Monday, December 05, 2011

A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma?

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, December 5, 2011— The cliché popularized by Mark Twain pertaining to the use of “lies, damn lies and statistics” is never more apt than when perusing the monthly handle figures for Thoroughbred racing.

November was a good month, I guess, since handle dropped “only” 3.47 percent, as compared to a median 7.13 percent for the entire year.

But for my life I cannot fathom with certitude whether this is a good thing or not, mostly because it’s unknown whether or not the slow-down is attributable to a greater number of racing days and thus more opportunities to wager.
Further, noting below that Wagering on U.S. Races reflects worldwide commingled handle, it’s difficult to know how much of an impact exporting the U.S. signal worldwide is helping the American game avert a slide of monumental proportions.

Of course, if you race more days, more money will be bet in the overall, although that helps bring average handle per card down as finite dollars are spread over a greater number of opportunities.

But the real difficulty regards the purse increase figures for November 2011.

How can purses go up when handle goes down over a greater number of days? And where does Racino handle fit into all this?

Is there a Breeders’ Cup effect? It’s not so much there were 15 races this year, the most ever, but perhaps tracks nationwide raced more days surrounding the event to gain maximum exposure of their own product in the local market?

To a degree, the year-over-year numbers make more sense. Overall purses should be higher on a percentage basis given fewer racing days, and presumably fewer racing opportunities results in bigger fields.

I’ve seen five furlong turf races that are easier to decipher than these figures indicate.

November 2011 vs. November 2010

Indicator November 2011 November 2010 % Change

Wagering on U.S. Races* $874,386,107 $905,848,904 -3.47%

U.S. Purses $101,876,670 $95,522,074 +6.65%

U.S. Race Days 392 375 +4.53%

YTD 2011 vs. YTD 2010

Indicator YTD 2011 YTD 2010 % Change

Wagering on U.S. Races* $9,970,704,337 $10,736,200,808 -7.13%

U.S. Purses $987,513,084 $971,187,788 +1.68%

U.S. Race Days 4,953 5,159 -3.99%

* Includes worldwide commingled wagering on U.S. races.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Tis the Season

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, December 3, 2011—Unofficial winter is here. Gulfstream Park and Tampa Baby Downs opened, today also being the first Saturday of racing on the Aqueduct winter track. Add Fair Grounds to the mix and the change of season is complete.

At Gulfstream Park, the Spectacular Bid, now a race for two-year-olds with the meet opening in December instead of January, was won by favored Ancient Rome in a photo over For Oby, whose rider appeared a tad overconfident leaving the furlong grounds.

The time for six furlongs was 1:08.95 over a surface that produced a track record setter at 5-1/2 furlongs earlier on the card. It was a Delaware production as the colt was trained by Tony Dutrow and ridden by Joe Rocco Jr.

At Aqueduct, meanwhile, Dutrow’s brother Rick won the six furlong Garland of Roses with turnback C C’s Pal, coming back on short rest--decidedly anti-profile for Dutrow—and hitting the finish in full stride after finding his best pace inside the final sixteenth.

At Tampa, where the featured Lightning City attracted a full field of turf sprinters going 5 furlongs, Rosemary Homeister Jr. timed Jenny’s So Great’s late rally perfectly, making her move to the lead with 100 yards to go and holding off Supreme who came with a flying finish for the place.

In the Crescent City, five Claiming Crown races were run with It Happened Again taking the centerpiece, the Claiming Crown Jewel, over a fast Fair Grounds strip. Steve Asmussen gave a leg up to Shane Sellers, the veteran pushing all the right buttons to get the job done.

The series once was very popular when first instituted at Canterbury Park, drawing oversized fields form all over the country for horses that had run for a tag sometime during a specified timeframe. The day’s five races featured but 36 betting interests combined.

TRAINERS IN THE NEWS: Long since retired jockey Robbie Davis, with his daughter Jackie in the boot, won his first career race as a trainer when 39-1 Sandyinthesun got home first, breaking his maiden, too, at 1-1/16th miles on the turf. Lots of smiling people were seen observing an especially happy winners’ circle gathering...

