s bankroll.

With it, players must bet $2 across-the-board on five different horses in five different races on the 10-race Belmont card.

Live-money contests best approximate how players actually bet the races, as opposed to traditional contests in which contest-betting strategy rules.

Geared toward the average bettor-fan, the format assures some return on investment unless a player throws deep in every race, in which case his five bets could produce zero return on investment. A guaranteed pool is set at $500.

This contest seems an inspired way for fans to hone their betting-strategy techniques, sharpen their value-getting skills on fair-odds horses having a good chance to win, and it helps on-track handle by keeping players focused locally, from which the track gets a bigger slice.

Should the one-day only launch be successful, perhaps similar contests could be offered in Saratoga on the slowest days of the week, traditionally Thursdays and Mondays once the meeting gets into high gear.

Written by John Pricci

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