“To me, it’s better than any win I ever rode” Davis said. ”It was just an incredible race. It’s unimaginable, the feeling. We got him at Saratoga, paid $700 for him. We’ve kind of been nursing him along.

“We put the blinkers on him and he responded well with them. He looks around. He plays around – he’s a real slow learner. I don’t remember racing on the turf in December, so I thought, we have one last shot on the turf so let me get the blinkers on him.”


After six decades as a trainer, Ramon “Mike” Hernandez hung up his stopwatch at age 86 earlier this week. His departure left Hall of Famer Frank Martin as the oldest active trainer in New York. Martin celebrated his 86th birthday today.

Hernandez helped put state-bred racing on the map in New York as trainer for the Assunta Louis Farm of Dr. Dominic DeLuke, a pioneer in the New York breeding program. In the early days, the filly Vandy Sue and colt Fratello Ed were earning the headlines and divisional championships with Hernandez calling the shots
The legacy he leaves behind is twofold: No one ever I ever heard questioned his ability as a horseman, and everyone he’s met has had nothing but good things to say about the man: A real old school horse trainer and true gentleman.

Hernandez compiled a worthy 603-644-706 slate from 5,418 career starters, his horses earning $18,820,126.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Down Is Up

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 6, 2011--Must have something to do with that “lies, damn lies and statistics” Samuel Clemens warned about, but statistics often confuse me. Take Thoroughbred racing economic indicators for the month of June, for instance.

Wagering for the month of June 2011, compared to 2010, was down 5.21%. I figure this is a good thing. Why?

Because the number of race days declined almost double that, at 9.67%. With $887K (rounding up) bet this year on 542 programs, compared to last year’s, when $936K was bet on 600 U.S. race days, this is a good thing, right?

See where am I going with this?

The proportion of loss is lower, so this means the bleeding is slowing, Yes? But here’s the thing that really confuses me. Purses declined by 3.27%, from $100 million in 2010 to $97 million this year.

I understand how purses can decline at a slower rate because with less races carded, there’s more money to be spread around in the races that remain.

But since purses are based on parimutuel handle, how can purses be down 3% when betting is down 5%?

But that wagering decline of 5.21% is good because at this time last year betting was off 7.67%. If the rate of decline is slowing, doesn’t that mean we’re getting closer to the bottom?

And if we’re getting closer to the bottom we will reach the nadir before too very long and then, there’s no place to go but up, betting trends will start to look good again.

Now, actually, if the number of race days continue to shrink, this contraction will result in less bleeding all around, bringing supply more closely in line with demand, right?

Want more good news?

Looking at the whole year, the number of race days have contracted from 2,644 to 2,481, which translates to a decline in racing days of 6.16%. But purses went up. UP! From $447 million year over year to $482 million.

With people betting less money, even if it is less less-money, how is there more money available for all purses?

I should not have cut Economics 101 in favor of the Aqueduct daily double back in the late 60s. (Yes, that was the daily double, accent on daily, as in one opportunity to link one race with the next race).

Which, as an aside, was one opportunity at the time that effectively lower takeout since there is only one rake spread over two races.

Understand? Good, because misery loves company. Why should I be the only one who’s a little confused. OK, maybe more than a little.

So the lesson here seems to be that contraction’s working. If fewer racing dates can result in more purse money, even when handle for the year is down 7.67%, we’re bringing supply more closely in line with demand, correct?

There may be more good news, if memory serves. The rate of decline last year, when compared to 2009, was higher than this year’s 7.67%. If that’s not a decline in the rate of decline, or a slowing down, anyway, that’s another indicator that the bottom is getting closer.

Is this what’s meant by supply-side economics?

Then--and here I go again--I keep hearing the warning of Lawrence Garfield, a.k.a. Larry the Liquidator of the 1991 classic “Other People’s Money” who said:

“...We're dead alright. We're just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure...”

Garfield might have been right with his buggy whips analogy, but he would have been wrong about American Thoroughbred racing. First, more pain; then, back stronger than ever.

Written by John Pricci

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